The Long March:  Seattle Chess Classic 2017, part 1

The Long March: Seattle Chess Classic 2017, part 1

WCM mkkuhner
Sep 5, 2017, 11:25 AM |

Eclipse image by Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel.  Tournament images by Victoria Jung-Doknjas.

A nine round tournament is like working overtime or having a debilitating illness!  I had thought I'd do various things, like mail a parcel to my son, catch up on some stuff from work, exercise a bit...but instead I walked back and forth from the bus/mall to the Club, played a little Minecraft, and otherwise did nothing but chess for four and a half days.

I had known for some time, from compulsive examination of the registration page, that I would probably be right at the median and would be paired very high.  I wasn't disappointed.  FM Roland Feng is the State Co-Champion and the second-highest rated player in the state.  He's also, I believe, about to enter eleventh grade; he won his first State Championship when he was 14.  I had studied some of his games, but had never played him.  We both play the French Defense, but handle it in dissimilar ways:  he is a much more patient, positional kind of player. 

This is a detail from the tournament-start group photo.  As a friend commented, my expression says it all:


Roland is usually a very reserved person, but we went out and he showed this game to Josh Sinanan, and he was quietly ebullient over it.  "I don't think I made a single wrong move," he said, and, "It's even better than the game I played against the Japanese IM."  I have to agree.  The final sacrifice is very pretty; the elegant way he gathered up all the prerequisites, not a move wasted, no counterplay allowed, impressed me just as much.

On Sunday, when I was tired to the point of running at the mouth, I said to Roland, "I confess I thought of you as kind of a boring player; but after that game I admit I was wrong."  He just grinned.

I slept about seven hours and showed up for the next game.  The Classic had an amazing collection of women players; I hoped to play several, and wasn't disappointed.  This time I had WCM Sophie Velea, the youngest of the three Velea sisters, whom I had not played before.

That was a pretty tough game, considering the rating difference.  My problems likely came from "hope chess."  I resolved to do better in my next game.  I'd thought I would be paired up, and was somewhat taken aback to find that I was playing Brian Raffel.  Counting this game I have now played Brian 6 times, more than I've played anyone else since my comeback.  The rating difference is so large that this seems bizarre, though Brian's practice of always playing in the Open section does bring us together more often.

I drew my first game with Brian, three years ago, and had a bad time in the second before finally winning.  Since then I have tried to play more carefully.  One disturbing aspect of this game was that he coughed and sniffled throughout it.  I made sure to wash my hands frequently, and broke FIDE rules by refusing to shake his hand; I hope I don't catch whatever it was he had.

One sensation of the third round was Jacob Mayer's game in the Reserve, where he played a classical two-rook sacrifice out of the opening.  Spectators did not think it was sound (nor does Stockfish, Jacob says) but in a practical sense Black's position was very tough to play.  When I saw it, Jacob had managed to regain two pieces for his rooks, Black's queen and king were both shut up in boxes, and Jacob won shortly.  At this point he had beaten all other 1700+ players in the Reserve and would evidently be paired way down every game until the end of the tournament.

Another sensation was that in an Open tournament with an IM and many FMs, Expert Brendan Zhang was in sole first place after three rounds.  (Roland had taken a half-point bye, and several key games were drawn.)  I asked him how it felt to have a target painted on him....

I slept another six hours, barely.  I am beginning to think that the difference between high 1900's and low 2000's may involve finding a way to sleep during tournaments.  My coach says that it's essential to do something non-chessic to unwind, rather than going straight to bed.  My husband and I decided to watch the Great British Baking Show (a reality-TV show about competitive baking), which seemed like a good plan until this happened:


Sometimes you just can't get away from chess.

A friend texted me in the morning that I would be playing Vikram Ramasamy.  I did a quick perusal of our previous games, which were almost all in the French Tarrasch, and looked up a few lines in Play the French.  To my surprise, this cramming actually seemed to pay off, at least for a while:

I should spend some serious time on the ...e5 push in this opening and how to assess it.  Given how popular the French Tarrasch is, it's a high priority.

In other news, Brendan Zhang's time at the top came to an end as he had to play Roland, and upsets continued to pop up here and there, as they do.  It's easy to think of rating as destiny, and often it is--but not always.

In the evening game, round 5, I had another WCM Velea, this time middle sister Stephanie.  I had played her in the Washington Women's Championship last year.  That game started as an Alapin and changed into a King's Indian.  She seemed unsure what to do with the unfamiliar structure and settled for just developing her pieces, which did not work out well for her.  But when I closed in for the kill she rallied, sacrificed a piece, and made things very difficult for me.  Very much the same dynamic happened this year, except that instead of turning into a KID, the Alapin turned into a French....

So that was the length of a standard weekend tournament, and it was only Friday evening with four more rounds to go.  I was reasonably happy with my play so far.  Losing to Roland was not exactly a surprise; losing to Vikram was slightly more disappointing, but at least my opening prep paid off; and the three wins were okay.  I dared to hope for a share of the women's, U2000, or 50+ prizes.  (If I'd known that FM Ignacio Perez is 50, I wouldn't have been so optimistic about that last one; but I would never have guessed!)

It was also a good tournament for sitting next to interesting games and people.  I got to watch Nicholas Whale, locally infamous for a string of big upsets, crash into Ignacio Perez and abruptly resign--I could imagine Ignacio wanting to say "Wait!  I could do much more to you than that!" in the final position.  (Apparently Nicholas is wildly underrated; I asked him about this and he said that his rating is very stale.  He did well in the blitz tournament after the Classic, which shows genuine ability.)  I also got to see Benjamin Mukumbya sacrifice a piece vs. WIM Megan Lee, who calmly brushed the attack aside and wiped out his entire queenside.