Tuesday, February 23, 2010

USATE - Tales from Table 59

After a brief interruption by the Brooklyn reports, we will resume our normal programming. The long awaited US Amateur Team - East report.

In my temporary disabled state I was not able to get around the tournament as easily as I would have liked. So this year's report is not loaded with lots of details of what else was happening in the tournament. I had no idea how many teams were 5-0 going into the last round, or who was even playing on them. There would be no last minute post from the lobby trying to be the first one to report who won. I went to the USCF website and got the results there.

I had intended to email Steve Doyle and ask for an assigned board for the entire tournament. It's too difficult squeezing into a middle board in the ballroom. I wanted to be able to sit on an end and prop my leg up if necessary. I didn't want one of the assigned tables by the door in the ballroom (too noisy) or one in another room (too isolated). I could visualize where I wanted to be but didn't know how to explain it in an email, and I didn't know what the specific board number would be. I figured I'd try to get down there early enough to request it before the round one pairings went up. However I had gotten a little bit of a late start leaving. By the time I got there the 1st round pairings were already up.

Fortunately in round one our team happened to have been assigned to board 74 which was on the aisle, so I could sit on the end. That made it easy for me to get in and out, but it didn't prevent a pack of teenage kids to constantly bump into me as they crowded around the board on the table right behind me. I asked them several times to not crowd around the board, but you know how well kids listen. One kid kept leaving on my chair and bumping into me. The only way he got the hint was to elbow him out of the way. I finally got up get a TD. However by the time I walked out to get a TD to come in and break up the crowd the game they were watching was done. This was happening as I was reaching a difficult part of my game.

Before round two I requested a table where there would not be a row behind me. Usually the specially assigned tables are closest to the door. However I can't cope with the noise and traffic by the doors so I requested table 59 which was on the the far side of the ballroom away from the door. Here I am with my teammates at our spacious board that would be our home for the rest of the tournament.

The usual suspects from the Bob Peretz Chess Club
Silvio, Alan, Guy, and me.
Yes that's the Silvio I've played 101 times!

I traded the noise from the "chess nuts boasting in an open foyer" for the noise from the catering staff working in the back. That noise was more manageable. I would also have to walk a little further to get to and from the board. I didn't think it would be such a big deal, but by Monday my leg started to really ache. As much as I didn't want to negotiate the crowd on crutches I finally gave up and used them for the last round. In hindsight I should have used them more. People actually cleared a wider path when I came through on the crutches.

At the USATE there are many people I only see once a year at the tournament. I also run into people who I haven't seen in a number of years. Everyone who saw me walking with the cane or the crutches asked "What happened to you?" I felt like I should have passed out a flier detailing my December 19th mishap, and the prognosis from my orthopedist. After awhile I got tired of answering the question.

The one thing I had to make sure of was that one of us got to the board before the other team came and set themselves up on the outside row. If given the chance to sit with no one behind them players are going to grab those seats. The last thing I wanted to do was find an entire team seated and set up and have to say "Excuse me I need to be seated on that side. Please move." If that had happened I probably would have just asked the board 1 player to switch with me. All the spectators would be confused, but it might have been easier then making everyone change places. Fortunately it never came down to that. I just had to ask a lone player from our second round opponents to take the other side.

In the second round I had White so I had put the clock to my left. It was covering the board number so people kept picking up the clock to see what board this was. The numbering sequence can be really confusing. Board 58 is on the row closest to the doors, and then 59, 60, 61 are on the row on the other side of the room, so people find 58 and then ask where is 59 or 60? They eventually make their way to this side of the room, and look under my clock to see what board this is. I figured I'd make easier for players in round three. I put the clock on my right since I was Black. I thought that would solve the "Where in the world is board 59?" problem.

Unfortunately it created a new problem. My opponent's teammate kept pressing our clock instead of his. That was fine if I was on move, but was a problem if my opponent was on move. Suddenly I would find my clock running. The first time it happened I just thought I forgotten to press the clock. Though I had left the board, came back thinking my opponent had moved, and realized he hadn't. When I pressed the clock the move counter was off. So we fixed the move counter and continued. This happened several more times. Finally I suggested we just move the clock to to the other side and reset it. It was my clock, but my opponent took the clock and started started fiddling around with it. I'm try to say that I can fix it, and he's acting as if I I don't know how to set my own clock. Typical high school kid who doesn't seem to think this old lady can reset her own clock! He goes through great machinations to reset it, and then chooses the display option that I don't like. I tell him I don't want that display. He starts fiddling around finally I just take the clock and set it myself.

