Washington State Championship 2018, part 2

Washington State Championship 2018, part 2

WCM mkkuhner
Mar 6, 2018, 7:03 AM |

Unlike other 9-round tournaments locally, which are held over 5 consecutive days, the WA Championship is split across two weekends.  This disadvantages players from outside the Puget Sound area, as they'd have to make the trip twice, but it's more permissive of work schedules.

I had an even score, 2/4, after the first weekend.  I was hoping for more the second weekend, but couldn't help recalling the dismal end of last year's Championship; I didn't win a single game all weekend, ending with 3/9.

Saturday morning I was playing Oscar Petrov.  This would be our third game.  I beat him when he was rated about 1400 and I was rated under 1800; he didn't castle and his king got in trouble.  I beat him again when he was rated 1700 and I was rated 1900.  He didn't castle, but he got a ferocious bind which required me to make a speculative piece sack just to survive.  None the less, his king got in trouble....

This is Oscar (left) and Evgeniy Rozenfeld, who I would play in round 9:


Oscar was a little kid when we first played.  I have to confess, every time I saw him during this tournament I couldn't help thinking "Who is that very tall teenager with Oscar's head?"

I was something of a nervous wreck after this game.  Having so many moves in a row when I'd give mate if only I weren't in check...and so many ways to give up a draw or worse to that incessant queen.... It was also 3:30 and the next round was at 5.  I hunted down Travis Olson and told him I'd pay for his dinner if he'd take me, my spouse, and Joseph Frantz (whose own game had gone nearly as long) somewhere with food.  We were a weird, nervy bunch.  Joseph was leading the section and fretted incessantly about what openings he should play against his upcoming opponents--though he kept quiet about what he'd play against me.

Back again what would have been just in time, if the rounds had ever started on time. I am generally grateful for WCF's organization of this event, but given that it's a round robin and pairings are all set in advance, surely the rounds could start on time?  It is not actually necessary to go over the groundrules before every round, much less end with saying "Of course you all know this already."  Yes.  Yes we do.  Let's play.

I was playing Wenyang Du, an older teen whom I hadn't played before.  Here he is on the left (Joseph Frantz on the right).  null

As I feared, I rapidly got into trouble....

I'm a better endgame player than many of the teenagers.  (Luckily I didn't have to face endgame virtuoso Vikram Ramasamy, who was not participating this year.)  When did that happen?!  I have always been terrible at endgames, and while I've made a concerted attempt to study them as an adult, everyone knows it's hard for adults to learn chess.  --It was probably best for my morale that I didn't yet know I'd missed a win, though I suspected it, as did many kibitzers.

On Sunday as I arrived at Microsoft a few flakes of fine snow were blowing past.  I sat quietly by a window and studied, and it turned into a brief but intense non-sticking blizzard.  Apparently inland parts of Western Washington got a foot or two.  We had strong cold winds instead.  A good day to be inside, playing chess.

Except it wasn't.  I just couldn't focus.  I had to play Rushaan Mahajan, the number 42 11-year-old in the US.  If you are noticing that WA has more than its share of top kids, you're quite right.  Our scholastic programs are first-rate.  There were a reasonable number of adults at the State Championships, but the President's Cup, held at the Seattle Chess Club on the same date, looked like a scholastic event:

President's Cup 2018

I had never played Rushaan before, though he taught me the concept of the Delayed Alapin ("Let your opponent get ready for his favorite line of the Sicilian, then disappoint him.")  He started the game by leaning over the board and locking eyes with me.  As a nonverbal RAR it was somewhat effective.  null

I liked my opening at first, and then it inexplicably (at the time) went downhill.  Much like the game against Daniel Shubin, except instead of getting better once I knew I was in trouble, it got worse:

So that was disappointing, and alarming--once I start playing badly I tend to play badly all day, and I had to face my study partner and section leader Joseph Frantz.  In theory being study partners with your opponent shouldn't favor one side or the other, but for me this has not been the case.  As a teen I played a rated match with a lower-rated study partner and lost it 1.5/5, in large part because I had great gaping holes in my opening preparation and he knew where they were....

Joseph is also difficult to prepare for because, in contrast to me, he switches openings frequently and isn't afraid to play relatively unfamiliar lines.  I suspected, however, that he'd play the Exchange French, as he had in our previous tournament game.  We'd discussed Jesse Kraai's video on the French, where he says that the main point of the Exchange is to piss off French fans, who will feel impelled to "do something weird" in order to avoid symmetrical positions with no chances for Black.  The Exchange also has a strong family similarity to Petrov's Defense, which Joseph plays often.  I therefore spent the many hours left free by losing so quickly to Rushaan going over all of the Exchange French games in my personal database. (I couldn't look at master games without a net connection, and we didn't know how to coax one out of Microsoft.)  Unfortunately I didn't have the game between me and Joseph from a recent quad, which was an Exchange draw after some excitement.  I've lost the scoresheet, and Joseph always says something temporizing when I ask him for it.  (Strategy or just laziness?  You can make up your own mind.)

I learned that most of my putative Exchanges are Exchange Winawers or Exchange Tarrasches.  This must be exactly the same principle as the Delayed Alapin in the Sicilian:  let your French-loving opponent settle in for her favorite variation, and then disappoint her!  I was also reminded that you can lose an Exchange French in record time, despite its drawish reputation:  I lost one in 17 moves, and could have mated in another almost as quickly (but missed it and lost).

