I am playing in the Canadian Open 2011, it is in my city. I wanted to play in it last year, but at the last moment couldn’t. I had a choice of playing in U2000 section or in the Open one. I saw many familiar names in U2000, knew that I am bad with winning prizes, so decided that rather doing what I do the whole year,  I will play with the new strong opponents (about 80% have higher rating than me), it will be more worth my money.  It’s all happening in the very nice hotel in the downtown.

In the first round I got a guy from my new club, I lost 15/G to him once. He started with a flashy Italian variation (here is the game) and at some moment I thought that I will be cooked in a dozen moves. But I intuitively played the first line and after giving him back a pawn that he sacrificed in the beginning got a pretty good position, having 2 draws stats in the DB. After positional maneuvering it became a R+N vs. R+N endgame, then rook endgame. I saw he plans a rooks exchange and calculated that in the arising pawn endgame my pawn queens right after his. I wasn’t sure about how I would feel when he will start making checks, probably win my pawn, skewers, etc., so I decided to avoid it. Fritz says that there was a line where after a pawn sacrifice I queen another pawn first, but I didn’t see it. I was winning in that line doing exactly what I was afraid he will do to me – exchanging queens and getting into a won pawn endgame.

I was actually holding up in that rook endgame despite his rook on the 7th line and active king, but I thought I am worse and when he offered the exchange for the second time I went for it, it was the same line I calculated before with him queening first.

I made a wrong move with my king and he didn’t see that with after playing Kd5 instead of Kd6 he was able to exchange the queens right away and win. I think he played too fast in general, not using all his time, he had to see that if he is a master. Anyway, we got queens and my strategy was to avoid skewers and forced exchanges, so I kept my king far away, finding a few safe squares. Interesting thing is that according to Nalimov tablebases it’s a draw, but I had to play exactly.  I had 30 seconds increment and wanted to keep my time over 10 minutes, but it was slowly decreasing, he had more than 40 minutes. It was a funny moment once, when he almost put his queen under skewer, but he didn’t release the piece and realizing it, quickly retreated and moved to a different square.

He was advancing his pawn, I was checking and suddenly I saw that  I have perpetual. He realized that and said being slightly disappointed: “draw”.

Round 2 – I get a boy from Vancouver, he was a Canadian champion U12 2 years ago. I have White and expect him to play Sicilian, as he did before, but he probably did his homework or updated repertoire, so he plays Scandinavian, here is the game. I spent some time in the past studying it, so it’s  OK with me. It seems me that I am better after first dozen of moves, Fritz says it’s equal, unless he plays f5. I feel it is bad, Fritz confirms it.

Then on move 25 I think that I missed Nxc5, but I calm down when I see that I can take on e7. Still, I make precautions after he plays e6 and it is a mistake, I have to play Qc7. He tries to get some counter-play and finally manages e5. A few more moves and I feel that I can’t play for a win anymore. Another thing is that he was in the big time trouble, but stayed cool, just accelerated and made his 40th move intentionally leaving only 18 seconds on the clock.

I am more active, thinking I can win b7 pawn, but after Bc4 probably lose mine and  suddenly he offers a draw. I impulsively answer “Yes”, then kind of realize maybe it’s not that simple with b7 and I can just win it. But it is late. At home shootouts show that I really win a pawn, then it can go into a rook endgame with a different results depending on the depth of the calculation.  Deep – win, short – draw. Of course I had practically nothing to lose, he had less time, I could just play. Again, I don’t know why I agreed, it was an impulse, maybe I prepared myself for a draw and couldn’t switch back quickly when the situation changed.

Round 3 – I play with the man from my club, I had a draw with him in French playing  White. I have Black now. My last minute preparation for his possible King’s gambit only leads to worrying about coming late, coming a bit late (though it’s only announcements and the clock is not started yet) and being not fully concentrated as a result.

He plays 1. c4, doesn’t want to go into my territory with d5 after c5 and plays e3. I want to play  something familiar and play d5 to create an isolated pawn on d4, but he again avoids it and plays c5. I find myself in the non-familiar position and can’t find the right moves. The thing is, you have to play Ne4.  Nxe4 is not good for White and if take the knight on c3 then, you get a good play. I don’t know how to develop my queenside because of the threats Qb3 and Nb5, then Nd6 and another simple move – Be6 doesn’t come to my mind. He plays very fast, it is almost offensive, I spend a lot of time. I play a bad move  – 14… b6 and after 16. Nd6 think that I am in the big trouble, but he doesn’t find the strongest move.

