US Amateur Team West
What happened to Caltech this year? Caltech had been a perennial contender (winning 3 of the last 4 and going into the last round in clear first in the other one), but this year we were missing out top board Patrick Hummel which convinced us to name ourselves "No Patrick, No Problem".
Last year we were good and lucky enough to win the event clear, this year we were much weaker (2020 vs 2197) and our last year's 2nd and 4th boards (Yanayt and I) were playing 1st and 2nd boards respectively this year. We had a rough start with Yanayt blundering from a completley won position in round 1 to tie a match we should've probably won despite this result. In round 3 we played the famous Hoo's the Next American Idol and despite being outrated on 3/4 boards only lost 1.5-2.5 and actually our board 3 was better the whole game and then played consecutive blunders throwing away the win on move 40 and losing the game outright on move 41, but such things happen in chess. We beat up some weaker team in round 4 and had a nice upset in round 5 fueled by our very consistant 4th board Mike Kaye's victory over a stronger player and myself on board 2 defeating a master as black (more on this below). In round 6 we were paired against a disappointed San Diego team whose top boards decided to call it an event and headed for the long drive home while their bottom two boards still wanted to play. We bravely allowed our lower boards to play the games to try to keep things as interesting as possible and they valiantly scored 1.5/2 to give us a very impressive result of 4.5/6 despite the early mis-steps. We tied for 4th overall and took 5th place on tiebreaks and 1st place U2100, I can say we can be happy with our early "Swiss Gambit". So sure, it wasn't first place, but this was the lowest rated Caltech team in the past 5 years and we still had a very solid result. Had it not been for some bad luck on our part we might have even been in contention.
My own results were kind of strange. In round 1 I was on the black side of a Slav and my opponent played one lazy move and then needed to accept an inferior position, but instead blundered allowing a nice tactic to win a piece and resigned before making his 16th move. In round 2 I was paired against another weaker opponent, this time as white. It was my first game against the Gruenfeld so I was slightly uncomfortable playing this very technical line I had prepared in general. My opponent played a few inaccurate moves and I was clearly better, but then he blundered allowing me to win a pawn and the bishop pair to which he apparantly decided he would rather be mated in one instead so I played 20. Qh7# (yes, I know you don't see the position) and again was the first one done on the team in under an hour. In round 3 I played the highest rated board 2 in the event in Joel Banawa who was sitting at a rating of 2380+. I missed my chance to generate serious counterplay, but may have still had chances to survive, but I blundered allowing him to win the exchange which I might have had some minimal compensation for if it werent for my followup trying to win the exchange back which I was lazy about calculating and missed (from far) that he had a nice tactic at the end of this line winning a piece and not losing the exchange back so I decided to resign instead of playing on down a whole rook. In round 4 I was paired down again, not quite so far this time and I got to play my first real game against the King's Indian, my opponent played a dubious (but common) variation and I gave a little lesson in ripping the queenside apart and not getting mated and I won fairly smoothly. In round 5 I was paired up to a 2278 as black. My opponent played the Exchange French which is a line that has definitely more poison than its reputation. If black plays lazily he can end up with problems developing his "free" french bishop. My opponent played a move that looked inaccurate in the opening and I found my chance to equalize completely. I realized from looking at the boards that I would probably need to win to give my team a real chance so I wanted to keep my chances high. I was quite proud of the move I found in the following position:
White just played 17. Qf5
(image generated from http://www.eddins.net/steve/chess/chessimager)
I was black in this position against an opponent more than 150 points higher rated than me. I had forseen this position and felt I should be better, but I realized I was a little loose and if I wasn't careful my better minor pieces could become less of a factor than my loose queenside. However, I had prepared a shot in this position which I will post the result at the bottom of this post, so don't scroll down if you want to try to find the strongest move in the position on your own. By the way, this move only achieves a positional goal and clarifies the position, it does not win material or give some overwhelming advantage. I would say after this move the position is clearly =+.
Anyways, I went on to win this game (although even after the diagram my opponent had reasonable drawing chances) which had a nice finish for me as the game simplified to KNNB v K which I could have won faster, but decided to enjoy myself by winning with just KNB v K ignoring my other knight. In the last round I chose not to play a game (otherwise someone else on my team wouldn't have gotten a game) and decided to give the games to the teammates who would get the most interesting games. And our 3rd and 4th boards stepped up as I mentioned to net us the U2100 prize on tiebreaks.
Well, I guess I had some miscalculations in game 3 which wasn't great, but it was a tough game and I can't be totally disappointed with it. I am not holding myself to a standard of never missing anything in my calculations as my current goal is still to break 2200 and I'm not insisting to be perfect as that would be unreasonable. I spotted some nice tactics in a few of my games and don't feel like I missed out on major opportunities for the most part due to lazy calculation.
Rating change: 2132 -> 2144 (2 points from my all-time high!)
Solution to diagram: 17... Qc8! White cannot play 18. Qxf6 because Be7 traps the queen so the white queen is excavated (he traded it off on c8).