It means through difficulty to heights, thought it suits. I just participated in a big tournament and for a first time in my life shared a first place, it happened before only in the club tournaments. It was a traditional tournament that was organized during the reading week at the university. After disappointing start of the year I decided to start from scratch.  It was 6 rounds, 90 minutes, 30 seconds increment, I registered in U1900 section.

Saturday. I come early, meet several people that I know and have a nice talk.

Round 1. Interestingly, my opponent is the same girl I played in the 2nd round of the big tournament before New Year. She gets White again and plays the same Exchange Variation of Ruy Lopez. I choose my favorite Bronstein variation. It is OK until move 12, then I castle queenside and it is not a good move. Computer suggests c5 with queens exchange and then castling queenside. Then after my 14… Qe7, Houdini says there is a knight sacrifice on a5. Black has to take, in a few moves White gets the bishop on d7, wins a pawn and is ~2.5.

I frankly don’t see it at all, she too. She has the same opportunity on move 16, misses it again, so I win the “e4” pawn. I find a nice spot for my light-colored bishop on b5, another one goes to d6 and I feel good finally. Then suddenly she makes a wrong sacrifice, I realize it right away. I try to play accurately, put my pieces on the right places and do not give any chances. Eventually my passed “a” pawn queens, she still plays until there is a mate on the board. I have 3.5 hours until the next round, get some rest and even have a nap.

Round 2.  I have White and play Ruy Lopez, he chooses Chigorin Variation.  I close the center and try to organize an attack on the kingside, he defends. Computer says I could play a4 on move 18, 3 moves earlier with +0.7 evaluation. Then we shift to the queenside. After playing 29. b4 I see that I missed his 30… b4, but then calm down seeing 33. Ba2. When we get there I see that I also have 33. Bc2.

After 33… Rb2 he offers a draw. I feel somewhat tired, also remember that getting 2 out of 2 in the last 2 big tournaments didn’t do me any good, as I lost in the 3rd round both times. I make a pause, then agree. Driving home I think that maybe I could use his d6 weakness, but also realize that my bishop is not too good. When I come home, Houdini’s evaluation is 0.00. I run 4 shootouts and they all end up in a draw.

Later in the evening I see the pairings, I got White, my opponent is the brother of that girl I lost to in the Mondays club. He played less tournaments and his rating is lower, still it is 1770 FIDE. I can’t find any of his games and it makes me a bit nervous.

Sunday. I come early again and enjoy conversation with the guys I know.

Round 3. The boy starts with 1. d4 and I play Queen’s Indian Accelerated. I want to release pressure caused by his bishop on g5 and play 6… Ne4. Then after his 9. Bd3 I see that I have nothing on the kingside, find 9… Qb4+ and decide to try my chances in the endgame. We both play accurately and it looks equal. I put a last trap playing 26… Nc5, hoping that he might take the knight. I see that it loses after 27. Nxc5 Kxc5 28. Kd3 Kb4 29. Kc2 Ka3 30. a4. But he doesn’t bite and plays 27. Kd2. After my 28… Kc6 he offers a draw, I accept.

The future sequence of events proves that I made a right decision. Also the position was just 0.12 in my favor. I can some rest, some time before the start I learn the name of my opponent. It is a familiar player, a man I have 1.5:0.5 score with, with Black he plays French.

Round 4. French it is, I play my Tarrasch, we get closed variation. I decide to play 4. f4, it recently brought me success. After I play 12. Bh3 I think maybe he could take on e5, but decide to wait for his reply. He doesn’t see 12… fxe5 13. Bxe6+ Kh8 14. 0-0 exd4 15. Kh1 d3 with -1.5. Then his 15… Bd7 misses a strike on d5. I press, but it looks like he is able to block e5 pawn and hold on.

Then I get an idea of playing g4 and putting my queen on f5. It is a good idea, but instead of the actual 34. Qf5 there is Qf3 winning d5 pawn. He defends, he is also in a time trouble. His 36… Qd6 is a decisive mistake, I see Rxf8+ and play it, he resigns.

Monday. I come to the hall and realize that I forgot my coffee at home. I see my acquaintance, who has coffee cup in his hand and he tells me where I can get it, 5-6 minutes walk. I go there and get a large cup, it helps tremendously later.

Round 5. My opponent is a student. He has White and plays English, I decide to answer e5, we end up in Carls’ Bremen system. On move 8 I miscalculate and play Qe7, thinking that I have to defend my e4 pawn, though after Nbd7 he can’t take on e4. So, he takes on f6 and later continues to press on e4, then unexpectedly plays Rf2. He still has ~0.5 advantage, but I feel better.

