2010 Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions Report,
Part I of II
By Matt Anzis
I prepared for the Denker in several key ways. Most importantly, NM Tim McEntee was kind enough to mentor me nearly every weekend this summer! This improved my game and gave me valuable insight into the mind of a master. Another big help was playing in the Chess.MN 2nd FIDE Open two weeks prior to the Denker, which got me acclimated to the time control and to playing new people. On my own, all I did was watch high level games (mainly the US Junior Closed and the US Women’s Championship) and play a few long games. Finally, I used one of Josh Waitzkin’s tricks and went fishing nearly every day the week before the tournament. Tim’s help and the FIDE Open got me playing well, and my minimal preparation along with fishing let me carry that form over to the Denker.
My pre-tournament goal was 4.0/6.0. I didn’t really think I could win the tournament because to do so I would need to beat 3-4 masters in a row. I could contend with masters, but that was a lot different than consistently outplaying them. However, I come a lot closer to winning than I thought I would!
I was playing chess well, but the trip to Orange County, California, put my endurance to the test. My mom and I flew out of Des Moines at about 8 P.M. on Friday, July 30th, planning to connect to a flight to Orange County in Denver. But as so often happens in chess, our plan did not work out. In this case, our opponent, United Airlines, played an unexpected move that caused us to be 20 minutes late and miss our next flight. They then followed it up by making us wait in a line for two hours just to get a hotel room. Thanks to my dad we were able to schedule a flight the next morning to San Francisco and then Orange County. After three hours of sleep we returned at Denver Int’l and made our 6 A.M. flight to San Francisco. The plan was a two hour wait and then a flight to Orange County, but our second round opponent, low clouds, had something else in mind. After a 2½ hour delay, we were ready to go. However, our third and final round opponent, some stupid bird, had other thoughts: it sacrificed itself in order to delay the flight another twenty minutes. Luckily, that tournament was only three rounds and there were no more delays. We arrived (the playing site was a very nice 14-story Hyatt hotel in an upper-class urban neighborhood) a mere hour and a half before the opening ceremony; the total time lost was about 15 hours. I just hoped that my play wouldn’t be affected.
The opening ceremony was pretty routine: several important people spoke, the participants got introduced, and then we took a group photo, but there were a few points of interest. Super-GM Hikaru Nakamura was in attendance. Dewain Barber, basically the head of the Denker, announced that 2010 would be his last year in charge (he also wore Mickey Mouse ears). Tyler Hughes gave a very good speech concerning chess’s role in high school to college transitions. Unfortunately, the group photo was organized in an idiotic way: three rows of people standing and one row sitting. People in the back row such as myself will not be seeing themselves in Chess Life. After the ceremony my mom and I went out to eat with Prashantha Amarasinghe of Minnesota, his dad Sisira, and Andrew Latham of Kansas, and then it was time to play.
Round 1: Adam Jiang-Matt Anzis
I knew that I was going to be in the bottom of the top half, and thus play a fairly low rated opponent. My strategy for this round was simple: look out for tactics, win, and then get to sleep ASAP. As expected, I played down: Adam Jiang, a 1500 from Idaho.1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 c5 7.c3 Nc6 8. 0-0 cxd4 9.cxd4 Nge7 10. Bd2? This game is a good example of what happens if one side does not know basic middle game plans. White wants to expand on the kingside, so the bishop belongs on e3 where it guards d4. 10…a6 11. Bc3? White spends two moves putting his bishop on a bad square: on c3, the bishop is just a big pawn that black can attack with tempo. White’s kingside expansion has not started; black is several moves ahead in his queenside expansion. 11…b5 12.a3another tempo wasted because of the c3 bishop 12…h5 This prevents g4, allowing my e7 knight to develop to the good f5 square. It does weaken g5, but that’s acceptable. 13. Ng5 Nf5 14. f4White finally begins kingside expansion, but due to the extra tempi, black has everything under control. 14…Be7 15. Nf3 The kingside is locked up. If white tries h3 with ideas of g4, black has h4. It’s going to take quite a few moves for white to get any play at all. Meanwhile, black has plenty of play on the queenside. 15…Qb6 16.Nbd2 a5 17. Nb3 0-0 Psychologically, there was a battle going on too. I was so tired that I was having trouble keeping my eyes open so Adam decided to play really slowly. At this point, I had 70 minutes to his 35 (the time control was 90 minutes with a 30 second increment each move). After 17…0-0 I decided to go up to our room and change from my dry contacts to glasses. Best move I made all game! After that I was able to focus. 18. Kh1 White has the plan of Rg1, g3, h3, g4 with a little play, but it’s way too slow. 18…Rfb8 19. Be1? hoping to meet the b4 break with a4, and laying a trap that doesn’t work. 19…a4! Now d4 will be unprotected. White’s pseudo-trap is 20. Nbd2 Ncxd4 21.Bf2 Bc5 22. Rac1, but black stay a clear pawn up with 22…Nb3!, which must be what he missed when he played Be1. 20. Nc5 Bxc5 21. dxc5 Qxc5 22. Bf2Qc4! It looks like the queen will be in danger of getting trapped by a rook on the c-file after Qd2, but I had prepared a nice combo to avoid it. 23. Qd2 Na5 24. Rfc1 Moving the other rook would lose the exchange. 24…Nb3! Forcing a pawn up ending with dominant knights. 25. Rxc4 Nxd2 26. Rc7 Nb3 I had a lot of nice options at this point, but I decided controlling the c-file would be best. 27. Rb1 Rc8 28. Rd7 Rc2 29.Be1 Rac8 30. Bc3 d4! Forcing the bishop back, or else: 31. Nxd4 31.Bxd4 leads to back rank mate after N(either)xd4. 31…Nfxd4 32. Bxd4 Here the back rank is covered due to Bg1, but I can just win a piece. 32…Rd2! 33.h3 Nxd4 0-1. I was pretty pleased with my play in this game.
