I just got home from the CalChess Labor Day Championship, a tournament that for me had plenty of both agony and ecstasy. The short summary is that I went 3½-2½ in the Expert section, a result that for me is not very good. I almost certainly lost a few rating points.
One of my students, Linnea Nelson, played in her very first rated tournament. As a bona fide unrated she could have played in the Class D/E section, but I thought that would be way too easy for her, and recommended that she should play in Class C instead. She has played tons of online chess and has done so many of the tactical puzzles at chess.com that she has started seeing the same problems again. I thought for sure that she would do very well against Class C players, and probably win a prize.
But Linnea and I both underestimated the extent to which tournament chess is different from online. She ended up with a 2-4 record, and what was even more surprising to me was the way she lost. She started out 2-1, but then she lost a game where she had been a piece up, and all of a sudden self-doubt seemed to creep into her play. I had never, ever seen her play fearfully before, and she says that she never plays that way online.
The good news is that in spite of her rough introduction to tournament chess, she says she had fun and wants to play in more tournaments! And the good news is that she will have a very low rating, probably class D, and if she can just play anywhere close to her real strength in her next couple of tournaments she should have some prize money in her future.
As for my games, I could write about six very long blog posts about them. Maybe I will eventually, but it’s too late in the evening now. I’ll just say a little bit about the first and the last games. I started badly, losing a game to a class-A player named Abhishek Handigol who played the Englund Gambit against me. (That’s right, 1. d4 e5.) I hate losing anyway, but to lose to the Englund Gambit just adds insult to injury. And to make things worse, I could have gotten to a completely equal endgame but I botched my opportunity in time pressure. It was a case where I had to play three good moves in a row. I found the first, but didn’t play the second because I didn’t see the third!
Fortunately I managed not to lose any more games (I had two wins and three draws in the last five rounds). My last-round game against Praveen Narayanan was the very last one in the whole tournament to finish. I have to give Praveen credit — usually I’m the player who is always trying to force the action, but in this game he played all of the most creative moves and I just hung on for the ride. He played a positional exchange sac, got a really good bind out of it, and just when it looked as if I was escaping he found an incredible piece sac that nearly won on the spot. I think I found the only defense, giving back a piece, but then I immediately played a move that forced him to sac another exchange if he wanted to win.
So if you’re keeping track, I now had a material balance that I don’t think I have ever faced in my entire chess life: two rooks against a knight, bishop and two pawns. I managed to consolidate and get to an endgame in which I sacked a rook for the bishop and one pawn, leaving me still with a rook against a knight and pawn. I thought it should be a reasonably straightforward win, but then I blundered a pawn outright!
That’s the agony part. I was so disgusted with myself that I offered him a draw. But he got too greedy, and he declined! A very poor decision, it turned out. Maybe his endgame was better, maybe it was even winning, but he didn’t have time to figure it out (he had 4 minutes left to 9 minutes for me). My rook got active, munched several of his pawns, and that was it. When he finally resigned, he had less than 30 seconds left, and I had about 1 minute 30 seconds. As a person who is habitually in worse time trouble than my opponents, I really enjoy the rare occasions when I have the time advantage!
It’s funny how you can sometimes play an entire game’s worth of good moves and not be able to win, but then you play one blunder and it randomizes the position to such an extent that you actually end up winning.
Now here’s where I should tell you who won the tournament, but unfortunately I don’t know. All the pairing sheets and wall charts were taken down by the time I finished the game. The only other thing that I do know is that Cailen Melville, another Santa Cruz player who has been mentioned many times in this blog, tied for first place in the B section with a score of 5-1. That is probably one of his best results ever, so congratulations, Cailen!