2012 US Amateur Team East: Schenectady's role

Once more unto the breach for the Schenectady Chess Club's representatives at the US Amateur Team East over President's Day weekend! Of this tournament, one could write almost the same script as last year. We, that is, the Schenectady Chess Club's 'A' team, traveled with mostly the same team as the past couple of years--in fact, our roster was precisely the same as it had been two years ago, just in a different board order: this year we were Philip Sells (your scribe), Alan LeCours, Michael Mockler, and Bill Townsend. I once again served as captain of the team, which got the name "The Paul Morphy Re-animation Project". Schenectady's 'B' squad featured John Barnes (an alumnus of the senior side), club president Richard Chu, and Cory Northrup and Matt Clough, who've been putting up some promising results of late. Herein, I'm going to concentrate on the higher-rated of the two teams, because I can give a first-hand account and I have very little data on the other team's travails in any case.

Round one was special for us, as we were on Board One! The opposing team was obviously very strong, containing two 2300-level masters, but no titled players. Bill was the first to fold, crashing out in a miniature. After some time had passed, Mike also conceded. That left me and Alan soldiering on. My game had actually been going fairly well, my opponent Martirosov having indulged in an unsound pawn sacrifice. But alas, my time was running rather short (stop me if you've heard this one before), and in a position with only major pieces on the board and several open files, I neglected a couple of obvious chances to push a pawn and secure myself against back-rank mates, whereas my opponent had been much more prudent. I don't think you need me to tell you what happened next. I will say that my opponent's particular method of, shall we say, "execution" of the motif was indeed elegant. Alan seemed to have decent drawing chances for a long time, but by the time I had resigned, things had begun to turn against him--it was around that time that his opponent, Ilya Krasik, had attained a very pleasant ending with same-colored bishops, which, after some moments of odd hesitation and gestures toward a repetition, resolved into a textbook win for the master. I had been a little impatient for Alan to resign so we could get dinner, but on the other hand, there was that one moment when we thought Krasik might miraculously fail to find the correct continuation. But in the end, the match was lost 0-4, just like last year when we were on board ten.

Par for the course so far, I thought. Round two, on board 45, was somewhat less demanding for us, though we made heavy going of it at times. Our opponents in this case were a youth team whose strength on paper at least was well below ours. I was encouraged by Bill's quickish win on the fourth board (I put it that way only because my record shows that his game was the first to finish, but I don't remember this match being particularly brief). After that, though, things began to get a little wobbly. Mike had to take a draw to save what he assured me had been a lost position, which I had no qualms about, since I had my own game well in hand and Alan seemed to be a clean pawn up in another same-colored bishop endgame. But then something odd happened--somehow, Alan let things slip into draw-land (he had in fact declined a draw offer from his opponent at one time), and then managed to lose the pawn ending! I was a little troubled by this, but more for Alan's sake than for that of the team, since, as said, I had been managing my game toward a win. My opponent fought it out all the way to mate, making my game the last of the match to end. So that round we carried 2.5-1.5.

Round three saw us, accelerated pairings being now done with, on board 66, playing a team we had actually defeated last year! Their lineup, too, had changed a bit. My opponent from the previous match was now on board two, and their new top-board man was a German gentleman making a reentry to tournament chess after a long career-related break. On this occasion, we turned in a very nice score of 3.5-0.5, Alan having to accept a draw. The other team's board three was once again showcasing his assortment of funny hats this year; I forget which one he was sporting for this round (he changed hats for each game). In between rounds, we went for lunch and discovered the local Panchero's in so doing, which was a nice experience.

For round four, we unfortunately had not made much progress up the tables, landing on board 62. As in round two, we made things unnecessarily difficult for ourselves, but still eked out a win. Mike shot himself in the foot by miscalculating a rook sacrifice, for which Bill compensated by winning his game next. My game had taken a strange turn in the opening, starting out as an O'Kelly Sicilian and transposing to a kind of weird King's Indian arrangement. Playing White, I found some nifty ways to make my opponent suffer on the queenside. He tried rather despairingly to drum up something against my king, and there was one moment when I played too quickly, forgoing the obvious crusher in exchange for grabbing Black's g-pawn, of all things. This nearly opened the floodgates on my own king, but fortunately I could give up my queen to reach a won ending, which in the event resulted in a quick mate at the time control. To close out the match, Alan agreed another draw that had arisen from an interesting-looking endgame of two bishops (Alan) vs. bishop + knight (Alan's opponent). So 2.5-1.5 for us that time!

