Yesterday I reminisced about past US Opens I had attended. It was fun thinking about those past events. Things certainly have changed in 31 years since I played in my first Open in 1976. It's not just the kids, and the schedule options, but the technology has changed. It used to be to watch the games on the top boards there would be some kid sitting there next to a demo board making the moves there as they were being played. Now they have sensor boards and Mon Roi electronic score keepers to relay the moves instantaneously to a projector attached to a computer. There spectators can look the positions. Not only can someone in the tournament room be watching, but people from all the world can watch from the comfort of their home sitting at their computer.
Because the US Open is one section you get some pretty wide ranging pairings for the first few rounds. It's not unusual to see a 1700-1800 playing a Grandmaster in the first round. In those early Opens I played in, the top 2 boards were usually played up on a stage with a demo board for people to see the moves. I always had this desire to just miss the break and end out up on the stage in the first round matched up against some Grandmaster. I must have really wanted attention to subject myself to being up on a stage with people watching me get crushed by a GM. However much to my disappointment (now relief) the break was always a few hundred points higher, so I'd usually get crushed by some Expert instead.
Be Careful for What You Wish For (Extreme Pairings Part I)
Last year in Oak Brook, I just made the cut and got paired way down against a 900 player. I hate playing way down like that. If you win easily there's little satisfaction. If you struggle to beat a player 800 points lower you feel like a putz. God forbid you lose or draw then you feel like total crap and all your friends rag on you and ask how you could have drawn or lost to such a patzer. I did win, but it wasn't particularly easy. He did last 34 moves.
So this year I'm looking at the advance entry list for the 5 day schedule. I'm ranked 29th out of 61 players. I'm thinking to myself "Oh crap, I'm going to have to play some random unrated who might actually be good, or even worse I might get paired against the 315. Maybe some more higher rated players have entered, and I'll get pushed into the bottom half and get paired up." Sure enough that's exactly what happened, and here I am sitting across from Grandmaster Alexander Shabalov, 2007 US Champion. His rating is 2685, only 985 points higher then mine.
Fortunately since this was round one of the 5 day schedule Mon Roi was not broadcasting live, and my position was not up on the wall for all to see. (It did end out in the bulletin along with the picture.) I did manage to go 20 moves before I dropped a pawn, but 13 moves later I was facing choices of getting mated, getting forked or losing the exchange. So on my 34th move I tipped my king. I lasted about as long as the 900 lasted against me last year.
I've played plenty of masters before. I usually get paired against one in the first round of "Four Rated Games Tonight!" at the Marshall Chess Club on Thursday nights. Every once in awhile I play well enough to draw or win. I've played a few Grandmasters before, and even though I've never beaten one I haven't found it intimidating. This game I was clearly intimidated. Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura who I've known since he was 5 was playing next to us. His comment after the game was, "You should have played e4. Yes you still would have lost, but it would have been more interesting. You played too chicken." His assessment was 100% correct. I played scared because I was afraid of blundering early and losing in 15 moves. I just made "safe moves" and waited for the inevitable. Can anyone say "Bawk, bawk, bawk!" while flapping one's arms like a chicken?
Extreme Pairings - Part II
As I said before when there are no class sections the early round pairings can be "interesting" to say the least. The second round I got paired down against a kid in the mid 1300s. Nothing unusual about that pairing. I'm number two in the zero score group, and he was in the middle. He dropped a pawn, and then a few moves later sac'ed a knight for two pawns. He had a decent attack, and I felt if I could hold him back I'd should win. He offered a draw, which after much thought I turned down. He forced me into a three fold repetition so he got his draw. I could have avoided the repetition, but it would have cost me my king. Somehow getting mated to avoid a draw doesn't seem like a wise thing.
Now I'm number one in the half point score group, and the low one drops down to play me. The low one is a 7 year old kid with a 714 rating who took two 1/2 point byes on the first day. So now I'm the one out rating the opponent by 986 points. I've played 7 year olds before. Most of them that I've played have been strong enough players to be scary. This kid was not scary. Looking at his MSA records I'm the first adult and the first player with a 4 digit rating that he's ever played. He was in way over his head. He was looking all over the place, and wasn't too focused on the board. I won in 24 moves, and spent more time going over the game with him afterwards. The chess teacher in me comes out.
