Friday, August 8, 2008

US Open: Sights, Sounds and People

I wrote this post in Word this morning before having seen Greg's comment on my previous post. Hopefully this will answer his questions.

The US Open is a unique event in comparison to other tournaments. First of all is its’ history. This is the 109th edition of the event. It’s one of the longest running events. I believe the NY State Championship is oldest as the 130th edition will be in Albany over Labor Day. Past US Open winners could fill a “Who’s Who of Chess Players”.

The second unique aspect of the event is the format. It is a truly open tournament. There are no sections so the variety of opponents is immense. One round you might play a Grandmaster, and the next round play somebody 400 hundred points below you. They could eliminate the extreme pairings by using accelerated pairings for the early rounds, but it take away from the flavor of the event. I’m sure some people would like to get away from extreme pairings and just play within their class or a narrower range of ratings then typically encountered in this event. However there are plenty of other tournaments of equal length where they can stay within a much narrower rating range.

The number games played has changed over the years. I was told the first US Open played until there was a clear winner. They didn’t have the Swiss System pairing method that we have now so they played until one player was left with a perfect score. It took 6 rounds to accomplish that. The winner received the princely sum of $100.

For many years the tournament was a 12 round Swiss played for two weeks. You played 6 rounds from Sunday to Friday. There was no round on Saturday night. The weekend consisted of the delegates meeting or free time for those who were smart enough not to get involved with USCF politics. Sunday night after all the meetings were done week two of the event started. There would be 6 more rounds Sunday through Friday. It made for a long and tiring two weeks. Last year one of my first posts on this blog was recounting some of my experiences from those 12 round marathons. I won’t retell the story but you can go here if you missed it the first time.

Things have changed in that the tournament is 9 rounds instead of 12. There are also various schedules that give players the choice of playing the traditional 1 round a night format, two games a day for 6 days at the traditional time control of 40/2 SD/1 or the 5 day “you better have a cast iron stomach, endurance for 4 games in one day, and the ability to play G/60” format. There is also what they call the quick format which I think allows players to play one game a day, but at a faster time control in order to get finished earlier. Other formats have been tried over the years, but these schedules seem to be the ones that have worked out the best for the 9 round format. I’m sure there are old timers who don’t like all these different schedules. In some ways I’m not overly fond of all the options and much prefer the event being contested amongst the same field for the entire event. In this format the top players can kind of jockey for early edges by strategically picking the “easiest” schedule. No schedule is easy for a patzer like me. Being the cheap masochist that I am, I opt for the 5-day schedule. The less nights I have to spend in an over priced hotel trying to avoid $20 breakfasts the happier I am.

The Westin Park Central where the tournament is being held is a nice hotel, but the food is expensive. That's very typical since many guests are there on business and someone else is paying their bill. The playing room is very nice and brightly lit. I just seem to manage to end out always under an air conditioning vent so I'm perpetually cold. My Canadian vacation clothing is coming in handy.

Because the tournament moves around the country each one has its own vibe to it. Last year’s event in Cherry Hill had a definite New York edginess to it. Also with it being a hotly contest election year there was a certain tension in the air over the results of that election. This year being in Dallas it has a more laid back southwestern feel to it. Though the delegates meeting promises to be filled with tension as the Paul Truong/Susan Polgar issue is brought before the delegates. (That will be all I have to say about the whole mess. There are plenty of other places on the Internet to read all the dirt. This blog is not one of those places. Politics and religion don’t get discussed here.) I think as the delegates start arriving today the tension level will rise. Also the noise outside the playing room will increase. The non-playing delegates lurking by the ballroom doors will debate the merits of the various hot issues fiercely. Even some playing delegates will come out between moves and also join the debate.

One of my favorite parts of this tournament is the social aspect. I run into lots of my various chess contacts and this tournament is a great place to catch up with people. I see a number of my directing colleagues here. I’ll see then at the big scholastic nationals, but at those tournaments they’re usually running around foaming at the mouth dealing with the problems that come up with 2000 kids so there is really no time to talk. Here the leisurely pace allows for a little more socializing.

It always seems to happen that I’ll run into someone that I haven’t seen at one of these events in a gazillian years. Yesterday I saw a guy wearing a taekwondo tee shirt so I went up to him and we got talking about the sport and the philosophies of our respective dojangs. After several minutes of talking about taekwondo and chess he looks at me and says “Wait a minute I’ve met you before. Didn’t you play in Palo Alto?” Sure enough we had met there and hung out for a bit. Talk about ancient history. The US Open in Palo Alto was in 1981, so we’re talking over 25 years. I wasn’t married yet so my name was different.

