US Amateur North Championships

Over the past weekend I played in the US Amateur North Championship tournament. I wasn’t playing for any kind of championship, just to get some experience. I again played in the U1100 section. The games were all G/90 + 30. Most of the other players in the section were unrated, including 4 of my 5 opponents. So I had no idea what to expect. It turns out that my unrated opponents were anywhere from 500 to 1500. But I have been trying to not worry so much about my opponent’s rating, and just focus on playing better chess.

Since my last big tournament I have a whole new opening repertoire that I like better. That said, I did not love the positions I got in with the 1. d4 openings against black, so it might be time to tweak my openings. At least I don’t feel like I need to totally start over.

Like my last tournament, there were not many non-male players, which was unfortunate. Out of the 166 entries, there were only 11 that were non-male (7%). In my section there were 77 players, and only 6 were non-male (8%). That also shows that in the higher rated sections, the percentage of non-male participants was even lower (5 of 89, or 6%).

Here are the games I played. For each one I put the approximate rating of my opponent.

Day 1 - Round 1

  • Opponent Rating Before: Unrated officially, but 1500 counting a few games played right before the tournament
  • Opponent Rating After: 1150
  • Result: Loss

This was a bit of a wild game. I found it hard to make much progress and got to the end pretty even. The game lasted for about 2.5 hours, which is much longer than I usually play. At the end I came up with a plan but when I made a move I blundered my queen and the game was over. I think this is a lesson that I need to either play even longer games at home for training, and/or work on my calculation skills.

Day 1 - Round 2

  • Opponent Rating Before: Unrated
  • Opponent Rating After: 750
  • Result: Draw

I was still a little flustered after the first game. I thought that if I could get past move 40 in this game without blundering, it would be an improvement. Out of the opening I didn’t play my normal response to the Stafford Gambit, so I was a bit off from the start. It wasn’t a great game, but I managed to defend well and get to an endgame where I was completely winning. The only problem was, I didn’t realize I was completely winning and I accepted a draw. Only after the game did I realize that I could have easily won. The lesson from this game was around confidence and that I need to work on my endgame skills.

Day 1 - Round 3

  • Opponent Rating Before: 700
  • Opponent Rating After: 750
  • Result: Loss

So far the tournament is following the exact same results as my first tournament. I lost the first game with a blunder in the end game. In game 2 I accepted a draw in a winning position. Now for game 3, which I lost last time. Could I win this time? Spoiler alert: I did not.

This game was against a 9-year-old girl, who played very solid chess. I remember thinking during the game that she does not really have a plan, she’s just playing very principled chess, and it is working. This was another London game, and I think my response to that is not a good as I thought it was. I also made a number of mistakes, which my opponent took advantage of.

Day 2 - Round 4

  • Opponent Rating Before: Unrated
  • Opponent Rating After: 500
  • Result: Win

It is now Sunday morning. I didn’t sleep well the night before, thinking about my games from yesterday. It also didn’t help that I was over-caffeinated trying to stay alert for the games yesterday. If I’m honest with myself, playing a full day of chess should have been way more fun than it was. Not just because I lost, but because I felt like I didn’t play my best chess.

By Sunday morning, I had come to a couple of realizations. First, that I needed a coach to help me. I was (and am) worried that I have not been doing the right things to prepare for OTB chess. If that was my goal, then I needed to change something so I can win at least some games. My main concerns were around my (lack of) calculation skills. Not much I could do about it for the last 2 games, but I did reach out to the coach between games and set up a lesson to review my tournament games. This took some pressure off. Now if I lost my last 2 games, at least I would have material to show a coach to help me identify what to work on.

The other thing I realized was that I was trying to do lots of pre-game preparation before these OTB games. I was listening to upbeat music, reading motivational speeches, trying to do some meditation/breathing exercises, and drinking lots of caffeine! Instead, maybe I should just play these games for fun, like I do at home. Instead of trying to get psyched up and put a lot of pressure on myself, what if I treated these OTB games as what they are… games. I think a future step would be to do some kind of mental preparation/focusing before all my online games, so when I get to a tournament I can follow the same routine. But since I hadn’t done that I thought I’d just try to relax and enjoy.

I don’t know if these things worked, but I did feel more relaxed and won this game. My opponent did blunder pretty early, and I was able to take advantage of it. Instead of the 2.5 hour games I was playing yesterday, this game was won in 30 minutes. It wasn’t a perfect game, and I tried to force a checkmate with a move that wouldn’t work at higher levels, but it worked in this game.

Day 2 - Round 5

  • Opponent Rating Before: Unrated
  • Opponent Rating After: 500
  • Result: Win

Now that I had a win under my belt, I was feeling better and more relaxed. I was starting to realize that I need to play OTB chess like I play online chess. It isn’t some new game that I need to figure out, which is how I felt. It was almost as if I get down OTB and stop trusting myself. It is like the 1000 games I played in the last year (literally) were something related, but not the same.

This was against another 9-year-old. I’ve heard all the stuff about aging in chess, and I mostly agree. However, I think one advantage an adult has is a different perspective on time. On the small scale of a single game, I had much more patience in this game than my opponent. He was moving fairly fast, and ended up making some mistakes. I forced myself to take my time. On a larger scale, I can think of how my chess will change over the next 10 years. This kid hasn’t even been alive for 10 years, so he has to focus on the short term more than I do. Maybe that’s not the case, maybe it doesn’t matter, or maybe nobody will read this!

Before the game my opponent said that he likes to play gambits, so I wasn’t sure what I was in for. Blundering a rook doesn’t seem to count as a gambit though, and when I saw that I felt pretty good.


I finished the tournament 2.5/5. All-in-all, that’s pretty good. My rating dropped down from 873 to 833, which isn’t a big deal. I now have 23 games towards my provisional rating, and one of my goals is to play enough to get rid of my provisional rating. I’m getting pretty close!