Thus we reached Round Five, which for years has been the mountain stopping us from winning top place in our rating bracket. As I said at the top of this post, the story is almost exactly like last year. And just like last year, our round-five encounter put paid to our ambitions. We were paired up on board 28, against a team whose top board was only rated 2200, comparable to the 2156 rating of the team that we faced this time last year. Bill played well and obtained a draw for us as the first of the results to come in. As the match continued, the other team's board three offered Mike a draw. He looked to me for a verdict, and I, considering my own totally lost position and Alan's at the time fairly tolerable-looking one, bade Mike play on if there was any way to go for a win. We might be able to draw the match! We might! But then Alan's opponent detected a really nice combination that left our man in a position suggesting images of Hieronymus Bosch and Quentin Tarantino. I had resigned in the meantime, so suddenly it really didn't matter any more what Mike achieved on board three. Unfortunately, his captain's orders had left him shackled to a cruel game in which his opponent was no longer inclined to extend any draw offers. That game went on so long that some of the rest of us felt the need to get to dinner before it was too late, so I was spared the sight of my teammate walking the plank. Ugly loss, 0.5-3.5, made just a little more unsavory by my feeling of guilt which, in a chess context, I don't recall having ever felt in quite the same way. On the bright side, we found ourselves another burrito-type place, called Qdoba (another chain, not as widespread as Panchero's). The quality here was good as well, though perhaps just a little bit shy of what Panchero's had on offer.

That set the stage for the final round on board 49, which again played out just like last year. Obviously we needed a win and got it, but the opponents showed some tenacity and didn't let us have it all our own way. Bill and Mike won their games relatively soon. My game was rather interesting, playing a hot line in the mainline Caro-Kann, in which my opponent actually made a natural-looking mistake that I didn't quite take full advantage of. Had I been aware of a certain theoretical novelty from a game in 2003, I could have wrapped up the game in style. But alas, I chose a way which, though not bad, resulting as it did in the clean win of a pawn, was definitely not best. It came down to a queen ending in which, though I had that extra pawn, my opponent's queen was so perfectly active that my ambitions were quite frustrated, so I had to repeat moves. Ironically, my sixth-round game last year, occurring in the very same place in the room, almost to the inch, had also ended in a repetition. Poor Alan had to swallow another draw, which left us with a 3-1 match win.

Four match points is not bad, but it's not good enough for an Under-2000 team to win anything at this event, either. Well, enough of my whining about that! One bright spot was the fact that Mike had some good games and seemed to be enjoying himself nicely, so this tournament represented a good uptick for him. Also, Bill Townsend was quite a presence on board four for us, being the team's top individual scorer this year. This goes to show that ... ahh, now, if I start talking about the great confidence that we can place in our third- and fourth-board players, I'll only jinx the operation next year. So I'll just say that even though this year was a bit of a rerun for us, we did still have a good time and produced some good games along the way. Next year, though, we should probably look into some alternative breakfast arrangements, as the diner in Denville doesn't leave quite the favorable impression with us that it once did. And I might suggest--only a suggestion, mind--to my teammates that we modify that habit we've been cultivating in recent years of drinking copious amounts of select wines on the night before round five.... I still wish we'd saved the label from that Albanian Merlot, though! Where the heck is "New Platz", anyway?!

A couple of final notes: Titled players were, as at the last couple of Amateur Team East events, a little thin on the ground. I played no titled opponent this year, for example, not even an FM. There were several grandmasters present all the same, mostly the usual suspects, though reigning Marshall Chess Club champion GM Mikheil Kekelidze played his first Amateur Team. He seemed not to like it very much, commenting to me in passing that it was too noisy. But that's the Parsippany party atmosphere for you. I don't imagine that his impression of the tournament was much improved by Steve Doyle's having mangled his name in the introductions--it came out as "Grandmaster Kekel-dizzy", which Doyle tried to save by blaming his "New Jersey accent". I hope the grandmaster isn't too put off to come back--having a couple of Georgian GMs in the tournament does something to keep the rest of us honest. Robert Hess played, and though he didn't score a 6-0 for himself, he did put up one of the star games of the event in the last round against Goletiani. There were a couple of other very good players of whose presence I was unaware until I saw the crosstable after the fact, such as IM Marc Arnold. Because this tournament is a team event, you can't necessarily pick out the best players in the room strictly on the basis of geography as you might in an individual tournament, where you simply look for the high boards at the far end of the playing hall. At these team affairs, the good players will obviously be on board one, by and large, of their respective teams, but they may still be scattered around one whole half of the room. So some of them can manage to keep a low profile for the entire weekend.

Patrick Chi played on board three for a quite strong youth team that included his fellow junior talent Kapil Chandran; I forget who their board one was. They enjoyed a good run, spending a lot of time behind the ropes. It seems Patrick is starting to make some connections with the young masters elsewhere in the Northeast, which will be good for him as time goes on. One's progress in serious chess toward, and eventually at, master level is made easier, I think, if one can get involved in some of the social networks that exist at the major tournaments around this part of the country. This is one way how, if you're a promising young player, you get introduced to good coaches and people of that sort.

Finally, let me point out that there was a young player at the tournament named--I'm not making this up; he's number 653 on the list in the USCF crosstable of the rated results--Jazz Hooks. To the world's everlasting chagrin, he and the contestant known as Charlie Parker Reeder (again, you can check me on this--#917 on the wallchart) were not paired against each other during the course of the competition. Memo to Steve D.: come on, man, you gotta make it happen next time! Who cares if you have to turn SwissSys inside out?

I've said enough, I think. Thanks to the entire set of our players for carrying the flag!

1 comment:

Bill Little said...

Philip; An excellent and entertaining report! You captured the atmosphere of the Teams. Bill Little