Sunday, August 13, 2006

Groundhog's Day

So this repetition of my days is starting to get to me. Making the same drive out to the 'burbs at 5:30ish, walking into the playing hall at 7, playing chess 'til midnight, driving home at 1:00am and waking up sleep deprived the next day to do it all over again! It's grueling and yet I don't really want it to end today. Sure, I won't miss the late-night lane closures that cause heinous backups in the middle of the night, or the sketchy on-the-road diet or the chessfunk, but I'll miss the competition and the chess. Hammering out this blog everyday has been a challenge as well, I'm not use to writing in the "first person" mode, very foreign. Another repeat that happened yesterday was the appearance of another Noteboom Variation in my game! Yep, paired against another Expert for round 8, I had looked up his games in the bulletins before the rounds and saw he opened with Nf3 but transposed into Queen's Gambit setups. I thought the Boomer might be in the offing again and sure enough, we went right into it. Having recently reviewed this from my game two nights previous (against the Master), the main attacking motifs were still fresh in my mind. However, my opponent played a few inferior moves and I quickly obtained a winning position! Being a sharp opening though, he fought back and in the time scramble, my advantage slipped away and we settled on a draw at move 42. Another Expert draw! It sucks though, that I left a 1/2 point on the table. I need to practice on winning won games and bring the point home to Papa.

They had a lot of announcements prior to the start of the round and I noticed that it was uncomfortably warm in the playing hall. Many must have complained, because shortly after the round started, the AC kicked in with a vengeance and it soon become an icebox in there. Naturally, being Saturday, I had decided it was a good day to wear shorts! I was shivering as I shook my opponents hand for the draw, a shaky shake.

In my report for round 5, "Bloody Hell", I mentioned my opponent just walked off after our game. I happened to talk with him brief last night and he turned out to be an amiable fellow, funny in fact. In describing his loss the night before to a Master, he summed up the idea of chess improvement succinctly with "Ya gotta do the hard work" No doubt! That's how you win won games! And save lost ones. It's fun to play instinctively, chess is an art that way, but there are times when you have to buckle down and calculate it all out. Blind me with science, baby! And chess is a game, too, of course, making it all three at once. The trifecta of hobbies.

Leaderboard: Illinois' own GM Yuri Shulman bested GM Shabalov to take sole possession of first with one round to go. He's alone at 7 1/2, with IM Cordova and GM Fedorowicz (both of New York) and National Master Aigner from California tied for second with 7. One of them will get a crack at Shulman for the title while the other two will play cautiously, waiting for a result to happen on board one. There are 16 players at 6 1/2 who are playing for prize money, but the winner of the 107th will be one or more of the four I've mentioned.

Standings: I'm in 259th overall and 14th in my section. There are 4 money prizes for my section and I need to win and have some things go my way to get a piece if it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Stormy Weather

In all the driving to and from the tournament this week, I've happened upon several cloud bursts that have accomplished their goal of making everything wet. They are the typical Chicago summertime happening in that they don't last very long but can be quite formidable in their intensity. This is very similar to what happened in my round 7 game last night. Playing against a lower-rated high schooler (I'm guessing), I found an opportunity to sacrifice a Knight for 3 center pawns, leaving me with a lengthy pawn chain with which I planned to storm down the board and "make everything wet". Being an Architect by schooling, I love the idea of the pawn chain and it's inherent structure and beauty. The slow and inexorable way these pawns march down the board adds the nice psychological touch akin to a python chatting it up with the gazelle trapped in it's coils. My opponent, not wanting to be linked in any way with Donna Summer's cake, started playing in desparate fashion and induced me to push the pawns prematurely, allowing him to sacrifice a Bishop back for two of my buttons. With the summertime thunderstorm over, I had to nurse my one-pawn advantage for awhile until he finally cracked and I notched my third win of the week. I'm back to even now with 3 1/2 points out of 7 and two rounds to play. I was on board 205 and only the top 200 boards played in the big hall so I was relegated to the basement. We were the last to finish downstairs and at one point, with the Tournament Director watching as we approached the Sudden Death time-control, a voice boomed out "You all 'bout done down here?" It was the security guard coming down to close up shop, apparently under the impression the round was over for the night! After that was cleared up, I picked off another pawn a few moves later and my opponent promptly resigned. We had barely begun our post-game chat when the lights went out and the doors closed, leaving us in the dark in a room full of chess sets. Apparently the round was over NOW!

