Category Archives: US Open

Rd 7: The Good Fight

I took a 1/2 pt bye for rd 6, leaving me at 3.0/6 when the schedules merged Friday night for rd 7.  It might seem odd to some that I took two byes, given that I drove all this way and paid all this money to play chess.  Why not just play all nine rounds?

Part of it, honestly, is that chess is hard.  It’s hard for GMs, and it’s hard for patzers like me.  A long game can really take the wind out of your sails, and two long games in one day is exhausting.  I also wanted to spend time out in Madison, visiting with friends, etc., and really just take a leisurely, vacation-style approach to the event.

While others were slogging it out Friday afternoon, I wandered around the playing site and took pictures.  Most of those went up yesterday in a Flickr album, but I did want to place a few in this post with some comments.

I thought it might be kind of interesting to take a few pictures of the playing hall when it was empty, just for the sake of comparison.  Imagine my surprise when I wandered in and saw a single game running in the far corner.


It turns out that Frank Niro (right) and Jeffrey Roland (left) have been playing a 12 game match across America, with this game the last in the series.  The game was in its death throes when I was taking these pictures, so I got a chance to talk to them both and exchange information.  Frank’s ears perked up when I mentioned the existence of this blog, and he scribbled down the URL.  Sometimes chance meetings lead to good things…

I also spent quite a bit of time in the tournament bookstore, which should shock no one given the title and nature of this blog.  (Lots of pictures are in the Flickr album.)  In the end I picked up four titles over these past few days, with one coming from a local used shop.


The book in the upper right corner is a Jack Spence tournament book.  Spence was an Omaha organizer and chess historian, and he is the namesake of a chess club that I direct in Omaha.

My understanding is that the tournament bookstore was a collaborative effort between Chess4Less and the Rochester Chess Center.  Hats off to them both.  They had a great selection of books and equipment.

The Wisconsin Chess Association had a small display near Chess Control with memorabilia from the history of Wisconsin chess.  Of particular interest were the items from the 1989 World Youth, which took place in the state and in which players the likes of Leko, Polgar, Schwartzman, Waitzkin, etc., participated.  Some prescient person had Polgar sign her name placard, and they had it out for passersby to see.


I also attended the Chess Journalists of America meeting in the afternoon session.  I, of course, am only an amateur ‘journalist,’ but because of the increased blurring in information services between print and electronic media, and because I also write for the Nebraska state chess magazine, I thought I should check them out.  Dan Lucas and Jen Shahade from Chess Life and Chess Life Online joined Niro, Roland and Al Lawrence at the head of the room, and the meeting served as a dual CJA and Publications Committee meeting.


CJA awards were handed out at the end of the meeting; much to my surprise and great embarrassment, this blog was named the Best Chess Blog.  Apparently Niro and Roland had read the blog in its entirety during the few hours between our meeting and this meeting, and deemed it worthy of the award.  I’m honored, of course, but now this means I have to live up to the praise.  (If it helps me get review copies of books from more publishers, that’s also swell.)

Dinner was followed by my rd 7 game.  My opponent was a young expert from Florida, and it was probably my best game of the event thus far.  The game, a quiet line out of the 9.dxc5 Tarrasch, went nearly six hours, and while I was probably lost in the final position anyway, I ‘graciously’ stumbled into a 1am checkmate in one.  Oy.  On the whole my calculation was solid, and my only big oversight (besides the mate) was allowing the queen trade.  I hallucinated some variation where I’d check out of it, retreating the rook, but of course this just hangs things.  I might have had practical chances to hold the rook ending if I’d traded down at the right time, but White played very well, finding the best moves again and again to keep pressing.


Rd 4 & 5: Doubleheader

Yesterday was my long day, my day of unending chess labor, my two-a-day.  I’ve never played in a large national event where multiple rounds of 40/2 SD/1 games are on the cards, and now I know why.  It’s exhausting, even if – as I did – you luck out and get a fairly quick win in the late game.

