Oct 21, 2008, 1:25 AM |

Who says you can never go home again? 

This past weekend, I took the opportunity to play in the 2008 Oscar Shapiro DC Open in Washington, DC.  I grew up there, and through some very hard times indeed.  I was only 12 in 1968 when riots erupted following the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that nearly burned sections of the city's commercial districts to the ground.  But I remember the tear gas and flames that darkened the twilight sky like it was yesterday.

What followed were decades of urban plight that made it very difficult on the city's majority black population.  Fortunately, the area now seems to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts, with a rising tax-base and property values, along with a responsive city government.

But I digress.

One of the best things about growing up in the Washington, DC area was the fun I had in learning to play chess and around 8th grade, getting the opportunity to play in my first tournament.  I can remember not sleeping the night before, with visions of being the champion dancing in my head.  Of course that was not to be, though I recall with fondness my wide-eyed experiences, the chaos of nearly a thousand kids competing between the elementary, junion high, and high school levels. 

I made a lot of friends during those initial and subsequent years that have become life-long relationships.  Chess creates a special bond between those of its brotherhood, regardless age and cultural differences.  This weekend I had a chance to reconnect a bit with the past, by playing in a tournament that I knew would attract those acquaintances, if they were still active in chess at all.

I was right.  I had the most wonderful reminisces in the tournament skittles rooms and hallways with buddies from an era long gone.  We are all a bit chubbier now, our hair a lot greyer, our skin finding room for a wrinkle here and there.  But absolutely the same people underneath it all, with the same joy, frivolity, personality and flavor that makes Washington, DC -- and its residents -- so interesting.

And in the midst of all this nostalgia, there was of course the issue of a chess tournament that needed to be played.  For the umpteenth time since recently making the decision to pursue some goals in chess, I find my opening repertoire in a disturbingly unsettled state. 

The use of computers to examine several opening lines in books that I previously regarded as solid, from an analysis standpoint, has forced some vacillation as I look to find lines that meet a standard of soundness.  It's not that I'm unwilling to play unsound lines, because I love the idea of putting pressure on my opponent to find key moves to keep from being saddled with a disadvantage.  However, I have tried to follow the maxims on such preparation put forth by FM James Rizzitano, who suggests that you start with a sound repertoire, but then expand vertically to include unsound lines within the same opening family to facilitate risk-reward scenarios. 

I had the good fortune to finish tied for 2nd with Nigerian IM Oladapo Olutola Adu, FM Allan Savage, and FM John Meyer, drawing the latter two over the course of the four-round tournment, all of us finishng 3-1. 

One good thing coming out of the tournament is the solidification of my QP defence repertoire.  I started my comeback favoring 1...d6, but have become rather disenchanted with my options should white respond with 2. e4.  I am not a fan of the black side of the Pirc.  The Philidor defense would certainly be an option (1. d4 d6 2. e4 Nf6 3. Nc3 e5) but the amount of material that has to be studied renders it uneconomical, unless one plays the Philidor as his main reply to 1. e4.  Don't get me wrong, the Philidor at its best is OK....but a strong white player will definitely keep the edge and black has to rely on white overpressing in order to gain counterstrike options.

After 1. d4 d6, even the recommended lines after 2. Nf3 Bg4 are too passive for my taste. 

I have always found myself attracted to the piece play and strategic simplicity of the Budapest Defence (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5).  The problem is that Queen's Gambit players frequently play 2. Nf3, so black has to make some decisions.  I have always kept a backup reply to the Queen's Gambit in my repertoire, Tartakower's Defence, precisely because of it's strategic simplicity.  After a relatively easy draw against John Meyer (2275) who, in post-game analysis felt he had the worst of it in the middlegame, I think it's time to promote the Tartakower to the front lines. 

Looking over my last several games, I see my performance rating with Tartakower's Defence is approaching 2200, and that's with nothing more than the most general ideas about black's objectives.  Below is the draw with Meyer, and another recent victory with it over Florida expert Toby Boas.

















The following game against promising junior Toby Boas, showcases one of white's plans -- trading off the knight on f6 and attempting to undermine black's d-pawn.  Black, for his part, has plenty of counterplay and the two bishops in an open position pretty much guarantee him equality.















 My thanks to David Mehler of the US Chess Center in Washington DC for a wonderfully-directed tournament, worthy of the memory of the late Oscar Shapiro (affectionately known to us in the local chess community as "The Big O").

Pre-tournament rating: 2091.  Post-tournament rating 2111.

Only 89 points to go to my first goal of NM!