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Toronto Chess Open, November 19-21, 2004

“Brilliant!” … was the word that was running through my head after my first victory at the Toronto Chess Open.. “Brilliant” was the word I used to describe my performance to myself as I put down my Queen on F4 checkmating the FIDE master in my last round.

When I registered for the Toronto Chess Open, just few days before the event, I thought that I would be competing against players in my category, ie Under 2000 rating points (my rating was 1912). Little did I know that not only will I compete against players from the top section (and no one from my own!) but also that I would play against 2 masters and Canadian Boys champ under 18, Henry Liam who just came back from the World Youth Championship in Greece. Little did I know that I will not only win 1st place in my category but also tie for the 3rd place in the masters section!

This was the most successful tournament for me in my entire life! I judge my success not by the points I scored (3.5/5, while the top score was 4/5 in masters section and 3/5 in U2000), but by the ability of understanding the chess game and all its aspects better than ever before (although there is still so much room for improvement). I judge my success by the fact that I broke the psychological barriers that I had before and that were holding me back.

Playing speed chess gainst Vlad - the tournament organizer.

It’s been three and a half years since I stopped playing chess, my last tournament being the Canadian Women’s Championship. During all this time, I haven’t touched a single chess book (except the few days before the tourney), haven’t played a single tournament game and on rare occasions entertained myself by playing blitz (5 or 10 minutes games). So rare that I can count on my fingers the number of games I played. The most memorable were three blitz games I played last April in Central Park, NY and six last August against my ex, who became a master at the time (ohh, it felt so good beating him thrice, scoring 3/6! :D ).

And! … the history repeats itself! I came to this tournament totally unprepared and didn’t know what to expect. It was just like in 1997, when we moved to Canada and on my 5th day in the new country I won the local Championship. That time too, before the event, I haven’t played chess for over three years and then boom! all of a sudden I’m called the chess champion.

Keeping this in mind, the fact that people “get rusty” after not having done something for so long, did not bother me at all. In fact, I felt more confident than ever! (It must have been partly because I just wrote my exam on Nov 15. which boosted my confidence and energy levels so high that I didn’t know how to spend it all). I developed my own theory and a new approach to chess. I figured that studying at University and working made me that much smarter (well smarter than before). The new skills that I’ve developed over the past three years were so transferable into the game that this big chess gap did not really matter. I wanted to test how the minor changes of my personality would affect my game. I knew I would play less aggressively, be more calm and super focused. I could reassess and analyze the ever changing chess positions and determine the ‘right’ moves from a different, fresh perspective than before; I was that much better at developing and implementing my plans; I’ve matured … became more patient and accurate; I’m ambitious. Not only have I overcome my psychological fears of playing stronger opponents, but I also felt like shouting “bring it on man!” to all of my higher rated opponents. If before I felt like it was natural to lose to those who were a lot higher rated than me, it was no longer the case; I’ve finally overcome this ridiculous notion. …. All my bets were placed on this tournament to prove to myself that I can play well despite the gaps, despite of lacking any sort of ‘chess’ preparation (for the exception of looking at two random games of some random chosen grandmasters). That was my theory in general. One can improve in chess without practicing it, if the brain was working on something else. But of course to every theory there are exceptions, and this one only holds to certain extent. (Proof omitted). …. The only thing that didn’t get better was my ability to see clearly many moves ahead, but it still worked out.

The only thing I did to prepare was to get ready mentally and emotionally. I said to myself that I will play a good game and was set to envision it over and over till I began to believe it. To me, chess isn’t only about calculations and analysis; my emotions, attitude, and personality are so tightly attached to the game that I cannot ignore it. Everything within me has to be set right if I want to perform really well. I often wonder if other players are like that too; if they can relate to what I’m saying …… I don’t think Ron Livshits does. I was talking to Ron, one of the top players in Canada (one of the best!) and he said he was doing Masters in psychology. Delighted to hear this I said: “Oh how nice! Psychology and chess go so well together!” (according to my other theory). To my surprise the grandmaster replied with timid smile: “to me it’s just all calculations.” I was shocked. Where was the psychology, the emotions, creativity? (maybe some people play like computers?) …. I believe that “chess is science …and art … and sport!”

Vlad was so nervous playing against me that he was shaking and broke his chair. He said he will never play me again.

Making my frist moves against Andrei Gulko, round IV. In red is David Filipowich, the master I drew in round III.

There were only 3 women at this competition and some 30+ men. Well, technically only one woman – Daniela Belc (one of the top women in Canada), 13 year old Alina, and me tangled in between (not a girl, not yet a woman, heh). … I should start promoting chess amongst women! …. This one chess master told me as I was walking by: “Shishkina, you should stop playing chess!” I was like: “What? (I just came back and he wants me to stop already); Why?” – “Because chess is not for women; it’s a men’s sport” was his reply. Unfortunately I get this sometimes. … That just did it! “Huh! Watch me beat you one of these days!” was what I said and went on “crushing” every man on my ‘chess way’.

