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The New Norm(al): My Charlotte Summer Invitational Tournament (with Game Analysis)

Posted: 1 year, 1 month ago

By IM Vignesh Panchanatham

Before the 2018 Charlotte Summer Invitational in June, I had never played a round robin norm tournament before. I was used to open tournaments where I would start out playing down and then face stronger opponents if I won (and continued to win). Placed in the top Group GM A, I was slightly nervous about playing a high level of opposition (average USCF rating: 2512) for a full 9 rounds. Moreover, after graduating high school, I had spent the first few weeks of summer hanging out with friends rather than studying chess, leaving me rather unprepared for the tournament.

In the first round, I was paired against Hungarian GM Gergely Antal, the top seed in Group GM A. I had arrived only a few hours before the round, so I did not have much time to get settled in. I went in with the strategy of trying to get interesting, fun positions like I had in the Philadelphia Open, and that certainly happened, though it backfired spectacularly. With the white pieces, I faced the Dutch Defense and achieved a lot of active play very quickly. However, I got greedy and went into immense complications to keep a hold of my extra pawn and two bishops. My pieces remained uncoordinated and I was pressured with a plethora of pins and other attacks until I finally lost a piece. The rather apt lesson I learned from this game is to not jump headfirst into crazy positions when I am rusty.

Luckily, I bounced back the next day with a strong win with black against IM Alexander Kalikshteyn. After diving into complications against Antal, I achieved a much quieter position against Kalikshteyn, and pushed my slight edge all the way through. I followed that up with draws against IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy and GM Andrey Gorovets. I was unable to secure any advantage with white against Ostrovskiy, but Gorovets was also not able to get anything from me when I had black, either. After 4 games, I was holding solid with an even score and I achieved equality in all of my games with black so I was pretty happy with myself.

In the fifth round, I had white against IM Rohan Ahuja. I wasn’t completely sure what I was doing in the opening, but I thought I achieved a good position with solid activity. Eventually, we traded into a double bishop endgame where I was the only one pushing for a win. During the game, I thought I should definitely win, though the computer is not nearly as confident. I tried multiple plans to activate my king and dark-squared bishop, but that eventually led to him getting counterplay. In the end, I was able to draw, but only because his advantage was nullified by his drastically low time. IM Ahuja played extremely accurately throughout the endgame despite being down on the clock and probably deserved more than the draw. 

In the next round, I had a second white in a row, this time against John Ludwig. By the fifth move, I had no idea what I was doing and I continued to play badly for the initial part of the middlegame. Luckily, my defenses shored up, and I was able to form a counterattack. I eventually gained back the advantage and was in the process of promoting a pawn. Ludwig, however, returned to his kingside attack after my pieces left, and was able to secure an extremely complicated draw. I ended up two rooks up for a knight, but I could not defend my king from a perpetual. I attempted to sacrifice one of the rooks for further attacking chances, but after his king ran away safely, I was yet again in trouble. Once again, I was saved by my opponent’s clock troubles as he missed an opportunity to end the game with about 30 seconds left. In another topsy-turvy game, I got simultaneously unlucky and lucky. 

At this point I was rather frustrated with my play. I was failing to convert advantages before turning them into losing positions. However, my actual results left me at an even score, leaving me technically in the running for a norm, but not really J In my next game against IM (now GM-elect) Steven Zierk, I was able to comfortably equalize as black and therefore avoided losing to the tournament leader. I was worried about the game initially because Zierk, who started off playing Norcal junior tournaments including those held by BayAreaChess, was playing extremely well. He also had the white pieces against me, so I was very pleased to secure the draw. In the penultimate round, I was finally able to convert an advantage, defeating GM Alder Escobar Forero with the white pieces. I was very happy to launch and execute a strong attack in this game, and this was definitely my most successful game in the tournament.

Sitting at a plus 1 score, I faced GM Alonso Zapata in the final round. I offered a draw in the opening thinking that I could relax after a long tournament, but GM Zapata wanted to play on. I won a pawn out of the opening, and comfortably held on to it this time, unlike my first round game. A tactical opportunity arose to sacrifice the pawn for a better endgame. However, in the middlegame, I needed to already see that the pawn endgame would be a draw due to stalemate chances for Zapata, and instead maintain my bind on his position in the rook and bishop endgame. In this game, despite losing my advantage, I finally did not end up worse :)

I ended the tournament with 5/9, a much better performance than I expected considering how I was playing early on, which put me over the USCF 2500 mark for the first time. I also learned not to sign up for tournaments that occur during times when I have lessened desire to actually do work (oops)!

I want to thank Peter Giannatos, Grant Oen, and the Charlotte Chess Center for inviting me as well as hosting such a well-run tournament. I would also like to congratulate GM-elect Steven Zierk and IM Kassa Korley on earning GM norms, and Yoon-Young Kim, Brandon Jacobson, and Carissa Yip on earning IM norms.