Fredericia in Fredericia playing Fredericia Chess

We’re not even halfway through 2023, but I have already travelled to many places to play chess. At the beginning of the year, I went to the Netherlands to play Tata Steel. then I played in the European Championship in Serbia, and before I knew it, I was in Norway for the Kvisla Invitational and in England for the 4NCL. While no tournament in 2023 - neither in other countries nor the occasional games in Denmark - had brought me any fortune, I decided it was time to turn my luck around. If I didn’t know how to win chess games far away from home, maybe I should try to be as close to home as possible. While I didn’t stay home, I did go to the Danish city Fredericia just on the Jutland side of Lillebæltsbroen. And yes, you did read correctly. The name of the city is incidentally also my middle name, but no, I’m not named after the city - though I honestly do not know much about where the name comes from.

I have fond memories of my previous tournaments in Fredericia. During my first time playing there, I achieved the (unofficial) title of ”mesterspiller” (master player), which we in Denmark call someone who reaches a Danish rating of above 1900. The next time, I was close to scoring a WIM norm in what was also my first WIM tournament ever (if my memory doesn’t fail me on that fact). This year, I was allowed to play in the prestigious IM group, and while my track record in norm tournaments (not counting women’s norm tournaments) is not great, to say the least…like at all…I was very excited about the opportunity. I have played a total of three norm tournaments (once again not counting women’s norm tournaments), one IM group (score: 1/9), and two GM groups (score: 1/9 and 2/9). So I was hoping to rack up a few more points this time around.

The tournament schedule was not easy with 9 rounds in 5 days and a time control with 30 minutes extra after move 40. This allowed for many long rounds in a short amount of time but who can complain - the more chess, the better! It actually also suited me fairly well as I was in the mood to try something new; and with such a long time to prepare I thought that if now was not the time to try something new then I wasn’t sure I’d ever get around to doing it. We also received the pairings almost three weeks in advance. I had quite the schedule ahead of me as the lowest-rated player with an expected score of only 2 points, 5 blacks, and the two other lowest-rated players in the last two rounds. This meant that a good start was very important so that my confidence wouldn’t be completely trashed before playing the games where the maths said that I had the best chance.  

I arrived Wednesday quite a few hours before the first round which left some time to explore the city and get into the right headspace. In the first round, I was paired against the tournament’s highest-rated player, IM Vladyslav Larkin, with the black pieces. I arrived at the playing hall in good spirits, greetings my friends, and before sitting down at the board, I got myself a nice cup of tea and then I was ready to go.

While I did lose the first game, it wasn’t without a fight and I definitely did get my chances. So it was tough to be too upset since he was also the highest-rated player in the tournament. At least, I didn’t think that it bode too badly for the coming games, and after a good night’s sleep, I was ready for a new fight. This time, it was against my childhood rival, FM Nicolai Kistrup. When we were kids, we’d always play the same tournaments whether it was in the Danish Junior Rapid Grand Prix or Junior Championships. We’d almost always get paired against each other and my score against him is not something to celebrate. I do not know how many games we played against each other, but I actually have a feeling that I never won a single game, but somehow we’ve always kept friends (I imagine it isn’t tough to be friends with a person that you continuously beat). In classical games, it was 2,5 - 0,5 to him before this game, so I was definitely looking for blood. However, I was the one who ended up bleeding yet again. Let’s see how I got hurt for the trillionth game.

Oh well, 0/2 was still not a catastrophe yet. If there’s anything I’ve learned from these norm tournaments when you’re by far the lowest-rated player, it is that you need to handle the losses with a smile - because you’ll have a lot of them. And besides, in my other norms tournaments, I had always had a half point after three rounds. My opponent was no other than FM Jens Ramsdal who I have very fond memories of playing, and before the game, the score was 1.5/0.5 for me! The win against him was one where I played the nicest tactic I have ever played, and it was in the last round of one of my former GM tournaments. So when the afternoon hit and we were ready for the second game of the day, I had quite some optimism - but that optimism was soon to be turned to dust.

