For those of you who are interested in following Ray's progress, I apologize that neither of us has had time to keep up with the news. Here is a summary of what's occurred since Ray's last entry:
China Team Championship
Ray had the chance to combine a family vacation to China with some informal language studies and with a little chess. Before playing in this event, Ray participated in a junior event which he won. He didn't do quite so well in this much stronger event, but there were lessons to be learned. One interesting lesson is that a 2300-level player in China might be quite stronger than what one would expect elsewhere. I think the reason for this is that only the very best players receive the kind of financial support that allows them to play in international events, and some other players simply don't get to play in the very strong events that could result in major rating changes. It is easy to assume that these players -- with little, or no, FIDE events under their belts and no games to look up -- have little experience and are weaker players. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ray played a number of strong players, rated around 2200 and 2300, in both this tournament and the one in August.
China Men's Championship
This one came on the heels of the other event, and there was not enough time for rest in between. We decided not to turn this event down -- even though we knew it would be difficult physically -- because the Chinese chess community had been so gracious to us and also because, in all honesty, it was difficult to say no to an opportunity to play some of China's strong players. If I could go back, I think I would have found a way to politely say no and focus more on the vacation part of our trip. Although Ray only lost a few (13) rating points, the games were just too much too soon. It would have been better to rest and enjoy China.
Florida State Championship
This was a good event for Ray. He drew his co-champion, Grandmaster Julio Becerra, and overall played some good games. Because the Miami Open was just a short time later, we considered skipping this event. The only reason why we played was because it was literally in our backyard -- a 10 minute drive from our home. Sometimes things just seem to work out.
Ray almost never plays in two events in one month; however, as noted above, special circumstances allowed this to work out. As has been reported on other blogs and in articles, Ray had a fantastic tournament. He had wins over GM Friedel, IM Krush, IM Bartholomew, IM Bercys, and GM Gonzalez. He also played a nice game, and had a draw with, GM Michalevski. Ray went into the last round a full point ahead of the next person. That person, GM Sadvakasov, handed Ray his only loss of the tournament. Ray, however, got his revenge in the blitz event to decide the overall champion, and in this way Ray earned his first major title.
Ray was invited to this solid event, and so we spent his 14th birthday in Holland. The highlight was Ray's wins over GM Romanishin of Ukraine and GM Ulibin of Russia. Going into the last round, Ray had a chance to earn his first GM norm. (Some of you might wonder why he did not get a norm for his performance in Miami. The reason is that two of the grandmasters he faced, Friedel and Gonzalez, were only GM-elects at the time. It is unfortunate that such a strong performance did not yield a norm.) For the final round of the Essent, Ray was paired with GM Gupta. Ray played an aggressive game -- playing all out for the win -- but Gupta was able to find flaws in Ray's plan and so played the winning moves.
Pan Am Continental Championship
We felt very lucky to have a third Florida event. Traveling far from home, as we usually do, takes so much time and money. A six-hour drive to the other side of the state is easy in comparison. I don't have much to say about this event. Ray didn't play particularly well or particularly poorly; it was just an average event for him.
Eastern Open, D.C.
In December, Ray was invited to work with a small group of students under the tutelage of Garry Kasparov. Since that training coincided with our Christmas break, we decided to drive from the training in New York to a state park in Pennsylvania where we could have a week in a cabin in the woods surrounded by snow and a lot of small creatures -- mostly outside, but some inside the cabin. On our way home from the cabin, we stopped off in Washington, D.C., for the Eastern Open. This was the first time that I was able to talk in person with Alex Onischuk, Ray's new training partner/tutor. This in itself was reason enough to attend the event. Regarding the event, Ray did quite well with draws against GM Yermolinsky and GM Kudrin and a win over GM Ivanov. The only blemish was his loss to a solid young player and fellow Floridian, Daniel Ludwig.
One result of the meeting and later discussions with Onischuk was a chess trip. Ray and Alex traveled together to Moscow and spent five weeks in the area -- four weeks for chess events in Moscow and one week in the home of Alex's family in Ukraine. This is just the kind of experience Ray was ready for -- the kind of experience that he can draw on for many years to come. It is important to spend time with strong players such as Alex and to be around the caliber of players that participated in both events. Although Ray's chess performance at the Moscow Open was nothing special, he was able to play against some strong players. He actually experienced the same kind of thing that he encountered in China in the summer: players much stronger than their rating. I think that the reasons for this are the same as what I outlined in the China paragraph.
Aeroflot Open, Moscow
This was the second of the two events for Ray and Alex. Ray had a slow start and then had a great run in the middle, where he beat GM Van Wely of the Netherlands, GM Bocharov of Russia, and GM Akobian of the United States all in a row. As often happens, the amount of mental, physical, and emotional energy that one puts out in such games results in a weaker performance for subsequent games, and Ray was not able to keep the streak going. Still, he was able to play some very strong players and learn just by being with them, eating with them, and talking with them.
SPICE Spring Cup, Texas Tech University
Susan Polgar was kind enough to invite Ray to this closed event in Lubbock. Ray balanced a slow start with a strong finish and with wins over GM Sharavdorj of Mongolia twice and GM Kacheishvili of Georgia once. A misunderstanding about the time control cost him a game against Robert Hess, and poor play cost him a game against GM Gareev; however, the entire experience was very positive for Ray. We found time for tennis in between some of the games, and we were able to focus on some areas for improvement. This last part is extremely important, and I always consider such learnings to be the main part of any event.
Ray had a very good tournament here, even though this may not be reflected in the four FIDE rating points he earned. He had a solid win over GM Becerra, as well as draws with GM Shabalov and GM Kacheishvili. He played poorly in the opening against GM Akobian, who was able to get his revenge after his loss to Ray in Moscow, but the toughest game was the final round game against FM Mandizha of Zimbabwe. Ray's opponent played a very interesting piece sacrifice that was deceptive in that what looked like a clear advantage for Ray was actually an extremely complicated position. Ray ate up a lot of time trying to figure out the best plan and eventually faltered. Still, this was a game to learn from and, in that sense, it was a good thing.
United States Championship
The next event for Ray is the closed U.S. Championship in St. Louis, Missouri. The event runs from May 7 to May 17, so we will be leaving for St. Louis in less than two weeks! Ray has played a number of the other participants, and I believe that with best play Ray can give anyone at this event a tough game. This is an interesting event for us because it is possible for Ray to play both his old tutor, GM Kaidanov, and his new, albeit infrequent, tutor, GM Onischuk. And despite having been in several tournaments with him, Ray has never played GM Nakamura. I would really like to see this game! And, of course, there is GM Kamsky. This is an exciting event that holds many opportunities for Ray. I am hoping for the best.
Once again, my apologies for being so delinquent with these updates. First for me is always family. Work, which supports the family, comes next. Everything else -- for example, chess blogs -- comes last.