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WA State Senior Championship:  Intimidation
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WA State Senior Championship: Intimidation

mkkuhner
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12

The WA State Senior has been running for several years now, but I'd never played in it before:  I don't find adult-only tournaments particularly exciting.  But this year the organizers asked nicely--it was proving difficult to find players for an online-only event--and I thought, why not?

Washington has several strong senior players, notably FM Ignacio Perez and LM Viktors Pupols, but neither of them have been known to compete online.  The final roster was just eight players:  two Experts, two A players, and the rest lower-rated. I thought I had a remote chance of winning the event, though Fritz Scholz gave me particular pause.  I have played blitz with him, and he has a treacherous style that I find very hard to deal with.

In round 1 I was scheduled to play a low-rated player, and I think we actually got a move or two into the game before chess.com went down.  After about an hour we realized it wasn't coming back any time soon, and the TD decided to change the event to a four-round Open--with eight players we didn't really need five rounds anyway.  The rest of the rounds were, fortunately, without technical issues--at least on the site's end.  Not all of the players were familiar or comfortable with online play, and the TD (Jacob Mayer) had to field a whole lot of questions. 

In the first round my opponent seemed quite intimidated.  This is a natural but completely unhelpful way to feel when playing someone much higher rated.  In my teens I suffered badly from this:  I managed to get to 2100 USCF without ever being comfortable enough playing masters to beat one, with a single exception that was as much a shock to me as my opponent.  I have become bolder with age, and despite my lower rating beat masters semi-regularly.  Alas, telling someone not to be intimidated does no good, and I really don't know what players who suffer from this should do about it.

This shows clearly why you don't want to be intimidated.  I think Don saw that he could win a pawn, but he assumed that if a much stronger player allowed that, it must be bad.  While this will often be true, you never can win if you assume it's always true!  (And in fact he could just have taken the pawn with an excellent game.)

With so few players, I had to play the two Experts back to back in the next two rounds.

Whew!  Not a well deserved win, but at least I get points for tenacity.  (It's great that I play resourcefully in very bad positions, but why do I get to demonstrate this skill so very often?)

I'm reluctantly thinking of trying a different opening as Black; I don't seem to be getting a handle on my issues with the Stonewall Dutch, especially against strong players.

Onward to a second Expert.  If I could beat Fritz, I thought, I'd be home free.  I resolved to play very carefully, remembering all those blitz losses....

I felt bad about this, but it couldn't be helped, and it's not as if similar things don't happen in face-to-face chess.  (I will not soon forget the State Championship game where I picked up my queen to play ...Qe5 and put her down instead on e4, where she was en prise.)  It wasn't even a mouse slip.  I blame fatigue and the weird circumstances of the event.

So I had used up all the higher rated opponents, and genuinely stood to win the event!  I just had to play one more game....

This is, looking solely at my own play, the worst tournament I have ever won!  No one was playing their best--some combination of current events, unfamiliar venue, and fatigue, I reckon.  Brent Baxter told me once that fatigue is an older player's greatest enemy--worse than underrated prodigies or prepared analysis--and I think he's right.

None the less, I'd won it.  Harry Bell took second and Fritz Scholz took third, having given up a draw to Kent McNall.  This gave me the $100 reduced first place prize, but much more significantly, $750 in travel money and an invitation to the National Tournament of State Senior Champions.  But that's another story....

Lessons from this tournament:

(1)  It is energetically costly to deal with novel interfaces, and senior players in particular need to watch out for this.  I think I won in large part because I play on chess.com all the time, so I didn't have to learn the interface.  If I ever play a tournament on one of the other online sites, I think I should play a week or two of casual chess there first, to get past the initial learning phase.

(2)  As always, tenacity pays.

(3)  Intimidation does NOT pay.  GM Tarjan said in Northwest Chess that one of the great perks of being a grandmaster is that people offer you draws just when their position is becoming really promising.  It works for non-GMs too.  While it is certainly painful to lose a winning game (thinking here of the time I won the exchange from FM Anthony He and got slowly ground into the dust), you learn much less from the hasty draw offer (game 4) or from seeing the winning shot and being afraid to play it (game 1).  In the long run such strategies do not improve your game, even if they save a half-point or two here and there in the short term.

As a teaser, I did actually get to play in the National Tournament of State Senior Champions, and my resolve not to be intimidated was put to the ultimate test....