To make amends for my round one tardiness, I've been arriving early the last few rounds which has afforded me the time to talk to some more folks I know, "chess friends" I only ever see at tournaments. All good people I might not ever meet if it wasn't for this royal game. I've met some of the top-level players as well and they can run the gamut from being extremely cordial and pleasant ("normal" if you will), to being funny and off beat and some even downright weird and mysterious. GM John Fedorowicz from New York, who's playing here this week and currently in 6th place, is a regular blue-collar type guy who'd rather talk to you about the Yankees than the Sicilian Defense (I hope I'm remembering that right, lord help me if he's a Mets fan!). IM-elect Emory Tate has regaled us for years with his witty chess banter and tremendous tactical vision. His military history has surfaced on occasion with wild stories of the KGB and the "assuming a crab-like position" story that's up there with the best Fischer could offer. I also remember giving Estonian GM Lembit Oll a ride back into the city from a suburban tournament many years ago, thrilled to have an actual Grandmaster in the car, only to hear sadly of his suicide a few years later. He jumped out of his 4th floor apartment, eerily similar to the main character in Nabokov's "The Defense". Chess is life, life is chess, but they're not equal.

By my count, there are 9 of the top 100 players in the U.S. playing in the 107th this week. The extended schedule and relatively low prize fund has probably kept many away due to the commitment involved. Nonetheless, the battle at the top boards has been blistering and going into tonight's round, three players are leading with 6 1/2 out of 7: Illinois "own" GM Yuri Shulman, GM Alexander Shabalov from Pennsylvania and New Jersey's GM Joel Benjamin. Eight others follow at 6 points, including two more GM's and two IM's. Let's hope we see some true clashes and not a litany of friendly handshakes.

Sightings: I can tell who I did NOT see and that was Susan Polgar, 4-time Woman's World Champion and the top female player in the U.S. She was in town for ther finale of her Polgar Invitational Tournament that just ended. She has some blog posts on the U.S. Open as well. Another nice website is the MonRoi people that are here sponsoring the event. They make the new score-keeping devices that looks like a blackberry but it's only for entering the game moves as they are being played. You can automatically have the moves transmitted live over the internet (to both the MonRoi website and the ICC--Internet Chess Club), but at $350 a piece, getting my own will have to wait. They rent them out at $10/round, which does guarantee your game gets published in the daily bulletins but I'll reserve that experiment for another time. Their website also has an extensive collection of photos, too.

Standings: With my win, I'm now in 267th overall and 21st in my section.

Friday, August 11, 2006

On the "Boomer", Raccoons and a warm touch

The main playing hall after the big merge

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted, I'm trying to juggle a very busy workload with playing a chess match every night this week and there's clearly not enough hours in the day for such a feat. This is one facet of my life that keeps me at "hobbyist" level in the chess world. If Congress had taken up The Beatles suggestion back in the 60's to adopt an eighth day of the week, I'd be a happy camper. So imagine this hobbyists surprise when I show up for my round last night, fully expecting to be paired down after my horrible loss the night before, and find myself paired against--no, not another Expert-- a Master! A gentleman from my home state of Ohio rated 410 points higher than me! To put that into perspective, a 200 rating point difference means the higher rated should win 75% of the time. A 400 point difference is probably closer to 98% of the time! More perspective on the strength of the tournament overall is that my opponent is seeded 53rd overall, meaning there are 52 players rated even higher than him! So the odds were stacked against me for sure. However, I had an opportunity early in our game to steer it into an opening variation I'm fairly familiar with known as the Noteboom variation, or the "Boomer" as I like to call it. It's one of those opening sequences that defies the normal tenets of how you should play in the opening: don't make too many pawn moves early, develop your Knights before Bishops, don't surrender the center with pawn captures, and so on. Yet the variation has eluded any outright refutations and is still playable, possibly because of the main positive: Black creates a passed pawn duo on the Queenside. If Black can survive the middlegame onslaught, the endgame is usually a win. Opting for this variation turned out to be a blessing for me in many ways. I entered a position I was comfortable with and I was able to test it against a very strong opponent. The game went down to the bitter end, we even promted pawns into Queens late in the game to extend the battle even further. In the end I succumbed as he had a solitary pawn left that I was unable to stop from promoting. So another loss, but you know what? I feel great about my performance last night as I went toe-to-toe with a Master and nearly pulled off a tremendous upset! It's amazing how much my own play, regardless of outcome, determines my outlook afterwards. I can only give my best and I felt I did that last night for over 5 hours. Chess improvement is a series of mountains to climb and I can now see the top of my next mountain, something I couldn't see at the start of the 107th. I'll post the game shortly, it looks to be very instructive.
Me playing in round 6 against a Master. Boom!
Another great thing happened last night and that was my wife Maureen came to watch me play. I can't tell you how much this means to me, to have her support in my crazy endeavor and to see a friendly face in the crowd does wonders for me. She stood behind me during the game and would put her hand on my back, a gesture of support with a warm touch that had a calming influence on me. She's the best "coach" I could have and she doesn't even know what a Noteboom is!

