Friday, August 31, 2007

Finally Got Chess Publisher to Work!

I still don't really know what I did, but finally successfully put the Sam Sloan game into my US Open Rds 1-6 article. It took me awhile. I'd get the diagram loaded in, but the font would shrink to zero so I couldn't read the text. Then I'd get the font sized right and I get the tag error message again. Tag! and I'm it! Being html challenged doesn't help matters. It's all Geek to me!! I need "Blogger for Dummies" and while I'm at maybe I should read "Clock Management for Dummies". Just maybe then I could avoid implosions like the one in in the Sloan game or last night at the Marshall.

The things you don't see when you have 10 seconds left

Last night I went to Marshall Chess Club for my weekly Thursday night pounding in 4 Rated Games Tonight! Though last night it was 10 Grand Prix Points Tonight! Even though the Grand Prix event draws a few more grandmasters, it doesn't really change who I play in the tournament. There are a number of players that I tend to get paired against every other week. I suppose I can call them the usual suspects.

I usually end out playing someone rated around 2000 - 2150. The second round I tend to play someone around 1850 - 1950. Normally going into the 3rd round I'm 0-2, though sometimes I manage to pull out a draw or win against a higher rated opponent. If I'm doing my normal 0-2, depending on where the break is, I may play up or down in the 3rd round. There is also the ongoing battle of trying to avoid getting the bye before round 4. (Not that I particularly want it in round 4, but if it's going to happen that's the time to get it.)

Last night was the classic "usual suspects" tournament. I got Vladimir Polyakin in the first round, Aleksandr Ostrovskiy in the second round, Gabor Schnitzler in the third round, and Scot Mc Elheny in the last round. Scot and I end out playing a lot. Most of the time he has white, but for a change I ended out with a 3rd white and he go his due color of black. I guess sometimes it's good to be the lower rated player.

We reached this position.

I only had about 10 seconds left so it was hard to try to work things out. I went pawn grabbing so the game proceeded with 31. Qxa7, Qxe5, 32. Qxf7, Qxe2+, 33. Rf2, Rg5+, 34. Kh3, Qxf2, 0-1

I did not even consider f4 which holds the knight. Fritz gives white +- 2.94. *Sigh* Time pressure sucks.

Need Help!! Trying to Blog Games

I went to Chess Publisher, copied my pgn file, generated the diagram, copied the html, and tried to stick it my post. I got this error:

Your HTML cannot be accepted: Tags cannot enclose tags.
I can't even include the rest of the error message because I get another error message saying Your HTML cannot be accepted: Closing tag has no matching opening tag:

What does this mean, and how can I get around it? I am totally clueless when it comes to this stuff? I don't know how to play this form of tag.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Lesson From Chess Camp: 10 Years Later I Know Why.

A number of summers ago I helped at several chess camps run by Shernaz Kennedy and Bruce Albertson (the other Bruce.) in Harlem and Central Park. Shernaz and I have known each other for years. We both came to New York in the late 70s. We've played a few few times over the years, and I've watched her teach and coach at various schools.

These camps were my first chance to watch Bruce teach. I watched him play some form of progressive chess with the kids. White makes a move, black makes 2 moves, white makes 3 moves, black makes 4, etc. I can't remembered if he played like that. I think he'd actually let the kid start with 4 moves in a row and see if they could construct a mate with 4 straight moves. However he had a very strict rule with the kids when they played him. When they placed a piece on a square, it needed to be centered properly. It could not be touching the edge of the square or be partially in an adjoining square. If the piece was not centered the kid lost his turn and Bruce got to make 4 moves in a row. With 4 consecutive moves Bruce would almost aways mate the player. The kids learned that the pieces needed to be placed properly on the board. He considered an off center piece sloppy.

At the the time I questioned in my mind the usefulness of such an exercise. Really, who cares if the piece isn't exactly in the center of the square? However recently after a few tournaments playing kids, I'm starting to see the wisdom of training the kids to place the pieces centrally on a square. I've begun to notice that a lot of kids that start playing in adult tournaments, have some really annoying habits that they pick up from playing other kids.

The first annoying habit is constantly adjusting pieces. It usually starts before the first move. They'll adjust every single piece on the board, and then go back and do it a second time. Then when they make their move they tend pick up the piece with a flourish, flick their wrist and casually drop it on the destination square. 9 out of 10 times it doesn't land in the middle of the square so then they adjust it. Sometimes they'll even adjust it a second or third time. Other times the piece doesn't even land upright so they have to pick it up it and place properly. Tonight I played a kid in a game that went 75 moves. I think he must have said "I adjust" on 70 of the 75 moves. That also counts the couple of times that he adjusted pieces on my time.

