The match between the Albany and Schenectady chess club is one of the highlights of the Capital District chess calendar, and a good cross section of the Capital District chess community participates. Since several strong players are members of both clubs, and it is common for “ringers” from Rensselaer County or Saratoga to play for one club or the other, winning the match does not confer significant bragging rights, and the match is usually a very friendly affair.
This year, the match was contested on Oct. 3 on 11 boards at a time limit of 90 minutes per player for the game. Albany ended a two-year drought by winning the match, 6-5.
Last year, Schenectady was propelled to victory by sweeping the top four boards, 4-0. This year, Albany, scored 4-1 on the top five boards to secure the match win. Five of the six players who competed in the finals of the Schenectady championship participated in the match: two played for Albany (Mike Mockler and myself) while three played for Schenectady (Dave Finnerman, Carl Adamec, and Carlos Varela). Mockler, Finnerman and myself, as well as Cory Northrup, Bill Little, and Jon Leisner are members of both clubs.
The Board One match-up between Albany’s Dean Howard and Schenectady’s Peter Michelman was very even for 15 moves when Michelman made a very weak move, which permitted a winning attack.
The games on Board Two (Jeremy Berman – Carl Adamec) and Board Three (Gordon Magat – Jon Leisner) were described by Eastern New York Chess Association blogger Bill Little: “Careful play by both sides [led] to logical draws.”
On Board Four, Mockler and Schenectady Champion played a complicated game, typical of their usual match-ups; this time won by Mockler.
I won an interesting game against John Phillips on Board Five (see below). On Board Six, Bill Little, playing Black, established equality fairly quickly, and the game was drawn.
On Board Seven, Bill Townsend (who also directed the match) won a Rook for a Bishop, and held on to win against Glen Perry. On Board Eight, Zachary Calderon defeated Cory Northrup.
On Board Nine, Mike Laccetti, rated 1625, almost upset Carlos Varela, rated 1839; Laccetti was up a piece when his clock ran out and he forfeited. On Board Ten, a rapidly improving Tom Clark drew Schenectady President Richard Chu.
Finally, on Board 11, Albany President Arthur Alowitz defeated Joel Miranti, rated 500 points lower. Last year, Schenectady’s large rating advantage on the lowest board gave the club a relatively easy point: This year, Albany had the edge.
Phillips – Henner
1. d4 f5, 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. c4 d5 5. Nf3 Nbd7 (c6 is more common) 6. cd (0-0 is probably better) ed 7. 0-0 Bd6 8.Nc3 c6 9. Qc2 Ne4 10. Nd2 Ndf6 11. f4? (The position had been pretty even — now Houdini says Black is up 0.3 because the Knight on e4 can not be dislodged) 0-0 12. Nf3 N:c3 13. bc Ne4 14. Ne5 Qc7 15. c4 Be6 16. c5 Be7.
According to Houdini, White is now slightly better. 17. a4 I had been expecting Bd2, and considered offering a draw soon thereafter. The advanced knights cancel each other, and I thought it would be difficult for either side to make any progress. a4 may be OK, but I thought I had some play now.
Qa5 18. Rb1 Rab8 19. Rd1 Houdini says White still is up .2, but the fireworks are about to begin. I had been threatening to play Qd2 or Qc3, and try to infiltrate White’s position. Both John and I thought Black had an initiative, and John thought a long time before playing Rd1.
After the game, he wondered if there were any good moves for White here. While he was thinking, I analyzed my reply, and concluded that Rd1 loses for White – as it turns out I was wrong. I thought for about ten minutes and played Nc3, and after 20. Bd2, I immediately responded with N:e2+.
Now Houdini says that White is up 1.7! After 21. Kf2 N:d4 White is down two pawns, but both John and I had missed 22. Qa2 Q:c5 23 Bb4,where White regains material and keeps the advantage. But after 22. B:a5 N:c2 23. Nd3 (I had expected Bc7, which may be a little stronger) Bd8 (23..Na3 was significantly better, because 23 ..Bd8 permits White to minimize the damage with 24. B:d8). 24. Bc3 d4 Black is up two pawns and has a positional advantage – Houdini says Black is up 2.1).
