NW Chess Open:  Start with a whimper, end with a bang

NW Chess Open: Start with a whimper, end with a bang

WCM mkkuhner

For most of a month I was the highest-rated person signed up for this tournament, as it shared its first day (and tournament site) with an Expert/Master event that siphoned off the strong players.  Just a few days before the event, FM Nick Raptis showed up on the list; also on the list for the Expert/Master event.  Was he planning to play in both of them?

He was!  I couldn't help thinking this was someone's big chance--maybe mine?--to beat a 2400 player.  It was a pretty fast time control--40/90, SD/30, no delay--meaning Nick would have to play both games somewhat briskly....

But first things first, meaning that as third seed (Expert Jerry Sherrard was also playing in both events) I was paired against a low-rated kid.

Well, ouch.  Not the way one wants to start a tournament.  (Though it is nice to see Black's side of the Tarrasch score such a dynamic victory.)  I thought about withdrawing, but the rating loss would be painful, and despite having played quite badly I did still feel like playing.  Also I don't think I've ever withdrawn from a tournament in my life:  certainly not since my comeback.
I did some math and realized that to salvage my rating I should either (a) win the remaining four games or (b) beat Nick.  And that I'd better win several games or I'd never get to play Nick, who had handily won his first-round game.
My second-round opponent was James Wade, whom I remembered vividly from my first comeback tournament, when I was listed as 2100 but playing like 1300.  I got a bad position against him and then played a quasi-perpetual; he could have escaped, but my rating cowed him.
During the game my opponent appeared very nervous.  It was interesting to hear from him afterwards that he found playing me relatively relaxing (low expectations) and as a result felt he played better than usual.  He certainly didn't seem like an 1100 player to me (as I told him, somewhat indignantly).  Perhaps if he could approach other games in that fashion he could get the results his skill deserves.
After my game I looked at Nick's, where Andreas Farny (1690) was trying to hold a pawn-down rook endgame.  When I came back from dinner I found Nick eating fast food, and asked him if he'd won it; he had not!  (He had been playing Bryce Tiglon at the same time, and had drawn him too.)  In fact the crosstable showed general devastation, with the perfect scores starting at 8th seed Joseph Franz and going down from there.  I felt a bit better learning that I wasn't the only one having trouble with the lower-rated players.
I don't really like playing three rounds in one day, but I don't really like taking byes either, so I found myself with yet another young,  low-rated opponent.
Still not a convincing win in the bunch.  Maybe Sunday would be a new day?  Too bad that Nick and Jerry would be done with their simultaneous exhibitions and able to concentrate, though....
I was paired with an adult whom I remembered from a previous event:  he'd played much too fast and given me a dream attack in the Dutch.  I was Black again and hoped for a repeat.
Continuing the theme:  not a convincing win, but a win.  There was something not quite right happening with my assessment of positions, and probably my sense of danger as well.
There's a concept called the Swiss Gambit where you take a draw or even a loss early in a Swiss tournament so as to get easier pairings the rest of the way.  I won my first Open (back in the 1980's) just that way.  My unwilling Swiss Gambit meant that Joseph Franz had to play Nick, and I was paired with Robin Tu instead.  I had beaten Robin in our last outing (and won a brilliancy prize for it, though it was not a flawless game by any means) and sensed he was not very happy about the pairing. 
Unfortunately for Joseph, a relatively undistracted Nick Raptis made short work of him, winning the tournament with 4.5/5.  Eric Zhang, Joseph and I tied for first and U2000, winning $80 each.  The photo above shows me, Joseph, and tournament organizer Duane Polisch, and was taken by Josh Sinanan.
Lessons from this?
Learn the  French, or suffer debacles!  (But I knew that already.)
I thought the fast time control would be a problem, but I was actually pleased with my clock handling.  I used most of my time almost every game, but not too much (I think the worst was reaching the first time control with 4 minutes to spare).
Easy wins against low-rated players seem to be a myth.  It's comforting that other strong players (Nick, Jerry, Eric) found this to be the case as well.  Conversely, Joseph told me that all four of his wins came from opponents simply dropping material to him.  I guess it's mainly a reminder that rating isn't everything--no matter the rating difference, sometimes things just happen.  (Bad things, usually; for every game won brilliantly by the lower-rated player I think there are several lost feebly by the higher-rated one....)
I have finished my University teaching for the academic year.  Hopefully I can have a bit more energy and focus for chess:  in particular, for the State Championship, if I can manage to get into it.  Last year a mid-1800 rating was enough, but the competition hereabouts is ferocious, and just getting more so.
The bright note of the tournament for me was the endgame vs. Robin Tu.  It is the second even-material B vs N endgame I've been able to win recently.  While my general studies are sketchy at best, I have in fact learned something from all those endgame puzzles and books.  I felt I knew how to win this ending, and I actually did!   I'm particularly proud that I correctly identified Robin's drawing trap and managed to avoid it.
A curiosity:  on Sunday I managed to queen FOUR pawns.  How often does that happen?