After all the adjusting they slap the clock using that same flourish and flick of the wrist. Sometimes for good measure they'll tap the button several times. I particularly notice they do this on the touch sensor Chronos. Since there is no sound with the touch sensor I almost think it's done to confirm that they really did press the clock. On more then one occasion if I've been daydreaming on my opponent's move I won't notice that he's moved and pressed the clock. Suddenly I see my time is running. Stealth move! On the standard button Chronos they tap it 3-4 times and each tap is noisy since the button doesn't stay down like it does on other clocks. When it has gotten particularly annoying (ie they do it on every single move, and it's my clock) I will tell the kid you don't need to keep tapping the button.

Another annoying, but sometimes amusing mannerism is when the kid thinks he's make powerful move. He picks up the piece with great flourish, flicks the wrist and slam dunks the piece onto the square, and slaps the clock. It's annoying when it truly is a strong move. Ouch! It's amusing when the kid goes into his big production number, slaps the piece down on the square, and leans backs as if to say "So what are you gonna do about that move?" Depending how annoying the kid has been up to that point, sometimes I can't help myself. If I see that the move just out right loses significant material, I end out doing a counter flourish, wrist flick and all, grab the blundered piece and lean forward as to say "And your point is?" The inner child comes out.

Fortunately for the most part I can keep the inner child in check, and not get into these oneupmanship contests with the kids. One of the other adult players and I spent time with the kids and their mom explaining some rules and etiquette. The kids who often come to my chess club and play the adults are the same kids who I've watched progress through the various sections of the scholastic events I direct. It's important to me to give them advice and instruction on proper tournament behavior, especially when playing adults. Some of these kids have watched me play bughouse with the same energy and enthusiasm as they do. That's a place where I feel like I can let the inner child loose. In a rated tournament where I'm playing kids I need to keep the inner child in check.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Turn Down the Damn Music!

I've been reading Josh Waitzkin's new book The Art of Learning. In the early chapters he writes about his experiences as a young chess player. He describes a tournament where in the middle of a complex position he starts hearing in his mind a Bon Jovi song that he heard earlier in the day. He couldn't get the song out of his mind, couldn't stay focused on the analysis and blundered. He went on to say that this was a problem that continually plagued him as a kid. He felt he was the only one with this problem until later when he learned other high stress performers experience this too.

I've experienced this same phenomena not only in chess but also during intense bike rides. When I'm exercising I don't mind it so much. Sometimes the songs that play in my mind fit well with the moment. There's a short but annoying hill on one of my training rides where often the first line of the song "Journey to the Heaviside Layer" from "Cats" comes to mind. The first line goes "Up, up, up, up past the Russell Hotel, up, up, up, up to the Heaviside layer." Somehow it's fitting as I'm trying not to get dropped by the pack while climbing this hill. For awhile it became my mantra on that hill, and worked well.

However when one is trying to figure out what is going in a complicated position and all you're hearing is the annoying chorus of a song you sang at summer camp eons ago it can be rather aggravating. Anybody who has gone to summer camp knows what I'm talking about. It's those goofy songs with silly choruses often accompanied by funny hand movements or changes in volume. As kids we thought they were lots of fun to sing, and we'd drive adults crazy singing it over and over again. I guess the payback is we hear these same obnoxious songs in our minds as adults.

I'm not sure how I ended out with this particular song going through my mind as I'm trying to out race the clock and my opponent in a wild rook and pawn ending. But there I am hearing "John Jacob Jingle Heimerschmidt" running through my mind as I sac a rook to stop his pawn from promoting, and then race my pawns up the board to queen. The song has a very catchy little tune, the lyrics are quite repetitious and it gets sung either at the top of one's lungs or in a whisper. "John Jacob Jingle Heimerschmidt, his name is my name too. When ever we go out, the people always shout! There goes John Jacob Jingle Heimerschmidt! Na, na, na, na, na!" Repeat ad infinitum in varying volumes.

