Eric Rosen on Final IM Norm: Keys to Success

CLO Best of EricRosenleadclo If someone had told me before Philly Open, that I would clinch my 3rd IM Norm with a round to spare, I wouldn't have believed them. Going into the event, I did not have the highest expectations. The tournament's highly demanding 2-game-a-day schedule, with a time control that can produce games that go more than 5 hours, is energy-draining and makes it difficult to be  consistent. On top of this, I have been stuck in the classic chess player slump. Since 2011, my USCF rating has not budged from around 2400 and my FIDE rating has stayed around 2300. At this level, it is not always clear what exactly one needs to do in order to improve. The differences that separate myself from stronger players can be quite miniscule. Here are some of the things I did throughout my preparation and the tournament which led to the great result. Although many of the readers may not be seeking their final IM Norm, I hope they can gain some insight into important areas to focus on and how to get out of a slump! Key #1: Set goals that have nothing to do with rating When you ask a typical chess player about their goals, they may something like, "getting to 2000" or "becoming a grandmaster." While these goals are quite direct and easy to quantify, they have minimal value. They can also be discouraging if you don't find yourself making progress. Not long before Philly, I created goals for myself that focused on study, tournament habits, and play rather than rating or results. Here they are... Study goals (applied before a tournament):
  • Solve some tactics everyday (My favorite book: Imagination in Chess).
  • Follow the games from strong tournaments closely
  • Develop a solid and versatile opening repertoire for white and black
  • Play out select endgames and middlegames against a training partner
Tournament goals (applied during a tournament):
  • Keep Facebook, email, and social media to an absolute minimum.
  • Don't listen to music or watch television during or right before the tournament. (The stupidest things get stuck in my head during a chess game).
  • Take every opportunity to rest between rounds
Playing goals (applied during the game):
  • Do my absolute best to avoid time trouble
  • Stay focused on my opponent's time and stay at my board during the game. If I do walk around, continue to calculate the possibilities.
  • Don't be scared of taking risks, especially if I cannot find anything concretely wrong with the move in question.
I would highly encourage other players who are looking to improve to form similar goals. Instead of focusing on the final destination, focus on how you get there. Key #2: Get off to a good start In round two, I was paired against GM Bryan Smith. The momentum I gained from winning this game carried me a long way through the tournament: Below are my annotations.

[Event "Philadelphia open 2015"]
[White "Smith, Bryan G"]
[Black "Rosen, Eric S"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C28"]
[WhiteElo "2478"]
[BlackElo "2312"]
[PlyCount "76"]
[EventDate "2015.04.01"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.04.10"]

