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Champion of Champions: Perspective from Delaware Print E-mail
By FM David Gertler   
March 26, 2010
The preliminary events of the State Champion of Champions are complete. Two underdogs qualified from the Eastern division, Erik Santarius of Wisconsin and Damir Studen of Georgia. Two more familiar names topped out in the West, defending champ IM Sam Shankland of Northern California and IM Levon Altounian of Arizona. The semifinals will take place on March 30 with the final set for April 11. A spot at the 2010 US Chess Championship , which features the higher per capita prize fund in tournament history, is at stake.  FM David Gertler of Delaware gives his thoughts on the event.

The annual “State Champion of Champions”  event is a wonderful idea. It lets state champs from around the country compete for a spot in the invitational U.S. Championship.

The field is broken into East and West sections. Two players from each section qualify for a playoff, with the winner earning that Championship seeding. Games are played through the Internet Chess Club at a 3 0 speed (three minutes per player for the whole game, with no clock delay or increment on each move).

At this year’s tournament, I was fortunate to be Delaware’s representative for the second time. Though I had no realistic hope of reaching the playoff, it was a great way to test my skills and to justify actually studying a few opening variations.

In a huge round robin, blitz chess is a necessary evil. Playing 21 rounds takes hours even at that pace. Still, increasing the speed decreases the quality of the games. (I’m semi-retired from over-the-board tournaments but do play 3 0 games online regularly, so I know what typical online blitz games are like.)

Speaking only for my own games, the level of play in this tournament was appalling. My computer chess program laughed helplessly when it saw these supposedly master-level games. Positional struggles turned into strings of one-move threats followed by mindless time scrambles where, as the saying goes, the player making the next-to-last blunder won. I flagged (lost on time) in multiple dead winning positions, and I offered a draw to an opponent who was about to flag because I couldn’t bear to win with a lone Rook vs. a Rook plus two connected pawns.

Color assignments made the event even weirder. I got white in my first nine games (which helped me start out well at 6-4, including a win in my first black game). When I messaged the director, he said something about engineers looking into the problem. Inevitably, I was black in my next ten games!

Another initial software kink was a lack of ratings. Our USCF ratings were supposed to appear by our names during the games, but I was shown as 1400 for my first 14 games, and seven of my opponents bore that same 1400 rating.

Toward the end, mental fatigue set in – more strongly in some of us than in others. I’m in good physical shape for a middle-aged guy (having run a couple of recent half-marathons), but brain function is a different matter. I scored 2.5 from my last 11 games and nearly stopped caring. New Hampshire chess organizers used to hold an annual “Monadnock Marathon,” where participants played through the day and night, past the point of exhaustion. I imagined it would be fun to try that event once. I no longer think so.

Though my cold streak dropped me to a 15th-place finish out of 22 players (well below the midpack result I’d wanted), I found a couple of silver linings. One was a quick ninth-round win over GM Julio Becerra (who had started out 7-1).



The other – my favorite moment of the event – was when I created Alekhine’s Gun.

For anyone not in the know, Alekhine’s Gun is a tremendously powerful battery formed by doubled Rooks with a Queen behind them. I don’t think I’d ever achieved it in any sort of tournament game. Against New Jersey representative IM Dean Ippolito, though, I loaded it up and took what should have been deadly aim.

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Sad to say, I was struggling with the clock, and after missing many trivial wins, I actually lost this game by flagging when I had Rook and four pawns vs. three lone pawns. Being old and slow has its drawbacks.

I hope to qualify for the State Champion of Champions tournament again next year. Perhaps caffeine could help me overcome my speed handicap, though my other chess shortcomings may be beyond chemical aid. A suggestion: changing the time control to 3 1 could greatly reward players who focus on quality rather than pure mouse speed. That one second per move could help them avoid losses in ridiculously winning positions, a common tragedy that shouldn't be part of choosing a U.S. Championship qualifier.

Don't miss the semifinal actions on March 30th. Watch live on the Interent Chess Club.
 
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