This tournament wasn’t just about chess to me. It was much, much more and I’ve never been so happy with my performance. I do acknowledge that I made mistakes and didn’t necessarily played the best moves and was possibly far from it at times, but I could truly understand what the game was about; what was required.

It took me several hours to fall asleep the night the competition was over. So many thoughts were running through my head, so many questions about life. I don’t think I slept at all; I just wished that somebody could just hug me to sleep.

I played a total of 5 games, 2.5 hours per player, per game (ie 5 hours per game;) ). According to my calculations I was thinking for 22.5 hours at the chessboard this weekend. I must have broken my record!

The 'noisy' room. I thought it was really neat to have this room next to the one we played in. Here people can chill, analyse their games, watch TV, feel like home ... or rather @ the party! It's so cozy!


Below are some of my games. I haven’t run them through chess database and in my commentary only provide the thoughts that were in my head at the time of the game.

Game 1: I chose to post it because it was the ice-breaker and is especially dear to my heart. It gave me more confidence. It started on Friday at 6:45 and finished at ~ 11:40 pm. It was one of the best Fridays! My opponent, Steve, rated 2054, had like 2 minutes left and I had 3. As you can tell the end game was speed chess, and I successfully withstood the pressure, although I was shaking. (I always shake a little when I have a couple of minutes left on the clock if it is a long game; I never shake at blitz or any other times). Science?

Game 2: This wasn’t so good a game for me. The only “not so good” game. I played against Henry Liam (Canadian Boys champ) rated 2174 and he slowly but surely strangled my king to death. I “won” a pawn in the opening for which of course I got into a passive position and it was all downhill from there. (4 hour game)

Game 3: This one I played with super accuracy against master – David Filipowich rated 2280. The game was a draw all the way, what more can I say? (~ 3.5 hours)

Game 4: My opponent was the Russian guy – Andrei Gulko, rated 2093. The game looked drawish to me at all times, although he had a little positional advantage. I offered him a draw, but he refused. Fine! I went on to win it. … The clock was ticking and he couldn’t find a way to break through and when he finally did (it was a closed position and he opened it), he didn’t have enough force to crush me. I had “amazing defense” as he said afterwards. Yes, my defense proved to be very strong and it was my turn to attack and win once I realized I can stop defending. I made it, having again ~ 3 minutes left on the clock and him like 1! (5 hour game)

Game 5: My biggest achievement ever! I played against FIDE Master – Yuri Ochkoos (yes Russian), rated 2297. I had to develop my own opening line from scratch (yes after second move I had no idea whatsoever what the theory lines were; complete zero). My line proved to be a success (although I don’t know how accurate it really is). It was another 5 hour game. When I checkmated Yuri, he had 19! seconds left on the clock and I had 2 mins (another blitz ending). I can still feel the heat.

Game 1
November 19, 2004

White: Steve Laughlin, 2056
Black: Olya Chichkina, 1912

1. E4 E5
2. Nf3 Nf6
3. Bc4 Bc5
4. C3 Nf6
5. D4 Ed
6. Cd Bb4+
7. Nc3 N:e4

[This line is a bit risky for black. They get a pawn, but fall behind in development. … I like taking risks! …… (even though I told myself to stop doing that)]
8. 0-0 B:c3
9. D5 Ba5

[Ba5 is my creation. Once again, I didn’t know what the theory lines were for this opening, but I liked this move. Steve told me after the game that in theory this move is not good for black, but he himself didn’t know why. Oh yes! That was goal – to play something out of whack to confuse the opponent (of course I took chances).
10. Dc Nd6
[Grabbing the pawn is too risky and finally I listen to my little inner voice.]
11. Bb3 dc
[I think I have little choice but take it now. Natural 11… 0-0 is dangerous; for example: 12. Qd5 Bb6. 13. Bg4 dc [if 13. …Qe8 14. Rfe1 transposes into main line] 14. Qd2 Qd7 15. Ne5 Qf5 [if 15… Qe8 16. Rfe1] 16. Rae1 threatening 17 Be7 is unclear. …. Or, even stronger 12. Bg5 Qe8 13 Qd5 b3 14. Rfe1. If 13… Bb6 14. Rae1 Dc 15. Qe2 Qe7 16. Ne5 Qf5 17. Be7 winning]
12. Bg5 f6
13. Nh4! …

[Woa, nice! Unexpected. My opponent spent ~ 45 minutes on this move. It was my turn to invest 30 to find defense. If 13 …. Fg 14. Qh5+ g6 15 N:g6 Black is just dead. 13. … Kf8 looks terrible and so does everything else except my move…]
13. … Nf7
14. Qh5 Qe7
15. Bf4 ….

