4th Cherry Blossom Classic (2022)

For my first FIDE tournament, that was quite rough (also my first time with the increment, though I think that's a positive). Having an off-weekend against a strong expert/master field comprehensively exposed my relative lack of experience and intuition. With the exception of the website, I was impressed with how the tournament was run (though the hotel food prices comprised another story entirely!).

My best game by far was my messy third-round win where I was able to consolidate a shaky two-pawn advantage, butthe critical portion of my two losses to 2300s spanned less than 30 moves, with Round 5 against a 16-year old expert barely being better. I came out of Round 6 with a draw against my friend/hotel roommate, but I managed to lose my last game one (!) moves after my opponent's second (!!) draw offer. The blitz tournament was actually interesting as I had similar problems, but got some good wins over higher-rated players.

There is no getting around the disappointing game quality for such an important tournament, but I still believeevery game has practical instructional value. See below for more!

Round 1 (Saturday, G/45;+30)

I made the mistake of eating a bunch of Indian food right before a night of already below-average sleep, since I had to get up early to catch the 7 am flight to DC. Local transportation was annoying due to Metro delays and the Uber interface changing on me.When I got to the tournament I was pretty exhausted. Fortunately, I rested well for the rest of the weekend, although it didn't help that much.

In my first game, against an FM, after I slipped with12...Re8?I was forced to move back to f8andopen the f-file for White. Even though Stockfish only evaluates at +1, the game was practically over, since White had a massive attack and I only had a few minutes left.

Round 2 (Saturday, G/90;+30)

I had a bye for this round, though I'm not sure why since there was a lower-rated expert with the same score and there was no indication of adjusting colors. Of course presumably a FIDE Arbiter knows more, and it might be because of the guy's additional half-point bye.

At first I wasn't pleased but since I was still so tired it was probably for the best; subsequently I declined the extra game offer.

Round 3 (Saturday, G/90;+30)

The last round of the 3-day schedule before merging with 4-day. I napped for the second or third time in years and came fairly well rested for Round 3. This is how I met Sa(a)m(sch), who I've played in bullet a few times already.

In a Closed Sicilian, I tried the undermining11. f5!?and came out of the complications 2 pawns ahead. Black had some compensation but missed some chances to complicate matters even more, and eventually a chance for equality in the endgame. Providing a few variations would not do justice to all the possibilities but that is all I have time for right now!

Round 4 (Sunday, 40/90 SD 30;+30)

There are few things in chess that feel worse than being completelylost at move 12, 30 minutes behind your opponent who STILL has completely full time.

I noticed my opponent plays the Bishop's Opening and decided to play the critical line for Black, though I changed my mind on move 6 to enter a main line a (Bd2) tempo down. Then I forgot to trade knights on e4 before playing ...Bf5 (fairly common sense) and passed up my only chances to stay alive with Bxe4. +4 for White on move 12, and the time was... 1:30 to 1:00.

Round 5 (Sunday, 40/90 SD 30;+30)

Against a strong expert who had been upset by my 3rd round opponent, I played into a Slav Accepted, though it should be noted that two good games against a master did not make me an expert on that. A slight deviation was all it tie down my weak center and I got soundly out-tactic'd, though not in 15 moves.

Blitz (Sunday, G/3;+2)

Naturally, the best diversion from all this was the packed blitz tournament. I had a weird issue called "getting completely wrecked in the second game after winning* the first". I guess it's just a mental issue; the novelty of blitz tournaments hasn't worn off yet, and I don't concentrate enough in the short time it takes to make quick but important practical opening decisions. Nevertheless, I managed to hang well with some good players.

I won the first match against a 1471 (the tournament was a 5-round double Swiss); the second game via a tricky Bishop's Opening trap:1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Bc5 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. Qg4 Qf6? 5. Nd5! Qxf2+ 6. Kd1 and suddenly Black faces major issues with his queen and on c7 and g7.

Then I played FM Ralph Zimmer (2341), who crushed me in Round 1. I won with White surprisingly comprehensively after he was saddled with a weak e6 pawn in a Closed Sicilian:1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 e6 3. g3 d5 4. exd5 exd5 5. Bg2 d4 6. Qe2+! Be7 7. Nd5 Be6 7. Nf4 Qd7?! 8. Nxe6 and Black's e6 pawn is a pain to defend for the rest of the game.

Unfortunately as Black I got crushed even faster than in our main tournament game. We blitzed through1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 Bf5 4. e3 e6 5. Be2 Be7 6. Ne5 Nbd7and suddenly7. g4!?came and I got rolled after7...Bg6 8. h4 h5? (8...Be4 9. f3 Nxe5 10. dxe5 Nxg4!) 9. Nxg6.

Then I played Brandon Jacobson who is 2355 regular but 2197 blitz. In our first game I played the KIA against his French and it looked mostly equal but I blundered a pawn in the endgame. As Black, I got a really good Caro-Kann with1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. h4 h5 5. Bd3?! Bxd3 6. Qxd3 Qa5+ 7. Bd2 Qa6! either trading into a very comfortable ending or awkwardly preventing White from castling. Unfortunately, later after going up a knight which was stopping two technically connected passed pawns, I moved the knight with 15 seconds left and the pawns rolled down the board.

Next, I played Sa(a)m(sch) (1971) again. In the first game, I got lucky when he sacrificed two pieces for a mating attack and I escaped by giving one of them back. Unfortunately I hung my king in my euphoria and proceeded to be absolutely crushed as Black. Somehow I managed a random mate (a combination of the weak a8-h1 diagonal and back rank) a few pawns down because no one who beats me like that in the first game gets through in the end.

Finally I played Aaron Jacobson (2279 R, 2209 B) who first played the Panov against me, but I played solidly and won courtesy of a very annoying Bg4 pin and related kingside attack. Unfortunately he tricked me into 1. e4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Bc4 Nxe4 4. Bxf7+ Kxf7 5. Nxe4 d5 6. Qf3+ Kg8 7. Ng5Qd7. I have no idea how to play this and in fact White is already significantly worse, so of course I got crushed.

* or almost winning (to make my statement slightly more applicable)

Round 6 (Monday, 40/90 SD 30;+30)

It was a big surprise that morning when I found myself paired against local Pittsburgh rival/hotel roommate Isaac! Although I was in such rough form, Isaac had been on a stagnant stretch since blowing a win against a 2300 earlier. For the most part he opted to save some energy for the last round and go for experimentation (read: mess with me) by playing an e4 opening for the first time in 6 years.

Fortunately for me, it turned into one of the calmer lines of the Pirc, and although I had to be alert early, I ultimately drew comfortably on move 23.

Round 7 (Monday, 40/90 SD 30;+30)

Against a CM from China, I played a decent Closed Sicilian but later my knights got tangled and gave my opponent time to shore up his defenses. Since it was my last game and I had nothing at stake, I went for broke with a risky Exchange sacrifice. My opponent took the safe route, heading toward a perpetual. Unfortunately, I completely miscalculated (if you can even call it that), declined his second draw offer, and blundered!

Along with the Round 4 debacle, that's possibly the stupidest I've ever felt in a chess game. Naturally I was pissed but the rest of the game was decent and neither of us were playing for anything in particular, so I guess it's just a bad way to end a bad tournament.4th Cherry Blossom Classic (1)

By the way, it was kind of weird for all the USCF Candidate Masters to be marked on the results. Everyone over 2000 I can remember was a "CM" except a VA youngster and myself, and I didn't figure my opponent was a FIDE CM for a while.

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