Western States Open 2018
The Truckee River, which flows through downtown Reno. Image from Pixabay.

Western States Open 2018

mkkuhner
WCM mkkuhner
Jan 10, 2019, 7:46 PM |
16

I knew that I was facing a crisis at work in December through March--a new class to teach, a grant submission deadline, and a realistic chance of needing a new job--but I snatched some time in October to go to the Western States Open in Reno, Nevada, having thoroughly enjoyed my last Reno tournament.  Reno is an odd and somewhat seedy town, and the Sands Regency has definitely seen better days, but the food is cheap and the chess well-organized.

On my husband's recommendation I flew down a day early, and managed to draw GM Enrico Sevillano in a simultaneous exhibition. (I was so over-excited about this game that I gave it its own blog entry.)  That definitely felt like a good start to the tournament, and the rest day also seemed helpful.  I was resolved to try to avoid the fatigue issues of my last Reno tournament, where I won the first four games in class A, was in sole first place, and then collapsed and lost both games on the last day.

As it turned out, I got to conserve some energy as my round 1 game ended very suddenly:

I wandered around the tournament hall feeling strangely at loose ends; I was not prepared for the game to be over!  (I'm sure my opponent felt even worse.)  Eventually I went out and walked along the Truckee River, which is quite beautiful.  Reno reminds me of my hometown, Anchorage, Alaska, both in its natural beauty and in its seediness and faint air of corruption.

In the evening round I was playing Konner Feldman of Oregon, whom I'd seen at the Oregon Open but mainly knew from mentions in Northwest Chess.  As it turns out, that was the closest I came to knowing any of my opponents--certainly not enough to allow me to prepare for them.  The game was scrappy and not entirely convincing:

So far so good, though discovering that the endgame had been a draw at multiple points did not help my morale.  I roamed the tournament hall, met a few people I knew only via the Internet, and managed to go off to my room at a reasonable hour.  My coach is adamant that I need to do a non-chess activity before bed, and I diligently watched a baking show on video.  This paid off in feeling reasonably alert the next morning.

This game is very typical of my style, both strengths and weaknesses.  I have an eye for counterattacking possibilities and I'm not afraid to sack.  But quite often the reason I'm looking for a counterattack, and investing material in one, is that I'm in trouble. I get into trouble with alarming regularity.  I don't know my openings particularly well; my fondness for attack leads me to take risks, sometimes without justification; and my pawn play could stand improvement.

In round 4, against the first 1900 player I'd faced, I got into terrible trouble:

I felt very lucky to have drawn this.  So not as good as my last Reno tournament's 4-0 after four rounds, but 3.5 was quite decent.  If I recall correctly, I was tied for first as there were no perfect scores left.

So I went off to bed, having dutifully watched a video, with the intention of being well rested and in top form for the final day.  At around 1:30 am I was awakened by a horrendous sound of klaxons and a recorded voice saying that an alarm had been triggered and we should keep calm and await instructions.  This repeated every thirty seconds for what seemed like hours.  I thought about getting dressed and evacuating, but I was groggy and cold and didn't want to budge.  It was quite impossible to sleep, of course.  Finally the alarms stopped.  I flung myself back into bed and was just about asleep when they started again.  This cycle lasted only two iterations, but now I was wide awake, my subconscious convinced that if I went back to sleep there would be more klaxons.  I took some melatonin and lay awake in the dark.  Eventually I passed out, maybe around 3.  I heard from opponents later that the alarm had affected only a few floors of one hotel tower--though other players complained of fights in the hallways and had also had trouble sleeping.

I can't really blame my last-day problems on this.  I always have last-day problems.  But it sure didn't help. 

My fifth-round opponent, if I recall correctly, told me after the game that tricks and traps were his great joy.  This game sure had its share on both sides, and my opponent evidently enjoyed it, despite letting the win slip his fingers.

Just as had happened last year, despite being a full point off a perfect score, I was tied for first--this time, with around 5 other players.  I was on board 2 vs. Kevin Yanofsky.  Partway through the game, I noticed that one of the board 1 players had just offered a draw.  His opponent bit his lip and turned to my game, studying the board intently for several minutes.  He then returned his attention to his own board, verified that avoiding perpetual check would probably just lose, and with evident reluctance accepted the draw.

This made me wonder.  I got up and looked at the wall chart, and found that all of the other players who could have gotten 5 points had already completed their games, and not a one of them had done so.  Kevin and I were therefore playing for sole first.

This was probably a bad thing to know.  The tournament announcement said that first place would be $1800, though I suspected there weren't enough players for a full pay-off (in fact it paid $1200).  That would be by far the most money I'd ever won at a tournament.  I found myself musing on my pledge to donate any winnings above the cost of the event, and my history of losing when money is on the line, and other unhelpful lines of thought.

There was a brief period where I was positive I was winning, which was very exciting but made the actual outcome all the more painful.

We went to the skittles room to analyze the game, and a cloud of players with 4.5 jumped up to ask us what had happened--on a draw it would have been an eight-way tie for first!  They were disappointed to hear that Kevin had won it outright.  The six of them thus had 2nd-7th and I was 8th, out of the money.  I did pick up 16 rating points, despite being higher-rated than all of my opponents.  I can't complain about my pairings--I played 4 of the 7 players who finished above me.

Despite this, I came away feeling what I usually feel when I play outside the Northwest, namely that Northwest players tend to be a bit stronger than their rating.  I had not, by my standards, played outstanding chess, but I still came quite close to winning the section.  This discrepancy is likely due to the constant drain of points to up-and-coming scholastic players, exacerbated by the fact that the Northwest has a separate scholastic-only rating system, so some rather experienced kids have frightfully low USCF ratings.  I understand that San Francisco is also overrun with youth players, and  SF also did very well in Reno, beating out the Seattle Chess Club for the club prize by a nose. 

I felt myself lucky never to have seen the telltale pair of green state flags at my board--last year I lost the key last-round game to a kid from Washington.  It does feel a little unfair to travel hundreds of miles just to be beaten by the same people you face at home!

As usual, I hung around and helped pack up the hundreds of chess sets.  I found a souvenir, a signed GM scoresheet from the last-round game between Kudrin and Sevillano.  I can give the game in its entirety:  1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Bd3 1/2-1/2.  Disappointing! -- I wanted to see how they'd handle this opening, which I also play.  As a result they tied for second in the Open section, and GM Fidel Corrales Jimenez took clear first with 5/6.  Multiple NW players played in the Open:  my friend Isaac Vega from Oregon found himself well over his head and lost every game he played.  We had a dinner discussion of the fine line between challenge and demoralization.... The top NW players in the Open were NMs Josh Grabinsky and David Bragg, both at 3.5.  Davey Jones tied for second in Class B, and so did Michael Munsey in Class D. 

One strange thing about playing in Reno was the mix of players.  I'm used to the bottom sections looking like a scholastic event with a sprinkling of adults, but that wasn't the case in Reno:  there were young players in all sections, but not a preponderance of them.  All of my opponents seemed to be adults (Konner is technically a junior, but barely)--when's the last time that happened in Seattle?  There were also far fewer women than in a Northwest event.  I did get to briefly meet WIM Ruth Haring in what would turn out, sadly, to be her final tournament.

One of these days I am going to win in Reno.  It's close every time.  (I know, I know, innumerable people have lost their shirts saying that.  But chess is different!)  It seems that my biggest problem is how to get enough sleep.  I thought I had such a good plan, but I hadn't counted on klaxons!