Quest to the First GM Norm Print E-mail
By Akshat Chandra   
April 19, 2014
IM Akshat Chandra vs. IM-elect Michael Bodek

The Marshall Chess Club in New York organized a GM Norm Invitational tournament from April 4 to April 13.  It was a 9 round, 10-player Round-robin, and 6.5 points were required for a GM norm and 5 points for an IM norm.  The participants included 3 GMs, 4 IMs and 1 FM.  The players, by FIDE rating, were:

GM Tamaz Gelashvili (GEO) 2584 
GM Mark Paragua (PHI) 2495 
GM Mikheil Kekelidze (GEO) 2485
IM Raja Panjwani (CAN) 2450
IM Yaacov Norowitz (USA) 2426
IM Columban Vitoux (FRA) 2414
Matthew Herman (USA) 2389
FM Michael Bodek (USA) 2376
Igor Sorkin (ISR) 2375
IM Akshat Chandra (USA) 2370

This was my first round-robin tournament.  One of the benefits of such a tournament is that you don’t have to wait till the last few minutes before the round-time to learn who your opponent is and prepare for the game.  The drawing of lots took place on April 1st, which gave the participants time to prepare accordingly.  

The tournament was opened by Stuart Chagrin, Club President, and Dr. Marcus Fenner, Club Executive Director and Organizer.  International Arbiter Dr. Frank Brady was the Chief TD.  It was a wonderful and historic setting with the greats of the games peering down from the framed pictures on the walls.  The wooden boards and the exquisite chess pieces added to the stature of the tournament, not to mention sitting a few tables away from the one on which Fischer and Capablanca both played.  

Nearly all the games were decisive in the first round with only one draw.  That was the game I played with GM Mark Paragua from Philippines.  Mark is a really strong and experienced GM, with a peak rating of 2621.  He surprised me in the opening by playing the Caro-Kann, which put me out of my preparation instantly.  So much for the last couple of days of prep.  Some inaccuracies by my side allowed him to equalize pretty quickly.  I started to get low on time, and tried to trade pieces and force a Draw.  But that almost backfired, since I got into a passive Queen Endgame in which I nearly lost.  Nonetheless, I managed to secure a draw with a perpetual check. 
GM Mark Paragua vs. IM Akshat Chandra

A highlight of the first round was FM Michael Bodek’s upset win over GM Kekelidze.  
I was extremely relieved to save my first-round game.  The initial nervousness and jitters were settling down.  In my next game playing Black against IM Colomban Vitoux, I outplayed him and achieved a winning position.  But in the ensuing time trouble I bungled my advantage and had to settle for a draw.  I was disappointed with the outcome, but I knew my game was in the right place, and I had to manage the time.  In the third round, I overcame IM Raja Panjwani, a strong IM from Canada, which put me on 2/3.  I felt I was starting to hit my stride.  

But then in the next game against FM Bodek, I was again forced to settle for a Draw after bungling my winning advantage, once again due to time pressure.  This was extremely frustrating, since I was ruining well-played games due to my shoddy time management.  I rebounded from the setback, and in Round 5 defeated Matt Herman, known for his striking attacks, and picturesque finishes.  Luckily, our game was much calmer and positional :) 

Going into the break after five rounds, there were 4 players mathematically in contention for a GM norm – Raja Panjwani, Michael Bodek, Matthew Herman and I.

In the second-half, Raja Panjwani made his intentions well-known with a strong win against GM Kekelidze in Round 6.  Meanwhile, I was able to earn a full point against IM Norowitz, while Bodek and Herman drew their game against each other.  Heading into the final day with two rounds, it was Panjwani and me still in the running for a GM norm, while Bodek and Herman had a shot at an IM norm.  In the 8th round I was able to overcome Igor Sorkin and moved to 6 points – just a ½ point away.  Meanwhile, Panjwani played valiantly but could not get past the solid Mark Paragua, and ended up losing the game. 
In the final round I achieved a draw with GM Kekelidze which allowed me to reach 6 ½ points.  That sealed the deal and I clinched my maiden GM norm in the hallowed halls of the The Marshall Chess Club!  

In the meantime, Bodek played strongly against Igor Sorkin and secured his full point needed to reach the IM norm.  This was Bodek’s final IM norm.  Since he had earlier crossed the rating requirement of ELO 2400, henceforth he will be referred to as IM Bodek :)  Final standings are available here.

Even though Igor Sorkin could not achieve what he set out to do, he won another kind of Norm in the game of life.  He was blessed with a baby boy during the break in the tournament, and achieved his first Fatherhood Norm.

I was thrilled to achieve my 1st GM norm and played strongly throughout the tournament.  I had recently returned from an excellent tournament, the UTD Spring Open FIDE in Dallas, where I played strongly to start off but then lost my way after an optical blunder (overlooked a pawn, maybe because of a reflective board ;-) ).  My game was feeling strong, and I really wanted to avoid silly mistakes heading into the Marshalls GM Invitational.  As my friend GM Daniel Naroditsky told me after the event, “the first one is the hardest.”  I hope he’s right :)

Below is my annotated game with Igor Sorkin.  I hope to cover my games in additional detail on my blog QuestToGM.  