25. Bd2 Bf6 26 Ba5? Ne3 27. Re1 Bd5 (Bc4 was stronger) 28. B:d5 N:d5 29. Re6 Kf7 30. Rd6 Rfe8 31. Nb4? (this is a very bad move – but it creates a lot of complications and we both had less than ten minutes to play. The correct response, which puts the game away is Nc3. I suspected as much during the game, but didn’t have the time to calculate everything, so I played the safe Be7 32. Rd7 Ke6, and after one last desperate try: 33. N:c6 K:d7 34. N:b8 R:b8 35. Rb5 Kc6, White resigned.
There is an episode of the old TV sitcom, Leave it to Beaver, where the sleazy Eddie Haskell tries to cheat Wally Cleaver in chess by removing a Bishop when Wally is not looking. Chess players, of course, know that this is absurd; any chess player would be sufficiently aware of the position to notice such an action immediately.
Chess, unlike say poker or bridge, is a game of perfect information; both players have complete and full knowledge of the board, and success is determined solely by one’s skill in moving pieces on the board.
So, one might think it is impossible to cheat. However, now that chess computers are stronger than the best human players, cheating, especially in high-level competitions, is becoming a serious problem.
Last month, a German International Master, Jens Kotainy, was disqualified from a strong European tournament, after the director had observed that he was reaching into his pocket to check his cell phone after every move, and the cell phone was observed emitting vibrations that could have been a code.
The problem was discussed at length in a January 2013 letter from University of Buffalo Computer Science Professor Kenneth Regan (who is also an International Master) to the Association of Chess Professionals.
Professor Regan analyzed the results of the 2012 Zadar Open, and in particular the allegations against the Fide (Fédération internationale des échecs) Master Borislav Ivanov, who scored 8-1 to win the tournament with a performance rating of 2697. He concluded that there was a strong correspondence between the moves made by F.M. Ivanov and a computer program and the odds of such a correspondence were 1,000,000 to 1.
Regan also strongly stated that the statistical evidence of such a correlation was secondary to actual observations of cheating, but nevertheless he believed that such evidence had a role to play. Indeed, it was precisely that statistical correlation between computer moves and the moves played that led the tournament director to investigate I.M. Kotainy.
During the course of a chess game, a player is not supposed to receive any assistance from other players, have access to chess books, or, of course, use a computer. In a recent tournament, my friend Alan LeCours was accused of cheating by his opponent because his opponent had heard me asking LeCours how his game was going even though we did not discuss the position, and, of course, I did not and would not have made any comments or suggestions about moves to play.
In the early 1980s, a friend of mine from college, who was a tournament director himself, reported an incident of cheating that resulted in an International Master’s disqualification from the World Open. The I.M., once known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the openings, stepped out of the tournament room and visited a bookseller and was observed leafing through a book describing the unusual line of a particular opening that he was playing.
However, such incidents were rare; generally, strong players do not need, and could not get, meaningful assistance during the course of the game.
Cheating in chess did not usually involve activity at the board.
To be sure, there were incidents of players agreeing to throw games, to enable other players to win tournaments or achieve “norms” for titles. (I have heard rumors that at least one United States Grandmaster in the 1980s achieved his title by such arrangements.) And some players would lose games on purpose to artificially lower their ratings, so they could win large cash prizes in lower rated sections, a practice known as “sandbagging.”
The United States Chess Federation has adopted rating “floors,” 200 points below a player’s highest rating, in a generally successful effort to stop sandbagging. However, what took place at the board was usually open and honest.
Computers changed all that. For example, the standard time control in top-level international tournaments was 40 moves in 2 ½ hours, and games used to be adjourned after five hours. If the game had not been completed, the players would customarily analyze the position overnight, sometimes with the help of an assistant.
This meant that players competing for world championships depended heavily on a very good grandmaster assistant, or, in the case of certain Soviet players, a whole team of assistants. Today, there are no adjournments: Time controls have been adjusted so that the game is completed at one sitting.
Big-money postal chess tournaments are also a thing of the past: It is just too easy to cheat by using a computer to analyze a postal game.