Some how I managed to win this particular game despite the distraction. It's funny because I've played this particular player many times at the Marshall Chess Club, and my record against him sucks! I think I've played him around 20 times. I've gotten a few draws against him, but this only the second or third time I've beaten him. This game was typical of how our games go. He quietly builds pressure, I defend solidly and then one or both of us get into ridiculous time trouble, and the position goes all to hell. If I'm on the wrong side of hell when the game ends, he usually makes some comment where he thinks he's being kind, but it comes off as very condescending. I hate being talked down to.

This was one of our typical games. I had almost no time left, I chucked pawns, and thought I was toast. However, he left his king in check, and I got two minutes for the illegal move. Ah sweet relief! Except for "John Jacob Jingle Heimerschmidt" echoing through my brain. Maybe it the "na, na, na, na, nas" getting louder and louder that blocked out all the other noises in the background, and allowed me to not panic when I gave up my rook for his pawn. Suddenly he was the one with 2 seconds left on his clock, and looking at a position that despite being up in material was lost.

Score one for John Jacob Jingle Heimerschmidt. Though I usually don't fare so well with annoying choruses running through my head. I much prefer when I can control what music I hear. I'll take the Three B's over the Three J's any day of the week.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Signs You're Having a Bad Tournament

Years ago I wrote up a list of signs that you're having a bad US Open. I couldn't remember all as was giving them to Jerry Hanken for his Hanken's Corner for the final US Open Bulletin. I gave him 5 of them, but started remembering others after I got back to New York. I also came up with few new ones to reflect new technology.

10. Your games keep getting put in the bulletin under "Humor".

9. Your board assignment is in a broom closet on another floor of the hotel.

8. The hotel moves you into a sleeping room on the first floor, requires you to leave your belt, and shoe laces in the hotel safe.

7. At 8:00 PM your opponent tells you it's past his bedtime and announces mate in 4.

6. You lose to the bye.

5. When you ask the TD why your weren't paired for the next round he says "We assumed you wanted to drop out."

4. The only one willing to play a filler game with you is Cricket, Carol Jarecki's dog and she beats you by sac'ing her queen for a doggy treat.

3. Your spouse and children join the witness protection program.

2. The pairing program crashes when trying to come up with someone you haven't lost to yet.

And the number 1 signs you're having a bad tournament.......

The USCF office decides your rating floor needs to be dropped immediately.
Mon Roi pays you NOT to use their product anymore.
Your line on the wall chart indicates you castled long 3 times.

Monday, August 13, 2007

US Open Rd 9: One Thing I Hate About Playing in Tournaments

"Only one thing she hates about playing?" Nope, I can name a lot more things I hate about playing in tournaments. I could compile a nice long list of complaints about stupid pairings, dumb tournament directors, lousy playing conditions, and obnoxious opponents. Then there is the list of annoying things that I do to myself like moving too fast, moving too slow, hanging pieces, running out of time in winning positions, resigning in won positions, etc.

# 1 thing I hate about playing in chess tournaments:

drum roll


I hate getting byes, and I hate forfeit wins. I come to play, and I want to play all the scheduled rounds. Free points are meaningless. Though given a choice I'll take the bye. With a bye there is a chance that there may be a house player available, or that there is a bye in another section that the TD will pair you against. There is also the possibility that the bye will occur in the last round of a tournament that finishes late thus giving you the opportunity to make an earlier train. On more then one occasion "Four Rated Games Tonight!" has turned into "Three Rated Games, and a Bye Tonight!"

Forfeits on the other hand just outright suck! One has sit there for an hour (less if the time limit is less then an hour) waiting for a non-existent opponent to show up. Quite often there is no opportunity to be re-paired because there is another round coming up afterwards. But the all-time most annoying time to get a forfeit win is the last round of the US Open. I spent Saturday night in a hotel at a $104 a night for in order to play the 9th and final round. I sat through the delegates meeting on Sunday, knowing that at 3:00 PM I'd get to play chess, and hopefully even up my score with a win.

So what happened? I would think that a 1302 player with 3.5 points would want a shot at scoring 4.5 and getting in the money. One of two things happened. Either he was so pissed off at winning by forfeit in round 8 that he decided he would go home early, or he didn't read the schedule and thought the last round was at 7:30 PM like the previous rounds had been. Who knows? All I know is I was one unhappy camper.

