US Women's Open 2017

US Women's Open 2017

WCM mkkuhner
Jul 5, 2017, 8:00 AM |

The US Women's Open and National Open were back to back in Las Vegas this summer.  After my adventure in Reno I was itching for another tournament out of town, and while the timing for this one initially looked bad, my husband and I put together a plan that made it happen.  We'd fly to Vegas, I'd play in the two tournaments, then we'd fly back to Seattle, immediately drive to Portland for the Evolution Society meeting, I'd give two talks there, then drive to Ashland to meet my family for the last bit of our traditional Shakespeare Festival week.  Whew! 

I had two worries about this scheme.  The Women's Open time control was G/90, which sounded uncomfortably close to the G/60 of my recent debacle.  And I was planning to play 11 games in 5 days; if I got tired early on it could be brutal.

We arrived the day before (I have learned from bitter experience never to fly on the day of the tournament) and had time to explore first the tournament hotel (Westgate Resort and Casino) and then the Strip.  I reached three interrelated conclusions from this:

(1)  Las Vegas was once known for its cheap and lavish food, meant to draw in gamblers, but those days are in the past.  Now food is breathtakingly expensive.  As one of my opponents said, "We got here, looked around the Westgate, and then I said, 'Well, I don't really need to eat....'"

(2)  The outdoors temperature got up to 112. They say that dry heat is easier to handle than moist, which is probably true, but my body reacts to 112 and sunny with "I'm gonna DIE!"  It was possible to walk around at night, though it did not cool down nearly as much as I expected, but even dashing across a pedestrian overpass during the day was stressful.

(3)  Monorail tickets cost us over $100 for two seven-day passes but were the best investment of the trip--otherwise we would have been trapped at Westgate.  It is not quite on the Strip, and the distance of just a few blocks was an intractable problem until after sunset.

Before the tournament the TD, Karen Pennock, was introduced to us with an emphasis on how gentle she was.  This theme continued in the pre-tournament pep talk.  Spectators were not to be allowed between the rows of tables.  (I later found that this was also the case at the youth tournaments, but not in the main event.)  Considerable energy was spent on trying to reassure us.  Given that every single player had a USCF rating and most were seasoned tournament competitors, and that in my experience woman chessplayers tend to be pretty tough customers, this seemed unnecessary. 

Here's the playing hall.  All photographs in this article are courtesy of Tim Hanks, the event photographer.  For more of his work, see the Las Vegas International Chess Festival page on Facebook.


To Karen's credit, startup went smoothly and rounds started on time.  All of the Vegas events had clear and reiterated rules about electronics in the playing hall, though that didn't entirely stop the beeping, mostly from spectators.

Tim Hanks took numerous and amazing photos of the players:  here is mine. I do not look entirely happy with my position....


In round 1 I played Dylan Porth (1119), whose name I recognized from Northwest Chess:  she's the Idaho Girls' Scholastic Co-Champion.  We shared some consternation over the prices at the hotel restaurants, followed by a short and exceedingly violent game:

The Las Vegas Chess Festival website had pre-registration information for all of its events, including this one, so I knew that 2016 US Women's Champion Nazi Paikidze (shown above, photo by Tim Hanks) would be playing.  When I tried to predict pairings I thought I'd be playing her in round 2, and to my surprise, this was correct!  I was excited to play her, though of course she's well beyond my reach.  She evidently does not feel she needs to crush her opponent instantly, a form of wisdom I would do well to study.... (By the way, she pronounces her name nah-ZEE.)

The round 3 game was a strange case of deja vu as I played another Winawer vs. a young opponent (rated 1426, though after the National Open she was rated 1579):

Apparently it is risky to castle kingside in the Winawer.  These aren't my two most similar games--as a teen I played two Fried Liver games which ended in the exact same mate on move 13--but it was still pretty weird.

I was happy to have played 3 acceptable games in one day, though I wish I could have avoided the blunder vs. Nazi; I'd likely have lost anyway but it could have been more esthetically pleasing.  I felt lucky that my other games were so short, allowing me to save some energy.  Admittedly the attacks were a bit over-optimistic, but crashing through was still satisfying....

Before one of the Wednesday rounds we took a group photo.  It was a humorous affair as every time Tim got us organized to his satisfaction, another player or two would arrive.... Also, the inordinately tall women in the back row are in fact standing on chairs, that being the only way to get them in.


 In round 4 I was paired down again (to Kathy Lin, 1549)--so far I hadn't played anyone within 400 points of my rating.  From my opponent's reaction I could tell she had not seen many Dutches.  This is a noticeable difference between playing in Nevada and playing in Seattle, where every doggone kid knows the Dutch, sometimes better than I do.

In round 5 I was paired up against WFM (and NM) Ramya Inapuri.  This was my chance to distinguish myself, tie for second, and show that the Washington Open represented a real jump in abilities and not just a chance fluctuation.  Unfortunately Ramya clearly had seen the Dutch before....



Throughout the tournament I was often sitting next to Jamie Olson, a high 1800 player with a markedly aggressive style; in particular I saw her completely destroy an opponent with the White side of the Advance French.  (Having lost similar positions, I was well able to appreciate her play.)  After my fifth-round game was over I watched her final moves against WGM Carla Heredia.  With barely two minutes on her clock she carried out a remorseless heavy-piece attack.  This got her a share of second place, the true upset success story of the tournament. 


IM Paikidze won 5-0, though she said that her fifth round game was difficult.  Watching her, I felt she was deliberately eschewing the recklessness typical of the other women, even to the point of risking objectively near-equal positions against much lower rated opponents.  I have a lot to learn from this; my own play couldn't have been more different.

She went on to play in the National Open, top section, earning 2.5 points.  Her results were initially strong and seemed to get worse as the tournament along:  perhaps she, too, got tired.  At the end of the Women's Open I was still happy to play chess, but I wasn't feeling entirely confident about my playing form.  I am hoping that pushing myself to play under difficult circumstances will build my endurance rather than merely shredding my rating....

I wasn't wowed by my performance in the Women's Open, but with the given pairings I'd have had to beat a master to do any better, and while I made a good try, it just wasn't happening.  My Dutch, as usual, needs work:  the theme of this and the next tournament turned out to be White plans involving the exchange of the dark-squared bishops.  It was fun to get to play two of the top women (and another strong woman in the National, as it turned out).  I think this is the second time I have played an IM, but the first was in the distant past and was a non-event.  At least I put up some fight.

In other news, I am addicted to optimistic attacks.  In this tournament, my lower-rated opponents weren't able to demonstrate this point, but the story was quite different in the National Open.