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Tournament: 2017 Utah Nifty Under Fifty

July 19, 2017

Last Saturday I attended my first tournament since my recent re-interest in chess: Utah Nifty Under Fifty in Salt Lake City as part of the Utah Senior Championship festivities. It was both a slap in the face and an incredibly fun, encouraging day.

My estimate of my strength back in high school is somewhere around 1200 USCF. Nothing amazing, by any means. After playing and studying quite a bit for the last 6 weeks or so, I was secretly hoping I might perform that well or even better at my first rated tournament, despite the decade+ since I’ve been remotely serious about chess. There was an Under-1400 section, so I signed up for that, optimistically thinking I might even be one of the stronger players in that group.

Game 1

When the board assignments were made, I realized I was playing with probably at least 75% kids in my section. Which was a bit weird. My first opponent was an Asian girl who looked maybe 8 years old. Her rating was 907. She wasn’t a pushover by any means. I had Black, and I played a Sicilian Defense. She did take quite a while with her moves. Although the games were officially G/45, d/5 (Game in 45, with a 5-second delay per move), we didn’t play with a clock in the room we were in for some reason. The Tournament Director said if anyone started taking too long she’d bring in a clock for them. Most of the young kids’ games really didn’t last very long at all, so I can sort of see the logic.

Well, my opponent, I think, ended up benefiting from that quite a bit. It felt like she took about twice as long as I did per move. We were the last ones still playing at the end of the round. The TD did bring a clock in with 10 minutes per side for us. I had a winning endgame at that point, but as the minutes ticked away I couldn’t convert it, and we ended in a draw. I swear she probably used more like 60 minutes or more rather than the 45 allotted, which seems a little unfair. But then, I can’t really blame anyone but myself for failing to convert a winning endgame.

Round 1 score: draw. (Running total: .5/1 points)

Game 2

Next up was a young Asian boy who couldn’t have been over 6, rated 894. He was rather chatty for playing in a tournament. With White, I played 1. d4, and he wiggled his way into a version of the Benoni Defense, though he had no idea what it was and asked me what opening we were in after a few moves. He had some idea what he was doing, but he hanged his Knight early, giving me a full piece advantage. I was clearly a stronger player.

But . . . I let myself get complacent. There were three(!) times I played risky moves based on half-baked calculations. I didn’t see far enough through to the end of them, and, naturally, they didn’t turn out so well for me. I wish I had an excuse. I just blew it. It took three dubious moves–moves I knew at the time were highly questionable–for me to throw the game away, but I did. The last one was sacrificing a Rook for a mating attack that I couldn’t execute. I ended up resigning my self-inflicted hopeless position. Like a chump.

Round 2: loss (Total: .5/2)

Game 3

For lunch I went to nearby Whole Foods, grabbed some low-carb turkey salad, coffee, and kombucha, and tried to psych myself up to at the very least not be my own worst enemy. When the pairings were set, I had been matched with another little boy of about 6. (White this time. Not sure how relevant the race is, but it was interesting to me that so many of the children in this section were Asian, in a state not known for a particularly high Asian population.) He was rated a lowly 566. And I was in kill mode. I back-rank mated him on move 21, playing the Sicilian as Black. Kid took it like a champ. But it’s weird sitting across from a little boy and wanting to crush him.

Round 3: win (Total: 1.5/3)

Game 4

That weird feeling only intensified for my final game with an Asian girl you could have convinced me was 4, but I’ll estimate 5. She was rated 868, and played as well as any of my opponents. I still had my game face on, though, and gradually won material from her, mating her on move 40. With White, I played the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the opening I’ve been studying probably more than any other since I’ve been back into chess. Again, it’s weird to see a little girl look up at me as I beat her. But she, too, handled it like a pro. Shook my hand and we parted ways.

Round 4: win (Total: 2.5/4)


So, I finished the tournament with the positive score of 2.5/4. Obviously, the ability to perform at your best is a big part of tournament play, and I fumbled a bit on that front. Still, I think if I were to play all the same opponents again, I’d have a strong chance at going 4-0 against them.  I was winning clearly in each game, and by a considerable margin. Does that mean my playing strength might be around 1200 or more, like I hoped? Hard to say. Playing such low rated opponents, though, and–even more–not finishing them off, means my first provisional rating will be in the 920 range. (Ugh!) That’s my record, that’s all I can really point to. But I have some hope I can show rating improvement quickly if I can overcome my first-tourney jitters. And I think I can. I’ll also consider registering for higher-ranked sections, even if I’m one of weakest players there. I can’t deny it felt just a bit strange playing so many little children in one day.

In any case, I’m as excited as ever to keep playing and improving, though. If I can swing it, I’d like to play in about a tournament a month, but Utah doesn’t seem like it’ll be able to support that pace. I’ll be looking in neighboring states to see if I can manage it.

From → Chess

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