At the Washington Open I'd played three masters and had such fun with them that I'd resolved to play up in subsequent tournaments. This worked fairly well at the Oregon Open, too, though it did cost me a chance at a juicy prize. I thought long and hard about the Washington Class Championships. Another juicy prize was on offer in class A, but I could instead challenge myself and perhaps get back my Expert rating. I made my final decision Friday morning--I could still have asked to play in A, but I kept the pre-registration I'd made in the Expert section instead.
(Photograph of Mary Kuhner and Viktors Pupols courtesy of Victoria Doknjas, used with permission.)
I'd perused the online roster, so I knew that I had Vikram Ramasamy, Jason Yu, and Neil Doknjas to deal with--all players who had recently beaten me. There were only eight players in the three-day Expert section, too, so the possible opponents were quite limited. Even armed with this, I was not overjoyed to find I was playing Vikram in round 1, and had Black--the fourth time I've had Black vs. him.
A hard game and a disappointing result, though not a surprising one. I have a great deal of respect for Vikram's play. (In particular, if he'd ever care to give lessons on rook endgames I'd sign up for them, though that skill wasn't particularly in evidence here.)
That evening I faced another ominous opponent. I beat Jason Yu once, a few years ago--forever for someone who is only ten. In our next game I managed to draw him when he became overexcited in a winning position. In the third game that nearly happened again, but he dug in and regained his advantage after throwing most of it away. To add insult to injury, while Jason recently reached Expert, he'd dipped down to 1999 just in time for this game.
I privately think of Jason Yu as "fidget boy," and during this game he did chew holes in a paper cup. But otherwise he was much more focused than I've seen him before. He played much more slowly, too, to the point of getting into time trouble at both time controls. But I can't fault the results. This game shows not just the tactical flair he has always had, but a lot of positional wisdom as well. --It still stung, though.
Between rounds we teased Joseph Truelson, who has signed up for the two-day in order to play in, and win, the scholastic tournament on Friday. This reminded me of my second Alaska Junior Championship, where I was rated so far above my opposition that the adults complained I was shooting fish in a barrel. I enjoyed it thoroughly, though, and I think Joseph did too. None the less I found myself chuckling over the possibility that some other kid--say, FM Roland Feng--might decide to play in the scholastic to teach Joseph a lesson!
I was commuting from Seattle to the tournament hotel in Lynnwood by bus. I arrived Saturday morning, hiking in from the bus station, to find the street in front of the hotel completely flooded. A waterlogged car was being towed away. The adjacent wetland was swollen beyond its capacity and water was gushing into the landscaping. Large sections of the hotel parking lot were underwater. Impressive but alarming!
On Saturday the two-day players had to play three games in the morning and afternoon before joining us three-day players for the evening round. I kibitzed a bit of the two-day and found that it would add only four more Experts to the roster, for a total of twelve. My own morning pairing was with Benjamin Brusniak, a teenager I hadn't met before.
This was a gratifying win, except for the sad story it had to tell about my French Tarrasch--White's position in the lines I've been playing is so good, I could pick it up cold and win with it. I was also a bit alarmed by the tactical hallucination. (So was my opponent, who wondered why I was making faces at his perfectly sensible rook exchange!) I hoped that my evening opponent would be exhausted, perhaps by having already played three games that day. I was certainly tired out myself.
I got involved in a laptop video game, heard someone say that the round would be delayed, and thereby managed to arrive five minutes late--it wasn't delayed at all. Not a smart way to start a game.
My opponent outplayed me very smoothly, aiming for a position antithetical to my playing style and then handling it well. I decided I couldn't afford a post-mortem and headed out (into a magnificent rainstorm) to get back to Seattle and get some sleep.
By Sunday morning they had managed to drain the street, and due to some luck with buses I arrived an hour early. When the pairings arrived, mine said "See TD." This meant that I would normally have had a bye, but Fred Kleist, the head TD, prefers to have people play whenever possible so was making out-of-section pairings. It turned out I would be playing Viktors Pupols, from the Master section. Some reward for being at the bottom of the Experts!
The game with Viktors reminded me very much of my games at the Washington Open. Sometimes, especially against high-rated opposition, simply playing a good game can be so much fun that winning or losing seems relatively unimportant. I would like to have that frame of mind all the time, but it's hard....
Because I was playing up a section for this game, it was paired as a full-point bye, giving me two points going into the last round, where I was paired with Neil Doknjas. He had beaten me, quite badly, in the FIDE RR in August; we ended up tying for second. At least I had White--maybe I could avoid getting into lethal trouble in the opening?
This game the trouble was delayed into the middlegame, but was still pretty severe.... But it was nice to end on a win, though I felt badly for Neil. In the post-mortems he seemed more knowledgeable than me, and to have seen further into most of the positions. Nevertheless, I'd finally managed to get something out of my counterplay attempts beyond simply a more complex and protracted loss (as in games 1, 2 and 4).
I am not an Expert. I had a performance rating of 1929 in this tournament; I am a very consistent high-A player, no doubt of it, but no more. I feel I could be, though. I see three things to work on: concrete opening variations; pawn structure play; energy levels. The third may actually be the most important. I felt much more confident and professional this summer, when I was playing frequently and studying a lot, not teaching at the university, and not worrying so much about politics.
I had a good time, though. There is something purifying about the intense concentration of a good game, where you know nothing of the world around you for minutes or hours at a time.
FM Ignacio Perez won the Master section (5.5/6) with a fine assortment of his signature attacking games, giving up just one draw to FM Roland Feng. Alan Bishop won the Expert section (4.5/6). (Impressive for someone whose starting rating was just 2000!) Brent Baxter and Travis Olsen tied for first in Class A (5.0). I don't suppose getting that juicy A prize would have been all that easy.... Vignesh Anand won Class B. Following the lower sections was beyond me--they were huge!--but I see that a provisionally rated girl won Class D, which is exciting.
My ending rating was 1956. It's likely that this will be the rating used for State Championship qualification. Josh Sinanan says that it should be high enough, but I worry!