I have decided to take about 2-4 weeks off from writing here on Campfire Chess or even playing chess online. Part of it is to give myself a chance to relax, rest, and recover, but mostly it is because I am starting the final courses for my Masters of Divinity at Liberty University today and need to focus my energies on finishing those requirements. The amazing Tata Steel Chess Tournament is currently underway and I will be following it closely, but the best place to get tournament updates and general chess information for now is Chessbase or The Week in Chess.
In a surprising turn of events, the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament has withdrawn from the Grand Chess Tour which also features the London Chess Classic and the Sinquefield Cup. Early speculation ran rampant that the Grand Chess Tour was doomed because of this setback since Norway Chess was an immensely popular and successful event in 2015. The Norway Chess tournament directors issued a statement in which they explain that the decision to leave the GCT was more about securing the future of their vision for Norway Chess and not necessarily problems with the idea of the GCT itself. Unfortunately, politics abounds in the world of professional chess and differences in vision between organizations like Norway Chess and GCT are an inevitability.
Personally, I like the idea of the unified GCT but given the current landscape of established major chess tournaments it is hard to see it becoming a longterm viable option for promoting professional chess. Part of the challenge is the ego factor that comes with organizing and running a large-scale successful tournament. Control is a key objective in chess and just like control of the center squares can improve a player’s game security, control of tournament operations also levies a significant amount of security. I doubt that many TD’s are really interested in giving up that control right now, but only time will tell.
As a fan of Major League Baseball I share the frustrations of countless fans resigned to watching teams like the New York Yankees dominate the sports landscape and establish consecutive winning streaks called dynasties. In chess, Texas Tech University dominated for years when GM Susan Polgar became the school’s coach. In her time at Tech, GM Polgar led her team to victory in the Chess Final Four for the first time in Tech’s chess program history. That was 2007 and the chess program in Lubbock would grow much faster than the university was prepared to deal with. She left the program in 2012 to start a new program at Webster University and took most of Texas Tech’s chess talent with her. Texas Tech faded somewhat into chess obscurity as the SPICE program at Webster University dominated the college chess landscape and established a powerful dynasty that turned out to be more like the Death Star. Texas Tech made chess headlines by defeating Webster at the Pan Am Intercollege Chess Nationals in the home of my beloved Indians: Cleveland, Ohio!
This win was impressive not only for Tech’s redemption victory over Polgar’s Webster team, but also the level at which Webster’s teams suffered in the tournament. FM Mike Klein has an excellent tournament report over at Chess.com. Surely expectations will be high for both colleges in next year’s competition and Tech recently added the lovely and talented WCM Claudia Muñoz to their lineup. It will be exciting to see what happens in the weeks and months to come as both schools regroup and head into the new year.
May 24 will mark the second anniversary of my dedicated attempts to improve at chess, but I noticed over the holiday season that I have yet to participate in a time-honored tradition enjoyed by countless chess enthusiasts around the world: a tournament. I have passed on several opportunities to play in local tournaments with the San Antonio Chess Club and playing with that group is the closest I have come to developing a 2016 New Year’s Resolution. Earlier this week I was about to play a 15-minute slow game on Chess.com when I noticed that a tournament for the same time control was starting within 10 minutes. I joined the tournament and spent the next 2 and 1/2 hours playing in my first chess tournament! I was skeptical of the online tournament format but was pleasantly surprised by the energy of the players and the fierceness of the competition. I finished 2nd overall with a 4/5 score. The loss was disappointing but it strengthened my resolve to play through.
I was thrilled to see that many of the games played in this little tournament were exceptional. Games where White or Black was winning with an enormous amount of material and excellent positional play were turned upside down with smart tactics and devastating blunders. It was during the first round as I watched a game in progress where Black was steamrolling his opponent until the chess gods intervened…
Suffice to say that all of the kibitzers in the room were excited about this game and I felt a little nervous knowing that a player like tg-13 was in the mix and able to turn the tables on a dime. I copied down the ID number for the game and stored it in a text file called Never Say Die so that I could come back post-tournament and write this entry. Unfortunately the psychological effect of that game caused more harm than good as I faced tg-13 in the second round and was lured into an early trap, lost my Queen, and the game soon afterwards. The next exceptional game came in the second round.
Black was in control of the game but missing a simple tactic cost him bigtime. It was fun to watch magab001 in his other games because he played some very complicated and nailbiting positions. I had planned not to annotate any of my own games from the tournament but the next game was too good to pass up.
I chose to annotate that game mostly because of 26.Nb6 because it was a high-stakes gamble that paid off in dividends. This was in the third round immediately following my earlier defeat so it helped to boost my confidence and carry me on to the end. The final game I want to show was played near the end of the tournament around the time that my eyelids were growing heavy and the fight for the top three positions had come down to the wire. It features magab001 from the one of the earlier annotated games.
So, what’s the verdict on this tournament and the whole of chess tournaments on the site? I found the Chess.com tournament experience to be much more pleasant than I had expected. The kibitzing with other participants was a lot of fun and it took a lot of the emphasis away from ELOs and put all emphasis on individual performance. A 900 ELO player could defeat a 1200 ELO player and vice versa, so tournaments on Chess.com are an excellent way to wade into the world of competitive chess. Besides, it is free to enter these tournaments and there are even some cool trophies to display on your Chess.com profile page.