A tough day at the office to be sure. Never had I started a norm tournament with 0/3, so I didn’t go to bed in the best mood. However, I found a great deal of comfort in the fact that I definitely had my chances in the games. It seemed like I generally played fine up until a certain point whereafter I’d lose the thread of the game. There’s also not much a night’s sleep can’t fix so when I woke up to the great weather in Fredericia with the sun shining and the birds singing. The morning game was against the tournament GM, no other than Swedish Stellan Brynnell, who had spent the entire previous week doing commentary of the Tepe Sigemann tournament. I hoped that this meant less prep from his side, but on the other hand, it could also just mean that he was sharper. Anyway, the game truly did feel like a “what goes around, comes around” situation.

We’re back baby! 0.5/4 is, of course, less than I had hoped for; but with a half point, it almost felt as if I was on a streak. I wanted to keep the wind in my sails, but, unfortunately, they turned again quite quickly. Round 5 was against the Dutch star, FM Machteld van Foreest. In the game, I definitely had my chances as it was really complex, but my play definitely didn’t impress anyone. However, it was probably one of my most interesting and fun games of the tournament when looking at the possible variations.

Despite losing the fifth game, I had still gained a half point on the third day which was more than I could say for the other days. I also knew before the tournament that it was going to be a tough one, so all I could do was go home and get a good night’s rest before showing up with a smile in the morning for my 6th round. It’s still tough not to smile when you play against IM Jens Ove Fries-Nielsen as he is a true chess lover with a creative spirit like no other. I’d actually say that maybe I got a bit too inspired in the game. Let’s take a look.

Only scoring a half point in six rounds is not something you try very often, though I have tried it before. And while I generally tried to keep my spirits high during the tournament, I had never after that start (or at all really) imagined that I would pull off what I managed in the next three rounds. My score before the game against 7th round opponent, FM Viktor Haarmark Nielsen, was 0/3 - and probably even less because of a fair share of blitz games. While I had managed to get better and better positions after each game, I had never managed to get even a half-point. I wanted to decide that enough was enough, but after the start, I had had, and the start he had had - being able to score an IM norm with 2.5/3 in the last three rounds - it seemed that it wasn’t something that I was able to decide.

Somehow the tides finally turned in my favor, and it was with the wind in my back and the light guiding me that I got back to my Airbnb. I think it’s a long time since I’ve slept that well. When waking up in the morning, I had quite some optimism. I thought that it couldn’t possibly be a bad day now that I had at least won a game in the tournament. I was also more optimistic about my chances against my opponent, FM Teimur Toktomushev, a strong Ukrainian kid. During the tournament, he had played some fine chess, but his time management was barely existing and I wanted to capitalize on that. I was well prepared for the game, but he also tested me from the start - and almost - to finish.

Getting that half-point after game 4 felt like a streak, but this was an actual streak! I had needed some good fortune but I’m not one to complain when the opponent hands over a full point like that. IM Jens Ove, the last person I lost to before I started winning, told me that he was happy he wasn’t the one who was going to play against me now as he had clearly gotten me mad and bloodthirsty. With more than my expected score for the tournament in the bag, I was fully ready for my last game. This time, I was playing CM Mikkel Vinh Løftgaard who won the qualifier tournament last year so he could play this year. I played before with the Black pieces and the game was a draw, so this time I successfully used the Uno-reverse card when I played the same opening he had used against me.

As Janice from Friends would say: Oh My God! Never in my life had I believed that I would go from 0.5/6 to 3.5/9 - and btw, score my fourth WIM norm. It seemed almost too good to be true. I had many ups and downs in the tournament, but here in the end between a mixture of (dare I say) good play and good fortune, it was mostly ups. Playing nine rounds in four days was exhausting and it didn’t make me less tired that the trip home didn’t run smoothly due to train malfunctions - but if there was ever a time that I could spend a few extra hours getting home still with a smile on my face, it was then. And just remember, no one ever won a chess game by not trying.