1. e4 e5 $5 {For the past many years, I have only played the Sicillian Defense
against 1.e4. I decided to play 1...e5 in this game for a few different
reasons: -Avoid any pre-game preparation Bryan may have done against my
Sicillian -Surprises in the opening can sometimes lead to an early time
advantage as it did in this game. -Playing a new opening increases one's
knowledge and understanding about chess. Although playing a new opening can be
somewhat uncomfortable, it can certainly benefit long-term improvement.} 2. Bc4
{The Bishops Opening. I'm guessing Bryan deviated from his usual Ruy-Lopez
since he assumed I prepared something. Because I have many students who
encounter the Bishop's Opening as black, I was fortunate to know what to do.}
Nf6 3. d3 Nc6 4. Nc3 Na5 {The line I teach my students. Black gains the bishop
pair.} 5. Nge2 Nxc4 6. dxc4 d6 7. O-O Be6 8. b3 Be7 9. f4 {A typical idea in
the bishop's opening. White creates an isolated e-pawn, but enters a position
with many attacking possibilities.} exf4 10. Nxf4 O-O 11. Bb2 c6 {Setting up a
cheapo threat of ...Qb6+ followed by ...Bxc4.} 12. Qf3 Qb6+ 13. Kh1 Rae8 (13...
Bxc4 $2 14. bxc4 Qxb2 15. Rab1 Qa3 (15... Qxc2 16. Rf2 {traps the queen.}) 16.
Ncd5 $1 {A classic tactic, winning a piece.} Qxf3 17. Nxe7+ Kh8 18. gxf3) 14.
a4 Nd7 15. Nh5 Ne5 16. Qg3 g6 {weakening, but necessary.} ({The natural looking
} 16... Ng6 $2 {runs into} 17. Nxg7 Kxg7 18. Nd5+) 17. Nf6+ Bxf6 18. Rxf6 Nxc4
19. Bc1 Ne5 20. Bh6 Ng4 21. Bxf8 Nxf6 22. Bxd6 Nd7 {As the tactical dust has
settled, it seems like white has emerged slightly better. With black's
dark-squared weaknesses on the kingside, it is important not to allow white's
bishop to reach the long diagonal.} 23. h3 Qa5 {The beginning of a funny
maneuver to fianchetto the queen on g7! Bryan spent a lot of time over the
next few moves trying to figure out what to do. It is not easy for white to
come up with a clear plan.} 24. Rf1 Qh5 25. Rf4 Qh6 26. Ne2 Qg7 27. Rf2 f5 28.
exf5 Bxf5 29. Bb4 Qe5 {A very critical moment. Should White allow the queen
trade or keep queens on the board?} 30. Nf4 $2 {The wrong decision. Black will
now seize the initiative.} (30. Bc3 $1 {was the better choice.} Qxg3 31. Nxg3
Be6 {Bryan most likely avoided this position due to the drawishness of the
opposite colored bishops.}) 30... Nf6 31. Re2 Ne4 32. Qf3 g5 33. Nh5 Bg6 34.
Rxe4 Bxe4 35. Nf6+ Kh8 36. Qc3 $2 {The final mistake. Black now wins by force.}
(36. Nxe4 Qxe4 37. Qf7 $3 {Winning back the exchange with Bc3 to follow.} Qe3
38. Bc3+ Qxc3 39. Qxe8+) 36... Bxg2+ 37. Kxg2 Qe2+ 38. Kg1 Qd1+ 0-1[/pgn]
Key #3: Avoid time trouble Time management is one of the most important and overlooked factors in chess. It is important for chess players to ask themselves how often they get into time trouble. If you find yourself getting below 5 minutes in a fair number of your tournament games, then you have a serious problem which needs to be addressed. Over the course of the Philly Open, I managed to stay out of time trouble in 8 out of my 9 games-- a much better ratio than some of my previous tournaments. The one game I did get into time trouble was against IM Priyadarshan Kannappan. It lasted over 5 hours and was my only loss of the tournament. Key #4: Opening Preparation and Surprises One reason I managed to stay out of time trouble, was because I quite often got an early time advantage due to superior or surprising opening preparation. Below, I share some of my most notable openings from the tournament. Round 3: In the 20 minutes of pre-game preparation for Alexey Dreev, I prepared the novelty 11. Nxd5 followed by Bd3. This sequence of moves seems quite counterintuitive as it strengthens the black queen and retreats the bishop. However, the idea is to maneuver the bishop to e4 where it restricts black's queenside development. White had a pleasant edge for the whole game, but I ended up settling for a draw out of respect for my opponent.
[White "Rosen, Eric S"]
[Black "Dreev, Alexey"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B10"]
[WhiteElo "2312"]
[BlackElo "2643"]
[PlyCount "65"]
[EventDate "2015.04.01"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.04.10"]

1. c4 c6 2. e4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. cxd5 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nxd5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Bb5 e6 8.
O-O Be7 9. d4 O-O 10. Re1 Qd6 11. Nxd5 Qxd5 12. Bd3 Rd8 13. Be4 Qh5 14. Be3 Bd7
15. Rc1 Be8 16. a3 Rac8 17. Qe2 a6 18. Red1 Qa5 19. Rc3 Bf6 20. Rc5 Qc7 21. d5
exd5 22. Bxd5 Rd7 23. Rdc1 Re7 24. b4 Rd8 25. Qa2 h6 26. h3 Bd7 27. Qc2 Rde8
28. Qd2 Rd8 29. Bf4 Qb6 30. Be3 Qc7 31. Bf4 Qb6 32. Be3 Qc7 33. Bf4 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Round 5: Against Cristian Chirila, I decided to play the ultra-aggressive 7.h4 against his Grunfeld. The position after 11... e5 was quite amusing, but the position liquidated relatively quickly into a draw.
[White "Rosen, Eric S"]
[Black "Chirila, Ioan Cristian"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A16"]
[WhiteElo "2312"]
[BlackElo "2537"]
[PlyCount "51"]
[EventDate "2015.04.01"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.04.10"]