On move 22 I decide to counter-attack and play d5. It isn’t a sound move, since he has 23. exd5 cxd5 24. Re1, but he plays 23. Re1.  Then my 23… Rde8 is a big mistake because of 24. Bd7 Qf8 25. Qxf8 Rexf8 26. Nxf6 with +4 advantage, but he doesn’t see it. I continue to advance the “e” pawn, letting him to take the knight on g6. Then he makes a decisive mistake with 30. Kh1 instead of Kg2. I put my queen on the crucial square f2.

His 31. Nd3 misses the fork and I start to think that I am going to win this game. His position gets worse and worse, on move 40 I see a possibility of a sacrifice on f3, but don’t have to calculate, computer says it is mate in 8 if he takes the rook. Then on the next move he makes a blunder and resigns.

I have a rest and about 40 minutes before the game see the pairings on the chess-results site. I don’t like the fact I have Black again, 4 times out of 6. Then I check opponents games and see that he plays Italian Game, the variation with an isolated pawn. I played quite a few games against it, so it calms me down.

Round 6. It starts as I expected, the boy plays Italian game. We go pretty fast along the main line, then I chose my favorite line placing bishop on d5. After his 16. Nfg5 I see the danger, of course, and play Ng6. Then something interesting happens, he plays 17. Rad1. I notice that his knights are hanging and play f5. After some thinking he plays 18. Qe2. It seems me that he can get his knight back after Qh5, so I find Nf4, which is best move anyway. But fxe4 would still work because instead of the knight on g6 I would get the knight on g5.

After winning the knight I try to increase the pressure on the kingside. Computer criticizes his 24. Nxb7, confirming my decision to give up that pawn for the sake  of the attack. Then he makes a bigger mistake playing 25. Qh4, but I don’t see g5, missing it on the next move as well. His exchange on c4 is a bad idea, my advantage is decisive. After his 29. Nd6 I miss the game winning Qg6.

He takes the pawn on a7 and this is a final mistake. I see Qd2 and after playing it, see Nf4 with a mate. He tries to prevent it by playing Rf4, but the mate is here anyway. I am very happy, I already saw that two boys with 4.5 agreed to a draw. So we have 3 people sharing the 1st place with 5/6 and the game between two teenagers, boy and girl, having 4/5, is still going.

The boy is my opponent in round 3, with whom I drew in Queen’s Indian. I am watching that game, they play the endgame R+2N vs. R+2N, roughly equal. They eventually start to play on increment, having 1-2 minutes each and after a lot of moves the boy overplays the girl and wins. So, four of us share the first place.

It was a 3rd round in the new club, my opponent was a boy rated 1825. I got White, he played French Defense, it became Tarrasch, closed variation. On move 9 I chose the same line that I played 9 days before, I thought I can play it better. Computer doesn’t like his 9… f6 as well as 11… Be7 and evaluates the position as ~+2. After 14 moves it is already about +3.8.

I thought about 15. Qc2, but preferred Qd2, the line was 15. Qc2 h6 16. Qf2 Rf7, 17. Qg3 Nf8 18. Bxh6. After 16. Bd7 I spent quite some time choosing between Ng5 and Bg5. The knight  on g5 after bishops exchange didn’t look very promising, so I chose Ng5. It was a right choice, because after 17. Bg5 he had a strike 17… Rxf3 18. Rxf3 Bxg5 19. Qc2, though computer thinks I still had ~0.7 advantage.

After 19. Be7 Rxf1+ 20. Rxf1 the game was already lost for him, though we didn’t realize that yet. 21. Qg5 was mate in 11. After winning his queen I knew that I have to use the unfortunate placement of his pieces, the rest was technique. He played very fast all the game, I followed first, but after the opening slowed down.

This quote belongs to Emmanuel Lasker. My opponent in this last round was a guy rated 1502. He had 6 years break and was just playing for a few months, his old rating was ~1800, I beat him in 2011. So we got French, Tarrasch closed. The book says 11. Nf4 was the best move.

On move 16 I saw a possibility of Bxh7+ sacrifice and played it. 19… Rh6 was a serious mistake. 20. Qe8 looked risky, but I calculated that my queen will not be caught. Then 21. Re1 looked like the right move, I didn’t see how he can defend his e6 pawn. That was a moment when I think my bad shape started to show up. Not only I missed that he can force the exchange of the queens, but I didn’t see Ba3, the decisive move. I was so much concentrated on the kingside and forgot about the queenside. So the only move after 21. Ba3 was 21… Qf4 and I had to find 22. h4!.

After 22… Rxh4 23. Nxe6 Bxe6 24. Qxa8 Black is lost, 22… Rb3 23. Nh5 Bd7 24. Qxd7 Rxh5 25. Bxf8 Rxf8 26. Qxe6 White is +3.50. So I missed that opportunity and the game continued without queens. Then after 26… Rh4 I didn’t play 27. Rc7 Bc6 28. Rxe6, I saw only Bc6 locking my rook. 32. h3 Re4 33. Ng4 Bh4 34. g3 Bg5 was keeping the game equal.  My 32. Bc3 and 33. Rdc1 were not good, 33. Ra1 could save the day.

