Boston Congress 2016
In 2015, I played the least amount of chess since becoming a professional. 69 classical games in a calendar year. A bit of blitz and rapid towards the end of the year made it feel a bit heavier but nevertheless I wasn't very active and didn't feel like a full time player. It was definitely a transition year and I only played when I felt compelled to play. Things started to stabilize in the latter half of 2015 with the chessbrah brand and my own personal life so I started to feel a bit better overall and it showed in results.
I decided back home in Calgary during a Christmas visit to be a lot more active in 2016 and keep my chess game a bit sharper. Kind of like maintaining yourself during the off season as pro athletes do. Long breaks without playing or studying relaxed me and I put in good results but that simply won't sustain itself against top tier professional players. And I do intend to return to the professional scene! As a result I spontaneously registered for the Boston Chess Congress, a weekender held in Boston from January 8-10, 2016. It wasn't FIDE rated but I expected a fairly strong turnout plus I wouldn't have to miss many days of work. I have a pretty full plate in the next while with teaching students and some business ventures.
I ended off the weekend with 4/5 and a share of second place. Three wins over NMs and FMs and two short draws with Black against GMs where they offered early on. Nothing spectacular but a steady performance and a bit of material for me to work on. It was my first time visiting Boston and I thought it was a very nice city. It was also nice to hang out with GM McShane, who I first met after a Bundesliga game in 2014. Games are attached below and hopefully this weekender was a good North American warmup for my next event which will take place February 19-21, 2016 in Quebec City!
Cultural Village Schaaktoernooi 2015
Yes, it's that time of year. I'm getting back into blogging regularly and joining billions of people across the world who are trying to uphold their New Years resolutions. I recently competed in two European events spanning the middle of November to the middle of December. The famous chess city of Wijk aan Zee was the host of my first tournament, named Cultural Village.
The tournament was an invitational round robin which means everyone plays each other. I was the top seed and I was only there to win the first prize: a coveted spot in the Tata Steel B group which takes place in January. Tata Steel is a famous chess tournament that has eluded me thus far in my chess career. Almost every elite player in recent history has played at least once! Due to unforeseen scheduling I was forced to cross the Atlantic the day of the first round which meant I was running on no sleep by the time I arrived to the first round since I can't sleep on airplanes. Combined with the fact that it was my first classical game in almost four months I had reason to be a bit worried. Fortunately, due to some positive things going on around me I was in a very relaxed mood.
The tournament started off in a professional way. I took the lead with some convincing wins. Playing on little preparation and some fatigue my opening decisions and resulting middlegame play were defined by practical decision making. Being the top seed I expected heavy prep against me; and so I decided to play some of my rarer openings to get my opponents out of their comfort zone. Since I was relatively fresh from the World Rapid & Blitz in October, I played quite fast and pressured my opponents on the clock. As so happens in chess a lot of them collapsed quite quickly under pressure. I soon found myself with 4.5/5 a full point in the lead without being under any serious stress.
A rest day came and I wasn't too pleased with the change of rhythm. Preparation throughout the event was minimal for me and extra time would only give my opponents time to adjust some errors for the second half. One major downside of being in a Dutch village in November is that there is absolutely nothing to do. I was restless and wanted to win the tournament and get out.
Round 6 was a big wakeup call. Playing the bottom seed who I sensed was super motivated with nothing to lose I got very sloppy in a comfortable position and had to rely on his unfortunate blunders in mutual time trouble. 5.5/6 with a point lead over the field and two whites in my remaining games three. what could go wrong? Surely after the round six scare I just endured I would steer the ship a bit safer and focus on closing out the tournament.
Unfortunately in round 7 I played what I consider the worst game of my life. Everything about the game was off and it was over before I could even realize it. When I look back it seems everything going on in my head was uncharacteristically off. I played the game as if I was invincible and was going to win no matter what. No objectivity, no calculation, and no sense of danger. Losing with White in twenty moves is something completely unacceptable as a professional. Especially when I have a one point cushion on the field.