A few boards away Sean Vibbert's opponent is a no show. He's a middle school kid with a July rating of 1764. I know his dad Terry from committee work we do together. I suggested that perhaps the TD could repair us, and we play a faster time control to make up for the lost hour. He said to me in a very serious tone of voice, "I think that's illegal." I assured him that it was perfectly legal, and the TD would be willing to make the switch once our respective opponents officially forfeited. He hemmed and hawed, and was concerned whether his dad would allow him to play. He peppered me with a bunch of questions about the forfeit win, who would get white (we both had been paired as white) how it would be scored, what the time control would be, etc.

Dad encouraged him to play me. We talk to the TD, and he agrees to make the switch, however we have to split the hour and play 90 minutes on the first time control, not 2 hours. Sean wasn't thrilled about having to give up the time, and started changing his mind. All I wanted was a rated game of chess, and I didn't care what the time control was, and I was willing to play the black pieces. All the TD wanted to do was make the switch, and get us to start the game. (Over an hour since the start of the round has passed, so the longer we haggled the more likely the game could hold up tie-breaks.)

I could tell part of Sean's concern had to do with whether he would beat me or not with the reduced time, and what impact the result would have on his rating. His August rating is 1828. We're talking 128 points difference so it's no slam dunk guaranteed win. He certainly had more to lose then me by playing. However I think the desire to play, and perhaps the confidence in his ability won out.

We played at his board with him keeping the white pieces. He changed the clock to 40/90 for the first control. Given his concerns about the less time I suggested that we could play 30/90. (The TD had said we could play 30/90 if we wanted to.) I figured having to make less moves in the first time control might alleviate the pressure having 30 less minutes to work with. He declined my offer, which surprised me, but I wasn't going to quibble. I just wanted to play chess.

Adult Chess versus Scholastic Chess

I wear three different hats when it comes to chess. I play in tournaments, I direct tournaments, and I teach/coach kids. To put it mildly these worlds do criss cross at times. At other times they collide head on. (Getting crushed by current/former students is an example.) Other times they clash despite the fact that I know should better.

I've directed at national scholastic championships, and I have coached teams at all the different levels. (Elementary, Junior High, High School) I know the rules, and I know what is expected out of the kids, parents, coaches, and spectators. As a coach I've constantly told my players, "Don't be wandering around the room looking at each other's games. Don't talk to anyone, especially your teammates. If I'm in the tournament room, ignore me. Keep your eyes open for anything out of the ordinary. Yada, yada, blah, blah." As a director I've had to deal with these same types of issues that I try to prevent my students from getting sucked into.

So why is it at "adult" tournaments you see players wandering around the room looking at other's games, engaging in conversation with spectators, other players, friends either outside or (gasp!) inside the playing hall? In a big money tournament such as the World Open this sort of behavior is frowned upon, and in some cases dealt with harshly. Then there are the technology issues of cell phones, iPods, and score keeping. Is the opponent getting help via his cell phone? Is his iPod really playing music, or are the ear buds relaying vital information back and forth? Is the opponent looking at different variations on his Mon Roi, or hacked it with Pocket Fritz?

I like high tech toys. I have a cell phone, an iPod, and a Mon Roi. The cell phone stays in my pocket on vibrate. If it's a bit noisy or my distraction level is high I like listening to music. I keep score with a Mon Roi. All I can say is I'm glad I didn't get paired against the technophobe that insisted that he couldn't play in the main room where people might have cell phones on their person. His games were played in a meeting room on the fourth floor. Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

Sean is more color coordinated with his Mon Roi.
Given the controversy when the Mon Roi was first approved for USCF rated play, I always try to make it clear to my opponent that I'm not doing anything odd with it. I've often handed it to a floor director when I've left the room so that my opponent wouldn't think I was going to the bathroom to analyze with it. In this game Mon Roi wasn't going to be an issue. My opponent uses one too. Hopefully we wouldn't reach a point where we both messed up the moves on our respective units. (Keeping score on it has not cured my tendency to mess up my score!)

My opponent had played in two of the spring scholastic nationals (High School and Elementary), and he played last December at the grade nationals. He also had played in a number of the money tournaments this spring. He's had a fantastic year. Since last year's US Open he has gained almost 300 rating points. I'm sure a lot of hard work has gone into climb from the 1500s to the 1800s. (Kids make it look so easy!) I'm sure the combination of scholastic tournaments and big money tournaments has kept him on his toes in terms of being mindful of the opponent’s actions.

