Sunday, 12 February 2012

Queenstown 2012: my first IM norm

by Junta
Post on Rounds 1-4 is here.

In Round 5 I won a 7.5-hour marathon game, a RN vs. R endgame at the end.
As my opponent gave up her knight for my last pawn, I knew that the logical outcome was now a draw, but I really wanted to win this game - sensing my opponent was very tired, and knowing that even Judit Polgar had failed to defend this endgame once (against Kasparov), I very much felt that it was worth pushing all the way to the end of the 50 moves. Black's last saving chances were to swing the rook to the queenside on moves 108, 109 or 114.

In Round 6 I drew with IM Herman van Riemsdijk with a Sicilian Kan - last July I entered lines from an opening book into ChessBase for the first time, and this was on the Kan - interestingly, a couple of the lines in the book were based on my opponent's games from 30 years ago! When we repeated moves after move 30, it was a position where I just could not find a good plan or sequence of moves to follow, to push for a win - of course, the position was equal, but you feel a little annoyed at yourself for not being strong enough as a player when you're unable to find anything constructive to do in a position.

In Round 7 I managed to sidestep my opponent's preparation with 8...Nf6 which I found in the morning, and I knew that the subsequent pawn sacrifice  must be correct - but what was the follow-up?! 11...Ng4 was begging to be played, but what if 12.Qxd5? Intuitive players may have just banged the knight move out quickly, but I had to find why it worked, and as my clock ticked down from 90 minutes towards 30, I finally found 12...Bxf2+. After White missed the flashy resource 17.Re4! Nc2 18.Qd6!! which close to equalises, Black was winning.

In Round 8, I was up against Trevor Tao - a win would essentially guarantee an IM norm for the victor (for him, also the IM title). My opponent was very smart in his opening choice, swapping off his g7-bishop for my Nc3 in a Fianchetto English to steer the game into positional channels (which I am not very good in). Although I used too much time in the middlegame, I had just about reached complete equality when a nightmarish blunder occurred on the dreaded 40th move, losing a pawn and the game to a simple knight fork.

In Round 9, I needed to win as Black to achieve the norm. I was anxious after the opening - my mind was filled with doubt and hesitation as I realised I had to sacrifice my queen a few moves later in the seemingly best line (20...Rad8) - eventually I convinced myself that other lines were definitely worse, and if this line didn't work out, at least I wouldn't have any regrets. Black's RRBN co-operated well enough against White's Q+R (though I'd completely missed 42.Rc7+ !), and I won on move 46. Eugene was very nice and congratulated me on the winning combination after the game.

After several near-misses and disappointing failures over the last two years, I felt much more relief than happiness on achieving my first IM norm. After most tournaments I play in, I feel like a stronger player, and I look forward to the upcoming events of 2012. GM Dejan Bojkov congratulated me, saying that the first norm is the hardest - I hope he is right!

A mini trophy from my family - "Norm #1".

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