After his Ba6 I know I am out of the woods. Then he lets me to take a pawn on b2 and I know I am better. But here is the sad part. I make several bad moves in a row, starting from the naturally looking Bg7 and find myself in a big trouble again. I give up the exchange which is unnecessary Fritz thinks. My opponent is pressing, I start to look at the clock and in a position, where I think I am lost I finally blunder and resign. Not a good game.

Round 4  – I play with the local boy ~15 years old. I know he will play Sicilian d6. My opening preparation for this game reminds me of the goalie that stands on his head and plays an excellent game, but his team can’t score and loses 0:1.

I remember about what happened in the previous round and come 45 minutes early. I drink the iced water which is provided during the game and talk to the people. I am very confident in the opening and play it fast, he is not so sure.  After some point he has some trouble finding useful moves and is about 40 minutes behind on the clock. I get out from the board often and look at the other games.

Then suddenly he plays 19… Nxe4. I think I am in trouble, but when I analyze the position I see that it’s not that bad and there are holes in his calculation. I see that after losing 2 pawns I have 2 possible forks and can have some material back. Then he misses 23.  …  Qa7 and gives up the exchange. After the game he shows me the better line I could play, I think it’s the same line Fritz suggests – with a big advantage. Unfortunately, I don’t see it.

On move 29 he plays a5, I think this is a crucial move no matter what Fritz says.   I can’t break his defense, he advances the “e” pawn. I have a few minutes left before 40th move and seeing his possible f5, f4 advance I offer to exchange the queens. I already know that the endgame won’t be easy.

I spend about 10 minutes considering b4 sacrifice and finally decide not  to do  it. His play now is easy, just advance the pawn mass on the kingside and the king. I can’t find a good plan how to activate my rook and on the move 44 offer him the “b” pawn. He doesn’t take it and blocks the “d” line, the only line available for my rook. Then on move 49 I miss a chance to sacrifice “c” pawn by playing c5  (I do it later, when it’s useless). He simply strangles me with his pieces and pawns. I have  a little time left, see that Rxd3 loses, play it anyway just because I don’t see anything else and hope maybe I am wrong and lose on time in the completely lost position.

This is a first time I had such an endgame – bad rook vs. good knight. If I knew what would happened, I could offer him a draw soon after getting exchange for the pawn, he, being down on time too, probably would agree. But here comes the question – what I am playing for – points or experience. The honest answer is  both, but I think that experience is more important, otherwise I could just play in U2000 section, I would definitely get more points there and even hope for a prize, but I chose something else.

Round 5 – I play Black with the girl who is current U18 Canadian champion between girls. She is not doing well in the tournament, but I know her well enough to prepare very seriously. She plays 1. b3, so I look at her games and what the “book” says. We start, she plays 1. b3 and we follow for some time her  game against some 2500 rated IM in the first round. I don’t want to allow her e4 and play Ne4. Exchanges follow and after blocking f4 pawn by f5, I don’t get much rest, since she wants to play e4. Moving “a” pawn proves to be useful, this idea is taken from the same first round game. My idea to exchange bishops doesn’t seem to be good, since my bishop is better.

Right after she closes the center I think I am OK and the position looks drawish to me. Then she suddenly plays g4. I know where we are going and quickly organize the defense, meanwhile getting the “a” line for me. Her attack develops very fast and after 29. Qh3 I see Rg6 coming with double attack at g6 and e6. I remember the Russian expression: “If you going to die, die with the music” and see the idea of c5, followed by d4, opening h1-a8 diagonal, etc. With ~20 minutes on 10 moves left I can’t calculate too long. As soon as I play d4, it seems me that maybe it’s too much and I could just take on c5, but still it looks too slow to me. She looks kind of worried and not sure, there are really quite a few lines. She doesn’t take the second pawn, which is a mistake, and I know that her e4 keeps me in the game. Then we both do not play the best moves.  I just try to create simple threats. We eventually get into a rook endgame and I manage to win the “h” pawn.

After the game I asked her why she didn’t play Rd1 right away and she said that she didn’t like g5, fxg5 and then rook can skewer the king and rook if it takes on d4, but actually White king can move and take the pawn. Anyway her king gets very active, I don’t like it and find the forcing move, after which or we go into a pawn game, becoming queen endgame, or into a rook endgame, which looks better than the current. She thinks for some time, exchanges the rooks and says quietly: “Draw”. It doesn’t look like a draw offer, so I decide not to react. After her queen gives me the check, I see perpetual and understand why she said what she said.

Round 6 – I play with an American, rated 2001. He comes 20 minutes late and starts to play pretty fast, only on increment. His 3… Nd7 is a surprise, it’s a sharpest line in Moscow, nobody played it against me before. I am not ready and just play regular moves.