All of the messing around with the clock has me side tracked, so I took about 5 minutes to simply compose myself and reacquaint myself to this position. White had just played 16. g4.

After my composing moment I spent about another 10 to 15 minutes trying to figure out what to do with this mess. I didn't want to trade knights and undouble the pawns. I couldn't figure out how I was going to get my light squared bishop into the game. After much deliberation I played 16...Rd8. The poor bishop would not get out until move 32. By that time it would be too late. This was another one of those 1. d4 games where I can't figure out what to do with my queen side pieces. Either the bishop doesn't get out, or the knight ends out on some random square totally out of play.


When you're playing on an assigned board, it can be very confusing for the opponents looking for their pairing. The opposing team will be looking through all the pairings for their name. The pairing sheet has the score next the team name, and they're looking through all the 1s and can't find their pairing. (I had the same problem last year trying to find our pairing in round six.) That's because our board number falls within the range of the teams with 1.5. What team with an 1129 average and 1 point is expecting to find themselves in the ballroom on board 59 in round 4? We would not have been in the ballroom for that round either.

The kids and their parents were absolutely delighted with the chance to play in the ballroom. Sunday night is a great night to play there because you get to see all the skits and costumes. Once again the team from Long Island that did the winning "Parsippany's only Chess Club Band" last year had an encore this year . The Village Pieces doing USATE to the tune of YMCA. Edit: No there is a video on YouTube.

Here are some photos of the skit.

US - A -T -E

The Village Pieces cast and crew.

Runner up in the gimmick contest
The Mighty Queen (sung to the tune of The Mighty Quinn)

We were paired against a team of kids called "Young Guns". They were certainly ready to take aim at us. They had already taken out a higher rated team in round 1 where they drew on boards 1-3 against players rated 1941, 1513 and 1500 and got a forfeit win on the last board. Yes the forfeit won the match for them. However it's still impressive with their ratings being 1531, 1371 and 1106 on their top 3 boards that they scored 3 draws against their higher rated opponents. We didn't know any of this coming into the round. I know I just assumed they had started 0-2 and then beat some other lower rated 0-2 team.

Having this information doesn't change how I approach the game. I figure when I'm playing a young kid rated 1500 that in reality he's probably closer to my strength, and that I can't take him lightly. Alan and Silvio won their games fairly quickly so that left Guy and me to get another 1/2 point between the two of us to win the match. Easier said then done. Guy's position was just ugly. His bishop hadn't moved off f8, and the opponent had all sorts of annoying threats. On the other hand I had won a pawn out of the opening. After the queen trade he did have some play with the bishop pair. However I was able to trade off his dark squared bishop for one of my knights. At that point I felt at worst I should draw, although I wanted the full point. I was playing for the full point.

Sometimes it's easy to become hung up on positional concepts such as a bishop being superior to a knight in an open position, rooks controlling open files, or not having more pawn islands then the opponent. These were the things I was wrestling with when we reached this position after 25...Nd4.

My dilemma was how do I respond to the threat of 26...Nxe2+ winning the bishop and forking my king and rook. The simplest response is 26. Kf2. It defends the bishop and eliminates the fork threat. The problem was I started thinking, "I don't want to give up the Bishop for the Knight. Also he can play Rxc3 which gives me two isolated pawns." The other choice for me is 26. Rxc8. If he plays 26...Nxe2+ I play 27. Kf2 and after 27...Rxc8 I play 28. Kxe2 I didn't like that line for two reasons. One is very valid, and the other just shows how little confidence I have in my analysis. I didn't like the idea that he can come down to c2 and attack my b pawn and pin my knight. Those are reasonable concerns. My other concern which was totally baseless was that after 26...Nxe2+ 27. Kf2 that there was some in between move that I was missing that saves the knight before he plays Rxc8. There wasn't such a move.

Not liking either 26. Kf2 or 26. Rxc8 I come up with 26. Bc4?! This move seemed to resolve the two issues I was concerned with regarding giving up the bishop for the knight or having my pawns split up after the rook trade. He immediately played 26...b5. With almost no thought on my part I played 27. Bd5?? with the thought that I'm blocking the d file from his rook and avoiding any potential discovered attacks on my knight. He instantly responds with 27...Ne2+ forking my king and rook. After all the energy I spent on weighing the merits of the the positional issues of the minor piece trade and the isolated pawns after the rook trade, I had completely forgotten about the fork threat. Now I had bigger problems then playing with isolated pawns or knight versus a bishop. Now I was not only giving up the exchange but I also give back the extra pawn and then some.

