The big one got away: Seafair Open 2017
I have a soft spot for the Seafair Open, the biggest Seattle Chess Club tournament of the year, as it was my comeback tournament in 2014. (And it's quite unlikely that I'll do as badly as I did in 2014, where I posted a glorious performance rating in the 1300's.) The tournament does have some issues. It is a one-section open with too many players (around 78 this year), leading to very unequal pairings in the early rounds and the possibility of multiple perfect scores--however, this year there were no perfect scores at all. It strains the Seattle Chess Club's space to the limit, which leads to overheating. And the Club is next to a Thai church, which routinely serenades us every Sunday morning, but this time decided to have music on Saturday evening as well--the first I knew of it was when my pieces started vibrating to the heavy bass line! But it's still a fun event and I was looking forward to playing in it.
Perhaps due to competition with the upcoming Seattle Chess Classic, the top players mostly skipped this one. At the top were FMs Breckenridge and He, and then a handful of masters. There were plenty of lower-rated players, though, bringing the tally to about 78.
I have forsworn G/60, so I had to play a game late Friday night. The unequal pairings started out with me versus an unfamiliar adult. I admit I was nervous, remembering my last few outings versus 1400 players.
So that was an oddly unsatisfying win--we'd just gotten to the fun part!--but it was a win. I went home and gamely tried to sleep, but I was overexcited and overheated and didn't sleep very well. And in the morning a friend gleefully informed me that I was playing the Super Piranha himself, FM Anthony He. There are a few stronger players in Washington--but maybe not for long. At age 12 he's already a State Championship contender, and in Vegas he blitzed his way to equal first with a bunch of GMs. He beat me with some difficulty when he was nine or so, and effortlessly when he was eleven, and certainly it's not getting any easier....
We spoke briefly after the game--it was almost time for the next round!--and Anthony admitted that he simply hadn't seen ...Bb4. I was quite annoyed with myself, of course, but also very impressed with Anthony's play (after the blunder). I feel this is a game that I can learn a great deal from, once I make myself look at it properly.
I need to stop thinking "Oh no! This is the one time Anthony He will ever drop the exchange to me, and I wasted it!" I mean, it's probably true, but it's not at all helpful; strong players will continue to make mistakes versus me, chess being what it is, and the goal has to be to learn to exploit them better.
FM Breckenridge found me in the hall after the game and wanted to talk about specific moves. Apparently he had spent almost as much time watching my game as playing his own. I was following him up to a point and then everything seemed to pop like a soap bubble and I had to apologize and bow out of the conversation. And there was another round to play, yikes! Luckily I had some raspberries and a nut bar in my backpack, because there was no hope of dinner.
My opponent was an unfamiliar adult--provisionally rated, though I didn't know that at the time. I bet he's an Internet player, as he seemed quite experienced. The player sitting next to him assessed the pairings and said to him "You should just resign now," which did not strike me as helpful advice. In fact the game was an interesting study on the question of "How much should you be willing to sell your attack for?" I sold mine for a pawn, and found cashing the pawn in quite difficult.
I went home and ranted at everyone in the household about Anthony--rather, about my own inability to beat Anthony even given odds of the exchange--and didn't sleep well again. I was feeling quite pessimistic about the Sunday games as a result. Joseph Franz, whose rating is close to mine and who had the same score, predicted that we'd be paired up, but in fact we were both paired down, he to Sophie Tien (their sixth game!) and me to Jason Zhang. I knew I'd played him before but luckily had forgotten the game....
I have never won a game on time before. My opponent seemed bemused that I called his flag, but given that he's busted anyway, it seemed only reasonable.
I played the opening horribly. While it's a sign of increased maturity that I asked myself whether the resulting position would be good for me before winning the pawn, I got the answer wrong! At least I realized my error in time to get away with only a bad position rather than an outright losing one (as happened with this opening in my game vs. Aaryan Deshpande in Reno, a $800 mistake....) But after that things went much better for me, though my play in my opponent's time trouble could certainly be criticized.
Joseph and I went out for dinner, which helped clear my head a little. It was inarguable that we'd both be paired up, and when we got back, I found I was playing Luke Xie. He holds the NM title, though I didn't know this at the time as his rating of record was around 2190. I had not played him before and knew nothing about him. Joseph told me to expect ...c5, which turned out to be correct.
Shortly after this game ended, there was a weird scene at the end of the top-board game between Breckenridge and Dereque Kelley. Kelley claimed a repetition draw and got the TD to confirm it, then asked, "Should I press my clock?" The TD said, "Sure, doesn't matter, it's a draw" and Kelley pressed his clock, only to have Breckenridge claim it was no longer a draw as a result. Kelley offered to sit there all night but the assembled crowd shouted this down (it was totally a draw!) and the game ended. Everyone wanted to go home. I believe Breckenridge won the tournament with 4.5/5; Kelley must have tied for second. I will win some money, either a small share of U2000 or a plus-score prize, but I didn't linger to see how much. [Note added later: In fact Breckenridge and Brendan Zhang tied for first-second, and Kelley, Arganian, Addison Lee and Shuhan Du tied for third-sixth.]
Nicholas Whale won two upset prizes in a row, which seems to happen surprisingly often. There's a big literature in sports psychology about whether the "hot hand" is real or just statistical fluctuation. It would be interesting to examine this in chess. Shuhan Du also won one, and was sitting next to me on board 3 for the last round, playing expert David Arganian; they finally drew a very strange game, but another double upset prize looked quite possible for a while. There were a lot of last-round draws--heat and fatigue?
I was mostly happy with my play, though I'd probably feel much less so if I had lost to Jason Zhang, as I fully deserved to. In the last game I was overtired and lacked the will to win, but I feel I played quite well throughout the game, and in the endgame I out-calculated a master. The game with Anthony shows how much more I have to learn about endgames, but the game with Luke at least shows that some progress is being made. It's maybe not very nice, but I also enjoyed watching Luke struggle with, and finally reluctantly accept, the fact that there was no way to win once his king got trapped. He's a much stronger player and it was good for my morale to stymie him so thoroughly.