As I was leaving the hotel afterwards, nearly 1:00 am, I was startled by some commotion behind me and just caught a glimpse of a raccoon rocketing into some bushes nearby. The strange thing about it was the critter came from behind me, very close, as if I had let it out of the hotel after it's renegade mission into the building had failed to achieve it's goal (or maybe it did!). It scared the livin' daylights out of me which is good, because it was the middle of the night at the time.
A quick sidenote: What's up with this blog layout anyway? A narrow strip of text down the center with lots of blank space on either side, it's like someone gave this website a brazilian wax. I'm renaming it "The Landing Strip" if I can't figure out how it change it....

They published another of my games in the daily bulletins, which are absolutely awesome. With each one clocking in at over 100 games, by the end of the 107th I'll have over 1000 games at my disposal!

Standings:I'm currently at 2.5 points out of 6, which isn't where I'd like to be but it is what it is. I'm in 340th place out of 543 overall, and 55th in my section out of 100.

GM's duking it out on the top boards

At the top of the leaderboard, the GM's and IM's have clustered and there are 9 players with 5.5 out of 6. 18 more follow them, a half-point back. It's all heavyweight bouts on the top boards from here on out. Winning qualifies them for the U.S. Championships

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bloody Hell

Bloody Hell is right, I lost to another Expert last night. Bugger! Looks like I won't be winning the 107th this year! I played a local fellow rated over 300 points higher than me and it showed in the game. I didn't make any overt errors per se (perhaps my error was not resigning sooner?!), but with every passive move of mine he improved his position at every turn until my position was a timid shell waiting for the death blow to come. My play was completely uninspired, something that happens to me every now and then like a blindspot. Perhaps a mid-tourney lull for me as the 107th is much more a marathon than a sprint. The chess truth of the matter is I was unfamilar with the opening variation we went down and therefore had no concrete plan. I want to put my best foot forward against these higher-rated players to get a true sense of how I stack up and my efforts last night were far from that so I see this as a missed opportunity. There WILL be other chances! The final indignity was afterward, my opponent simply wished me luck in the rest of my games and scurried off, no "post-mortem", no analysis, no insight, as if my play didn't deserve another minute more of scrutiny! That's OK, I went home and analyzed the game, noting several points where I had better moves available and expanded my knowledge a bit of this type of opening setup. I only learn when I lose. Last night I learned plenty. I'm also thinking I need to devote some time reviewing Karpov's games. A lot of his games popped up in my database last night reviewing this setup and he showed a crystal clear understanding of the position. Too bad he's not on my speed dial.

Superstition update: Throw the whole "chess-case-in-the-front-seat" thing out the window! I took a new way into work this morning though.

In the "pay it forward" department, I gave a young man a ride home last night. I was hanging out after my game with some friends, chatting about our games (we all lost!), yukking it up and blowing off some steam when a fellow chess player come up to us asking for a ride into the city. Since it was on my way, and after asking him to leave any knives, guns and throwing stars behind, I obliged his request. My friend Anthony asked him to touch his backpack in case they needed fingerprints. Hilarious! Dylan turned out to be a cordial and appreciative passenger and we chatted about our games and chess through the late-night traffic jam on the Eisenhower. He's student at a city college here in Chicago, originally from Arizona with great aspirations in chess. I asked if he would be playing in the Illinois State Championships taaking place over the upcoming Labor Day holiday and he was unaware it was going on. He was considering getting another job next week since his current one has him working that weekend. Aah, to be 20-something again!