Well, I wasn't able to fully recover from the trauma and scored 1.5/2 in the final two rounds with a bit of luck. A strong 5/5 finish by my closest rival netted him clear first with 7.5/9 while I had to settle for second place with 7/9. On paper I gained some rating and for the most part played well but based on the tournament situation that game in round 7 is the most humiliating defeat I've ever sustained. On the plus side I think it will be a harsh lesson learned and I'll be able to maintain my composure far better in the future.
Rounds 5-10 Update
Just finished my tenth round game. Really exhausted! Since I blogged after round 4 I scored 4.5/6 with three wins against lower rated and three draws against higher rated. My games definitely got better although my play was still shaky at some points. Actually, my play was nowhere near optimal but solid enough for me to post a good performance. Considering I wasn't really motivated I'm extremely happy with myself for buckling down and putting in work. It must be something about Iceland that brings me some good fortune!
I've attached all games below. I gained a bit of rating with a 2670 performance to get back to 2580. Looking forward to my next event is the Pan-Ams in Uruguay in May. That is a World Cup qualifier so I definitely should have sufficient motivation. In the meantime I'll be in Canada traveling around a bit so stay tuned as I might be giving lectures in a city near you.
I haven't blogged since September and I have a semi-good reason for it: I relocated to Montreal in November. It was partially planned but never firm in my head until it actually happened. I actually ended my European expedition with a clean tournament win in Guernsey that capped off a very inconsistent year abroad. In the meantime I've been settling in and getting used to having my own place for the first time in 4 years since I lived at home in Calgary. Being on the road non-stop with temporary accommodations got extremely tiring.
I had one of my career-best performances last year in Iceland so it was only logical that I planned to again this year. It's probably my favorite country to play chess in! Unfortunately, this event and the two others I played preceding it (Qatar and Gibraltar) were arranged a while back and don't quite reflect my current thirst for chess. I've had a lot of personal things to sort out and among them has just been an attempt to take an extended break and get that chess hunger again. My genuine motivation levels aren't where I'd like them to be and I'm trying hard but still struggling to put that 100% in. It's been reflective in my games for at least half a year where I continuously miss elementary continuations versus lower rated that would put them on the edge of defeat. I will show two examples from Iceland.
Both times my lack of effort in thorough calculation was punished. I need to start playing more precisely. I'm sitting at 3/4 and playing black against a strong FM today. You can follow the games live at reykjavikopen.com.
Linares Spanish League 2014
I've just scored one of the worst results of my life, so I figured it would be a good time to finally do another blog. The Spanish league took place in Linares from September 4-10. It is the same city that the famous chess tournament took place in and it is also one of the most boring places on earth! No nightlife, intense 40C heat, and in the middle of nowhere.
Anyways, It was my second year competing in the top division for a club based out of Madrid. My connection to this particular club is IM Renier Castellanos who I met while he lived in Montreal, Canada for a couple of years. Along with the two of us the team is equipped with two other GMs and a pair of strong FMs on the bottom boards. Each team consists of 6 boards per match.
The league is a round robin between eight teams and that means no easy games. I scored a decent 3/7 last year on board three with some leniency due to being ill during the event. This year I was playing board two, but had some higher expectations because of recent improvement in my results versus strong GMs. Also important to note is that we were one of the weaker teams this year, and the bottom finishing two teams get relegated to the second divison. My results in league chess 2013-14 were poor, and so the motivation to improve on that the second time around was abundant. Or at least I thought it was.
In retrospect I made a few mistakes before the event started. I arrived to the tournament the day of the first round because of my flight itinerary. I would have normally arrived earlier, but I only was asked to play three weeks before the event. Unfortunately I had already booked a holiday with my girlfriend in Romania. Still, feelings of regret only creeped in when I arrived to play the first game in a very sluggish and sweaty state. It's an obvious mistake, but it's hard to spend a lot of time planning a vacation and then cut it short. Secondly, the team lineups came out a week before the event started and I consciously didn't look at any chess during the holiday. In my mind I was hoping to relax and cleanse my mind after a stressful Chess Olympiad and just show up in Spain to play some interesting games. Unfortunately things don't come so easily because first I have to survive the opening phase against top players - something not to be taken for granted. If this had been an open tournament my attitude would have been fine, but a round-robin against 2600+ average opponents is a different story and even after a year playing in Europe this type of steady competition is unusual for me.