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. cxd5 Nxd5 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. h4 h6 8.
Rb1 Nc6 9. Qa4 Qd7 10. d4 O-O 11. f4 e5 12. fxe5 Nxe5 13. Qxd7 Nxd7 14. Bxb7
Rb8 15. Be4 Ba6 16. Rxb8 Rxb8 17. e3 Nf6 18. Bc2 Re8 19. Ba4 Re7 20. Bc6 Ng4
21. e4 Bc4 22. Nh3 Re6 23. Ba8 Re8 24. Bc6 Re6 25. Ba8 Re8 26. Bc6 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Round 7: Against Praveen Balakrishnan, I noticed from past games, that he recently switched from e4 to d4. I decided to catch him off guard in a line that I occasionally play in ICC 1-minute: 1.d4 c5 2.d5 f5!? Although it's safe to say this opening is dubious at grandmaster level, the resulting middlegame was highly dynamic and quite enjoyable to play. Praveen misstepped with 24.Ne1 allowing the 25...Rxb2 exchange sacrifice.
[White "Balakrishnan, Praveen"]
[Black "Rosen, Eric"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A43"]
[PlyCount "132"]

1. d4 c5 2. d5 f5 3. c4 Nf6 4. Nc3 g6 5. g3 d6 6. Bg2 Bg7 7. Nf3 Na6 8. Nd2 O-O
9. O-O Nc7 10. Qc2 Rb8 11. a4 b6 12. b3 a6 13. Bb2 Qe8 14. e4 Qf7 15. Rae1 f4
16. Ne2 Nh5 17. Nf3 h6 18. e5 Bf5 19. Qd2 g5 20. e6 Qg6 21. h3 Bd3 22. g4 Nf6
23. Rc1 b5 24. Ne1 bxc4 25. bxc4 Rxb2 26. Qxb2 Nfxd5 27. Qd2 Nb4 28. Nxd3 Qxd3
29. Qxd3 Nxd3 30. Rcd1 Nb2 31. Be4 Nxd1 32. Rxd1 Rb8 33. Rb1 Rxb1+ 34. Bxb1
Nxe6 35. Kg2 Kf7 36. Kf3 Bb2 37. Ke4 Nc7 38. Ba2 e6 39. f3 a5 40. Bb3 Ke7 41.
Ng1 Ne8 42. Ne2 Nf6+ 43. Kd3 Kd7 44. Kc2 Be5 45. Nc1 d5 46. Ba2 Kc6 47. Nb3 Bc7
48. Nd2 Nd7 49. Kd3 Ne5+ 50. Ke2 Kd6 51. Bb3 Nc6 52. Kd3 Bd8 53. Bd1 Bf6 54.
Bb3 Bd4 55. Nb1 dxc4+ 56. Kxc4 Ne5+ 57. Kb5 Nxf3 58. Kxa5 Be3 59. Bc4 Nd2 60.
Na3 Nxc4+ 61. Nxc4+ Kc6 62. Ka6 Bd4 63. Na5+ Kd5 64. Kb5 f3 65. Nc4 f2 66. Nd2
c4 0-1[/pgn]
Key #5:  Listen to Commentary from the US Championships In addition to eating and resting between rounds, I got in the habit of following the live commentary from the US Men's and Women's Championships. Listening to Jen, Yasser, and Maurice enthusiastically discuss high level chess kept me in "chess mode." If I had not been following the commentary, I don't think I would have been as sharp and focused as I was during my own games. Of course, you can only do this a few times a year! Ed. Note- The shows are archived on the Saint Louis Chess Club YouTube Channel. Key #6: Get Naked Naked Juice that is. Before the tournament I stocked my hotel fridge with an assortment of Naked Juices. Because some of my games were brutally long, I didn't always have time to get food between rounds. The fruit and veggie packed juices were like meals in a bottle. Because of this, I was well-nourished, well hydrated, and energized for each game. Key #7: Grow facial hair In the time I would have spent shaving, I spent preparing. I also lost my razor, so I had no choice. A report from the Philly Open would not be complete without sharing one of the most inspiring stories from the event. CLO Best of EricRosen 2 5-year-old Rachael Li (younger sister of top US Junior Rufeing Li) competed in the U1100 section. Despite playing exceedingly and more experienced competition, she netted 5.5/7 in the U1100 and walked away with a whopping 450 dollars. That's quite a weekend's earnings for a pre-schooler! CLO Best of EricRosen 3 See the full tournament results on MSA, prize payouts on the official website, and the full tournament story by Jamaal Abdul-Alim.