Round 2: Matt Anzis-Andrew C. Wang
After a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast I was ready to play up. My second round opponent was the third seed, Andrew Wang, a 2250 from Massachusetts. He was short and looked pretty young, so I figured his main strength was tactics. 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5. Nge2 c5 I started playing the Nge2 line this summer with Tim’s help. I remembered one game where after 5…c5 6. d5 b5 black achieved a Benko-like position but with several tempi. The way to avoid this was for white to play 6. dxc5 instead of 6. d5. However, I didn’t do this for two reasons. First, I was unsure of the exact position in which black played 5…c5, and second I was worried about 6. dxc5 Qa5 with pressure on e4. Going into an unclear position that may be opening theory is dangerous, especially against a tactical player, so I decided to go with the possibly inferior line with which I was familiar. 6. d5 b5 7. cxb5 a6 8. Ng3 h5 Black is getting a lot of play, but I was able to continue playing solidly. 9. Be2 I decided that repositioning the knight after …h4 was less bad than playing h4 myself and severely weakening my kingside. 9…Nbd7 10.Bxa6 Qb6? 11. Qb3 forcing black’s queen back 11…Qc7 12. Nf1 I decided to use the tempo to reposition my knight and take away his option of playing h5-h4-h3 weakening my kingside. 12…Bxa6 13.Bxa6 Rxa6 14. Nd2 My bishop and rook are okay undeveloped as they defend my queenside pawns. 14…0-0 15.0-0 Ne5 16. f4? I thought this stopped c4, but overlooked a tactic. Worse was 16. Nc4 which loses by force to Rb8 17.Nb5 Qd7 18.Nxe5 dxe5 19. a4 Rxb5! and the a1 rook falls. It turns out that I can’t really stop the c4, Nd3 maneuver, but I CAN play around it with something like 16. Qb5 Ra5 (or b6) 17.Qe2 c4 18.Nf3 Nd3 19. Nd4 and my knights are powerful too. 16…c4! Here I had planned to play 17. Qb5 but 17…Ra5 18. Qb4 Rb8 and my queen is trapped. So I had to retreat and try to play around the knight on d3. Unfortunately, I’ve already weakened my king with f4, so now any advantage I had is lost and black is slightly better.17. Qc2 Nd3 18.H3 e5? 19. f5and now I have play on the kingside. 19…Bh6 20. Nf3?! In the game this exchange offer proved okay, but the computer says it is a mistake. The idea is that if black takes twice on c1 and wins the exchange, then I recapture the second time with my queen and get a strong kingside attack due to black’s weak dark squares. Apparently it isn’t sound and black can defend (computer), but then neither were a lot of Tal’s sacs. 20…Qc5+ 21.Kh1 Nxc1 22. Raxc1 Kg7 Black turns down the offer, technically a mistake. But once again, I think it is a decent practical decision against a lower-rated player. 23. Rce1 g5 24. Qf2 Here I was under five minutes, so I decided to trade queens. In the resulting endgame I’m a pawn up and can try for a win. 24…Qxf2 25. Rxf2 Here white has difficulty coordinating his pieces while black has easy play. I simply did not have enough time to come up with a solid plan, and thus he slowly outplayed me (he had 20 minutes). 25…g4 26.Nd2 Bf4 27.Rfe2 Rc8 28.Nf1 h4 29.Rc2 Rc5 30.Ne3 gxh3 31. gxh3 Nh5This is the point where I really started having trouble coordinating my pieces. 32. Nf1 Kf6 33. a3 Ra8 34. Ne2 Bg5 35.Nh2 Rb8 36.Ng4+ Ke7 37.Nf3 Rb3 38.Nc3 Bf4 39.Kg2 Rc8 40. Kg2 I slammed this move out with one second left on my clock! Not fun. 40…Rcb8 41.Nd1 Rg8 42. Rg2? I’m now clearly worse after 42…Rxg2 43. Kxg2 Bc1 as I can’t defend the b-pawn with my rook due to Nf4+. 42…Bg3 43. Rh1 Nf4 His piece play is worth more than a pawn by now. 44. Rd2 Be1?! A nice looking combo, but it doesn’t lead to anything but a perpetual, and white would be very happy with a draw at this point. 45. Rxe1 Rg3+ 46. Kf2 Nxh3+ 47.Ke2 Nf4+?? He should take the draw by checking with the rook on the g-file. After the continuation I’m up a piece. 48. Kf1 Rb8 I’m up a piece but he has a dangerous passed h-pawn and a lot of play. Still at the minute-mark, I played the next several moves correctly. 49. Re3 Rg5 50. Ne2 Rbg8 51.Nxf4 exf4 52.Rf3 Rg1+ 53.Ke2 R8g2+ 54. Nf2 I’m won, but a desperate master is a dangerous opponent. He’s playing for tactical traps, and in my time pressure I have trouble avoiding them. 54…Rb1 55. Rh3? Rg3! This is just the sort of thing I was trying to avoid: 56. Rxh4 loses to 56…Re3#. 56. Rc2 Kf6 57. a4? Much simpler (for the next two moves) is 57. Rxh4 since Re3 is no longer mate. 57…Ke5 58.a5 f3+ 59. Ke3?? Black already has a lot of counter play, but 59. Kd2 keeps an edge. This terrible blunder leaves me scrambling for a draw. 59…Re1+ 60. Kd2 Re2+ I completely overlooked this when I played 59. Ke3, anticipating that the rook would move away. 61. Kc3 Rxf2! 