In the end I earned a well deserved 1.5/7 after a week of play. That's three draws and four losses with zero wins. I sprinted out of the starting gate with three consecutive losses, a record for me. That was followed by three draws which save for one were not smooth. There was a very clear pattern in my first few games consisting of poor openings and time management. I lost games with White against lines that are out of fashion today. The flaws of my internet influenced chess were made clear when I didn't know what to play by move 5 in three of my games. My games with Black were fine and I realize now that I probably spent a disproportionate time on them considering how much I still need to learn as White. One thing I can't explain is how I was miscalculating anything and everything in my head and taking an exhorbitant amount of time in doing so. It seems I've lost a lot of confidence because of some bad results lately and that has caused lots of second guessing and chaos in my head. The cherry on the cake was the final round game where I seemed to have made adjustments: I played fast and practical in an opening I understand well, only to make three inexplicable blunders in a row to turn a clear win into a loss. I had my first good position after one week of suffering and instead of taking five minutes to close out the win I decided to move with the reckless impulsiveness that closely resembled my chess as an adolescent.
I've attached all of the games for your review. My next event starts in a little more than a week in South Africa. While this was a disastrous result I have a few events coming up to redeem myself and sincerely hope I will finally pick up the necessary habits needed to reach the next level. Also I need to remind myself to completely forget about rating. Every time I reach or think about 2600+ I start to falter badly. I don't think tennis players are focusing on how much ranking they could gain or lose with each match. Will just focus about improving and playing my best chess; the rating will come in time.
Barcelona Casino Masters 2013
It's been a long time since I last made a blog post on here. My apologies, I am still a young guy battling severe laziness syndrome! I do update regularly on twitter and facebook but here is where I hope to post more in-depth. It's a bit late to catch up on some previous tournaments so I will go ahead and start from my most recent event, the Magistral De Casino Barcelona.
When I had fully committed to moving to Spain in around May last year I was already starting to plan tournaments. Spain has a rather strong chess culture and a history of formidable events, but unfortunately due to recent economic troubles most of the events are a thing of the past. But there was one tournament available for me which was still going strong every year: the Barcelona Casino Masters. I decided to do some searching and pretty much begged the organizers to invite me this year. Round Robins are invaluable experience particularly for me when I'm used to playing open events. With some persistence I managed to gratefully get an invitation in August.
The competition took place October 25-31, 2013 in Casino Barcelona. The format was an 8 player round-robin with all Grandmasters. I was seeded 4th and drew an extra white, so coming into the event I shouldn't have much reason for complaining about pairings. Unfortunately, I was feeling pretty much the opposite heading into this event! To sum things up briefly, I had lost 35 rating points in a 6 week span leading up to the event while also dealing with a stubborn cold and some personal troubles. I was a bit depressed from the World Cup and made the mistake to play a couple of events that I shouldn't have in an attempt to redeem myself. It was easily the most consecutive string of bad events I have ever had in my career thus far.
The pairings had come out September 25th, but I hadn't bothered to prepare a single minute. Knowing myself and the way I play when I am disinterested and unmovitated, I made the impulsive decision two days before the event to bring a second. This was going to be the strongest field I had ever competed against and I could see an impending disaster. I wanted some help preparing and also someone to make sure I would be serious during the event ... hint: Barcelona has amazing parties! So, I contacted a good friend and occasional coach of mine, IM Miodrag Perunovic from Serbia at the last moment. Miodrag knows me well on a personal level on top of the chess so we have good chemistry. I have never brought a second before so this was also going to be a new experience. And so, without much convincing, he was quickly headed on a plane from Serbia to Barcelona!
We arrived at the tournament a day early and only then did I start to look at some chess. I was feeling a bit better once I settled into the our very nice hotel and met the organizers. It was starting to sink in that this was a very prestigous event that couldn't be taken lightly. We took a long walk along the beautiful coastline and I went on to have a rare good sleep that night.
I could give a wrap-up for each round, but instead I thought a detailed description of how I felt heading into the event would suffice. All seven games are attached to my report, including one annotated game. I wound up with 4/7 which was good enough for second place on tiebreak. While I could have done even better based on the positions I received I'll take any positive result at this point, especially against such a strong field.
