My 2008 New England Masters Experience
I participated in the 2008 New England Masters held August 11-15, 2008 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. While it was a 9-round Swiss tournament (USCF and FIDE rated), the field was limited to 50 entrants. However, only 44 players (4 GMS, 8 IMs, 11 FMs and 1 WFM) representing 12 Federations showed up on game day. In the end, only two players earned IM norms, Victor Kaminski of Canada and Parker Zhao of the US.
The visionary organizer, Chris Bird of the Las Vegas Masters fame, allowed four entries rated under 2100 FIDE. The underlying intent of the tournament was to afford norm hunters the opportunity to earn norms sans traveling outside the US. The inclusion of the four players did not compromise chances of norm hunters because per FIDE rules, these players would be assigned a rating of 2250 and 2100 for GM and IM norms, respectively.
I secured my spot way back in April 2008 as soon as I saw the announcement on Chris’s blog on MonRoi.com. It was about this time that the affable and super-smart CEO of MonRoi, asked me to write a blog for its website. It was fortuitous that I read his first blog entry and there I saw the history of the Masters series and his short mention of the upcoming 2008 edition.
It took a lot of courage to post a comment on his blog asking for one of the four unrated slots. Shortly after, I received an email from him essentially telling me that I could take the slot but that it would be wise to secure it with the early payment of the entry fee. The fee was steep but I thought it was economical in the long run because I would get a chance to play nine FIDE rated games in one tournament.
In March, I entered the US Championship Qualifier Open in Oklahoma primarily to get a FIDE rating but failed miserably in that I did not score a single point against three FIDE rated players in six rounds. I elected to skip the 7th round due to scheduling conflicts. The tournament itself in the end would not even count for rating purposes.
For a tournament to count per FIDE rules, you must play against three FIDE rated players and score at least half a point. Another way of obtaining an initial rating in one go is to play nine games against FIDE rated players, and score at least one point. In tournaments like the World Open even when playing in the top section with the big boys, the likelihood of playing against nine players with FIDE ratings as unrated is improbable unless of course you score upsets in the early rounds.
Technically, only three of us have no FIDE rating at the New England Masters. Of the four under 2100, one has a FIDE rating of 2044. I figured if I could avoid the other two players, I would be guaranteed seven games in one tournament. Scoring one point against strong opposition was my primary goal in this tournament and would count it a success if it happened.
I had five blacks and four whites. In the first round, I had the white pieces against a rising junior Canadian FM who already has one IM norm. I lost the game as predicted by the rating difference that separated us. The loss, however, was due to poor opening preparation. I learned from experience that knowing the main lines against titled players is a necessary given if you want to keep at least half of the point.
With the black pieces in the second round against a Dominican player rated 2226, I scored my first point convincingly. So after two rounds, my primary goal was already met. And what do you do next for motivation? Watching the women soccer game between Germany and Argentina, I overheard a commentator say that “when expectations are met, the performance diminishes.” I had no choice but to revise my goal and aim at something higher while remaining realistic given the strength of the opposition.
Besides obtaining a FIDE rating, my other paramount goal was not to lose games attributable to blunders. I was more concerned of the latter goal than the former for reasons obvious to readers of my Chessville column. Both are complementary goals but not necessarily dependent of each other. It was still possible not to lose games on blunders yet earn no rating because a positional loss would still net me zero point.
Because of my win in the second round, I got paired up which raised the rating average of my opposition. I knew that a higher rating average would mean a higher rating performance regardless of game results. This part of the FIDE rating rules I clearly understood. I also knew that whatever rating performance I get in the tournament would be my initial rating if I could get nine games against rated players and score at 50 percent, meaning 4.5 out of 9. At this stage of my chess improvement journey, it was almost improbable given the strength of the opposition and the heightened desire of norm hunters to score.
But why am I telling you all these irrelevant details totally foreign to the ongoing subject of discussion on Tactics Theory? The other more important purpose of playing in this tournament was to secure proof in the form of data points to my blunder-proof theory and the belief that one can improve in chess at any age as long as he is armed with the right resources, empowered with effortful study, inspired with the right attitude, and enabled with the right chess thinking process.
My struggles in every round will be written in detail as part of my upcoming book for Everyman Chess with target release dates in Europe and US for September and October 2009, respectively. So, there’s the official announcement about a book project Everyman Chess has already agreed to publish. The title is yet to be decided by me and GM Emms, Commissioning Editor for Everyman Chess. There will be sections on opening preparation, trade tools (chess engines and databases), online resources (ChessPublishing.com, Chessville, TWIC and ChessLectures, websites and blogs), coaching (selection and hiring) but mostly it will be a presentation of my, by now, honed chess thinking process, of which, the 8-step process to minimize or eliminate blunders forms its core.
My Six-Sigma inspired Chess Thinking Process is making a bold claim that it will help any player improve regardless of age. By extension, it will capacitate the practitioner of said process the ability to secure lasting chess improvement and with it the desired benefit of really enjoying the game. My own experience in this tournament afforded the process positive proof of its veracity and efficacy. The tournament opened my eyes to other possibilities and gifted me invaluable insights into the science of tournament preparation as well as overall game strategy, which are now nearing readiness for employment in the next fight. My solid exposure to proven military practices like After Action Reviews (AARs) and Lessons Learned (LL) as knowledge management tools have become my potent implements in the search for chess improvement. I have become either a fool or simply fearless of the chess gods.
At the tournament, my excitement reached its zenith when after five rounds; I scored 3 points, two wins and two draws against titled players. The rating performance after five rounds was 2373. For the sixth round, I was paired up against IM Sarkar who already has one GM norm and narrowly missed one more. Despite my loss to him, my rating performance remained high at 2322 due to his high rating. If the tournament ended at that point my rating performance would qualify for the FIDE Master title. I just needed to play three more games against FIDE rated players averaging 2290 and score 1.5 for an initial rating high enough to earn the FIDE Master title. How improbable could that be?
Read more on this and analysis of my last game in the upcoming third installment of my Chessville column scheduled for release this month.