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Fall Open 2021
Green Lake in the fall. Image from Wikipedia.

Fall Open 2021

mkkuhner
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13

The Fall Open was played at the temporary home of the Seattle Chess Club, Orlov Chess Academy on Green Lake.  Having gotten a taste of playing face-to-face at the Women's Championship, I couldn't resist. The tournament has traditionally been 5 rounds but due to site limitations it was cut to 4 and (in theory) capped at 20 players.  In fact there were 22, though only briefly as several dropped out.  FM Ignacio Perez was the clear favorite; I was #4.

Here is the tournament hall just before the start of Round 1.  It's a bit cozy....

Playing hall
Photo courtesy of Stephen Jiang

I had a nice chat with two newcomers who had been inspired by The Queen's Gambit, and then found I was playing one of them:

We had a good talk afterwards, though I annoyed myself with my ability to almost show past games from memory--but not quite.  Rio said it was all right--he was just soaking in the experience of being somewhere where everyone was happy to talk about chess all day!

I went home for a bite to eat and told my spouse that I would be paired down for the second round, "but not necessarily very far down--I could easily be playing Felicity Wang."  Sure enough.  I'd played her twice before, both draws, including a game where she was rated 1100 points below me.  She's still likely underrated:  in fact her October 1 projected USCF rating is a hundred points above her current one, the kind of jump you might expect from a talented junior whose rating stood still during the pandemic but whose skills did not.  She's #18 among 13 year old girls in the US.  (The fact that this is my usual way to learn a young player's age--just see which top-100 list they are on--tells you something about how strong our local juniors are.)

To my surprise, she did not repeat the Exchange French of our two previous games:

Late in our game there was a commotion in the playing hall; the point of dispute turned out to be whether threefold repetition counts if the repetitions are not consecutive. (Yes, it does.)  The TD (Seattle Chess Club stalwart Fred Kleist) had to play through the entire game and count them; it was indeed a draw.  Felicity and I were trying not to listen.

Toward the end I staggered out into the skittles room to drink some tea and told the TD, "I'm afraid we're going to be here all night."  He replied, "It's sudden death, so you can't."  But it sure felt like all night.  This is happening to me a lot. 

I went home very tired, struggled to sleep, and was apprehensive going into the Sunday games.  I thought I might be playing Ignacio, but instead I was paired against Eli Williams, an unrated player who'd beaten an 1800 in the previous round. 

I got to chatting with a group of players about what openings we hate, and mentioned my game with Sophie Tien and how much I dislike it when my beloved French Winawer suddenly turns into an Exchange Variation.  As it turns out, I told Eli exactly what to play against me, which he duly did.  Loose lips sink ships!

What kind of unrated player is this?  Class A, if not Expert, I would say.  (He mentioned that he'd been a chess coach for a while.  Also, if I have correctly deduced his chess.com ID, he's 2000+ at both blitz and Daily Chess.  Just goes to show that underrated kids are not the only hazard of the pandemic.) 

Mine was yet again the last game to finish.  I went out looking for food and eventually persuaded a burger place to make me a lamb patty wrapped in lettuce, so as to avoid all my stupid food issues.  It was too late by that point to go home, so I wandered around Green Lake in the rain for an hour and then came back to the tournament site.

At this point Ignacio was at 3 and there was a fairly large pack at 2.5--Brandon Jiang, me, Ralph Anthony, and Eli.  As the highest rated player, Brandon Jiang had to tackle Ignacio, and I was paired against Ralph Anthony.  I had played him once before, in 2019; I got a terrific position, miscalculated a tactic and went down in flames.  His rating has gone up quite a bit since then, unusual for an adult.  (I looked at his USCF graph, and it's just been up and down; I met him at his low-water mark last time and donated some points to getting him back into the 1700's.)  Like the previous one, this game was very tactical:

This was the next-to-last game to finish because Ralph had played so slowly, but at least it wasn't as difficult as the previous round's.  I am fascinated by the way that the wound-up spring of White's position suddenly released its energy as a result of Black's ill-fated combination.

