This year’s Western States Open ended up with a four-way tie for first place, an appropriate result for a tournament where nobody seemed to be able to make a decisive move away from the pack. (Remember the nine-way tie for first after round three?) The four people who managed to score 4½-1½ were Alexander Ivanov, Walter Browne, Melikset Khachiyan, and Tatev Abrahamyan. There was a speed chess playoff sometime around midnight, but I decided that I would rather go to bed than watch it.
In general I would say that the level of competition and fighting spirit this year was very high. I haven’t looked at the cross table, but I think that very few players made it through six rounds without a loss. Perhaps Ivanov and Browne.
For the first time I can remember, the last round was delayed by a game that went the full seven hours… on board one! Usually there are one or two games that go the distance, but they are usually down in the amateur sections. I have never seen it happen on the top board before. So there was a huge crowd of people watching GM Enrico Sevillano try to squeeze out a win with a rook, knight and four pawns against IM Roman Yankovsky with his rook, bishop and three pawns. Yankovsky hung tough and managed to pull out the draw.
A little bit about two of the winners. First, I’m expecting a thank-you letter from Abrahamyan, because of the way I gift-wrapped a point for her in round four! If I had drawn my game with her, then she would have been at 2-2 and would have been out of the running for first place. Instead, her win gave her a score of 2½-1½ and started her off on a three-game winning streak that vaulted her into a tie for first. It is incredibly impressive to win three games in a row and finish tied for first in a tournament as strong as this one. But still… Tatev, you owe me one!
As for Walter Browne, it was great to see him again. It seems as if he has been mostly absent from the West Coast chess scene for several years. He looked to be not in the best of health, but you would never know it from his chess. He said that one reason he came to this tournament was to promote his new book, The Stress of Chess and Its Infinite Finesse (I hope I have the title right). I’m not quite sure how putting in an appearance at a tournament without doing a book reading qualifies as book promotion. However, I think that a $2000 first prize (or maybe a little bit less because of the ties) probably made it a successful weekend for Walter!
I do have one Walter Browne story to tell (courtesy of Glenn, the assistant TD). Of course everybody knows how Browne regularly gets into horrific time pressure that would make mere mortals turn into quivering lumps of jelly. This time, playing against Vladimir Mezentsev in the last round, he was down to one minute to make seven moves… when suddenly his cell phone rings! He looks at it in panic, pushing this button and that without any success. “It was clear that he didn’t know how to turn off his own cell phone,” Glenn said. Finally he gave it to someone else to take out of the room.
Now according to the rules of the tournament, Browne should have been penalized half of his remaining time, which would have left him with 30 seconds or so. But try telling that to a six-time former U.S. champion who is so worked up that he looks like a soda can about to explode! Glenn wisely thought better of it; he might not have lived to tell the tale if he had tried to enforce the penalty.
Besides, it was just too funny — it was obvious that Browne wasn’t receiving signals through his cell phone. From his whole demeanor, you could tell that it was alien technology to him.
As it turned out, the caller was his wife. Failing to reach him on his cell phone, she next called the TD room, where she told Fran Weikel that Walter had to quit playing this minute and come home in order to beat the predicted snowstorm!
I don’t know what exactly Fran said to Walter Browne’s wife, but I hope it was something along the lines of: “You can’t be serious! You want him to forfeit his game, give up a chance at $2000, and all because of a few snowflakes?”
The story has a happy ending: Browne recovered his poise enough to win a very difficult endgame, in the last game to finish among all the prize contenders. I would love to be a fly on the wall to hear the conversation between Browne and his wife when he gets home!
As for me, well, I did okay on the last day but not well enough to win any prizes. I beat Siddarth Banik in round five, in a game with a rather unusual finish. I had a clearly winning endgame, but suddenly, out of nowhere, Banik sacrificed his two remaining pieces, his bishop and rook. I was thinking, “What in the world is going on?” After I took the rook, he gleefully announced, “Stalemate!” Except it wasn’t. His king had a legal move. He was stunned at the turn of events, and of course he resigned right away. I felt sorry for him, but I was glad that his hallucination made the win a whole lot easier!
In the last round I lost to Ed Formanek. I thought I played pretty well, but again I made one tactical oversight. That was basically the story of the tournament for me — too many little tactical missteps. Even the two games I won were far from perfect. In this case my blunder cost me a pawn. Although the endgame was dead lost, I think I did a pretty good job of making a fight of it. In fact, it was the second-to-last game to finish of the ten games on the stage. I considered that a moral victory of sorts, although it doesn’t count on the crosstable or in my rating.
One of the nice things about the Western States Open is that the top ten boards play in a roped-off area that serves as a makeshift stage. In this tournament I set a personal record by playing three of six rounds on the stage. Unfortunately, I lost all three of them!
A last little anecdote: Randy Hough was collecting stories for his Chess Life Online article on the tournament. I asked him if he would be interested in seeing my game from round three against Colin Chow, where I swindled him with a queen sacrifice. He said okay, although I could tell that he wasn’t all that interested. But just that moment, a guy who had watched the game happened along and asked me, “Is your game against Chow going to be in the games bulletin? Because that will be my criterion for deciding whether I buy the bulletin or not.” Randy explained to us that he had nothing to do with the games bulletin. However, the anonymous spectator’s enthusiasm might have made Randy pay a little bit more attention to my submission!
(By the way, the spectator wasn’t really anonymous. He is a ChessLecture subscriber and he had introduced himself to me earlier in the tournament, but I’m afraid I have forgotten his name.)
And now it’s time for me to brave those snowy mountain passes and drive back home. What a weekend!