IM and Beyond: Rosen on Lessons from Chicago Open
By IM Eric Rosen   
June 21, 2015
Photo Viktoria Ni

At the beginning of this year, I purchased the domain name Unfortunately (or very fortunately) the domain will be short-lived. In two months and two tournaments, I scored two IM norms and gained over 100 FIDE points. In April, I scored my third IM norm at the Philly Open and shared my experience with CLO . At the Chicago Open in May, I scored yet another IM norm and boosted my FIDE rating above 2400 (the final qualification for IM). Despite the unprecedented result in Chicago, there were still many mistakes made and lots to improve on. 

Going into the last round of Chicago Open, I found myself in a 9-way tie for first place with 6/8 points. It would have been hard to dream up a scenario where I was leading the tournament along with so many elite grandmasters including Bruzon and Kamsky. A win in the last round would not only guarantee me a share of first place, but also several thousand dollars, and a GM norm to put the icing on the cake. With so many external pressures riding on one game, it’s not exactly easy to stay focused and play good moves.

I was paired against IM Ashwin Jayaram in round 9. Ashwin is perhaps the strongest IM in the world as he received his 5th(!) GM norm at this tournament. It’s worth noting that the last round is typically the most difficult game of any tournament. Energy levels are low and pressure is high. This can lead to quite unpredictable and not-the-best quality chess. My game with Ashwin was a typical last round roller coaster game. Below are my annotations. 

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.Qc2 Be7 7.e3 Nbd7 8.Bd3 h6 9.Bh4 Nh5 10.Bxe7 Qxe7 11.0-0-0 Nb6 12.h3 Bd7 13.Nf3 0-0-0 14.Ne5 Nf6 15.g4 Kb8 16.Kb1 Rc8 17.f4


Around this point, I felt like I was going to lose very quickly. White will continue to expand while black is extremely cramped and has no active plan. 
17...Rhd8 18.Rhe1 Qf8 19.Qb3 Rc7 20.a4 Nc8 21.a5 Nd6 22.Na4 Nfe4 23.Nxd7+?!
A turning point in the game. White trades the very active knight for black's terrible bishop. [23.f5 f6 24.Ng6 Would have been a better direction for white to take] 
23...Rcxd7 24.Re2 Rc7 25.Rc2 Qe7 26.Rdc1 Qh4 27.Ka2 Qxh3 28.Be2? 
28.Rxc6 keeps the game complicated
28...Nc4! 29.Bxc4 dxc4 30.Qxc4 Qxg4 31.d5 Qf5 32.Nb6 axb6 33.axb6 

Black is now completely winning. All that needs to be done is move the rook away from c7 
Giving away almost all of black's advantage. It's hard to explain such a move. I hallucinated danger after 33... Rcd7 Qa4. I wanted to play safe, trade queens, and enter an endgame which I thought still offered winning chances for black. However, Ashwin played well to equalize. 33...Rcd7 34.Qa4 Rxd5 (34...Qxd5+ 35.Ka1 Rd6 36.Qa7+ Kc8 37.Qa8+ Kd7 38.Qxb7+ Ke8) 35.Qa7+ Kc8 36.Rxc6+ Kd7 37.Qxb7+ Ke8 During the game, I thought this line would have been a bit risky to enter. However, black's king is competely safe and it is white's king who is about to get mated.
34.bxc7+ Kxc7 35.Qxd5 Rxd5 36.Rg2 g6 37.Rc4 Nd6 38.Ra4 Rf5 39.Rf2 Rf6 40.e4 Re6 41.f5! 

Completely equalizing.
41...Rxe4 42.Rxe4 Nxe4 43.fxg6 fxg6 44.Rf4 Nc5 45.Rf6 g5 46.Rxh6 Kd7 47.Rh7+ Ke6 48.b4 Ne4 49.Rxb7 Ke5 50.Rg7 c5 51.bxc5 Kd5 52.Kb2 ½-½

I was naturally disappointed for a couple days having realized I threw away a relatively simple win in the last round. My friend Viktorija Ni told me afterwards, “Well it is life. As humans we always want more. You become stronger not when you win, but when you learn.” Upon looking at the bigger picture, there was lots to learn from this tournament. I would like to share some of the most instructive lessons from my experiences and others which will hopefully provide some value to readers...

