Washington State Championship 2018, part 1
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Washington State Championship 2018, part 1

WCM mkkuhner
Feb 19, 2018, 10:03 AM |

The WA Championship currently consists of four ten-player sections, confusingly named Championship, Premiere, Invitational, and Challengers.  Each section is a round robin.  You can get seeded into higher sections by winning a lower section the previous year, or by winning various events during the year such as the Women's Championship and the Challengers' Cup.  The WA Chess Federation also chooses a wild-card entry.  Otherwise, entry is by rating among interested WA residents.

I had been watching the signup site nervously for about a month.  My rating hasn't yet recovered from the beating I took at the Women's Championship and I was worried I wouldn't get in at all.  Instead, I seemed to be in section 3, along with my study partner Joseph Frantz.  At least, that was the case until registration closed.  Then suddenly I was in section 4.  I spent a long Sunday afternoon playing over games from the other section 4 players.  But on the day before the tournament I was back in section 3!  As a result I didn't have much time to prepare against my actual opponents....

One bright point is that the large number of players dropping out (flu?) meant that all three Velea sisters got to play; during registration it had looked like Anne-Marie and Sophie would but Stephanie would not, which would have been awkward and sad.  It was a great year for female participation in general, with women in every section and 20% women overall including two WIMs, a WFM, and four WCMs.

The Washington Chess Federation chose to nominate assistant TD Dan Matthews as its wild card, making him the low rating in section 4 with a tough tournament ahead.  Not the toughest, though.  Joseph Truelson, an expert, had won one of the seeding tournaments (or at least been the highest-finishing WA resident) and got to swim with the sharks in section 1.  This meant playing the likes of IM Michael Lee, defending champion FM Roland Feng, and WIM Megan Lee.  He was more cheerful about it than I would have been!  (I had a memorable game with Roland Feng last year in which he tied me to the wall and threw knives at me.  It cost him two rooks to do it, but that didn't seem to matter.)

Section 3 was 1900 players and one low expert; I was next to last by rating, a point ahead of my long-time rival Travis Olson. I couldn't help reflecting that in section 4 I'd have been a slight favorite to win.... 

The tournament is held at Microsoft.  The upside is a large, well-lit, quiet venue with the skittles room far away from the playing hall, as well as Microsoft's famous free soft drinks.  The downside is that they never will unlock the doors for us, leading to a lot of banging on doors and windows.

In round 1 I played expert David Arganian.  I had made some efforts to prepare for him, as he'd smashed me with an unusual gambit in the French Winawer during the last State Championship, and I had Black again.  He found me going over that game with some of the kids and said, "I don't think I played it the best way."  At that point I guessed that I was not going to see the gambit again, and I was correct.David Arganian vs. me

A tough game.  While I can often beat experts, David Arganian intimidates me; his preparation is excellent and he always seems to see further into the position than I do.  There must be a flaw in his game or he'd still be a master, but I can't spot it.

I was also quite tired.  My husband and I went out for sushi and got back close to the start of round 2. I was playing Daniel Shubin, the #39 12-year-old in the US.  I had surprisingly never played him before.  The following picture will do for both him and my next opponent, and drives home just how young these players look....Shubin and Levine

From early in this game, I realized I was not calculating very well.  I tried to slow down and focus, but didn't really succeed until after I was already in trouble.

I felt quite lucky to have drawn the game.  All I could do about my poor play was go home (it's about ninety minutes by bus), get some sleep, and hope Sunday would be better. 

Sunday morning the person with the building pass was late, so chessplayers piled up outside.  It turned into an exchange of "I should have been winning but--" stories, of which Derique Kelley's was the most dreadful; he had been up a queen vs. David Bragg and managed to lose!  Joseph Frantz and Nicholas Whale, who were leading their sections, looked at the rest of us and carefully kept quiet....

Going into Sunday I knew I had tough pairings:  Joseph Levine, who'd crushed me in the Oregon Open, in the morning, and Travis Olson in the afternoon.  (Then again, there aren't any easy pairings in an event like this.)  In Oregon, Joseph won two pawns in a book line of the French--I was essentially playing his GM coach up until that point.  He then struggled to win the resulting endgame, since he had to do that on his own, but eventually succeeded.  He has improved rapidly in the last year and is the #14 10-year-old in the US.  I didn't feel entirely hopeful about this game....

