Oregon Open: Ups and Downs

WCM mkkuhner
Sep 13, 2015, 6:51 PM |

I decided to plow my Washington Open winnings into playing in the Oregon Open, a 6 round Swiss with a FIDE-rated top section.  I became somewhat distracted by the realization that if I could play a few FIDE-rated games without unduly disturbing my 27-year-old FIDE rating, I'd be a WCM.  Which is not a very meaningful title, to be honest, but still--a FIDE title!  

(I wasn't a WCM in 1987 because the title didn't exist; in fact FIDE ratings as low as mine weren't even published, so I only found out I had one in 2014 when it surfaced unexpectedly as the basis for my new USCF provisional rating.)

The tournament hotel was full of Hash House Harriers, who seem devoted to some sport involving running, kilts, and beer.  We stayed about 5 miles away on the Tri-Met line, which meant we didn't have to deal with the Harriers (they were loud at night) but also that I was up far too late the second day of the tournament.

But first things first, that being another Poisoned Pawn game with Bill Schill:

I thought to myself after this one, I REALLY have to get more serious about openings.  Since the last game he'd studied this line and prepared an improvement, and even though I lost the last one and should be the one worrying about it, I'd done nothing.

Round 2 really underscored the need to study openings:

Okay, a win, but not a very convincing one in many respects!

Round 3 was a strange echo of round 1, with the same opening.  I thought at the time that the Big Guys were ganging up on me, but it turned out in postmortems that Cigan was not aware of my games with Schill--though they do own the same set of books on the French.

This was an enormously satisfying win.  It was almost equally satisfying to have my opponent say, "I heard you were higher rated in the past, right?  I thought so.  I didn't feel I was sitting across from a 1900 player."

From triumph to near-tragedy, with a helping of farce: just as game 3 looked a lot like game 1, this one ended up looking amazingly like game 2.

Okay, this game I cannot blame on the opening--I knew it better than my opponent.  But I was wildly outplayed after that--what game 2 would have looked like if my opponent were just a hair stronger.  I was lucky to get the draw.

I was also totally wired after 1.5/2 versus 2100 players, and the emotional rollercoasters of both games.  We didn't get back to the hotel until nearly midnight, and had to get up by 7 to get breakfast and get back to the tournament.  During the morning rush I checked my Online Chess games.  Hm, I'd planned to play Kd7 in this game, but why not Kd8?  They seem about the same.  Um.  Except for mate in four after Kd8.  I found that out when I reached the tournament hall.  Not a good omen for the game. 

This one is short and brutal:

Ugh.  Something had gone very wrong with my play:  the analysis error that led to the sacrifice was bad enough, but instantly taking it was a terrible failure of self-discipline.  I lost a game the same way a few tournaments back.  It's the shock of an unexpected sack, but I should know better.

But still, 1.5/3 versus Experts, not bad.  Only, I had an impending sense of doom--I was tired, I didn't really want to be playing, my husband was muttering that I should've taken a bye, and there was another round to play.

I turned out to be paired against Joshua Grabinsky, whom I'd been sitting next to on and off all tournament:  a formidable young player (I don't know his age, maybe 12?  [I looked it up:  he's 11]).  I played the Albin-Chatard-Alekhine Gambit again; he duly declined it; I put a knight on d4 and he put one on c5.  I kept thinking I was supposed to have an advantage, but I didn't.  I kept trying to sack a knight on the kingside, but he wouldn't let me.  Then I put the knight on b5 as part of a plan to transfer it forward, and he won it.

He played very fast after that, maybe too fast.  I could have slowed down and tried to find an out.  The previous day's draw shows what can be accomplished in such a situation.  But I was tired to the bone, and demoralized.  I kept playing fast and I got nothing.  He eventually queened his d-pawn.

So the Oregon Open could have been a huge success for me if only I'd stayed in bed Monday morning.  On the other hand, while I played badly both Monday games were good learning experiences (though it is hard to bring myself to look at them, to be honest).  And nothing can take away my pleasure in the game with Cigan, which wasn't just a win, it was a delightful win in entirely Mary-like style (including probably having been lost at some point, but that's part of the package).

Openings.  I was involved in high-level theoretical debates on the French and I just wasn't up to it.  I want to say "amateur" but all of us are amateurs in events like these--still, there was a qualitative difference between my preparation and that of most of my opponents (except Bjorksten, and that just seemed like a random stroke of luck).

My husband and I made a study plan and I am now slowly collating games in each of my openings, preparatory to trying to improve them.

Will I be a WCM?  Don't know yet.  I'm not sure I should be pursuing a title that my current play can't live up to, anyway.  What I am reasonably able to pursue is USCF 2000.  It felt more attainable this tournament than ever before, despite the disaster on Monday.

One way in which I've improved since 1987 is that I'm not too afraid of high-rated players anymore:  in particular I wasn't afraid of Cigan, which helped immensely.  I remember playing Anna Akhscharumova in the US Womens' and being so intimidated (she was leading the tournament 7-0 or 8-0 by that point, admittedly) that I couldn't even try for activity, and lost passively.

Onward, hopefully with added sleep during events!