Better late, then never. My report from last weekend's NY State Scholastic Championships.
The toughest place to be is number one in the section. People may just assume that one is going to win his section because he has the highest rating. There are even higher expectations if number one's rating is a hundred points higher then number two's rating. The recently concluded 2009 New York State Scholastic Championship was a case in point. In almost every single championship section the highest rated player was upset, and not necessarily by the eventual winner of the section. I even suffered the same fate in my attempt to repeat last year's win in the Saratoga Open Under 1800 section. More on that later.
What are ratings? Do the numbers really mean much? Why do all of us go a little crazy worrying about our rating, or our opponent's rating? There are frequently long discussions on the US Chess Federation forums about ratings. Lengthy debates ensue on whether more or less bonus points are needed, whether floors are inflationary or not, whether different methods should be used to calculate the ratings, and so on so forth. A lot of times I read these posts and my eyes glaze over because it's a bunch of math geeks talking and arguing amongst themselves. It's all geek to me.
In responding to someone who felt he should never lose rating points if he wins a tournament, Ken Sloan (member of USCF ratings committee) made the following response; Ratings are supposed to predict how many points you *will* score in a future event - not how many you *could* score if you tried as hard as possible. If you are in the habit of scoring 4.5/5.0 in your local Swiss because you would rather win without risk rather than take the time to actually win the last round game, then your rating should reflect that. A rating that predicted a 5.0/5.0 score would simply be incorrect. Again, ratings are about your actual demonstrated scoring. They are not about some abstract quality ("strength").
Though it was made response to a comment that has nothing to do with my post, it's an excellent summary of what ratings are about. In the USCF Official Rules it states "The basic theory of the USCF rating system is that the difference between the ratings of players is a guide to predicting the outcome of a contest between those two players." It's not a way to describe ability, although all of us are guilty of using them to talk about a player's ability. How many times have you heard, "He plays the opening like a 1900, but his middle game is more like a 1200 which is why his rating is only 1450."? If I look through the archives of this blog I may find that I've even written that very same thing. Guilty!!!!
Kid's ratings tend make the idea of "indicator of future performance" more of a crap shoot. Some kids are showing rapid improvement in such a way that their rating is lagging behind. Also kids have less games under their belt then an adult who has been playing for many years, so it may be hard to predict what a kid rated 1400 is going to do against a player rated 1800 who has been playing for a much longer time. If you go by the theory behind the system, then the 1800 should beat the 1400 almost 100% of the time. However in the real world of chess nothing is absolute. In the world of scholastic championships it's even more so.
In the Elementary Championship Kevin Rosenberg was the number one seed with his March rating of 1926. In reality his rating was over 2000. He's been on quite a roll recently with 4-1 and 3-1 scores at his last two tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club. In this tournament his closest competitors were rated mid to high 1800s. Anyone who has been following his progress just assumed that his roll would continue with a 6-0 sweep of the Elementary Championship section. Kevin's mom told me people had been coming up to her, and saying "Kevin had a lock on the Elementary Championship." As she correctly pointed out having the highest rating doesn't guarantee anything. In fact if anything it puts extra pressure on the number one player. It's like having a gigantic bulls eye one one's forehead. Everyone is aiming to get you.
Sure enough in round 5 he would lose to Michael Ainsworth of White Plains. Even though they live in the same area this would only be the 4th time they played each other. Up this point Kevin led 2.5 - 0.5. Beating #1 doesn't guarantee the player a free and easy shot to win the section. Anthony Cortese of Long Island would win against Michael in round 6 to win the Elementary section with 5.5 points. Anthony was ranked #11 at 1681.
In the Primary section Kadhir Pillai was a heavy favorite to win that section. At 1754 he out rated #2 by almost 250 points, and #3 by 350 points. Looking at the ratings of the top players in this section, I wouldn't even have been #1 amongst a group of single digit aged kids. In fact if last year's Primary champion opted to defend his title instead of playing in the Elementary section I wouldn't even be #2. I've never played Kadhir, but I lost to #2, Amir Moazami in December. The funny thing is until I saw him playing in the Primary section, I always thought he was in 4th or 5th grade. He's mature for his age, and looks older. Sometimes when I see kids playing adults at the Marshall or playing in over 1400 sections at scholastic tournaments I don't pay much attention to how old they are. So now I find out another 8 year old has picked me off. Zachery Tanenbaum beat Kadhir in round 5, and Amir in in round 6 to win the Primary section.
In the High School section the highest rated player was Alec Getz (2271) who won the gold medal at the 2008 Pan-Am Youth Championships and earned the FIDE Master title for that win. However being a master doesn't exempt one from falling victim of an upset. In round 5 Alec lost to James Hiltunen, rated 2099. In the 6th round James lost to Deepak Aaron. However Deepak was not the only player to finish 6-0. Darrian Robinson also finished with a perfect 6-0 score. They had a playoff to determine the High School state champion, and New York representative in the Denker Tournament of State High School Champions. Deepak won the Armegeddon playoff game.
Looking at the wall chart of the Junior High section it appeared the #1 player fell victim to the upset bug that had taken its' toll on the other top seeds. However Mate Marinkovic's 2117 rating was his Canadian rating. His USCF rating is actually mid 1700s, based on his 5-1 result at this tournament last year. Mate lost in round 3 to Steven Cardenas, rated 1647. Ben Gershenov, rated 2085 and his teammate Michael Bodek, rated 2025 tied for 1st with scores of 5.5. Ben won on tie breaks, repeating as NY State Junior High Champion. They did not play each other since both drew in round 5 leaving 4 players with 4.5 points going into round 6. Michael had won the 6th grade section at the National K-12 Championships last December, but opted to play with his teammates in the Junior High section. Ben and Michael's 1-2 finish helped their team win the Junior High Championship.
The Elementary Novice, open to players rated under 800 was won by Charlie Mather, rated 721. In a section of relatively inexperienced players one can't really say that a 721 beating a 798 is an upset. However once again the player with the highest rating did not win the section.
The only section where the highest rated player won was the Primary K1. Brandon Nydick, rated 1213 scored a perfect 5-0. That section is 5 rounds played on one day. The other sections play 6 rounds over two days.
Saturday night there was a bughouse tournament with 26 teams entered. The Funnies, comprised of Pobo Efekora/Alexis Paredes from IS318 scored a perfect 6-0 to win the event.
I apologize for not having more pictures of the winners of various sections. I took most of my pictures in round 5 when I had a bye. At that point there hadn't been any upsets, or the game was over before I got there. Most of the pictures I took were of the pre-tournament favorites. I was able to get the high school winners since they were playing long games every round.
As for myself, I started in the Under 1800 section. I lost in round one to a 1457. After seeing that there were other 1600 - 1700s playing in the Open section, I switched. I had wanted to play up to begin with, but decided to see if I could repeat last year's feat. In some ways I felt I should have stuck it out in the Under 1800 section, but I didn't feel like playing 1000s to work my way back into contention. 5-1 would have won the section, but I'm not convinced I would have won my next five games. Judging from some of the mistakes I made in later rounds, I probably would have lost more games. Emotionally my head was not there. My focus was off, and that cost me. I had some interesting games in the Open section, but it just wasn't a good weekend for me. It was one of those tournaments I that I just as soon forget about. I won't forget it, but I will move on.