This past Saturday (5th August), I came very close to winning a prize after 18 years. I needed to draw my final game of the 2nd ANCC Closed Championship to finish in third place. Instead, I got schooled by a 15 year-old on when not to pursue a win that isn’t there in hope of silver when even bronze isn’t assured (talk about a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush).

The bruiser of my ego, this time, was Mr. Unpredictable himself—Sumit Deshpande—who can beat a much stronger opponent in one round and then go on to lose to someone much weaker in the next like it is to be expected. I wasn’t taking chances but he had come prepared with an unusual response to my stock first move as White (1. d4).

I don’t have a photo of us playing but here is one of Sumit from an earlier game:

I had my own unusual variation as early as move 3 (d5 instead of Nc3) in what morphed into the Queen’s Pawn Opening: Horwitz Defense. Seeking space advantage from the outset, I even pushed the e4 pawn which I normally wouldn’t.

On move 11, Sumit made his first inaccurate move with h6 where he could have seized the initiative with Ng4 instead. Nevertheless, the game went on with both sides more or less equal till move 21. Rae1 where I felt I had a minor advantage with doubled rooks on the open ‘e’ file. I lost any perceived advantage with 27. cxd5 where I should have recaptured with the rook to maintain control of the file. In hindsight, though, we would have still been equal with my queen and rook battery on the ‘d’ file and his on the ‘e’ file.

With an isolated pawn on the ‘d’ file against Black’s connected pawns on the ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ files, it was going to be a tall order to get a meaningful advantage.

After manoeuvering the rook to take control of the ‘e’ file and then to add pressure on my ‘d’ pawn, Sumit offered a draw. I considered it for a few minutes, having calculated that the bronze medal was essentially in my pocket if I took the draw, but my ego wasn’t having any of it. Instead, I shook my head and proceeded to play 32. Qf4?! thinking I had a shot at a win. [I’m shaking my head for a different reason right now as I type this—what was I thinking?]

Sumit was quick to exchange queens leaving my position very weak with the additional burden of doubled pawns on the ‘f’ file along with the isolated ‘d’ pawn. From here it was all downhill for me as I made one mistake too many and had to resign on move 52 after a foolhardy attempt at preventing Black from ‘queening’.

Congratulations to Sumit for being the better player! He is currently leading the standings with 8 points followed very closely by Brian Kariuki Waweru on 7.5 and Joseph Makori Omboga on 7. Though I’m on 7 too, Joseph will take third prize by virtue of a better tiebreak score. The race for first place between Sumit and Brian will be decided on 19th August when the latter plays his final game against Lucy Wanjiru.

As for me, there’s always next year to prove myself a worthy contender. 🏆