National Open 2017
Having just finished 5 rounds of the Women's Open, I walked into the playing hall for the National Open and was flabbergasted. I vaguely remember playing in a good-sized US Open around 1980, but I still felt I'd never seen so many chessplayers in one place. (Once the two-day schedule was folded in, there were over 600 of us.)
There was some buzz around the start of the tournament concerning the previous evening's blitz event (which had overlapped with the awards ceremony for the Women's Open--by the end of the ceremony the women and supporters were vastly outnumbered by anxious blitz players). It turned out that Anthony He had played in the Open section and ended up in a six-way tie for first place with 10/14, alongside GMs Nyzhnyk, Petrosian, and Jiminez, IM Gordievskiy, and FM Schmakel. He went 3/4 vs. IMs and 3/6 vs. GMs--GM Nyzhnyk was the only one who seemed able to handle him. Not half bad for a twelve-year-old. The tournament bulletin authors loved Anthony, and several of his games were featured there.
I was playing in the U2100 section. I know there was at least one other Seattle player (Addison Lee) in it, but the scene was so vast and confusing that I literally never saw him. I did see Josh Grabinksy from Oregon, and several familiar faces in the other sections.
My first-round opponent was an adult Expert. He seemed distressed to see a Dutch, which was good for my morale. Perhaps too good, as I ventured an over-optimistic attack....
I was upset to have missed the win after making such a fine comeback from being positionally busted; also not too happy to have been busted in the first place. I resolved to try to play more soundly, though probably Younger Self in the back of my head was insisting "or at least more accurately!"
In round 2 I was paired with a young woman Expert, one of the highest-rated players in the section. I would have guessed her age at 18-20, but USCF says she's one of the top 15-year-olds in the country.
After the game we went out and prowled the Strip. Even after sunset it was furiously hot. Some outdoors shopping arcades had lamp-like devices constantly spraying a fine mist of water overhead. At the cheaper southern end of the strip, some of these devices weren't working so well, and just sputtered water in our faces as we went by. We saw the artificial volcano at the Mirage (a strange mix of simulated fire and real fire--I thought the real fire spoiled the illusion) and managed to find some semi-affordable food. We passed up many offers to have our picture taken with scantily clad showgirls and showboys, and dodged one set of doomsday preachers and innumerable attempts to sell us timeshares.
In the next day's bulletin we learned that Anthony had drawn a GM, "apparently without effort" as the bulletin said. I found I'd caught a piranha of my very own, a small Asian boy who was quite late to the round, but seemed utterly unconcerned--and no wonder, as he soon made up the time difference.
That was a frustrating loss: I never felt I had anything but a hard scrabble for a draw, and in the end couldn't even manage that. I tried to put it out of my mind and regroup for the evening.
The two-day schedule merged with the three-day for round 4, so my fourth-round opponent, I learned, had already played three games that day and lost two of them. He told me after the game that he had lost due to superior opening preparation on his opponents' part (much like my third-round game, perhaps) and so used his blitz-only side line against me. It was my turn to be startled by an opening....
Despite the unsatisfactory outcome, I thoroughly enjoyed this game. I love the Winawer: it tends to produce ridiculously tactical positions with a strange personality all their own. (Also I beat a master with it last month. It's very much the same reason why I love to play Austria in Diplomacy; I have won a solo game from there, and I enjoy the Austrian position, difficult though it usually becomes.)
The post-mortem was a little depressing, though, as my opponent told me all the reasons he ought to have lost....
Another night prowling the Strip--we almost reached the Luxor Pyramid, which I wanted to see, but it was just too hot. My coach's advice to avoid trying to sleep immediately after rounds did seem good: I didn't sleep too poorly. I was still fairly tired going into round 5, though. In the bulletin I found that Anthony had finally met a bigger piranha than himself (GM Ruifeng Li) and found himself on the wrong end of a brilliancy....
I was paired against an older player who also seemed somewhat tired. We had a friendly chat before the round and then went at it.