At this point I'm berating myself for my stupidity. "How could you have played that move?" What were you thinking about?" "Why did you move so fast?" "Blah, blah, blah, etc." I looked over at Guy's position which had gotten even worse since that last time I had looked at it. It was very likely he would lose, and the match would end out being drawn. If you think I'm hard on myself when I lose a position where I'm better, I'm even more brutal on myself when I do it in a team match. I felt like I let down the team losing a game that at worst should have been a draw. One could point at second board, and ask what about him? Isn't he also responsible? It was hard to see it that way when he was losing the entire time, and I was actually winning until I blundered.

Fortunately I didn't get much time to dwell on it. Our 10:00 pm dinner reservation had been moved up to 9:15. I figured that was all the reason I needed to resign and get out of the room. My anger and frustration was starting to show at the board. As we were walking through the lobby to the restaurant, I was ranting and raving over my stupidity. Alan and Silvio basically said "Forget about it. Let's go enjoy dinner." Good news. I did enjoy dinner.

I hate Monday at this tournament. The round is at 9:00 am and check out is at 11:00 am. Unless I have a quick round in the morning I really have to clear everything out of the room before hand. There have been times where I've left my stuff in the room, and gone out between moves and put it my car when I see that the game is going to last more then two hours. That was not a viable option this time around. On my way down for breakfast I put the suitcase in my car, and left my computer and coat in the room. If worst came to worst I could get one of my friends to retrieve the rest of my gear.

Even though the hotel is a low rise building the elevators can be an issue when going down for the round. Everyone is trying go down at the same time. Normally I'll just bypass the elevators and walk up and down the steps. I get some exercise that way, and I avoid the crowds. That wasn't going to work this year. My room is on the 6th floor, so at least I know I won't be trying to squeeze onto an elevator filled with people. Also there were signs in the elevator lobbies saying "No more then six people in the elevator." The elevator comes and I get on with other people. By the time we get to the 4th floor we already have 6 people. Two more people get on, the doors close and nothing happens. The elevator isn't moving, and the doors won't open. One kid says "Oh this happened to me yesterday. We have to hit the emergency button so they can send somebody up to open the doors."

The kid is so blase about it, and I'm starting to lose it. I'm trying to get down to our board so that I can make sure we get our side before the other team arrives. I call up Alan and ask him if he and Silvio are at the board yet. They're still in their room. I call Donna to see if she's come down with Alexander yet. No she is still upstairs. Oh swell, I'm stuck on an elevator and nobody is downstairs to make sure we get our side of the table. It wasn't too long before the engineer arrives and gets the doors open. Now I know why they only wanted 6 people at a time on the elevator! I wasn't getting on another one, so I slowly made my way down the stairs.

Fortunately I still managed to make it there before the other team arrived. Since we only had 1.5 points we got paired down. I was happy to see a group of four adults arrive to face us. I was getting tired of kids, having played them in 3 out of the first 4 rounds. Guy finally ended his 4 game losing streak on board 2. Alan and Silvio continued to hold their own on boards 3 and 4 with a draw and a win respectively. My losing again on board 1 did not damage the chance for us to win the match. I didn't feel so bad about losing this game. I got outplayed on the Black side of a Nimzo-Indian. I lost a pawn on move 37 and another one on move 43. By move 51 he had a pawn sitting on d6 that was going to cost me a rook to stop.

Having won our 5th round match guaranteed us a tough last round pairing. This is where playing in team event can be hazardous to one's chess mental health. In a normal Swiss event if I was losing so much I'd be getting progressively easier pairings. However in a team event my pairings are based on how the team is doing, not how I'm doing. Having lost 4 in a row I didn't get to play some poor sap who also had .5 - 4.5 . I got to play a 2250 who had 4.5 - .5. Ouch! Actually it was probably the best game I had all tournament. He won a pawn, and then I received a terrific lesson on how to take that edge to the ending, and convert for the win. The ending deserves its own post because of how instructive it was.

In the past I've had my little superstitious rituals with the lucky chair or board in a tournament. Maybe after the ugly 4th round loss I should have recognized that I was sitting in an unlucky seat at an unlucky board, and requested a new board assignment. I went 0-5 after we were assigned to board 59. Hopefully after this I will never need to request a special table assignment again. I'm out of the cast and ready to start physical therapy and restart my journey to black belt.


