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Adamson on IM Norm #2 at the North American Masters Print E-mail
By FM Robby Adamson   
February 21, 2010
Robby300.jpgHow does it sound, traveling to a city where the temperatures are in the teens over the course of two weekends covering a span of one month, to play in a chess tournament? Yes, that summarizes the conditions of my travels to ultra-cold Chicago for the 24th Annual North American Masters hosted by Sevan A. Muradian and the North American Chess Association.  

I fully recognized a few months ago (well I have been telling myself this for a few years now) that my commitment to chess study and improving my attitude and approach to the game needed to change. As a coach, it is hard to admit things like this. My rating losses seemed to match the drop in the stock market.  When you have more lofty goals in chess, these truths can eat away at you like a piranha (not as bad as a barracuda ) and in fact it did. It bothered me that I was having problems raising my rating, and that I seemed to make the same psychological mistakes over and over.

I am tough on my students and give them honest and harsh evaluations when it is warranted. So why should I be any different with myself? If I didn’t have the real goal of getting better, that would be one thing. Playing casually is still fun for most chess players. However, if I “really” want to get better, then I needed to step it up.

I also recognized that I only studied during the Fall when I played for the Arizona Scorpions during the US Chess League season. I might dabble in some study during other parts of the year, but the true commitment was simply not there. I have been an FM for what seems like an eternity. However, I have always wanted to achieve the IM Title, in part because I thought I could achieve it eventually by not having to take a lot of time off of work. This has proven to be more difficult than I expected. 

Frankly, for practical considerations, I viewed tournaments as vehicles to get out of the law office, watch my students play, and lose myself in the mythical chess world for a few days. I did not have the time to study very much.  However, I always feel one can make time if it's important, and it was a little hypocritical for me as a chess coach to demand from my scholastic students a commitment to excellence when I was not willing to expect the same from myself.

Help from GMs

My biggest obstacle to getting better according to GM Gregory Kaidanov was purely psychological. I didn’t buy that it was totally psychological, but I did agree with him that something was holding me back and this might be the culprit. I have the utmost respect for Kaidanov as a coach and he has coached several times at the Western Invitational Chess Camp I run in July in Arizona. The source of my problem being psychological was echoed recently by another GM I trust, Alex Yermolinsky. I told Alex what Greg said about me and he said, "Gregory always says that, because it is always true for all chess players!"

Many months prior to the event, just before the first weekend, and after the first weekend, I had spoken to many strong players about how specifically I should change my approach to the game. I took the advice of my good friend, GM Robert Hess who told me, in not so many words, to calm (insert adjective) down and play with confidence. This was re-enforced by another good friend of mine, GM Alejandro Ramirez, who told me to just relax, play with confidence and do not get into time pressure (my time management was in the past my biggest weakness, and maybe it still is, but I have made a concerted effort to work on it). It helped having Alejandro on the Arizona Scorpions during the US Chess League this year because he yelled at me for being so stressed out all the time. I finally decided I needed to change my approach. Heck, why not listen to GM’s and many other friends who had witnessed my play and attitude for a long time.

Pre-Tournament Strategy

Part of my strategy entering the tournament, besides consulting the above powers that be, was to try and be as focused as possible. I stopped listening to music during my games about six months ago because I felt this caused me to not focus. I also told only a very few people that I was playing in this event. This approach allowed me to relax and concentrate on playing good chess.

Also, I reminded myself that I had played well enough in past tournaments to achieve a norm, such as the 2003 CCA International where I scored my first norm. Prior to that 2003 event, I had studied a lot and I guess it paid off. I missed out on several norm opportunities following this success, at the 2003 World Open and the 2005 HB Global, losing in the final round and missing norms both times.  These near misses planted the seed that my one "success" was not just a one-hit wonder, though I was not happy after either game. I probably screamed outside - people who know me can provide the content. After playing a lot in 2003, 2004, and 2005, my chess study ceased for a while because of work, coaching Catalina Foothills High School chess team, and numerous other things. Ah, such is life.

Sevan Muradian & North American Chess Association

So, I decided that 2010 would be the year I would play a lot of tournaments and get myself into playing shape. I was going to study a lot during the Christmas holidays, and I had already started earlier in November. I had seen tournaments advertised by the North American Chess Association but had never attended one before, so I decided to give it a shot. The Organizer, with so many irons in the fire, Sevan Muradian, ran norm eligible tournaments in Chicago (actually held in Skokie) and these tournaments had produced GM norms for the likes of Ray Robson and Ben Finegold (both GM's today), and IM norms for Florin Felecan, Marc Arnold, Mehmed Pasalic, Mackenzie Molner, and many others.  In August 2009, I played in the North American Masters and clearly was out of shape. My result was mediocre, but I am glad I played.

RobbySevan400.jpgSevan runs quality events and must be applauded for having run 24 Norm events! This is very impressive especially since he has regularly offered them in such a short time span of five years or so. I doubt he turns any profit. I think he does it because he has the organizer-bug. While other tournaments pop up from time to time, Sevan's are by far the most consistent series of events offering these opportunities. Sevan exerts significant  time and effort to get the required number of GM’s, IM’s, and foreigners to make sure that the players have the best opportunity to achieve their norms.

