Sarkar on Norm #3: Location, Location, Location

Justin Sarkar, Photo Cathy Rogers, Iceland 2015 Justin Sarkar, Photo Cathy Rogers, Iceland 2015
At the UTB May GM norm round robin, I began by playing the lowest seed, a 2100 in a super strong field of 2500+. I fed him his sole half point of the event and myself started with just 1.5/3. If someone told me that this would be the event I'd find myself with 6/8 needing just a draw in round 9 for the GM norm, I would not have believed them. But it happened- I reached 6.5/9 to make my third GM norm. Since this was a 6-day event, I have now completed the norm requirements for GM and just need to reach the FIDE 2500 rating. I think the nature of my result violated Eric Rosen's Key # 2: Get off to a good start, from his "Keys to Success", but guess I can allow myself a pass on that one given my final result. In my 15 minutes of fame, let me discuss the catalyst for my improvement and eventual success. In my 2012 "Golden Win" piece it was coaching , whereas this time the answer is something entirely different: relocating. You might expect to hear something like St. Louis or Texas for that matter but no, just somewhere within my neighborhood. I confessed in prior articles to be currently living at home but seeking to move out. I did by far the next best thing to moving out on my own: a year ago my mother and I relocated to a condo complex in Ossining, NY, roughly 15 miles north of where we lived before. The new place, while a bit smaller, is significantly better. The benefits of moving seem to have in general improved my ability to accept conditions that are less than perfect and be thankful for things, leading to among other things a positive change in attitude. At the risk of exaggeration, relocating has significantly improved my life. As a result of finding a better home, my chess study habits are gradually changing. Not so long ago I was too severely affected by depression and other things to do much chess work outside of tournaments. My 2013 piece on my second GM norm sought to in a lighthearted manner discuss ways in which certain personal growth outside of chess might have influenced my success back then. Now I feel like I'm doing things the proper way, i.e. trying to see what I can accomplish with chess work itself. On a typical day at home I can be found in my "Sarkar lab", doing some form of chess related work. For instance, multiple coaches have told me I need to improve my classical knowledge. However, it was up to me all along to actually put in the work and persevere with it. In fact I do not even have a trainer at the moment. No professional guidance during tournaments.I just try to make my own reasoned decisions and try to take some time to see how much mileage I can achieve through my own work, even before seeking a professional coach. As for my GM norm result in Texas, I managed to get a lot of wins under my belt in such a strong field after a slow start. A couple of wins felt very lucky, though in fairness to myself it's possible that something about my overall improving attitude might have enabled me to create my own luck. Let me point you to my best games. I felt like my wins on day 3 (rounds 4 and 5) were pretty convincing and was particularly pleased with my round 4 win along with technique after getting a nice position against the strong GM. Also, I was facing a new position as early as move 8. Probably the win gave me a lot of momentum. A strong player later told me this game reminded him of when his coach showed him positions about space advantage :) My 23.Ra2! was an important resource. On move 29, the exact moment I considered 29...g5 and saw that 30.h4! is a strong answer, he played that move!
[pgn][Event "University of Texas at Brownsville"]
[Site "?"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Sarkar, Justin"]
[Black "Hernandez, Holden"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E39"]
[PlyCount "89"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 c5 5. dxc5 O-O 6. a3 Bxc5 7. Nf3 Nc6 8.
Bg5 Nd4 9. Nxd4 Bxd4 10. e3 Qa5 11. exd4 Qxg5 12. Qd2 Qg6 13. f3 d5 14. c5 Nd7
15. Bb5 Nb8 16. O-O Bd7 17. Bxd7 Nxd7 18. b4 a6 19. Rfe1 Nb8 20. a4 Nc6 21. b5
Nb4 22. Reb1 Qc2 23. Ra2 Qxd2 24. Rxd2 a5 25. Na2 Nxa2 26. Rxa2 Rfc8 27. Rc2
Kf8 28. Kf2 Ke7 29. Ke3 g5 30. h4 h6 31. Rh1 Rc7 32. hxg5 hxg5 33. Rh7 Rac8 34.
g4 Rg8 35. Rch2 Rcc8 36. R2h6 Rcf8 37. f4 Ke8 38. Kf3 Ke7 39. f5 exf5 40. gxf5
g4+ 41. Kg3 Rg5 42. Rb6 Rxf5 43. Rhh6 Kd8 44. Rxb7 Kc8 45. Rhb6 1-0[/pgn]
Despite the benefits of a better living situation and even an improving attitude, I have had to battle with many obstacles. In addition to general adjustments of moving, certain sinking feelings have kept popping into my head, most notably the thought that "time has passed me by". After all, by today's standards have I not already reached an age of being almost if not already considered a veteran!? While there are general guidelines regarding the time and age aspect of chess improvement and progress, people do have circumstances. Maybe my recent successes (including the Reykjavik Open from March) will help me actually believe it and keep my head up. On top of that, I feel that (just like Eric Rosen claimed to be, in his article) I have been stuck in a "classic chess player slump" of my own. However, the real Justin doesn't give up. I am Justin with 9 lives. I get hit, I strike back twice as hard. My decision to self-train for awhile was a little tribute to my dad, who rigidly believed in the concept of "self-help" and was firmly against hiring people for any kind of help. While I feel it was worth taking some time to see what I can accomplish on my own, I still think that having a trainer is invaluable, especially if I wish to go higher. Therefore, after a hiatus I hope to soon get back into some form of coaching, such as with Giorgi. Achieving my third GM norm was a milestone and took a lot of weight off my shoulder. Among my key factors to success included: an improving attitude, hard work and dedication, along with resourcefulness in difficult situations (both on and off the chessboard). A couple of other things to possibly take from this article: No one will argue how beneficial coaching can be, though there's no substitute for one's own work. Also, never underestimate how a small change can make a big difference. For instance in my case, relocating a few miles away can go miles (pun intended). Finally once again, while there are general guidelines regarding things like the time and age aspect of improvement and progress, people do have circumstances. I can only hope to make myself a case in point and live to tell the tale, as it were. I look forward to writing future articles. As a result of my success, I plan to reward myself with a trip next month to the Vegas Chess Festival. As a final note, I'd like to thank UTB and GM Macieja in particular for inviting me, and for their hospitality and support.
Look for the next in our series on the road to the GM title by Jacek Stopa, as well as Eric Rosen's upcoming piece on earning an extra "fourth" norm in the Chicago Open.