I only have one complaint about this year’s tournament, not including all the losses to lower rated players. I’ll save that complaint for another post. How the hell can you have a tournament like the US Open with its evening rounds in a hotel where the bar closes at 11:00 PM? After a long game of chess it’s always nice to have a glass of wine, hang out with other players and swap war stories. It’s hard to do that of your game lasts for 4 or more hours. Last night that was not a problem. I was done by 10 PM, we analyzed for about a half hour and then I wandered over to the bar and joined friends for my post game glass of wine.

I had a very interesting conversation with David Kuhns of Minnesota. He’s Chairman of the Rules Committee and has been involved in organized chess for many years. We having a good laugh over one the proposals regarding Internet tournament play that will be brought to the delegates this weekend. We also got talking about pairing tournaments and the advent of computer pairings. Here’s a little piece of trivia for you. What year was computer aided pairing tried for the first time? My guess was 1990 since I had seen it attempted at the National Elementary in Hollywood Florida. (The computer crashed and they switched to their back up pairing cards that had prepared.)

WRONG! 1958 at the US Open in Rochester, Minnesota. IBM had headquarters there and somebody from IBM wrote a routine using the pairing rules to generate pairings. The first round went off with no problems. However in the second round the program paired two players who had drawn with each other in round one. At the point George Koltanowski was one very happy tournament director because he could do the pairings himself and not deal with this new fangled technology.

One does not have to have a continuous flow of drinks to sit at the bar and tell chess war stories. They closed down the bar and we continued to sit there and talk. By the time we stopped it was after 1:00 AM. If I had any sense I would gotten on the elevator, gone up to my room and gone to bed. “Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200.” Have I ever told you how dumb I can be at times? Yes, at least once a week if not more depending on how much “cracktion” I’ve played in a seven-day period.

First stop on my long journey back to my room was the TD room. I poked my head in and said hello to Phil Smith who is in charge of the computer pairings. We chatted for a bit, and as I was leaving I said please stop pairing me against 1300s that keep beating me. He asked if I’d rather play an 800. NOOOOO! Not that!

Next stop was the ballroom. I didn’t really expect any games to still be going, but there was one game and few people quietly analyzing. Jerry Hanken had been watching one game and had fallen dead asleep sitting in his scooter that he uses to get around. After the last game was done the TD said people could start talking. Jerry was still asleep. “Jerry you can leave now. The games are done.” It took a few loud “Jerry, wake up!” before he realized that everything is done. I’m sure we could have all left, turned out the lights and he would have slept through the night there.

Jerry is one chess’ more colorful characters. I’ve known him since 1976. I could write an entire piece just on his exploits, but suffice to say people either love him, hate him or try to ignore him. He’s hard to ignore though, and at this particular Open he is way ahead in the “King of Multi-tasking” competition. He’s on 5 different committees and chairs three of them. Naturally he’s either running or attending all the workshops associated with the various committees. He’s also been writing his daily report for the bulletins and CLO. On top of all that he’s playing in the traditional 9-day schedule.

After leaving the playing room I wandered over to the other end of the foyer where a large group of college age kids were hanging out. They were playing 2-minute bughouse. Those types of bughouse games I want no part of. I suck at anything under 5 minutes, and all these kids are much higher rated. Those who weren’t playing were arguing over geography and other such stuff. Ah to be 20 and have unlimited amounts of energy! Today I saw some of the kids and asked them when they finally went to bed. 4:30 - 5:00 am. What time did they get up? Late!

Last stop was helping Jerry back to his room and accepting his offer of lots of food to take back with me to the room. I won’t have to go for the $20 breakfast with all the goodies he loaded me up with. Finally a bid Jerry a good night and manage to make it back to my room at the unholy hour of 2:30 am. Damn! I thought I had out grown all-nighters at the US Open when stopped playing hearts to all hours of the night. Last year I wasn’t doing this type of stuff. It probably helped that I wasn’t staying at the tournament site so I had motivation to pull myself away from late night chats and drive back to my hotel.

PS. If you were looking on the Mon Roi site for my game last night, it wasn’t there. The guy didn’t get the pairings early enough to include us mere mortals from the alternate schedules. Just as well I lost to another 1300 player. I'll post some games in future posts. The rest of my games should be there. I’m not sure that is such a wonderful thing since tonight I’m bound to be playing some kid rated 1100 who has not gotten paired down yet but has knocked off two higher rated players.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Polly, thanks so much for the "report" and insider's viewpoint. Your posting answerted my questions and then some. It sounds like great fun whether or not one's chess is up to par. Best wishes and good skill for the rest of your games. Thanks again!