Everything is pretty quiet until he plays an excellent move – c4. I see that I am trouble and after Nc5 will lose the pawn. I try to console myself that his king’s weakened position will be some compensation. Suddenly he plays d5 and then instead of taking on d3 takes on d5. Now I win a pawn.

I feel that I have not only material, but psychological advantage too. I try to increase the pressure and create a simple threat  – Nc6. It looks like he sees it, since he plays Rb8, but then he blunders with a5. After a few more moves I see that the game is practically over, he sees it too and resigns.  After the game I can’t say that I am completely satisfied, but I am glad to a get first win and important point and also to get home early and not to feel tired next day.

Round 7 – I play a man from another city,  I have Black.  I know the guy plays d4, c4. I get crushed by Cuban GM Walter Arencibia , who actually just shared the 1st place,  in the simul (3 people, almost one on one) at lunch time in Benko,  some variation I didn’t know and I do not want to play Benko. He makes it some variation of Colle eventually. I am probably more or less OK until I get annoyed by the knight e5 and decide to exchange it. Then on move 20 I play f5, it’s a blunder. I calculated Qg6, but only after taking on f6 and it was OK, I see that  he can play it right away and he does. I try to make it  a fight and miss the only real possibility – Nxe5.  Funny that I saw it, but didn’t see the last move – Qf2, getting the piece back. Then the weakness of the light squares ( I have to give up the exchange to defend from mate) and marsh of the central pawns decide the game. I am upset and on the way back choke on the piece of chocolate, it makes me feel completely miserable.

Round 8 – the game starts at 2pm, I am really angry in the morning and pump myself up by listening to my “AC/DC” in the car, while doing chores. I walk to the hotel and I feel like I can just start as well a boxing match instead of the chess one. I have White, I noticed that I did much better with White (50%), so I think it’s my chance. I play a local boy ~18 years old. I know he plays French, here it is. We go along the book line. On move 14 I am not sure, it seems me I played g3 in the correspondence game and it’s a first choice, but I don’t like g5 and play quiet Ne2. I see that Rxf3 is not that dangerous. It’s a first line by the way, but the stats are good for White. I learn later that Qc1 is the first line (not sure I would like putting my queen on “c” line), Ne2 is the second and the third is g3, with g5 having a very good stats for Black. He suddenly plays Ng5, I see that I can play f4 after exchange. I lost 2 games to masters in this line, both due to their ability to play e5 and get a full attack – on “f”, bishops, etc. Here f4 prevents e5 completely. I start to think that I am better due to his backward pawn e6 and bad bishop. On move 23 he gets rid of his bad bishop and on move 24 offers me a draw. I still think about his e6 and refuse. He looks surprised a bit. Funny that Fritz at home estimates this position as 0.00.

I eventually find that I can pressure on “c” line. He misses a possibility to get out of it by playing 36… Ne5, I only considered Nxd4.  After queens exchange I still have pressure and suddenly see a possibility of a pawn break – f5. His position gets essentially worse taking into account my very strong c6 pawn and his isolated pawn on d5. I am about to win this pawn when he blunders and resigns. This win makes me really happy. I have 3.5 out of 8 before the last round and even have a chance to get to 50%.

Round 9 – I learn the pairings the night before, I play Black against another 18-year old. I find a couple of his games, it’s Four Knights. I played it twice with lower rated and won, this guy is rated ~2100. I go through the DB and finally find the line I like. I don’t sleep well, the whole situation makes me nervous.

The game starts and we have Four Knights. I play very fast the first  moves, probably subconsciously trying to intimidate him. He stops at some point and am afraid that it backfired and he will try to deviate. No, he goes along his own game and after 14 moves I have the position that was on my computer.  OK,  now we start.  The exchange on square e4 would look much better after 20. Bxe4  Bf5, and bishop gets to e4.  I start making a wrong moves, starting from being afraid of his queen getting on d6 and following queen exchange.

His pawn breakthrough looks serious, I hope that I will be able to defend my queenside with the bishop until my king  comes to help and exchange queens. Then I see how in  a few moves his knight takes under control b7 square and that’s it.  I hope to find an etude, but to no avail. I resign. It seems me that my problem was that I didn’t have a specific plan and he had and executed it eventually.

The loss is painful, as it moves me down in standings. I am still in a very good company, with all the people around rated higher than me. All my opponents were 2000-2200 rated, my rating should go up.

It was a great experience, I never ever played in such a big tournament, with such excitement and adrenaline.