Two memorable moments from this game:

Joseph was away from the board when I played d3+.  He came back, glanced down, and froze--not breathing, and I almost felt his heart wasn't beating.  After a few seconds he flung himself in his chair and started to look for a way out, but too late.  As an excellent and very quick tactician he probably saw everything in a flash.  I don't have a picture of him, but I do have one of me (you can see on the board that d3+ has just been played).  I don't look at all like someone who's just won a queen, because I am checking my work so carefully....


I reached out to play c1=Q, then hastily put the pawn back and looked around for a queen.  The FIDE TD, Fred Kleist, had impressed on us that putting a pawn on the 8th and pressing the clock was an illegal move.  (Topalov lost an important blitz game to Nakamura doing that!)  Uncle Vik came by, saw my expression, and gravely handed me a queen.  After Joseph captured it, he got up and went looking for Uncle Vik, carrying the queen.  He is a tidy person and this extra queen really bothered him.  I spotted where it had come from, in the Premiere section, and he carefully put it back.

David Arganian and Uncle Vik dropped by while I was typing in the games and wanted to see the game with Joseph Levine; David in particular was trying to prepare for him.  We ended up looking at his previous win versus me as well.  David noted, as Joseph had before him, that I should have been able to draw the endgame but just ran out of steam.  We had an interesting discussion.  David feels that for an older player to retain their rating requires continual study and improvement, and talked about Korchnoi's approach to this.  It's evident that he works hard on his chess, certainly harder than I do. 

Stockfish had some interesting things to say about my win--mainly, that Joseph's kingside attack wasn't as good as he probably thought it was, and I was better through most of the middlegame, even before the blunder.  This let me mentally redefine the game from "my opponent blundered" to "I was pressing hard in a superior position and my opponent blundered."  Much more satisfying.

In the evening game I was to play Travis Olson, the bottom player in the section, as Black.  Travis and I have a long history:  +1 -1 =3 before this game.  His one win was as Black in a Winawer, where he proved to know the lines where Black castles into the attack much better than I did (I don't play them).  My win was as Black in a Dutch.   In our first State Championship matchup, remembering that he hadn't cared for the Dutch, I sprang Bird's Opening on him; he responded with From's Gambit and ended up down a piece--but used the insecurity of my king to pull off a nice rook sack for perpetual.  In our second, I tried Bird's again and he played a well-prepared reversed Dutch line.  I barely escaped with a draw when he let my queen penetrate behind his lines.  I should have studied that game coming in--Travis certainly had!--but there was no time.  (In the picture below Travis is on the left and Rushaan is on the right.)Travis and Rushaan

Despite my not having studied that Bird's Opening game, we very nearly recapitulated it:

Books on pawn structures do not discuss this one, though it arises quite frequently in the Stonewall.  I felt I never had much chance to win all game long, which probably suited Travis--he is a cautious player who does not like to allow complications.  On the other hand, I found plans, kept the balance, and didn't lose; and the final fortress made me laugh.  ("Channeling my inner Uncle Vik," I said afterwards; locking pawn structures is a specialty of his.)  Overall I was fairly happy.  Travis, who had come into the game 0.5/3, didn't seem too unhappy either.  We had a good analysis session, including him offering tips on how to handle the position next time--it may be a rivalry but it's a friendly one.

So that was the first weekend.  It always feels weird to be halfway through a tournament for an entire work week....

My main question arising from these games is, when you sense that you are not calculating accurately, what to do about it?  Is there a way to reboot your brain?  I tried piling on more error checking, and it helped but not enough. Caffeine does not do the job.  (And in multi-day events caffeine is very double-edged as it makes sleeping more difficult.)  I read some articles from other sports on doing a set pre-game warmup sequence to make sure your mindset is right, but have not figured out how to adapt this to chess.

And then a second question:  how do you shake off the "I am worse and fighting for a draw" mindset quickly when needed?  I had some chances versus Travis at the end, but I had been fighting for a draw so long that I scarcely looked at them.

I'm tied for fourth going into the second weekend, but with a full-length tournament's worth of games ahead anything could happen.  There are no perfect scores in my section:  in fact there is only one in the entire event, Roland Feng in the Championship.  (It's an accomplishment, but the Championship has more unbalanced ratings than the other sections and he has had some relatively easy pairings so far.)