I am IM: Carissa Yip on Earning Her Final Norm at SPICE

The SPICE Cup is a popular tournament for norm seekers, due to the large number of foreign IMs and GM who typically play. This year's edition was held October 22-27 in Saint Louis, and was also a memorial for Grandmaster and composer Pal Benko, a close friend of GM Susan Polgar.  Historically, I haven’t done very well at tournaments in Saint Louis. Case in point: three US Women Championships, multiple STL Chess Club IM invitationals, and the 2017 US Junior Girls. But, I was ready to change that with this tournament! So first, some background: I’d been in a bit of a slump before this summer. School left little to no time for chess, whether it was self-study or tournaments, and my rating had been around 2400 US Chess (and 2280 FIDE) for a year. However, since my academy let out fairly early (late May), I had around a month to work on chess before the sudden stream of norm events in July and August. And fortunately, my work paid off, with 2500 FIDE+ performances at Washington International and US Masters. Combined with a few other decent tournaments, I entered September with a FIDE rating of 2425 and two IM norms. I was confident that I would get my last norm before the year ended. After all, since I’d crossed 2400 FIDE, that surely meant my strength was IM level, right? But after my wild run of tournaments in the summer, I played terribly at my next two norm events. I even lost to someone a good 200+ points lower rated (and 400 points FIDE), something that hasn’t happened in a few years. Entering SPICE Cup, I obviously still hoped for a norm performance, even though I didn’t exactly expect it. My first round opponent ended up forfeiting, which was a bit of a scare. Thankfully, according to FIDE’s new rules, players are allowed one exception. So yay, a day off. The next few rounds weren’t anything special; I lost to a GM (2611 USCF, 2572 FIDE) beat a lower rated (2223 USCF, 2124 FIDE), then drew another GM (2575 USCF, 2505 FIDE). Round 5 was when my tournament really started to look up, against my friend John Burke (2653 USCF, 2551 FIDE).

[Event "Spice Cup 2019"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.10.23"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Burke, John"]
[Black "Yip, Carissa"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C50"]
[WhiteElo "2551"]
[BlackElo "2422"]
[Annotator "yip"]
[PlyCount "132"]
[EventDate "2019.??.??"]
[SourceVersionDate "2019.10.25"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 O-O 6. h3 a6 7. a4 d6 8. c3 Ba7
9. Re1 Kh8 10. d4 Ng8 {I got this idea from Wesley So's game against Vachier
Lagrave; later on, John told me that he saw this in another game (Vachier
Lagrave vs Aronian). Surprisingly, those were the only two games I could find
in the database!} 11. Be3 f5 12. exf5 d5 {The point: Black gets in d5 and e4
and also wins back the f5 pawn} 13. Bb3 e4 14. Bg5 {Forcing me to give up my
light squared bishop} Qd6 15. Nh4 Bxf5 16. Nxf5 Rxf5 17. Bh4 Raf8 18. Nd2 Nce7
{I spent a lot of time here calculating various sacrifices on d4 and how to
bring my knight out of g8, but I eventually settled on bringing my c6 knight
to the kingside. Nce7 also allows c6, supporting the pawn center and allowing
me to bring my bishop back in the game on b8.} 19. Nf1 c6 20. Ne3 R5f7 21. c4
Nf5 $1 {White's knight was one of his most useful pieces, and now I'm forcing
him to trade it off. Afterwards, it'll be hard for White to attack d5, and
since everything is going on in the center, White's bishop is also completely
out of play on the kingside.} 22. Nxf5 Rxf5 23. cxd5 cxd5 {Black is clearly
much better here, with the pawn center and strong f-file combined with the
vulnerability of White's d4 pawn.} 24. Re2 Ne7 25. Bg3 (25. Bxe7 {was a
possibility, trying to go for an opposite colored bishops situation. But the
dark squares are too weak} Qxe7 {Now Black plans Bb8, Qd6, etc}) 25... Qd8 26.
Bh4 Qd6 27. a5 Nc6 28. Ra4 Qh6 29. Bg3 Qf6 30. Kh2 {Black has clearly made a
lot of progress, but I was unsure of how to proceed. All my pieces are in
their optimal squares, and White's d pawn is hanging. The only problem was, I
couldn't see any concrete wins and White gained the d5 pawn back in most
variations} Bxd4 (30... Nxd4 31. Rd2 Nxb3 (31... e3 32. fxe3 Rf1 33. Rdxd4 Rxd1
34. Rxd1 Bxe3 35. Bxd5 {White's bishops give good compensation}) 32. Qxb3 {
In retrospect, this was definitely what I should've gone for, but I wasn't
satisfied with this position at the time}) 31. Rd2 Be5 (31... e3 {I also
looked at this move but wasn't a huge fan} 32. fxe3 Bxe3 33. Re2 (33. Rxd5 $6
Rf1 34. Qd3 Bg1+ 35. Kh1 Nd4) 33... d4 34. Bc2 {Maybe White can hold}) (31...
Bxf2 {tempting, but gives away the advantage} 32. Bxf2 Rxf2 33. Rxf2 Qxf2 34.
Bxd5 e3 35. Re4 {Thanks to White's strong bishop, this position is actually
fine for him}) 32. Rxd5 Bxg3+ $4 {In time pressure, I panicked.} (32... e3 $1 {
was the right followup} 33. Rxe5 {is best} (33. Bxe5 Rxe5 34. fxe3 Rxe3 {
and White's king is too vulnerable}) 33... Rxe5 34. fxe3 Rxe3 $19) 33. fxg3 Rf2
34. Rd2 e3 35. Rxf2 exf2 36. Rf4 Qe7 37. Qd5 $1 {This move gave me a huge
scare; I went from pressing for the win to trying to hold a draw} Nxa5 $6 (
37... Qd8 {was the right move}) 38. Ba2 Qe8 39. Qe4 Rg8 $4 (39... Nc6 {I
should've kept my cool, and now White has nothing} 40. Bb1 g6 $11) 40. Bxg8 $4
{Double blunders!} (40. Qf5 {would've just won it all} g6 41. Qf6+ Rg7 42. Qe5)
40... Qxe4 41. Rxe4 g5 $3 {I thought I was lost at this point, and with only
20 seconds left on my clock, I realized that g5 was the winning move. White
has no way to stop my pawn from promoting} (41... f1=Q 42. Re8 Qb5 43. Ra8 $18)
42. Re8 Kg7 43. b4 f1=Q 44. bxa5 Qb5 45. Rb8 Qxa5 {Now the rest is easy} 46.
Be6 Kf6 47. Bg4 b5 48. Be2 Qc7 49. Ra8 Qb7 50. Bf3 Qb6 51. Rc8 Ke5 52. Rc6 Qa7
53. Be2 Kd5 54. Bf3+ Kd4 55. Be2 Qe7 56. Rc2 Qe6 57. Bg4 Qb6 58. Bf5 h6 59.
Rd2+ Ke5 60. Bg4 a5 61. Be2 a4 62. Bd1 Qa5 63. Ra2 Kd4 64. Ra3 Qb4 65. Rf3 Qd2
66. Rd3+ Qxd3 0-1[/pgn]
After my win, I actually wasn’t thinking about my norm yet. One lucky victory doesn’t necessarily mean anything, and I just wanted to keep my mind focused on the next game.

