After a staid round 4 where I got absolutely nothing with the White pieces against Yee Weng, the next 2 rounds with IM Enrique Paciencia would ultimately prove to be crucial in determining the outcome of the tournament. I have always had a bad score against Enrique as his oppressive positional style often stymied my aggressive attacking play. After the year off in 2011, I feel that my play has generally became more all-rounded and I now have many solid, positional lines in my repertoire that I previously would not have even dreamed of.
I have prepared against the English opening extensively last year and since Enrique has utilised it against me with great effect in the previous 2 editions of the National Championships, I expected him to essay it one more time. However, I was faced with yet another Anti-Grunfeld.
After round 5, I was in the sole lead with 4/5 and the second cycle begins with White against Enrique. I have prepared against his usual 1.e4 e5 repertoire but he once again surprised me with the Modern Defense. Clearly, Enrique is also here to fight!
The game was another huge battle where I eventually prevailed after Enrique missed a tactic in an equal endgame:
The endgame towards the end deserves further attention and could well be the subject of a future article.
It was always going to be difficult to keep up with the momentum and I played out 2 relatively quick draws in the next 2 rounds against Yee Weng (English Opening with Black) and Steven (Anti-Sicilian: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5!?). In Round 9, I faced IM Rico Mascarinas on what I felt would be my most severe test in the run down.
I never liked morning games and this was no exception as I somehow forgot my move orders and found myself defending the Black side of the Accelerated Dragon, an opening which I had next to no experience in. I showed my lack of experience (and disdain for morning games) by blundering terribly at move 14 which fortunately went unpunished. Instead, Rico sacrificed a pawn for long term compensation and after a cagey affair, the game eventually ended peacefully:
The tournament situation meant that a draw with White in the last round against IM Luis Chiong would clinch the tournament victory. A quick signing of the peace treaty ensured my 5th National Championships, and the toughest yet. Of course, I couldn't have made it with a slice of luck here and there and I have no doubts that there is still a lot of work to do before I can ultimately reach my goals.
Chess wise, this was a great finish to 2012 and I'm looking to 2013 with hope and confidence that I can make further strides towards that final GM norm and 2500 elo.