A long long time ago:  US Womens' Championship 1987 (part 1)

A long long time ago: US Womens' Championship 1987 (part 1)

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Image is NM Diane Savereide at the Lucerne tournament in 1982; photo by Gerhard Hund, from Wikipedia.

I have had several requests to post older games of mine, and I was also entertained by Vignesh Anand's "Future Chess" blog entry.  So, this is my "Past Chess," the top tournament I have ever played in.

I was in graduate school in 1987, working on a scientific project that wasn't panning out, and playing too much chess in order to distract myself from the growing suspicion that it never would.  I opened a letter from the US Chess Federation and found, to my complete shock, that I was on the invitation list for the US Women's Championship.  There were ten places in the tournament and I was far from being among the top ten players, but apparently several of the top seeds had declined.  I believe I found this out around September for a tournament to be held in November.

Up until this point I had never had a coach or trainer.  I had hacked my way from E-player to Expert by playing in a tournament essentially every month for 7 years, playing club games, reading books, analyzing with my friends and opponents, and mulling over (but often ignoring) scraps of advice from strong players. Now I figured I had better get more serious. I approached IM Nicolai Minev for private lessons and he agreed.

This turned out not to be very useful.  After so many years on my own I was a stiff-necked player who didn't take advice well.  Minev hated my opening repertoire and wanted to throw it out and start over, which I was totally unwilling to do so close to the tournament.  So we argued a lot, and perhaps I learned a little, but I still felt quite unprepared when I caught a plane to Estes Park, Colorado.

Estes Park is a hiking destination in the summer and a skiing destination in the winter.  In November it was a ghost town--half the shops were closed, and the two tournaments (US Championship and US Women's Championship) were by far the biggest spectacle on offer.  It felt as though half the town showed up at one time or another to watch.  Most of them quickly realized that watching tournament chess is like watching paint dry.  No attempt was made to provide GM commentary in a separate room.  This was clearly an event for the players, not the spectators.

The tournaments were at the Stanley Hotel, a massive edifice standing somewhat apart from the town.  I have vivid but fragmentary memories of it.  The Russian players dealt with stress by playing ping-pong frenetically, sometimes very late into the night:  I would wander the halls hearing the echoing thpock, thpock, thpock.  I climbed partway up a rock formation during a snowstorm, got scared, and clung there for what seemed like half an hour before I realized that the only possible direction was down, whether climbing or falling, and I'd better get on with it.

A not so pleasant memory, which I think it is okay to tell now:  One evening one of the other women found me in the blitz room and said, "The hotel manager wants a lady to chat with.  I've been chatting for an hour and it is YOUR TURN.  Otherwise he may decide he doesn't want the tournament here after all."  So I went, with great reluctance, and chatted with an inebriated hotel manager for an hour.  But I silently refused to find a replacement when I finally felt I could leave.  Apparently he had gotten what he wanted, as he didn't throw us out.

I still have copies of the tournament bulletins, which were typed and then mimeographed.  The dates on them are completely erratic, however (tournament start is Nov. 9, first round Nov. 6, second round Nov. 12, third round Nov. 10, etc....) and online versions of the games have only the year.  So the dates on these games are all guesswork.

In round 1 I played Ruth Donnelly.  Of the games in this tournament I specifically remember only three, and this is not one of them.  I certainly wouldn't play the opening this way today, but everything past that looks entirely familiar:  the tactical oversight, castling into danger, and the final combinative attack.

I recall hanging out with the Russian GMs and practicing my very limited Russian.  They were sufficiently amused that I could understand their analysis (chess analysis is one of the easiest things to do in a foriegn language) that they included me in a lot of it, which was exciting.

We also had an incident in which the men were deep in thought, everything quiet and tense, and suddenly there was a horrifying shriek. People came running from the other rooms.  They found one of the GMs very distraught:  he'd gotten up to go to the bathroom, his opponent had also left the board, and when he'd returned the clock was gone!  It turned out that Yasser Seirawan had been passing through, and seeing the clock at an unattended board, had carried it off to play blitz....

In the second round I played Ivona Jezierska.  I don't recall this game at all, and this is not the way I'd handle this opening now, but the two competing flank attacks look entirely familiar.  As it turned out, it was a race neither player could win.

As a young chessplayer I internalized Steinitz' statement that "a center pawn is worth a little trouble," and it remains the case that if you offer me a center pawn I will very likely take it....

My next opponent was Dorothy "Dolly" Teasley, one of the few players in this event who is still active in 2017 (rating 2025).  She is one of the top senior players in the US, and the top senior woman.  Her rating graph suggests that she took a break in the 1990's but has been playing regularly ever since.  In my game with her I was unable to find a good plan, and suffered the consequences.

The start times for the men's and women's events were staggered; I know this because just before the men were due to start, the TD grabbed me and said "This knight has fallen off its base!  Run down to the store and get some superglue, quick!" and I had time to do it before my own game began.

I was scheduled to play NM Diane Savereide, four times US Women's Champion or co-Champion, and a girlhood heroine of mine.  In an era when most really strong players came from Eastern Europe, she was a genuine home-grown champion.  A picture of her in Chess Life even affected the way I sat at the board.  I was, of course, expecting she would crush me, but it was still very exciting to get to play her.

In a moment of more enthusiasm than tact, I explained to Diane that she was my heroine.  She said something to the effect of "Gee, thanks, kid."  I can hardly blame her as this game was a big setback for her, and she was clearly unhappy with her play.  It was also becoming clear that Anna Achsharumova, who was 4-0, was going to be tough to beat.

I called my boyfriend (now husband) and, in typical style, said that I had played a master, so of course--and then explained that I'd beaten her.  I had never beaten a master before.  (It took me until 2017 to do it again, despite my rating getting to 2170.)

I never saw Diane Savereide again after this event; she left tournament chess not long after.  (I hope my tactlessness was not involved.)  Alexey Rudolph (now Root) eventually contacted her and heard that she was okay.  At the time I did not conceive that I, too, might do the same thing.

I am an adult player trying to make a comeback after 27 years away from competition.  This blog mainly covers my tournaments, with occasional forays into other topics.