Finally! Initially I was looking forward to write a blog about my experience in Philadelphia. I played in the World Open and the Philadelphia International, both of which were extremely difficult tournaments for me. If you exclude a default win in the final round of the World Open, I scored 2.5/8 in the World Open and 3/9 in the Philadelphia International. This run of games was not without its highlights, as I achieved what I would say was my best ever result when I drew as Black against an International Master. It is true that I have drawn as Black against a Grandmaster before, but that was a short draw in the Lasker, but my draw against the IM lasted over five hours and finished past midnight. However, for the most part I was playing very bad chess in Philly. What was going wrong? There are three main reasons:
1) Openings Normally openings are my strength, but I felt that Philly almost came too soon as I did not have sufficient time before the tournament started to look at all my openings so I was comfortable with them. Recently I changed my repertoire with Black and with White I had decided to play lots of sidelines which I have studied a lot, but when playing strong opposition it is very rare to get an objective advantage out of these lines. Also, I could have worked harder before Philadelphia. It is difficult to motivate yourself sometimes to work hard!
2) Time management In Philadelphia the time control was two hours for the first forty moves followed by thirty minutes to completion with a ten second delay. This is obviously a very long time control, so naturally I tried to use this to my advantage by spending a long time on my moves in search of perfection. During the Philadelphia International, the Tournament Director asked my if I would like to use a MonRoi to record my moves, rather than a scoresheet. They are really good since Dad could follow my game from the hotel room with an engine and see how long I was spending on my moves. (Don't worry - we weren't cheating!) What was interesting was that my mistakes were made on moves which I spent a lot of time on, and nine times out of ten they were unnatural moves that were made based on lots of calculation. Also, calculation tires you out quickly, which can hurt you in a tournament that is eighteen rounds and ten days long with no rest days.
3) Confidence! When playing badly, inconsistently, getting into time trouble, and being underprepared, it is very difficult to have confidence. When someone has a lot of confidence, it is difficult to stop them. Just think back to 2014 when Fabiano Caruana ran away with the Sinquefield Cup on 7/7.
So when I arrived home, I decided to do something about these problems. Initially, it did not seem a very good idea to enter the Southern Open because it was only two weeks after Philadelphia and I wanted to work on those games. However, in the end I decided to because I love playing, but moreover I wanted to gain confidence. That explains why I opted the U2100 section rather than the Open which I normally enter. I decided to play the three-day schedule as usual because I have only had one experience with the two-day schedule and that did not go very well. I had very little break between games, I found it difficult to mentally adjust between games and adjust to the different time control. Next, I told myself that I would play quicker in the Southern Open. As it happens, the time control in the Southern Open was identical to Philly except you had twenty minutes less at the start of the game. When you play quicker, you doubt yourself less, play more natural moves and do not tire yourself out so much.
However, that is only the decisions that are related to the tournament itself. What should I spend my time on? It is clear to me that long-term I need to play the main lines with both colors. As Black, that is not a problem as I am already playing the main lines, but as White this was clearly not the case. Ever since I started playing 1.d4 I avoided the King's Indian. I played the Trompowsky and I learned the Barry (which I have never played and never will, so all that work for nothing! :D), but my coach GM Lars Bo Hansen made it clear to me that I should stop avoiding things (generally, in life, perhaps!), and instead put the work in. So I did a great deal of work on the KID last week. I watched Robin van Kampen's excellent video series on chess24 called Cutting Edge KID and played a lot of training games. I also watched Grandmaster repertoire: 4. Qc2 against the Nimzo by Jan Gustafsson, which was also very good and compared it to Learn the Nimzo-Indian Defense by Niclas Huschenbeth. Finally, I spent some time on the Grünfeld but I had already worked on it a bit when I was younger and felt comfortable there. I find that I learn best by watching video series because you do not have to do anything - just watch an expert tell you what you need to know in a given topic. Finally, I did thirty minutes of tactics every day to keep myself sharp. With this in mind, let's see how I did in the Southern Open, U2100 section. In the first round I was paired Black against Jim McTigue, who I have played numerous training games against. Another training partner told me that he has been looking at the Berlin a lot recently, so I was hoping for the Berlin Wall for the first time, but no such luck...
And so we reach the final round of this tournament. I was joint leader with my opponent going into this game, with two players on 3.5/4 playing each other on board two. If I won then I would win fifteen hundred dollars, draw $1,150, and lose $280. So the "normal" thing to do would be to either prearrange a draw (which is illegal and in my opinion morally wrong), or offer a draw at the beginning of the game to (assuming he accepts) guarantee locking in a decent prize rather than risking losing a lot more than I stand to win. As I learned by reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, we weight losses twice as heavily as gains, so according to Kahneman virtually any person would offer or accept a draw in my situation, especially as Black.
However, I have written about this subject before for the British Chess Magazine and my view is that you should always fight, with the only exception when a draw guarantees outright first and a win would not increase your standing or prize money. Also, before the game I did not do any calculations or think about factors that were not related to the game itself because I have choked in enough last round games to know that you should just play chess (because that is all chess players are really good for, isn't it?!)
So finally I have broken my duck and won a tournament in the US after nine months of hard work and disappointment. It shows that persistence and dedication will eventually pay off. Follow me on Twitter @theosladechess, check out my website at theoslade.com, and subscribe to my YouTube channel (if I ever get either of those up and running!).