62. Rxf2 Rxh3 Black’s advanced king puts him in command, but white has enough to draw. 63. a6 Rh1 64. Rxf3 Kxe4 65.a7 Ra1 66. Rh3 Rxa7 67.Rxh4+ Kxd5 68.Rxc4 Ke5 69.b4 Kxf5 70. b5 Ke5 71. Rc6 Rd7 72. b6 f5 He spent his remaining trying to find a win, so we were both at the minute-mark at this point. 73. Rc7 Rd8 74. b7Once black blockades the pawn with his rook, my king and rook can stop/pick off his two pawns. If black swings his king over to pick off the b-pawn, I just win his two pawns and it’s a draw. 74…Ke6???Time pressure? I don’t know but wow, a totally game losing blunder. I couldn’t believe my eyes when he played it. 75. Rc8 Kd7 76. Rxd8+ 1-0.I’ve heard the famous quote about never feeling sorry for your opponent, but I really did feel sorry for Andrew after that. Turns out that in his two tournaments prior to the Denker he had dropped more than 50 points to below master-level. Hopefully Andrew can recover from his slump because he’s definitely one of the most promising juniors in the country.
After the game, my mom and I went out to lunch with Prashantha and his dad, Sisira, at an all-you-can-eat soup, salad and dessert bar. My mom doesn’t play, so I enjoyed “talking chess” with Sisira and Prashantha a lot. I also called my dad at least once a day to talk chess with him. I think these conversations were very important; if I keep to myself too much during a long tournament my view of “chess reality” can be distorted. For example, by the 10th game of the Denker/US Open last year, I felt like I was in an endless fog of games; so I had no creativity in my play and was playing much less tactically than I normally do. This year I was able to start fresh each game and played better as a result.
Round 3: Kevin Zhang-Matt Anzis
Although happy to be 2-0, I knew I had gotten very lucky and wasn’t feeling very confident about playing up again. My opponent for the third round was Kevin Zhang (my first three opponents rhymed!), a master from Arizona; we played on board 3. 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6.c5 Be7 7. Nf3 0-0 8.b4The line I was familiar with is 8. Bd3 after which I challenge white’s center with 8…b6. 8…Ne4 White took time to solidify his c5 pawn, so black can expand in the center/kingside. 9. Qc2 f5 10. Be2 10.b6My plan I wanted to trade off queenside pawns, blockade on c6 and pressure d4 was flawed. It’s a good positional plan in theory, but white more space and active pieces so there’s just no way black can do it effectively. This position is dynamic: Black needs to play finessing tactical maneuvers against white’s pawns. The option I like best is 10…a5 11. b5 b6! as 12. c6 fails to 12…Nxc3! which picks up a piece since 13. Qxc3 Bb4 wins the queen. 11. 0-0 a5?! I overlooked white’s reply. 12. Na4 bxc5 13. bxc5 Nc6 14. Bb5 For the past few moves, hesitant to mix it up with a master, I’d been trying to play solid positional moves in a dynamic position, and now find myself faced with a poor position. 14…Nb4 15.Qe2 Ba6 16.Bxa6 Nxa6 17. Nb6 Ra7 So far I have played poorly and unimaginatively, and find myself in a passive, inferior position. However, although clearly better, white has no clear breaks or easy ways to improve on the queenside. Over the next few moves, white played inaccurately, allowing me to get back in the game. 18. Bd2? The bishop belongs on f4; this one move threat just lets me reposition my knight for defense of the queenside. 18…Nb8 19. Qb5? Qe8 A trade of queens helps black, for the endgame would be equal due to mutually weak pawns. 20. a4 Nc6! The queenside is blockaded. Any advantage white had is gone, and black is ready to expand on the kingside. 21. Rfd1 Bf6 22. Qd3 g5 I think this move caught him off guard: now my intentions are obvious, but hard to prevent. 23. Bc3 g4 24. Ne1 Qh5 I was under ten minutes while Kevin was at about 40, but all of my pieces are coordinating in a kingside attack. White will have trouble surviving. I continued to play solid moves that built up the attack as I didn’t have much time to calculate. 25. Nc2 Bh4 26. Be1 f4 27. f3? A losing mistake.27…Ng5?!I missed the winning 27…Bg3!! After 28.hxg3 fxg3 29. Bxg3 Nxg3 and white’s kingside will soon fall apart. For example, 30.f4 Qh1+ 31. Kf2 Qh4 (31…Ne4+?Loses to 32. Qxe4! Qh4+ 33.g3Qh2+ 34. Qg2!) since 32. Qg3 Rxh4+! wins the queen. 28. Bxh4 Qxh4 29. Ne1 Rg7 Although under 5 minutes, I am better and have an easy position to play. Meanwhile, he has to play passive, precise defense moves. 30. Qe2 Rf6 31. Qf2?? After one move of passive defense he cracked and played the losing move. 31…g3?!Completely winning was 31…Nh3+!! which forces 32. gxh3 gxf3+! and the game is over. One line is 33. Kf1 Qxh3+ 34.Ng2 Rxg2 winning the queen or mating. What I played was winning too; however, it left me room to err. 32. hxg3 fxg3 33. Qe3 Qh2+ 34. Kf1 Nxf3! The point of 31…g3: white can’t capture on f3 with the g-pawn as it allows the winning g2+. 