Tuesday, April 23, 2019

My Games from the 1st Colonial Open!

Over the weekend I played in the inaugural Colonial Open, held in Sterling, VA. Although I didn't play particularly great, my games were definitely full of adventures...

In the first round I only managed a draw against a strong and young expert, but it was mostly because I goofed in the ending and let him completely equalize the game.

OK, so I wasn't too happy about that, but I felt a bit better after seeing GM Bryan Smith on board one actually lose to a different high-2100 kid (I was the #2 seed behind Smith).

The second round went much better for me; I got to experiment with a new opening, and was able to generate a strong attack in an opposite-sides castling middlegame to win against another expert.

White's biggest mistake that game was probably 19.axb4?!, opening up the a-file for my rook. He still could have played on with 23.Rxd8+ instead of 23.Rh5?, but even then black would have had a much more pleasant position with free pressure against the exposed white king.

In the third round I got to repeat the same line I used in round 1, and my opponent evidently wasn't too familiar with the endgame and quickly blundered the exchange. However, at a critical moment, I played one careless passive move which was enough to let black get back in the game with drawing chances. I ultimately gave back the exchange and we got a tense rook and pawn endgame where at one point we could have seen the highly unusual finish of king and three pawns vs. king and rook! However, after all the adventures, things petered out to a draw.

It is hard to believe that just one inaccurate move 32.Rc1? was enough to blow white's winning position, but sometimes that's just how it is. No matter how good your position is, you need to be accurate right up until the very end. I think I relaxed too early and my opponent played well to get his queenside pawns rolling and draw the tricky rook and pawn ending.

Round four was my best of the tournament - I won a smooth game against an FM where I felt like I was in control the whole time.

The critical moment of the game was right after white's clumsy-looking 17.Qh3!?, when I correctly felt I needed to open the position with 17. ... d5!, after which I could start dictating the play. This strategy worked perfectly, because my opponent quickly erred with the passive 22.Be1?, allowing me to get a powerful initiative which eventually proved decisive.

Going into the last round I was tied for first with 3/4, along with I think three or four other players, Bryan Smith included. I got paired with white against an IM who also had 3/4 after giving up two draws earlier in the tournament.

In this game, I quickly got a dangerous attack after a relatively mellow opening, but my opponent found a very original defensive idea and we ultimately got an unclear ending where I had queen and two pawns vs. three minors! However, the game ended after I prematurely offered a draw because I had completely misevaluated a critical ending from afar.

I completely misjudged the rook vs. two minors endgame - I got scared that I was in trouble there, and didn't see any other options for me after 35. ... Ra3, so I offered the draw after my 35th move. However, in reality that ending was nothing to fear - white's king can easily deal with the d-pawn while black is tied up to stopping both of my passers on the a- and h-files. That was definitely a case of hasty evaluation perhaps combined with some fatigue.

With 3.5/5 I ended up tied for second place. The strong master Isaac Chiu (2308) won clear first with 4/5 after defeating Bryan Smith in the last round.

Monday, April 8, 2019

My Game Against Toby Rizzo

Today is a special occasion - we get to analyze one of my greatest losses in recent memory.

In the second round of the Rochester Monday Night League, I lost to Toby Rizzo (1889), in what I think could rightly be considered the best game of his life so far, and perhaps the most instructive loss of mine so far. Let's see how it happened.

I think we need to turn the clock back to January of 2018 to find the last game I lost to an under-2000 player, when I lost to John Manning with black by playing 3. ... Bd6?! against the Ruy Lopez :)

So, what takeaways can we make from this game?

First of all, it should be abundantly clear that Toby is a very dangerous player when handling the initiative. He surprised me in the opening with 8.dxe5!, taking advantage of my slow and weakening 7. ... b6?!, and although he missed 10.Bxf7+!, which would have won on the spot, he played absolutely flawlessly from move 25 up until the end of the game, perfectly executing his attack and taking full advantage of my mistakes.

Secondly, for whatever reason my sense of danger was not sufficiently active this game. In particular, it is alarming that I even allowed 10.Bxf7+ in the opening, but I also overlooked the extremely important 27.h4! idea and failed to take two chances to escape into an inferior, but possibly still defendable endgame on moves 28 and 30 - and I knowingly rejected those chances too, because I thought white's attack wouldn't be so strong. That misjudgement cost me the game.

However, I would say the most critical moment and my biggest mistake of all was on move 22 when I played Nxg3??, an absolutely atrocious positional decision. I think my reason for making that blunder was that I had half-seriously looked at the better alternative 22. ... Bb7 23.Rc7 Nec5!, but had seen the possible tactics with 24.Nxe5? (which didn't work) and just wanted a simple option to grab the bishop pair. In hindsight, I definitely should have spent more time on that move as it was the pivotal turning point of the game.

You don't win or lose games because of your rating! You win or lose because of the mistakes that you or your opponents make. Those upsets can and do happen, just as David Phelps (2078) defeated GM Sergei Kudrin or I won against the almost 2700-rated GM Kamil Dragun (2678) last year. In both of those games, the higher rated player made some serious mistakes and the lower rated player successfully took advantage of them. My game against Toby is no exception to that rule.

Congrats to Toby on winning an excellent game; I will definitely have to be much more careful against him in the future!