I know how players are supposed to conduct themselves. So why is it that I get up and wander around the room on my opponent's time, or get into casual conversations with friends and spectators? The wandering around is because at times I get antsy and can't sit still. Instead of sitting at the board fidgeting, or tapping out some 60s rock drum solo with my Mon Roi stylus I get up and walk around. At a tournament where the top board games are being broadcast it makes a convenient excuse to get up and look at the games. Truth be told, I stare at the position and haven't a clue what is going on.

I got the feeling that my opponent was highly sensitive to everything going on around him, and particularly to my actions. Since I pretty much had cajoled him into playing this re-paired game I wanted to make sure that nothing I did became a distraction. I asked him if he would object to my listening to my iPod while we played. Since the game started so late there was already that late round buzz in the room and hallways. I needed something to tune that out. He didn't care as long as he couldn't hear the music. He did watch intently every time I fiddled with the volume or switched play lists. One time when I had left the room to use the bathroom I was fiddling with the iPod to go to a new play list. I figured I'd do it in the hallway so as not to be a distraction. But it happened to be that he had left the room after making his move, so there he was watching me with my iPod. I think I muttered something about wanting to listen to Mozart.

At one point while he was thinking about his move I got from the board to speak to a spectator who was wearing a tee shirt from one of my favorite triathlons. It's not often I come across other chess players who also do triathlons or other endurance sports. When I do, I can't help but to strike up a conversation. This spectator and I are quietly whispering about this particular race and which years we had done it. I'm explaining why I love the race so much. (Long bike, short run. Pretty course.) Chess is not even in the discussion. As I'm having this discussion I notice my opponent has now inserted him between the spectator and me. He doesn't say anything, but the message is clear. You're not supposed to be having conversations with spectators. I mention that we're talking about triathlons, but chastened by his action I go sit at the board and wait for him to make a move. Yes it was his move when he came over to check up on me.

The other out of the ordinary thing that happened during the game was Shelby Lohrman from the Rochester Chess Center comes to my board puts something down on the table next to the clock. I look and notice it's my "impulse buy" raffle ticket on the table, and Shelby says, "You won." It took me a moment to realize that I had won the raffle for a beautiful wood board and chess set. (The picture above doesn't do it justice.) I almost never win raffles but I was buying some books, so at the last moment I said, "Throw in a couple of tickets for the raffle. What the heck!" Again my opponent looked at me, and I told him I just won the raffle. He sort of shrugged and went back to the game at hand.

At the time I had no idea he was only 10 years old. His demeanor at the board, and the intense analysis that went in to his moves made me think he was older. Many 10 year olds that I have dealt with lack the discipline to really think about their moves. Often they're impulsive and make rash moves. Such was not the case here. The material was even, but he had given me doubled isolated pawns on the d file. He also had a 2 on 1 majority on the queenside. I was just waiting for him to start shoving his a and b pawns down my throat and create the passer, but he showed tremendous restraint in his timing of those moves. He used 89 of the allocated 90 minutes for his first 40 moves. In watching him use all that time I could better understand why he wasn't happy having to reduce the time control by a half hour.

No Man is an Island, But Sometimes Pawns Are

On my 40th move I grabbed his d pawn giving me a pawn advantage. I don't think it was a mistake on his part. By getting his pawn out of the way, it gave him a clearer shot at my doubled pawns. Just like in round 7 I was anxious to trade down.
Unfortunately my opponent wasn't willing to trade all the way down, so after a flurry of trades, and his getting the pawn back, it came down to his knight, queen and connected f, g, and h pawns (big island) against my bishop, queen, d, f, and h pawns (3 little islands). It doesn't take a rocket scientist or even an endgame specialist to know that his pawn structure is much better the mine. On move 50, I offered a draw, knowing full well that the chances of his taking it were about as likely as my breaking 1800 by September 1st. Highly improbable, but could happen.

<-----Position after 50....Qb4 Black offers draw.

Wishful thinking on black's part?

"Not now." was his response. Not now, and not ever. Three isolated pawns don't stand a chance against a very active knight and queen. Also it's hard to hide a king behind scattered pawns. In the meantime his king could "watch the action" while nestled amongst his king side pawns. 11 moves after my draw offer all my pawns were gone, and my queen was going to die an ugly death to give my king his only escape from a deadly knight check. Here's where "adult chess" and "scholastic chess" diverge. The kid with black facing the loss of his queen plays on hoping for stalemate. The adult with black facing the loss of her queen, tips her king*, extends a hand, and says "Good game."

* When playing tournament savvy kids if I don't knock over the king when I extend the hand and say "good game", they'll almost always ask me what I'm doing. Savvy kids want to hear "I resign" or see a tipped king before accepting the handshake.

