Washington Women's Championship
My great summer chess binge--three tournaments and 18 rated games in under a month--concluded with the Washington Women's Championship, a four-round open Swiss. For some reason I repeatedly woke up in the middle of the night worrying about this event. That kind of nervousness was a standard problem for me as a young chessplayer, but I'd thought I'd outgrown it.
A week before the event 14 players had pre-registered. I made hypothetical pairings and couldn't escape the conclusion that I'd have to play both WFM Chouchanik Airapetian and WCM Naomi Bashkansky on Sunday. The actual event had 15 players due to the same-day entry of WFM Badamkhand Norovsambuu, which might have been expected to change the pairings, but let's see....
I arrived at the club expecting women and nearly panicked when all I found was men! It turned out there were quads going on as well, with a different schedule, making for some disruption around the start of rounds.
On paper the Women's Championship looked like two disjoint tournaments: three Experts and a high A player, then no one else above the low 1600's. That expectation was quickly overturned in round 1 when Sophie Tien (1549) upset Chouchanik (2072). I was paired with Stephanie Velea (1331)--one of three sisters who are fixtures in local tournaments--and didn't entirely have things my own way either.
Bearing in mind both the fierce fight Stephanie gave me and Chouchanik's loss, I played very carefully in round 2. I can't resist giving the key moment of this game as a puzzle:
And here's the whole game, featuring yet another unexpected success for the bad bishop of the Stonewall Dutch:
Before one of the rounds I went out to McDonald's, and met a young man who asked me how the tournament was going. (I am more or less face-blind and have a very difficult time recognizing people by sight, so I'm used to chatting with people who I can't quite identify....) I told him that I was worried about Naomi, and he said,
"In my experience Naomi is fire. Let her run wild and she'll burn you up. Bottle her up and she burns out. She gets frustrated, she makes bad moves."
Sunday morning I was, as predicted, paired with Naomi, and found I would have Black--the third time in my three games with her. I told her that I was condemned to play the Stonewall against her until I got it right. But I did have the mystery chessplayer's advice firmly in mind.
Well! Not a win, but I did get the Stonewall right, or right enough, and also it was very good for my morale not to lose to Naomi for a third time. (Weirdly, since my comeback I have never lost three times to anyone. The community is large enough that I seldom play the same player that many times, admittedly.)
I went out to the mall with Naomi and her mother for food; we didn't discuss the game much, except for a brief interchange where she asserted confidently that the rook endgame was drawn and, being a strong blitz player, she could of course draw it. We talked about her performance at the Oregon Open, where she rejected a threefold repetition against a GM.... I'm a bit glad I didn't know that beforehand! We also worked out the pairings: she would clearly play Badamkhand, and I'd play Chouchanik, just as I'd predicted before hand. She was a pleasant conversationalist but very good at not revealing her reactions to the game or what she might do next time. (When he heard this, my husband said, "Eastern Europeans know how to keep their mouths shut." As this blog amply demonstrates, Irishwomen don't....)
I had never played Chouchanik. She is a strong and experienced player but was evidently not having a good tournament (she'd shown me a strange piece vs. pawns endgame from round 2 or 3 which should probably have been a draw) so I thought I might have a chance.
Once this game finished all eyes were on Badamkhand vs. Naomi. Naomi had played her typical Queen's Gambit Accepted and then gotten involved in sharp early tactics where it looked like she was trying to hold the pawn. All this got her were weak pawns all over the queenside. She looked very unhappy as she tried to hold them all--she might better have let a few go and tried to exploit Badamkhand's exposed king before it slipped off to g1. One might try gambits against Naomi to see if she could be lured into this kind of materialism, because when I next saw the game, Naomi's kingside was torn open and Badamkhand had a queen and rook in the hunt. The game didn't last long after that.
If Naomi had won I'd have tied for first with her; if she'd drawn I'd have tied for first with Badamkhand. (We don't know who would have gotten the title and the State Championship invitation.) But as it was, Badamkhand won the title with a well-deserved 4-0. I was 2nd and Sophie Tien, who'd been beaten only by Badamkhand, took clear 3rd with an 80 point rating increase. I predict more in her future. (One of the other girls said to me, "We've all played Sophie before and she was really timid, but now she's attacking everyone! What happened?")
So the title was decided among the top players after all, but I don't think the lower-rated players should feel any regrets: they played red-hot chess--only 2 draws in 28 games!--and mostly showed excellent sportsmanship. (We did have one meltdown, but the player recovered quickly.)
I would have liked to be Champion, but I can't complain about this tournament. I found a plan to neutralize Naomi's attack against my Stonewall, I finally got the bishop zigzag to work in another Stonewall, a showed myself once again that I can compete with Experts, and I finally picked up some rating points (final rating 1979).
Next up: the Challenger's Cup in late October. Only four rounds, but FIDE rated, and of course the winner gets seeded into the State Champion top section, where they will surely be eaten by sharks. (It would be a change from being eaten by piranha!)