I initially planned to prepare for the tournament like how I have managed in my first 3 years in KPMG, getting my colleagues to pack food while I mug serious opening theory during lunch time but I soon realized this was never going to happen. I have had a rough ride in the last couple of months, at times struggling to stay awake throughout the day and feeling really exhausted the moment I reach home. Clearly, I should have a good think why this is happening given that I consider myself to be physically fit (yes, looks can be deceiving) and still think I have a good few years more in audit. However, I also should start thinking when it's time to lower chess on the priority list given that it always seems that 24 hours a day isn't nearly enough and we all know how much hard work it takes to maintain my standard at a decent IM level let alone to push for that final GM norm (and 2500 elo).
The National Championships is always going to be a strong event but this year, the field of 6 IMs in the double round robin tournament is proving to be the most grueling yet. The first 4 games showed how tough it was going to be as despite some reasonable play, I blundered terribly in the 2 games I won and the result could have been extremely different.
In Round 1, Luis Chiong surprised me with his very first move (1.Nf3). Luis has always struck me as a very principled player and it was a surprise to see him deviating from his favourite Queen's pawn opening. It was a tremendous struggle and even though I emerged victorious, it really could have ended very differently.
In Round 2, the experienced master Rico Mascarinas wanted to play solidly ("No Sicilian against you!") and essayed the Petroff defence. My preparation was found wanting and Black achieved equality with ease. The early draw was not a bad result taking into account that I managed to catch the remaining 20 minutes of the Suzuki Cup Final, 2nd leg between Thailand and Singapore.
Next, I was Black vs Yap Kim Steven, a young Filipino IM who has been terrorizing the local chess scene in several rapid events recently. He had a blistering start with 2/2 which means that this match up was even more important. I essayed my favorite French Defence and quickly entered a major pieces endgame where Black was always slightly strategically better. I was surprised that Steven exchanged queens so early in the game as I've always felt he is an excellent attacker and the exchange took a lot of pressure off me.
I ground out a win after nearly 4 hours of play but towards the end, I nearly threw it all away with a howler....
Another fortunate win and this game just goes to show how important it is to remain vigilant throughout the game. An important quote from GM Li Chao: "在下每一步棋，都要有输棋的警惕性" which means that in every situation and at every turn, you should always consider the prospect of losing.
Round 4 was another of my lame efforts to achieve an opening advantage with the White pieces. Facing Yee Weng's Caro Kann, I decided to give the Advance with 4.Nd2 a run out as I have spent considerable time during my gap year on this line. Despite being unfamiliar with the line, Yee Weng found the system with ...h6, ...Bh7 and ...Nf5 and achieved a solid position with comfortable play. Feeling that I was already starting to drift into a worse position, I offered an early draw which Yee Weng accepted after some thought.
It was good to finally get some games under my belt but I really have to do something to eradicate the horrible oversights. Round 5 continues on boxing day, 7pm, and I take Black against Enrique Paciencia. More to follow....