Sentenced to Chess:  Seattle Classic 2018
GM Tarjan vs. Jason Yu, Seattle Chess Classic. All images in this post courtesy of the Washington Chess Federation.

Sentenced to Chess: Seattle Classic 2018

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A nine round tournament.  Why do we do this to ourselves?  Playing for five days straight is exhausting, keeping in playing form becomes a real struggle -- I don't know why I love this format, but I do.

This iteration was graced by the presence of GM Jim Tarjan, who took an even longer break from competition than I did -- thirty years! -- but has come back with a bang, including a win vs. Vladimir Kramnik at the Isle of Man.  It was tempting to play in the Open so as to have a chance to play him, but lately I have not felt all that brave or hardy, and also I hoped to win the Reserve.

This tournament had a lot of interesting side prizes:  best senior, best woman, and a daily best dressed for men, women, and juniors.  There is a theory that chess will be more popular if its players appear less geeky.  I think this is a pipe dream, personally, but I dressed up anyway, as did the other women; generally speaking the men just wore what they usually did.  Here's a group photo of the Reserve which shows what I mean:

Reserve section, Seattle Classic

In round 1 I faced Alex Kaelin, a B-player who I'd beaten once previously in a sudden, violent attack.  I had the impression he was afraid of me, which is always a difficult situation.  In the end this game was quite similar to the previous one:  complications suddenly resolving in a lethal attack for me.

Assistant TD Jacob Mayer was effectively directing the tournament, as TD Fred Kleist had unexpected health issues.  This left him visibly stressed, but our game was still quite interesting, up until its ungodly end....

Jacob Mayer

I was naturally quite annoyed with myself over the blunder, but at least I didn't lose.... "Seeing your opponent's threats" was the GMs' diagnosis of my biggest weakness back at summer camp, and this tournament definitely fit that pattern.  (This would turn out to be the first of TWO rooks I'd lose to a bishop fork.)

In the next two rounds I played the two younger Velea sisters (the eldest was in the Open).  I have a great lifetime record against Sophie and Stephanie that does not reflect how hard the games actually are, and this tournament was no exception:  Sophie definitely should have beaten me.

Score one up for dogged tenacity and a strong desire to give mate.  If Sophie had been looking for mate herself, I think she'd have found it.

Stephanie was not as successful this time:

Despite the draw with Jacob I was feeling pretty good about my chances.  I've never seen a 9-0 in one of these long events anyway.  But for my next game I had to face #1 seed Vignesh Anand.  I always enjoy playing Vignesh: we're both very aggressive players, and that means fireworks.  But feeling that I had to beat him was stressful.  He's certainly as good as I am, and kids improve fast.

This time I got into bad trouble:  I was constantly trying to make the freeing move ...e5 but could never quite do it.

Vignesh Anand

An instructive game.  Clearly Vignesh felt he deserved that pawn after so many moves coordinating his attack against it -- and he did! -- but just at the point where he could take it, he fell into a trap.  This is often the case.  The moment when you're finally cashing in your positional advantages for material advantage is a blunder hotspot that bears particularly careful examination.

I had to take a half-point bye in the next round for family reasons.  This was probably a blessing, giving me a nice break.  I was definitely thinking I could win the tournament.  My next opponent was Advaith Vijayakumar, who had beaten me once before as Black in a French Defense.  I decided I did not want to see another French, so played Bird's Opening instead.  It turned out to be the game of the event for me -- insanely complex and double-edged.  It is also the reason this blog post is so late -- writing adequate notes for this one stalled me completely.  It's the kind of game where the computer evaluation, which bounces back and forth like a rubber ball, is more a distraction than a help.

I was now in clear first with two rounds to go, and I'd already played my top opponents.  But I had to face Jefffrey Yan, who despite his slightly lower rating has been formidable.  He tied for first with Jacob Mayer in a previous nine-round event because, despite losing to Jacob, he was more consistent against the lower-rated players.  Based on this I will speculate that he manages his energy better over long events than I do.

How can I drop two rooks the same way in one tournament?!  Interestingly, Josh Sinanan's writeup of the event for Northwest Chess described this as a daring but unsuccessful exchange sack.  That's a courteous way to put it, but I was there and I can say with certainty that it was 100% blunder.

In the meantime, the Open section had generated a lot of drama.  Jason Yu held GM Tarjan to a draw, a truly excellent way to reach NM.  The tournament lead bounced around wildly:  Viktors Pupols held it for a round, having also drawn Tarjan, and then expert Joseph Truelson got to enjoy the sole lead for a round!  Tarjan didn't seem too worried, though.  He seems generally inclined to wait for opportunities rather than trying to force matters, like a spider hanging in its web.

I knew that given my loss to Jeffrey, if Vignesh could manage to win he'd win the tournament regardless of what I did.  I had actually used up all the top opponents -- this is what happens when you play 9 rounds with only 27 players -- and was paired against an unfamiliar Canadian player.  I was tired and somewhat disgusted with myself, and did not play accurately as a result.  But it ended with a gratifying bang.

Unfortunately for me, Vignesh was also out of top opponents, and beat Hannigan Pitre in a nice game to take clear first.  However, my second-place tie with Jeffrey Yan made me Best Woman and Best Senior, and I actually ended up with more money than Vignesh!  I also won a Best Dressed prize, probably for the dress shown in the group photo, though the prize check (which arrived in the mail unexpectedly several weeks later) didn't specify.

In the Open section, the spider hanging in his web triumphed in the end:  GM Tarjan won the event with a score of 7/9.  He gave up draws to Jason and Viktors,  took two half-point byes, and won all of his other games.  Joseph Truelson and Steve Breckenridge shared second.  Tarjan's prize was sweetened by winning Best Senior, while Anne-Marie Velea was a shoo-in for Best Woman as she was the only woman!  Here's the Open Section:

Open section, Seattle Classic

This was a really fun tournament.  It's cool being at the top -- you can feel really capable, at least until you drop a rook.  The lengthy format lets you get to know the other players, and we had some great discussions in the skittles room.  I wish, though, that I had time to study properly:  that might tame the tactical blunders, and it certainly couldn't hurt to know my openings a bit better.  I don't want to wait until I retire,  but it's hard to find the time and energy to study with my current life situation.  Perhaps that's why the nine-round format is so attractive after all -- it's a taste of what being a serious chessplayer would be like, before I have to go back to the realities of my life.

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.