Seattle City Championship 2020:  A New Beginning
Mary Kuhner at the City Championship. Photo by Valentin Razmov.

Seattle City Championship 2020: A New Beginning

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As I said when I wrote this tournament up last year, no one pays any particular attention to the Seattle Championship; it's just a fancy name for an ordinary weekend Swiss.  For reasons that will become apparent, I'm a bit sorry I said that.

I played in five tournaments between my last blog entry (the Evans Memorial) and this one.  I played very, very badly.  I'm trying to write a post on the anatomy of a slump, but it's grueling to analyze losses, especially blunder-filled ones.  So I'm going to post about the most recent tournament, and keep plugging away at the other article.

This is a two-section Swiss, Open and U1800.  After the Washington Class Championships my rating was just over 1800, so I was in the Open.  On Friday night there were only four of us, and the TD threatened to merge the sections; but as usual, more players appeared for the two-day option (which involves playing a G60 on Saturday morning) and we ended with 10 players in the Open and around 14 in the Reserve.  One of the Reserve players was a bit of an imposter--my coach Valentin Razmov, who was a strong competitor in his youth in Eastern Europe, but hadn't previously competed in the US.  It says something about the modern chess experience that I've been studying with Valentin for years, but had never met him before!

I had almost made a last-minute bye request, as I was tired after work (I have a new job as an after-school chess coach).  But I arrived at the tournament site, my friends were there, excitement was in the air, and I realized I wanted to play.  One expects adult opponents on Friday night, but I was paired with a young player who proved to be a very good tactician.  The game rapidly became exciting enough to justify staying up late on Friday night:

I really enjoyed this game. It's in the style of the attacking games in Chernev's Logical Chess, which my Indian study partner and I are working through--except that modern opponents, even those below master strength, tend to fight back a lot harder than the victims in Chernev's book.

On Saturday I came in after the G60 games had finished, and found myself paired with the #49 13-year-old girl in the US.  The Northwest has a big share of the junior top-50 lists.  I enjoyed this game a great deal too--positional exchange sacrifices are not really part of my repertoire, and it was exciting to try one and have it work.  I was nonplussed, however, when I put it on the engine afterwards....

So I was busted. I couldn't help thinking that my warm feelings about this tournament would not have survived being crushed in the opening by a 1400 player; but hey, it didn't happen.

An interesting aspect of this game is the "lazy bishop" on f8:  my bishops are often lazy but this one is particularly striking, as he managed to contribute positively to the game without ever moving at all!

The round ran somewhat late as LM Viktors Pupols, the top seed, struggled to beat Silas Lainson (1738).  He finally ground him down, which left him to play up-and-comping junior Havish Sripada (1830), and me to play Silas. 

I wandered around a little during this game and saw that Valentin was not having things entirely his own way in the Reserve section.  In fact his game went until well after midnight.  This enabled him to see the pairings, and he emailed me that I would be playing Viktors in the morning.  I spent half an hour Sunday morning playing over our five previous games--two draws and three losses for me--and making a plan.

When I arrived at the tournament I found that Havish had actually drawn Viktors, and the three of us were tied for first.  (There were several 1900 players in the event but upsets were rampant.)  I was cautiously hopeful:  I have had good games against Viktors from time to time, and I thought he might be tired after several marathon games.

Uncle Vik is a national treasure.  He beat Bobby Fischer in 1954, and while time has taken a bit of the edge off his play, is still very dangerous--a visiting IM tried to push him around at the Washington Open a few years back, and got blown off the board in a bizarre gambit line that Viktors probably mastered before the IM was born.  He loves closed positions--since I do too, our games are often ridiculously closed--and complex endgames.

This is only the sixth time in my life I've beaten a master.  (The kids asked me to recite the list, and you bet I can--I remember every one of those games.)  Joey Frantz took me out to dinner and tried to explain to the restaurant-owner, an old friend of my family, why I was so over-excited!

On the second board, right next to us, Havish had White against Silas' Dragon Sicilian.  I thought for a while that Havish had overpressed and lost the thread of his attack.  Then he shoved a pawn into Silas' kingside and I realized that he had everything under control.  It was an alarming game to watch as Havish and I were clearly going to be playing for first place on Sunday evening.

I don't know how old Havish is.  A bit older than he looks, I guess--13? 14?  Our ratings were about equal, and while I like to think of myself as a temporarily inconvenienced 1900 player, youngsters are almost invariably underrated.   Unlike with Uncle Vik, I had no previous experience to go on (it turns out that Havish is from Portland, a long drive from Seattle).  Also I had Black.  It wasn't going to be easy. 

I offered to analyze the game, but Havish had to head back for Portland immediately.  "It's too bad," he said.  "I don't know where I went wrong."  I believe that from a human point of view (never mind what the computer says) it was the plan of playing g4 to attack my kingside.  Before that move, I was just trying to organize my pieces and avoid trouble.  After it, I had a target--White's weaknesses on the g-file and long white diagonal--and it was much easier to find challenging moves.

So this was a spectacular change from how I'd been playing!  The games vs. Silas and Sonia were not altogether convincing, it's true, but any event where you beat a master is a good event, and I haven't won an open Swiss since the 1980's.  The first prize was all of $130, but the morale boost was priceless.

Second place was a tie between Havish and Frank Fagundes, who tempted an over-tired Uncle Vik into an unsound combination in the final round and managed to convert a two-pawn edge. 

Valentin won the Reserve 4.5/5, so the event was quite a sweep for Team Razmov.  I'm not entirely looking forward to his getting a published rating, as we're likely to be in the same section, and he knows my weaknesses all too well.  The kids asked about him between rounds, and I explained that he's my coach.  "Is he better than you?  Can you beat him?"  I told them truthfully that in practically all my games versus Valentin I've been required to explain my reasoning on every move.  For some reason he always wins those!  They were indignant on my behalf.... I'll just have to work on those weaknesses, I guess.

I don't know why this tournament (and to some extent the last one) weren't as dreadful as the four previous.  But I'm really, really happy about it.  I do think starting with a sparkling attacking game helped.

Recent misadventures have dropped my rating so far I may not qualify for the State Championships this year (it's based on the Jan. 1 rating so this event doesn't count).  But if I don't, I can play in the President's Cup, generally a weak event because the top players are always at State.  Having won one Open, I sure wouldn't mind winning another!

I am an adult player trying to make a comeback after 27 years away from competition.  This blog mainly covers my tournaments, with occasional forays into other topics.