I started the day at 1.5/3, so I expected to be playing someone fairly decent in round 4.  My opponent was a 20ish 1977 player, and to be honest, he flat-out beat me.  They don’t call the Ruy ‘Spanish Torture’ for nothing.  If Black plays inaccurately in any number of lines, White just builds up a powerful kingside attack and wins.  Had I kept my light squared bishop, I think my chances would have been better, but in the end, the ‘kid’ (I can say that at 37, right?) just outplayed me.  Hats off to him.  (I will note, however, that begging out of a quick postmortem because ‘you might have to eat’ is a little sketchy when the next round starts in 3.5 hrs.  Just say you’re not interested.)

After some muttered profanities, I cooled my jets in the bookstore and then went off for dinner at the restaurant across the street.  It was then time for pregame coffee and chess prep!

Some of the discussion at chesspub about these posts led me to reconsider my overly zealous pregame habits, so I tried to take it easy, only looking at a few variations to remind myself of key points.  It might also have been a small blessing that pairings didn’t go up until perhaps 20 minutes before the round, as I couldn’t obsess over my opponent’s repertoire if I didn’t know who he or she was.

My round 5 opponent turned out to be a very nice 11 yr old from New Mexico rated around 1500.  This is his second US Open, he told me, and his brother played in the Barber.  I’d looked at a lot of d4 openings in the weeks before the Open, and my thinking generally is that older folk such as myself should strongly consider playing things besides 1.e4 against talented kids.  He played a variation of the Slav where he takes …dxc4 early, and I was a bit befuddled.  Eventually I sac’d my b-pawn and got a lot of play against his exposed queen.  Surely he resigned too early, as there was plenty of play in the position, but White is vastly better in the final position.

I ended the day at 2.5/5, and with my half pt bye in round 6, I’ll be at 3.0/6 when the schedules merge tonight.  Today I’ll return to downtown Madison for awhile, and then I’ll attend the Chess Journalists of America meeting before eating and preparing to play tonight.  I should also have more pictures tomorrow!

Here are my games, presented with my thanks to those who would take the time to view them!

Rd 3: Victory

I’m playing in the six-day schedule, which involves two games a day for three days, after which all schedules merge and the entire field is in one section.  Because I wanted – just once! – to experience a leisurely tournament with one round a day, like those in Europe, I took two strategic byes in rounds 2 and 6 and only have to slog through a doubleheader once.  (Today!  More on that tomorrow.)  So I had 0.5/2 going into round 3, and this was my game.

Roger is the Iowa Delegate, and this is his 27th US Open.  I found a few of his games in the database and saw that he favored Alekhine’s Defense.  So, having watched some of John Watson’s recent videos on the subject at, I went into the game feeling well prepared.

Roger, truth be told, was kind and made things a little easier on me than he needed to.  Still, after his opening infelicity, he played well and forced me to be accurate.  This is the result.

Attentive readers may know that I study with John Watson.  He also won his game (in rd 5 of the traditional section) in fine style, although, in typical Watsonian modesty, he was quick to point out that his opponent had outplayed him early on.  One of the things I like most about John is his generosity.  Here’s a rather famous IM, author of 20+ books, internet chess personality, etc., and he spent at least 45 minutes in the skittles room looking deeply at his game with his opponent.  As you can see, his presence in the room did not go unnoticed…


Round 1: Not my best effort…

After a 6.5 hr drive to Madison, I arrived at my hotel 3 hrs before gametime and immediately proceeded over to the playing site to scout things out.  I knew the Nebraska participants in the Denker, Barber and National All-Girls, so I dropped in on the closing ceremony for the three competitions and said hi to Jacey Tran, who was in my group at chess camp this year.  I then went back to the hotel to try and center myself before the game.

It’s odd that I was as nervous as I was, but then, the US Open is by far the largest tournament I’ve ever played, and I’d just driven a long way.  Pairings went up around 6pm, an hour before the round, and I frantically tried to find some info on my opponent, the Wisconsin master Anthony Parker.  No such luck!  To make matters worse, I managed to spill my brewing coffee – I’m a terrible, terrible coffee snob, and I tend to bring my own pourover rig on overnight trips! – all over my hotel bathroom.  Cleanup cost me 20 minutes of prep time, and no small amount of dignity.  It did, however, serve to distract me from my nerves just a little.

