USCF Home arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2010 arrow January arrow Paths to the Top: GM Josh on Edmonton and Vegas
Paths to the Top: GM Josh on Edmonton and Vegas Print E-mail
By GM Josh Friedel   
January 7, 2010
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GM Josh Friedel Photo Betsy Dynako
I’m not usually big on metaphors, but I’m finding it difficult not to use one here.  There are two ways to the top of most mountains.  One is the easy way where you climb up the gradual side, take several breaks including a picnic lunch.  In the other way you start by slipping and proceed up the steep edge with no breaks for food or water.  I tied for first in my last two tournaments but the paths to the summit were completely different.  In the Edmonton International I coasted, giving up some draws along the way and scoring 7/9 with only a few rough moments.  In Vegas, I started the tournament with the worst loss of my chess career in recent memory.  After that, I had to win every game just to stay in contention.

I was very nervous going into Edmonton.  This could be attributed to many factors.  I hadn’t played since the World Cup, and that was anything but inspiring from my end.  I’d done a lot of travel, between all the European stuff from the fall, plus a couple stops on the East Coast before heading back to California.  The main reason, however, was that Edmonton had reached well over 40 below a few days before my arrival, and I’d left my winter coat in NH.  I figured after Siberia, why would I need a coat anywhere else?  The field consisted of Victor Mikhalevski, myself, Jesse Kraai, and a bunch of others chasing GM and IM norms.  Despite being a GM for over a year now, I hadn’t really been in the spoiler role before.  The better Jesse, Victor and I did, the less likely it was for those chasing norms to achieve them.  In principle, it isn’t a situation I like.  I remember how hard it was to achieve my norms, and I don’t want to be the one standing in the way of others.  At the same time, it is my job to make them earn it.  Plus, it IS a tournament, and winning is the objective.

Despite these mixed feelings about my place, I played fairly well in Edmonton.  Perhaps I’m secretly a sadist who likes to see others fail.  To be fair, I felt my best game was against fellow tournament leader Victor Mikhalevski.  Victor stayed at the “GM House” for a week before the event, and he showed Jesse and I all sorts of insanity until our heads nearly exploded.  This made playing him somewhat of a frightening prospect.  I managed to get a very pleasant position out of the opening, however, and finally my attack crashed through on the kingside with devastating effect.



Even in spite of this loss, Victor proved to be the ultimate roadblock for IM/GM aspirations, as he went 7/8 against the rest of the field.  I mean really man, at least give them SOME hope.  Here is one of his typical victories.



Though Victor was merciless and I wasn’t being particularly kind, Jesse was having an off tournament, and there were still a couple people in contention for norms right up until the end.  Young Albertan Eric Hansen needed an additional point for his final IM norm, and Marc Esserman required just an extra half a point for a GM norm.  Normally I’d show their best games from the tournament, but I thought it’d be far more entertaining to show a blindfold game they played in the bar on the last night. 



There is some dispute as to the final result, as Marc claims that Eric resigned, and Eric claims the game was adjudicated.  You can decide for yourself.  Thanks to organizers Vlad Rekhson and Micah Hughey as well as TD Tony Ficzere for the usual well-run tournament as well as good times in Edmonton.

Normally I like to space my tournaments a bit, but I decided to catch Vegas right after.  I haven’t played well in the North American Open for the past several years, and in fact I’ve gotten sick the last few couple times.  You’d think I would avoid the event after this, but I’ve always been an unusually slow learner.  The tournament started with two surprises, one rather nice and one awful.  First they were out of double rooms, so my roommate and I got a suite instead.  The 2nd surprise was not the most pleasant.  I started the tournament with one of the worst losses of my career.  I went down in 15 moves to a 2280. 



I can’t really explain what happened.  I thought I could sack a rook and get it back with interest, and I even saw the move that refuted it, but somehow I deluded myself into thinking it was still good for me.  So in about an hour my hopes to win the tournament and perhaps get my rating high enough to qualify for the US Championship were dashed in one fell stroke.  The only thing to do was climb the mountain one mad dash, to win the rest of my games without looking back.

This goal was almost a joke to me at first.  Not that it is impossible, but in practice it is very difficult to win a ton of games in a row, even against weaker opposition.  Along the way you’ll usually miss something or screw up a won position.  Somehow I managed it, however.  I won five games in a row, certainly not with ease, but with as little trouble as I could hope for after such a loss.  With 5/6 I was tied for first with Akobian, and I was pretty beat after such a hike, so we ended up drawing quickly.  My best game was probably the final stretch, as black in the 6th round against rising junior Steven Zierk.



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GMs Josh Friedel, Alexander Shabalov and Alexander Yermolinsky in Vegas, Photo Chris Bird


I tied for first with GMs Alex Shabalov, Alex Yermolinsky, Varuzhan Akobian, and Victor Mikhalevski.  Most of them had somewhat calmer roads to the top.  Var played probably the most convincing, racking up 4.5/5 and then drawing the final two games.  Here is the long grind he had against talented junior and former U12 World Champ Daniel Naroditsky.



Daniel himself had a killer tournament, and had a perfect score before losing to Akobian.  Here is his win over tournament co-winner Alex Shabalov.



While Var and I got to rest during the final round, many had to struggle trying to reach the critical 5.5 mark.  Meanwhile GMs Mikhalevski, Shabalov, and Yermolinsky prevailed to tie for first.

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Former USCF President Bill Goichberg, GM Varuzhan Akobian and GM Victor Mikhalevski, Photo Chris Bird








It's time for me to spend much needed time at base camp to relax and regroup. 

Stay up to date with GM Josh Friedel on his website and look for more from him on CLO in the coming year. For more on Vegas, see the official website and Randy Hough's CLO wrap-up.
 
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