Dinosaurs Roam the Earth in Dublin

by admin on January 20, 2015

I did not go to the Golden State Open in Dublin, California, last weekend. I have a lot of work this month and couldn’t prepare properly for a chess tournament. But I wish I had! It looks as if it was a great tournament, although not quite as loaded with strong players as the New Year Championship was.

One of the interesting things about the tournament was that two people came back from long absences to win prizes. One of them was Nicolas Yap, a 2300 level player who finished fourth in the open section. He had not played rated chess since 2008. I don’t know him at all, but Craig Mar posted in a Facebook comment that he was “a kid no more,” so I would guess that his absence has had something to do with college and maybe graduate school.

The other notable returnee will not be familiar at all to California residents, but he’s quite familiar to me! The winner of the expert section was a guy named Doug Browning, rated 2131, who according to his USCF member page had not played any rated chess between 2003 and 2014. In 2003 he was living in Massachusetts. From his LinkedIn page it looks as if he moved to California to work for Google in 2013. He played in one blitz tournament and one rated tournament in 2014, presumably shaking off the rust but giving no idea of the kind of weekend he would have at the Golden State Open. This weekend he won 6½ out of 7, picking up 60 rating points and also presumably a heap of prize money. (This was a Bill Goichberg tournament. You know the prizes were big.)

Believe it or not, I know Doug from all the way back in graduate school. We were both at Princeton University in the early 1980s. As I recall, he was a 2100-level player even back then. I was still scuffling around in the 1900 to 2000 range. We played together on the Princeton chess team in at least one U.S. Amateur Team championship.

The only recorded game I have with him was from the 1982 Princeton chess club championship. I won that tournament by some fluke, with a 4-0 score, even though there were a couple of experts and a master rated above me. My game with Doug was typical of my good luck. It was a disaster for both sides. I played wretchedly in the opening, fell into every tactical trap, and emerged a pawn down with no compensation. But then Doug, for no apparent reason, blundered the pawn back and gave me a better endgame. Even though most of the game was pretty pathetic, the end was kind of cute.

browningPosition after 57. … Kb5. White to play and win.

FEN: 8/KP6/P7/1k2b3/6p1/8/4N3/8 w – – 0 58

This shouldn’t be hard to solve, but still the geometry of the position is nice. I played 58. Nd4+! with the idea of chasing Black’s king away from the a-pawn or deflecting the bishop from the queening square. If 58. … Ka5 59. Nc6+ forks the king and bishop. On other king moves, I simply play 59. b8 and win. For instance, if 58. … Kc4 59. b8Q Bxb8 60. Kxb8 Kxd4 (he has to waste a tempo taking the knight, otherwise I can easily stop his g-pawn) 61. a7 g3 62. a8Q and White wins easily. It’s nice that Black had a knight pawn rather than a bishop pawn or rook pawn. Finally, there is the move Doug played, 58. … Bxd4+, after which I played 59. Ka8 and he resigned, seeing that 59. … Be5 would be met by 60. a7 creating a queen.

There’s one other interesting thing about this endgame: It was adjourned after move 46. Yes, that was truly the era when dinosaurs roamed the earth, when sudden-death time controls were rare and clocks with five-second increments did not exist, and every tournament director had to have a supply of sealed-move envelopes. I’m not sure, but it’s possible that this was the last game that I ever played that was adjourned. I wish I could say that I found the above combination in my adjournment analysis, but I didn’t. In fact I mishandled the endgame and was lucky that the combination presented itself in this position. (I had a much easier win on move 51.)

After we both graduated, Doug and I completely lost touch. From his LinkedIn profile it looks as if he has had a very successful career in information technology, which probably accounts for his absence from the chess scene from 2003 to 2014. It’s interesting that we have had extremely similar rating histories. He had a peak of 2266 in 1994 (my peak was 2257 in 1995), then he dropped to a low of 2059 in 2001 (my low was 2075 in 2011), and now, after the Golden State Open, he’s back up to 2192 (and I’m back up to 2199). We’re practically twins!

Dinosaurs love company, so welcome back, fellow dinosaur!

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Matt January 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Funny, I saw the results from Dublin early today and was going to comment on your blog about Nicholas Yap. I haven’t played him but recognized the name. I played in one tournament with him back in 2004 (the Blacknight Memorial Day tournament in San Jose). He was rated about 2150 then and did not do well, drawing an 1800 and losing to a 1700 and thus dropping 24 rating points. He has apparently improved considerably since then and his 8 year hiatus hasn’t affected his playing ability!


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