Next round, I was paired against Illia Nyhznyk (2764 USCF, 2660 FIDE). Honestly, I was pretty intimidated by Nyzhnyk; I’d followed his chess for a bit and held him in high regard. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to facing him over the board for the first time.

[Event "Spice Cup 2019"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.10.25"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Yip, Carissa"]
[Black "Nyzhnyk, Illia"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C43"]
[WhiteElo "2422"]
[BlackElo "2665"]
[Annotator "yip"]
[PlyCount "38"]
[EventDate "2019.??.??"]
[SourceVersionDate "2019.10.25"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 Nxe4 4. Bd3 d5 5. Nxe5 Nd7 $6 {allows a draw, but I
actually didn't know this line} 6. Nd2 (6. Nxf7 Kxf7 7. Qh5+ Ke6 8. Qe2 $11)
6... Nxe5 7. dxe5 Nc5 8. Be2 Qg5 9. O-O (9. Nf3 Qxg2 10. Rg1 Qh3 11. Qxd5 {
would've also been interesting}) 9... Qxe5 {I was initially very surprised by
this move, but I think it should be equal if both sides find the best moves}
10. Re1 Ne4 11. Bd3 Bf5 12. Nf3 Qf6 (12... Qd6 {was what I was calculating} 13.
Nd4 Bg6 14. Be3 O-O-O 15. Nb5) 13. Bb5+ (13. Bg5 {another candidate move} Qb6
14. Nd4 Bg6 15. c3 {I decided I had a good position here; Black's king is
stuck in the center and I'm threatening f3. But I thought Bb5 was better})
13... c6 14. Qxd5 Be7 $1 {I completely missed this move} (14... Rd8 15. Rxe4+
Be7 16. Rxe7+) 15. Nd2 {a tricky move that I had to blitz out} (15. Rxe4 O-O
16. Bg5 cxd5 17. Bxf6 Bxf6 18. Re2 $17) 15... Nxd2 (15... Nxf2 {was what I was
worried about} 16. Rxe7+ Kxe7 17. Qc5+ Ke8 18. Bxc6+ bxc6 19. Qxf2 {White has
compensation, but it shouldn't be enough}) 16. Bxd2 {Ironically, Black doesn't
have anything here} Rd8 (16... O-O $17 {is best} 17. Qe5 Qxe5 18. Rxe5 Be6 19.
Bd3 Bf6 20. Re4 {if Black tries for the pawns on the queenside, White wins
them back easily} Bxb2 21. Rb1 Bf6 22. Rxb7 Bxa2 23. Ra4 $11) (16... Be6 17.
Bxc6+ Kf8 18. Bc3 Qg6 19. Rxe6 fxe6 20. Qf3+ Qf7 21. Bxb7) (16... Kf8 17. Qf3
cxb5 18. Bc3 Qg5 (18... Qg6 19. Qxb7 Re8 20. Rxe7) 19. Re5) 17. Rxe7+ Qxe7 (
17... Kxe7 {too dangerous} 18. Re1+ Be6 19. Qc5+ Kd7 20. Ba5 $16) 18. Qxf5 Rxd2
19. Bd3 {Black can't castle and the rook is trapped.} Rxd3 {And we agreed a
draw.} 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
After this draw, I was fairly sure that I could norm. I only needed 0.5/3 against an average of 2500 FIDE, and I was slated to play a 2540 next round. But I forgot one of the most important rules of chess tournaments: Always get at least 8 hours of sleep. Prepping until nearly 3 AM, I only got around 5 hours of sleep. Which is actually a decent amount for an average day (no sleep gang where you at!); however, it’s terrible for tournaments. I could feel the quality of my play dipping, and lost my next two games horribly. Though I was feeling upset after the two losses, I reminded myself: it isn’t over until it’s over. Yes, it’s totally cliche, but it’s also totally true. There was still one game left, and I needed to win against Rubens Cezila Jr (2320 USCF, 2163 FIDE) for the norm. And I did it!

