Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reviewing the 78th Massachusetts Open

This traditional MACA event was held at the Holiday Inn in Boxborough MA over Memorial weekend. And I must say, with great success! Over the last several years, I have noticed a severe decrease of participants playing in the Massachusetts Open; not this year. There was success written all over the place, from the playing hall to the main corridor just outside the hall, chess players, young and old, mingled about talking of their games, playing bug-house on the floor and just buzzing around with jargon only understood by fellow chess players. It was just good to see, but good for MACA too. They needed a successful tournament beyond the bread and butter of pure scholastic medicine.

But what makes me most thrilled about the success of this tournament was the evidence that chess still lives among the adult population despite recent indicators of a decline in adult chess players over the age of 25. MACA provided the full gambit; a three day six round event, a one day 4 round event, blitz tournament, scholastics tournament and prize money for submitted games that had the most interesting and convincing win. I offer my congratulations and sincere gratitude to the folks of MACA, who made this tournament possible and successful; especially to the TD’s, who got their hands dirty and provided a smooth tournament.

As for the hosting site, you can’t ask for a better location and setting for the money. Hopefully, the Holiday Inn was able to benefit from such a wonderful turn out, as this would only favor the chess community and MACA for future events.

Now, let’s get to the over the board results. I enrolled in the 3-day event U1600 Section and finished 3.0/6. Meh…I know I am better than what the results provided and I am not going to take anything away from my opponents by providing excuses. I do have my reasons for not playing at the level I’m capable of, but the same could be said for a lot of players. But to provide some evidence, I will say that my wins came at the hands of one whom placed 2nd in our section and one whom was the top rated player in our section.

Round One:
I draw Black and am paired up against Ramasay Subramani, a young man from the state of Washington. His play is much stronger than his advanced class D rating would suggest and made evident from his final results 4-2 in the U1600 section. This particular game I played the Sicilian Najdorf variation where White plays the non-confrontational 7.Be2.

This game was the longest game I’ve ever played during my chess career at over 5 hours and 12 minutes to complete. The end game came down to a Rook-Bishop for Black vs. Bishop-Pawn for White on move ...60. White made me play out the mate, so I did…nineteen moves later.

It was a good win, but it came at a cost. It was mentally and physically exhausting and would haunt me the rest of the tournament. Subramani went on to place second at this tournament.

Round Two:
Playing White this round, I am paired up against a lower 1400 rated player named Jeffery Wright. I’ve seen Jeff at the local club from time to time mingling about watching the masters play, but I’ve never seen him actually play at the club.

In this game I go into the KIA against a reverse French Defense, which is usually the case with players wanting to play the Alekhine Defense against 1.e4 only to realize that I won’t even entertain it with 2.d3. Anyway, the opening was well played out, but my concentration was just not there going into the later stages of the game; I only had a half-hour break since playing my last marathon game and that game was still pressing on the mind.

Jeffery was able to open up my c-file and load up the cannon against an un-coordinated defense, and eventually ripped open my center pawn structure. I was in no mood for another long played out game, especially being down material, so I resigned early. Jeffery, like my first opponent, went on to place 2nd in this tournament.

Round Three:
The following morning I am paired against Pierre Fleurant, a fellow club player who has just recently broke out of the U1400 section and is gradually increasing in playing strength. Pierre is a methodical and deliberate player, using his time wisely. All good qualities that will serve him well as he moves up to greener pastures with stronger players.

Once again, I go into the Sicilian Najdorf against White’s English Attack, but I’m playing the opening on auto- pilot and am more interested in my IPOD than the game itself. My ignorance and lack of concentration on the game drops a piece immediately to my opponent on move 10.

At this point, I’m cursing my opponent from round one…blaming him for my own failures; its becoming a mental game with me. Well, anyway, after I lost my Bishop, I was determined to give my opponent a better game and rolled up the sleeves. Eventually, I did regain some material, but not enough to equalize the game and to my opponents credit he finished off the game with a nice mating combination.

Round Four:
By now, I’m frustrated with my game play. I just can’t seem to let go of round one, and even though I won that round it just destroyed my psyche for some unknown reason. I just didn’t have the mo-jo going and was dreading playing another game; I was considering withdrawing at this point.

But, I stuck it out and drew Robert Ernest King who ended up playing the Sicilian against me with an accelerated move of 5…e5. During this game I was up material and liked my position over Black’s, but somewhere down the road, I just didn’t follow my instincts and played a rather off-tempo move allowing my opponent to sneak in the back door and earn a perpetual check against my King. This game ended in a draw.

I left the day down and out and upset with my play. I was fighting a psychological war with my own mental state of well being and questioning my own potential as a chess player. Later in the evening, my wife encouraged me with positive feedback, reminding me that I had been down this road once before and pulled out of it like a champ; then went on to blast me for not getting a good breakfast in me before the games.

The next morning, I awoke in a good mood and in a fresh mental state. I had finally let go of the last two days of miserable chess and sat down for breakfast.

Round Five:
This would be my final round as I had put in for a bye on round six. I went into this game reinvigorated and was hoping to draw a strong opponent. My wish came true as I drew the top rated player in our section, a man from central Massachusetts by the name of Eduardo Valadares.

For the third time, I played the Sicilian Najdorf, and boy did I ever play this defense to its very name; cunning, edgy and with some risk. But, I like the Najdorf because it always allows you to play for a win! I don’t like stodgy games and openings that enter easily into drawn positions.

In this game my opponent, after castling king-side, immediately decides to go forward with a king side attack, pushing his g and h pawns and weakening his dark squares around his King. My plan was simple, I would exchange for his dark colored bishop and then play for those squares.

After I sacrificed my Queen for two minor pieces; Rook and Knight, I got the bishop exchange I wanted. My intention with the sacrifice and exchange was to gain position and eventually spawn a passed pawn on the queen-side of the board for compensation. Moreover, I liked the proposition of having more pieces to exert pressure on White's weakened dark squares around his King. My calculations worked out precisely as planned. I put the pigs on the 7th rank, exposed his weak squares as outposts for my knights and with a passed pawn it was just too much for my opponent to handle.

This game was a clean, well played and satisfying win for me, especially for my chess ego; it desperately needed a slight boost. Moreover, I submitted this game to MACA as a contender for the most interesting and decisive win competition.

RATING WATCH: 1562