Oregon Open 2016
Player photos by Victoria Jung-Doknjas, used by permission.
The day after the FIDE Round Robin I caught the train to Portland, Oregon, to spend two days bumming around town with my spouse before the Oregon Open. Having sprained my ankle a few weeks before, I didn't get to do as much as I hoped, but we ate some excellent food and saw a little wildlife.
In last year's Oregon Open I played great for two days and then collapsed on the third--we partly blamed the long commute, so this time we stayed at the tournament hotel.
The tournament was quite large--I think half again as large as last year's--with about 60 players in the top section. Greed suggested playing in the under-2000, which had generous prizes, but I stuck to my resolution to play up. My reward for this was getting paired with the notorious NM Anthony He, Washington State's youngest master (age 11). Our previous game involved my getting a reasonable-looking position and then being eviscerated by a lightning exchange sack. But that was nearly two years ago, which is forever for a prodigy.
On Anthony's request, a picture (from Kings vs. Princes)!
I wasn't too upset by this game--I got through the opening in good form. I wished that I'd sat on my hands at the end, though. Looking at it a few weeks later, I think I suffered from intimidation--I play better if I'm not afraid of my opponent. Time to work on the Tarrasch some more: opening theory can make a big difference in my confidence.
In round 2 I was paired against a local adult. (I was already sitting down to play a local teen when word percolated through the hall that the pairings had been redone....)
My reaction at the time: I wasn't entirely happy with the outcome of this game, but it was a hard and interesting fight, and the draw was a fair outcome. I woke up Sunday morning determined to do better. My reaction a few weeks later: I didn't play very well, missing threats and jumping at shadows. This needed a lot more analysis than it got.
Round 3 was another pairing with a Seattle player, the co-winner of the #2 Round Robin at Kings and Princes. I hadn't played him before, though I'd watched him play occasionally. Definitely a young player on a steep upward trajectory....
Ouch. Anshul played well, but I played really badly. I'd noticed that my knight had no squares, but hadn't taken the issue seriously ("I can always take on c3.") I had not even noticed the easy exploitation of the holes I made in my own queenside. Pretty much a self-inflicted disaster.
My spouse and I went for a recreational light-rail ride and got into a stupid fight, fuelled by my annoyance with the game. (It's not always easy being married to a chessplayer.) I arrived back at the hotel in a foul mood, overtired, and pessimistic. However, I was amused by the pairing. At the FIDE RR I had been scheduled to play Karthik Shaji, but he escaped by withdrawing on the final day. Apparently even leaving the state was not enough to save him from having to play me!
This game was memorable for its opening. I play versions of the Alapin Sicilian quite often: usually they either retain their own character or turn into an Advance French. But this one managed to become a King's Indian Defense, a weird mutation of a 1. e4 opening into a 1. d4 opening. I have never played the KID from either side, but I've watched a few videos analyzing GM Nakamura's KID games. Game-analysis videos always struck me as mainly for fun, not study, but they turned out to be HUGELY helpful here--I knew how Nakamura tends to win these, and that I had to do something pronto before it happened to me.
After the game I looked at _Chess Structures_ and found this is a KID Type 1, with the c-file open, and that exploiting the c-file is the recommended White strategy. So my assessment of the position was pretty decent.
Not too bad for grumpy and overtired! It would have been better to see that Bf8 was hitting my queen, but I found an adequate response. It was in any case an exciting game with a real clash of plans. And I couldn't help being happy that I'd beaten Karthik, thereby showing that I could have beaten him at the FIDE RR and that Uncle Vik really should have paid me my quarter.
A side story:
Two years after I got my PhD I spent a whole summer working on a piece of research software that did not give the right answers. In September I walked into the office of my boss, a very senior scientist and a big name in our field, and said, "There is a huge theory error in your last paper, and that's why my software doesn't work. It's not a bug."
He said, "Twenty-five cents says you're wrong" and handed me a piece of chalk.