Lesson #1: Combatting last round pressure and fatigue
I was not the only one who needed to win the last round to score a GM norm. FM Gauri Shankar was having an incredible performance with 5.5 out of 8 points. He reached the following position in his must-win 9th round game against Conrad Holt. 

Gauri Shankar - Conrad Holt after 10...Qa5?

White to play and win material

Show Solution

Gauri missed the simple combination and played 12.Bd3 instead. The game ended in a draw. 

Here are some tips for dealing with pressure and fatigue that may have been useful for myself and Gauri...
Do reality checks. Make sure you’re seeing the board clearly and looking at all the possibilities. Take a little bit of time before you make each move to make sure you’re not blundering or missing any opportunities. 
If your mind starts to drift, refocus by asking yourself simple questions: “What is my plan? What is my opponent’s threat? Where are the weaknesses? What pieces can be improved? What are the tactical possibilities?”
Pressure can be a good thing. It motivates you to stay focused and fully engage yourself with the game.

Lesson #2: 14 year-olds are scary
In round 2, I received a very quick loss from 14-year-old GM Sam Sevian. I decided to surprise him with the Ponziani. Let’s just say playing the Ponziani against a grandmaster is a bit like investing in the stock market. It can go really well or really badly. I felt outplayed the entire game and was mated after 26 moves. The one good thing about a quick loss is it allows lots of time to rest for the next round!


The other scary 14-year-old? Jeffery Xiong. The fact that he managed to place clear first in a field of over 20 GMs is simply breathtaking. What a tournament to earn his GM title!

Jeffrey Xiong, Photo Betsy Dynako

What is most scary about these top young players is that their brains are still developing at a fast rate. At a young age it is much easier absorb information and improve quickly. Sam and Jeffery along with many other top players in the US certainly have bright futures ahead of them. 

Lesson #3: Even grandmasters are capable of making elementary blunders

I’d like to share two moments from my games where my grandmaster opponent missed a simple tactic. The next time you miss something simple, don’t get too upset. It happens to everyone!


Conrad Holt- Eric Rosen after 29. h4?  Black to move and win material  

Show Solution

Unfortunately, I missed this chance in the game and played Bxf4. The game ended in a draw. 


Rosen-Friedel after 32...Rxa2?

Show Solution

Lesson #4: How to prepare
Because I was approached by so many people who asked how I’ve been preparing, I will give a more detailed look into my pre-tournament preparation. For about a week leading up to Chicago Open, I spent several hours a day training. A typical training day would involve the following:
Solving 10-15 exercises from Gaprindashvili’s Imagination in Chess  
Solving a handful of difficult endgame studies and compositions
Playing out positions from Aagaard’s Positional Play against a training partner and then reviewing the analysis
Photo Betsy Dynako

Playing a few rapid games against a training partner with a 10 second delay. This allowed me to get somewhat familiar with the unorthodox Chicago Open time control. 
Following the games from top tournaments (mainly the FIDE Grand Prix)
Reviewing and building my opening repertoire

Lesson #5: Preparation is valuable. But your mental state during a tournament is more valuable. 

A player can prepare for months before a tournament, but still perform poorly if they are unfocused or in poor mental form during the tournament. For this reason, it is highly important to sleep and eat well, and preserve as much energy as possible so your mind can function properly. I was very fortunate that my grandmother lives a short drive from the Chicago Open venue. Between rounds, I went to her place to rest and refuel. My tournament performance would not have been possible without grandma. Thank you Grandma Joan!

Lesson #6: Know your endgames
I would like to end this article with one of the most astonishing endgames from the tournament.

It is theoretically impossible to win with just two knights against a lone king. When the opposing side has a pawn however, there are situations where a win is possible. Starting from move 56, Niemann converted 2 knights vs pawn with stellar technique!


Find Eric Rosen's previous article on his "Final IM Norm: Keys to Success.", and see his official website, and a new project,