Tough Start

I was scheduled to fly out of Toronto late on December 18th. Europe was hit hard with a lot of snow and European airports were canceling a lot of flights. Fortunately, the Amsterdam airport was not one of those. With a four hour delay, I was off to Amsterdam in the early hours of December 19th. Upon arriving to Amsterdam in the afternoon of the same day I took a train going to Groningen. The train ride lasted about 3 hours and was smooth and comfortable.

It was about a 15min walk to the hotel. The organizers put the invited players at the Hampshire Hotel. Nice place all around and very close to the city center. Below is a photo of the hotel lobby.

View from my hotel room.

It was good to arrive to Groningen two days before the start of the event and settle in. I was looking forward to go out and see the city in my free day. Upon arriving to Groningen I caught a cold. Groningen was colder than Toronto. Everybody complained about getting sick at one point or another during the event. I have never seen this many players withdraw from a tournament before, most of them due to illness. More on that later.

I felt like I still needed to see the city the day before the tournament started and fortunately the city center was about a 10min walk from the hotel. The city center is centered at Grote Markt. Standing tall at 97 meters is the Martini Tower, overlooking the city. The tower was built almost 500 years ago.

I decided to climb the tower to see the beautiful view from the top.

Below are a few photos of the view.

It’s narrow at the top of the tower.

Then it was time to back back down…

Also present at Grote Markt is the City Hall

and the Grand Theatre

It was interesting for me to see a burger vending machine, which people actually used!

Groningen has a lot of canals. The problem is that at this time of the year the canals were frozen, rendering boats useless in winter time.

It was time to finally play some chess. I was having trouble sleeping my first two nights in Groningen, as I woke up at 3.30am. It was probably a combination of jetlag and my cold. I was still feeling confident about the first round. Maybe too confident.

The Tournament

The playing hall was a ways away from the hotel and a car or a bus was needed as a form of transportation. Fortunately, I ran into Yochanan Afek (faithful readers will remember him from Nuremberg) that day. Yochanan was able to squeeze me into a car driven by Robin van Kampen’s mother and a few other top Dutch juniors.

We arrived to the playing hall early for the registration. Organizers know that some players don’t show up to tournaments even though they said they would, so early arrival is necessary to avoid any first round forfeits. Those first round forfeits are dangerous because they can single-handedly kill norm chances.

We were to play the tournament at the Sports Center of the Groningen University, in a big gym.

The playing hall was spacious. Each board had an individual table which made the event more comfortable for the players. The organizers had 8 DGT boards for live online transmission.

Round 1

I was paired to play against Vahe Baghdasaryan, rated 2303, with the white pieces. This was not one of my better games. Below is the game.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.21”]
[Round “?”]
[White “Bluvshtein”]
[Black “Baghdasaryan”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “84”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.21”]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Be2 O-O 8. O-O
dxc4 9. Bxc4 a6 10. Rd1 b5 11. Bd3 Bb7 12. e4 e5 13. dxe5 Nxe5 14. Nxe5 Bxe5
15. Bxb5 Bxh2+ 16. Kf1 Qc7 17. Be2 Be5 18. Bf3 Rfe8 19. Bg5 a5 20. Na4 c5 21.
Rac1 Bf4 22. Bxf4 Qxf4 23. Nxc5 Rac8 24. Qa4 Qh2 25. g3 Bc6 26. Qxa5 Rb8 27. a4
g6 28. Rc4 Ng4 29. Nd3 Rxb2 30. Qc5 Ra2 31. Bg2 Bxa4 32. Rdc1 Bb5 33. Qg5 Bxc4
34. Rxc4 Ra1+ 35. Rc1 Rxc1+ 36. Qxc1 Qh5 37. Qc6 Rd8 38. Nf4 Nh2+ 39. Kg1 Rd1+
40. Bf1 Rxf1+ 41. Kg2 Qf3+ 42. Kh3 Ng4 0-1

I was trying to get the move order right, but I had more than this prepared. I played a new idea here with 15.Bxb5 Bxh2+ 16.Kf1!. 16.Kh1 was previously played but the king is safer on f1. 16.Kxh2 does not work because of 16…Qc7+, followed by 17…cxb5.

The live transmission showed that I played 15.Kf1? Bxh2? 16.Bxb5, getting the same position with a different move order. I got a lot of questions about this dubious novelty that I never actually played.

The idea behind 16.Kf1 is to play a position with a better pawn structure, with the hope that white’s better pawn structure, in that black has more pawn islands, will more than compensate for the weakness of the king.

This position saw the beginning of the critical stage of the game. I played 24.Qa4? which allowed 24…Qh2. At the time, I did not realize how annoying the queen on h2 would be. This surely showed in the game. The game continued with 25.g3 Bc6 26.Qxa5 Rb8 and black had compensation for the pawns. Stronger for black was 25…Nxe4 26.Nxe4 Ba6+ 27.Ke1 Red8 28.Rxd8 Rxd8 29.Rc4 Qg1+ 30.Ke2 Qc1 where white finds himself in very serious danger.

Black has just play the prophylactic 27…g6. I started to play a sequence of imprecise moves at this point. I played 28.Rc4 Ng4 29.Nd3 Rxb2 30.Qc5 Ra2, where I ran into trouble with my pieces being tied down to the defense of the king, as black creates more threats. A sequence of relatively weak moves by me. 28.Rd4 was preferable, as well as 29.Rd2 Ne5 30.Qc3! which holds white’s position together well. 30.Qe1 was also stronger than the text. The problem at this stage of the game was that I started running low on time and I did not sense the danger.

In the position above I played the very weak 32.Rdc1?. After 32.Re1 black is better but it is hard to break through. I could not play 32…Bb5 33.Qxb5 because of the mate that follows after 33…Ne3+! and I was left with a lost position down an exchange. The rest of the game was smooth sailing for my opponent.

Tough loss. I do not remember the last time I lost to an opponent with this rating while having the white pieces. It has not happened since I became a GM. But these losses happen. I feel like this game brought me back to earth. After working so much on chess, I felt entitled (even if only subconsciously) to good results, especially against lower rated players. I feel like I was anticipating mistakes out of my opponent instead of just playing as I am capable of.

I felt psychologically defeated. In a chess world dominated by quantitative measurement (FIDE ratings) this loss meant a lot. Before the tournament started I was already looking forward to playing the top seeds and try to win the tournament. I had anticipated this because I have been starting tournaments very well recently. I knew that it would take a lot to get back into contention, but I also knew that the first round does not make or break the tournament. In these moments, it’s important to forget about the past and focus at the games one move at a time.

After a few rounds it became clear that my opponent from the first round is heavily underrated, as he defeated a player rated just under 2500 in the second round and drew the top seed (with black) in the third round.

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One Response to Tough Start

  1. Pingback: Tower Bxb5

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