Two hours later I'd managed to go from an intuitive idea of what was wrong to a proof. He handed me a quarter and said, "Next time hold out for a dollar, because you can't make me sign a quarter. --We'll have to publish a new paper explaining the flaw in the previous one." I have a framed quarter (not that one, unfortunately, but a quarter won in the same way by one of my own students) on the wall in my lab, because this was such a turning point for me as a young scientist: I was right and the big-name guy was wrong, and I could prove it. (Kudos to him for taking it so well, too.)
So that's probably why Uncle Vik's quarter irks me all out of proportion to its value!
Monday I was determined to try to continue playing well, and I felt a bit more rested. When I set up my board my opponent was nowhere to be seen. Ten minutes, still nothing. I went outside to chat with a spectator who eventually said, "Do you know your opponent by sight?"
"No, I hardly know anyone by sight, and I've never played him."
"Then for heaven's sake get in there and check for him! Your clock might be running!"
It was, in fact. Fifteen minutes off his clock and seven off mine. I thought this small difference was unlikely to matter; I was SO wrong....
So that was a win, and while he mainly lost due to the clock, I did manage to set an Expert such difficult problems that he couldn't solve them in time. Unfortunately, while during the game I felt I was winning the endgame, Stockfish disagrees, so it's a good thing he was low on time.... Probably a draw. My threats against his king aren't actually superior to his against mine.
The thing that stands out for me in this game is how hard it is to cope when your opponent unexpectedly takes 45 minutes on one move. Toward the end, when he was under 10 minutes on his clock, I really didn't want to leave the area. But I just couldn't spend any more time looking at a position where it wasn't my move! I watched the adjacent game (a glorious mating attack) and also wasted a lot of energy calculating and re-calculating the forced drawing line. I did not actually succeed in predicting my opponent's move, even with 45 minutes to work on it.... Botvinnik said that you should do strategy on your opponent's clock and calculation on your own, but the position was too tactical to do much with long-term strategy.
In the final round I was paired up again, which was what I wanted when I signed up for the Open, but I was pretty tired.
This game doesn't look like much because of the early draw just when it was heating up. But it's fascinating to me for several reasons. First, in post-mortem it was clear that my opponent knew this opening well--he showed a number of cute traps and alternative lines. I was out of book, just trying to play sensible moves. But he was the one who ended up with his knight on a8 and short of time.... I am not sure how that happened, other than that perhaps his knowledge was too much variations and not enough principles. Also I am getting more comfortable with the Alapin center and how to maintain it. I take a while to warm up to an opening, but I do play better when I'm familiar with my pawn structure. (Except when I don't--I've had two catastrophic Stonewall failures recently where I really should have known better....)
Second, it's the best success I've had with the "fantasy positions" approach Silman describes in _Reassess Your Chess_. When Black declined my draw offer I realized I was about to drift into a bad position, and I did a very thorough search for an active plan. And I found one! If only I had done that search a little earlier (so as to play Rc3 in one move rather than two) and had remembered to avoid the rook exchange, I think I might well have won the game.
In many respects my play must obviously be worse now than in 1987 because my rating is much lower (1950 vs. 2170). But I feel as though I might be improving my planning ability over what I had then. I've always been more of a calculator than a planner, and obviously that strategy hits an upper ceiling eventually where your opponent is also a good calculator and outplans you. Here I managed to turn the tables and outplan an Expert, or nearly so. It's encouraging!
Wish I knew why I forgot to avoid the rook trade, though. Well, I do know: fatigue. As I am not getting any younger I need to work on playing well when tired and/or conserving energy during the games. The 45 minute think during round 5 could have been a break, but instead it was exhausting, not to mention the time scramble afterwards.
A weird tournament. I was 0.5/2 vs. B players and 1.5/2 vs. Experts. As it happens, the rating system doesn't care which result was against which player--only the final score counts--and I managed to play six games and have a net rating change of ZERO. Stuck, very stuck. But the sixth game gives me hope of getting unstuck in the near future, which could possibly start with the Washington Womens' Championship September 17-18. I will likely be the third seed behind WFM Chouchanik Airapetian and WCM Naomi Bashkansky, both Experts--tough pairings, both of them, but I have to try my best.