Sigh. Smacked around by a kid young enough to be my grandchild. That's the beauty of chess. It crosses many generations, and sometimes the kids can teach their elders a thing or two. Losing isn't fun. Some people would say it "sucks big time!" However, playing and losing that game was far more enjoyable then taking my forfeit win, and griping about stupid no-show opponents. Given the chance, I’d always eschew the free point and take a re-pair. Having an even score based on a forfeit win is meaningless.

Thanks Sean for a good game. Rematch next year in Dallas?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

2007 US Open: Rds. 7 & 8

Extreme Pairings - Part III

Alright so I wasn't playing someone 900+ points higher or lower then me this round. However, one has to be a little concerned when playing a 1099 with 2.5 points. In early rounds when you get paired down it's not a big deal when the player has the same score. But after 6 rounds to be playing someone over 600 points lower rated who has the same -1 score, one has to wonder who she beat. I know she's a kid, because I saw her playing near by in previous rounds. She has 2 wins and a draw two B players. Oh joy, an underrated kid having a good tournament.

When I asked her how old she was before the game she said 8 years, and 2 months. It's funny how kids stress the extra months. It's not enough to be a certain age in years. Need those months to indicate that they're a little older. Kids round their age up, adults over the age of 30 round down. All I know is that I've had my fill of opponents with single digit ages for the week. Even before I arrived in Cherry Hill I had to contend with a killer 9 year old at my chess club who figured out that my rook really wasn't protected. Kids!!!

There is much debate as to whether girls and boys play differently, and whether boys play more aggressively then girls. I certainly have encountered my share of girls who attack a position, but for the most part my games against other females have been rather positional in nature. Part of that may be that I tend to play very positionally and often my games have gone down to an ending where a simple tempo has been the deciding factor. Also I will often trade down when I think there's a good chance the kid doesn't know how to play the ending.

This was one of those games where I was relieved I wasn't playing some slash and bash attacking maniac. Though when she played a reverse Sicilian set up against my English and tossed in 3...f5 I thought to myself "Oh geez, one of these Grand Prix players who's going to try to trash my king side." But as they say, "Sometimes a dog's bark is worse then their bite." This was one of those cases. I was sure she would push her king side pawns, but much to my relief she didn't, so the position stayed very even.

Often age and experience can work in one's favor. Instinct takes the place of long calculations. I reached a position where I could trade off her good knight for my so-so bishop. She'd have a passed pawn, but it would be isolated. If she allows me to trade all the way down to a king and pawn ending, she will run out of moves and I'll win the isolated e-pawn. If she doesn't trade down the pawn is going nowhere, and the worst that will happen is she won't blunder away her rook or queen and we'll draw.

My gut told me it was likely she'd trade down. Too many times the lower rated player trades all the way down when the material is even, thinking she can hold the ending. I know this from experience, because too often I've been that lower rated player making the same mistake against masters and experts. So on move 33 all the pieces are off the board and we're left with 6 pawns each. At move 43 she finally has to let my king in the front door and give up a pawn. I'd like to say that I calculated the entire 10 moves out and knew we would arrive at this exact position, but it was a little more end game experience that led me to this position. Chalk one up to experience.

When your rating falls near the mid point of the field and you're not pulling upsets or being upset a pattern develops. Play up and lose, play down and win, play up and lose, play down and win, ad infinitum. The pattern may play in reverse if you're on the other side of the break. It started that way for me, but got interrupted by the second round draw so I played down twice in a row. After that I settled into the down, up, down, up sequence. Round 8 was no different after winning Round 7. Another 1900. The only difference was I really thought I could win this game. Question: When is being up a pawn and a piece not enough to win? Answer: When your opponent has a pawn on your seventh rank, and completing a rook trade allows the pawn to promote. Truth be told, the free piece was not so free. It was a fleeting advantage that turned into being down the exchange with a very active rook versus a very slow knight. If anyone is old enough to remember Pac Man, his rook was Pac Man to my pawns. So for me it was time to "pac" it in, and call it a knight. In a tournament like this sometimes resigning a little early is not the worst thing one can do.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

2007 US Open: Rds. 1 - 6

Yesterday I reminisced about past US Opens I had attended. It was fun thinking about those past events. Things certainly have changed in 31 years since I played in my first Open in 1976. It's not just the kids, and the schedule options, but the technology has changed. It used to be to watch the games on the top boards there would be some kid sitting there next to a demo board making the moves there as they were being played. Now they have sensor boards and Mon Roi electronic score keepers to relay the moves instantaneously to a projector attached to a computer. There spectators can look the positions. Not only can someone in the tournament room be watching, but people from all the world can watch from the comfort of their home sitting at their computer.

