FIDE RR part 3: A Narrow Escape
Piranha image by Greg Hume, from Wikipedia. All chessplayer photos by Victoria Jung-Doknjas via the Washington Chess Federation blog, used by permission of the photographer.
After six rounds of the FIDE Round Robin I had 4-2 but definitely felt a bit chewed on. I'd lost a terrible game in the morning and now had to face Robin Tu, a young adult (rare in the Seattle scene!) I'd beaten him once previously, an interesting game in which I gave up two rooks for his queen because I saw that my queen would be dominant. But I was tired and not optimistic.
In fact this is my favorite game of the tournament, though that was emphatically not true while I was playing it. It would be easy to give it annotations along the lines of "Robin took a poisoned pawn and was ruthlessly punished for his greed," making it a nice classical story. But a much more accurate storyline is that I dropped a pawn, searched grimly for counterplay while fearing the worst, and surprisingly was able to whip some up.
Once I got into trouble, I managed to play some real chess! It's very cool how the queen trap came together, though it's far from forced and I think Robin could have escaped if he'd had a more acute sense of danger.
I arrived very early on the final day of the tournament (taking advantage of a ride) and found TD Fred Kleist emptying endless cans of garbage. It is unbelievable how much garbage 35 chessplayers (and family members) can generate! I checked the pairings and found to my shock that I had a bye as Karthik Shaji had withdrawn. So I helped empty a lot of garbage and was getting ready to go home when people pointed out that Isaac Vega was also without a game. (He had tied first in the second Round Robin, which had only seven players so had finished the day before; he lives in Portland so was stuck until his train the next day.) It's a long bus ride each way to and from the chess club, so I decided to hang out.
There is a funny coda to Karthik's absence. The next weekend I went to the Oregon Open--and played him there in round 4. I told him that he could run from me but there was no escape!
I played a lot of blitz against Isaac. Many of the games were in the French Defense Advance Variation, which he appeared to know quite well. I mentioned that I hadn't thought he was a French player, and he said that after I'd beaten him by transposing his Sicilian into the Advance, he'd decided he'd better learn it! Interesting to know that I'm motivational--if only as a big target.
After that we got onto analyzing games. I showed my game vs. Robin, and Isaac had a couple from the short RR. Then Jason Cigan came in (he was one of the Kings) and said, rather grumpily, that I should show our game from the Oregon Open. Oh yes, I said, the best game I played all year! Yeah, that one, he said even more grumpily....
So we analyzed that game--it bears a lot of analysis, it's insanely complex. Uncle Vik dropped by and proposed a few lines. He also told me that I couldn't win my quarter now as a forfeit isn't a win. I was indignant about this!
Eric Zhang then came in, having won his game rather quickly, and proceeded to show me at least 7 of his 8 games ("okay, which one would you like to see next?" over and over). His dad came by after a while and said "Did you let Mary show at least one, too?" But it was really interesting to see how the tournament winner won, so I didn't mind. (His games were on the whole less exciting than mine. That may be why he won....)
By the time half the players had finished it was REALLY noisy in the skittles room. I sat in there and tried to shush the kids as a public service, then realized after a while that I was accomplishing nothing and making myself irritable. So I went away and had a leisurely dinner.
Going into the last round, Eric needed no more than a draw to get clear first, and Neil Doknjas and I were battling for second--or for tied first if Eric lost. (I tried to convince Joseph Truelson to go for Eric's throat, but no go.) So I wanted to win quite badly, even if Uncle Vik wasn't going to pay up. I'd calculated that 6-2 would save my rating, and it was worth a good bit of money too.
Unfortunately trying hard to win does not always lead to good judgment, as this game shows. I had never played Dominic Armstrong before and had no idea what to expect.
Eric Zhang took a quick draw with Joseph Truelson, who will at least get a published FIDE rating (he drew 2 of the FIDE players). As a device for bestowing FIDE ratings the RR was less than stellar as three of the four FIDE-rated players (Eric, Neil and me) took the three top places and gave up most of our losses to each other. Sridhar was much more community-spirited and is the true hero as far as FIDE ratings go.
We had ice cream and a little awards ceremony and this mega-event was finally over. (The next morning I was taking the train to Portland for the Oregon Open. I've never played so many tournament rounds so close together in my life!)
What did I learn from this tournament? Despite being the rating favorite, I couldn't win it, but I didn't do badly (rating +5, pretty much a wash; we won't talk about the FIDE ratings though). I had consistent trouble predicting knight invasions, and an exceptional crop of bad bishops. The best thing about my play was tenacity: while I couldn't stop Eric or Neil, I made a good try, and I won a lot of positions that were not really winning for me. And, as usual, any sign of personal problems cuts about 100 points from my rating. If my personal life were as serene as a moonlit lake, my husband says, I'd be an Expert; maybe it's true. Not likely to happen though.
The TD at the Oregon Open put forward the theory that I'm Expert strength but spend too much time playing horrifically underrated kids. I don't know if I believe this or not; in any case anyone who wants to be high rated in Seattle has to deal with our bumper crop of underrated kids, and somehow people manage to get Expert and Master despite it.
I tried some new ideas in this tournament, especially queenside attacks in the Stonewall, and they went better than expected. I've also FINALLY learned to see undermining manuvers before they happen (as in the game with Vignesh). I don't feel anymore that I'm recovering my skills from the 1980's. Whatever I had then that I haven't gotten back, I probably never will. But I am learning new things--new approaches to my openings, new endgame concepts, new ways of dealing with the emotional ups and downs of competition. That's pretty cool, if I do say so myself. I just hope it shows up in rating eventually, because I am getting very tired of 1950; I've been there quite a while now. (As the Champion of Alaska said to me, when I was a teenager and making the same complaint, "Honey, I was 1600 so long I could have tattoed it on my forehead. Eventually you get a breakthrough.")
I had promised myself to play in the top section at the Oregon Open, despite the ENORMOUS prize in the under-2000. Maybe I could do better by playing experts and masters rather than endless A-player piranha?