So to wrap up my first tournament result in over a year (which took place nearly a month ago now, see why I need to get on the ball!) I was sitting at 1 ½ after the first two rounds. Round three saw me paired against an old friend of mine, National Master Albert Chow. I first met Albert back in 1994 at the U.S. Open here in Chicago. He was a friend of another chess player I had just met at the tournament earlier that week, the good Dr. Stitchkopf, Joe Stevens. Albert actually tied for 1st that year, a tremendous result for anyone, an historical marker putting him in with elite chess company. I can still remember seeing him up on stage, during his final round victory over fellow Illinois Master Andrew Karklins, sitting calm and serene in full fu manchu beard and dark as night sunglasses! Over the years I’ve shared the occasional hotel room with Albert and others during big weekend swisses, staying up til the wee hours with the likes of IM Emory Tate, regaling us with tactical wizardry that only Albert dare refute. Ah, the halcyon days of tournament chess for me! It was more about the event than the chess and even though my play back then suffered for it, great memories were certainly created.
Flash forward to early March of 2008 and I’m sitting in a cluttered room on North Ashland facing off against Albert in round 3! I had a few very minor things going for me here: the time-control for starters, Game/45. Albert’s bugaboo over the years has been time management and game-in-45 minutes can get stressful in a hurry. Another thing was my choice of openings: I had black in our encounter and once the clocks started, Albert sat for a minute or two before opening with 1. e4. I was puzzled by this since I figured he knew I play the Scandinavian Defense exclusively as black against e4 and would only play 1. d4 after a think like that. Turns out afterwards he thought I played the Benko Gambit against d4 and decided on e4 instead. Guess I’m not as memorable as I seem to think!
As you can see from the game score link on the right, Albert declined my early opening funny business and we transposed to a French Exchange Variation. So off we go into unfamiliar territory and in all honesty, it felt then and was confirmed by my laptop later that I was slowly, move-by-move getting worse and worse! By move 16 there was the familiar “Isolated Queen Pawn” scenario. I was doing a good job of attacking it, as you can see from the red arrows in the diagram below, but this misses the point of the IQP now doesn’t it? Shouldn’t I be working on controlling the square IN FRONT of the pawn, to restrict its advance?
Such “subtleties” were lost on me at the time, proof of which was my 16. …Na5 move from the diagram. Does anyone have a plan I could borrow? EXCUSE ME, I’m looking for a PLAN over here! Hello, can I get some service? Well, the fun doesn’t stop there; I actually missed luring Albert into a trap a few moves later. Mind you, I’m not saying he would have fallen for it, but I did miss the opportunity of at least allowing him to fall for it! After my 16. …Nh5 he played Ba2, I followed with a6 with the idea of b5 then Nc4 (hey, at least it smacks of a plan). He played 18. Qa4 to stop b5 but I could’ve played it anyway since Qxa5 Nc6 traps the Queen. I didn’t see this at the time, played my N back to c6 and things got ugly from there. However, the sands of time entered the bar at this point, parched as usual. Luckily I was the barkeep. A time scramble ensued and when the dust settled I was staring at mate-in-6, Albert was staring at 0:00. I offered a draw, which he accepted (see the game notes for an explanation of sorts) and I had a drawn a Master! Yahoo! Not how I wanted or expected it to happen but even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally.
The final round saw me with white against an Expert and in all honesty it was a strange game. I actually remember doing something during the game, something I should be doing after EVERY move my opponents take: asking myself “what gem of an idea does THIS move offer?” In other words, determine WHY my opponent made a particular move and plan against or around it. My Expert foe made a curious move at one point early in our game (7. …Nb6) and I for the life of me could not see the plan. One thing I did know was if I simply proceeded with my strategy (the minority attack), his move would not smell so sweet. Turns out this is exactly what happened! By move 16 he blundered, blundered some more two moves later and I spent the remaining time plucking the wings off a fly until mate was delivered. An Expert scalp! Sweet mother-of-pearl, and in my first tournament back no less!
So in the end I finished tied for 2nd and garnered $55 in prize money. On the flipside, sadly, this tournament has yet to be rated so I’m not over 1800 yet, which this result would have done for me. Typically tournaments are rated within days (if not the next day) so I’m not expecting much, nor am I expecting to play at the Touch Move again unless I hear back from IM Young on this. Not trying to be ornery here, but I did enter with the idea this tournament would get rated and I could begin my chess quest again!