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WA Senior Championship 2021
FM Ignacio Perez. Photo courtesy of Washington Chess Federation.

WA Senior Championship 2021

mkkuhner
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11

After the National Tournament of State Senior Champions I played two absolutely terrible tournaments, the Oregon Open and the WA Women's Championship.  The latter was crowned by a game where I took a pawn with my rook and the young woman instantly took my rook back...for free.  It looks like a mouse slip but in fact it was a brain fail.  I haven't blogged them as they were just too dismal.

I decided to take a break.  Some combination of political stress, work stress, pandemic stress, and the lower-energy environment of online tournaments was just not working for me, and I didn't want to repeat my recent year-long slump.  I didn't play any competitive chess from September 2020 through March 2021.  But by the end of March I really wanted to compete again, and nerved myself to give it a try.  After all, I was the defending Senior Champion.

We had 11 players of whom I was #6, meaning that my Friday night game was against the top seed, FM Ignacio Perez.  Ignacio has been battling health issues and it was really good to see him again, though it promised a difficult start to the event....

Ignacio, a former State Champion, is famed for his attacking style--he slings pieces around with immense disregard for material, and often crashes through.  I've seen him blow IMs right off the board.  However, it is a high-risk way to play.  There are two known ways to beat him:  you can take the sacks and hope he has miscalculated, or counterattack with sufficient ferocity to distract him.  Out of our five previous games I'd managed a win and a draw using the counterattack strategy.

My coach described Ignacio's attack as "unfounded" and objectively I think this is true, but it was certainly scary over the board!  I kept calculating beautiful wins for him, all game long, but just managed to avoid letting any of them happen.  Counterattack is definitely the way to go.  This is the eighth time in my life I've beaten a master.  It is always a thrill, even if probably this was not Ignacio at his best.  He played like he was trying to run me right off the board; I'm a good enough counterattacker to require a bit more respect than that.

In round 2 I played Fritz Scholz, who has beaten me in a great many face-to-face blitz games, but does not seem at home in online chess.  Last year he just dropped a piece to me in a moment of distraction, and from his queries about the mechanics of playing online, he still seemed outside his comfort zone.  I tried to find this hopeful, but I was fairly worried--in blitz he tends to pay out rope until I hang myself, a style I find hard to deal with.

This game should be dedicated to my coach, Valentin Razmov:  it's in his opening (Queen's Gambit Declined) and features the topic we've been working on for the past year and a half, namely rook endgames.  It is still a shock to me when I can win an endgame against a strong player, but it's the one part of my game that really has improved.  --I was SO bad at endgames, it's not that hard to see improvement.  But it's always nice to feel that the old dog can be taught new tricks, with sufficient patience.  I can't help thinking that any talented twelve-year-old could learn in a month what I took a year and a half to learn, but at least I learned it.  (Well, except for the error near the end, which could have cost me dearly.)

After the first two rounds I was tied for first place with Richard Ingram and Richard Lavoice; they had to play each other and I was paired with a purported C player, Andrew Martin.  I was skeptical of this rating as he'd beaten an Expert in round 1.  I looked up his NWSRS (Northwest Scholastic) rating and it was in the 1700's, which is likely more accurate.  (Adults have recently been included in NWSRS ratings to provide a better basis for the kids' ratings during the online era.)  Local players will appreciate the joke:  we all expect to run into opponents whose NWSRS rating is far higher than their USCF rating (I've seen differences of 700+ points)--but not in an over-50 tournament!

I should note that the ratings given in the game diagrams are Chess.com ratings, not USCF or NWSRS.  That, too, was a warning.

You may notice a pattern here:  three wins, but every one has an inaccuracy like a missed mate very near the end.  Fatigue is the great enemy of older players, and I took this to be a warning sign that I was running near the end of my energy reserves.  On the other hand, I'd beaten the highest rated player (by far) in the event already; I figured my chances weren't bad at all.

Sunday morning i confirmed that I was in clear first with two rounds to go.  Unfortunately, even though I'd slept fairly well, I was running out of steam.  As a symptom of this, I found myself thinking a lot about the results I needed to win the event--I know from bitter experience that this only hurts me, but I couldn't seem to stop.  Half an hour into the morning game I realized that I didn't really want to be playing it--I didn't want to be winning, I wanted to have won so I would be less stressed.  Of course it doesn't work that way.

This game is very strange to me, looking at it a few months later:  I hardly recognize my own play.  Of course I am not on this side of the Bird/Dutch structure very often!

I was still in clear first, half a point ahead of Richard Ingram, who I would be playing, and Ignacio and Richard Lavoice, who were playing each other.  So a draw meant a very likely tie for first, and a win would be clear first.

The game ended on an unexpected sour note.  Once the game finishes, anyone who was watching can comment, and we got a torrent of verbal abuse from a stranger.  I tried blocking them but it didn't help.  I don't know what the person's issue was, though I can guess:  some men feel that my having a title is a personal attack on them, and respond in kind.

My friend Joey also pointed out the pretty mate in three I'd missed.  Ah well.  This is the kind of thing that happens when I am out of mental energy:  I got a really nice position but I couldn't finish it off, floundered, ran short of time, and barely survived.

So I tied for first with Ignacio, who won all his other games beautifully.  The rules decreed that we should play a single playoff game, G/90, sometime later this year to determine who would get the title and the travel money for this summer's National Tournament of State Senior Champions.  But I wrote to the tournament director and said that I thought Ignacio should go to Nationals, assuming his health allows. The TD accepted this offer and declared us Co-Champions.  (I was paired with Ignacio next tournament and he crushed me.  So we can assume the outcome of the playoff would have been the same.)

This was the smoothest online tournament I've yet played in:  the servers stayed up, every round started on time, and the TD, Rekha Sagar, did a great job patiently explaining the procedures, calming anxious players, and keeping tabs on everyone.  It did a lot to restore my interest in online play.

The big lesson from this event...well, I've said this so many times on this blog, it hardly qualifies as a lesson anymore.  Fatigue is the great enemy.  I can play quite well--I won an equal material rook endgame!  I fought off an attack from Ignacio!  But five games out of five I made a mistake near the end.  In the first three games it didn't matter (though the one against Fritz easily could have) but the last two mistakes cost me half a point each, and frankly the final one should have been a whole point.

My coach recommended, some time back, getting up and roaming around during the game.  This doesn't go well with the preference of online TDs that you stay put, in range of Zoom, so they know you aren't cheating.  Other than that...better sleep schedule, less life stress, and hey, while we're asking for the moon, how about an end to the pandemic?  Until then I will probably go on making nasty mistakes late in the game.

My other observation is that I really like to attack, and I will play to attack when the position actually demands something else.  This is particularly prominent when I am tired, and the last game showcases it very clearly.  I kept passing up opportunities to improve my game in the center and on the queenside (generally with c3-c4) because I was ignoring that whole sector and lazily just looking at the kingside.  This kind of strategic problem is hard to fix, but probably offers considerable scope for improvement if I can get a handle on it.

Still, not to end on that note, that's my second Senior Championship in a row, and my eighth win against a master!  Not bad at all.