However, the use of computers to cheat in over-the-board games is a relatively new phenomenon. The problem, if not addressed, could severely interfere with chess competition, not only at the highest levels, but also in recreational tournaments, where, say, a class B player accesses a computer to win a money prize in an Under-1800 section.
This week’s problem
Israel Albert (Al) Horowitz, a youthful chess hustler in Times Square, who went to Wall Street, and then left it to devote himself to chess, was one of the top United States players in the 1930s and 1940s, but was best known as a promoter of the game, as the chess correspondent for The New York Times, a founder of Chess Review, and is the author of many chess books.
He “never took chess or himself too seriously: chess was a science, yes; a sport, of course; and art, to be sure; but it was also a business,” according to Burt Hochberg, a chess expert and author who died in 2006.
Horowitz was famous for being a “chess vagabond,” giving many simultaneous exhibitions. In the position below, he has forced mate in four moves. His opponent could have made a nonsensical move, which would have delayed the mate, but would still have permitted a pretty mate in six.
11. Q:g7+ K:g7, 12. Bh6+ Kg8, 13. Rg6+ hg, 14. Nf6 mate (if 13…fg 14 Nf6 is still mate). The nonsensical move 13.. Qg7 is met by 14. R:g7+ Kf8, 15 R:g8+ K:g8, 16 Nf6 mate.
Alexander Ivanov, a veteran Grandmaster from Massachusetts, drew his last game against fellow Grandmaster Joel Benjamin to score 5-1 (four wins and two draws) to win the $1,500 first prize in the 135th New York State chess championship, America’s longest running chess tournament.
Grandmaster Alexander Stripunsky (who lost to Ivanov in Round 5) and Benjamin tied with Nicholas Checa, Stanislav Busygin, and Igor Nikolayev for second through sixth places with scores of 4 ½ - 1 ½.
However, the New York State championship is awarded to the highest scoring New York State resident and 11-year-old Checa, the 2013 New York State Junior High School Champion, edged Nikolayev on tiebreaks for the title.
Two years ago, three New York State high school students tied for first, but chess champions are getting younger. Checa is believed to be the youngest Champion in the long history of the tournament. In 2012, he placed 10th and won the prize for best score under 2200; a year later, his rating is up to 2296.
The under-2100 and under-1800 sections also show that chess is not a game dominated by older men: Both sections were won outright by women.
Rifeng Xia won the $1,000 first prize in the under-2100 section with a score of 5 ½ - ½. Her last-round opponent offered her a draw, and a certain share of the prize money, but she declined, and held on to win.
Sarah Ascherman won the $1,000 first prize in the under-1800 section with a score of 5-1, drawing against another woman, Xiaoyu Xu, in the last round; Xu finished in a five-way tie for second with 4 ½ - 1 ½.
Thomas Clark, of the Albany club, scored the largest rating gain of any local player, raising his rating from 1425 to 1587 as he won the $800 first prize in the under-1500 section with a score of 5 ½ - ½.
A local scholastic player, Ronghai Gong, won the $500 first prize in the under-1200 section with a score of 5 ½ - ½.
Two-hundred-and-eleven players competed in the tournament, held over Labor Day weekend at the Albany Marriott; at least 32 were from the Capital District.
In the Open section, local high school student Patrick Chi drew Grandmaster Benjamin and had a chance to tie for first if he had prevailed against his second grandmaster opponent, Stripunsky, in the last round. Although he lost and finished in a tie for eighth-to-ninth place, with 4-2, he still gained 33 rating points (up to 2253).
Ashok Aaron, the father of soon-to-be senior master (over 2400) Deepak and fast-rising Dilip, played in his first tournament for some time (not counting the Schenectady speed tournaments that he has dominated the last two years).
Although none of the 10 local players finished in the money in the under-2100 section, Phil Thomas and Phil Sells both finished with undefeated scores of 4-2, drawing their last-round game with each other.
Thomas raised his rating over 2000 to become the Capital District’s latest expert. Dilip Aaron’s score of 3 ½ - 2 ½ raised his rating 75 points, to 1899.