After my tournament in France I headed off to Holland for 3 days for some rest and recovery. I took a bus provided by the organizers to Bruessels and from there a 3 hour train lead me to Bussum, my destination. It's a small, cozy town on the outskirts of Amsterdam where my good friend Robin Van Kampen lives. I was run down from Cappelle so all I wanted to do was sleep and relax, which was easy to achieve thanks to the pleasant hospitality provided by his family.
Fast forward a few days where we are settled in Skopje. Our hotel was overbooked so we were given another one with the option of staying there if we preferred it. We happened to be given quite a large room so despite the extra traveling distance we decided to stay. With one round a day you have some free time so factors such as room comfort become quite important. The city itself was also quite an interesting experience. Skopje is the capital of Macedonia, a small former Yugoslav republic. As you enter the city you see the residue from all the conflicts that have taken place in the war-ridden Balkans. At the same time, however, you get that nice atmosphere of being somewhere historical where people have been living for thousands of years. Statues and reminders about the past are abundant everywhere. I can't forget to mention one very big benefit: it is extremely inexpensive in Macedonia! A normal meal at a nice restaurant was no more than $10 and our 15-minute taxi rides cost about €3. On the flip side it might be considered a hindrance when alcohol is so cheap.
The tournament took place at the nicest hotel in the city, Aleksander Palace. Any references you see to Alexander in Macedonia usually refer to Alexander the Great, whom the Macedonians consider one of them. Once again, I was quite impressed with the organization. There was a huge playing hall with nice lighting. Various soft drinks, juices, and coffees were provided for all the players each round. Try to imagine that in North America! The pairings were always prompt and as far as I saw everything ran smoothly.
My result was quite good, although it still left much to be desired. I beat who I was supposed to beat and I generally beat them without risk. I lost two games, both to 26+ GMs, and both without much of a fight. The main culprit was once again a lack of opening understanding and knowledge. I've been studying vigorously since I've returned home which is partly to explain why it's taken a while to blog. Despite these two losses I managed to perform near 2600 and gain some rating points. I also got the opportunity to play three higher ranked players which is always important when striving for improvement. Games are all included here.
I will have a brief write-up on a local event that I played a couple of weeks ago. Stay tuned!
Cappelle La Grande 2013
The Cappelle La Grande tournament finished off nicely as I managed to win the final two games and join the winners with 7/9. This is definitely one of the best performances of my career so I'm really happy. For those curious, I gained 15 elo and posted a 2680 TPR. I thought I'd share some comments as well since the games are posted.
I am quite pleased with my play overall. I had a good start, which is rare for me and obviously a good thing. My middlegames were strong and time mangement became progressively better as the tournament went on. Openings are still a red flag for me, I suffered unnecessary difficulties in a few of my games. My loss against Fedorchuk was embarassing as I was practically lost within fifteen moves. 2650+ GMs are a different breed and I need to up my game. On the bright side, my tournament stamina once again helped as I won a hundred-mover in round 8 and finished off with a clutch morning game victory in the final round over Vorobiov. Lots to work on but I think I showed that I'm a dangerous opponent in these open tournaments.
As for the organization, I can't complain too much! No surprise why this is such a popular event. Everything was well organized; spacious playing hall, prompt pairings, and a warm atmosphere. Over 500 people from several dozen countries playing chess in a small, cozy city in Northern France. Conditions for titled players are also quite good in Cappelle so that you have minimum expenses and feel respected. I met quite a few people and enjoyed my time so I definitely plan to return again.
I am in Macedonia right now getting ready for the Karpos Open which starts tomorrow, on 2013-03-09. Will try to keep you guys updated!
Cappelle La Grande 2013
Won round 1 against French IM Payan (2325 FIDE) with the black pieces. He used the London System and I wandered around the position without a clue until mutual time trouble before seizing the advantage after a couple of bad moves by white. It was fairly smooth sailing afterwards and a good start to my first French adventure!
First half of the tournament is over and I have 4/5. The next 4 games will really decide everything. Generally my play has been ok but I'm still having some large opening problems. As for the tournament, it is quite strong and the atmosphere is pleasant. The level of organization is quite high so I see why it's a famous event. I am starting to get adjusted to the time zone so hopefully my energy levels get better.