Turns out the kabuki kids and tiara gal I mentioned in earlier rounds are participating in the concurrent Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls tourney going on. That explains the higher-than-normal percentage of female players. So instead of the typical 5% female participation, the 107th is probably nearer to 8-10%.

The Big Merge happens tonight, as the 9-dayers like myself get joined by those playing in the 5- and 6-day schedules. This will put all 540ish players in the main hall (if we all fit!) so it should be a packed house tonight. My goal here on out is to stay in the main hall. Any overflow boards get played downstairs in the dungeon and since my chainmail and scimitar are in the shop, I'd prefer to stay upstairs with the big boys.

I'm posting more of my games (see the links or the right) as time permits. The latest ones have little or no analysis yet. I may not get to it in earnest until after the tourney ends. I'm still hoping to post a decent game! I'll post later on my tournament standing and who's fighting it out at the top after tonight's round. The GM's are massing on the top boards for some solid matchups, this is when it gets good!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I've seen fire and I've seen rain

In the end, most things even themselves out. Karma has a way of acting like an iron on the freshly pressed dress shirt of life. Bad hair days find themselves sandwiched between days of fantastic coifs. Mathematicians call this "regression towards the mean", which is such a sad way of putting it. To think that we are "regressing" to something known as "average" doesn't leave much room for hope or optimism! This karmic notion applies to the chess world as well, especially my last two rounds. In round 3 I resigned in a Rook-and-Pawn endgame that maybe had some more life left to it. Not that I was in a position to win, but a draw might have been available. Last night, round 4, I found myself in a drawn position late in the game when my opponent erred and I netted a piece, effectively ending the game in my favor. So what probably should have been two draws ends up being a loss and a win. Still the same result, 1 point out of 2, I just took a different road there.

My opponent last night was a young man from New Orleans, here for the week to play in the 107th. I asked him how it was going down there and he responded that things were "getting better, getting better", yet his tone and the slow, calculated way he choose his words made me think I actually have no idea what it's like in the bayou STILL and when you are talking about total destruction as a starting point, "getting better" seems a bit thin in the progress department one year later. His rating was some 500 points below mine which is always cause for concern. Sometimes ratings that low aren't real good indicators of a person true strength. One's rating is relative only to the games they've played and the skill level of their opponents. We can't play everybody (sadly), so the rating system used is only a partially-accurate estimator. Such was the case for my opponent. He was actually much stronger than his D-class rating and proved it over the board with informed play. Afterwards, he offered to go over the game, a 'process' known in the chess world as the "post-mortem". Nearly ALL of the higher rated players do this after EVERY round! Hmm, a connection? Also, this is how you can meet nice people and even though it was late and I was tired, we reviewed the game and found some points of interest I'm anxious to look at more closely. He's going to surprise some people this week.

I purchased the daily bulletins for the 107th, which are absolutely awesome in their quality. Each ones near 50 pages thick with games, diagrams and pics. I've been fortunate to have two of my games published in them so far (rounds 2 and 3), something I attribute more to my penmanship than my play! Some players scribble their moves down in their best Neanderthal cursive. I tend to make mine as neat and clean as possible so I can replay it later on without need for a rosetta stone to crack the code. I'm guessing the person transcribing the games into the bulletin, given the choice between Neanderthal and Helvetica, goes for the path of least resistance! Nonetheless, it's a thrill to see your name in print and would urge any other players to get them as well. They can be a useful weapon, too, since they publish so many games each round, I can scan for the games of my next opponent to gain some insight to what they may play against me. The 107th website has been posting the pairings a few hours ahead of time and had I gotten the bulletins from the start I would have known my round 3 opponent was going to play the Dutch Defense against me! I spotted a game of my round 4 opponent while I was sitting at the board prior to the round starting last night and knew he was going to open with d4! (pushing the Queen's pawn forward two squares)

