Photo: Jennifer Shahade
I had just gotten back from a so-so Foxwoods Open when I found out I won the Samford Fellowship. It was certainly a great boost for me, as I was in quite a slump chess-wise. I'd been studying with current Samford Fellow David Pruess, on my own, and with everyone but the girl next door (actually, even her). I felt like I was learning lots of stuff, but every time I played it was like I just couldn't make it all work. Still, I'd gone through this temporary off period before, and knew that once I put everything together I'd be in great shape. A couple of weeks later, I found out I got a wildcard into the US Championship. Now I don't really believe in signs, but I thought it might be an opportune moment to get out of my funk and play some good chess for a change.
I really buckled down the two weeks prior, brushed up all my openings, did some ending work, hit my head against the wall a few times, and pretty much all the normal pre-tournament prep and then some. Also, as if fate was trying to pick a fight with me or something, I got Hikaru in the first round for the 2nd year in a row. Quite often I find the first round dictates how the rest of the tournament will go. While beating the #1 seed two years in a row would be a bit much to ask, I simply hoped to play a reasonable game, blunder free or at least not every other move if possible. Things started out well, even before the game. While trying not to doze off during the opening ceremony, all of a sudden all heads turned my way and I was asked something. Luckily, "white" was my auto-response, which was suitable as apparently I was asked what color I wanted against Hikaru. As out of it as I was, it was a good thing I didn't say "green" or "coke, please."
The opening went well, as I obtained an extremely promising position against an offbeat French line. From there it went downhill, however. I played too timidly neglecting 21. Bc2 followed by Ng5, which looks very strong for white. Once Hikaru equalized, he complicated things, as he does so well. Right after time control, I blundered with 41. Qd8??. Instead, Qc5 probably would draw. While it wasn't the worst game I've played, it was certainly a disappointment. Well, last US Championship I managed to win from a lost position, so maybe it was just payback. Also like last year, my tournament seemed to mimic my first round. In San Diego I won most of my promising positions, drew a couple tough ones, while my losses were very long and drawn out. In Oklahoma, it was rather the opposite. I seemed almost completely unable to convert my good positions, and my bad positions seemed to fall apart so fast, like I forgot how to play defense. Also, it seemed whenever I tried to calculate something I'd hallucinate, or miss my queen was hanging, or something equally atrocious. It was not a tournament I want to remember, or even acknowledge that I played. I was so unsettled by it I decided to do something I almost never do.
I'm not a spontaneous person by nature. I like to plan my tournaments well in advance, as well as most anything I do. It was therefore completely out of character for me to decide to play a tournament at the last minute, but that's exactly what I did. I signed up for the Chicago Open the last night of the US Championship, and the next day drove up with David and Ricky, our fellow adventurer from Cappelle. Even as it was happening, I couldn't believe I was doing it. I didn't even know where I'd be spending the night, how I'd get from there to the tournament each day, or even what day it was. I half expected to totally blow up, or at the very least bomb out. Turns out, I did neither. I got five wins and two losses. The highlight was beating the new US Champ, Alexander Shabalov in round three:
28. Rd4! was very nice, especially considering I had calculated the whole queen sac line before I played it.
My ability to play defense still seemed to be lacking, as both my losses were extremely brief and disgusting, but I converted my edges each time with few hiccups. Oh, and all of a sudden I felt like I could calculate again. I mean, what happened? It could be I play better when its two rounds a day, I don't know where I'll be sleeping the next night, and I'm extremely frustrated and angry. That somehow doesn't seem right though. The spontaneous thing seemed to be going well though, so I decided to do it again.
I decided to play in the National Open right after Chicago. Not quite as last-minute, but still less than two weeks in between. I was just really hungry for chess. Once again, it turned out to be a great move. Though this time I had a hotel room the whole time, and had my flight secured ahead of time, I played well. Better than Chicago even, as I only got into one very bad position against GM Kolev in round 4.
I still had excellent holding chances at certain points (30...Rb8 instead of Kb7 would lead to a drawish rook ending after Nd1 Bc2 Ra5 Bxd1+ Kxd1 Rxb2 Rxc5 Rg2), though I finally went down.
My biggest scalp was of GM Akobian in round three, in which I managed to win a drawn ending.
In fact, he was even drawing in the position he resigned, though with one second left I can imagine it looking rather hopeless (He simply moves his bishop between b2/c3/d4 and I can't make progress). My other wins were reasonably clean, without any atrocious blunders, at least from my end. As a bonus, I tied for 2nd-7th, won $1000 and got to see living legend Victor Korchnoi in action.
My next event is World Open, where the ideal would be to continue the trend, hopefully netting my final norm in the process. Maybe I should cancel my reservations, drive cross-country and hope to find a place to stay right before the tourney?