That was the quandary I found myself in this week. I've been able to "qualify" for the St. John's Masters at The Marshall Chess Club by paying the $5.00 qualifier fee at the Four Rated Games Tonight tournament on Thursday nights. The St. John's Masters is held on the 3rd Tuesday of the month. One has to be rated over 2100 or qualify from the Thursday tournament. Under the old system one would pay the fee, and if he scored the most points of those who had paid the qualifier fee then he could play in the Masters tournament that month.
However there is clearly something wrong with the system when sometimes only one person pays the fee in a week, and qualifies by virtue of simply paying the fee. I knew the first time I did it back in September that is was a totally screwed up way to allow lower rated players an opportunity to play in a strong event. I lost all four games on Thursday, but because I was the only one who paid that week I got to play in the Masters tournament where I also lost all four games. How dumb is that?
Pretty dumb, but I wasn't complaining because it gave me a way into a tournament that I otherwise could not play in. However some of the masters and grandmasters were complaining that too many qualifiers degraded the tournament. The funny thing was, very few people were trying to qualify so there weren't that many players rated under 2100 playing. I'm not sure why a grandmaster cared whether or not a patzer like me was in the tournament. The highest rated player I faced in the first round was rated 2260. Actually I played this particular player both in November and December. I guess I scared him too much when I missed drawing chances in December. He was one of the people who complained.
So here I am, a beneficiary of a seriously flawed qualification system and a member of the Marshall Chess Club Tournament Committee. This committee would be making a decision on changing the qualification system. Instead of having a qualifier fee with top scorer getting in, qualification would be based a player's Thursday night score. Any player under 2100 could play in the St. John's Masters if they scored 2.5 or better. When I saw the email suggesting a score of 2.5 I thought I was going to puke.
I have played in the Thursday night tournament 158 times since 2001. I have scored 2.5 ONCE! I have gotten an even score around 6 times and one those included a full point bye. My typical score on Thursday night is 1-3. Some night when I'm really bored I'll take my spreadsheet and figure out exactly how many times I went 2-2, 1.5-2.5, 1-3, .5-3.5, 0-3 (bye nights) and 0-4. I'm not sure I really want to know about the 0-fer nights. A cursory glance of the results as I was counting up the number of times I played in the damn tournament each year revealed way too many of those crappy nights.
My first reaction to the email was "Whadda ya mean too many qualifiers degrading the tournament? There's been 1-2 qualifiers playing each month. How does that degrade the tournament?" Then I went to the USCF MSA and researched how many players under 2100 played in the tournament for the last 5 months, and fired off an email with my findings. Somehow deep inside I knew my research was not going to carry much weight, but I could hope that it might be the basis of good pre-tournament dinner talk before my Tuesday swan song at the St. John's Masters.
The happy ending of this story would be that I pulled a stunning upset of an IM on Tuesday night and that on Thursday night I convinced the tournament committee to leave things as they are. However, the stories I blog here are not fiction. So here is what really happened. On Tuesday night I got crushed by the house player in round one, and a 2170 in round two. To add insult to injury I played miserably against the other qualifier Aigboje Aregbeyen (rated 1768) in round three, and lost to Vladimir Polyakin for the umpteenth time in round four. So once again I finished 0-4, but it was probably my worst 0-4. Is there such a thing as a "good" 0-4? Yes, when one puts up a good fight every round and almost holds a FM to a draw.
Thursday? DDSOS (Different Day Same Old "Stuff") The only nice thing I can say about it was that I got to make the 11:14 train without having to spring for a taxi, and that my 4th round opponent from last week did have a senior moment and made no mention of last week's screw up. Otherwise Thursday really sucked. Let me count the ways:
1. I felt like crap during my long run that I shortened because I was hurting so bad.
2. It was sneeting out. (Snow, rain and sleet.) Yuck!
3. 2.5 score qualifying standard was adopted. Nothing to discuss.
4. Blundered a piece on the 10th move with white against a master. The only reason I didn't resign immediately was because we had only been playing for about 5 minutes.
5. Lost another butt ugly game against Eric Hecht and his damn Smith-Morra Gambit. Though I managed to make it to move 23 this time.
6. Lost to Aigboje Aregbeyen again. Damn! I had to input that name twice this week. Don't even ask me how to pronounce it. I didn't type it twice here. I copied and pasted from above.
Though after everything was said and done, IM Jay Bonin helped me put it all in perspective. I told him I probably wouldn't be joining him for dinner before the St. John's Masters anymore because of the new scoring requirement. He told me it was better to earn the right to play by scoring well. Being able to buy one's way into a tournament was not right. He is glad that they got rid of patronage entry fees for the US Championship. Having gone that route last year he said it was awkward and he didn't like the crap he got last year over it. He would rather not play under those circumstances. He said that this year he's considering going to the qualifying tournament that's being held in March, so that he can try to earn a spot based on performance, not money.
After hearing that, how can I moan and groan about being kept out of a tournament that I really had no business being in in the first place? The best I scored on my qualification nights was 2-2, and it was a fake 2 wins. One point was a bye and the other point was beating the unrated I was trying to avoid by taking the 3rd round bye. Do I regret sneaking in the back door of the St. John's Masters Tournament? Not really, with possibly the exception of this past Tuesday when I played like the patzer I really am. I guess a noble goal for this year will be to score the 2.5 points I need so I can come in the front door. Either that, or get my rating over 2100 so I wouldn't have to worry about my score on Thursday. I think it's more like likely I'll score 2.5 points on a Thursday or beat King Kong then my making 2100.