August 02, 2009 • General
Alright, this blog is definitely a few days later than I would have originally liked, but due to my incredibly erratic sleep schedule and brutally long days of chess, it somehow slipped my mind. Since the tournaments are now over, I will recap the Mainz Chess Classic in the separate segments since I have much to say about both events which I participated in. I hope everyone enjoys the blog!
Day 1: “Arrival”
Coming off so many trips in a row, it was nice to arrive in Mainz a full two days before playing in the 960 Rapid World Championship. There really is nothing much to recap except that I arrived at the Frankfurt International Airport at around 9 AM after one of the more annoying flights in recent memory. Getting from Frankfurt to Mainz is quite convenient as it only requires a short 45 minute train ride during which one gets a great view of the countryside. After checking in at the Hilton Mainz on the Rhine, I decided to completely crash as I was tired from jetlag and all the recent traveling I have done with no break in between. In retrospect that very well might have been a mistake as I never completely was able to get on the time zone.
Day 2: “I love Sleeping”
Keeping in tune with my schedule from the previous day, I spent much of the evening and early morning awake before falling soundly asleep at around 7 AM. I had looked at the schedule the previous night and thought the press conference was at 3 PM. It was not a particularly enjoyable moment when I got a call at 1:55 PM saying the press conference would, in fact, be starting in five minutes! Therefore, I very quickly attempted to make my hair look respectable and showed up looking a bit groggy and out of it. However, I was able to answer the one important question which was asked and, so I accomplished my mission of not looking like a total fool! After this, I promptly went back to my room and feel back to asleep as quickly as I could.
Day 3: “So it Begins”
Luckily for me, keeping a US time schedule seemed to be ok as the games started at 6:30 PM local time which was pretty good since I woke up around 5 PM. As far as the games themselves went, it was anything but good. In the first round I was White against GM Levon Aronian from Armenia. I was really unsure what to expect as the last time I played a variant of normal chess (s-chess) I played like a complete maniac and ended up in some really wild positions.
The first game of the 960 World Championship seemed to follow this form as well when I decided to sacrifice two rooks for a queen while stopping Levon from being able to castle. However, despite what I felt was ample compensation, Levon played quite well and dodged all of my potential tricks. This led to an endgame in which he had a rook and two knights for my queen. Unfortunately, my kingside pawns never really got going and I lost in a fairly routine manner. In the second round, I had my second consecutive White against GM Sergei Movsesian of Slovakia who I played a few weeks back in San Sebastian. This game, at the very least, got off to a much better start as I had an advantage pretty much from the get go. In fact, it turned into pretty much a decisive advantage.
Nakamura-Movsesian, Position after 12…dxc6.
Here, I chose to play 13.Nxe5? Instead of 13.Bxc5 Bxc5 14.Nxe5 Bd6 15.Nxc6 Kb7 16.a4! a5 17.e5 after which I am up a clear pawn and should simply win. Unfortunately for me, after 13…Nxe4! the best I probably had was a draw. Nevertheless, from a psychological standpoint it is very hard to “give up” on the idea of playing for a win after you’ve let it slip. After my mistakes, Movsesian played extremely accurately and I never really had a chance to get back in the game. It goes without saying that being on 0/2 after all my recent successes was a bit of a shock. However, I was not expecting to win the event and simply wanted to just qualify for the final if possible. At this point, my prospects looked quite bleak, but I was able to rebound nicely with a solid win as Black against Moldovan GM Viorel Bologan. Due to a bit of luck, Levon was able to beat Sergei in a very sharp game of counterattacks which left me in the unique position of being tied for second. I recently had a similar situation last December in Norway when Carlsen>Svidler>Nakamura<Carlsen. The same situation happened here with Bologan>Movsesian>Nakamura>Bologan.
I have to admit that all in all, it was definitely a positive development for me to be in this situation considering how mediocre my overall play was on the first day. For me, I think the first game with Levon, I can chalk up with being too optimistic and simply trying to avoid a return to a normal chess position. In the second game against Sergei, I got a dream position out of the opening but messed it up which was incredibly unfortunate. However, the fact that I completely overlooked 13…Nxe4! was absolutely unacceptable and the outcome is completely fair. In the third game, I simply buckled down immensely since it was a must win game and I performed a lot better. I have to say that of the three of us, I felt that I had the most positive ending to day 1. Viorel had lost two games in a row and Sergei got punished by Levon. Going into day 2, my goal was to try and beat Sergei and Viorel, thereby controlling my destiny and most likely guaranteeing myself a spot in the final.
Day 4: “Where Did That Come From??”
Much to my chagrin, the pairings from the previous day repeated themselves except with colors reversed. This meant that in the fourth game, I got Black against Aronian. Going into this game, I knew I desperately needed to put a score on the board or it would make my task much, much tougher as I’d have two must win games. Unlike the previous day when I played based on intuition more than calculation in the opening, I changed my strategy. Instead of trusting my instincts, I figured that I had to get out of the opening with a decent position or else, my odds of even scoring against Levon would go down dramatically. As it turned out, this decision of being much more careful and precise paid dividends right away as I came out of the opening with a more or less completely equal position.
Aronian-Nakamura, Position after 14…Rxa7
At this point, Levon made a huge blunder with 15.Ba2 after which I am simply up a pawn with 15…Nxb2 16.Kc1 Bxa2 17.Kxb2 Bf7! The rest of the game was simply a matter of technique and I was able to covert without getting into any bad time pressure. What can I say? WOW. Of course, somewhere in the back of my head I knew that it was possible to beat Levon, but I definitely did not go into this game with the mindset. This result was a huge boost to my confidence as it made my job a little bit easier since the other two guys still had to face Levon. In the fifth game, I got Black against Sergei again and we resumed our general pattern of someone obtaining a huge edge out of the opening. In this case, it was Sergei who got the big edge as I misjudged the opening considerably and was significantly worse. I decided to sac a pawn to try and liven up the position, but it did not work out particularly well and I had a lot of work to do just reaching a satisfactory position. Luckily for me, Sergei returned the favor from the previous day and misplayed the middlegame giving me near equality. Slowly, I started building up my advantage and outplayed him. At this point, as he was getting worried, Sergei panicked and sacrificed a piece thinking he had a perpetual check. Although I did not play it completely accurately, Sergei missed the one drawing variation and I duly converted the position up one and then eventually two pieces. With this result my score was 3/5 and with Levon’s absolutely shocking loss to Viorel, everything became wide open. Going into the final round there was a really comical possibility of a four way tie if Levon lost to Sergei and I lost to Viorel since everyone would then end up on 3/6! However, both Levon and I clearly wanted to avoid any such drama and we both came out of our respective openings with a big advantage. Without any real difficulty, we both converted our advantages into wins which set up a dramatic final the following day between Levon and I for the 960 World Rapid Championship.
Either later tonight or tomorrow (It is now approaching midnight) I will add the second and final installment recapping the final day of the 960 World Rapid Championship and my epic showdown with Levon followed by the wild Ordix Open which I will have quite a bit to talk about.