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  • James Neal

Thunder Kings of 2022!

The completion of North American Open and the Rise of a Champion!

This might be the year where I become a complete player and gain a ton of rating points. Entering the North American Open, I had come to realize my true weakness. I have always had issues calculating but had not pinned it down to a missing element in my training. I improved my physical health to increase my durability over the board. I spent more time on preparation, almost gaining a scientific understanding of my repertoire. The problem persisted, every time I got into complex positions, I would seriously misuse my calculating time. I have come to the realization that I need to train visualization to remedy the problem.


Prior to the start of this event, my mind felt clear, and I looked forward to complexities over the board. The special visualization training had been in effect for less than a week, but I felt the clarity. However, there were still some irritations in this event. I was winning with black but drawing with white…

In my first draw, my female opponent played the Sveshnikov Sicilian. I arrived to the board late and, to make matters worse, I forgot to turn off my phone. It went off and I gave her an additional 30-minute handicap. I was in control during the middle game, but the time deficit came back to haunt me. I was not upset about this draw given the circumstances but not converting that position was irritating. One problem I had in this tournament was not having time to get warmed up. In hindsight, I should have parked closer to the venue. I could have added about 1 hour to my prep time.

My second draw came against a young boy who played an early d5 from the Italian. It resulted in a sharp middle game, but I felt I had no advantage and was forced to play incredibly precise to avoiding handing him the initiative since he had the center and potential kingside attacking chances. I was losing and winning throughout the time scramble, but overall, I felt I had to work too hard with white.


I decided to change to my queen pawn repertoire. This would mean playing a lot of London. My thought was that it would increase my control in the opening and give me an easier time of building an advantage through the middle game.

I tested this theory and won my game. However, I realize I was engaging in a bad habit. You should avoid changing your preparation mid-event. Typically, your plan B is worse than your plan A.


He played a good opening and could have overpowered me if he were about 100 points stronger. I usually choose the London against weaker players (U2000 weapon).


I finished tournament with a score of 4.0/6 and took off before playing the final round so I would not have to drive at midnight. Also, I lost the 6th round with white playing a better version of the London. I felt I had a better game but the cumulative hits on my endurance had taken effect and resulted in me spoiling a drawn ending.

I drove about 2000 miles east back into the frigid state of Iowa. I agreed to play on the team of my fellow Coralvillian Joseph. I am planning to attend USAT with him in February and claim the mixed double title as well as the USAT North championship.


The goal was to play another tournament in St. Louis, but I ran into a series of unfortunate events. When I was in Davenport, I lost my wallet and decided against the St. Louis event. I chose to wait another week and go to an event in Des Moines.


Fast forward a few weeks later, I wake up the morning of the tournament and notice my tire warning light was on. If you are not aware, I am tough as nails I sleep in my car in freezing conditions. Well, I noticed the tire was low on my vehicle and it got much worse. I went into the Des Moines event with a flat tire and the knowledge I would be required to stay in Des Moines longer than anticipated.


The tournament was poorly attended, and the open section was nearly cancelled until the registrants started to arrive. There would be 6 players in my section, and I thought only one of them posed me a challenge. I decided to take a fourth-round bye under the assumption I would play all the tough players the first 3 rounds and the 4th round would be anticlimactic (~1400). The game below was my last round against Master Tim McEntee. I decided to try out the London since I beat him with the system in our last encounter.

I will be playing more queen’s pawn in the future, and I will be making minor adjustments to my king’s pawn repertoire. I think I might choose my Vienna against the King’s Pawn in the future.

Next stop is the colder state of Minnesota!

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