Saturday, June 5, 2010

World Open 2010, History

No, I havent decided that blogging about Chess is a terrible idea! I have discovered that it takes a lot of mental energy, though, at least to do a good job. This wasnt exactly a surprise, as I am not a Grandmaster so I knew going over Grandmaster games would be taxing. I have a few games that are near completion from the US Chess Championship, but it may take me some time to finish them up.

Moving along, then, the 2010 World Open is almost here, so I thought I would do a few posts detailing my experience with past World Opens and a few things I am doing to prepare for this World Open. Ideally, documenting my preparations help people get ideas for their own study plans.

My first World Open was in 2006, and this is actually the first USCF rated tournament I ever played in. I was in the u1400 section, and I got a 6 out of 9 score. This tournament was a lot of fun and got me hooked on tournament chess.

The first thing I noticed about tournament chess was how involved the players got with a position. I remember telling my friend after one of my early games that I felt like I had played a perfect game! I have that game and may post it sometime, I am sure it was not perfect. But compared to the internet chess that I had primarily been playing, or even 15 to 30 minute over the board games at the Chess Club, it sure did feel like I had played a perfect game. I had never analyzed so many variations, and thought so much about what my opponent might do.

For this tournament, I gained or discovered one of the best and most important skills in chess and even in life in general. I was able to concentrate. And not just for a little bit, but for the whole dang 6 hours. That in and of itself felt really good. It felt a lot like climbing a mountain, I suppose, though I have never actually climbed any really big mountains. In those early days, I would just sit at the board staring at it the whole 6 hours and concentrating and concentrating, calculating as many lines as I possibly could, going over the position over and over again, figuring out what I had missed, figuring out what the endgames could be like, figuring out where my pieces would best be placed, figuring out again what I had missed.

I even thought on my opponent's time! This was my main advantage in those early tournaments, and one of the reasons I was able to do so well. I probably wasnt all that much better than my opponents, though I may have been. But they wouldnt just sit there and think and think and think.

I was surprised that my opponent's wouldnt spend the entire time thinking. It seemed so strange for me to enter into a chess tournament and not go all out, if you will. Why even bother to do it? Now that I have been playing for about 4 years, I understand that side of it a lot more. That is actually another critical skill in chess and life that is very difficult to master, creating passion.

Some people may say that passion cannot be created, and that you just either have passion for something or you arent doing what you are passionate about. I disagree. I think that is a nice ideal, that people would always have passion for what they are passionate about, but I just dont think that is the reality. Even playing a game for fun, you still get tired. And you get really tired. And also a bit despondent, or just sad. "What is the point?" starts crossing your mind more and more.

Having passion, or striving when you are almost certain of failure, whichever you want to call it, is a very difficult skill to have indeed!

Thinking back, though, I do fairly well at this. I think most people do as well, though it isnt quite in the face of certain failure. Every chess player has in the back of their brain an anecdote about the guy who played the first 15 moves in 3 to 5 minutes, lost a piece, and then took 4 or 5 hours to finish up the game! It sure is annoying for the player who is up the piece, but I have had some pretty miraculous draws. I have at least one win in that type of position, though I wasnt down a piece, so much as in a terrible position. That is quite a bit different.

Anyway, that is a bit of a psychological tangent. Back to the 2006 World Open. I remember my first game, I was extremely nervous. I have vague memories of talking to my friends.

Oops, lets go back a second, because I remembered something else!

The reason I played in the World Open 2006 to begin with. I didnt intend to play in the tournament at all. I was actually unemployed at the time, and had been for about 2 or 3 months. I had a decent amount of money saved up, but I was starting to get worried. So I was going to go to Manpower, or whatever the Temp Agency is downtown and sign up with them.

The thing is, though, I went on July 1, which was a Saturday. Of course, they are closed on Saturday, so I had effectively gone down town for nothing! I knew the World Open was going on at the time, and I figured, well I am already down here, I will just play in the World Open. I am not exactly sure how I justified the expense, but the Unrated Fee was only 30 or 40 dollars. I had to become a USCF member, but I had wanted to do that for a while anyway.

So, I started my USCF Tournament Chess career. Those vague memories of talking to my friends must be false memories. No one knew I was in the chess tournament at all, because I hadnt planned on playing in it.

But, for that first game, I do remember thinking to myself, please dont be a kid! There is something about losing to children, especially at that time, that was embarrassing. Now, I dont feel nearly as bad about it, as children have a lot of advantages over adults. They arent tired, they are probably spending more time studying, and most of the kids you play are the ones who are the most talented. But at the time, I didnt think as much like this and was just really worried I would lose to a kid for my first Tournament game. It didnt help that the kid was looking at me with something like disdain. He probably thought it was funny that I was so nervous, and it actually was.

