Over-excited about the Seattle Chess Classic
When I first saw the announcements for the Seattle Chess Classic I was far from sold on the idea: a nine-round tournament (minimum of two days off work) with a $200 entry fee seemed overblown. Early registration, helpfully tracked by the NWC online registration site, was fairly slow. But in a moment of weakness I signed up for it anyway.
An odd detail about this tournament is that the generous prize funds for each section are based on 40 players, but overall registration is capped at 80. This pretty much guarantees that one of the sections will not pay its full prizes. Anyone familiar with the behavior of Northwest players will know which section that is.... On Sunday evening before the tournament, the Open section had 53 players and the Reserve had 15. (I am assuming that two very similar entries are the same person; if not, the Open had 54.) Fourteen of the rated players in the Open could have played in the Reserve if they'd wanted--but local players are nothing if not ambitious.
I have not heard the organizers talk about this tournament, but from its structure I suspect it's an attempt to develop a NW tournament capable of yielding FIDE title norms. It's not there yet, with one IM and one WIM, but I could see this happening in a few years. A larger venue than the Seattle Chess Club will be essential. I'd expected the five-day format to discourage many players, and perhaps it did, but 68 is an impressive debut.
Embedded in that Open is a pretty amazing women's tournament. Nearly a quarter of the players are female, starting with WIM Megan Lee. She is the top-rated woman in Washington State but seldom plays here (I think she is away at college) and I've never met her. We also attracted Saikhanchimeg Tsogtsaikhan, who I met at the US Women's Open--the only player to give IM Paikidze a real run for her money--and her countrywoman Badamkhand Norovsambuu, the current Washington Women's Champion. Then there's WFM Naomi Bashkansky, the U13 World Scholastic Girls' Champion. I am apparently condemned to play Black against Naomi until I get it right...at least I managed a draw last time.
Phiona Mutesi, on whose story Queen of Katwe is based, is in the Nortwest to attend school and will be playing, as will her countryman Benjamin Mukumbya, who has made quite a splash in recent Northwest events.
Watch out for the three Velea sisters: the younger two are both WCMs now due to excellent results in continental youth events, but the oldest is still the strongest. I have played the middle sister, Stephanie, just once, and the other two not at all, because up until this year they tended to play in Reserve sections. Not any more! It's fun to see the young women gain confidence.
The field is rounded out by an adult newcomer, Yelizaveta Orlova, with a rating very close to mine; and two more piranhas, Sophie Tien and WCM Minda Chen. Minda attracted a lot of attention at the Washington Open with a beautiful "mad rook" drawing combination, for which she sacrificed her queen. And Sophie beat WFM Chouchanik Airapetian last year in a game where both players were attacking furiously on the kingside at the same time. Considering that such positions play to Chouchanik's strengths, it was an impressive win.
There are some male players of note, too. WA co-Champion Roland Feng has the high rating in the event, but should get some competition from IM Ray Kaufman and a nice assortment of masters. The Doknjas brothers and Tanraj Sohal from Canada will be there, and our local He twins, and the always exciting FM Ignacio Perez. FM Steve Breckenridge is coming off a string of recent victories including tied first at Seafair and clear first in Vancouver. We'll have a good selection of Zhangs as well, including Derek, Brendan (the Seafair co-winner), and Eric. I managed to beat Derek in our last outing but it won't be easy to do so twice; Brendan and I have drawn some very tough games; and Eric is one of the most alarming young players around.
It feels to me as though this tournament will be all about lower-rated players looking for chances to upset higher-rated ones. I'd like to beat another master, the WA Open having whetted my appetite. But there are a lot of ambitious B and C players itching for a shot at me--I have a FIDE rating, making me doubly attractive!
I am overexcited and more than a little nervous. I hope that we can avoid any more weather of the kind we've had for the last two weeks, where Seattle was blanketed in overheated smoke from Canadian forest fires. And I hope I can put aside ambition (I really want to be an Expert) and anxiety (those 1700 and 1800 players are awfully strong) well enough to play some good chess.
There's a $250 prize for Best Woman in the Open, but the competition will be ridiculously tough. I don't know the ages of some of the adult players, but I might have a better shot at Best Senior (over 50). And the U2000 prizes are substantial: 1st $500, 2nd $350. Of course, prizes other than first place in a Swiss System tournament are very chancy--you can have a great tournament and win nothing, as I did at the WA Open.
Anyway, here we go!