WA Open 2016:  Playing with the Big Dogs

WA Open 2016: Playing with the Big Dogs

WCM mkkuhner
Jun 1, 2016, 1:03 AM |

This is the biggest tournament of the year in Washington State.  (I'd like to say for my non-US readers that Washington State is the northwest corner of the US and not close to the capitol city of Washington DC, which is in the northeast.  Yes, it's confusing.)  For the second year running we were over 200 players, not counting the Saturday scholastic tournament which pulled in another 80 or so.

I had been daydreaming about doing well in this tournament, since my personal situation has improved quite a bit and I'd been telling myself that it was holding me back.  I also knew I might be setting myself up for disappointment by thinking that way.

When I ran the pairings using the pre-registration list, I found I was right at the middle of the Open section, so I'd either play the top player--GM Jim Tarjan--or the bottom player, a 1300-rated kid.  (There were a LOT of low-rated kids in the Open, as will be seen.)  With same-day registrations I ended up paired down, but not quite that far.

A good start.  In round 2 I was paired up with one of the He twins--now I can say I've played both of them.

I have seldom enjoyed losing a game so much.  I've been trying to improve my attitude but wow! I didn't expect such quick success.  This was just fun chess, and too bad I lost but I'd play another game like a shot (well, except for exhaustion and the very long bus ride home).

The GM got held to a draw by a 1900 player, reminding me that daydreams are not completely impossible.  There were quite a few upsets in this round in general.

Sunday morning we had the spectacle of the 2-day players, who had to play 3 games of 60/SD before joining us for the evening round.  The two most serious competitors for the Best Woman prize in the Open were 2-day players.  I hoped idly that they'd be tired by evening.  In the meantime I had a game against another kid playing above his rating.

"I want to be a 1900" said at least two different young players to me during this tournament, with a distinct air of envy.  It's valuable to recall that even though I feel a bit stuck and frustrated as 1900, a lot of players think it would be a great place to be.

In the evening round I found myself paired with an FM.  He looked a lot like one of my department's graduate students--an anomaly among kids and gray-haired players--though he turns out to be in his thirties.

This was my game of the tournament, possibly of the year.

I looked up and discovered it was well after 11 pm.  The last bus from Lynnwood to Seattle on Sunday night was long gone.  Curt introduced me to Roland Feng's father, and once Roland's game was over he gave me a ride home.  Roland had missed a win in a bishop ending against Nick Raptis, leading to an incredible series of moves made in 10 seconds each, and a draw.  I tried not to whine about my loss in front of him....

What a game!  I have never in my life been confidently in the driver's seat against a 2300.  (My win vs. NM Savereide in 1987 was from a bad, probably losing position.)  I wish I'd handled the clock better.  I wish I'd taken the time to find good moves even if it meant time trouble later.  But wow, despite the outcome, so much fun!  For the first time I felt myself to be the 2100 player from my college days again.  (Though even she never had a game quite like that.)

I didn't wonder during the game, but afterward I wondered if Curt's strange opening was an attempt to get a putatively booked up old lady out of book and into a position where he could bring his superior skill to bear.  If so, I thought, what a bad misjudgment of this particular old lady!  It's not so, though.  An internet search turned up Curt playing the Hippo vs. GM Joel Benjamin (and losing) so it's apparently just something he likes to play.

Roland's father also graciously gave me a ride Monday morning, saving me a nasty 2 hour bus ride as the buses were on Sunday schedule for the holidays.  I was paired down--detecting a pattern here--to a kid who turned out to be the sibling of my first-round opponent.

I kept telling myself that the little guys know they are playing over their rating and it's their lookout, but I still felt a bit of a brute.  Less so when I got to analyze with a cute small kid named Ciaran, who had just bumped off a 1900 player and was ebullient.  Lucky it wasn't me!  We had an interesting discussion of how the first threat from a player who's been on the defensive for a while is the easiest one to miss.  I think this applies to my loss to Curt.

One more game.  I could guess I would be paired up, but I was gung-ho for another master.  Could I play that well again?

So, a draw against a Life Master.  Of course I'd been hoping to win after the opening went so poorly for Viktors, but I wasn't overly surprised.  He ended the tournament unbeaten--five draws and a win!

I ended the tournament with 3.5/6 and a slight rating increase.  But this doesn't do justice to how happy I was with my play.  I felt myself to be a player who could reasonably take on masters.  Even in 1987 when I was beating a lot of experts I never could do that.

So, lessons from the tournament, in no particular order:

It really is true that being healthy, well-rested, and free from emotional turmoil improves my game.  I thought it might, but I was still impressed with how much difference there was between this tournament and the State Championship.

If there is something wrong with the clock you've got to stop it right away!

Brent Baxter told me that one mark of a true master is the incredible  calmness under pressure, whether the pressure is on the board or on the clock or both.  Curt Collyer and Viktors Pupols both showed how true this is, as did Nick Raptis in his draw versus Roland Feng.  "They probably feel stressed," said Brent, "but they don't let it affect their play, unlike us."

I tried to make more long-range plans in this tournament, following the recipe from Silman's _Reassess your Chess_.  Usually trying to change your play gives uneven initial results, but this time it actually seemed to pay off right away.

I feel much more certain now that I can get back to Expert.  I didn't beat Curt or Viktors, but if you can get positions like those you will inevitably win some.

Edited to correct first-place result:  it was a tie between Nick Raptis, Samuel He, and Tanraj Sohal at 5/6.  A great result for these players in a very strong field.  My 3.5/6 was not prizewinning as far as I know, Badamkhand having taken the Best Woman prize.  Doesn't matter though.  I'd cheerfully drop another $110 to get to play some more masters.

I have also made a firm resolution.  In this tournament I played in the Open because I had to (the next section was under-1800) but from now on I will play in the Open every time.  I am ready to play with the big dogs, and I should take every chance I can get!