Last weekend, I just completed my 11th US Open. It's a small number considering that I've been playing in USCF rated tournaments since 1972. One would think that in 35 years I could have shown up a little more often. I have a lot of admiration, and a bit of envy for those who have played in 20 or more Opens. But when I think back on Opens past I realize that playing back then was an expensive and time consuming undertaking. The US Open used to be 12 rounds spread out over 13 days. Now it's 9 rounds and there are lots of choices in terms of schedules. One can spend as many 9 days there or as few as 5. Given that Cherry Hill, NJ isn't exactly the sun and surf capitol of the east coast, I opted for the 5 day schedule.
Looking back on past US Opens that I've played in, I have fond memories. I loved the traditional 12 round schedule. I always met lots of interesting people, and as a single woman chess player, I'd have lots of guys falling all over me. I wasn't exactly a "hot babe", but in a game where less then 10% of the participants are female, any woman who could play a half way decent game was worth pursuing. It was one of those US Open friendships that played a major part in my relocating to New York in 1977. I know I broke the hearts of a few guys when I announced I was "marrying outside the faith", by marrying a non-chess player. Marrying "outside the faith" also curtailed my US Open trips. "You want me to spend my two weeks vacation where, while you play chess??"
The other aspect of the US Open was visiting some place I'd never been before. Some places were more interesting then others. Sometimes getting there was half the fun. The road trip to Atlanta, Georgia (1980) sticks out in my mind. Picture a Jew from Los Angeles, an Italian from Long Island, a black from the Bronx, and a WASP female riding together in a car with NY plates through the south to Atlanta. We had some interesting discussions about the merits or Algebraic versus Descriptive, which lead to Metric versus Yards. Good thing there weren't time delay clocks and electronic score keepers. I can just imagine the debate over rule 15A. The four of us made quite a quartet going into roadside restaurants in North Carolina.
California US Opens made for great vacation locations. Though I did make an interesting observation. The better the vacation, the worse my chess play. Maybe those days at amusement parks, the beach and pre-round cookouts with wine and beer weren't such a good idea. Was it a coincidence that I lost 68 rating points in Palo Alto, and another 64 in Los Angeles? Ah, but what's a few hundred rating points when you're young and there's more to the US Open then chess? Los Angeles was the only US Open I ever dropped out of because I was having a crappy tournament. It wasn't so much the lousy chess I was playing. In fact I wanted to play my last round, but my friend Chuck begged me to skip the last round so we could spend the day and evening at Disneyland.
"So Polly, now that you've dropped a bunch of rating points, and had two losses to C players published in the bulletin, what are you doing next?"
"I'm dropping out, and going to Disneyland!" That was my way of telling the directors I was withdrawing for the last round.
My first US Open was 1976 in Fairfax, Virginia. It was also my cheapest. My aunt and uncle lived in Fairfax, so I stayed with them. I couldn't play all 12 rounds because my sister was getting married the weekend the tournament ended. I scored 3.5 out of 10. The score doesn't look like much, but I was below 1400 at the time and beat an A player in the first round. I paid for it the rest of the tournament. I finally got paired down in round 10.
It was at that US Open that I got my introduction to USCF politics, as the delegate from Vermont. I don't remember a whole lot of went on at that meeting. I do remember Jerry Hanken with that big booming voice of his shouting "point of order!" Since then Jerry and I have gotten to know each other quite well and are good friends. At the 2001 Open in Framingham, MA I ended out being the featured game in the Round 1 bulletin having lost a totally won game against him. That's what happens when you lose to the bulletin editor in such spectacular fashion.
My best US Open was Boston 1988 despite ending on a very disappointing note. I started off 2-0 having beaten 2 expert rated players. Okay the second one wasn't exactly a player. It was was a computer rated 2100. I ended out with 4 wins, 5 losses and 3 draws. The lowest rated player I played was mid 1800s. I was mid 1600s at the time. I gained 106 rating points despite a minus score. My biggest gain ever. So why did it end out on a disappointing note? I went into the last round with an even score. A win gives me the B prize outright. A draw puts me in a tie. I was due white, having played black 6 times already. Somehow I had the misfortune of being in a score group where lots of people were due white. I ended out with a 7th black. To say I was upset by that turn of events would be an understatement. Major meltdown would better describe what ensued. Anyone woman below the age of 50 would understand it when I say that it was not the right time of the month to be dealing with the pressure and anger of receiving a 7th black.
1991 was the last time I played the traditional 12 round schedule. My next US Open would be 2001 in Framingham. That was the first summer I wasn't working. After my mom passed away that April, I decided I'd take the summer off. Normally I'd teach computer classes until school started again when I resume teaching chess. That summer I needed time to heal emotionally, so for me a road trip to Massachusetts to play some chess and ride my bike in some new places was just the ticket.
The one thing that stood out after a 10 year absence from US Opens were the number of kids playing. After losing to Jerry Hanken in the first round, I went six straight rounds without playing anyone over the age of 21. It wouldn't have been so bad, except all these kids with 1100 ratings were holding me to draws. I ended out with 1 win, 3 losses and 5 draws. I also had 2 more draws in the quad I played in one day. I gained 11 rating points in the quad, and tossed the same 11 points away in the main event. Rating floors are a wonderful thing when playing underrated kids.
So what's worse then playing an underrated kid? Playing an unrated high school kid from Illinois. Last year in Oakbrook I had the "pleasure" of playing one the unrated local kids. The state high school athletic association doesn't allow for kids to be required to join an outside organization to participate. Consequently the high school chess league is not USCF rated. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, "Playing an unrated is like a box of chocolates....." There are class E strength unrateds and then there are class B strength unrateds. Beware of unrateds who attack with black! The pain!