WA State Championship part I, or, who am I playing today?
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WA State Championship part I, or, who am I playing today?

WCM mkkuhner

The Washington State Championship is a two-weekend, nine-round tournament in four sections, of which the top section gives the title--the other three are mainly an excuse to have a bigger event, though winners do get automatic entry to the next-higher section next year.  A handful of people are seeded into the various sections based either on last year's Championship or on other events through the year; the rest are admitted in order of January 1 USCF rating.

Every year I watch the signup site with great anxiety to see if I will get to play.  So far I always have, but this year looked bad--my published rating of 1811 was near its low-water mark.  However, several top players were mysteriously absent--it turns out we were competing with a norms tournament in Texas.  My name rattled around at the very bottom of the list but was always there.  When the list was "finalized" it was still there.  Clearly I would be playing in section 4.

And then people started dropping out.  Flu was definitely a factor.  Some of the kids had homework issues, exacerbated by other tournaments coming up soon.  Players on the alternates list realized belatedly they hadn't actually set time aside for a two-week tournament, not thinking they would get in, and removed themselves.  On the day of the event, a couple more just didn't show up.

I had initially tried to prepare for individual opponents in section 4 but eventually decided it was useless.  The one constant seemed to be that I would play WCM Stephanie Velea in round 1.  We had actually sat down and filled out our scoresheets for this game (about 20 minutes after the official round start) when it was determined that there weren't enough players in section 3, and I was summarily moved there.

I have to admit, I had been looking forward to a field with an average rating in the 1700's--I thought I might be able to win my section.  Instead I found myself the very bottom of section 3, which went up into low Expert range.  The one bright point was, I could use some of the prep I'd done a week ago, when several of the section 3 players had been in section 4....

In the first round I was paired with late-teen Jeffrey Yan, whose section 4 aspirations I ruined last year by beating him from a much worse position.  This game was a rollercoaster--very rich in ideas, and veering from "I'm sure I'm winning" to "I bet I'm losing" several times.  In retrospect, however, I cut off calculation too quickly at several key points, which was to be a recurring problem.

In round 2 I was paired with an adult Expert who was about 15 minutes late to the game and proceeded to play very, very slowly.  I had reviewed our one previous game and knew to expect a time scramble, but I still didn't cope well.  I like my opening position in this game a great deal, but somewhere it all went horribly wrong.

Alan handled the clock this way in every single game, and won 6/9 of them.  It was infuriating to watch, and I privately cheered when Advaith beat him from a bad position by successfully exploiting his time trouble.  But this is a bit unfair--the real problem is not that Alan is a time-trouble fiend, but that I don't cope with my opponent's time trouble.  It's all very well to say "Just ignore the clock and play chess" but I never can do it!

Late at night, the bus connections from Kirkland to Seattle aren't very good.  In particular, most buses running down SR520, which used to stop briefly in the University District, now whizz by without stopping--frustrating!  I had to get home by way of downtown, and I didn't get as much sleep as I would have liked.

On Sunday morning I played an unfamiliar late teen.  This was another fascinating and idea-rich game, and again I was left feeling I had missed a win somewhere; later analysis confirms this.

At the end of this round a controversy erupted in the top section.  A spectator came to the tournament director and told him that one of the top-section players, who was in desperate time trouble, did not have the correct 10-second delay on his clock.  His opponent was stalling in a losing position, clearly with the hopes of flagging him.  Before the TD could react the player's flag had fallen.  The TD awarded both sides two additional minutes, which led to the previously flagging player winning the game.  But neither the TD nor anyone else was sure this was correct--it would have been, surely, had the flag not yet fallen, but once the flag has fallen is the game over?  I wrote in a first draft of this blog post "I'm glad I'm not the one who has to decide."

On a lighter note, I had a bottle of iced tea I couldn't open.  I handed it to Joseph, who couldn't open it either.  WFM Airapetian looked up from her game, took the bottle, wrenched it open, gave us a "Rosie the Riveter" victory salute and went back to her game.  (She was at that point tied for first in section 2.)

In the evening round I was to play another original inhabitant of section 4, Davey Jones.  My most vivid memory of him is playing alongside him in a grandmaster simul in Reno.  I managed to draw a rook endgame against the GM and then went to watch Davey's game.  He also had a rook endgame, but unfortunately for him all of the other games had finished, so the GM parked at his board and set about to torture him.  I was astonished how many different winning tries emerged from what looked like a dead drawn endgame, and eventually Davey cracked.  (I don't think I would have done any better.)  This was an odd foreshadowing of the course of our game....

It was hard to stay alert throughout this game, though the mate threat near the end woke me right up.  I kept reminding myself of the time FM Raptis had a totally won endgame against me and didn't pay attention to what I was doing, allowing a draw--a very pointed lesson in not relaxing until it's really over.

Joseph said "If we run there's a bus" and we bolted for the street, just managing to catch it. Playing Eastside is far from ideal for me:  whether Microsoft or PSCC, it's a long hard trip back at night.  Maybe I should get a hotel room.

So, a not too impressive 1.5/4, but the games were interesting and I felt I had had chances in three of them.  However, my analysis was too shallow, and I didn't manage the clock well.  The time control was 40 moves in 2 hours followed by 30 minutes sudden death, with 10 second delay throughout.  This gives ample time for the early moves but the last 30 minutes seems to run through your fingers like sand, which definitely has an impact on endgame play.  It would be better to play faster throughout and have time for the endgame--that might have gotten me a win vs. Brian Lee.  On the other hand, only extra blunder-checking me saved me from a royal fork in that game, so it's not clear I could have survived playing any faster!  As it was, in every game my opponent set off tactical fireworks and I was far from being able to calculate them all the way through.  I need to do more lengthy tactics puzzles--not the 30 second kind, but ones that really force you to dig in and calculate all the way.

In any case, there were five rounds still to go!  And at least this year was a vast improvement over the previous year, where I had lost all five games the first weekend--one of my worst tournaments ever.