2010 Labor Day
Image copyright 2010 by Edward D. Collins
This past Labor Day Weekend I
competed in the Southern California Open, a chess
tournament held at the LAX Hilton Hotel, in Los Angeles. It was a
6-game event, two games per day, which began Saturday morning and
finished Monday evening.
I considered entering the Open, but I figured this might be my very last chance to ever play in an Under 1800 event. Maybe I can go out with a bang and win some prize money and maybe, just maybe, I can win the 1st Place trophy. Most all of the tournaments I enter don't have trophies as part of your prize. However, for whatever reason, this event did.
Of course, playing in
the Under 1800 Section then puts additional pressure on winning. At
1735 in an Under 1800 Section, I would be ranked somewhat near the
top, and most certainly have to play someone rated lower than me at
least a few times. I've learned there is much more
pressure in playing someone with a lower rating than you,
when you're expected to win, than
Have I told you how much I dislike playing kids? Maybe that's because I don't enjoy losing to kids! Instead, I'd much rather be paired up against an old man with a long, white beard, someone who's been playing chess for 40 years. Some of these kids learned the game a year ago, and they are already stronger than me!
Play is even for awhile and then on Move 18 I find myself with a beautiful connected and passed queen pawn. I further improve my position, slowly, and then force the win of a pawn on Move 29. I win a piece a few moves later and it's all over in a move or two.
Round Two: Did I say how much I dislike playing kids? I'm
now paired up against an 8-year-old, who is 100 points stronger than
my last opponent! The kids got a name that would challenge a
spelling bee champion; Thayer Aletheia-Zomlefer. He also has
12-year-old (or so) brother playing in the Open Section, who
rated 1806 a few months ago! I ask him before the game where he's from, since his
name and face were unfamiliar to me. He tells me he lives
in Arizona. Wow, he and his family come all the way out here for
this event? I promise not to take him lightly.
On Move 15 he makes what I believe is a slight inaccuracy and allows me to exchange one of my knights for his powerful, light-squared bishop. On Move 22 I double my rooks on the open c-file and I think I've now equalized.
I find out later it wasn't necessary, but on Move 29 I decide to stop his attack for good, by sacking my rook for one of his knights and center pawns. I don't often sack pieces, but my gut tells me it's right and it's a move he probably would not have expected.
With one of his powerful center pawns gone, it's not long before the other one falls, as well as his a-pawn a move or two later. I now have three connected queenside passers and a bishop on that side, against his lone rook, a material imbalance which certainly justifies my sack earlier. The rest, as they say, is a matter of technique.
He actually plays the
game out and forces me to checkmate him. (At my level, players
resign when checkmate is inevitable. But some of these kids
haven't learned how to do that yet.)
On Move 32 the fireworks begin. He sacks a knight for a couple of my pawns. I wasn't expecting it at all, and I should have been. (Always examine all of your opponent's checks and captures!) With his move I suddenly find myself with two pieces hanging! I go into a long, long think. I probably spend 20-30 minutes on this move alone. This is the do-or-die moment.
I look deep into the position and I believe I can survive the oncoming attack, despite the fact that my king has almost no cover.
I do. I find a way to save both of my attacked pieces. And I know my lone piece in the endgame will be worth more than his extra pawns.
And it is. I find a way to force off the queens and the rooks from the board. We're down to an endgame with his five pawns against my bishop and three pawns. A few moves later my king and bishop work together and capture two of his five pawns. I sack my bishop later, at the right time, for another pawn, which will force one of my own pawns to his first rank, bringing about a new queen. He immediately resigns, as he should - it's now an elementary win for players at our level.
I should have entered that game to be considered the best-game prize. It was well played by both of us, and very exciting.
Three for three.
Four for four? Are you
kidding me? The last time I went four for four was a full sixteen
years ago, in Tucson, at the 1994 Ye Olde Pueblo Open! I
was a lowly 1500 rated player back then, and ending winning my section
with a perfect score.
