Washington Championship, part 2
I began the second weekend of the Washington State Championship with an even score, 2/2, and sat down to wait for my opponent.
I waited an hour. So did one of the section 2 players. The TD then withdrew both absent players from the tournament, annuling their scores; I hear that they will be banned from next year's Championship as well. My opponent eventually called in to say he'd overslept, which was not deemed a satisfactory reason for his absence.
This led to a long anxious afternoon. The tournament is three buses away from where I live, so I didn't want to go home. I did get to watch the master games. Two Dutch Defenses on the top five boards! My husband and I analyzed the way in which FM Roland Feng took apart Derek Zhang's Classical Dutch. I don't think I could have done any better than Derek did; we decided that the Stonewall would have been a better response to Roland's early f3 move. While it's unknown ground to me, I enjoyed FM Tian Sang's win with the Leningrad as well.
Just before round 6 the TD informed us that simply deleting the missing players would lead to some players having 5 of one color and 3 of the other. He offered to rebalance the colors (via changes in rounds 7-8) if all affected players agreed, and went through a rollcall. (My colors were already balanced so I wasn't part of this decision.) When he got to Naomi she looked startled and said, "Ah...no." I think she had prepared specific lines for each opponent and did not want any changes of color. One should not be misled by Naomi's cute appearance: she's got the killer instinct.
In the evening game I was paired with nine-year-old Eric Zhang. (Not related to Derek or Brendan--we just have a lot of young players named Zhang.) I decided on Bird's Opening to avoid his Sicilian.
The pawn sacrifice was really impulsive. I notice that my time use is too flat, using 1-3 minutes on most moves and not digging in hard enough on critical decisions; the big thinks start coming after I am already in trouble. But the final march of the d-pawn was truly enjoyable.
I did take a few minutes to survey the top boards, spotting another Dutch and a Bird's Opening; Tian Sang played a reversed Leningrad (aka the Polar Bear) against FM Roland Feng, the defending champion, and won!
Sunday morning I had thought I was playing Mark Trevor Smith, but arrived to find Vikram Ramasamy's nametag across from mine. I'd just misremembered the pairings, but it was a bit disconcerting. We also learned that a player had withdrawn from the top section. The multiple missing players cast a noticable shadow over the event. Since the top-section player had played over half his games the results had to stand: those who had not yet played him got full-point byes. Not fair, but there are no good solutions to withdrawals from round-robins.
A hard and disappointing game. Vikram is a very strong player and no shame to lose to him, but during and after the game I was kicking myself for the elementary tactical error. I've made that identical error--not realizing that a capture would provide my opponent with a badly needed pawn move--more than once. It seems to be a blind spot.
Sunday evening I was to play Mark Trevor Smith, a player I'd never met before. I had found his account on one of the chess sites and played over a few games, finding an odd mixture of aggression and caution. I also asked Josh Sinanan what he would play: Josh said immediately "King's Indian Attack." I resolved on my Dutch-versus-everything strategy....
Truly a terrible game. That's how I used to play the Dutch in the 1980's, and I thought I had learned better. The plan with ...Rh6 has lost me a lot of games, and quite a few rooks. I was not taking my opponent seriously enough, fueled by the inexpert opening play, and also fatigue was really setting in. I actually had a fatigue-induced hallucination on the long bus ride home afterwards.
It felt strange that the tournament was not over, but there was one more game Monday evening (the US holiday of President's Day). I played Brent Baxter, who was in second place after losing to Vikram in round 8. Barring that loss he was clearly having an excellent tournament, so I didn't feel optimistic about this game. All through the long bus ride to Redmond I was debating 1. e4 (expecting a Caro-Kann) and 1. f4. I finally decided on the Caro-Kann as Baxter himself is a Bird's devotee (usually by transposition via 1. b3) so it wouldn't come as a big surprise. This turned out to be a good decision, as Baxter had lost a painful Fantasy Caro-Kann in a recent tournament and was not happy to see it again.
(By the way, if anyone knows who named the Fantasy Variation and why, I'd love to hear it--my Google-fu has failed on this question.)
I was distractingly proud of this game while I was playing it, though also very concerned about impulsiveness--I played the f5 pawn sack on less than a minute's thought, which I knew was unwise. I had a gut sense that I knew what to do by intuition and didn't need analysis. Baxter in contrast was in time trouble both at move 40 and at the end. "You need to use all your time," said Travis, but I would not have been comfortable using that much of it!
When we left Vikram and Naomi were drawing, which would give Vikram 1st and Brent and Naomi tied 2nd-3rd; in any case I was 4th, winning a glorious $25.
Brent gave me a lift to Seattle and we talked about the tournament. He said something very relevant, namely "For older players like us, the single biggest thing is whether you're in physical and mental shape for the game." He also noted that Vikram gets stronger the fewer pieces remain on the board, which gives a hint as to how to play against him in future.
So I ended the tournament with 4.5/8. My goal was a plus score and I acheived it. Probably about +8 rating. Expert is a ways away at that rate, but at least each tournament is a net gain.
There was general agreement that the fourth section was a good thing and should be repeated next year. Who knows what rating will be required to get into it, though?! Vikram's gone from the 1800's to (I predict) the 2100's in 3 tournaments, and there are other kids like Vikram. I may need to be an Expert by then.
What is lacking? This tournament had multiple tactical lapses and errors of judgment that probably trace to fatigue and life disorder. During the previous 2 weeks my chess.com Tactics rating went down a hundred points....
My opening play (except against Mark) was better than it has been, though that French Tarrasch needs another look. The choice of Bird's rather than 1. e4 against selected opponents worked out well, though I will seldom have the chance to prepare against specific opponents the way I did here.
Of course "fix the problems in your personal life", while excellent advice, is easier said than done. But fundamentally I think that if I were well rested, calm, and had ample personal time I could be a low Expert rather than, as I clearly am now, a solid 1900. Hopefully in the future.
Edited to add:
The Championship was won by IM Michael Lee with a blistering 8/9; FM Tian Sang took second and IM Ray Kaufman and FM Roland Feng tied for third. Section 2 (Premier) was won by FM John Readey, who will be thrown to the sharks next year. Section 3 (Invitational) was won by Neo Olin, and section 4 (Challengers) was won by Vikram Ramasamy, with WCM Naomi Bashkansky and Brent Baxter tied for second.