As it turns out, Joseph had been chatting with Tim Moroney, who recommended that he play something else.  (Tim is not a fan of the drawish qualities of Joseph's opening repertoire.)  He mentioned a French Tarrasch line that transposes into the Classical, with the odd difference that the two White knights are on each others' squares, and Joseph decided at the last moment to play this instead.


 While not unexpected, this was painful.  I'd hoped for a better than even score but evidently even was the most I could hope for, and I still had a hard game to play.  At least it was on a new day.  Monday being a legal holiday, I decided to stay home, write blog entries, and try to study.  I ended up doing Tactics Trainer problems as a form of tea-leaf reading:  am I tactically sharp today or not?  Of course I got some right (including a stray 2600 problem, which is always gratifying) and got some wrong.  Since I didn't have a plan for what to do if I wasn't tactically sharp, it was all a bit useless.  Eventually I gave up and took my spouse out to a late lunch or very early dinner, and arrived in time for the round at 5 pm.

We had some tournament announcements before the event, generating some buzz over the upcoming Super Masters in March.  It has three GMs signed up for the top section.  While WA has strong players overall, we have no regularly playing GMs, so this is exciting!  I hope that while everyone whose rating allows them into the top section contends with these guys, I can sneak a win in the Reserve (U2000) where I am currently the top registered player.  Of course that probably won't last.  I did my best to improve the odds by encouraging Joseph Frantz, who will indisputably be an expert after this event, to claim that rating and play in the Open!

I was playing Yevgeniy Rozenfeld.  (I asked him how to pronounce this and he explained it's "yev-GEN-ee" though he often falls back to "Eugene".)  I had never played him before, and a sketchy examination of his games only showed that he could be tactically dangerous, which frankly is true of all 1900 players.  I expected the Sicilian and was not disappointed:


Around move 41 there was a lot of noise in the tournament hall.  A very senior community member had come to watch, but when the sun went down became, I think, confused about where he was and what was happening, and forgot to keep his voice down.  Some spectators camped just outside the playing room doors and had a loud discussion.  I can't say that this is why I played the first blunder, but it was certainly irritating.  Later, when all the other games had finished, the remaining players either stood around watching us, or started packing up chess sets, chairs, and tables.  This was not as annoying as voices, but it was distracting and added to the pressure.  Around here came the final blunder, about 10:50 pm; we have been playing for about 5.5 hours.

I'm afraid I snapped at Josh Sinanan when he congratulated me on the game, not having seen how it ended--not to mention at Jacob Mayer, who said "If you just don't play Ng5--".  It was really, really frustrating to draw this.  On the other hand, what an interesting game!  It was unusually rich in ideas and plans, and I felt that other than the blunders I had played really well.

So that was 4/9, a full point better than last year.  Joseph Frantz not only won the Invitational but did so 8/9, the highest score in any section, which easily made him an expert.  I had a rating gain too:  three points in nine games! 

FM Roland Feng won the Championship outright.  He was co-Champion last year and sole champion 3 years ago, when he was 14. null I had wondered if this might be Anthony He's year to win it, but he could only manage second.  He still has one more try to beat Roland's age record.  It says something about the strength of the field that IM Michael Lee placed only 4th.  Apparently Joseph Truelson had held WIM Megan Lee to a draw, the only game he didn't lose all event, and in retribution she turned around and beat Michael!  I think the next Women's Championship is going to be very hot.

Brendan Zhang won the Premiere, with Naomi Bashkansky in hot pursuit.  And Nicholas Whale won the Challengers despite fierce competition from Anne-Marie Velea (who ruthlessly dispatched both of her sisters en route) and may finally have a rating that matches his skill.

While I don't begrudge Joseph Frantz his win, I am ridiculously jealous, and frustrated with my play.  I play some really fine moves and an occasional nice game, but I'm not consistent enough to get out of the 1900's--in fact it's hard work just to stay there; if I'd lost one of my draws I think I'd be back in the 1800's.  There were some failures of understanding in this event, but most of my problems were failures of tactical accuracy, focus, and judgment.  These are harder to work on than the latest wrinkle in the Classical French.

There's also an element of the Red Queen's Race ("You have to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place.")  One of my best previous results was 7/9 in the FIDE RR, against 1800-1900 players.  If I played those same players today I would not get 7/9, you can bet, despite having improved my endgame play and some aspects of my openings.  (To start with, at least two of them are now high experts....)  It just feels like the standard of play keeps going up.

On the other hand, at moments when I can put results and ratings out of my head, I'm really pleased with this tournament.  It was a blast to play in.  All of the games were interesting; even the two that were truncated by blunders had interesting opening play.  I found some novel plans, particularly vs. Yevgeniy.  I played fairly well in multiple endgames--I really liked the schematic I worked out to draw Wenyang, though of course I regret not going on to win, and the confident decision to trade queens vs. Yevgeniy (ditto).  My Delayed Alapin held up very well as an anti-Sicilian measure in an environment full of passionate Sicilian fans.

If I could play consistently at my best level I'd be, I think, a low expert.  Of course no one plays consistently at their best level, not even the youngsters (witness Joseph Levine missing a rather simple discovery).  How to do better?  Well, that remains to be seen. One suggestion at the event was to pound on Tactics Trainer, so I'll try that before the next event, the looming SuperMasters in two weeks.