My First World Open
I had the fortunate opportunity to attend my first World Open this year in Arlington, VA and it is an experience that I would encourage other students to consider in the future. It would take a week’s worth of blogs to exhaustively describe all of the attributes of the World Open, but three perspectives really stood out for me during my trip. These were a) amateur players used most of their time and most were willing to review the games afterwards, b) the elite players used a lot of time analyzing seemingly basic positions and c) very strong players (USCF > 2000) were making horrendous blunders while under time pressure or playing blitz chess.
For reference, I am an adult (mid-40’s) USCF 1500 level player and my primary goal is to improve my playing performance and consequently my class level. I started playing in tournaments in the mid-1990s, but I had to take a 10+ year hiatus due to post-graduate training and career/family obligations. I re-entered the chess tournament scene in 2008, but really started focusing on my play in 2011. I found the Chess Café website where I started consistently reading the Novice Nooks produced by Dan Heisman which were pertinent, concise and very relevant to my playing level. I have since taken many lessons from Dan as well as read many of his books cover to cover. As a result, the “4 homeworks” are engrained in my mind.
Briefly, I am married to a woman who has no interest in chess. Many of you already know that chess events can be very painful for non-chess playing family members. The Hyatt Regency Crystal City location worked out well for the tournament as well as non-chess playing family members. For $95 a night, you are not getting the Waldorf Astoria experience, but I believe it was a good value for the cost. The hotel is a short (~15-20 minutes) shuttle (free) ride to and from Reagan International Airport. The hotel provides a free shuttle to the Metro subway system which is clean and safe. It was only one stop to the Pentagon City Mall (direct connection to mall) which was climate controlled with nice restaurants and shopping. My wife also went to Georgetown which also had nice places to eat and shop. You easily could get to the main attractions in the Washington D.C. area if you desired. Some folks who have been to Philadelphia complained that there was nothing to do on July 4th within walking distance of the hotel while others liked Arlington better because they could easily drive to and from the hotel in a reasonable time compared to Philly. I have never been to Philadelphia so I can’t make informed comparisons. Sorry for those who find this info ridiculous, but this could make or break a potential cross country trip for a chess tournament for folks with families. Now let’s get back to chess.
I decided to do the 5 day schedule and claim 2 half point byes beforehand which would result in actually playing 7 games out of the scheduled 9. I reviewed the World Open results over the last few years in Philadelphia and realized that I would have to score 6.5 points to be in the prize range in the U1600 section. Furthermore, several of the previous leaders in the U1600 section had been playing in the same section for several years at the World Open. Thus, I figured they were either very good, but not quite good enough to get into the U1800 section or they were sandbagging. Either way, my prospects would be low in finishing in the prize money and claiming a point for 2 games while exploring the Arlington/Washington D.C. area with my wife was a reasonable compromise. My first game occurred on Wednesday evening with an opponent from New York. The game was 40/115, SD/1, d/5. We both played carefully and used most of our time. We ended up finishing in a draw with about 20 minutes left in the sudden death time control. More importantly, he enthusiastically accepted my invitation to review the game despite the fact that it was past midnight when our game finished. It was almost 1:00 AM when we finished reviewing the game. Neither of us knew much about the opening beyond the tabiya (I was White against the Nimzo-Indian), but I found his feedback and analysis to be very instructive. There were players in the U1600 section still playing when our game finished which I found to be very uncharacteristic for players at this level in previous tournaments. Even in the U1600 section, folks bring their “A” game to the World Open. Throughout the tournament, all of my opponents with one exception reviewed the game afterwards and this was like getting a chess lesson from an equally motivated and knowledgeable player. While reviewing one of my games with a fellow player, he mentioned that he spent a lot of time on a particular move because he “did not want to play hope chess!” I cannot overemphasize the value of another player giving good constructive critiques of your game while returning the same consideration for his play. This was extremely beneficial for both players.
I totally misunderstood how to approach seemingly basic positions. The World Open allowed all players to watch elite players in action close up. You could sit in a chair next to two grandmasters battling it out over the board if you wanted to though I chose a more nonintrusive distance. I watched WGM Tatev Abrahamyan and her opponent play a King +Knight vs King +pawn ending and they both spent what appeared to be an enormous amount of time trying to calculate and analyze the position WITHOUT making any moves! They each eventually made a few moves and then settled for a draw. Perhaps the game that made a real impression on me was the round 5 game between IM Irina Krush and GM Yury Shulman. Both of these players know each other well from previous matches. They reached a King and multiple pawn ending with GM Shulman up by a pawn. IM Krush spent what appeared to be at least 23 minutes (I stood there the whole time watching!) on the position before making a move. Eventually, they both agreed to a draw. When I reflect on my games, I now understand that King and pawn endings are actually complicated. Dan is correct in that you must “roll up your sleeves” in critical positions. The strength of the fianchettoed bishop and an active counter-attack was illuminated to me in the 7th round game between GM Conrad Holt and GM Sam Shankland (with the fianchettoed bishop). GM Shankland demonstrated to me how to handle the Black position while under an unrelenting attack from the White pieces that eventually ended up in a draw.
Strong amateur players (USCF 1800-2000) are capable of making horrible blunders and will if placed under time pressure. For starters, I watched one of GM Tamaz Gelashvili’s opponents hang his queen under time pressure. After the last round each day, there was a chess “underworld” that evolved in the main lobby. At about 11:00 PM and beyond, there were players playing bullet/blitz chess for money. It appeared that games were being played for $5-$10 apiece for 2-3 minutes per player. I witnessed 1800-2000 players hanging pieces, overlooking simple tactics and dropping queens without any great positional compensation. Thus, even with money on the line, very strong amateurs were not able to maintain mistake free tactical play in blitz formats. To me, this underscores the importance of thinking through positions carefully even if you are a tactically strong player.
Again, I cannot delineate all the positive experiences I had at the World Open in one blog. I met folks from all over the country at the tournament and developed some new friendships in the process. In fact, I left the World Open in Arlington, VA a better chess player than the one that arrived. The tournament was run well and I learned a lot about the USCF rules. For instance, I witnessed a challenge to a non-sudden death time claim due to not documenting 3 move pairs. I never knew such a rule existed! In any event, I would recommend a trip to a World Open event for both players and chess fans. It will be a positively memorable event