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.10.23"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Yip, Carissa"]
[Black "Cezila, Rubens"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B15"]
[WhiteElo "2422"]
[BlackElo "2163"]
[Annotator "yip"]
[PlyCount "117"]
[EventDate "2019.??.??"]
[SourceVersionDate "2019.10.28"]

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ exf6 6. c3 Bd6 7. Bd3 O-O 8.
Qc2 Re8+ 9. Ne2 h5 10. Be3 Nd7 11. O-O-O Nf8 12. Kb1 Be6 13. c4 Rc8 14. h3 b5
15. c5 Bc7 16. Rhg1 Bd5 $2 {The biggest mistake of the game. Black gives away
the light squared bishop for no reason, and my bishop is unmatched as a result}
17. Nc3 Bh2 18. Rh1 Bc7 19. Nxd5 Qxd5 20. Be2 g6 $6 (20... Qxg2 {best, but
it's just not an ideal move for Black to play} 21. Bxh5 Qd5 22. Bg4 Rcd8 23. h4
{and Black's king is a tad weak}) 21. Bf3 $18 Qe6 22. d5 cxd5 23. Bxd5 Qe7 24.
Bc6 Red8 25. Bxb5 {And now I just convert my pawn} Be5 26. Bc4 Rxd1+ 27. Rxd1
Rb8 28. Bb3 a5 29. Bd4 Bxd4 30. Rxd4 Rc8 31. c6 Rc7 32. Rd1 Kg7 33. Rc1 Nd7 34.
Bd5 Qd6 35. Be4 Nb8 36. Qc5 Qf4 37. Bf3 a4 38. Qb5 Nd7 39. Qc4 Qxc4 40. Rxc4
Ne5 41. Rc3 Kf8 42. Bd1 Rxc6 43. Rxc6 Nxc6 44. Bxa4 Nd4 45. Kc1 g5 46. Bd1 h4
47. Kd2 f5 48. Ke3 Nc6 49. Bf3 Ne5 50. b4 Ke7 51. a4 Kd6 52. Be2 Nc6 53. b5 Na5
54. Kd4 Nb3+ 55. Kc4 Nd2+ 56. Kb4 Ne4 57. a5 Nxf2 58. a6 Kc7 59. Ka5 1-0[/pgn]
Congratulations also to Saint Louis local Grandmaster Akshat Chandra, who won the event in clear first with 6.5/9.
Photo: Austin Fuller
It’s always a bittersweet feeling when you end a chapter of your life, and the IM title was my main goal for the past two years. Hopefully FIDE will approve it in the December Congress, and going into 2020, I can start a new chapter for the GM norm hunt. Since this is my most important accomplishment to date, I’d like to give a huge shoutout to everyone who’s helped me on this journey. To all my coaches, friends, supporters- thank you. And to my parents- this one’s for you both. Follow Carissa on her twitter page, CarissaChess and find out more abouther on her new wikipedia page.  Find full crosstable and games from the SPICE Cup on TWIC.