Heading into this round I had 5/7, and required 1.5/2 for a GM norm. I had the White pieces against Igor Sorkin from Israel. In my mind, this game was a must-win, since if I drew, I would have to beat GM Kekelidze as Black in the last round, a much harder task.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.b3 a6 

With this move, Black's position becomes a blend of the Najdorf and Dragon. 
7.f3 Nbd7 8.Qd2 h5 
A rare move, played only five times before (six times after this game :), the aim of 8.h5 is to restrict White's standard plan of g4-h4, and to prevent Bh6 which is another thematic idea in the Dragon. 
A standard move in such positions, putting the bishop on its best square. 9.0–0–0 seems premature, since after  9...b5 White's light squared bishop is kind of awkward. There doesn't seem to be a natural way to develop it now. 
9...Bg7 10.0–0–0 b5 11.Bb3 Bb7 12.Rhe1 Rc8 
I was a bit hesitant moving the Rook away from the h-file, since it comes in handy many times after Black castles and White cracks open the kingside with g4 etc. But  12...0–0 seems too dangerous anyways, since after  13.Bh6 White develops a crushing attack. If Black makes a "normal" move like 13...Rc8 then 14.Qg5 finishes the game immediately!
I was attracted to this move, since it prepares Nd5 and kind of forces Black to find a move now - other then castles. 
Threatening Rxg5-Bh6, but other then that, the rook-lift doesn't really stop Nd5, so I'm not sure what the point of this move is.  [Once again 13...0–0 is too risky because of  14.Bh6; If 13...Ne5 14.Nd5 is strong.; 13...Nc5 14.e5!? dxe5 15.Rxe5 seems dangerous for Black as well.] 
14.f4 For some reason I rejected this natural and obvious move. 14...Qc8 Sadly, this is practically forced.  (14...0–0 15.f5 Ne5 16.Bh6‚; 14...Qc7 15.Nd5 Nxd5 16.exd5+- followed by f5.) 15.Nd5 Despite my last few moves being centered around this idea, I totally missed it in this line. 15...e6 16.f5! exd5 17.fxg6 fxg6 18.exd5+ Kf7 19.Ne6 with a powerful initiative. It's only a matter of time before Black cracks here.] 
14...Nxd5 15.exd5? 
This shuts my bishop out on b3, but I had an interesting idea in mind. However, Black should be = with correct play here. [15.Bxd5! Qc8 16.f4 was a much stronger way to carry out the f3-f4 plan.] 
15...Nf6 16.Qe2 
Preparing f4. The d5 pawn is taboo. 

 I would go as far as to call this the decisive mistake.  Black decides to permanently forgo castling, and rids himself of a key defensive piece. [16...Bxd5 17.Bxd5 Rxd5 (17...Nxd5 18.Nb3+-) 18.Nc6+-; 16...Nxd5 17.Ne6+-; 16...Qc7 requires some thought, and I think this should be fine for Black after  17.f4 Bxd5 18.Bxd5 Rxd5 19.Rd3 0–0= Black can castle without worrying about any sort of attack here.] 
17.Bxh6 Rxh6 18.f4 
There doesn't seem to be a satisfactory way to prevent the f4-f5 advance now. 
[18...Bxd5 19.Bxd5 Nxd5 (19...Rxd5 20.Nc6+-) 20.Nb3 Nxf4 21 Qd2 Rc4 22.g3+-; 18...Nxd5 19.f5+-; 18...h4 is a ridiculous suggestion given by the engine, but now White can just play 19.f5 g5 20.Rd3! A strong idea, once again suggested by the engine. White's plan is to play g3 and open things up on the kingside. It seems very slow, but Black is infact helpless against it !] 
[19.f5 g5 was why I played my 19th move, but  20.Rd3± Once again, the engine's idea works here, but this time it's with the idea of Rd3-Re3. I didn't see this during the game however.] 
 [19...Kf8 is not enough after  20.f5 Rg8 21.Qd2± White's got so many threats here, Qf4,Qg5,Qh6 etc. Black's position is just falling apart.] 
20.f5 Rg8 
This just flat out loses. [20...gxf5 21.Nxf5 e6 22.Ng7+ Kd7 (22...Kf8 23.Nxe6+ fxe6 24.Qxe6 Blacks king is exposed, and he can't avoid heavy material loss/mate.) 23.Nxe6 fxe6 24.Qxe6+ Kc7 25.Bxd5 Bxd5 26.Rxd5 Rxd5 27.Qxd5 Qxh4 was Black's best try, but it's still not fun to play after  28.Rd1 Qf6 29.Kb1±] 

21...fxe6 22.Qxe6 Nf6 
22...Rf8 23.Qxg6+ Kd7 24.Qe6+ Kc7 25.Bxd5 Bxd5 26.Rxd5 Rf6 27.Rxc5+ dxc5 28.Qe5+ Qd6 29.Qe4+-; 22...Rg7 23.Bxd5 Bxd5 24.Rxd5 Rxd5 25.Qxd5+-
 I was very surprised to have won so quickly, since there didn't seem to be that much for me after 15.exd5. I didn't really feel like I had played a great game, and that it was more of Black's bad moves which contributed to the result, but I'll take it! This win allowed me to draw my final game against GM Kekelidze, thus clinching me my first GM Norm.

Thanks to the GMs for participating and giving us an opportunity to seek norms, and most importantly thanks to The Marshall Chess Club for hosting a wonderful Round Robin tournament.  I hope there will be more.  Remember, the NY International, hosted by the Club, begins on June 18. 

Find USCF rated results of the GM-Invitational at the Marshall here.