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A Very Ready Player One: My Philadelphia Open 2018 (with Game Analysis)

Posted: 2 years, 2 months ago

By IM Vignesh Panchanatham

I hadn’t played a norm tournament in over a year, including a six-month break from chess for college applications. I had dropped a piece in the final round of my first tournament back, the U.S. Amateur Team West in February, capping off a terrible comeback tournament. In my only other tournament since then, I played slightly better, but I had still trapped my own piece while being overly aggressive. So I expected nothing from the Philadelphia Open (held March 28-April 1), except maybe a semi-decent performance. With college decisions coming out the same week, even my mother was questioning my decision to play in a tournament over 2,500 miles away from home.

The Philadelphia Open took place in the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown. Over 90 players participated in the Open section, with 8 GMs and 16 IMs forming over a quarter of the strong field. The prize fund was just over $20,000 for the Open section.

I made it through the first two rounds without too much of a scare, though some of my positions appeared questionable on the board. In the third round, I was paired with GM Ruifeng Li, who had just been nicked for a lucky half point off an unexpected swindle. As black, I was pretty unhappy with my position out of the opening, so I decided that I didn’t have anything to lose and sacrificed a pawn for some activity. Accepting the pawn sacrifice rather than playing for the initiative proved to be a mistake for Li, and after some inaccuracies, I held a commanding edge. Unfortunately, I failed to convert the advantage of my advanced pawns and active pieces and had to settle for a draw 

This draw set the tone of my tournament – an unexpected result coming from nowhere. In the next round, I had white against GM Gil Popilski. Despite the pawn-up position I achieved, his rooks were too active for me to overcome, and we eventually agreed on a draw. In the fifth round, I was paired against new GM John Michael Burke. With the black pieces, I was able to equalize and even come out better out of the opening, but after ambitiously attempting to keep my extra pawn, I ceded the advantage back to him. Through complex kingside maneuvering, we eventually traded into an even endgame. GM Burke pushed for the win, but I was able to hold the fortress in the bishop ending. However, at the exact point that I achieved a dead-drawn position, I managed to bungle it by trading into a pawn endgame. Luckily, assisted by his time trouble, I was still able to salvage a draw.

After a few rounds of late-game scares against GMs, I was doing extremely well in the tournament. I was also not really enjoying the positions that I was getting. I decided that from the sixth round forward that since my score had been good enough up to that point, I didn’t need to care about the results of my games. I committed myself to just throwing an entire side of the board at an opponent to try and get attacking chances. In my game against IM Joshua Sheng, I launched a massive kingside attack that proved good enough to win. Similarly, when I played against GM Alexander Shabalov, I disregarded any notion of playing passively and eventually got into a position sufficiently double-edged to discourage him from continuing, so we agreed to a draw.

On the last day, I was paired against 17-year-old GM Samuel Sevian. The last time I played GM Sevian was a draw at the U10 World Youth Chess Championships in Greece, but obviously he had improved a lot more than me since then. As white, I saw no reason to deviate from my strategy and ended up with a massive space advantage and a far advanced b-pawn. He rejected an opportunity to repeat moves for the draw, but this allowed me a better opportunity to sacrifice a piece in order to queen my pawn. In the complicated position, he mistakenly allowed my sacrifice, and I was able to convert the resulting exchange-up endgame.

With 6 out of 8, I was playing on board 2 in the final round. Due to pairings, I got a double-white, and was matched up against GM Jianchou Zhou. Before the round, my coach sent an email to remind me to play normal chess, despite norm chances. However, I had not played enough international players to qualify for a norm and the tournament was also not a super-swiss event, therefore rendering my norm chances void. I played aggressively again and achieved an advantage, but after trading queens, I was unable to make any headway and ended up repeating moves for another draw.

I ended up tying for second place, making the result the best of my chess career. Despite the inability to get the norm on a technicality, I still walked away with significant prize money and should gain a dramatic amount of rating points! I still have no idea how I played as well as I did, but I am sure that consciously attempting to play positions that I enjoy had something to do with it.

(Editor’s note: IM Vignesh Panchanatham is two-time national high school individual champion (2016 and 2017) and president of the Harker School team that won the national HS team title in 2016. A senior at Harker who also works at BayAreaChess in marketing and administration, Panchanatham capped his scholastic career by leading Harker to the team title in the FIDE-rated K-12 Championship section of the CalChess Scholastic State Tournament last weekend, and taking first individually.)