35. Nxf3 Rxf3+! 36. Qxf3 Rf7! This was far as I calculated when I played 31…g3, but luckily it’s won for black. 37. Ke2 Rxf3 38. Kxf3 Qh4! The key move, asserting dominance. Only now is black clearly winning. 39. Ke2 Nxd4+? I missed white’s reply which nearly forces a draw. 39…Qe4+ is much tidier. 40. Rxd4 Qxd4 41. Rc1 Here, in under three minutes, I had to find a way to stop the c-pawn. I spent most of my remaining time devising this maneuver: 41…Qb2+ 42. Kd1 Qxg2 43.c6 43…Qf1+ 44. Kd2 Qf2+ Now, no matter where the king goes, the queen can take the knight and still stop the c-pawn (44. Kc2 was no different as after 44…Qf2+, the king can’t run to the b-file as it would allow Qxb6 with check). Once again, I missed a simpler win: 44…Qxc1+. 45. Kd3 (if 45. Kc3 Qxb6 the b-pawn is hanging.) 45…Qxb6 46.c7 Qa6+! The point of the entire maneuver.47. Kd4 Qc8 48. Ke5 Kf7 49.Kd6 Ke8 50.Kc6 Qa6+ 51.Kc5 Kd7 52.Kd4 Qb6+ Kd3 53.Qxc7 0-1. Despite several sloppy, second-best moves, I remained in control and won.
With the win I moved into a four-way tie for first with 3.0/3.0; NEVER had I imagined I would be in that position. It felt great. For the first time ever, I felt like I belonged at the top boards with the best scholastic players in the country. Also, I was proud to be representing Iowa so well.
However, there were still three very tough games left. The other three unscathed players were Richard Herbst, a 2100 from Colorado, Michael Bowersock, a 2100 from Michigan, and the top board FM Stephen Zierk, a 2400 from California. Based on colors and ratings, I calculated I would play Herbst in the fourth round; I was slightly nervous, but knew I could beat him.
2010 Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions Report,
Part II of II
By Matt Anzis
The first half of this article ended after the third round of the Denker: it was Sunday night, I had 3.0/3.0, and I was going to play 2100 Richard Herbst from Colorado the next morning. It turns out that only two out of three of those statements were accurate.
I woke up the next morning and found out I was paired instead against the top seed, FM Stephen Zierk, rated 2426. That was…not good. In preparation for the Denker I had watched and studied games from the US Junior Closed, an invitation-only tournament between the most elite young players in the country: Zierk had played in that tournament. I was reminded of the athletes that grow up with a certain player as their role model and end up playing against them once they become professionals. There was just one difference; I was not a professional, I was still just me.
So far in the tournament I had shown that I could compete with masters; however, I knew that I could not contend with someone of Zierk’s caliber. A senior master like Zierk played at a level at which I had no control over the outcome of the game. If I played my best and he played his best, then he would win, simple as that.
However, I obviously was not going to give up, so I put on my UNI shirt because Zierk was Kansas. I felt like last year’s UNI men’s basketball team: I was a huge underdog on a national stage facing a murder’s row of opponents that normally I only watched but now had to play. Zierk was Kansas, the best team in the nation, and I had to beat him if I wanted to win the tournament. Maybe he was better than me, but try telling that to UNI on the morning of March 20th. Maybe I didn’t have a chance, but try telling that to Ali Farokhmanesh with 37 seconds left. Maybe, I should have been focusing on chess instead of making sports analogies.
Despite my inspirational metaphorical apparel, I was still more nervous than I had ever been. Usually I prefer to play up as I have nothing to lose and feel no pressure; however, usually there is not a prestigious place in US chess history—both for myself and for Iowa—on the line. I would much rather have been playing Herbst. I was so nervous about playing Zierk and losing that I felt nauseous and could barely eat breakfast: I almost threw up after a few bites of bagel. Then on the way back to the room, I had to hover over a garbage can in the hallway for several minutes until I could walk again. I eventually managed to return to the room, bagel still in my stomach, and there I waited restlessly for the round to begin.
I felt better when it was finally 12 o’clock and time to play. I can’t remember my exact frame of mind but it was something like: “Well, there’s nothing I can do now but play my best and see what happens.” And that’s what I did.
