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)
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?
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.
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.
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.
That was hands down one of the craziest tournament games of my life. The opening was rather peaceful, but my
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.
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!