[A bit inaccurate. White threatens Ng6 and attacks my bishop. However, 15. Be3 was better in lieu of my next move]
15. … g5
16 Ng6 Bg4
[Surprise! I had to play actively]
17. Q:g4 Hg
18 Bg3 f5
19. Qd4 f4
20. Qg7 Rf8

[white was threatening 21. B:f7. …Interesting is: 20 … 0-0-0. 21.Q: f7 Q:f7. 22. B:f7 Fg 23. Fg Bb7+ 24. Kh1 R:h2+ 25. K:h2 Rh8X. … of course white would play 23. Hg, but then 23 … Rh6 bringing the E rook on h8. White would have to move the F rook to let the king to escape, but then I’ll play Bb6 and Rf8 building pressure on F2.]
21. Rad1 Rad8
22. Q:g6 Rd6

[here concentration is vital. Black is winning but White still has chances. Little mistake by White or Black and it’s all over. Plus we were both running out of time. Shake, shake, shake ….]
23. Qf5 Ne5
[man, you feel the heat?]
24. Qc8 Qd8
25. Qb7 fg

[I got a little worried that while will eat all my pawns.]
26. Hg Bb6
27. Ref1 Qf6
28. Qc8 Ke7
29. R:e5 Q:e5
30. Qg4 B:f2+
31. R:f2 Qe1+

[White resigns.]

Game 3
November 20, 2004

White: David Filipowich, 2280
Black: Olya Chichkina, 1912

1. Nf3 D5
[Damn, another opening I don’t know! But in a way that’s what I wanted. I wanted all my moves to come from my head, to be ‘developed’ by me and not from some over-studied opening guide.]
2. G3 Nf6
3. Bg2 G6
4. 0-0 Bg7
5. D4 0-0

[This is starting to look more familiar to me. I know Queen’s Gambit so I’m ok. … and yes, I did copy my opponent in a way, *wink*]
6. C4 E6
[arg, turned out to be a waste of tempo, but it looked like 'the thing to do'.]
7. Nbd2?!...
[As we analyzed our game after the draw, me and David agreed it was a move that screwed everything up for white. As you will see, knight on c3 is much better because it keeps pressure on D5 plus it doesn’t block the D file for the rook.]
7. … Nbd7
8. Qc2 Re8

[Preparing a breakthrough with E5.]
9. Re1 C6
10. B3 E5

[just on time]
11. De N:e5
12. N:e5 R:e5
13. Bb2 Re8
14. Rad1 Bf5

[White could have isolated the pawn on D5, but Black would have a lot of play. David said after the game: “it’s good that you didn’t shy away from playing Bf5”. I’m not sure why he said it, but I remember being worried to play it. Was it written on my face?]
15. Qc1 Rc8
16. E4 Bg4
17. F3 Be6
18. Qa1 Nh3
19. B:g7 N:g7
20. Ed Cd
21. Ne4!? Nh5
22. Nf2 Qf6

[I walk out dry from the water. If 23. Cd Q:a1 24. R:a1 B:d5, or 23. Q:f6 N:f6 24. Cd B:d5, the position is drawish. … Nateurlich, David offered a draw and I accepted. I don’t see anything special for either player, so why not? Besides he’s a master ... It’s rare that I have ‘quiet’ games like this one; usually they all “crush and burn”]

Game 5
November 21, 2004

White: Yuri Ochkoos, 2297
Black: Olya Chichkina, 1912

1. E4 E5
2. F4 Ef

[Just after second move, I had to think hard (I don't know this opening). I did not want to play passively, or defensively; I had to have some kind of counter attack; develop as fast as I can and castle. Who cares about the pawn Yuri ‘gave’ me]
3. Nf3 D5
4. Ed Nf6

[I though of taking the pawn with the queen and after 5. Nc3 checking the King, but that just helps Whites development and leaves me in a bad position. … I was a bit afraid that White would play 5.C4 after my 4…Nf6, protecting the centre pawn (but giving up a tempo), but for some reason I didn’t believe Yuri would do such a thing. It looks interesting though]
5. Bc4 N:d5
6. B:d5 Q:d5

[I felt a bit better now cause I got a bishop against knight and was fully ready to develop my pieces.]
7. Nc3 Qd8
[checking the king 7…Qe6 I thought worked against me after 8. Kf2 and preparing 9. Re1; my E file is too exposed. So I avoided trouble]
8. D4 Bb4
9. B:f4 0-0
10. 0-0 Nc6

