Epic Success and Epic Fail

by admin on August 25, 2022

For the last week I have been in Minnesota, playing in the Minnesota International Chess Festival, which was organized superbly by Alex Betaneli. It may have been the strongest event held in Minnesota since the HB Global Challenge in 2004. But that event was done in by its enormous ambition: a half-million dollar prize fund, $50,000 first prize, a huge playing venue — and it almost certainly did not come close to recovering its expenses. That’s why it was never held again.

Alex’s event was more modest, with merely a $5,000 first prize and a $12,800 prize fund. But it was organized with excellent attention to detail, and I did not hear a single complaint. In fact, I think that everyone would be thrilled to see this tournament become a regular event. I would call it an “epic success.”

The open section had 45 players, including 13 international players, seven Grandmasters and six International Masters. The winners, with a score of 7/9, were Viktor Gazik, an International Master from Slovakia, and a “local boy,” Minnesotan Andrew Tang, who is already a Grandmaster. (Actually not a “boy” any more, as he’s 22 years old.) Apparently that score was not good enough for a Grandmaster norm for Gazik, but it was certainly impressive, as he played all of the other top five finishers. The only norm was achieved by FM Aaron Jacobson of New Jersey, who earned an IM norm with a score of 6 points.

The epic fail? Well, if you look way down the wall chart… way, way down the wall chart… all the way to the bottom, you’ll find my name with 1 1/2 points in 9 rounds. And that includes a half-point bye in round one, so in eight games played I had two draws, six losses, and no wins.

This is the second straight tournament that has been an absolute catastrophe for me, and it proves that the first one was not a fluke. Every part of my game was bad. I made horrible strategic mistakes. I overlooked tactical shots. I got in time pressure. My openings were bad, and when they weren’t bad, my middlegames were atrocious. I think the only phase I did okay in was the endgame, as both of my draws came in pawn-down endgames that I managed to save.

One thing I have definitely observed, in this tournament and the last, is that the opening landscape has completely changed. As White, most people play 1. d4 now, and they almost always go into either a Catalan or the London System. In the first forty years of my chess career, I rarely saw either of those openings. Playing as Black, I don’t have pet lines against either of them, and in these somewhat amorphous variations I have trouble finding a plan.

On the other hand, when I was White the opening wasn’t the problem. I had three Grand Prix Sicilians and one King’s Gambit. I’ve played the Grand Prix against the computer hundreds of times, and the positions are not at all unfamiliar to me. Yet I still somehow made bad decisions. In positions where I should have played calmly, I went all-out for the attack. In positions where I should have gone all-out, I played too passively.

I don’t want to dwell on it, because I know that this sort of moping post is not what people want to read. The thought did cross my mind: Is this a sign that I should give up chess? But when I thought about it, I realized that my chess losses, even six of them, did no harm to anything except my pride. So I can either give up chess, or I can give up my pride. I wrote this in a text to my wife, and she said, “Yes. That.”

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Roman Parparov August 25, 2022 at 5:20 pm

I guess it’s time for you to consider the Dutch. Especially the Stonewall, for the sake of its simplicity.


admin August 26, 2022 at 9:56 am

You may be on to something. That would be the kind of shakeup that I need.


Mary Kuhner September 5, 2022 at 5:36 pm

Magnus has played the Stonewall from time to time and has nice wins vs. Caruana and Anand; those games are well worth a look. (I have been playing the Stonewall for years and I don’t really understand Carlsen’s games, but you might do better….)


Roman Parparov September 6, 2022 at 10:24 am

At our level we don’t have to study Carlsen’s games to understand the Stonewall. Botvinnik is good enough.


ChessAdmin August 28, 2022 at 4:28 pm

Thanks for sharing. I hate to say it, but lots of play versus chess computers can lead to poor tournament results, since people just don’t play the same way – openings or otherwise. I think there’s also a certain indefinable quality and rhythm around tournament play. If you’re analyzing your games and doing the necessary follow-up work, it should eventually be self-correcting, and maybe even fun to get into some new opening and middlegame areas.


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