Erabin said...

another amusing elevator story:)

Polly said...

LOL! And you weren't there to photograph the moment. :-)

Anonymous said...


I thought a little bit about the position in your first diagram.

I think my first priority would be to free up my bishop and connect my rooks, so my move would have been Qc7, preparing b7, then a possible follow up would be Ba6, pressuring c4 and threatening the Q/R skewer. After geting the bishop out, Rc1 and Na5 would increase the pressure on c4 with the B, N, R and Q all attacking White's pawn on c4 which cannot move.

In that position, White's weak point seems to be the c file where he has double isolated pawns and black has an open file, so it seems that Blacks best plan would be to develop an attack down that file. You just have to move the bishop and knight out of the way and place your heavy pieces on that file.

Maybe you would have to play Kh8 and Ng8 first to avoid White playing f5 and BxNh6, which looks good for White.

That's my guess anyway without using a computer.


LinuxGuy said...

If Chesstiger wasn't right in the last post, then wow, this was a lot of queen moves.

I was thinking Na5 and try and win his c-pawn right away with your queen, but so many tempi had been lost already, and as the game showed that knight on h6 was looking rather done for.

Probably the position was hopeless, but I was amazed at the audacity of his Qg3. Bd7 instead of Qd7 looked like he maybe had a perpetual at best for White, and I think Black should have drawing chances there.

chess said...


Our team happened to be assigned to the table right next to the podium for round 4 and so I had a good view of the various skits and took a video of the winning one. I just uploaded it to Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfR3NckMGLM

Anonymous said...

Hey everyone! Check out Polly walking by in the background near the beginning of the USATE video at ChessCafe!


Polly said...

Thanks Chess. I edited the post and added the YouTube link.

chesstiger said...

Thanks for the report, loved it! Next year ask board one as asigned. :-)

Polly said...

Chess Tiger: LOL Don't I wish I could have board 1 as my assigned spot. Those teams on 1-10 get to sit in a roped off area. One year I played 4th board on a team that spent 5 out of the 6 rounds behind the ropes. It was rather cool.

However I hope I NEVER have to request a special board again. The request is necessary when some bad has happened to me physically. I don't want that again.

Polly said...

Marty: I had considered retreating the queen to c7. However White plays Ba3 hitting the rook. After I move the rook he plays Bd6 followed by Nb5. It gets ugly fast.

I think the most frustrating thing about the position was not being able to take advantage of the double isolated pawns. However in the post mortem with my opponent he felt I should have not played Bxc3 earlier. I've traded away my bishop, and the doubled pawns actually give him a little extra control on the d file. Sometimes doubled isolated pawns are just not as horrible as they look.

I recall a game from years ago where my opponent gave me double isolated e pawns and traded down to an ending. As ugly as those pawns were she could not penetrate with her king because the doubled pawns covered f6,f5,d6,d5. I held her to a draw despite my "ugly" pawns.

LinuxGuy said...

Polly, my first reaction to BxNc3 was "uggh", as it cedes initiative to White and strengthens the d4 square.

I wasn't even thinking about Ba3 and Bd6, so perhaps you are your own worst critic. ;-) Most people err on the side of thinking too much about their own attack.

I am pretty cautious with my dark-squared bishop. It usually goes to e7 and rarely to b4. In this position I think Bb4 is not a great move, but much prefer Bc5 or Bd6 here instead.

Polly said...

I play the Nimzo-Indian as Black so I have a tendency of putting the bishop on b4 even if it's not a Nimzo position.

I doubled checked my analysis when Marty suggested Qc7. Fritz was quick to find Ba3 and Bd6 and gives White a +2. I may be my own worst critic, but I think I was correct in my assessment of Ba3. However I don't think Rd8 was necessarily the right move there.

LinuxGuy said...

That didn't come out how I meant it.

I meant that you were right about Ba3, Bd6 (I didn't even bother looking at the board, knew it when you said it). I meant that you did well in objectively finding that, but subjectively, what I am trying to hint to you is that IMHO it would be way better to lose some more games attacking and make those kinds of oversights than to be quickly switching to the defense so early in games. Of course, if the tempos are lost milling about, then about all you might have left is defense one way or another.

If I lose attacking, I usually improve my attack and defense, if I lose defending, I only learn how I defended incorrectly, if that makes some sense. Plus, win or lose you can always look for the errors later on some practical level.

CaseMoney said...

LOL.. loved the flyer idea, Polly