That was close! When my friend told me about a strong chess tournament called the “Pfalz Open” in early February, and I wanted to sign up for it, it was almost too late. Just barely I got myself a place before it was booked out. And let’s be honest, that would have been a pity. A real pity.

To my dismay I had never heard of the Pfalz Open. I must have lived on the moon for the last years (or rather, the U.S.) since with over 500 participants it is one of the biggest tournaments in Germany, growing in size every year. It was no surprise to me that people are coming back year after year to play in the tournament because it was very well organized with a great staff team taking care of the catering and competent arbiters who knew their business.

The entire staff of the Pfalz Open. Don’t ask me why I’m in this picture 🙂

Now, let’s talk chess. I was ranked No. 5 in the list before the tournament, with a broad field of IMs and GMs making their way to Neustadt an der Weinstraße. There is this saying that the first round is often the toughest and indeed it hold true this time. Against my young opponent, I sacrificed material early on, only to realize that I had missed an important detail and suddenly found myself two pieces down. A cold chill was going down my back as I already saw my tournament being ruined after the very first round. But miraculously, there were still resources left when I was down a rook and a minor piece and in the end, I can proudly say, I have played my own personal immortal game. I have analyzed it in a video here:

In round 2 I played my beloved Najdorf and was able to play not one, but two of the most typical positional pawn sacrifices in the Sicilian. I have also annotated this game in a video:

In round 3, I blundered my queen but was fortunate to have a saving line. It felt like I had used my luck for the entire tournament already in round 1 but that was apparently not the case.

Huschenbeth – Chernov

White to move and save himself!

The last move by Black was Qd7-e6 and I had completely missed that. Suddenly the threat of Ne8 seems to be game over for White. But 21.Nxe5 saves the day: Ne8 22.Nxc6 Nxc7 23.Ne7+ Kf8 and now 24.Nf5+!, stopping Black from going Ke8 because of Nxg7+.  So we agreed to a draw after 24…Kg8 25.Ne7+

Final Position

In round 4, I had to concede to another draw against a lower rated opponent and this time, there was nothing I could do against it. My young opponent never gave me a chance and it was actually me who had to defend for a long time to hold the draw.

With 3 out of 4 points, I knew I could not give away many more points if I wanted to have a say at the top. And indeed, I managed to win the next three games. One of them, against IM Matthias Dann, I humbly call my perfect game. I have analyzed it in a video here:

Now, with 6/7 points, I played against the player who had dominated the tournament so far: IM Kirill Shevchenko. Only 14 years old, Kirill had started with 6/6 points and then drawn against Daniel Fridman. I knew before the game that I needed to win if I wanted to challenge his leader position.

Both of us deep in thought after I have just played an interesting sacrifice

I played with the Black pieces and for the first time in my life tried out the Dragon variation. It worked like a charm, I easily equalized and then began to weave my net in the endgame. Everything worked in my favor, until… Well, find out for yourself:

That was a pity. But as it is, you need to focus on the present and work with what you have, making the best out of the situation. I was determined to win the last round, fighting till the very last drop. My opponent was tournament veteran GM Aleksandar Karpatchev.

Water vs. Coffee, who would win?

I started out with the Evans Gambit and a complex position arose in which my opponent decided to give the exchange. I soon gave the exchange back and maintained some pressure. Another rook endgame resulted. And I thought, “Alright, let me not mess up two won rook endgames in one day.” So, I didn’t.

Huschenbeth – Karpatchev

Final Position

In this position, my opponent resigned. Black can still stop the White g-pawn with Rg1, but I simply take the c2-pawn with my king and then Black is completely helpless. I can easily stop the f-pawn with my king and push my own a-pawn forward.

With this win I finished the tournament with 7.5/9 points and shared for first. Shevchenko took first place on tiebreaks and that is only fair, since he had a stronger opposition than me and played on the top boards the entire time. Here you can find the tournament website as well as all the individual results and standings.

The winner Kirill Shevchenko in the middle, yours truly to the left, and the tournament favorite Zendko Kozul on 3rd place

I would like to thank the organizer Dirk Hirse and his entire staff for a well-rounded tournament with great playing conditions. If my schedule permits, I’ll be happy to be back next year!

On a side note, I want to share with you a goal I have set myself: Within one year, I want to have entered the Top 100 FIDE rating list. Obviously, this tournament has been another step towards this goal. It’s a long journey though, considering that I only won 7 rating points with my performance. However, I believe that slowly but surely I will cross 2600 and then go from there 😊

What is your chess goal? By when do you want to achieve it? Write it in the comments and let us embark together on this journey!