When I arrived at the playing hall, I was astounded by its size.  I can only imagine that the World Open must be larger, and Supernationals larger yet, but this was beyond anything I’d ever seen.


In fairly rapid succession I found my board, set out my clock, and prepared to do battle.


…and, sad to say, it wasn’t much of a battle.  My play was passive and unrecognizable.  My coach looked over the game with me in the skittles room and told me much the same thing, that he didn’t recognize me as the guy who’d played the Black pieces on the scoresheet.  I like to think that it’s because I was tired from the drive, but I fear that it was actually ‘me’ playing the Black pieces.  It’ll be interesting to see if and how I can pick things up in upcoming rounds.

Here’s the game with brief notes.  I took a 1/2 pt bye in Round 2, so my next game is this evening at 7pm.

Preparing for the US Open

This blog is, ostensibly, devoted to the review of chess books and literature.  Part of its conceit is that it is written by an active class player, by someone who is striving to improve, and who is more often than not using the books he reviews to do so.  What happens when all that reading reviewing is put into practice, and the reviewer does battle over the board?

I’m writing from my hotel room in MIddleton, WI, where I’m playing in the 2013 US Open.  I’m playing in the 6-Day section, and with a couple of judicious half-pt byes, I’ve created a playing schedule that is mainly one round a day.  This leaves me enough time to see friends, explore downtown Madison, and ogle all the chess books on sale at the tournament bookstore.  (I only bought two, Anna!  Only two thus far, anyway…)

Each morning, time permitting, I will post lightly annotated accounts of my previous day’s play.  The notes won’t be Huebner-esque; there’s not time for that in the midst of the event, and I’m more interested at the moment in noting what I saw (and missed) during the game than I am discerning the absolute truth.  Final analysis comes after the event.  For now, you get sketches.

In this post I’d like to talk about my preparation for the tournament.  Because this is the largest tournament I’ve ever played, and because – let’s be honest – it is an expensive undertaking to pay an entry fee, stay six nights in a hotel, eat, drink, and buy chess swag, I wanted to come into this event as well prepared as I could.  My strategy, therefore, was threefold.  First, I needed to sharpen my tactics.  Second, I needed to work on endings and positional play.  Third, I needed to get some rated games under my belt to hopefully play myself into shape.

The third of these tasks was easier said than done,  It wasn’t hard to get rated games played.  What was hard was playing well in them.  My rating has dropped sixty points over my last two events, and I seem to be in some kind of chessic funk.  Oy.

I tried to work on the first task – tactical study – by solving problems at Chesstempo.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that this was the most productive avenue for tactical sharpening.  While you get to solve lots of problems on this website, I feel like such solving perhaps leads to a kind of shallow tactical vision during OTB play and an overreliance on tactical thinking during games.  I’ve noticed that I’m not playing solidly right now, trying to blow lower-rated players off the board with brute tactics instead of solid, building attack.  Most likely it’s just ‘noise’ instead of real data that is making me think this way, but I’m probably going to mix in more complex tactical study from books with my Chesstempo work in the future.

(Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for.)  Endings and positional themes were treated via books!  I used Jonathan Hawkins’ Amateur to IM (reviewed here and here by yours truly) to work on some basic endings, and I looked at a lot of examples from Pal Benko’s Chess Endgame Lessons (out of print, sadly) for both fun and practical study.  I also studied Jacob Aagaard’s Grandmaster Preparation: Positional Play extensively, solving a number of the exercises, etc.   I’ll be reviewing this book after I return home from the Open, but I can already tell you that the review will be very positive.

Now, let’s be clear: my play, good or bad, can’t be attributed to what I’ve been reading.  Still, it will be interesting to see (1) if my preparation was at all helpful, and (2) if anything specific I read or studied will bear fruit.

On to the games!  And perhaps some pictures from the event?