Round 4: Matt Anzis-FM Stephen Zierk
It was cool being on board one at a national tournament for the first time in my life, and it would have been cooler if they had had the correct name next to me. 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Thanks to Tim’s help, I knew the opening as well as Zierk. 4…Bg7 5.Bg5 Ne4 6.cxd5 Nxg5 7. Nxg5 e6 8. Qd2 exd5 A 1900 I played in Oklahoma this year claimed that after 8…h6 9. Nf3 exd5 Black is won. The game ended in a draw… 9. Qe3+ Kf8 10.Qf4 Bf6 11.h4 h6 12.Nf3 Kg7 13. e3 Be6 This is where my knowledge of the main line ended. However, because I knew the basic positional plans, I was not lost. White wants to pressure black’s king whereas black wants to attack the center at d4. 14. Bd3 c6? The time control was 90 minutes with a 30 second increment each move. Before this move he had 94 minutes compared to my 78. He was playing nearly instantaneously, and that is intimidating to anyone. This was the first move he thought about (3 minutes), and he made a mistake. 14…c5 would be consistent with black’s plan of attacking the center, but 14…c6 is a complete waste of time. It was at this point that I had an “epiphany” and realized: “Hey, this guy is not some unstoppable genius. We’re both playing at the same board. We can both see all the moves. Sure, he’s really good, but that just means he sees a lot. He’s not unbeatable.” 15. Qg3 I chose this, with the plan of attacking g6, over 15. g4 and a pawn storm because it was faster and I remembered it specifically from a lesson. 15…Nd7 16. Ne5 c5 Black admits his mistake on the 14th move, a good decision as he needs counterplay. At the time I thought I must have at least a slight edge due to the extra tempo. However, computer analysis shows that things remain fairly dynamically balanced. 17. f4Expanding on the kingside and threatening f5. 17…Kf8 I was very excited at this point because he was retreating. The position is still dynamically balanced due to black’s pressure on the center; however, white is constantly one move away from breaking through, and black must play very precisely. 18. h5 cxd4 19. exd4 Qb6 20. Qf2 I had played well so far, putting a lot of pressure on Zierk. The computer may say that it is equal, but white is the one with the comfortable game, which is an unquantifiable but valuable advantage. 20…Bxe5?Black’s last two moves have gained time attacking white’s center, and now he relieves the pressure from his kingside. But…it is a mistake! 20…Kg7, a redeveloping move which maintains the tension, was called for. Here, white gains a lasting positional advantage. During the game I felt this was simply the transformation of advantages for white: dynamic to static. In reality, it was the transformation of a psychological advantage (Zierk having to find only moves) into several static advantages. Black is left with a backwards f-pawn and a large bishop-shaped e-pawn. On top of that his knight is inactive, his h-pawn is weak, and after white castles he will be underdeveloped. White’s only weakness is his d4-pawn which black can only attack once..21. fxe5 g5 22. Rf1?! Unfortunately I misunderstood the position and played it poorly. The rook belongs on f1, but instead of 22.Rf1 white should play 22. 0-0! This error boils down to a conceptual misunderstanding of the position. The kingside is closed with no possible breaks; therefore, it is a safe place for the white king. Also, although the position is more closed than it was several moves ago, tempos are still important: 0-0 gets white developed faster than 0-0-0. After 22. 0-0 white would be free to improve his position and start making threats such as Bb5 or Nb5. That being said, white still maintains an advantage at this point because black’s weaknesses are static. 22…Kg7 23.0-0-0 Rac8 24. Bf5?! An impatient move. We were each under 30 minutes here, and I was trying to force my way into black’s position when careful maneuvering like 24. Bc2 was needed. This is an example of the weaker player not knowing what to do with a good position. 24…Rhf8 25.Bxe6 Qxe6 26.Qf5Rc4 27. Kb1 Rc6 White still has a solid advantage due to black’s poor pawn structure. Additionally, Zierk had spent a lot of time trying to find a way to escape the bind and was under 15 minutes. However, I learned in this game that even with a better position and a time advantage it is pretty difficult to outplay an FM. 28. Nb5 Qxf5 29.Rxf5 a6 30. Nc3? This allows black to equalize. 30. Nd6! keeps up the pressure and gives white all of the winning chances. For example, one mostly forced line goes 30…f6 31. Nxb7 fxe5 32.Rxf8 Kxf8 33.Rxe5 Nxe5 34.Rxd5 Ng4 35.Rd6 Rxd6 36.Nxd6 Nf6 37.Nf5 Nxh5 38.Nxh6 Nf4 39.g3 followed by 40. Nf4 and white is up a pawn. 30…f6! 31. exf6+ Nxf6 32. Nxd5 Nxh5 33.Rxf8 Kxf8 34. Ne3 The endgame is equal but try telling that to Zierk! Now I have to find a way to draw. 34…Re6 35.Nf5 Nf4 36.g4 Nd537. Kc1 My passed pawn is blockaded and I was starting to feel like I had choked away the game. I was under five minutes here; one or two more mistakes and I would lose! Rf6 38. Rh1 Ne7 Luckily here I found a nice way to force a draw. 39. Nxh6! Kg7 40. Re1! Kf8 He could try 40…Kxh6 but it would be suicidal as after 41. Rxe7 Rf4 42. Rxb7 white has an edge. 41. Rh1 ½—½.
We went over the game in the lobby, and I have to say that I was very impressed by Zierk. A lot of players get upset and surly after a poor result; I know that I often do. However, he was very gracious, friendly, and not at all condescending in the analysis like the stronger player often is. I was very happy to see that Zierk won the World Under 18 Championship this October! He was the 26th seed in a field that included many IMs and even GMs. That is an amazing accomplishment, both for Zierk and for US chess. Congratulations!
I remember that after Zierk had left the lobby, I said to someone, “I didn’t ever think I’d be mad about drawing an FM!” It’s true: I was kind of disappointed because I had given away a draw from such a good position. However, that disappointment soon turned to happiness as I realized what I had done. I had just held off the top seed, heck, maybe he had held off me! I had overcome my nerves and pulled off a huge half-upset. I was playing really good chess, good enough to play with FMs and beat masters. There was no one in my way now that I couldn’t beat!
