What was your best tournament?

by admin on November 30, 2007

I’m feeling lazy today, but I need to put up a new blog entry, so here’s a topic that will let you do the writing! I’m sure everybody has had a best tournament. Tell us about it! How many opponents did you grind into the dust? Did the spectators shower you with gold coins? This is your chance for unvarnished bragging. Spill!

I’ll use my prerogative as admin to get the discussion started. Rating-wise, my best tournament ever was the 1976 Pennsylvania Championship, which I started with a rating of 1669. After the tournament, in which I beat five “A” players in a row (I was in the under-2000 section), my rating jumped to 1838. After that tournament, I was never afraid of “A” players again, and my rating never dropped below 1800 again.

That tourament was the best illustration of my “plateau” theory of learning. When you hit a plateau and your rating doesn’t go up for a while, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t improving. You’re building towards your next rating jump. One day, for no apparent reason, things will suddenly click and you will move on. (At least if you’re young. If you’re old, one day you’ll die and your rating will go back to 0. )

It would be pretty lame if my best tournament was thirty years ago, though. So I’ll pick the 2006 Western States Open in Reno. That’s where I got to debut my queen sac variation in the Sicilian Defense, beat IM David Pruess with it, and impressed Jesse Kraai so much that he got me a gig with ChessLecture. Also I went 4-2 and won the under-2400 prize. However, this is not as clear a choice for my best tournament as you might think, because the first four rounds were nothing special, with two losses against masters and two wins against non-masters. It was really an ordinary tournament with two great games at the end. (My round 5 win over Renard Anderson is also a game I’m proud of.)

Okay, your turn!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Hayes November 30, 2007 at 1:32 pm

My best tournament was earlier this year at Arcadia. 6-0 to win the tournament! It included wins over two experts and a master. I gained 80 pts from the tournament and I’ve been gradually losing them all ever since then!

I also went 6.5-0.5 in the Pacific Southwest Open last year but that was in the U1800 section. Obviously the caliber of opponents was not of the same standard as the Arcadia tournament, so I can’t really rank it as a higher achievement than that.

The most money I’ve ever won in a tournament was $667 at the Pacific Coast Open last year (2nd place in U1800 with 4.5/6… I got lucky that other results went my way in the final round).


Dribbling December 1, 2007 at 4:10 am

The best tournament I ever played in was my very first. I had learned the moves at the age of 7, played a few games with a cousin and one of his friends and moved on to other interests, as the saying goes.

When I was in my early thirties, somebody forgot or purposely left behind a chess book at our place. It was called Joyas del Ajedrez (Gems of Chess) by the Argentine player Luis Palau, and was a game anthology. I figured out what the chess notation meant rather quickly but still can’t understand Zukertort -Blackburne.

In any event, I was fascinated. For the next twenty years scarcely a day went by without my looking at a game of chess. I bought a whole lot of books. My wife often sat in silence, quietly judging me, kind of like a female Tom Cruise in Magnolia.

Then I saw an ad for a Swiss open tournament at Moratalaz, on the outskirts of Madrid, and suddenly realized that I was somewhat at risk of dying without having ever played. So I paid my fee and off I went. This was 1988; I was 51 years old at the time.

Upon entering the playing area I was trembling. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of my first opponent but I will never forget his bushy black beard, which gave him a ferocious aspect. I later got to know him casually as a well mannered, amiable man but on the day of my debut it felt as if I were playing Henry the Eighth. He was rated 2000 something and beat me rather easily, but I was quite happy to have made it to the ending alive and well.

My second opponent was also rated 2000 something and appeared to be even older than I was. In a pawn ending, I offered a draw which he quickly accepted, then immediately proceeded to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that in the final position he was in Zugzwang. I didn’t care; I had actually scored half a point in an official event! I had become a chess player.

My third opponent was, like me, a non-rated player. He looked to be 20 years old and, overflowing with energy, he almost immediately threw his h pawn at my Pirc before castling. Soon he was a pawn down and into sinister time trouble. I started playing quickly too, with the result that when he miraculously made it to move 40 with his flag still waving the position was clearly even. On move 41 he goofed. I played an exchange sacrifice which he was forced to accept and would have mated him except for his resignation. It was my first peek at what a loss can do to an inflated ego; he’s probably still sitting there.

In the end I scored three and a half points out of a possible nine, which exceeded my wildest expectations. But the really important thing was that one of my opponents invited me to play on his team, Ajedrez Madrid. For the next eight years I happily occupied the fourth board with better than average results. Far beyond that, Ajedrez Madrid provided me with a social network (lawyers, students, housewives, journalists, employees, shopkeepers, what have you) where people helped each other out for a common goal having nothing to do with money.

So I’ve had (not much) better results at the very few other tournaments I’ve played, but my first one, well, I guess it’s unforgettable for sentimental reasons, with a wink at Nat King Cole, may he rest in peace.


admin December 1, 2007 at 9:32 am

Dribbling’s wonderful post makes me think that I should also invite comments on first tournaments. My first tournament was also unforgettable. But maybe that’s a good topic for another post…

I envy countries like England and Spain because of their healthy tradition of team competition. Juan Diego Perea, the top-rated player in the round-robin tournament I’m currently playing, is actually from Spain originally; he moved to the U.S. about three years ago. He has told me that one of the things he misses the most is the chance to play on a chess team.

We did get a chess league going in the San Francisco area, briefly. It lasted two years, and my team won the second season. But somehow there just weren’t enough people interested in a third season. (Only two teams signed up.)


Matt Hayes December 1, 2007 at 4:02 pm

In England team competitions are far more common than weekend tournaments. You do find weekend tournaments, it’s true, but the vast majority of the average player’s games are in team competitions, not tournaments.

I played for both my city and my county in England. The games for the city took place on 5 or 6 boards (the exact number depended on the division the team was in). However, the county games were much larger, with 16 players on each team.

The only thing I have ever participated in that comes close to that over here is the Amatuer Team West, which was great fun this year and we hope to form the same again this year (got to defend our U2000 winners trophy!).

One other major difference between tournaments here and in England is that, in England, you would not need to bring your own chess set or clock. The equipment is always supplied for you.


Carina J. December 2, 2007 at 8:15 am

I still have my best tournament waiting for me. 🙂


Ernest Hong January 8, 2008 at 12:23 pm

I find your choice interesting, Dana. Although your win against Pruess is likely going to become your “Immortal Game”, I wonder how you rank your 2005 Far West Open where you went 5.5/6, clear first a full point ahead of one person at 4.5. Perhaps beating experts pales in comparison to beating masters? I remember almost all your games were miniatures. I thought that was winning in style.


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