Be Careful for What You Wish For: Part II
So you want to be up on the stage where everyone can see you playing, and possibly make a fool of yourself? Sure, that would be cool to have 20 some spectators watching me do battle against some GM. I always dreamed about being on stage and pulling an upset against a much higher rated player. Alright you asked for it, but it won't be against a GM (you had your GM opportunity in Round 1), and you won't be on an actual stage. The internet will be your stage.
"Welcome to Mon Roi's live coverage of the 2007 US Open in beautiful Cherry Hill, New Jersey! (applause) This afternoon's round 4 coverage features a titanic battle between FOC (Forum Over site Committee) member Polly Wright versus USCF Issues Forum's most sanctioned member, Sam Sloan. (Ohhhhhhh, ahhhhhhhhh) Stay tuned to see how Ms. Wright does against Mr. Sloan's infamous 1. g4 opening. But first a word from our sponsor......"
Alright it wasn't quite like that, but damn close. This was the first round of the tournament that my Mon Roi was actually in sync with the central hub, so my game was actually being shown live on the Mon Roi website as part of their US Open coverage. I really didn't think that at 1:00 pm EDT on a Thursday afternoon that there would really be anyone watching my game against Sam. I figured people were more interested in what the Grandmasters were doing in that round. (Though now that I think of it, I may have been the only one on the 5 day schedule using a Mon Roi. I don't think they were putting them on the top boards of the 5 day schedule.)
I've played Sam a number of times at the Manhattan and Marshall Chess Clubs over the years. I have one draw and the rest of the games I lost. The significance of this game had nothing to do the game itself. It was more about the battles waged on the USCF Issues Forum where I was part of a committee to try to keep some degree of order and civility on said same forum. On the other hand, Sam in the midst of a very heated election campaign tended to overstep those bounds, and had been sanctioned by the committee that I belonged to. For some forum members this game might have been the war between "good & evil". Depending on which extreme of the political spectrum one fell there may have been differing opinions on who represented "good" and who represented "evil".
The game was interesting to say the least. I won a pawn, and had a fierce attack going. I was sure I could win more material. Somehow Sam kept defending, and I kept attacking. But I had this big problem. I had one second left on my clock. Oh crap!! Where did all my time go?? At that point I just started grabbing pawns, and making any sort of move that didn't hang something. The problem is when you're trying not to hang pieces that 1 second tends to vanish. So now I'm out of time, and Sam has 1 second left. We're both just making moves. He's oblivious to my clock, and I'm watching his in the hopes that maybe he'll run out of time and I can salvage a draw. (Feel free to debate the fairness of my playing on when I know I'm out of time.) It's situations like this where the 5 second delay becomes your worst enemy. Sigh. The clock became a non-issue as the attack changed direction, and suddenly I found myself in checkmate from a bishop.
I thought my only audience had been the crowd that gathered as Sam and I were rattling off our last 8 moves in the midst of the time scramble. I was mistaken. The former Mod4 of the forum had been watching the live feed from Mon Roi, and so nicely informed fellow forum members that I was playing Sam, was up a pawn and had an overwhelming attack. There were a number of posts regarding what I should have done. Damn kibitzers always see stuff that the players don't. Internet kibitzers can't see the clock, so they have no idea what I was thinking about. Though they didn't actually see the last 8 moves live since Sam and I had to reconstruct after the game was over. Our audience was probably wondering why they didn't see any moves for about 20 minutes, and then suddenly saw 8 moves with a few take backs as we reconstructed.
In the chaos of trying to reconstruct, and forgetting that a game where only 1 second is left between the two players tends to end shortly before the next round is to begin, I lost track of time. I was doing my usual smoozing between rounds, and suddenly noticed there was no one milling around waiting for pairings. Oh crap! The next round was at 3:30, and it's now 3:55. The queen of time trouble is starting 25 minutes down in a G/60 round! Nothing like giving time odds to a player that's less then 200 points lower rated. 35 minutes left on my clock. No problem! It turned out not to be a problem. I won, and actually had more time left then my opponent at the end.
After playing 5 rounds at game/60 sometimes I find it difficult to make the transition to the slower 40 moves in 2 hours followed by sudden death/60. Last year in round 6, I got crushed in 15 moves by a 1900 player. This year I still lost to a 1900 player in round 6, but it took longer to lose. So just like last year I got through the merge with 2.5 - 3.5. This year's journey through the first 6 rounds was far more interesting then last year's.