2012 In Review - Part 2
My last official summer exam took place at the beginning of July and the same day I was off to Victoria for the 2012 Canadian Open. The organizers had contacted me for my participation back in October and I was quite appreciative for that since I hardly recieve any invitations. Victoria has always been one of my favorite cities to visit as it boasts beautiful weather with a very relaxed atmosphere. My main goal was just to enjoy myself and warm-up a bit before the more serious events on my calendar such as the World Junior and Olympiad.
I ended up winning the tournament with 7.5/9 but the main surprise to me was how I did it. The biggest area of frustration in my pursuit of the GM title has been my awful record against GM's themselves. To become a GM you have to learn to beat them so my score of 15-20% vs them was quite insufficient. But I scored 2/2 in Victoria against GM's, and both were long endgame grinds. I was for the most part with an advantage but had to maintain a high level of concentration and precision which I had failed to do in the past. I recall telling my friends at the celebratory dinner that I felt my psychological problem with GM's was over and that my results would sooner or later take a large leap. I credit this tournament result to be a major catalyst for my future results.
I decided to play this tournament because I could fly directly from Montreal to Athens for the World Junior so it made some logistical sense on top of being a very strong tournament. Unfortunately I got a bit sick a couple days beforehand and it got much worse once I arrived at the tournament since my dorm room was quite dirty and had no air conditioning. I was quite pleased to not lose any rating points and get a chance to play against elite Cuban GM Bruzon.
The World Junior took place in Athens for 16 days in August. I had wished to play in this event for many years so I was happy to get a chance in my final year of eligbility. After a catastrophic start and probably a bit too much socializing things started to settle in the second half of the tournament after a much-needed rest day. I finished with a strong 5/6 and since the tournament was 13 rounds (!!) there was enough time to catch up in the standings. I tied for 5th-10th with a score of 9/13. I would also add that it was my first trip to Europe and so it was a nice cultural experience as well. Almost every top player in modern history participated in the World Junior so I felt it was part of the process for me. It was the most enjoyable tournament I've ever played in and I think my roommate Aman Hambleton would agree!
It was a last minute decision for me to play this August tournament as I had been playing tournaments back to back for over a month. After some pressure from a couple friends, I decided to go to this tournament because it was close to Athens and time needed to be filled before the Istanbul Olympiad. I decided the day before the tournament started that I was not going to return to school in the fall and instead play chess. It was a big burden off my shoulders. Well, it turned out to be a very good decision because the playing conditions seemed to relax me. The weather was great, it was one game a day, and I had a great social group throughout the event that made the whole thing feel like a vacation. I played consistent chess throughout and wound up bagging my first GM norm. I had a clutch final round game when my GM opponent declined my draw offer - which would have given me the norm - forcing me to fight. As a result, ended up winning one of my best games of the year and finishing tied for first with 7/9.
This was the biggest tournament of the year for me. It had been a dream of mine for many years to participate in this event. I was in good form and good spirits leading up to the event which was nice. There was a bit of worry that I would get burnt out but actually I usually end up playing better towards the end of trips. The Olympiad is the chess event and it was really the most amazing atmosphere. Coming fresh off a GM norm this event was special in my calendar as it also gives me the chance to earn a double norm, which would mean that If I scored a norm I would have all three and therefore the title. I was given the role of playing the 4th board for Canada. The team started off well but, unfortunately couldn't sustain it and ended up finishing around our starting rank. Overall I think we did slightly better than expected performance wise so it wasn't too bad.
I had a lot of extra motivation as some people in Canada questioned my spot on the team. No better way to disprove people than with results. After an early loss in a critical game against Argentina I put together a nice streak with the white pieces to finish 7.5/10, scoring the double GM norm and thus the title. Overall an extremely memorable tournament but I'm not sure I will return to play for the team in the future unless playing conditions are improved.
A month later I found myself in Mar Del Plata, Argentina playing in the Pan-Am championships with World Cup spots on the line. The tournament started off quite badly and I really seemed out of rhythm but as usual by the second half of the eleven round event I turned up the jets and tied for first in the end with a lot of luck. Since there were 5 tied for first and 4 spots we played a rapid round-robin playoff and I managed to squeak in with a final round victory to claim the 4th and final spot. Nice country, and a nice final result but a lot of holes in my game were exposed.
