GMs Sam Sevian and Ray Robson, the Spice Cup Co-Champions. Photo Paul Truong
A few weeks ago I traveled to Saint Louis for the annually held SPICE Cup Open, a tournament organized by Susan Polgar and Paul Truong, who also run the wildly successful Webster University Chess Team. The ‘Spice Cup’ provides an excellent opportunity for ambitious players to earn International and Grandmaster norms and always boasts a densely packed, powerful field of chess players, in addition to a slew of talented juniors.
This event is easily one of my favorite tournaments year-round. In addition to being professionally organized and run, I’ve also had some real success at the Spice Cup in previous years. This was the tournament where I had my first IM performance (2450) back in 2013 and where I earned my first IM Norm in 2014. In 2015 I had also done well, falling short of the norm but winning the U2400 prize and gaining approximately 20 rating points. So naturally for the 2016 edition of the event I had some solid expectations for my performance. I had just come back from the Chess.com Isle of Man International a week prior, where I needed a draw in the final round for that elusive norm but ended up losing to GM Babu Lalith.
The tournament heated up quickly with quite a few upsets already in the first round. I was paired with GM Timur Gareev, who I’ve known for several years now but never faced in a classical game. After my 13th move I got up from the board as Timur was spending quite a bit of time. Then when I came back I noticed he made a move that I thought blundered his queen. Well, he disagreed!
GM Timur Gareev, moments before his sparkling queen sacrifice. Photo Paul Truong
NM Aaron Grabinsky, winner of the top U2400 prize, with Mike Kummer and GM Susan Polgar. Photo Paul Truong
On the board next to us was NM Aaron Grabinsky, one of Webster University’s newest recruits, facing a fellow teammate, GM Vasif Durarbayli. Their game looked pretty normal and being so consumed with my own game I didn’t pay much attention to their struggle. Then at one point I looked over and saw that Vasif had also sacrificed his queen for two pieces! Though this one was less successful:
This win for Aaron launched one of the best tournaments of his career, as he then drew GM Sam Sevian in Round 2 and went on to score his first IM norm by finishing with 5/9 (the only norm of the tournament). Although Aaron has only been training at Webster since September, he feels that it has already had a large effect on his playing strength, having gained 40 rating points so far.
IM Awonder Liang vs. Kostya Kavutskiy. Photo Paul Truong
In Round 2 I came back with a win and was paired against IM Awonder Liang in Round 3. A nice pawn sacrifice turned the game into a highly interesting struggle where I kept losing track of the actual/potential material count on the board!
This draw was followed by two more draws against NMs Erik Santarius and Nicky Rosenthal (the first I was crushing, the second I was getting crushed, so let’s call that a wash). In Round 6 I played against IM Irene Sukandar, another Webster student. This was definitely my best game of the tournament–good preparation led to a comfortable middlegame edge that soon turned decisive. My technique was far from perfect but essentially good enough:
IM Irene Sukandar, winner of the Top Female Prize, with Mike Kummer and GM Susan Polgar. Photo Paul Truong
Now with 3.5/6 I was having a good performance, but things quickly went sour! I lost to (soon to be GM) Akshat Chandra pretty quickly in Round 7 and my “reward” was to be paired against GM Kayden Troff in Round 8! After losing that one too, I finished the tournament with a draw against FM Josh Colas, another one of Webster’s 2016 recruits.
FMs Josh Colas and Justus WIlliams, winners of the 2nd-3rd U2400 prizes, with Mike Kummer and GM Susan Polgar. Photo Paul Truong
So with 4.0/9 as my final score and a rating loss of a few points, I can be both disappointed with my performance overall and happy with the experience I gained. It seems like I can play with IMs on equal footing but against GMs I clearly have a lot to work on. And so I will!
The tournament was won by GMs Ray Robson and Sam Sevian, who shared first place with 6.5/9. A blitz armageddon game was then held for the first place trophy–I won’t spoil the winner since a video of the game, as well as many more videos from the event can be found on Susan Polgar’s Facebook page. Also, more photos by Paul Truong can be viewed here, and lastly, the full tournament results can be found here.
GM Sam Sevian. Photo Paul Truong
My quest for the final norm continues at the upcoming Saint Louis Autumn Invitational, a 10 player round-robin (with a GM and IM section) held by the Saint Louis Chess Club twice a year to give players an additional opportunity to earn norms. Wish me luck!
Kostya Kavutskiy is a professional chess player, coach, and author currently residing in Mountain View, CA. His first book, Modernized: The Open Sicilian was published in February 2015. For more of Kostya, check out his official Twitter and blog.