[I thought of taking the knight on c3 and doubling his pawns, but was kinda worried about my c7 pawn which I would have been stuck protecting against the white’s bishop.]
11. Qd3 Ne7
[preparing to develop my bishop on c5 with a tempo.]
12. Ne4 Ng6
[12 … Bf4 is not appealing after simple 13. Nh5; In fact I don’t see a good place for my bishop at the moment, so I leave it at rest]
13. Bg5 Be7
14. Rae1 Bf5
15. Qd2 B:e4
16 R:e4 f6
17. Bh4 Qd5

[I played f6 to ‘strengthen’ my F file and create some pressure, and Qd5 to join my 2 rooks; it also seemed active at the time, although now that I look at it perhaps better was Qd7 to keep an ‘eye’ on e8 and e7 squares.]
18 Rfe1 Bd6
19. B3
[ I kept thinking about pushing F4 somewhere along the line. If Re2 or Re6 then Nf4 looking good (but only looking), and I didn't find anything ‘special’ afterwards; in fact C4 for white looks strong, so I had to be very careful]
19 … B5
20. Bg3
[hmm, I don’t think it was a good move; look at the ugly doubled pawns white gets; Bf2 was risky in lieu of F5 as described above, especially that it takes away the f2 square from the rook. I guess white didn’t want to exchange bishop for the knight cause my bishop will thrive in the open position; but square F5 looks very good for white knight, so perhaps exchange was good for white.]
20. … B:g3
21. Hg Qd7
22. Qe2 Kf7

[I can’t allow white to own the E file; I must act fast! Now though, if my pawn leaves b5 square white queen will check me on C4 and I’m in big trouble.]
23. A4 A6
24. Ab Ab
25. C4 Rfe8

[feuf, my rook made it! (naturally I can’t take the pawn)]
26. Cb R: e4
27. Q:e4 Re8

[looks like a natural thing to do, but what a waste! I thought that if 28. Q:e8 Q:e8, 29. R:e8 K:e8, I could draw this position because although a pawn down, I can win it back because white's pawn structure is terrible (and grab some extra maybe, perhaps even winning!?). But I didn’t expect white to exchange and was sure he’ll play something like what he did (Qd3). After exchanging the rooks I had good chances for a draw against the master; but at the last moment I hesitated and no longer felt comfortable with rook exchange ….]
28. Qd3 Rb8
[should have played there right away! Now white can play Qc4 and can build some pressure on C file; Queen looks good on C4 and white thanks me for the tempo]
29. Qc4+ K f8
30. Ra1 Ne7
31. Rf1
[threatening 32. Ne4!]
31 … R:b5
[thank God I have this move; Now if 33. Ne5, I have Qd5]
32. Ra1 Rb8
[haha, Rf1 turned to be an empty threat, plus white just lost a pawn. (It did scare me though!).]
33. Rf1 Rb5
[Here I offered a draw, but Yuri refused of course; I didn’t think he was that much better and I actually have some good play now, so I pull myself together and play to win; why did I offer that draw anyway? Psychological fear maybe?]
34 G4 H6
35. Ra1Rb8
36. Ra7 Rc8
37. Ra5 Q:g4

38. Rc5 c6
39. Ra5 Qd7
40. Qc5 Qd8

[although I’m pawn up now (merci Yuri), I’m getting into positional trouble again. My king is too exposed and 7th rank is too weak; last thing I need is white’s knight entering the play]
41. Nh4 ...
[creating huge threats on F5 and G6]
42. … Ke8
43. Ra7 Ra1

[if I can exchange these rooks, I can breath. I still thought this was a drawish game, but white was determined to win too, as he doesn’t want to exchange]
44 Rb7 Rb8
45 Ra7 R:b3
46 Qa4
[aha! Threats all over the place. I can see!]
46 … Kf8
[unfortunately we were both running out of time at this point and I stopped recording the game (who cares about it when you’re life is dangling on a thread). I had to think super fast. Focus was the key and for a moment I lost it. I remember in the heat of the play I blundered my knight. White queen returned to C5 and I forgot to move my king out of the pin and naturally my knight was pinned and I didn’t get a chance to say ‘good-bye’ to it cause everything was happening so fast ... But for losing it, I got a tempo and started checking the white king out of its kingdom and ta-dam! I checked and checked and the King kept running and running all over the board, touching base at C3 and then hitting homerun. He ran so much that poor thing lost its breath and “clothes” (it was totally naked and exposed when it got to F5!) and ta-dam! my lady Queen, supported by my rook ,(covering her eyes) kissed him ‘good-bye’ on F4, mate! (but not ‘that’ kind of mate *wink-wink*). (woops, couldn’t resist)

I covered my face in disbelief. It was finally over! I won! I realized that I was shaking and so was my opponent! (not even chocolate helped him). When I uncovered my face all of a sudden I saw this crowd around me, staring at the excitement! I was so focused that I didn’t notice that we were the last players still at the board and that the rest of the room was deserted. Perfect timing too! ... Hard work and optimism paid off!