Unexpectedly Rising Above Mediocrity in the 2023 Pacific Southwest Open

Unexpectedly Rising Above Mediocrity in the 2023 Pacific Southwest Open

In the months leading up to the Pacific Southwest Open, I experienced a string of unsatisfactory results, my play having degraded to the point where I had lost or drawn all but one of eleven consecutive games and finished last at Western Class in March. It was for these reasons that going into the PSWO U1800 Section, I prepared myself for another poor score, further rating loss, and a squandered entry fee. In spite of these pessimistic sentiments, I was motivated to end my streak of abysmal performance, especially with summer affording me more time to work on chess. Adding to my motivation was the frustration that had compounded over the course of prior months over my seeming inability to convert winning games. I knew converting positions would be my main obstacle in the tournament, and the short time controls for the first six rounds (40 mins/10 sec delay for first two rounds; 60 mins/10 sec delay for rounds 3-6) only augmented my fears because I play more slowly than a tortoise. 

The tournament began auspiciously when I managed to win the first round as white against the Sicilian, which was an accomplishment to me, considering I had consistently been drawing the first round of the past few tournaments. However, the game would’ve been a draw had my opponent not made a mistake in the middlegame that allowed me to win a pawn. 

In the second round, I was black and my opponent blundered a piece in the opening by overlooking a pawn fork. It took me a lot of time to convert this game because I was paranoid about blundering. After winning the second round game and starting with 2/2, I became way more optimistic about the tournament. The round ended late at night and I was completely drained when I arrived home at 11pm. 

I faced the Sicilian for a second time in my third round game and won. I entered a slightly better position, and I greedily took a pawn in the middlegame, after which his position deteriorated when he overlooked a move I had with my knight to fork his queen and bishop. However, my pawn grab was not correct and it actually improved his position. Following this win, I became more excited about my prospects in the tournament, and I told myself to stay composed during the remaining games. 

My fourth round game did not go as smoothly as the games in my other rounds; at one point, my opponent was completely winning. My opponent opened with the Reti as white, an opening for which I had little preparation, given its relative rarity at lower levels of chess. Responding with a London system set-up, I had no clear plan and was mindlessly moving, and my opponent achieved a dominant position with the bishop pair. Later, he miscalculated a tactic, allowing me to get back into the game. Since I was under time pressure and stopped recording my moves, I cannot remember the last few moves of the game, but most of the game can be seen below:

I managed to win the fifth round game, purely out of luck. During the middlegame, I launched an attack on his king and became slightly better, but I was impatient and hastily traded pieces, which ruined my position and caused me to lose a pawn. We then entered a rook endgame in his favor, but he made a mistake that allowed me to promote a pawn. I probably deserved to lose the game.

After playing Rxb5 by mistake, he still could have drawn the game by pushing his f and g pawns up the board. However, my a-pawn became too fast after he played Kf6, trying to get his king to the queenside in time to stop the a-pawn.

I was now very excited because this was the first time I had won five games in a row. I really wanted to win a sixth game so that I could lead my section by an entire point, which would’ve given me enough security to lose one game the next day and still finish with first place. Unfortunately, I ended up drawing as black. I had some initiative out of the opening but miscalculated a tactic, reducing my edge. Later, I had some advantage in the endgame but played Qe3 in the position below, which I mistakenly thought was a blunder shortly after playing it.

I was scared of the move Bf2, which I thought allow him to win the a7 pawn and after that pick-up the b7 pawn because capturing the bishop would result in Qe8#. I offered a draw so quickly that I did not have time to find Qc1+ to keep the game in progress, which my opponent accepted.

The following day, it was surprising to discover that only one person trailed me by half a point and that I would play him in the seventh round. As crucial as the game was, it was underwhelming because my opponent unfortunately fell for a trap in the opening, resulting in him losing a piece for two pawns. After that, I was able to win smoothly. 

Going into my eighth game and final round as black, I was relaxed because I guaranteed myself first place and only needed a draw for sole first. With opposite side castling, the game was imbalanced, and my opponent blundered the exchange by missing a tactic. Exhausted and wanting to secure sole first, I offered a draw, which my opponent hesitantly accepted because he wanted to win. Retrospectively, I was a coward and should’ve tried to win the game to gain more rating because if I actually managed to lose the end position, I would have deserved to get last place anyway. 

I’m very happy to have gotten 7/8 in the PSWO U1800 Section because my poor results in previous tournaments had been discouraging and my win has given me an increased motivation to improve at chess. It’s also nice that I gained over 100 points of rating to cross the 1700 threshold. At the same time, I realize how lucky I was because I made many mistakes that my opponents did not punish. I haven’t participated in any events since the PSWO, but I hope to carry this momentum to the next tournament I attend. It remains to be seen whether or not my performance will regress back to its usual mediocre state. 

Edit: 9/5/2023 After getting 3.5/6 in the SoCal Open, it appears that my results have become terrible once again.

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