2023 Denver Open

I had the opportunity to play in the Denver Open 2023 chess tournament (along with almost 200 other players!) I played in the U1800 section, winning 4 games and losing 1 to tie (with 7 other people!) for the 2nd place prize pool (I got $100). This is my best tournament performance so far; my rating increased from 1501 to 1574. My rating is still provisional until I play two more rated games. I’m hoping to be close to 1600 after my next tournament.

round5 2
Figure 1. Round 5 just before my opponent sacs a rook. Photo by John Brezina.

For an overview of the event see DCC 2023 Denver Open report on the Denver Chess Club’s site. For the official results and crosstable see the 2023 Denver Open USCF event page

Below are my five games with a few notes.

Round 1

My first opponent was rated 1141, almost 500 points lower than me, so I was hoping for a non-taxing, preferably short game to give me time to relax in my hotel room before the more difficult rounds later in the day. Instead I got a 3+ hour game where I was paranoid the entire time I would mess up the end game and draw (or lose).

I had the white pieces and played 1.e4. She played a French, so I played the Advance since that’s the only variation I know comfortably. But she exchanged lightsquare bishops on b5 and then left her queen on that diagonal preventing me from castling. It was uncomfortable, but she underestimated my knight moves and lost 2 pawns before we traded down to an endgame. I made several mistakes in the conversion but managed to stop her pawns and push mine to victory.

Round 2

In the second round I had the black pieces against a 1700. This time I played the French and they played the King’s Indian Attack. I don’t know how to play against the KIA so I just mirrored white and fianchettoed my bishop as well. I think I had a worse understanding of the position for most of the game, but we got to a point where they could trade their bishop for my bishop or for my knight and they chose my knight (27..Bxc4?). That decision left them with weak lightsquares, me with a strong lightsquare bishop, and suddenly I was the one making threats against their king. They resigned with a Mate-in-1 on the board.

Round 3

The last round of the day and I was hoping for a good pairing to give me a chance of a perfect 3-0. Instead I got the black pieces against the highest rated player in the U1800 section. This was another King’s Indian Attack. Ugh. Whatever I did in Round 2 against a similarly rated opponent seemed to work, so I once again went for a setup where I fianchettoed my kingside bishop.

I never really felt in control this game, and I got into some tactical trouble, but calculated out a tenacious defense that saved a piece that I was proud of. Unfortunately the resulting position was worse and more tactically dangerous for black than I realized (until I was once again losing a piece with no way out). I resigned after 24 moves.

Round 4

The next morning I was paired with the white pieces against a 1234-rated player. Out of the opening I won one of their center pawns, but in compensation they got a tremendous amount of activity. I think we were about equal (though I would need several moves to develop my bishops), when he decided to try an exchange sacrifice with 17…​Rxb2?! It was exciting but turned out to be unsound and I soon capitalized on their weak back rank; they resigned with Mate-in-1 on the board.

Round 5

Last round. I have white again. If I win then I probably get some prize money. We both played some opening inaccuracies, but I saw a chance to sacrifice a pawn for a strong positional advantage. I had to calculate a bunch of knight moves which hurt my poor little brain, but it worked: out of the opening I was down a pawn but +5.5 according to Stockfish!

I continued to restrict my opponent’s moves until they finally sacrificed an entire rook just to be able to move their pieces. Out of all of the tournament games I’ve played so far, this one felt by far the most like I was playing real, positional chess.