Hello, you readers out there!
I was brought into the writing group on this blog on the premise that I would be producing a timely report on the Schenectady A team at the US Amateur Team East a couple of weeks ago. Well, timely or not, I’ve decided to write something, at least, even if it’s not of the best quality. I’ve been trying to educate myself about the use of Blogspot’s features and have learned a little bit, but it has taken me some time to get the hang of it. One of the other things I’ve been trying to do is figure out a method of game display for blogs like this. Various possibilities have crossed my path, but one of the more appealing ones that I eventually decided upon is shown in action on my own blog, to which I’ll link for the detailed analysis of these games that I’m going to show you.
To start off, as Alan mentioned in his post (beating me to the punch to a degree), the Schenectady Chess Club fielded two teams for the event this year, the higher-rated of which consisted of this writer and Messrs. LeCours, Barnes and Townsend in that order. We’ve had the good fortune to field almost the same team with few alterations in the lineup for a couple of years in succession. We took the moniker Beans & Rice Gambit: Recession-Proof Opening for this occasion (henceforth ‘Beans & Rice’ for short). This was my conception, in the hope of appealing to the organizer’s whimsical predilection for topical and punny team names. We might be in the running for best team name this year! Worth a try. The other team featured our clubmates Messrs. Phillips, Chu (the club president and captain of his team), Northrup, and Eson; their team took the name Leko my Greco, which is catchy for those of us who like waffles and Hungarian chess masters.
There were a couple of other teams in the competition whose doings would have been of some interest to players in our region. I remember seeing a team from the Hudson Valley, I think, on which Ernest Johnson was playing first board, for example. Jon Leisner from the Saratoga area was heading up a team of old friends of his from high school (maybe? I forget exactly). There was a scholastic team from the Capital Region containing a couple of youths from Kingston, the Albany area (including an old student of mine), and one pick-up member from downstate. I didn’t get a chance to follow these teams much, being absorbed in our own struggles.
We didn’t actually decide on who was going to captain our team until we were sitting at the board for the first round. I took on the duty, figuring it was basically my turn anyway (there’s been a kind of rotation among us in practice–as I said, team composition remaining pretty stable from one year to the next, this is easy to arrange). For this first round, we were at table three (!), which is the highest I myself have ever reached at this event so far. Our opponents were Khodarkovsky’s MACademia, featuring the strong (2400) master Mackenzie Molner on board 1 (I think he’ll start reaching for the IM title soon), and several other good players such as Chris Wu and Sean Finn; I forget who their fourth board was. Since they were on table three to start with, they were obviously one of the top-seeded teams in the crosstable, so we knew it would be a challenge to get something from this match. But in the past couple of years, playing up in the first round in similar circumstances, we had often come away with upset match draws, so we were hardly without hope in this case. And it seemed to me that our new team shirts, provided thanks to Alan’s efforts, would inspire some confidence in the wearers.
In the event, the only one of us not to lose was John Barnes, who played very well to upset his 2100+ opponent. John often punches well above his weight at this tournament, and he did so once again here. Unfortunately, his teammates failed to rise to the occasion. Bill Townsend’s game was actually the first to finish, then John’s game. Alan and I resigned almost simultaneously. I’d made my opponent work a little bit, but not very much, in a Bg5 Najdorf that I played rather half-heartedly. It looked like Alan’s opponent had played rather skillfully to reach a winning endgame in the meantime. So we lost this match 1-3.
But not to worry! For round two, we were paired down on table 45 against a team of youth, Dean of Chess All-Stars. From the name, it was clear that this was one of the teams coming from IM Dean Ippolito’s chess school in New Jersey. This match we cleaned up 3.5-0.5. My game finished first; it was fairly routine, brightened by one tactic that some readers may find cute, if not particularly challenging. I’ve posted the game at my other blog here. Then Bill and Alan defeated their opponents, leaving John to soldier on in what looked like a tricky position. At one point, his young opponent offered him a draw, then after John had thought about it for some time, announced that he (John’s opponent) no longer wanted the draw. John admonished him that the offer, once extended, could not be taken back; and after some more thinking, accepted the draw. It’s often a tricky thing with these teams of young kids, the notion of proper etiquette in these matters. It reminded me of a similar experience we’d had with a different opposing team of children a few years ago.
So we had 1 out of 2 points from the first day, which held out some hope for our chances. In round three, we had a chance to build upon this, being paired down again at around table 60 (I seem not to have written the table number down on my note cards). Our opponents, Pawn Pushers Anonymous, were again a team of youth, so we knew we had to be a little careful. You see, it’s been a trend in the past couple of years at this event that there almost inevitably comes a crucial match in which we’re playing a team of kids, and the entire team has a collective fit of lunacy, plays badly and loses the match in a landslide. I was hoping that this wouldn’t happen this year! But one thing that we had going for us this time was that such collapses have historically happened to our team in rounds five or six, when we really need to deliver. But this being round three, maybe we could avoid the jinx. And so it proved–we again won 3.5-0.5, my game finishing first after my opponent messed up a tactical sequence (though I still thought he resigned very prematurely), then Bill and Alan bringing in their points, and finally John drawing against his opponent. I’m suddenly a little skeptical about my memory of this–John Barnes drawing a 1492 in one round, and then a 1234 in the next?!–but this is what my notes tell me. And I made a point of being a better captain than I’d been last time, taking notes on our opponents and all. Anyway, we won handily, which is obviously the important point.