Mexico and Panama
I travelled with some Canadians for another latin trip about a month after Argentina. Alexandra Botez, Liza Orlova, Aman Hambleton, and myself were the Canadian contingent. One event in Mexico followed by one in Panama. They were both extremely fast schedules (5 day and 6 day) for a nine rounder. Unfortunately I followed my usual pattern of starting off bad and embarassing myself a bit until I finally woke up and scored 4/4 in what were pretty good games. Same story: a disastrous start and a miraculous comeback. I finished with 7/9 and won a decent prize while minimizing my rating loss. I was quite upset with myself for quite some time as it had been far too often an occurance that I was having disastrous starts. Not only do you have worse tiebreaks but you also play lower rated opponents.
I was really looking forward to Panama as as a chance to redeem myself. I was even more pleased when I arrived at the hotel and saw that the organizers and provided Aman and I with a spacious room equipped with a nice kitchen and balcony. The weather was nice and hot while the tournament itself was small and cozy. The playng hall was beside a swimming pool, just like in Isthmia. Ideal conditions for me! All I can say is something clicked from start to finish: I played extremely focused and objective. I was patient and methodical in every game. My openings were turning out well and my clock management was improving. After I beat GM Cordova I got the feeling it was just going to be my tournament. I played for a win everygame and just went with the momentum. 8.5/9 and a 2900 performance. I will publish some of the games here as they did not make it onto the internet.
I gained over 100 rating points, achieved the GM title in three weeks, and qualified for the World Cup in a span of 6 months. I beat a dozen GM's along the way and couldn't have asked for much more. Next stop: 2600!
2012 In Review - Part 1
As my opening blog post on my new website I felt a review of last year would be appropriate!
At the beginning of 2012 I was 2446 FIDE and pretty frustrated with my chess. I had no norms and had not made the improvements I had wanted. It was going to be my last year as a junior (U20) and I always had a goal of making GM as a junior. Unfortunately I was in university at the time and could not really spend much time on chess. In reality the main problem was I just wasn't focused or organized enough to follow through. I had no tournaments lined up for the next 5 months of school so nothing really urged me to study.
Towards the end of January I made a last-minute decision to play in a small weekend event in Oklahoma in February. It was more for fun as I was expecting to be the top seed by a decent margin. It was also a nice tribute to an old friend of mine, Jerry Hanken, who passed away a few years ago and this was his memorial event. I enjoyed playing in Oklahoma in 2008 and this time was no different. I ended up making a smooth 7/7 and gaining a few rating points and with it a little bit of confidence and momentum.
Well, the big breakthrough for me came during my Spring Break which I ended up staying at university and just studying chess alone the entire break for about 8 hours a day for the duration of the 10 day vacation. I can say that this was the first time in my life I did actual concrete studying for an extended amount of time. I can say most of this sudden motivation came from the fact I was not on the first team at university and didn't get to play for the team in the crucial events. For those who don't know I was attending the University of Texas at Dallas on a chess scholarship so representing the team was a big thing. I was not used to ever being a bench player in any sport, and this really got me a bit angry as I felt like I should have been a starter based on my level.
A lot of my studying had to do with patching up my opening holes and turning them from a weakness to strength. For example, I did a lot of heavy work in the Gruenfeld defence, an opening which requires an incredible amount of knowledge and theory at the higher levels. The results of my studying immediately seemed to appear as I gained 500 rating points on ICC for blitz within a week while beating some top GM's in blitz matches. I even got the honor of being accused of cheating by a top 10 player who shall remain anonymous! Most people don't put too much stock in internet chess, but for me it has always been my primary training method and a relatively good indicator of my OTB playing level.
I ended up once again putting chess on the backburner as school resumed. Such is life, and I was eagerly waiting for my chance to play without the school distraction. By this point I had also accepted the invitation to play for Canada at the 2012 Olympiad. It was big for me as I had a very bad taste in my mouth from being left out in 2010 and was eager to silence the critics. I also decided to play in the World Junior in August, so I knew that my opportunities on the world stage would be available and the rest was up to me. I'll end part one here and resume part two starting from July when I finished my summer semester and the real chess tour began!