After the game with Zierk, I stuck to the routine from the day before: I ate at SoupPlantation, rested, and called my dad. My dad had been getting a lot of emails from family and friends in Iowa about my performance, and I used this as extra motivation. I was not going disappoint myself and everyone back home by coming this far and then failing. I was not going to end up like UNI and lose to Michigan State because I didn’t play my best. My nerves were gone and a solid determination took their place.
I was paired against another master, NM Bob Shao of Texas, on board 2. It was awesome being on the top boards at a national tournament and belonging there. Last year I had been in the middle the entire time, and I had watched the masters at the top boards with admiration, wondering how they did it. How did that Patrick Tae guy get to be 3-0? How did Abby Marshall and Michael Yang hold it together in time pressure as they played the game that would decide the winner of the Denker? What did they know that I didn’t? Nothing now.
Round 5: NM Bob Shao-Matt Anzis
The trap of overconfidence is dangerous, especially when playing a higher rated player after an upset. In one of Roger Gotschall’s FIDE Swisses a few years ago, I defeated masters in rounds 1 and 4 by playing brilliant chess, and lost to masters in rounds 2 and 5 by playing overaggressive and sloppy chess. With that in mind, I kept my confidence in check and played. 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 c6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Be7 7. b3 This move stops black’s idea of 7…dxc4 8. Bxc4 b5. Before, especially playing online, I had never found a good answer to b3. However, in this game I came up with the plan of playing b5 anyway. 7…a6 8. Be2 b5 9. c5?! This relieves the tension on the queenside and lets me know where to place my pieces. A better plan for white would be to keep black guessing and improve his position with non-committal moves like a3, Bb2, 0-0, etc. 9…0-0 10. b4?! Another substandard move which relieves tension and lets me know exactly what to do next. Black has achieved equality as white has wasted the last two moves. 10…a5 11. bxa5? This is an error which gives black an advantage. Black’s queenside play now becomes a tangible initiative, and all white can do is try to negate it. At the time I was quite happy with my position and felt that black had a slight edge. 11…Qxa5 12. 0-0 b4 13. Nb1 Ba6 14. Bxa6 Qxa6 One of black’s main goals in this opening is to find a way to activate or trade his light bishop. Done. The time situation here was Bob 71 minutes and myself 56 minutes, but 15 minutes is a small deficit and well worth such a positional edge. Unfortunately, just as in my game with Zierk, I then spent a lot of time, but I ended up just bumbling around and was unable to increase my advantage. To his credit, Bob played pretty accurately. Nbd2 Rfb1 16. Bb2 Qb5 17. Rfb1 Bd8 18. Nb3 Ne4 19. Ne1 f5 20. Nd3 Ra7 Bob, Zierk, and I analyzed the game afterwards and concluded that I should have doubled rooks on the a-file sooner if I wanted to maintain my advantage; the computer agrees. 21. f3 Nef6 22. Bc1 White has consolidated his position and now begins to pressure the b4 pawn. I had spent a lot of time on the previous moves and was now under 20 minutes compared to Bob’s 50. I feared that I had screwed everything up, and I lashed out for counterplay to avoid being crushed by time pressure. 22…Qc4 23.Rb2Bc7 24.Bd2 e5 25. Rc1?! 25. Nxb4 Rxb4 Bxb4 Qxb4 Qxf5 was interesting and perhaps necessary.This allows me to reclaim a slight advantage. 25…e4! 26. fxe4fxe4 27 Nf4 Bxf4 28. fxe4 Qe2! Black is back in business due to a superior pawn structure and some initiative. However, I was under 10 minutes compared to his 34. 29. Re1 Qh5 30. Nc1 Rab7 31. h3? Qa4 would put black in a tough spot. 31…Nf8 32.Be3 Ne633.Qe2 Qh4 34.Qf2 Qxf2 35. Rxf2Ra8 I played well even in time pressure. Black has a nice endgame advantage due to active pieces and better pawns. White needs to start pushing his kingside pawns for counterplay. 36. Rb2?! g6 37. Rb3? Nh5! Bob wasted the last two moves blockading my b-pawn needlessly. Now my knights are active on the kingside; they attack and prevent pawn advances at the same time. At this point—despite being under 5 minutes—I was feeling very good about my position (and rightfully, the computer evaluates it at -1) but also very nervous due to time pressure. 38. Rf1 Ng3 39. Rd1 h5 40.Bf2 Nf5 41. g3 Ra3! The kingside is shut off but now black returns play to the queenside. 42. Rxa3 bxa3 43. Nb3 e3! Played with two minutes left as I had to be sure the pawn could not be won later. 44. Be1 Oftentimes a team’s season comes down to one play, to one moment, to one decision. This was mine. My entire tournament, my entire chess career up to this point, was decided by this next move. Black obviously had a much better position, but white seemed to have everything covered. Tick-Tock. I was under 2 minutes, and I had struggled all tournament with converting positional advantages against stronger players, especially in a timely fashion. Tick-Tock. Most likely I would have to win this game to win the tournament as Zierk probably would win his next two (which he did). Tick-Tock.
