Washington Championship, part 1
In past years the Washington State Championship has consisted of three 10-player round robins. The winner of the top section becomes Champion: the winners of the lower sections are seeded into upper sections next year. There are also a few other seeds: last year's Champion, Junior Champion, Girl's Champion (maybe Womens' Champion as well), and the winner of the Challenger's Cup tournament. Other than that invitation is in rating order among WA residents.
I didn't think I'd get to play. Last year I was #5 on the alternates list with a rating of about 1817, missing the cutoff by ~50 points. I managed to raise my rating over 100 points (not bad for an adult!)--and missed the cutoff by more than 50 points. This is the strongest State Championship in recent history. The top section has an average rating of 2338 with two IMs, several strong FMs including the WA and OR champions, and the 2100-rated winner of last year's second section, who probably feels he's been thrown in at the deep end! This year's section 2 is essentially masters and section 3 is essentially experts.
WCF President Sinanan was apparently deluged with disappointed 1900 players, and decided to add a fourth section; to my delight I was #5 player in that section. I talked him into making it FIDE-rated like the others. It will only hurt my FIDE rating (the highest in the section) but I think it's good to get accurate FIDE ratings for as many WA players as possible.
The event is being held in a conference room at Microsoft--a very nice venue except that we couldn't unlock the doors and thus had to open them for each other constantly. It runs for two weekends with 4 games the first weekend and 5 the second; this blog post will cover the first weekend only.
The organizers treated this as a prestige tournament--name tags at every board, display boards for the top players, bulletins after every round. This gave the event an intensity which I really enjoyed. Even though objectively we're miles from the Championship, the section 4 invitees carried themselves like contenders, playing very hard chess.
My section was 9 players rated in the 1900's, plus the Federation's wild-card pick, Eric Zhang (nine years old, rated 1832). I have seldom had the chance to prepare for specific opponents, but I made sketchy attempts to do so for this tournament. It turns out that there are good reasons to use a chess.com name that can't be associated with your real name! My opponents had no trouble at all discovering my reliance on the French and Dutch.
My first round game was with Washington's other WCM, Naomi Bashkansky, who earned the title as a prize in an U-10 Girls tournament. Internet research showed that she always plays 1. d4, but otherwise the games were not helpful--you don't want to prepare for a 9 year old when facing a 13 year old, that's forever in kid years. I also couldn't find a single Dutch Defense game in her repertoire.
After the game Naomi told me that she had found my chess.com record and thus had dozens of Dutch Defense games to look at; she was not very familiar with the Dutch so made a point to study up on it. We had a great analysis session, very educational. She made me feel like a dilettante. I have to remind myself that I'm a 1900 player fair and square, whatever can be said about my study habits or lack thereof....
In round 2 I was to face my rival Travis Olson, and I'd studied our 3 previous games. I beat him in a Dutch in the first. In the second he had White again and played 1. d5 e6 2. e4 bailing out into a French, telling me afterwards that he didn't want to see another Dutch. In the third he had Black and played a line of the French Winawer that he turned out to know much better than I did. So when I found I had White, I decided on Bird's Opening--a color-reversed Dutch--to get him into territory known to make him uncomfortable. My notes say, "what about From Gambit?" with no futher commentary.
What about the From Gambit, indeed? I play it as Black on the very rare occasion that anyone tries Bird's Opening against me, but I don't actually have much faith in it. I was happy enough to see us both out of book early on.
A triumph of preparation and psychology undone by a calculation failure. Still, an exciting game--probably the one to publish if I don't play a better one next weekend. (We're required to provide at least one annotated game in order to win any prize money. With 5 prizes among 10 players it's a real possibility.)
Sunday morning I was paired with teenager Brendan Zhang, who had lost his two previous games and was morose. We'd played once before, a draw in a Dutch. Internet research told me he tended to put his bishop on f4 vs. a Stonewall. Was this useful information? Hard to say.
I had never played my fourth opponent, older teen Noah Yeo. I found a bunch of blitz games online which suggested that he favored 1....e5 after 1. e4. Just before the round, a kid who I often see around tournaments--he was aparently attending this one as a spectator--found me playing over Noah's games from the bulletin and told me that a Two Knights Defense was likely. He challenged me to a game in the Two Knights. I played 4. d4, he responded 4...exd4 5. e5 Ne4, and we got a position of a kind I really dislike--no center pawns, the other pawns in flat banks. It was a draw. He thanked me formally for the game, got up, and Noah sat down in his place. He promptly played the Two Knights....
After the game I mentioned 4. d4 to Noah, who rattled off the same line ("It's a Scotch, actually") that the little kid had shown me. I guess that's game preparation of a sort!
So, an even score, probably neutral on USCF rating. Overall I was reasonably happy, especially since the second day's games were played on 5 hours' sleep (family problems strike again). I am really looking forward to the second half.
In other news, the Championship section is still anyone's game, though when I left Sunday night it looked like WA Champion Feng was about to crush OR Champion Raptis. I watched part of that game, which appeared to me in my exhausted state as a sort of conversation:
F: Want to trade queens?
R: No, not really.
F: Come on, wanna trade queens?
F: Really, I think you should--
F: --because otherwise I'm going to mate you.
R: Oh crap.
The WCF's decision to name Eric Zhang as their wild card for section 4 was clearly a good one as he did very well. So did Vikram Ramasamy, the favorite in section 4 coming off of two tournament wins in a row. I have to face both of them next week. Time to hit the books, or at least the net.