Congrats to Iowa's Newest National Master James Neal!!!
By NM Joseph Wan
This past Iowa Open was probably the strongest Iowa has ever had. With the participation of IM Sean Nagle, GM Alex Yermolinsky, IM Angelo Young, IM Michael Brooks, and WGM Camilla Baginskaite, I was out of the top five boards and played James Hodina on board 6 in the first round.
NM James Neal
Jim played a little weirdly in the opening, allowing me to gain some time. However, he fought back and created weaknesses in my position, namely my backwards "d" pawn. However, a wrong capture of a pawn led to a dangerous attack for me and I soon won a rook, prompting resignation.
My second round was against a girl named Aria Hoesley, rated 1808. I looked her up on USCF and saw that just a few years ago, she had been 1500, so I knew never to take these kinds of games easy. However, a move 19 blunder of a piece in Sicilian from Hoesley led to Black's downfall shortly.
The key round was my game versus IM Sean Nagle in round 3, playing on Board 1! This game will be found in the next edition of the En Passant, annotated by yours truly :) What happened was that I played terribly in the opening, allowing a strong blockade of my center, allowing my pieces no freedom. I sacrificed a pawn in desperation but found myself at 1 minute on the 30 move mark. Around this time, I saw that James and Yermolinsky had taken a relatively quick draw and I was determined to "get back" at James by drawing as well. My game was still completely lost but I fought on and eventually drew on move 98, after 4 and a half hours of gameplay! I was extremely exhilarated by this result, drawing the highest rated player I've ever played, but I knew I had to go home and get some sleep.
NM Joseph Wan
In round 4, I took a half-point bye to go to church, so I was back in action against Matthew Stevens, rated 2169, in round 5. After 15 moves, I found myself in a completely equal position and offered a draw which was immediately accepted. Now, at this point in the tournament, James had already secured his National Master title (being rated 2199 and having a terrific tournament), but was fighting hard against Angelo Young in the last round.
In the end, James and I both finished half a point out of the third place prize but he was able to win U2200 while I walked away with nothing. Despite the "not winning any prize money", I was happy with tournament, both with my playing, and that James has finally made a breakthrough of 2200, to 2207!
Once again, congrats to James and thanks to Mark, Eric, and everybody who directed for putting together this brilliant tournament, and I will be back next year!