Then he also didn’t play exactly, my taking on b7 was right, even I thought later that it was a mistake. 38. Rc7 was a bad move, 38. h4 was equal. Soon my position deteriorated and I lost.

It was a last round, I was playing against the leader having 4/4 (despite of his 1442 rating). I expected him, looked at the game that I won with Back against him, but unexpectedly got White. He played French, I chose Tarrasch closed as usual and after 11 moves was on my own, as Bf4 that I remembered didn’t look alright because of Qxb2. I wanted to prevent e5, but didn’t see how and only after I played 15. Qd2 I saw that I had to provoke, not prevent e5. If let’s say 15. h3 e5 then 16. Rxc6 bxc6 17. dxe5 and I win 2 pieces for a rook. But it was already late, as now it didn’t work.

I was feeling under pressure until 23. h3, but then realized that I am OK and his position has some weaknesses including king cover. His 23… h5 just strengthened that point of view. I saw that I can play Nxh5 with the following queen check, but then I thought that Rf7 prevents it, not seeing the check on e8.  Then I saw 27. Nxg7, but again thought that it is not possible because of 27… Ne4, but White just plays 28. Nxe6 and stays the pawn up.

Instead of 31. Nd4 I could play 31. Qh4 Kg8 32. g5 and Black can’t move the knight because of g6 threat. 31… g6 was a game losing mistake.

I played on Thursday, it was a first game in two months, fifth round. My opponent was a 1475 rated man, I played him recently and won. I had White and he chose French, so we got Tarrasch, closed variation.

22. Ng5 was a provocative move, he took on f8 with a queen and it was a mistake. It allowed me to play Rf1 and then Nf7. I started to consider sacrifice on h6 and actually could play 26. Nxh6+, but I didn’t see the intermediate bishop check on f7 after 26. Nxh6+ gxh6 27. Bxe8 Rxd2 and thought that I would give up 2 pieces for the rook.

27. Bxh6 was intuitive, I couldn’t see all the variations, but was sure that it wins. Then I saw the mating idea with my queen being placed on “h” vertical. He didn’t see the mate coming and played until saw it on the board.

My opponent was a boy and I got White. He chose French, after his 9… Qe7 I felt that I will be better after the opening. Computer thinks that I was winning after breakthrough 12. f5, I considered it, but didn’t see anything forced.

23. Bc1 was a waiting move, I thought that I can’t get advantage on the queenside anymore. I got better after exchange on g3 and then decided to play Ba3 and occupy the “f” vertical. Computer considers 30… Qh5 a mistake and prefers Qc2.

When he played 36… Be8 I didn’t like moving my queen back, then suddenly realized that discovered check will be winning here.  37… Bxf7 was losing a bishop, but his 37… Rd7 lost a rook and he resigned.

In the last round I expected to have Black against the expert, instead I got White against one of the leaders. The guy who I thought was rated ~1870 managed to beat two experts, only at home I found out that he is rated 200 lower. He chose French and soon I noticed that he is spending time on the opening moves while I moved right away, having played this variation quite a few times. After his 10… Nb4 I got a good feeling about the game, which became stronger after his 11… Na6. I spent some time thinking about 13. Nf4, but then decided that he can just castle and played usual exf6.

After he played 18.. Ne8 I knew that I have to act on that,  computer recommends Nf4 here. When I saw 21. Qh5 I realized that this is a critical moment of the game. I considered two replies – g6 and h6.

On g6 I planned 22. Nxg6 Nxe3 23. Nxe7 and there is a mate coming, but I didn’t consider 22. Rf7. White is still winning after 23. Ne5 Rg7 24. Bxc4 dxc4 25. f5 . I also saw 22. Bxg6 and wanted to make a final decision after his move. 22. Bxg6 wins on the spot after 22… Rf7 23. Bxf7, as well as after 22… hxg6 23. Qxg6+ Kh8 24. Nh5 . My reply to h6 was of course Qg6 and that’s what happened.

After 23… Rf5 I felt that I can’t afford another big thinking due to my time left and exchanged queens. Computer criticizes me for that, saying that 24. Nh5 was crushing, with 24… Kf8 25. Bxf5 Bh4 26. Bxe6+ Ke7 27. Rf7+ Kd8 28. Rf8+ Kc7 29. Rc1+ Qc6 Bxd7. In the line 24… Bf8  he loses after 25. Nf6+.

I played 26. Rc1 to not give him any chances and captured f5 pawn later anyway. It became technical, there was a funny moment when after I played 41. a4 I realized that I blundered a pawn, but immediately saw that I get Rc8+ , computer doesn’t like 41… Rxa4. After 45. Rcc7 he resigned.