Monday, February 21, 2005

U. S. Amateur Team East

My excursion to Parsippany went very well. The U.S. Amateur Team East is one of the most enjoyable tournaments of the year. Rather than competing as an individual, you compete as part of a four player team. This does not mean that the four people confer about what move to play in any given position. Instead, each of the four players plays his own game against his counterpart on the other team. But only the team score (one point for each win, half a point for each draw, zero points for a loss) matters in the end. Thus, if all four players on your team win, then you win the match 4-0. If two of your guys win, one draws, and the other loses, you still win the match, this time by a score of 2.5-1.5. The fact that this is a much smaller margin of victory has no relevance to your team's tournament score.

There are no cash prizes in the tournament, which tends to make everyone calm down a notch. Also, the comraderie of playing with your teammates, who in my case were old friends I only get to see at these tournaments, makes for a very enjoyable tournament. There is also a lrage chess bookstore on hand, where you can check out the latest offerings.

The tournament is always the Saturday, Sunday and Monday of President's weekend. Sadly, I was only able to play on Saturday. This was not a problem, since every team is allowed one alternate. In other words, someone simply took my place on Sunday and Monday.

I played Board Three , meaning I was the third highest rated player on the team. On board two was my good friend U.S. Correspondence Champion (meaning postal chess, meaning you write your move on a postcard, put it in the mail, then wait for a good long time until you get a reply) Jon Edwards, whose chess website has a lot of great stuff. Board four was staffed by Andy Mishra, who I've known since I was a little kid chessplayer. Board one was friend of a friend Richard Mattern, who I met for the first time at this tournament. He played very well indeed, despite some brutal pairings.

Our team was named “Meet the Sackers.” Not the most inspired pun perhaps, but good enough. In round one we played “Beauties and the Beast.” The Beast was Grandmaster Gennady Sagalchik, who promptly gave Richard a lesson in the proper technique for queen vs. two rook endgames. The Beauties were Mrs. Sagalchik on board two and their two daughters, who were about eye-level with the pieces, on boards three and four. Since Mrs. Sagalchik is a very strong player in her own right, this meant that Richard and Jon had their work cut out for them, while Andy and I got to coast against the cherubs. Showing no mercy, Andy and I took care of business and waited for the results on boards one and two.

Sadly, the writing was on the wall on board one, as the grandmaster proved to be too strong. Happily, Jon held a draw comfortably, and we won the match 2.5-1.5.

Our win in round one resulted in our playing “Behind the Ropes” in round two. It is an experience every USATE veteran lives for. The top ten matches are played far over on one side of the ballroom, separated from the rabble by velvet ropes. These games are always popular among the spectators, who have to stand, ha ha, behind the ropes. For one round at least, you get to feel llike royalty.

Sadly, playing behind the ropes means you face one of the monster teams. Those are the ones who believe they have a good chance to win the tournament, unlike most of the teams, like mine, who are just in it for fun.

This time our opponents were the aptly named “My Sixty Anti-Semitic Rants;” a parody on the title of the famously anti-semitic Bobby Fischer's book My Sixty Memorable Games. They had an international master on Board One, a mere master on Board Two, a strong expert on Board Three (that was my guy!) and a class B player on board four.

Sadly, we went down to defeat by a 3-1 score. Jon played well to get a comfortable draw on board two. Richard held his own against the IM, but overstepped the time limit and lost. Andy was on the wrong side of a vicious king-side attack and went down to defeat. Meanwhile, I managed to find a reasonably clever move to salvage a draw in my game:


White: J. R. (1901)

Black: Evan Rosenberg (2160)

Position after 33. ... f7-f5

This position arose after 33 moves. I was playing white. Those four digit numbers next to our names are our ratings. Without going into detail, the higher the rating the better. So I was happy to be holding my own against a much higher-rated player.

We were both in severe time pressure, with black having about two minutes to reach move forty, while I had about four minutes. I had been on the defensive for most of the game as the result of some lackadasical opening play, and for a while I thought I would lose. But as strong as black's position looked throughout the middlegame, my opponent couldn't manage to find a breakthrough.

In the position above there had just been a flurry of exchanges. Black has just banged out 33. ... f7-f5. This looks good, since it seems to force 34. Qc2, which is the only move to protect both my queen and my pawn on g2. White would have a very passive position after this move. The only alternative would be 34. Qf3, which fails to 34. ... g4+ 35. Qf4 Qxf4+ 36. Kxf4 Rxg2, with a big advantage for black. Happily, I managed to find a shot.

The move is 34. Rxf5! This caught my opponent off guard, but he quickly saw the point. After the forced 34. ... exf5, I can force a perpetual check with 35. Qe8+ Kc7 36. Qe7+. As a result, the game ended in a draw.

Lot's of other old friends were there, including tournament organizer exraordinaire Steve Doyle. All in all, a mightily enjoyable experience. Way more enjoyable than grading calculus exams, which is what was waiting for me upon my return.

My apologies for the personal post. I'll get back to yelling at creationists tomorrow!


At 1:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason: Good to hear that you had a good time and made some sharp moves! Never having been to one of these tournaments, I cherish the goofy team names. My all-time favorite name (to date) was 'Rustam Kamsky's Charm School Dropouts'. (Rustam being the belligerent father of former World Championship contender Gata Kamsky.)

At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave S.

I think it just as well, as I don't see what else black could have done to advance anyway from that position. A draw seems the fair result. The way it happened was a bit neater than if he had played something like ... g4+ or ... Rh1. In my admittedly non-expert opinion anyway. Nicely done.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Jason said...

According to my computer, in the diagram position black gets a clear advantage after any move other than 34. Rxf5. For example, after 34. Qc2 Qh3! black is winning at least a pawn.

Instead of 33. ... f5, black should probably try to maneuver his queen to a more active post, like d5. White has enough weak pawns to make it difficult for him to undertake anything active. He can probably hold the position, but it would be a tough slog!

At 3:49 PM, Blogger Jason said...

Incidentally, are there any savvy HTML mavens who can explain to me why blogger is leaving so much space between my text and the top of the diagram? Thanks in advance!

At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave S.

I agree that the position can be held (at least I think so) after some move other than 33. ... f5, but it will be a tough chore for white.

Having played part in the Kasparov vs. The World game, I know it can be most unpleasant playing a queens ending against skilled opposition, as they often are difficult and complicated.

At 10:01 PM, Anonymous HTML Maven said...

You have 5 break tags before the image: two before the table tag, 2 right after, and 1 inside the TD tag before the IMG tag.


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