I'll take a moment here to talk about superstition. Yes, I am superstitious when it comes to chess tournaments! Putting the responsibility of winning or losing on something else besides myself is great fun and I urge you all to give up your power in a similar fashion as a step towards personal growth. All kidding aside, I must write down my moves with the same pen each round. Not that I have a "special" pen, but whatever I use to start, I must use for the whole tourney. Other superstitions manifest themselves as the tourney progresses. For example, In my drives out to Oak Brook, I put my chess set/clock case on the passenger seat next to me. Well, for my round 3 loss, I had just thrown it in the back seat with my laptop while leaving work. Since I lost that round I put the case on the front seat again for yesterday's drive and won again. Guess the case will be up front with me the rest of the week!

A few technical notes: I'm able to post my games on here now, see the links to the right to play through them. Special thanks to my "Uncle-in-Law" Mark Gallagher for providing the hosting space! Most of the analytical variations (in red) are from Shredder10, the verbal notes are mine. These are quick reviews at this point, more in depth analysis will come later. Be warned: These aren't brilliancies. Please feel free to comment if you find a better move somewhere! Speaking of comments, it was brought to my attention that only restigered users of could post comments. I didn't realize I had the power to change that, which I did, and now anyone can post comments. I'm new to this, uh, apparently!

Sightings: I was fairly locked into my game last night and didn't notice much of note last night. The 6-day schedule has started, they played in the back of the hall, so it was weird seeing GM's like Alexander Shabalov playing in the back with the rest of us slugs! I saw a younger player with tears in his eyes during his game. I feel for him, been there done that. I see that as a sign of someone's passion for the game and desire to win, or at least play as well as they can. To wear his emotions out there like that, I applaud it. A player a few boards away from me unleashed a sneeze of Cornwallian magnitude that nearly caused an arterial infarction in another nearby player. Fun stuff!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

For the want of a nail

I was pitted against another Expert last night, a professorial fellow from New Jersey. After 5 1/2 grueling hours of, you guessed it, defending, I finally cracked and lost my first game of the tournament. A bitter pill for sure as I thought I had once again wriggled out of harm's way and secured myself another draw against an Expert. My opponent didn't make any overt mistakes the whole game so I felt I was given a stern testing of my ability. It boiled down to a Rook-and-Pawn endgame which is a classic ending situation in chess. Top level players say studying Rook-and-Pawn endgames will improve your chess dramatically. Think I'll take them up on it. Afterwards, my opponent said I had played well during our time-trouble scramble near move 40 (we were both low on time trying to reach the 40-moves-in-two-hours cutoff) which is nice to hear. It was right about then that I felt I was getting back into it so at least my intuition is working somewhat! Still, it sucks to lose. I'd like to plan on that not happening again this week.

The yin-yang of modern day chess are the chess-playing computer programs out there that can analysis your games at the highest level. Good in the fact they can teach you plenty, show you where you made a mistake and lead you to the promised land with brutal efficiency. The downside is they can be a crutch, a substitute for actually rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard work (yes, chess can be hard work if you REALLY want to improve. The time factor involved is a whole other topic for me!). The program I use is called Shredder 10 and I've been feeding my games into it every night afterward to see how I'm doing. Very enlightening! According to Shredder, in my round two draw I was flat busted most of the game and a few late errors by my opponent let me secure the draw. Last night I was slightly worse but not fatally so and maybe even resigned prematurely! Bloody computers! I'll have to put in the "hard work" after the tournament to see what's really going on there. I have the games in a form to post online but can't seem to get them up on this blog-thingy. Maybe I need a place to host them? Any suggestions out there?

The fun part of the evening was me being on board 40, which put me right behind the seating area for the top boards. I was in rarified air from a status perspective. It's a thrill sitting up with the big dogs, another reason I hated losing, now I'm cast back in the middle of the pack, 1 1/2 points out of 3, right where I started three days ago. I was also part of the dress-shirt-and-tie crowd having come straight from work. I thought there'd be more of us, perhaps most are finding time to go home and chage first? Time, what a luxury!