Now to round four, when we were due to meet Tiger’s Wood Pushers on table 55. Before the start of the match, we had the usual contests for Best Team Name, Best Team Skit, Best Costumes and so on. I was hopeful that our team’s name would at least make a showing in the voting by the crowd, but was shocked when, after Steve Doyle ran through the list of the eleven or so nominees, he had said nothing about Beans & Rice! There were far too many variations on the theme of the Tiger Woods scandal, and most of the others on the short list seemed like extremely lame selections–I mean, the choices absolutely paled in comparison to the good team names of the recent past. I was extremely disappointed–our name should definitely at least have made the cut. To make matters worse, the final winner was some hideous double-entendre involving Tiger’s personal life. I may just have to give up trying to predict the organizers’ predilections. Most of the skits were pretty uninspiring as well, though it must be appreciated that people put in the effort to do this sort of thing for their teams. At least the Village Pieces’ rendition of “Y. M. C. A.” with modified lyrics was rather funny, at least for me:
Young man–did you make a bad move?
I said, Young man–now you think you might lose
You’re embarrassed–’cause the kid’s in preschool…
Anyway, the match itself was unexpectedly challenging for us. The games lasted all fairly long, mine finishing first once again, in a rather embarrassing loss for me. My opponent played one of these Bc4 anti-Sicilians which had the feel partly of a Closed Sicilian, partly of a Grand Prix Attack. I elected to play it as a Closed, which misled me into doing some things as Black that would be correct ideas in a real Closed Sicilian, but don’t make very much sense with White’s light-squared bishop already on the a2-g8 diagonal. My opponent’s kingside attack became dangerous long before my queenside counterplay could appear, and he found the right tactics to knock me out fast. Bill’s victory balanced this out, but John and Alan both had positions that looked tough to win from. Alan’s game was becoming tactically complex in time pressure, and I thought he missed a win at one point in the endgame, but that ended up drawn. Prior to that result, John had held his opponent to a draw in a simple rook ending. So we walked away with only a 2-2 result from a team that we had outrated. I think this result was more my fault than anyone else’s.
Going into the final day, our score was therefore 2.5/4. A score of 4.5/6 was within reach, and might get us a chance to get the top Under-1900 team plaque (our rating average, by the way, was 1893), depending on tiebreaks. First, though, on table 41, we had to fight the Kapengut Family, made up of IM Albert Kapengut and some of his chess-playing relatives. I recognized his name from his theoretical work in the Benoni back in the eighties–Watson’s book on that opening has a full chapter on the Kapengut System, for example, and cites his work at many other points. (Interestingly, as I’ve since discovered, Kapengut is originally from Kazan, as is my old coach GM Ibragimov. He has apparently recently changed his FIDE federation to USA, however.)
I briefly toyed with the notion of playing 1.d4 against the master to see what would develop, but decided against it once I sat down to the game. I got instead an Accelerated Dragon from what was actually a pretty normal move order, though I rarely encounter it with White. Because of my rather inexcusable unfamiliarity with this move order, I messed up the opening to a degree and got a difficult position early on. My teammates all won their games; Alan’s conduct of the Traxler Two Knights (see his post from the other day) was especially satisfying. I suffered through to the end, finishing last of all of us this time. Here is the game. Even though I lost, I felt it had featured some of my best play of this event thus far, which admittedly wasn’t saying much since I’d been playing well below my standard for the entire weekend. I knew I hadn’t gotten enough rest before the tournament, and this was probably the reason for my performance problems. But we did win the match 3-1, so our chances were still alive.
As happened to us last year, we were on a fairly high table in the last round (19), paired well up against a team apparently called simply Lucas, or maybe Lucas I (there was a Lucas II somewhere further down the crosstable, I think). Amusingly, Leko my Greco was facing the Kapengut Family on the other side of the ballroom. Anyway, this team Lucas I had another 2400-master on board one waiting for me, that being Thomas Bartell. (I see him and Molner often at the big Philadelphia events, which is how I know some of these players.) And also as happened to us last year, we were fairly wiped out in the last round by this strong team. Alan’s game ended first when, playing another master with White, his bishop got trapped on h6 in a King’s Indian, and he decided to resign to avoid a state of wretched misery, for which I couldn’t blame him at all. Then it was my turn to go down in flames as Bartell worked some finesse to win the exchange from me and then fend off my feeble attempts at counterplay. This game was really irritating because he played the very same anti-Sicilian line against me that Mr. Lawrence had used to beat me in round four! I really suspected that Bartell had seen that game and had chosen the variation for precisely that reason. Either that, or–it would not have surprised me at all to find this was true–maybe my former opponent had sent out a secret text message to the effect of “Hey, everybody, if you’re scheduled to play board one against Sells with White, play this line! He won’t have a clue!” It’s a conspiracy, I swear! However, I did manage to dream up a completely different setup in the opening this time, which actually gave me a reasonable position (which I then proceeded to royally botch up very soon afterward). It was one of those games that I walk away from shaking my head at my own incompetence. That doesn’t happen to me very often, but it seemed that bad.
Anyway, to conclude, John unfortunately lost from a crazy position with some kind of material imbalance, and Bill T. finished by winning his game. So with a 1-3 match score, we finished on 3.5/6, which seems to be where we’ve ended up fairly often in the standings in recent times. I think we had an okay tournament as a team. We tried a restaurant in Parsippany that we’d not been to before. But the event did seem to me to be a little less fun than in some previous years. There were not many titled players in attendance, though at least Leonid Yudasin and Robert Hess were among these. I was feeling a bit out of sorts for much of the time, which I put down mostly to the aforementioned general tiredness and maybe a little bit of unsettled health. But some of us did have some good games–John’s win in round one and Alan’s miniature from round five stand out. So congratulations, team! We made it through another year! 🙂 Thanks for allowing me to serve as your captain.