WA Women's Championship 2018:  Age and Treachery vs. Youth and Skill
Top boards, WA Women's Championship 2018. Photo courtesy of Washington Chess Federation.

WA Women's Championship 2018: Age and Treachery vs. Youth and Skill

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The Women's Championship consisted of twelve girls and three women, which is pretty typical of chess in Seattle....  Last year's champion, WFM Chouchanik Airapetian, was on hand to defend her title; we expected that WIM Naomi Bashkansky (front left in the photo) would be her most dangerous contender.  I was the fifth seed after an impressive list of players--there were seven FIDE titled players among the fifteen!--but I cling to the hope that someday I'll win this.

As this was a single-section event, the Friday night pairings were ratings mismatches, and the higher-rated player won every game.  Mine however, was alarmingly competitive:

There was some discussion over whether more low-rated players might participate if the event were in two sections, but we'd have to get quite a few more.

On Saturday morning it was astoundingly quiet.  The Seattle Chess Club has many virtues, but the skittles room shares a wall with the tournament room, and noise is a perpetual problem.  With only the fifteen competitors and a handful of spectators, however, the usual problems were totally absent.  As I had predicted before the event, I had to play Naomi in round 2, and I was grateful for the quiet:  young players generally handle noise better than I do.

Naomi at her best is a terrifying opponent.  In a recent Kings Vs. Princes match she beat three masters in a row, and while she is usually somewhat reserved, she was practically walking on air.  But she can be inconsistent, and I think plays better against strangers than against opponents who know her style.  I had carefully studied our three previous games (two wins for her and a hard draw, all in the Dutch Defense) and when I found that I had White, decided I would rather play that structure again than find out what she plays against the Italian.

"Good fight," said my opponent, and declined to analyze it. 

I didn't know what was going on during the critical part of the middlegame, but apparently neither did Naomi.  She was also stifling yawns which seemed more indicative of exhaustion than boredom.  Still, despite a nagging feeling that I should have won, I was pretty happy to draw a WIM.

In round 3, still enjoying the quiet, I was paired against Andrea Botez of Oregon.  (While non-Washington residents can't win the title, they can play in the event, and each year we have one or two.)  I had played Andrea in an Oregon Open, where she set an elaborate trap for me; I saw it in time to avoid complete disaster, but not in time to save the game.  In general her playing style can be described as treacherous.

My playing style can also be described as treacherous....

Afterwards we went over the game with her father, and ended up arguing with him over whether my attack was sound (in retrospect, he was right and both of us were wrong).  I felt I'd been very lucky, though whipping up an attack out of a bad position is one of my strengths so I get "lucky" that way quite often.

We had been sitting next to the game between WFM Minda Chen and Naomi, which was not going Naomi's way; her head was often down on the table, and she seemed utterly exhausted.  When we came back to look, Naomi had lost and, as is her practice when she is not playing well, withdrawn. 

I don't think I have ever withdrawn from a tournament.  As a young player I was sinking most of a month's allowance into every monthly Swiss, and I'd be darned if I'd leave without getting all the games I'd paid for:  the habit has stuck.  Naomi's strategy is probably better for your rating--I lost 70 points at last year's Championship, culminating in drawing a player rated 800--but hopefully mine is more educational.

In any case, this time I was in a four-way tie for first!  Minda had taken a bye and Chouchanik had drawn WFM Anne-Marie Velea, so there were no perfect scores.  If I could beat Chouchanik, I'd have a real shot at winning the event. 

Chouchanik's style is like mine:  a fairly quiet opening leading to extreme violence in the midgame.  I'd beaten her once, on a blunder on her part, and lost twice.  From studying those games I knew that she was very dangerous as an attacker but might miss her opponent's attacking possibilities.

This was frustrating as it put me out of the running for first, but it set up an incredible last-round confrontation between Minda and Chouchanik.  When I had finished my own last-round game, I stopped by their board and ended up part of a spellbound crowd.  In the position as I first saw it, Chouchanik seemed to have all the positional assets:  Minda's king was unsafe, her knight had no meaningful moves, and Chouchanik's advanced pawns were digging into her position like claws.  However, Minda was up a queen for just a piece and a few pawns.  Neither player had any time left to speak of; they were playing on the 30 second increment.

Minda managed to keep her cool, sacrifice the exchange to beat off Chouchanik's attack, survive being at 7 seconds on her clock at least twice, and eventually queen another pawn, forcing Chouchanik to resign.  One of the most exciting finishes I have ever watched.

In the meantime, Anne-Marie Velea beat Sophie Tien in a difficult game.  Anne-Marie and Minda had played a "grandmaster draw" in round 4, so they tied for first place with 4 points each.  This led to a lively discussion of tiebreaks:  the money and title would be shared, but an additional prize of the Women's Championship is a seed into the Invitational section (section 2) of the State Championship, and that could be given to just one player.  It was decided that Minda and Anne-Marie would play a tiebreak match late in the year, though I had the impression they were also strategizing over whether one of them might get into the Invitational under her own power, in which case the match might be ceded to the other.  (I never learned the match outcome, if there was a match, but apparently Minda will be playing in the Invitational.)

While I was out of the running, I still faced a hard pairing:  WCM Stephanie Velea, the middle Velea sister.  I have a huge plus score against both Stephanie and Sophie Velea, and this evidently annoys them greatly:  Stephanie's opening showed every sign of home preparation.

I might not be of the caliber of the co-Champions, but I beat up both of their little sisters!  Do I feel like a bully?  Not really; these girls are so good, beating them is simply an accomplishment.  Chouchanik and I tied for third-fourth place with 3.5 points.  In the classical struggle of age and treachery versus youth and skill, youth and skill won this one handily.  Both Minda and Anne-Marie are now Experts, and well-deserved.  (I think I am more afraid of Minda, but they're both fairly terrifying.)

I played much better than last year, which is not saying much as that was the worst tournament of my adult life.  Chouchanik is a tough opponent for me, though.  She has a hard-edged confidence that I find intimidating, and she's a bit better than I am at almost exactly my style of play, which is hard to deal with.  Maybe next year....

I am an adult player trying to make a comeback after 27 years away from competition.  This blog mainly covers my tournaments, with occasional forays into other topics.