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?

1 comment:

A. Weiler said...

I did not read all but I liked the part I read. What I liked is that you share with us your chess experience in tournaments. This kind of info is something I did not hear for a long time. So as I read I actually take part in what you have gone through. Next time I play in a tournament, I will take what I read here. I like to use the suitcase metaphor and sure I am putting these notes in it.