Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow Eric Rosen on Final IM Norm: Keys to Success
Eric Rosen on Final IM Norm: Keys to Success Print E-mail
By Eric Rosen   
April 21, 2015
EricRosenleadclo.jpgIf someone had told me before Philly Open, that I would clinch my 3rd IM Norm with a round to spare, I wouldn't have believed them. Going into the event, I did not have the highest expectations. The tournament's highly demanding 2-game-a-day schedule, with a time control that can produce games that go more than 5 hours, is energy-draining and makes it difficult to be  consistent. On top of this, I have been stuck in the classic chess player slump. Since 2011, my USCF rating has not budged from around 2400 and my FIDE rating has stayed around 2300. At this level, it is not always clear what exactly one needs to do in order to improve. The differences that separate myself from stronger players can be quite miniscule.

Here are some of the things I did throughout my preparation and the tournament which led to the great result. Although many of the readers may not be seeking their final IM Norm, I hope they can gain some insight into important areas to focus on and how to get out of a slump!

Key #1: Set goals that have nothing to do with rating

When you ask a typical chess player about their goals, they may something like, "getting to 2000" or "becoming a grandmaster." While these goals are quite direct and easy to quantify, they have minimal value. They can also be discouraging if you don't find yourself making progress.

Not long before Philly, I created goals for myself that focused on study, tournament habits, and play rather than rating or results. Here they are...

Study goals (applied before a tournament):

  • Solve some tactics everyday (My favorite book: Imagination in Chess).
  • Follow the games from strong tournaments closely
  • Develop a solid and versatile opening repertoire for white and black
  • Play out select endgames and middlegames against a training partner
Tournament goals (applied during a tournament):

  • Keep Facebook, email, and social media to an absolute minimum.
  • Don't listen to music or watch television during or right before the tournament. (The stupidest things get stuck in my head during a chess game).
  • Take every opportunity to rest between rounds
Playing goals (applied during the game):

  • Do my absolute best to avoid time trouble
  • Stay focused on my opponent's time and stay at my board during the game. If I do walk around, continue to calculate the possibilities.
  • Don't be scared of taking risks, especially if I cannot find anything concretely wrong with the move in question.
I would highly encourage other players who are looking to improve to form similar goals. Instead of focusing on the final destination, focus on how you get there.

Key #2: Get off to a good start

In round two, I was paired against GM Bryan Smith. The momentum I gained from winning this game carried me a long way through the tournament: Below are my annotations.

Smith,Bryan (2482) - Rosen,Eric (2322) [C28]

Philadelphia Open 2015 Philadelphia (2.5), 02.04.2015

1.e4 e5!?

For the past many years, I have only played the Sicillian Defense against 1.e4. I decided to play 1...e5 in this game for a few different reasons: -Avoid any pre-game preparation Bryan may have done against my Sicillian -Surprises in the opening can sometimes lead to an early time advantage as it did in this game. -Playing a new opening increases one's knowledge and understanding about chess. Although playing a new opening can be somewhat uncomfortable, it can certainly benefit long-term improvement
The Bishops Opening. I'm guessing Bryan deviated from his usual Ruy-Lopez since he assumed I prepared something. Because I have many students who encounter the Bishop's Opening as black, I was fortunate to know what to do.
2...Nf6 3.d3 Nc6 4.Nc3 Na5

The line I teach my students. Black gains the bishop pair.
5.Nge2 Nxc4 6.dxc4 d6 7.0-0 Be6 8.b3 Be7 9.f4!?
A typical idea in the bishop's opening. White creates an isolated e-pawn, but enters a position with many attacking possibilities.
9...exf4 10.Nxf4 0-0 11.Bb2 c6


Setting up a cheapo threat of Qb6+ followed by Bxc4

Sneakily defending against the threat
12...Qb6+ 13.Kh1 Rae8

13...Bxc4? 14.bxc4 Qxb2 15.Rab1 Qa3 (15...Qxc2 16.Rf2 traps the queen) 16.Ncd5! A classic tactic, winning a piece 16...Qxf3 17.Nxe7+ Kh8 18.gxf3
14.a4 Nd7 15.Nh5 Ne5 16.Qg3 g6
weakening, but necessary The natural looking 16...Ng6? runs into 17.Nxg7! Kxg7 18.Nd5+
17.Nf6+ Bxf6 18.Rxf6 Nxc4 19.Bc1 Ne5 20.Bh6 Ng4 21.Bxf8 Nxf6 22.Bxd6 Nd7


As the tactical dust has settled, it seems like white has emerged slightly better. With black's dark-squared weaknesses on the kingside, it is important not to allow white's bishop to reach the long diagonal.
23.h3 Qa5

The beginning of a funny maneuver to fianchetto the queen on g7! Bryan spent a lot of time over the next few moves trying to figure out what to do. It is not easy for white to come up with a clear plan
24.Rf1 Qh5 25.Rf4 Qh6 26.Ne2 Qg7 27.Rf2 f5 28.exf5 Bxf5 29.Bb4 Qe5


A very critical moment. Should White allow the queen trade or keep queens on the board?
The wrong decision. Black will now seize the initiative [30.Bc3! was the better choice 30...Qxg3 31.Nxg3 Be6 Bryan most likely avoided this position due to the drawishness of the opposite colored bishops]
30...Nf6 31.Re2 Ne4 32.Qf3 g5!? 33.Nh5 Bg6 34.Rxe4 Bxe4 35.Nf6+ Kh8 36.Qc3?