I saw the exchange sac: 44…Rxb3. It looked pretty good: I would have two passed pawns on the third rank and the loose d-pawn. Tick-Tock. There had to be a way to win from that, but I didn’t see it. Tick-Tock. “What should I do? Should I risk everything to win on a chancy tactical shot? Should I play it safe, should I do the smart thing and keep the draw in hand?” Tick-Tock. “There’s not enough time for this.” Tick-Tock. “If you want to win you have to give it your all.”
44…Rxb3!! It is really as simple as that. If you want to win you have to give it your all, you have to risk everything. However, it’s not called a risk for no reason: it is going to backfire every so often. And it did this time. 45. axb3 Nfxd4 46. b4. From here on out it was basically a crapshoot, and I just ended up on the wrong end of it. It is an extremely complex position—Tim, Pete Karagianis, and Jason Juett, three of the strongest players in Iowa, were watching online and couldn’t figure it out—and I had only two minutes. It was a coin-flip that I chose: I wanted something dynamic with no drawing possibilities, and I got it. It just didn’t work out. Bob played accurately, even brilliantly in the end, and I missed a few key ideas and it was over. 46…Nc2 An easy win is 46…a2 47. Ra1 (47. b5 cxb5) Nc2 48.Rxa2 Nxe1 and after 49.Re2 Nf3+ 50.Kg2 Nfd4 51. Rxe3 Kf7 black is won. I did not go into this line because I was afraid white could find a way to get his queenside pawns rolling. 47. Rc1 Ned4 48. b5! This was the move that I missed and now, with Ne2+ 49. Kh2 Nxc1 50.bxc6 a2 51.Bc3 d4?The losing move. 51…e2 holds at least draw. 52. c7 dxc3 53. c8=Q+ Kg7 54. Qc7+ Kg8 55.Qd8+ Kf7 56.Qd7+ Kf8 57. c6 a1=Q 58. c7 Qa6 59. c8=R+! Bob has a cruel sense of humor! We had several laughs about this move after the game. 59…Qxc8 60.Qxc8+ Kf7 61.f5 e2 62.Qe6+ Kg7 63.Qxg6+ Kf8 64. f6 e1=Q 65. Qg7+ Ke8 66.f7+ Kd7 67. f8=Q+ Kc6 68. Qxc3+ 1-0
I was proud of the way that I lost; if I had to choose a way to go out, it would be like that. C’mon, a total of 5 promotions: that’s making someone beat you! Bob was a very gracious victor which I really appreciated, and as I mentioned we went over the game afterwards. Zierk participated in the analysis too, and the cool thing was that we did it as equals. A master, a future World U18 Champion, and myself just going over a game!
I returned to the tournament hall late that night, still feeling proud. Then I saw the remnants of the players from that night’s US Open round, animatedly discussing their games. I saw a few chess parents reading and chatting on the chairs in the lobby, passing the time as their children played somewhere in the convention hall. I saw little kids running around playing blitz in the skittles room, enjoying the game at its purest level. And suddenly I felt overwhelmingly sad.
All of the people I could see: I knew them, I was them. I had been those young kids, just playing blitz and bughouse for the pure joy of it. I had been those class players, testing new theories, trying to shine light on the black-and-white-jungle. I had seen my parents be those chess parents so many times, sacrificing countless hours so their kids could play. Throughout it all I had had one dream: I wanted to be a star. I wanted to be Josh Waitzkin and I wanted to win a national championship. I had always been an above average player but nowhere near elite, and in the past few years, I had accepted my role of “good, not great.” But here at the Denker, I had gotten a chance, against all odds, to make my dream a reality. Somehow I beat back-to-back masters and got to 3.0/3.0. Somehow I drew the future World Under 18 Champion and got to 3.5/4.0. And then my unattainable dream was two games away. And then it was just a few moves and one game away. And now it was gone.
I got choked up and a little teary eyed there in the lobby just thinking about it all. What came to my mind was: “Now I know what it feels like to lose the Super Bowl”. Eventually I made my way back to the room. I had to get a good night sleep…for the last round.
In the back of my mind was the thought that if I lost this round I would finish with 3.5/6.0, the same score I had gotten the previous year. After everything thing I had done, I would just be the same patzer that I was last year. Also, I really did not want to play—and risk losing to—some 2000 or 1900, especially after the caliber of the opponents I had just succeeded against. Luckily, my wish was granted: I was paired with the highest rated 3.0, NM Eric Rosen of Illinois. This game did not mean nearly as much as the others because I was out of contention for first, but I still wanted to finish strong obviously.