Sightings: OK, so I don't get this at all and have never seen it in a chess tournament before but, there was a group of younger players, I believe all female which is a rare sighting itslef at a chess tourney, that had on complete kabuki-esque face and body paint. Some in white face paint and red arms, others in all red with sparkly crap in their hair. What the?? It was fun at first I'm sure as they walked into the hall and attracted a bit of attention. Of course when my game ended just past midnight and there's only a half-dozen games still going on and one of them was one of the kabuki kids still playing, red facepaint now faded and streaked, I'm guessing the novelty had worn off too. Lest you think I make some of this up, feel free to come out and watch the insanity going down at the Doubletree in Oak Brook. Just bring me some Skittles.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Some people call me Maurice

I was paired against Steve Miller the rock star tonight. Actually, it was Steve Miller from Rockford, not rock star. He's an Expert from that lovely border town and I've actually played him once before about a year ago. In that game I had the white pieces and staged a big assault on his King to no avail, eventually losing after making some hasty decisions in time-trouble. Tonight was a grueling battle that ended in a triumphant Draw! Funny thing about it was that I ended up defending myself all night long after dropping a pawn early on. Defend, defend, defend, we've heard this story before, yes? Be careful what you ask for I suppose. Turns out I can be pretty stubborn over the chessboard (contact my wife to determine if this stubbornness manifests itself in real life!). Early in the game, the bearded and bespectacled Mr. Miller and I were trading "waiting" moves as the position was such that the first side to make an aggressive move would probably be worse off. I finally lost my patience (or ran out of good waiting moves) and made a move in the center that immediately came back to haunt me. I burned up huge amounts of time trying to wriggle my way out, finally deciding on a plan that only lost a pawn. Sometimes we have to choose between several bad choices, much like a presidential election. From then on I was in defensive mode but this phase of the game was actually easier for me to calculate and I saw the draw on the horizon. Still wanting to "Fly Like an Eagle", my opponent pressed on until I proved it to him. He offered the draw on move 66 and I got my kicks, drawing an Expert for only the 2nd time in my career! Yahoo!

I had the unfortunate luck of playing my game in the vicinity of someone working their "chessfunk" pretty strong. This round was brought to you by the letters "P" and "U". To generalize, some in the chess-playing community have a dubious relationship with soap and water. I happened to be seated near someone going through a divorce with their Lever2000.

I remembered to bring my camera and took a few snaps. Here's a pic of the playing hall just before the round started. The hall is not filled with players yet as there are 3 different playing schedules (9-day, 6-day and 5-day) and the 6- and 5-day people haven't started playing yet. I'll revisit this view later in the week when it fills up.
Sightings: After one of my lengthy "thinks" during the game, I got up to stretch and walk around to look at the other games going on. I passed National Master Emory Tate, former U.S. Armed Forces Champion and an old friend, and he extended his fist out with a friendly smile and offered up the now-oh-so-popular knuckle bump as a silent greeting. Could I BE any cooler?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Let the games begin

I was late! So who did that inconvenience? Me, for starters, as traffic was horrible. It was a perfect snapshot of how well I'm prepared for this. I apologized to my round 1 opponent, a high schooler from Lincolnwood West with a baseball cap on backward and pulled down low, his hair in his face. I straightened the pieces and filled out my scoresheet before making my first move. 22 minutes had already run off my clock but I needed to get settled in. I pushed my Queen's Pawn forward two squares and and we were off and running in the 107th U.S. Open.

The kid played me tough! We went right into an opening sequence known as the King's Indian Defense which is a fairly complex opening to be dabbling in. The King's Indian has many different move orders and sequences, nuances that make a good move in one setup a blunder in another. I kind of got trapped up in this and ended up with, what I felt, was a worse position. Plus I got into time trouble to boot. I have to make 40 moves in 2 hours after which I get another hour to complete the rest of the game. At one point I had 11 minutes left to make 15 moves! Defending, defending, defending. It's all I was doing, I hate that. Just like in life, having to defend yourself all the time kinda blows. The only time it's fun is when you rebuke the constant attacks and make them go away or eradicate them entirely. That's kind of what happened tonight. Just when my opponent was coming in for the kill, he slipped and I pounced and chopped some wood off the board. After that I gave him a fistful of idle checks with my Queen just to make it to move 40 and a few moves later he tipped his King over. Good chess manners from someone his age. Typically the younger players play until you mate them which is a little rude. We chatted a bit afterwards, discussing certain points in the game and such. This is also a rarity at my level, as most opponents rather not talk after getting crushed which is too bad, I've met some nice people this way. "I've ground you down and bent your will to my own. Wanna go get a Starbucks?"

