Washington Open 2017: I have a good tournament
I tried all sorts of cute titles for this post but none come close to expressing how I'm feeling, so I'll stick with this: I had a very good tournament.
I've done well at all three Washington Opens so far. I like large tournaments, and the venues have been a bit less crowded than the Seattle Chess Club. Last year I nerved myself to play in the Open section even though I could have played in Reserve, played 3 masters and got 1/2 point off of them (and three wins against lower-rated players for a 3.5/6 result). This year--well, we'll see!
In round 1 I played middle-schooler Alec Beck. I dimly recalled a previous game of ours in the Albin-Chatard-Alekhine Gambit, though when I looked later, I was muddling together several different ACA's rather than remembering our specific game. As part of a general plan to avoid attacking before developing my pieces, I didn't play the ACA this time but ventured into the White side of a Classical French, which I don't know particularly well.
Based on this game and the previous, Alec should work on finding a safe place (relatively speaking) for his king in the French. Otherwise I thought his play was quite good; he spotted and avoided my tactical ideas many times, and did not give up even when his position was desperate. I was also quite pleased with my own game: while it took me a while to beat a 1600 player, I felt I was in control all game, and the idea of developing before attacking paid off nicely (who'd have thought?)
The next round I was paired with the Northwest's most recent master, teenager Derek Zhang. I'd played him in 2014 in my comeback tournament, but he's gotten a lot stronger since beating me then. Before the game I chatted with Viktors Pupols about Derek's opening repertoire, and got various suggestions for strange anti-Dutch lines. I actually considered playing 1. d4, recalling a game of Derek's I'd studied where Roland destroyed his Dutch with an early f3 and e4. But the thought that I might instead get a Benoni or Gruenfeld or some other completely unknown opening deterred me. I was delighted to instead have the White side of my favorite opening (from either side), the French Winawer. Apparently Derek's Black repertoire is a lot like mine!
This was the last game to finish, and we had a crowd of strong players at the board. They wanted to talk to me about specific variations but my brain was absolutely fried. I went home and tried to take my coach's advice--do a calming activity and don't think about chess--but was not notably successful. My husband took me for a walk and patiently said, "But you're not supposed to be talking about chess" every time I burst out with another thought about the game....
In my previous chess career in the 1980's I beat exactly one master, NM Diane Savereide in the US Women's Championship 1987. Since coming back to chess in 2014 I have had three draws with masters but no wins, despite some very close calls. So this was a big deal for me.
Of course, having won I was paired up again, vs. FM Josh Sinanan (shown above at center, photo courtesy of Washington Chess Federation). Josh is the president of WCF (the duties of which cost him about 5 minutes off his clock at the start of the game) and a local coach. He says that he does not prepare for individual opponents, but my impression is that he knows all about everyone--he's certainly analyzed many of the games I've played against his students. (I once told Josh the rationale behind my choice of the Delayed Alapin, which I learned from a kid player, and Josh burst out laughing as I was essentially quoting him.)
This was another game of chicken where I wanted to play the Dutch, but not vs. a d3-e4 plan. So I made as many Dutchy moves as I could without ...f5, and then gave up when my opponent played d3 and accepted that I was out of my comfort zone.
Not a great game, though quite educational. Apparently ...c6 is more important than it looks. Also, I ought to learn this opening (what is it called, anyway?) or else figure out a way to make my Dutch withstand the d3-e4 plan.
Losing this game still left me with 2/3 and a tough pairing, NM Jason Cigan of Oregon. I played him in the Oregon Open two years ago and had the game of my life, but he was "only" an expert then; in fact that tournament stymied his goal to become a master for several months. I figured he'd be out for revenge.
The opening was another game of chicken, or really the same game of chicken--what is going on with these openings? I asked Jason afterwards and he said forthrightly that he knew I played the Stonewall and this is a currently trendy anti-Dutch line. (I wonder if the person who played it against me in Reno had seen my 18-move Stonewall win in the previous round?) This one definitively became a KID with colors reversed, which I guess is a King's Indian Attack. And what an attack it was....
We analyzed the game a little bit. We both knew the same Korchnoi-Kasparov game where Korchnoi got a powerful-looking knight onto c6 and won the a-pawn, but it was not enough to stop Kasparov's attack. (The game is annotated in one of Neil McDonald's move by move books; I don't tend to learn specific games but McDonald's writing is so good I can soak them up by re-reading.) So Jason was quite sure he was winning around the point where I played ...Nc3, and for my part I knew I needed to do something drastic. (Korchnoi did not have the possibility of the knight sack due to different piece placement.) Jason also said, "No offense, but if you were a GM I'd have resigned after Qc3," which did not offend me a bit. He is evidently a better calculator than I am, as it was far from clear to me at that point!
