This is a few days overdue, but I played in the CalChess Labor Day tournament this past weekend. It doubles as the championship for North California, a state unto itself in the US Chess Federation (Southern California holds it’s own, separate championship on the same weekend).
I was largely playing to get some practice playing 2 rounds a day again, as most European events have one round on every day. It was my first time back at the State Champs since 1999, when there were very strong players like GMs Roman Dzindzichasvili and Walter Browne amongst the participants. This year, I was the top seed with about four or five 2400s behind me.
Nevertheless, it was an unmitigated disaster for me.
In the first round, I had the white pieces against Jimmy Heiserman. He played a Grunfeld against me, and I was rather happy with the game, as I got a small edge out of the opening and started to expand across the board. He tried to complicate things, but I cut my way through the complications to get an easily winning endgame.
In the second round, I had the black pieces against NM Steven Zierk, who I played in a 20-board simul in Los Gatos earlier in the year (writeup at: https://vbhat.wordpress.com/tag/los-gatos/). He played extremely passively, but I guess he just wanted a draw from the game. I struggled to squeeze something from the position, and I was making great progress until I made a bad miscalculation around the time control on move 30 and was left with a worthless advantage in the endgame. The game petered out in a K+B (for me) vs. K (for him) draw …
Annoying for sure, but it was the 2nd game of the day, and as I was trying to prepare myself for the rigors of playing a pair of 5-hour rounds a day, I wasn’t overly upset at that one. The next morning, though, I drew again with a much lower rated master, this time NM Gregory Young.
I got a clear advantage out of the opening, but immediately took it into an endgame which offered few practical chances for me due to the opposite colored bishops. This was a bad practical decision, as had I kept more pieces on the board, I may have kept more chances of outplaying my opponent. As it was, the endgame was not so hard to defend, and although he gave me a few chances, I never got close enough to win the game.
The real disaster struck that evening, in the fourth round as black against NM Drake Wang. I emerged from the opening with a clear advantage (extra pawn, pair of bishops), but then was so overjoyed with such an advantage that I played a little loosely for the next few moves. I saw a winning line after he played 18.Nxf7, the only problem being that I mixed up the order of the moves. Thus, I incorrectly played 18…d4, when 18…Bxc4 19.bxc3 d3! was winning. He immediately took advantage by sliding his knight away with Nce5, after which I was reeling. I tried to fight, and the game went on for another 2.5 hours, but I was again in no danger of winning and in fact was in no real danger of drawing the game!
With that loss, I was dropped to 2/4 and decided to withdraw from the tournament. I had done a great job against lower rated players in general since playing more seriously in 2006 – before this tournament, in my previous 64 games against lower rated opposition (since the start of 2006), I had 55 wins, 7 draws, and 2 losses. In this tournament, I left with 1 win, 2 draws, and 1 loss. A clunker like that was bound to happen at some point, but it was disappointing for sure. However, I think I’ve learned a couple things from those games and will hopefully not let that happen again.
The tournament was also costly from a FIDE rating standpoint, as I essentially threw away all my gains from Balaguer 2008 by losing 12+ rating points. My next rated tournament will be the Miami International, from September 10th to the 14th.
As a stand-in for a wrap-up of the tournament, my former student FM Sam Shankland won the tournament convincingly with 5/6. He thrashed IM Andrei Florean in round 5 before holding a draw against IM Dmitry Zilberstein in the final round to secure clear first place.
HT to my former teacher Richard Shorman for the photos. There are more available at his Chess Dryad site.