A win for Ignacio would put him in clear first.  I was watching the game on and off.  Brandon played the Dutch Defense against him, and Ignacio responded with a Staunton Gambit transposition similar to his Senior Championship game against me.  Brandon prudently did not exchange his f-pawn for Ignacio's e-pawn like I did, but he still seemed to be in a lot of trouble with his pieces driven to the back rank and Ignacio pressing hard.  Then my own game exploded, and next time I could spare a moment to look over there, Brandon was a pawn up in a rook endgame!  He had serious winning chances, but eventually the game was agreed drawn.

Here is the mysterious game, courtesy of Stephen Jiang, with notes by him based on analysis by Brandon and Ignacio.  I don't know that I'd care to try this line against Ignacio's Staunton, though it's surely better than the one I played.

So, quite to my surprise, 3.5 was enough to tie for first with Ignacio and Eli and win a glorious $87, which the TD ceremoniously counted out in cash for me.

Lessons from this tournament:

(1)  Surprisingly often, the secret to a successful attack is to...exchange queens.  I have a huge blind spot about this.  I only beat Felicity because the queen exchange remained good for several moves while I tried to find something--anything!--else to do, and eventually realized I couldn't.  And exchanging queens against Eli miraculously turned my dismal defensive position into a nearly winning one.

(2)  Minor piece endgames are probably the next thing to tackle once my king and pawn endgames are a bit more solid.  I keep getting winning positions but being unable to actually win them. 

(3)  It is not wise to get all your pieces into a massive clot in the center:  they may be "centralized" but if they are stepping on each others' toes they can't perform.  I was lucky in my game with Ralph, but I've been taken apart from similar positions several times (memorably against Tim Maroney in a State Championship) and I need to work on avoiding them.

(4)  I'm not used to this time control (40 moves in two hours, then sudden death in one hour, 5 second delay) anymore.  It seemed very slow and I was never close to time trouble, though Ralph was getting there.  I guess I have managed to adapt to the faster games typical of online tournaments.  But I certainly didn't mind having all the time I needed to think, though it did make for very long days.  (It would help if I could win my games more quickly, but that's probably not a reasonable goal.  I'm just happy that I'm winning them at all.)

(5)  Always pack food.  Because of the long games I missed a lot of meals; the package of samosas stuffed into my backpack was the only thing that got me through the game with Felicity.

(6)  Seattle players can pretty much be trusted to keep their masks on.  (Players over 12 were also required to be vaccinated, though no one asked to see my card.)  We had a discussion of the Western States Open in Reno, which usually has a big Seattle contingent; many of us (including me) are planning to skip it this year because we aren't confident the organizers will enforce safety rules.  --It's still not all that safe to cram 22 people into the Academy (which consists of two small rooms) for an entire weekend, but hopefully between masks and vaccines we'll be all right.  I've missed competing face to face so badly

My likely next event will be the WA Class Championships in November; most of the tournaments before that are at too-fast time controls and/or have too many games in one day.  The Challenger's Cup has a particularly bizarre schedule:  instead of having an Open and Reserve section running through the weekend, the Reserve is 5 games on Saturday and the Open is 4 games on Sunday!  This makes sense in terms of keeping the venue from being too crowded, but there's just no way I'm playing 4 serious games in one day.  I've found that by game three I'm generally not enjoying myself anymore, and game four is a kind of slow torture.

Since this tournament I have been bouncing back and forth between "That's three tied-first results this year!  I must be improving!" and "My gosh, some of those games were not convincing, I got really lucky."  This event was at least better than the Women's Championship, where I let an opponent simply capture my queen; but I mishandled multiple aspects of my games vs. Eli and Felicity, and I really should not have been surprised by Ralph's sacrifice.  So, skill or luck?  I said this to my on-line friends, and they unanimously replied "Why not both?"  Hopefully I can build on the improvement and not rely quite so much on the luck....