As it turned out, I won. He played the Baltic Attack, which is a gambit against the Queen's Gambit. I think I played some really strange moves in the early stages, I had no idea what to do against the Baltic Gambit, which worked well to my advantage. I remember he could have played Bb4+ at some point and really screwed up my position, or maybe it was Bxa3. He missed the tactic though, and his position collapsed fairly quickly. I think he resigned after about 17 or 20 moves. It was a good first game for me, though I was a little worried I should have played in the U1600 section.

I dont remember too many of those other games, and some of them all blend together. I know the perfect game I was talking about above was a Ruy Lopez Exchange. I won the game with a pretty simply tactic, forking some of his pieces by playing a Knight to c3 or b2.

In the end, I won a trophy for top __ unrated player, and it was pretty cool. I got 40s with some guy, and we drank in a park while I waited to see if I would win the trophy. It was rainy, and there were people out looking at the fireworks. I rode the train home carrying my trophy, and it was super packed. It was kind of funny.

The World Open in 2007, I didnt have nearly as much fun. In fact, it was pretty depressing. The 2007 World Open was in the Valley Forge Convention Center, and that pretty much sucked. The building is huge, and it is very very yellow. I dont know who designed that area, but why would you make such a huge building such an ugly yellow. I am not especially sensitive to these types of things, but even I thought the place was ugly.

I also stayed at a Hotel. I do not remember which one, but it wasnt one of the ones connected to the Convention Center. So, in order to get to and from the Chess tournament to my hotel, I had to wait and take a shuttle. Effectively, this meant that from the time I left my hotel room in the morning till the time I left the chess tournament at night, I just had to meander around the Convention Center. At the Sheraton, this isnt nearly so bad. I have some friends who work in Center City, and plus it is Center City. There are just places you can wander to. My favorite spot to wander to is the Subway on JFK and 17th Street. They have an upstairs which is so eerily quiet for center city, it is very relaxing, they have nice big tables where a chess board can be set up easily, they have unlimited sodas, and subs dont tire me out too much.

At Valley Forge, I didnt have that kind of place to go to.

The other problem was that I actually had to pay the entry fee this time, and on top of that, I had to stay at a hotel. I am actually pretty poor, so I felt like justifying these costs required me to win. That is very not conducive to having fun. This tournament actually helped me quite a bit, in that I never try and play to win money anymore. It is much better to relax when you look at the entry fee as the sunk cost it is.

Finally, I actually prepared quite a bit for the 2007 World Open. I dont think it helped all that much, though maybe it did. It is hard to say. My rating went way up shortly after, so maybe the preparation just needed a few months to kick in! My preparation was very intense, time and work wise, but not particularly intelligent or effective. I should note though, that I am probably suffering from tons of bias right now. It is easy to categorize things in your mind as successes or failures based on results, but that is really really not a good thing to do. A lot of life is just luck, perhaps most of life.

Plus, with all of this whining, the reader may be exasperated to know I 5 out of 9. Basically, the difference between 2006 and 2007 was one blunder, yet I look back on them so differently. I really cant even explain myself why I feel so down on the 2007 World Open as opposed to the 2006 World Open. Probably it is because I dont want to admit to myself what an idiot I am!

Bear with me, but I really did think I was going to win the 2007 World Open. It is pretty embarrassing now, because that is pretty bad hubris. This bad attitude probably actually cost me some games, as well.

My first game I won on a simple Knight fork tactic. I was pretty excited afterwards. The second game was a pretty huge disaster. My opponent gambited three pawns, and I took all three. The hubris really got to me! I dont really remember some of the other games. I knew I won one because my opponent blundered his e4 pawn. I also know I lost one where I had a decent position, but was in bad time trouble. I also suffered a brutal defeat, where I effectively had no counterplay for the entire game.

Maybe that is why I am so down on this tournament. My losses were more spectacular then my wins. I dont even really remember any of the wins, except the first one, but that was just a bad blunder my opponent. I am not sure if I actually won any game this tournament that was a good win. After this tournament, I actually switched from 1. d4 to 1. Nf3 because of that three gambit pawn. I dont tell anyone that I play 1. Nf3 to avoid the Budapest Gambit!