Another great thing about the tournament is that chess boards, sets, and clocks are provided. Gee, what a concept! Other than the National Open and U.S. Open, there are not many major tournaments that offer this “extra.” I have always felt that it improves the quality of the event to have these provided.  The pairings are posted in advance and the atmosphere is very quiet. I also have to say that the players from Chicago are really good people. I felt this way the first time I played in Chicago in 2009, as well as our dealing with the US Chess League team, the Chicago Blaze. Overall, Sevan does an A+ job and I encourage others to participate in his events.

24th North American Masters – Week 1

After the August 2009 event, I asked Sevan if I could play in January and he said he was experimenting with a two weekend format for the January event. This actually suited me fine because it meant missing only one day of work each weekend. However, I have to confess that I really didn’t think clearly through what it would require to play a two weekend event that was spread out a month apart.

The format of the event was a six-player, double round robin – meaning I would play each player twice, once with each color. I received my pairings a few weeks before the event and so I started preparing a little, but this proved challenging because many of the players didn’t have a lot of recent games in the database and they played so many different things. Therefore, I decided to work on other parts of my game where I had problems, rather than preparing for a particular opponent.

When I got my pairings, I was disappointed. Not only did I play the top two seeds in the first two rounds, but I got black three of the first four rounds. Someone had to get this color allocation, but the pressure was on to not completely blow my chance for the norm the first weekend. I was particularly concerned that if I didn’t do well the first half of the event, it would make a tough flight back to play the second half.  And of course, as I later found out, the second half was on Super Bowl weekend! After feeling sorry for myself for a few minutes, I realized that was the task and I would have three whites out of four games to start the second half. So was the glass half empty or half full? I will let the readers be the judge.


As many people know, I am superstitious, and I somewhat believe in karma. I don’t know if this is a psychological flaw or not. I have always viewed being superstitions as a way to be focused. It allows you not to think about other things and channels your thinking. I only use black-ink pens when I notate (blue is bad luck because I used it in the U.S. Junior Open as a kid 25 years ago and lost 70 rating points!). I will eat the same food for good luck (Tuna Melt with a side of fruit at the Holiday Inn North Shore from room service Saturday afternoon was a good selection). I am sure there are countless others but these are the most memorable (one more to come in a bit).

So I arrived in Chicago Friday on a non-stop flight from Tucson with no delays – though we did taxi and zig-zag forever because of the ridiculous amount of snow on the ground. I arrived at the hotel six hours in advance of the first round and was happy that I made it. As I wheeled my luggage into the hotel, literally right as I entered the hotel, the fire alarm went off. I was like, what did I do? I felt like the hotel staff at the front desk was glaring at me. The fire alarm was so loud, it was unreal. After a few minutes, it went off. I was assigned room 2010. 2010? Was this a sign? Did room 2010 matching the current year mean something?

The tournament began and my focus (and superstitions) paid immediate dividends – it had to, to compensate for my past rating donations to charity.  I started off with a bang winning with black against IM Mehmed Pasalic and then with white vs. IM Florin Felecan.

In preparing for this game, I didn't know what Florin was going to play against me. I expected some crazy Sicilian, but instead I got this.


1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Be3 c6 5.Nf3 Nf6

a little unusual to see Black play Nf6 when playing a Modern variation move order - now I couldn't decide whether to play Qd2 and allow Ng4 or to play what I played - so I decided to play conservatively
6.h3 0–0 7.Qd2 b5 8.Bd3
this is a solid setup but not super dangerous for Black
8...Nbd7 9.0–0 e5 10.a4
This is a standard move in these positions - the idea is to provoke Black to play b4 and White re-routes his knight to g3; White also has the idea of playing c4 and provoke a weakness on the queenside
10...b4 11.Ne2 d5
Every Pirc player knows that this is a thematic pawn break. Very often, White will maintain the tension in the center - but here I didn't feel I could let Black trade pawns in the center. The other option for Black would be 11...a5; White then plays either Ng3 or c3

better than 12.dxe5 Nxe4 13.Qb4 Rb8
12...Nxe5 13.dxe5 Nxe4 14.Bxe4 dxe4 15.Qxb4 Ba6