I was fairly pleased with this game despite the highly over-optimistic opening (seriously, why did I think that would work?) The position reminds me of the game I played in Reno where IM Donaldson outlined a better plan of attack--I tried an analogous plan, and it worked beautifully. Also, it was the last day of the tournament and I apparently wasn't brain dead. Yet.
We went out for lunch, and finally saw the Luxor (it's very weird inside--why is there a giant medieval miniature cityscape inside an Egyptian pyramid?), and got badly overheated. Then came the last round, and another piranha.
A terrible game, which I was quite lucky to draw--though so was my opponent, so maybe it was a fair outcome. Exhaustion? Overheating? Maybe. I had a very hard time dealing with how quickly he played. I am not a quick player anymore, and I compensate by calculating on my opponent's clock, but here he gave me no chance to do so. And I was out of my opening theory again, which didn't help. (The only Seattle player who regularly plays Larsen's Opening transposes to the Bird, which I know well enough.)
I lost about 11 rating points, which is nothing really; and two of the games were good fighting losses that could have gone either way. But I have to say, I didn't come away from Vegas feeling like a winner.
Other local players had various triumphs and setbacks. Anthony ended with a respectable 3/6 in the Open. Badamkhand lost, she said, a winning position in the last round to end 3/6 in the U2300. Nick Raptis was on the top boards quite a bit and drew a GM, ending with 3.5/6 in the Open. My mixed-doubles partner Brian deSousa had 2/6 in U2300--our team was far out of the running, but at least I got to meet him, and several other Internet friends. (We had a vigorous analysis session/argument over his last-round game with another Internet friend, David Milliern.) Josh Grabinsky tied for 3rd-6th in my section with 5/6 (behind Peter Walsh, who I don't know, but who had a blistering tournament with 6/6). But the big NW success story was Joseph Levine, who won U1800 with 5.5/6 and also won the Teddy prize for providing the best of the games submitted to GM Christianson by players under 14. He is not likely to be playing in any more U1800 tournaments.
Many other NW players were scattered through the various sections and events, but I never even saw most of them. The Velea sisters were there to play in the Junior International. I went to watch them, but found that the TD had tenderly roped off the playing area at such distance that you needed binoculars to identify the players, much less see their games. (I am not kidding. I knew all three Velea sisters were in there but could not see any of them--the closest boards were about 25 feet from the rope and they went back from there.) I hear that the Seattle teams did well in the team aspect of that event--no surprise.
I doubt I will be going back to Vegas any time soon. I felt more at home in Reno--it's a scungy little city but it reminds me oddly of my hometown (Anchorage, Alaska) and it's much less expensive. Vegas was...Vegas was like Disneyland trying way too hard to be "adult," and with an ugly edge of exploitation and greed just under the surface. On our first day there someone got involved in a friendly chat with me and I didn't realize quickly enough that I was being love-bombed (and then bribed) into a ninety minute timeshare hard-sell. I did figure it out before agreeing to attend the hard-sell--they offered me $100 cash before I finally walked away--but it left me feeling unclean.
My rating's back at its stuck point, around 1960. I am just not playing consistently enough to be an Expert. I can certainly beat Experts--the game vs. Julia Savilla was nice. I can even beat masters, though I didn't pull off the trick in Vegas (admittedly I had only one try). But I lose too many games, for a wide variety of reasons--opening deficiencies, strategic deficiencies, tactical oversights. I badly want to be an Expert--probably to a degree that is not actually good for me--but I don't know what to do beyond what I'm doing. Try to rein in the rash attacks a bit. Calculate accurately. Work on my Dutch. (Of course if I do that I'll see nothing but the French next tournament....) Get more sleep. Perhaps most important, cultivate a sense of enjoyment, because it's not going to get any easier, and if it stops being fun...well, time to do something else.
I need to write a grant application for the National Science Foundation in the next two weeks; if I do, I can play in the Seafair Open. If I am *very* productive I can play in the Seattle Classic as well, but it's hard to give up so many work days. And then there's the Oregon Open, for which I already have train tickets (left over from an earlier change of plans). Just about thirty years ago I gave up tournament chess for science. Now I'm trying to do both; sometimes it's like trying to walk two big dogs at once.