The most difficult thing about this game was that it felt like each move in the last stages deserved about 20 minutes of analysis, but I only had 22 minutes for about ten of them. I had to calculate just a little and trust my intution. This is the skill I have not been demonstrating in G/60, but somehow this weekend it was different.
During the discussion I mentioned that the intersection of our two styles is apparently extreme craziness, and Jason said ruefully that he hadn't meant for things to go crazy, he was just trying to disrupt my Dutch. I am sure he is not happy to lose twice to the same A-player. Perhaps he's even rooting for me to get back to Expert, because as far as he's concerned I am a piranha!
So after three years of trying and failing to beat even one master, I'd beaten two in two days. I snuck off and did the Snoopy victory dance out of Jason's sight. I then went home and, no surprise, had trouble getting my mind off chess again....
I knew the Monday pairings would be brutal. After a rather long wait surrounded by increasingly agitated kids, I found I would be playing FM Ignacio Perez. Ignacio is famed for his wild attacking style and immense tactical gifts--"channeling Tal" is how journalists often put it. He plays the way I would like to, if I were braver and a better calculator. I figured my chances weren't great but in any case the game would be exciting....
And it was a King's Indian! Caissa has apparently decreed I must learn the King's Indian, which I had never played from either side until about a year ago.
After the game Ignacio went over it with me in detail--he's an incredible teacher, which I hadn't realized. (Ignacio is the kind of person who will tell you, with great delight, how to beat him next game.) Basically I think you have to know the typical fortress setups on the kingside in order to have a chance to live long enough for your queenside play to pay off. This is why learning an opening mainly by playing it in tournaments can be kind of an expensive proposition. I think I like the White side of the KID, though--perhaps biased by my game with Jason!
Having played four masters in a row I was paired with an unfamiliar adult expert in the last round. This one was, at last, a regular Dutch Stonewall. Apparently he hadn't gotten the anti-Dutch memo....
I was awfully glad to get the draw. At the time I didn't know what I had done wrong, only that my position was bad--I had all sorts of exciting ideas but White had too much pressure to ever let me accomplish any of them, and in the endgame I felt he was the only one with any chances at all. He may not have agreed; he seemed a bit intimidated despite being higher rated. There was a lot of that going around. On the next board over, Joseph Frantz was offered a draw in mid-opening by a higher rated player; he declined and won in a few moves.
The following morning I suddenly knew what I'd done wrong. I had not understood why he played Qc1 and had complacently assumed there was no particular reason; this cost me control of my dark squares. I could have stopped that if I'd seen it coming. An Indian chess coach recently reviewed my games and said that failing to spot my opponent's ideas is my besetting weakness; this game certainly fit that model.
This was in general a nerve-wracking tournament for higher-rated players. The competition for the upset prizes was fierce with a number of masters falling to players in the 1600-1700 range. The one player who really sailed through unscathed was IM Georgi Orlov, who played in the 2-day schedule so had to play 4 games on Sunday culminating in playing state co-champion and second seed FM Roland Feng, and then played FM Tian Sang and FM David Bragg on Monday--apparently none of this was a problem as he won the tournament 6-0. An impressive performance. Tied for second were FMs Feng, Sang, and Breckenridge--and 1800 player Benjamin Mukumbya. If multiple prizes were allowed Ben would have added both U2100 and U1900 to his second-place money! Also noteworthy was Ryan Min in the Reserve, who won Best Upset with not one but two upsets, one vs. an Open player 785 points above him. I think someone might be a wee bit underrated....
Despite it being probably the best result of my life, I missed out on prizes--Naomi Bashkansky picked up Best Woman in the open by taking two byes on the last day, and while I don't know who won Best Senior, I wasn't close to the top. My final score of 3.5/6 was the same as last year. (Prizes below first in Swiss system tournaments aren't all that reflective of how well you played, because if you win early you get harder pairings than if you win later--I played 4 masters in a row!) But I don't much care. I am daring to hope that my chess is actually improving, despite the awful Tornado result. Also I had a great time. Onward to Vegas!
My one fear about Vegas is the G/90 time control for the Women's Open. In almost every game in the WA Open I used a lot of time. I had 3 minutes left vs. Alec at the first time control and 45 seconds left vs. Tres. I was trying to play carefully and find my opponent's plans, and I was somewhat successful, but it's slow. Too slow for G/60 for sure. Will G/90 be better? We'll see....
The header photo is me vs. Derek Zhang, courtesy of the Washington Chess Federation.