I recently played in the Continental Open, held in Massachusetts, where I got a chance to face some very strong players. I turned out to be in excellent form, and was even tied for first at one point with 4.5/6, but only scored half a point out of the last three rounds so finished with a less sparkling but still decent 5/9.
It was quite a strong field, with 12 GMs and 7 IMs out of 50 players. By FIDE rating I was squarely in the bottom half, so you know what that means for the first round pairings... (all the ratings listed in the games below are USCF, but pairings were done by FIDE rating)
In round one I was up against GM Yaroslav Zherebukh - I lost, but was not unsatisfied with the way I played and definitely gave him a good fight!
To recap the crucial moments of that game:
- Zherebukh drifted into a worse position with black out of the opening but still made the strong positional decision of 18. ... Bxc3! to at least give himself some counterplay.
- My plan of 21.g4?! and 22.g5, although attractive, objectively threw away white's advantage. Correct was 21.Ng5!, removing black's strong centralized knight, when white maintains a better position. In the game, it was only until about move 26 that I realized I was no longer better.
- Although complicated, the game was still roughly balanced until my time trouble errors of 35.Qxe4?! and 36.Ne5?
After a tough first round, the next game was considerably easier - I played a young expert and although it was a long game, I was in control the whole time:
A smooth game; after white's positional error of 22.Bc2? instead of 22.dxe5, I got a nearly strategically winning position with 22. ... e4, having the bishop pair and more space.
In round three I got white against quite a talented young expert who had previously just beaten a master. I checked out a couple of his games beforehand and saw he played the black side of the closed Spanish, so I switched to 1.e4 against him. We got a long maneuvering game where 32 moves were made before a single capture.
It's often hard to pinpoint exact mistakes for black in these kinds of games, but certainly 39. ... Rxf5! would have given more practical chances, although the position was difficult in any case.
The next day was exhausting - both of my games went for six hours, but with a little luck I managed 1.5/2 against two IMs. Both encounters were absolutely nuts with many twists and turns. Round 4 was against the Zimbabwean Farai Mandizha:
In short, his 12.Qa1?! let me get a slight advantage which grew larger once he gave two pieces for a rook and pawn. But in the ensuing complications, I did not find all the best moves and ended up in a slightly worse ending which I held to a draw.
Round 5 was against the young American IM Praveen Balakrishnan:
A fairly slow opening that went into a hanging pawns endgame, things were roughly balanced until I got away with 23.e4?! d4?! and started blockading the pawns. In time trouble things got complicated and he unfortunately blundered into a lost R vs. two minors ending, which itself was still complicated and we both missed another chance for black to draw there. In the end I just barely squeaked out a win with rook vs. a bunch of pawns.
After being successful against IMs that day, I got to play two GMs the next day. If you thought my last two games were crazy, then just wait until you see my round 6 game against Alexander Stripunsky:
That was hands down one of the craziest tournament games of my life. The opening was rather peaceful, but my
ambitious crazy approach of blasting open the position by creating so much pawn tension made things overwhelmingly complicated. Later in a difficult position with little time on the clock Stripunsky ultimately blundered a piece which lost the game.
After that win I was actually briefly tied for first (!), and my USCF performance rating hit 2690, which I think is an all-time high for me. However, things slightly changed when the next round I got black against the #1 seed, Illya Nyzhnyk.
It's kind of unfortunate how I just walked into a sideline that he happened to know - he was actually still blitzing up until move 15 and for the whole game used just barely over 10 minutes on his clock.
Still, my 15. ... c5? was a horrendous blunder - without that black's position should still be holdable but in either case the entire variation starting from 7.Qf5! just looks unpleasant for black. Nyzhnyk is easily the strongest player I've ever played, but at least the loss was relatively quick and painless.
After that, I was still at 4.5/7, but everything hinged on how well I did on the final day. I was getting a little fatigued by this point so my play got sloppy, but at least in round 8 I managed not to lose to GM Sergei Azarov:
However, my last round was pretty bad - basically my careless play in the opening walked me into an unpleasant ending where I suffered a painful defeat.
I think I'm spotting a trend here - I absolutely hate defending worse endgames where I have no counterplay. I'm sure black can hold a draw after move 15 if he defends accurately, but I just self-destructed on move 28. I lost to Nyzhnyk in similar fashion after 15. ... c5?
In the end, I think I was just half a point shy of getting an IM norm, but even with that last round loss it was still a great result for me - my USCF performance was over 2550 and I gained about 20 points.
My next event will be the state championship in Albany over Labor Day weekend, where I will be trying to win for a second year in a row!