Round 6: Matt Anzis-Eric Rosen
I felt pretty relaxed during this game since I did not have nearly as much to lose. However, this also meant that I was no longer constantly on edge, so my play was somewhat sloppy as a result. 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 b6 5.Bd3 Bb7 6.Nf3 0-0 7.0-0 Re8 8.Qe2 Bxc3 9.bxc3 d6 10.e4 e5 11.d5?! I think that a better plan for white is to support e4 with either 11. Nd2 or 11. Re1 and maintain the tension in the center. 11…Nbd7 12.g3?! Preparing to start kingside maneuvers with Nh4 and f4; once again, this is white’s plan in the other variation. However, in this line black achieves his queenside play more quickly and thus gets a slight edge. A developing move such as 12.Ba3 or 12. Re1 would have been better. 12…c6 13.Ba3 Qc7 14.Nd2 14…cxd5 15.cxd5 Nc5 16. Rac1 Rac8 17.c4My plan of Nh4 has already been abandoned, and now I have a backwards pawn on an open file. However, it is a singular weakness and easy to defend so the position is still equal. 17…a6 18. Kh1? Kg2 was superior as it covers h3. 18…Qd7 “Forking” a4 and h3.19. Bb1Qh3 The position is equal as black still only has one weakness to attack, but now white’s chances of expanding on the kingside are gone. Having lost my opening advantage and now my only hopes to regain an advantage, I began to play for a draw. 20. f3 Rc7 21. Qg2 Qxg2 22. Kxg2 Rosen has outplayed me by equalizing and then gaining a slight edge, but the position is still holdable. From here on out all I had to do was play a few precise defending moves. 22…Nd7 23.f4 f6 24.f5This secures a space advantage on the kingside and prevents black from breaking through with an f5 push of his own. 24…Nb7 25. Bd3 As black repositions his knights to attack c4, I have time to reposition my bishop to defend it. One weakness is not enough to decide the game. 25…Rec8 26.Rc2 Ndc5 27.Be2 Kf7 28.Rfc1 Ke7 29.Kf2 Kd7 30.Ke3 Na5 31.Bb4 Nab7 32. Ba3 Offering a draw. White has actually defended well and gained a slight advantage due to his greater mobility. However, during the game I was still in a defensive mindset and playing for a draw. 32…Rh8 33. Ke7 ½-½ Rosen offered the draw because he recognized that white had an advantage and saw no way to play for a win. I played poorly and unimaginatively, but the position was closed and boring enough for it to not cost me. With 4.0/6.0, I tied for 5th place.
We went over the game afterwards and once again it was really cool analyzing with someone whose games I had studied less than a month before: Rosen had also played in the 2010 US Junior Closed. Despite being at least 200 points below everyone else in the tournament, he finished with an even score of 4.5/9! Coming from a master underdog like Rosen, it meant a lot when he told me: “yeah, you’ve had a really nice tournament.”
The Award Ceremony took place that afternoon in the “garden pavilion” (like I said, it was a NICE hotel). Because I had tied for fifth, I got to go up on the stage and receive a scholarship. At a total value of $24, it wasn’t quite the full ride for which I had been hoping, but getting a prize of any kind is always nice. I will say though that I value the memory of standing on the stage with the other winners—many of them masters and top 10 for their ages—more than I do the scholarship. Bob Shao (who was one of those masters that tied with me) and I had been hoping that he would win the brilliancy prize for his victory over me, but unfortunately they gave it to an 1800 that beat a 1600. He and I were understandably disappointed: how could a game on board two (in round 5 nonetheless) with a total of 5 promotions be bested by a routine kingside attack on board 20? Too bad. I soon got over it and enjoyed the rest of the day in sunny California…by playing in a blitz tournament! Let’s just say that I did a lot of “giving back to the community”. The next morning my mom and I packed up and plane-hopped for another day. Once I was home, I was able to relax and reflect on my experience at the 2010 Denker.
I entered the 2010 Denker as an unproven small-state expert just trying to have a decent tournament. I was low on self-confidence and did not believe that I could actually compete for the title. But with a little luck and a lot of brilliance I proved myself wrong and had the tournament of my life. I went 2-1-2 against five masters—including a future World Champion—and had a performance rating of over 2300. I almost fulfilled a long-abandoned childhood dream of winning a national championship. I did everything in my power to attain it, and I came within a coin-flip of doing so. When the dust settled, I tied for fifth with a very respectable score of 4.0/6.0. (and if I might say so, probably the strongest in Denker history). In summary, I had a great tournament.
As I have written this article, I have had a lot of time to think and have realized something. I didn’t almost achieve my childhood dream: I did achieve it. After watching Searching for Bobby Fischer as a young boy, my dream had been to win a national championship and be a top national scholastic player. At the 2010 Denker I achieved the latter half. I proved it when I crushed Zhang from a poor position, when I gained an advantage against Zierk and then held him to a draw, and when I outplayed Shao as black. I proved it by staying on the top boards throughout the entire tournament and gaining the respect of the other players. I proved it most of all—and especially to myself—when I gave everything I had and played 43…Rxb3. At the 2010 Denker, I proved that I belong among the top young players in the country; that knowledge—and the confidence that it instills—is more important to me than any tournament victory could ever be.
Afterword: I intended for this report to be, besides entertaining, both psychological and inspirational. I’ve read a lot of chess books, but none that deal with the mindset of normal tournament players. Hopefully, the in-depth descriptions of what went through my head during the Denker were interesting and helpful in one way or another.
My main message (especially intended for scholastic players) in this article is that you can do it, whether “it” is getting a rating over 800 or becoming a master. You don’t have to come from a big chess state like New York or California to be good, and you don’t have to be a genius or a child prodigy. In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Magnus Carlsen said, “Despite some of the preconceptions about me, I wouldn’t say I have a freakishly high IQ. I am just someone who is naturally curious.” That is completely true. All it takes is a belief in yourself and a love of the game, and you can go as far as you want to go.
I’d like to acknowledge several people who went out of their way to help me be able to have such a great experience at the 2010 Denker. Thank you to John Flores and Sam Smith. They each do a lot to support chess; and this summer they organized and ran a fundraising chess camp for Prashantha and me. Thank you also to Tim McEntee. He volunteered many weekends this summer helping me prepare for the Denker. Finally, thank you for reading!