Washington Class Championships
In theory this was a class tournament with players grouped into 200-point categories: Master, Expert, A, B, C, D, E. In practice -- there was much amusement at this -- over half of the players took advantage of the option to play one section above your rating by paying an extra $30. So on Friday morning the Expert section consisted of one Expert and 7 or 8 class A players, and other sections, while a little less extreme, were similar. In effect, people were paying $30 to play...other people of their own rating!
I chose to play in A rather than Expert because I wanted to win the section--$300 would fund another out of state tournament like the Oregon Open. I felt I had a decent chance.
Like most local tournaments this one had a three-day and a two-day option. Three-day players, including me, played two rounds of 40 moves/2 hours on each of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Two-day players played three rounds of game/60 minutes on Saturday morning and then joined us for the Saturday evening round. I definitely would not have had the energy for that!
Before the tournament I predicted that Travis Olson and Sangeeta Dhingra would be my biggest competitors. If only I had included Vikram Ramasamy in my predictions they'd have been perfect.... but no one was prepared for Vikram, as will be seen.
In round 1 I played Karthik Shaji, who was playing up in A section but only by a few points.
Not an entirely convincing start to the tournament, but at least I won... In the next round, I was paired with a very young player, also playing up into A.
That was an even less convincing win--Eric's queenside pressure seemed crushing during the game, and I felt lucky to have escaped. The sudden burst of violence at the end of each game was good for morale, though.
In the third round I was paired with Travis Olson, one of my predicted top seeds. We'd played twice before with a score of 1.5/2 in my favor, so I knew he badly wanted to win this one.
A disappointing game. I was over-optimistic about my kingside prospects, my opening experiment (Nh3) did not work out, and I couldn't find a plan in the rook endgame. Still, I'd known Travis would be a formidable and motivated opponent.
The next round saw the 2-day and 3-day groups merge, so my young opponent had already played three rounds that day. He played very quickly, perhaps due to having played game/60 all day.
This game continued the pattern of getting into trouble in the middlegame, but again I was able to rescue the situation tactically. I was not happy with my play by this point. Relying too heavily on my tactical abilities leads to a pattern of beating weaker players but losing to stronger ones, and if I want to advance I need to do better than that.
In round 5 I faced the other player I'd assessed as a major threat, teenager Sangeeta Dhingra. Our one previous encounter was a draw: in that tournament we had both upset-drawn strong masters the round before, and were exhausted and perhaps mutually intimidated. Here we were in the first round of the day, hopefully more energetic--I hoped for a good fight and was not disappointed.
This was my favorite game of the tournament by far, despite not winning it. As a general rule female players are more aggressive and tactical than male ones, so when two of us meet it's time for fireworks!
I had one super embarrassing moment in this game, though: I got up to look at the top boards, came back to my section and sat down across from Naomi instead of Sangeeta. Naomi stared at me incredulously and I realized my mistake... Except for gender these two players look NOTHING alike; my only defense is that I was thinking very hard about my position.
By this point it was impossible not to notice that Vikram Ramasamy was at 5-0, having beaten Travis and Sangeeta in previous rounds. He was, in fact, guaranteed no worse than equal first on any outcome of his last round game. I was only at 3.5-1.5 but had to play him as there were no other top players left!
I looked up from my resignation and it was dark outside. The tournament hall was essentially empty except for a few organizers cleaning up, Vikram's mother, and Travis. It was nine pm, to my amazement--I'd been pretty focused the whole game.
So Vikram won the A section with 6/6, the highest score in any section (4.5 was a winning score in at least one section). He was justifiably delighted--it was a very hard, fighting tournament. I enjoyed the fact that the top contenders all knew each other. Travis Olson told me before the last game that a lot of people were rooting for me, and then stayed very late to watch the outcome--I did not calculate the standings so I only realized afterwards that he was rooting for me to lose! (Since I obligingly did, he took clear 2nd and Sangeeta tied for 3rd.)
So, conclusions after the tournament:
Despite high hopes spurred by success on chess.com, I am not an Expert yet. But this was an excellent learning experience at a low cost--I saw the TD's ratings submission sheet, and for six intense lessons I paid just one rating point. Cheap at the price! [In fact when the final USCF report was published I had gained 4 rating points.]
I think my biggest problem was handling pawn structures. Against Vikram I did not appreciate in time how much of a problem the d3 square would be. Eric got an awful bind against me on the queenside, and my center fell apart against Karthik and Sangeeta.
I am realizing that my study habits fit perfectly into a criticism by Damian Lemos: hopping around from topic to topic without discipline. This is not going to work. I got a ride home with Josh Sinanan after the tournament, and he said that it is probably the hardest time ever to be an adult player in the Pacific Northwest. The overall level of preparation is very high. (Just as an example, I am now playing an opening line recommended to me by an eight year old....) To keep up with the little whipper-snappers I will need to be more systematic.
And, of course, it never hurts to work on rook endgames. I put a lot of effort into drawing Vikram and then missed my chance--I even considered the key move but didn't play it. (One final generalization: when you see two moves and they look equally good, keep looking. They almost never really are!)
The news from the top section was that we now have a Russian GM, Dmitri Skorchenko, living in Washington State; and that our State Champion, Roland Feng, who has recently turned 15, welcomed him with a sharp 25-move defeat! It was fun to watch news of this percolate through the tournament population. Roland won the Master section with his usual seemingly-effortless grace. Several very young Experts chose to play in Master and did quite well. My chances of qualifying for the State Championship are next to nil, I think, due to a wave of rapidly improving juniors. Ah well, next year.