Because the US Open is one section you get some pretty wide ranging pairings for the first few rounds. It's not unusual to see a 1700-1800 playing a Grandmaster in the first round. In those early Opens I played in, the top 2 boards were usually played up on a stage with a demo board for people to see the moves. I always had this desire to just miss the break and end out up on the stage in the first round matched up against some Grandmaster. I must have really wanted attention to subject myself to being up on a stage with people watching me get crushed by a GM. However much to my disappointment (now relief) the break was always a few hundred points higher, so I'd usually get crushed by some Expert instead.

Be Careful for What You Wish For (Extreme Pairings Part I)

Last year in Oak Brook, I just made the cut and got paired way down against a 900 player. I hate playing way down like that. If you win easily there's little satisfaction. If you struggle to beat a player 800 points lower you feel like a putz. God forbid you lose or draw then you feel like total crap and all your friends rag on you and ask how you could have drawn or lost to such a patzer. I did win, but it wasn't particularly easy. He did last 34 moves.

So this year I'm looking at the advance entry list for the 5 day schedule. I'm ranked 29th out of 61 players. I'm thinking to myself "Oh crap, I'm going to have to play some random unrated who might actually be good, or even worse I might get paired against the 315. Maybe some more higher rated players have entered, and I'll get pushed into the bottom half and get paired up." Sure enough that's exactly what happened, and here I am sitting across from Grandmaster Alexander Shabalov, 2007 US Champion. His rating is 2685, only 985 points higher then mine.

Fortunately since this was round one of the 5 day schedule Mon Roi was not broadcasting live, and my position was not up on the wall for all to see. (It did end out in the bulletin along with the picture.) I did manage to go 20 moves before I dropped a pawn, but 13 moves later I was facing choices of getting mated, getting forked or losing the exchange. So on my 34th move I tipped my king. I lasted about as long as the 900 lasted against me last year.

I've played plenty of masters before. I usually get paired against one in the first round of "Four Rated Games Tonight!" at the Marshall Chess Club on Thursday nights. Every once in awhile I play well enough to draw or win. I've played a few Grandmasters before, and even though I've never beaten one I haven't found it intimidating. This game I was clearly intimidated. Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura who I've known since he was 5 was playing next to us. His comment after the game was, "You should have played e4. Yes you still would have lost, but it would have been more interesting. You played too chicken." His assessment was 100% correct. I played scared because I was afraid of blundering early and losing in 15 moves. I just made "safe moves" and waited for the inevitable. Can anyone say "Bawk, bawk, bawk!" while flapping one's arms like a chicken?

Extreme Pairings - Part II

As I said before when there are no class sections the early round pairings can be "interesting" to say the least. The second round I got paired down against a kid in the mid 1300s. Nothing unusual about that pairing. I'm number two in the zero score group, and he was in the middle. He dropped a pawn, and then a few moves later sac'ed a knight for two pawns. He had a decent attack, and I felt if I could hold him back I'd should win. He offered a draw, which after much thought I turned down. He forced me into a three fold repetition so he got his draw. I could have avoided the repetition, but it would have cost me my king. Somehow getting mated to avoid a draw doesn't seem like a wise thing.

Now I'm number one in the half point score group, and the low one drops down to play me. The low one is a 7 year old kid with a 714 rating who took two 1/2 point byes on the first day. So now I'm the one out rating the opponent by 986 points. I've played 7 year olds before. Most of them that I've played have been strong enough players to be scary. This kid was not scary. Looking at his MSA records I'm the first adult and the first player with a 4 digit rating that he's ever played. He was in way over his head. He was looking all over the place, and wasn't too focused on the board. I won in 24 moves, and spent more time going over the game with him afterwards. The chess teacher in me comes out.

Be Careful for What You Wish For: Part II

So you want to be up on the stage where everyone can see you playing, and possibly make a fool of yourself? Sure, that would be cool to have 20 some spectators watching me do battle against some GM. I always dreamed about being on stage and pulling an upset against a much higher rated player. Alright you asked for it, but it won't be against a GM (you had your GM opportunity in Round 1), and you won't be on an actual stage. The internet will be your stage.