15...Bxe5 16.Qxe4 Bxb2 17.Rab1 White is a little better but Black probably has enough compensation.
16.Rfd1 Qb8 17.Qxb8 Rfxb8 18.Nd4 the evil computer thinks White is fine here but I didn't like the activity of the 2 bishops and that the e5 pawn is weak; there is a big difference between what Rybka thinks and practical play dictates.
16...Bxe5 17.Qxe4 Qc7?!
I didn't expect this move - but Florin wanted to achieve some winning chances with the 2 bishops and perhaps f5 f4 pawn advance. Now White is able to take the necessary time to consolidate the extra pawn. 17...Bxb2 18.Rab1 Bg7 19.Qxc6 Qa5 White is a little better here but I think this would have been tougher to convert.
18.Bd4 Rfe8 19.Ng3 I didn't see this possibility in the game.
18...Rab8 I think this is better than what he did.
19.Qf3 c5
after this move, I felt White was fine. I think my opponent missed the Nf4 Nd5 maneuver [19...Rab8 this was better - I didn't have a lot of confidence in 20.b4 here though I guess looking at it now seems fine for White]
20...Bb7 21.Nd5 Qc6 22.c4 Kg7
22...Bxb2 loses to 23.Rab1 Bg7 24.Rxb7
here I felt like I could be very patient. This feeling explains why I played so conservatively the next few moves.
23...f6 24.Ra2 g5
rather than go down with the ship, Black bluffs - if White is able to consolidate, the win should be fairly easy
25.b3 Rab8 26.Rac2 Bc8 27.Bc1 h5
Black doesn't have to play this move but it is consistent with his plan to play for g4 and open up the h-file
28.Qxh5 Rxb3
28...Rh8 29.Qg6+! Kxg6 30.Ne7+ Kf7 31.Nxc6+- Rxb3 32.Nxe5+ fxe5 33.Rxe5 and despite the opposite colored bishops, Blacks few remaining pawns are very loose
After this crusher, Black has no defense
29...Bxf6 30.Rxe8 Bb7 31.Qh8+ Kg6 32.Qg8+

32.Rg8+ Kf7 (32...Kf5 33.Qh7+ Ke6 34.Re2+ Kd6 35.Rxg5 Bxg5 36.Bf4+ Bxf4 37.Qe7#)
32...Kh6 33.Bxg5+ Bxg5 34.Re6+ Qxe6 35.Qxe6+ Kg7 36.Re2 1–0

When things are going well like this, other things seem to go your way too, as I scored a quick win vs FM Gauri Shankar. And if you are having a bad tournament, when things are going bad, it seems your opponents do not make any mistakes and it’s like pulling teeth to even win a game. That is chess for you.

I was cautiously optimistic after my 3-0 start, and despite trying to win rounds 4 and 5 (and blowing a winning position in round 5), I finished the first half with 4/5. Overall, I was very happy because I only needed 6/9 for the norm which in essence meant I needed 2/4, which was very achievable.

Week 2

Robby on the March 2009 cover of Chess Life Magazine
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, once I had such a good start, people read about the result online. Then I could not escape the questions.  Many people congratulated me on the good first half, and of course asked numerous questions about my first half. When was the next half? How much did I need for the norm? How many norms did I have? What was I going play against this person and that person? I appreciated the encouragement but honestly I did not want to talk about it. I was feeling stressed though not as stressed as before the tournament. Rightly or wrongly, I just wanted to focus.

So as the second week approached, I started worrying about all sorts of things. Because of the snow, what happens if I miss the Friday night round because my flight is delayed? What if I oversleep for my 7 am flight? What if my alarm clock doesn’t go off? What if my cell phone goes off and I am forfeited? Did I remember to prepare for every single possible thing that could be played against me?

So the second week came off without a hitch. I took the exact same flight (sort of superstitious) as the previous month, and I arrived at the hotel at about the same time as last month. Nice! Same time, same place. There was no fire alarm this time, but I convinced myself that this was an acceptable change in circumstance. I checked in and to my dismay and despite my request in advance for room 2010, it was not available. Was this a sign? As it turned out, they gave me room 4020, which, using simple math is Room 2010 x 2!) That means of course that I was going to repeat my successful performance from the first week. I probably am stretching this logic, but it made sense to me and that is all that mattered.

My cell phone didn't go off, nor did I oversleep.  A few of my opponents played stuff I didn’t expect, but I was able to draw my first four games fairly easily and get my second norm.  Reflecting back, I realized I needed to follow my own advice to my students and of strong players I trust and respect to play with confidence, avoid time pressure, and just relax.

I also want to thank FM Mackenzie Molner who studied with me prior to the event for about 7 hours a day. We didn’t prepare for any of my opponents, but just studied a lot of chess. This got me in the proper frame of mind and focused me.  We were a good match for each other because he had more of a carefree, and at times, reckless approach toward chess, while I was more solid and definitely had more of a positional eye.  Even though I did not succumb to all of his insane ideas, I appreciated working with him.

Where do I go from here? Maybe the 25th Annual North American Masters – which is a Swiss event offering IM norms and GM norms being run March 20-24, 2010 (run in conjunction with the World Amateur tournament). If the March event does not work out, perhaps the Chicago Open, Copper State International (run by a very good friend of mine and now IM, Danny Rensch), or the World Open.

Finally, I would like to recognize the different chess sponsors. Thanks to Mr. Vince W. Berry for his generous financial support of the event (and hosting the sponsor dinner where we were treated to a barracuda), the Holiday Inn North Shore for providing the playing venue, and DGT North America for providing the equipment used during the event. Without the generosity of sponsors, these events would be difficult to organize and players such as myself would not have as many opportunities to achieve our goal. 

February - Chess Life Online 2010

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