Monday, August 15, 2016

2016 Twin Ports Open - The Day I Couldn't Win

Congratulations to Dane Zagar (l) and Dane Mattson (r) for a successful 2016 Twin Ports Open Chess Tournament. In addition to running a tournament spanning seven floors of the hotel they also found time to snap pictures like the one on the right featuring yours truly in action...

  I got to bed early Sunday morning but still woke up a 4am with two more rounds to go in the Twin Ports Chess Open. I was sitting a half point behind the leaders with 2.5 points out of 3 games. The first game didn’t start until 10 and there were no beagles to walk so I took a few naps in between posting beagle pictures on facebook and having another light breakfast in the Suites Hotel’s spectacular breakfast bar. At 9:30 I got up for good, checked out of the best hotel I may ever have stayed in, and headed to the 7th floor for the final two rounds of the tournament.

  Many of the players were concerned because they were told that they had to leave the hotel parking lot by 2pm to make way for new guests. I headed back down to the lobby and the clerk told me that there was free parking on the street on Sundays and the hotel had a parking lot near the dock that people could use. The hotel wasn’t used to people checking out but still staying in the hotel for things like chess tournaments but were very accommodating once clued in.

Ron Becker
  My opponent for the fourth round of the tournament was Ron Becker. Ron had taken a half point bye for the Saturday afternoon game and won his other two games to be half a point behind the leaders along with me and two others. Ron was rated 15 points below me so we were evenly matched. I had the black pieces and after my misadventures with Center Counter defense to the king pawn opening in last year’s tournaments spent considerable time rehabilitating them. There was nothing wrong with the opening per se – only with my treatment of it when I played an early e5. If my opponents counter attacked in the center I would get flustered and start making backwards moves. After considerable test games I realized that after having been aggressive in the center so early in the game there was no going back and in order to avoid getting the losing positions I earned last year I had to stay on the razor’s edge and keep the initiative because once I started moving backwards it was almost impossible to stem the tide. Inquiring minds may ask: Why bring up all this talk about my problems with the Center Counter defense and the importance of the initiative? Because this game put all my work to the test.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of
  The draw offer took me by surprise and I accepted after very little thought. Chess-wise, the draw was justified. The position was even with Ron’s 2 bishops making up for his slightly weaker pawns. The likely result was we would have played for another hour or two and agreed to the draw unless one of us blundered the game away. Competitively speaking, the draw did nothing for me since I would still need to win my last round game to finish in the money. I had survived a sharp opening and wasn’t worse. I’ve won far more of these type of games than I lost against players rated about the same as me. And most importantly it was my opponent that offered the draw. Maybe he thought he was worse or wanted an early lunch or was discouraged at having what optically looked to be an opening advantage slip away. By continuing to play I would have had a psychological advantage as long as I didn’t make the mistake of trying to prove I had a win and just kept on playing. Looking back I didn’t regret taking the draw at the time and I think that was because I was pleased I survived the opening and maybe I felt I deserved the half point. I’m not planning on taking any more quick draws when the position has plenty of play in it unless I’m clinching a cash prize.

  At this point it was only a little after 11 and I had already checked out of my room. Tim was still playing so I headed over to the hotel parking lot to move my rental car. There was no parking on the street and as I was about to look for a spot in the extra lot I saw a public parking lot a little to the east of the hotel and paid $4 to park for the rest of the day. The whole parking thing turned out to much ado over nothing.

Brent Gudowski
  I got back to the hotel and settled in the breakfast room of the Suites Hotel. Breakfast was over but the hotel had free wi-fi and the breakfast room had plenty of outlets for laptops and charging my amazing iPod. Tim came down shortly after winning his game and we headed across the street to the same Grizzly’s Wood Fired Grill where everyone gathered last night and had the twp cheeseburgers for $10 lunch special.

  After a relaxing lunch it was time to head back to the tournament room for the final round. Thanks to my too quickly agreed to morning draw I was tied for third place with no chance for first place but could guarantee a second place tie with a win. I had the White pieces against Brent Gudowski who had been sitting next to me in the first two rounds since our ratings were within a few points of each other. I hadn’t noticed anything about Brent’s play while seated next to him. I reminded myself one last time to be aggressive and we started our game.

  It was a good game until move 21 when I fell apart and forgot about everything I’d tried to do all weekend. I could have played the move I’d been preparing for (c5) but instead I fell into my old habit of playing defensively when I didn’t need to. When I got hit with the Nc5 shot I sent 10 minutes looking for a way out but after that I got discouraged and blitzed out my moves instead of taking my time. And because I was blitzing my moves out instead of being disciplined and taking my time I missed my chance at redemption with 28.Qxa1. Brent didn’t play a perfect game but he attacked while I defended and was more disciplined and it was no surprise that I cracked and he got the share of the second place money that I would have loved to gotten.

  It’s never much fun to lose the last game of a tournament, especially when it’s a money game that I lost by having what feels like a choke moment. Having said that, I thought I played well throughout the tournament and succeeded in being aggressive in a way I don’t think I would have been able to last year. I was especially happy at the way I stayed aggressive after playing an early e5 in the Center Counter against a strong player which was exactly the scenario that gave me fits last year. I wasn’t as good at using my time. The increment left me with a lot of time even after using a minute per move. 90 minutes is a lot of time and with a 30 second increment I could have spent two minutes a move and never been in time trouble. My main problem on Sunday was my attitude. I took the easy way out by drawing in the morning, got passive when under pressure in the afternoon game, and then lost hope after a mistake and missed a redemption shot. These qualities will not win a lot of games and it is no surprise that I didn’t win any games on Sunday.

  Tim’s reward for winning three of four games including a split against the two grandmasters was to play International Master and YouTube star John Bartholomew in the final round. I hung around in the tournament room until Tim’s game was over. We chatted a bit with some of the other players and then headed home around 6pm. Many of the players were concerned that the traffic jam caused by the one lane of traffic on either side of Interstate-35 between Hinckley and Pine City was going to be worse than on Friday because of all the weekend boaters heading home but there was only half the traffic and delay. We stopped again in Wyoming (the city, not the town) to gas and a meal at the McDonalds but to my chagrin I forgot to check the hot dog supply at the Shell station to see if they replaced the last hot dog I purchased on Friday. Tim took the wheel through Minneapolis to Mason City where I took over driving after loading up on a Kum & Go coffee with 2 Stok caffeinated creamers and rolled into Marshalltown at 1:30 on Monday morning. By 4:30 that morning I was walking my beagles and life was back to normal after a weekend in Duluth playing chess.

So long to Duluth! I'm looking forward to my next trip to the far north!

  I didn’t have the tournament result I wanted and that’s on me but I had an awesome time in Duluth. Dane Mattson and Dane Zagar ran a great tournament. The pairings were posted early and the rounds all started on time which is all I ever ask for from a tournament as a player. I couldn’t imagine running a tournament with sections six floors apart but I never felt the sections on the 7th floor were bring neglected. Everyone I met was friendly, the scenery spectacular, and Tim was a great travel partner. The 2016 Twin Ports Open was a great tournament and a weekend well spent.