"Welcome to Mon Roi's live coverage of the 2007 US Open in beautiful Cherry Hill, New Jersey! (applause) This afternoon's round 4 coverage features a titanic battle between FOC (Forum Over site Committee) member Polly Wright versus USCF Issues Forum's most sanctioned member, Sam Sloan. (Ohhhhhhh, ahhhhhhhhh) Stay tuned to see how Ms. Wright does against Mr. Sloan's infamous 1. g4 opening. But first a word from our sponsor......"

Alright it wasn't quite like that, but damn close. This was the first round of the tournament that my Mon Roi was actually in sync with the central hub, so my game was actually being shown live on the Mon Roi website as part of their US Open coverage. I really didn't think that at 1:00 pm EDT on a Thursday afternoon that there would really be anyone watching my game against Sam. I figured people were more interested in what the Grandmasters were doing in that round. (Though now that I think of it, I may have been the only one on the 5 day schedule using a Mon Roi. I don't think they were putting them on the top boards of the 5 day schedule.)

I've played Sam a number of times at the Manhattan and Marshall Chess Clubs over the years. I have one draw and the rest of the games I lost. The significance of this game had nothing to do the game itself. It was more about the battles waged on the USCF Issues Forum where I was part of a committee to try to keep some degree of order and civility on said same forum. On the other hand, Sam in the midst of a very heated election campaign tended to overstep those bounds, and had been sanctioned by the committee that I belonged to. For some forum members this game might have been the war between "good & evil". Depending on which extreme of the political spectrum one fell there may have been differing opinions on who represented "good" and who represented "evil".

The game was interesting to say the least. I won a pawn, and had a fierce attack going. I was sure I could win more material. Somehow Sam kept defending, and I kept attacking. But I had this big problem. I had one second left on my clock. Oh crap!! Where did all my time go?? At that point I just started grabbing pawns, and making any sort of move that didn't hang something. The problem is when you're trying not to hang pieces that 1 second tends to vanish. So now I'm out of time, and Sam has 1 second left. We're both just making moves. He's oblivious to my clock, and I'm watching his in the hopes that maybe he'll run out of time and I can salvage a draw. (Feel free to debate the fairness of my playing on when I know I'm out of time.) It's situations like this where the 5 second delay becomes your worst enemy. Sigh. The clock became a non-issue as the attack changed direction, and suddenly I found myself in checkmate from a bishop.

I thought my only audience had been the crowd that gathered as Sam and I were rattling off our last 8 moves in the midst of the time scramble. I was mistaken. The former Mod4 of the forum had been watching the live feed from Mon Roi, and so nicely informed fellow forum members that I was playing Sam, was up a pawn and had an overwhelming attack. There were a number of posts regarding what I should have done. Damn kibitzers always see stuff that the players don't. Internet kibitzers can't see the clock, so they have no idea what I was thinking about. Though they didn't actually see the last 8 moves live since Sam and I had to reconstruct after the game was over. Our audience was probably wondering why they didn't see any moves for about 20 minutes, and then suddenly saw 8 moves with a few take backs as we reconstructed.

In the chaos of trying to reconstruct, and forgetting that a game where only 1 second is left between the two players tends to end shortly before the next round is to begin, I lost track of time. I was doing my usual smoozing between rounds, and suddenly noticed there was no one milling around waiting for pairings. Oh crap! The next round was at 3:30, and it's now 3:55. The queen of time trouble is starting 25 minutes down in a G/60 round! Nothing like giving time odds to a player that's less then 200 points lower rated. 35 minutes left on my clock. No problem! It turned out not to be a problem. I won, and actually had more time left then my opponent at the end.

After playing 5 rounds at game/60 sometimes I find it difficult to make the transition to the slower 40 moves in 2 hours followed by sudden death/60. Last year in round 6, I got crushed in 15 moves by a 1900 player. This year I still lost to a 1900 player in round 6, but it took longer to lose. So just like last year I got through the merge with 2.5 - 3.5. This year's journey through the first 6 rounds was far more interesting then last year's.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Strolling Down Memory Lane: US Opens From the Past

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!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I Should Have Done This Years Ago!

Do what? Blog about chess.

Why? Because I'm entering my 35th year of playing rated chess, and I have a few good stories from the past. Hopefully I'll have more in the future.

Does anyone care? I won't know if I don't share.