The tournament itself has a few more touches than the normal "weekend swiss". The top half dozen boards are projected on a screen at the front of the playing hall for all to see, really cool for chess geeks. You see this all the time at European tournaments so it's nice to feel self-important like them. I almost got to play on one of the big boards tonight. I was just above the dividing line as far as the rankings go for the first round. This means I was the worst-of-the-best instead of the best-of-the worst. Clear as mud? So instead of playing at the front of the tournament hall with the big screens and Grandmasters, I played in the back of the hall with the tired and poor yearning to be free. I'll have to scratch and claw my way to the front of the room just like at prom. Oops, did I say that out loud? Also the boards and sets are provided! Typically everyone carries around their own set and clock, chess armor as it were. For the Open-- actually I like "107th" better-- for the 107th we just set the pieces back to their original squares and leave it like we found it. There are also plenty of side events going on during the day but I won't have time for the chess speedball, binging on checkmates until the sun comes up and I'm staggering in summer's morning heat looking for a burrito, a kleenex and some disinfectant.

Sightings: I saw a gal with a tiara on. Don't know if she was playing or spectating but it was too tiny for her head and way too tall on her. She definitely should have left it on the Macy's accessory wall. I also nearly ran into, literally, Jennifer Shahade, former U.S. Woman's Chess Champion and author of "Chess Bitch", a book I haven't read yet but should if for the title alone and the stares I'd get on the train into work. We all have a little chess bitch in us, don't we? She was wielding a camera and not a chess set so I don't know if she's playing or not.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera

I open this blog with a Yul Brenner quote, as after I created this page with the subtitle "Chess and Me" I realized that perhaps the tagline "The King and I" would be more appropriate. This space is to be about, initially at least, my experience in the 107th U.S. Open Chess Championship which begins tonight here in the Chicago area. This undertaking carries a certain amount of risk since I could fall on my sword over the next nine days and this space might read more like an obituary! Nonetheless, I'm in it because I love chess and the competition and always give my all. My wife keeps me grounded about such things by constantly reminding me, no matter my result over the board, "Did you have fun?" Yes, I always do!

So for the uninitiated to the world of competitive chess, let me take a moment to explain how this all works:
As of this writing, there are 434 players registered from 43 states. The U.S. Open is truly that: an OPEN. Any one can play and everyone plays in one big section. Most chess tournaments are played in a "Class" format, this is, restricted sections based on rating. The class designations in the chess world start at the top with GM's (Grandmasters), then IM's (International Masters), Masters, Experts, then Class 'A', 'B', 'C', 'D', 'E', 'F' and so on (I am at the top of the 'B' class and hope to crack into the 'A' class by the end of this tournament!). Class tournaments have you playing against others of similar rating, or strength, throughout. An Open such as this means I could play against ANYONE, even a GM! That would be like me teeing it up against Tiger Woods. This is a 9-round tournament played in the Swiss System, it's not an elimination tournament. The Swiss System determines who you play each round. In the beginning, everyone is ranked according to their rating and the top half plays against the bottom half (in a 10-person tourney, rank 1 would play 6, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 8 etc.). If you win you get 1 point, a draw each player gets 1/2 point, and 0 for a loss. For the next round, all the winners are ranked and the top half plays the bottom half, the players with 1/2 point get the same treatment and the players with 0 points the same. This keeps happening each round until by the final round, theoretically, the best are playing the best for all the marbles. The player with the most points at the end of the tourney wins. Currently, I am ranked 216th out of 434 (I'm ranked 2nd in my class out of 76). That's right, almost EXACTLY in the middle of the pack! Because of this placement, I could be playing either the lowest rated or the highest rated player in Round 1 tonight, depending on where my ranking falls after the walk-ups sign on this afternoon! A scary thought...

With that out of the way, I intend to make a daily update as to my progress and general experience. I'll try to post my games as well but that won't necessarily be the focus. The people you meet at a chess tournament can be eccentric enough, the games at times a sidebar.