My First OTB Tournament

Jul 26, 2011, 6:22 PM |

About a year ago, I started playing chess after being away from it for 20+ years. I only dabbled in it before, but now I'm gaining an appreciation for the depth of the game; it's fun in a way that I never really saw before.

Last weekend, I attended my first OTB tournament.  There were about 60 players in total, playing six rounds Swiss style.  I don't know if that's a small tourney or not; it seemed like a comfortable size. It was an open tournament, with prizes at the end for overall top three, as well as a prize for each rating section. It was a very educational process; I'd recommend everyone that wants to learn more about chess try it at least once.

I didn't know for sure if I'd be able to go until a few days beforehand, so I wasn't able to prepare as much as I'd like to have.  Everything I've played on has been correspondence, and what few OTB games I've had in the past year were pretty informal. In hindsight, here's what I'd like to have done:

  • Play a few live chess games at the tournament time controls. I was never in time trouble, but that's partly because I blundered early in a couple of games. Every game but my second I used most of my time, and my opponent rarely used half of his.
  • Play without using the analysis board. I use it a lot, and while it's been helpful, it seems to have become a bit of a crutch for me.  I found that by the second day of the tournament I was getting much better at visualizing moves.
  • Practice more positional tactics. I spend a fair bit of time playing with the Tactics Trainer here, and I appreciate it, but I've gotten to the point where it seems that if I start by thinking "How do I attack the king?" I'll usually stumble into the correct move.  But in most of my losses, I have compromised my position long before those sorts of tactics would come into play.

I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I had a few goals in mind (in this basic order):

  1. Get a rough idea of where my USCF rating is
  2. Get out of the openings without fatally undermining my own position
  3. Win (or draw) at least one game
  4. Be competitive in my section

Overall, I feel that I accomplished all of my goals (even considering my second game disaster). I finally understand what people mean when they say that a rating is an indication of consistency as much as it is about skill.  The USCF rating estimator puts me at ~1150, and I wouldn't argue with that right now. I may be able to hold my own for awhile against C class players sometimes, but I'll also blunder hugely to much weaker players. The 1400+ guys seemed to have a consistent competency, at least to my level of analysis; you had to beat them rather than waiting for them to beat themselves. I went 2-4-0 for two points, and my worst play was in my first two games; I feel like I learned as I played, and my fifth game was probably my strongest. In my final game I was playing for the money in my class, which was not something I really expected to be doing.  That was nice, even if I don't feel I played as well as I should have that time.

I plan to do it again; I'm fairly confident I can break 1300 with a bit more effort and concentration, and then we'll see what happens.

Here are three of my games with some annotations; if you care enough to to comment, I'll read anything.  I haven't run the games through computer analysis, but I plan to.

Day 1: Game 1 (G60+15s)

I left this game thinking I'd done some stupid things, but I now had a decent idea of how things went, so I felt I could go into the next game without so much nerves. Also, I'd be playing someone else with a loss, so probably they'd be closer to what I thought my rating would be.

Day 1: Game 2 (G60+15s)
In the comments section of my game book, I wrote: "I am an idiot."
This was the low point of the tournament for me. It was the game I didn't want to have played; a complete blowout, and as white at that, and against someone who was about the rating I hoped I'd reached. But I had a long time before my next game, so I gathered myself and tried to learn to triple-check every move, looking for missed traps, etc.
I won my next two games (against a 1000 and 1250 player), so I was 2-2-0 going into the last two games, and that was nice. I felt like I was starting to see better, and I'd avoided most game 2 style blunders.

Day 2: Game 5 (G/90+15s)

After the game, several of the people who watched it talked to me, including my opponent.  He thought at the time that if I'd taken the a-pawn with my rook instead of checking and exchanging them, I'd have had a play in the endgame.  I'll have to play through it again.
(And that may be tricky; I'm not sure I have white's move 25 right...)
Regardless, I feel this was the best game I played in the tournament, and it was gratifying to see others who were far better players than me find the play worth following.
In my final game, I miscalculated something and it cost me.  I ended up in another pawn endgame after I weakened my own pawn structure, and end up losing the race to promote.
I found out after the game that whoever won would take the section and the prize money.  That was momentarily irritating, but actually placing was so low on my expectations it wasn't a big deal.
I'd recommend that tournament for any MN players; there were quite a few strong players; eight or nine were 2000+, with the majority of the rest at 1400+. And we got lunch!