I'm alone at the top. No one else in our entire section
has four points. (Two players have 3 1/2 points and a bunch have 3
points.) The tournament is now mine to lose.
With an ending
consisting of just queens, knights, and a few pawns, and what I
believe is a dead-even position, I offer a draw. With proper play,
a draw is going to be the inevitable result anyway, and I wouldn't
mind conserving my energy for the last round game. Steven considers it
for awhile and then accepts my offer. This is the type of position
if you try to hard to win, you end up losing.
Round Six: I'm Black. Cijo plays 1.c4 - the English - and I respond with 1...Nf6 and then 2...g6; the King's Indian Defense.
By Move 10 I'm already unhappy with my position. White is better. And if Cijo finds 11.Ba3, his position will only improve. Naturally, he sees it and he plays it. I'm forced to exchange queens and move a knight off to the side, out of play.
I know Cijo is aware of my 2nd Place results in Agoura Hills a month or earlier, and my 3rd Place results in Irvine a couple of weeks ago. Despite beating me in early April, I know he won't take me lightly. Because of this I have a feeling he will probably be content with a draw, and split the prize money.
Sure enough, on Move 16,
he players Rfe1 and then offers me a draw. I consider the offer for
ten minutes or so, looking as deep into the position as I can. And
after doing so, I
realize I'm worse. He has a better position. Declining his draw
offer here would be very unwise - I have no play at all. I'm
forced to accept.
I don't mind sharing 1st Place, but now winning the trophy amounts to a crap shoot. I mentally wish all of my previous opponents good luck. The number of points they finish with will affect my tie-breaking score.
We're done early, so we had to hang around for a couple of hours, for two other games all finish, to wait to see who, if anyone, we will share 1st Place with, and who the trophy will be awarded to.
As it turns out, Cijo
and I shared 1st Place
with just one other person. So it was a three-way tie for 1st. 1st,
2nd, and 3rd Place prize money was all combined, and we shared the
total equally between the three of us.
And... drum roll
please... I DID win the very nice trophy on tie-breaks!!! Yes! It's the largest and nicest chess trophy I've won,
and now my
most prestigious too, since my only other 1st Place trophy was for
winning an Under 1600 Section. This trophy, 16 years
later, is for winning an Under 1800 Section!
I can't think of a more enjoyable way to spend a holiday weekend.
Epilogue: On a final note, the name Alex Garber, the gentleman who Cijo and I shared 1st Place with, rang a bell with me. At the time I assumed it was simply because I had run into him at a previous tournament. However, on the drive home that evening, it suddenly hit me... I met Alex at a local bookstore a little more than EIGHT years ago! We met in chess section of the store, and struck up a conversation. We then got together two or three times later, and played some casual chess games, right there in the same store. Eight years worth of time, (and just two or three get-togethers) was long enough for both of us to not recognize each other at all!
I still have his old e-mails and I shot him off a quick note later that evening, congratulating him on sharing 1st Place with me. Fortunately, his e-mail address had not changed - he responded back almost immediately. He still lives nearby and we have plans to get together for some casual games in the near future. I find out later this was the first tournament we both entered together.
Maybe you should add author to your repertoire!
exciting reading! Like I was there and knew what was
happening! I really enjoyed reading this account of
the tournament even though I did not understand all of the
Hey Ed, ~
What a tournament! I loved reading about your adventures – and then the finale of sharing first place with someone you struck up a conversation with in a book store 8 years ago. How cool that you’ll get together with him sometime in the near future.
Congratulations on your marvelous results – and that, in the midst of an oncoming cold!!
Congratulations Ed. You deserve to feel proud, not only for the victory, but for the exciting narrative you used to describe the matches. I have never before read a chess tournament description and felt such tension and emotion. I actually read every word and looked forward to the climax with anticipation.
But where is the obligatory picture of you with the trophy?
Great read and very exciting!