The final mistake. Black now wins by force. [36.Nxe4 Qxe4 37.Qf7!! Winning back the exchange with Bc3 to follow 37...Qe3 38.Bc3+ Qxc3 39.Qxe8+=]
36...Bxg2+ 37.Kxg2 Qe2+ 38.Kg1 Qd1+ 0-1

Key #3: Avoid time trouble

Time management is one of the most important and overlooked factors in chess. It is important for chess players to ask themselves how often they get into time trouble. If you find yourself getting below 5 minutes in a fair number of your tournament games, then you have a serious problem which needs to be addressed.

Over the course of the Philly Open, I managed to stay out of time trouble in 8 out of my 9 games-- a much better ratio than some of my previous tournaments. The one game I did get into time trouble was against IM Priyadarshan Kannappan. It lasted over 5 hours and was my only loss of the tournament.

Key #4: Opening Preparation and Surprises

One reason I managed to stay out of time trouble, was because I quite often got an early time advantage due to superior or surprising opening preparation. Below, I share some of my most notable openings from the tournament.

Round 3: In the 20 minutes of pre-game preparation for Alexey Dreev, I prepared the novelty 11. Nxd5 followed by Bd3. This sequence of moves seems quite counterintuitive as it strengthens the black queen and retreats the bishop. However, the idea is to maneuver the bishop to e4 where it restricts black's queenside development. White had a pleasant edge for the whole game, but I ended up settling for a draw out of respect for my opponent.


Round 5: Against Cristian Chirila, I decided to play the ultra-aggressive 7.h4 against his Grunfeld. The position after 11... e5 was quite amusing, but the position liquidated relatively quickly into a draw.


Round 7: Against Praveen Balakrishnan, I noticed from past games, that he recently switched from e4 to d4. I decided to catch him off guard in a line that I occasionally play in ICC 1-minute: 1.d4 c5 2.d5 f5!? Although it's safe to say this opening is dubious at grandmaster level, the resulting middlegame was highly dynamic and quite enjoyable to play. Praveen misstepped with 24.Ne1 allowing the 25...Rxb2 exchange sacrifice.


Key #5:  Listen to Commentary from the US Championships

In addition to eating and resting between rounds, I got in the habit of following the live commentary from the US Men's and Women's Championships. Listening to Jen, Yasser, and Maurice enthusiastically discuss high level chess kept me in "chess mode." If I had not been following the commentary, I don't think I would have been as sharp and focused as I was during my own games. Of course, you can only do this a few times a year! Ed. Note- The shows are archived on the Saint Louis Chess Club YouTube Channel.

Key #6: Get Naked

Naked Juice that is. Before the tournament I stocked my hotel fridge with an assortment of Naked Juices. Because some of my games were brutally long, I didn't always have time to get food between rounds. The fruit and veggie packed juices were like meals in a bottle. Because of this, I was well-nourished, well hydrated, and energized for each game.

Key #7: Grow facial hair

In the time I would have spent shaving, I spent preparing. I also lost my razor, so I had no choice.

A report from the Philly Open would not be complete without sharing one of the most inspiring stories from the event.


5-year-old Rachael Li (younger sister of top US Junior Rufeing Li) competed in the U1100 section. Despite playing exceedingly and more experienced competition, she netted 5.5/7 in the U1100 and walked away with a whopping 450 dollars. That's quite a weekend's earnings for a pre-schooler!


See the full tournament results on MSA, prize payouts on the official website, and the full tournament story by Jamaal Abdul-Alim.


April - Chess Life Online 2015

Captain's Report: China Wins World Team National Junior High Championships: Crowded at the Top National Junior High Champs Begin in Louisville Women’s World Team Halfway Report: U.S. Women Off to a Solid StartInaugural Grand Chess Tour Unveiled in Saint Louis Eric Rosen on Final IM Norm: Keys to SuccessCaptain's Report: IM Donaldson on the World Team Lampman & Behura Among Winners at Record All-Girls in Chicago World Team Championships Underway in China and Armenia Turnout Breaks Records at 2015 All-Girls NationalsKostya On Chess: Learning to Love the Open SicilianBattle of Legends: Autographs & Simuls 2015 Scholar Chess Player Award Winners AnnouncedNakamura & Krush are the New U.S. Champions!Quest to Columbus: IM Chandra Wins High School ChampionshipRecord Breaking National High School Champs UnderwayRecord Attendance in Columbus!Nakamura Pulls Ahead, So Stumbles in Saint Louis National High School Championships Kick Off with Blitz & Bug 2015 Pan American Youth Qualifiers AnnouncedPan-Am & North American Youth Registration Details Request for Proposals: Annual Development ConsultantBattle of the Legends: Garry Kasparov vs. Nigel Short Chirila and Quesada Perez Top Philly Open Nakamura and Nemcova Lead in Saint Louis Mariya Muzychuk New Women's World Champ Sevian Stuns in Round Three Baird and Mechanics Host 2nd San Francisco Scholastic World Youth Regulations Update The April Check is in the Mail Spring 2015 Buying Guide now available from USCF Sales!