“Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make people want to shoot themselves.”
Hello again, and welcome to the, er... actually, I've lost count of how many blogs/articles (blogicles?) I've now written on my attempts over the last few years to gain the vaunted "National Master" title. I think this one is the fifth or so, but like Star Trek films and congressional scandals, it's hard to keep track. Anyhow, when we left off, I had just invaded Portland in an attempt to cross 2200 USCF, only to be thrice thwarted at the last moment by a trio of nefarious northwesterners. In this chapter, however, my sob story goes national as I enter the 2012 U.S. Open in Vancouver, Washington.
Before we begin, however, I want to underscore the difficulty of merely finding and transporting oneself to a chess tournament in the United States for those in a rural area such as, say, Humboldt County, California, where I am. For those without a car it can prove as great a challenge as the tournament itself, as the following infographic attests:
Anyhow, after somehow managing the above (I honestly forget how), I felt a definite twinge of optimism about the U.S. Open in spite of past debacles. There also was a reasonable chance I might cross 2200 even before the main tournament began if I could do well in one of the side events. To that end I joined a five round G/30 Swiss with my rating at 2191 and anticipation in the air, especially after winning the first two games. Even an interesting third-round loss to chess.com's own Francisco Guadalupe II did not seem too serious a setback if I could manage to win the next two. However, in the fourth round, I had what might be accurately described as the worst loss ever in the history of chess.
Had this been the only mishap of the 2012 U.S. Open for me I'd probably still have moaned about it in some blog of this sort. As it turns out, it was only the beginning of several spectacular miscues. The next came in a quad, again before the main event, again after winning the first two games and, once again, with a win catapulting me over the increasingly thorny hedge of 2200.
Thus in a less than entirely sanguine state of mind did I begin the 2012 Open, and after a first round win against someone roughly ten billion points lower we come to my immortal second-round game. What can be said about this affair that has not been written about in chess journals a thousand times already? Oh, wait. Nobody knows about this game. Sorry. But they should; everyone should know about this game. Why? Because no matter how badly you've lost a chess game and no matter how miserable you might be about it, this game should make you feel at least a tiny bit better. Before showing the entire debacle in all its glory, however, allow me to present a critical moment in puzzle form. It is move 21 and I've spent a huge amount of time trying to overcome a terrible opening, namely the Schliemann Gambit to the Ruy Lopez. Someday I need to write an article on why this opening is a really bad choice these days, especially against much lower rated players with a database, but for now, suffice it to say that I've a minute or two left with which to conduct my attack. There is good news, though, as I've finally generated play and in fact have a rather nice combination...
...which I miss completely. On the other hand I do at this point manage to notice something extremely important, namely that my opponent’s (digital) clock hasn't been set with the required five-second increment (a crucial resource when under a minute or so). Unfortunately, after summoning the Tournament Director in an attempt to rectify the situation, I learn that that such changes are only enforcable at the beginning of the game. This makes little sense to me, based as it seems to be on the frankly ludicrous premise that it would be somehow unfair(!) to the person who didn’t set their clock properly to correct their mistake later on. Anyhow, after a useless appeal to my opponent’s sense of sportsmanship (or lack therof) I was summarily forced to try and finish this game in at most thirty moves and most likely half that, given that pre-move isn’t really possible in real life. Naturally, the rest of the game, conducted as it was in “bullet mode”, fell apart in predictable fashion, though there was a memorable incident when, after a slight repetition of moves, I thought perhaps my opponent felt badly about the whole thing and was offering a gentlemanly draw...
(Opponent) “(Loud snort)…”
A new experience for me, being loudly snorted at while losing in a ridiculous way to someone 400 points lower.
This game not only made me want to quit chess but also to devote the rest of my life to constructing a time machine so as to go back and prevent myself from ever learning the moves. On the other hand, a tiny bit of my brain began to whisper something through the billowing black clouds of my tormented psyche, and I think what it was saying was, "OK, perhaps now you can just go back to playing chess again."
And so I did. And, oddly enough, with reasonable results, especially under the circumstances of constantly wondering if it might be better to just sneak into the hall at night and cut off the heads of every horse and king. In fact, I went through the next six rounds undefeated (five wins and one forfeit when the car I was borrowing refused to start) and stood to win some consolation money (~$500) in the last round. Alas, the Chess Gods, who are apprently not without a sense of humor, then decided to pair me with, of all people, FIDE Master Nick Raptis, the only titled player in the entire tournament I had already played not once, but twice before, and thus bereft of openings to trick him with. The game itself was a total disaster, as Nick's preparation (apparently it was possible to see pairings the night before) gave him a completely winning advantage straight out of the opening.
In spite of this being, in a sporting sense, one of the worst losses I've had in awhile, it was for that very reason also less painful than any of the games before it that I "should" have won. Odd how that works, really. In any event, when all was said and done, I left Portland, tail between legs, with nothing to show for my efforts except a crushing sense of inevitable, inescapable mediocrity. Well, that and some nice artisanal cheeses.
Stay tuned next week for "GargleBlaster Strikes Back", the sixth installment of his increasingly long winded "How to Make Master in 3000 Days" series, here on chess.com.