Moving along, the 2008 World Open went a bit better. Chess wise, it actually went pretty well. The problem was, walking home after my third game I got robbed at gun point! I have never really seen a gun before, or had crimes committed against me, so it had a pretty bad effect on me. It wasnt too terrible, but I was just stressed out and my mind would wander a lot during the games. I am actually pretty happy in a way that I was in a chess tournament when it happened.

Well, going back to the beginning, this was the first chess tournament where I did the 7 day schedule. This was part of the playing for fun thing. I really like the longer games, and the entry fee is all the same, so I want to get as much chess for my buck as possible. I had a nice win in a very nearly equal endgame. That always feels good, to outplay your opponent in the endgame.

I won my next two games as well, and things were going pretty well. Then, as I said above, I got robbed. I didnt win a game after that! I was actually thinking about dropping out of the tournament, because I kind of knew I wouldnt be able to play that well, but figured I would just stick it out. It builds character! I actually played pretty well all things considered. I got a really nice draw in the 4th game. My opening was pretty poor as I was settling in, and I got into a bad position. But I got some nice counterplay, and was able to use piece activity to get a draw. I think I was down some material.

After that, I got 2 more draws and 3 losses. It is kind of a shame that I was playing so well and some outside force ruins that for me. The guy that robbed me only got 11 dollars off of me anyway! He didnt take my chess stuff though. Also, I still played pretty well, even though my score doesnt show it. I got some nice active draws with Black. I did get crushed by another gambit with White, but I at least put up a better fight!

But that is the way things go, I suppose. I take taxis home from tournaments now when it is late at night. It is a lot more expensive than SEPTA, but I dont want my 400 dollar entry wasted because something like this happens again. For 2008, I got a 4.5 out of 9. I wasnt upset, at least with myself, though, even though that was one of my worst scores at a tournament. I remember reading a story at some point, about a Master or IM player who got hit on the head when a sign fell down on him. He had to withdraw from the tournament. Really, what can you do? Dont walk around late at night, and dont walk underneath signs!

Another thing is that my girlfriend really helped me out during this time, and that is always a big help. It is good to get a little perspective sometimes on what is important in life.

The 2009 World Open, I can thankfully say, went great. I was doing pretty flexible work at the time, and actually thought that I was going to have some free time. I was wrong! I had already entered into the 7 day schedule, when I found out that I was going to need to do quite a bit of work over the week.

It may seem strange, but I really believe this actually helped me. It gave me a bit of toughness in my games, and a bit of passion as well. Dealing with the psychological weakness of myself in the 2007 World Open, and then the unexpected adversity in the 2008 World Open, this little bit of difficulty was no problem at all. I was going to make sure it wouldnt be a problem. I got back to concentrating like I did before, because I knew my brain was tired. I knew that if I didnt spend the entire time thinking during the game, I was probably going to lose to a better rested opponent. I did lose a few games, though.

I actually lost the first game I played. I had forgotten that. I think I lost pretty badly, as well. I didnt take it all that hard though, and I didnt lose another game that tournament! I did get a lot of draws though, but ended up with a score of 6 out of 9.

My last game of that tournament really deserves a mention. I was playing pretty poorly at the beginning of the game, and was just basically dead tired. I also knew I was out of the money, so it was hard to get that motivation. But, after a while, I was in a terrible position and made a great decision. I sacrificed my center pawn so that I could get at least some counterattacking possibilities. I knew it wasnt a sound sacrifice, but my position was bad anyway. In the end, I was able to outplay my opponent and get a nice win.

Afterwards, I noticed that I had gained like 50 or so rating points from this tournament. What a nice consolation prize! It put me above 1900 for the first time in maybe a year and a half. The first time I got over 1900 it felt like a fluke. I had gone on a somewhat lucky streak, winning a handful of games from worse positions because of foolish blunders by my opponents. After this tournament, though, I felt like I belonged above 1900.

I just played against strong competition, in what is usually the strongest tournament of the year. People always play much better than their ratings at the World Open, because so much money is on the line. A lot of people prepare for the tournament, and refrain from playing in other tournaments for a few months before. They want to keep their ratings below certain thresholds. And as far as the concentration levels go, people just dont flub around like they sometimes do at Quads, or other smaller tournaments. Everyone is usually very focused. Towards the later rounds, you can get a few easy games if you are out of the money, but a lot of times people who are doing poorly just withdraw.

Well, that about wraps up my World Opens story. I have most or all of the games from those tournaments, so I might try and post them with some light annotations. One thing that surprises me is when I look over those old games is the amount of good ideas I had in those games. Another thing that surprises, though, is the amount of terrible ideas I had!

I will make some more World Open posts related to preparations, both planned and completed.