Nine year-old Martha Samadashvili from East Greenbush, who has only been playing tournament chess for a little more than a year, is now rated 1678, thirty-sixth among all United States 9-year-olds (third among girls) and is the 2013 North American Youth Under-10 Girls’ Champion.
Her score of 2-4 is misleading: She defeated a 1900 player who made the mistake of playing the risky Morra gambit against her. She had a won game against me, and played all of her opponents very tough. (I will write a feature article about her and her chess-playing family from Georgia in the near future.)
In the under-1800 section, junior player Michael Ny Cheng, a veteran of our local scholastic Make the Right Move tournaments, drew two Class B players and defeated another to raise his rating, 93 points, to 1560. Richard Moody, who tied for first in this section in 2012, drew two games against much lower rated opponents before withdrawing.
Local player results
Patrick Chi 4-2
Steven Taylor 2 ½ -3 ½
Ashok Aaron 2 ½ -3 ½
Dave Finnerman 2 ½ -3 ½
Peter Henner 2-4
Carl Adamec 1 ½ -4 ½
Phil Thomas 4-2
Phil Sells 4-2
Dilip Aaron 3 ½ - 2 ½
Michael Mockler 3-3
John Phillips 3-3
Kenneth Evans 2 ½ -3 ½
Koushak Pernati 2 ½ -3 ½
Scott Boyce 2 ½ -3 ½
Zachery Calderon 2 ½ -3 ½
Martha Samadashvili 2-4
Cory Northrup 3-3
Michael Ny Cheng 3-3
Jason Denham 2 ½ -3 ½
Elihue Hill 2-4
Arthur Alowitz 1 ½ - 4 ½
Richard Moody 1-5
Lew Millenbach 1-5
Thomas Clark 5 ½ - ½
Nitin Obla 4-2
Pranav Venkataraman 3 ½ -2 ½
Nigel Kent Galia 2 ½ - 3 ½
David Connors 2-4
Nate Stevens, 4-2
Ronghai Gong 5 ½ - ½
Jankarl Galia 2-4
Blaise Loya 2-4
Melodie Loya 1-5
This week’s problem
The great Samuel Reshevsky, who represented the United States in the six-man World Championship tournament in 1948 and whose chess career spanned seven decades, was a genuine chess prodigy. He was already famous for playing simultaneous exhibitions against Europe’s strongest players before he came to the United States and played chess full-time before finally starting school at the age of 12 in 1924.
Here the 8-year-old Reshevsky finds a neat way to win.
Solution: 28 Qg2 Q:g2+ 29 N:g2. Black resigns because if 29… R:e7, 30 R:a8 and White’s rook on e1 is protected by the Knight, and 29 Ra7 leaves Black a Knight behind after 30 R:e8.
This year, The Icelandic Chess Federation decided to contest the national championship in an open tournament (the Icelandic Open), not only open to all Icelandic players, but also to foreigners.
Four foreign players, including one American, myself, traveled to Iceland to play in this tournament.
Iceland is, per capita, the strongest chess-playing country in the world. Although the population of the country is only 300,000, it has 12 Grandmasters and 13 International Masters.
The country is also famous for hosting the 1972 world championship match between the American Bobby Fischer, and the Soviet Boris Spassky. Fischer spent his last years in Iceland, which graciously provided a home for him after his legal troubles made him persona non grata in the United States.
He is buried in the churchyard of a small rural church, outside of the small city of Selfoss, about 50 miles from Reykjavík.
In many ways, European tournaments are far more civilized then tournaments in the United States. Boards, sets, and clocks are routinely provided, and the boards are set up in advance by the tournament organizers.
The time control uses an “increment” — at the Icelandic Open, 30 seconds — which is automatically added to a player’s time after each move. This means that a player will have a minimum of 30 seconds for every move, which eliminates the horrible time pressure scrambles common to United States tournaments where a player may need to make a number of moves virtually instantaneously.
The increment also means that a player is required to record all of his moves since, as the tournament director explained to me, a player has time to write down his moves. Both players are required to sign and turn in their score sheets, which have carbon copies for the players themselves.
On one occasion, the setting sun was an obvious problem for the players and the organizers scrambled to put up screens for us; this would not have happened at a United States tournament.
Although I was somewhat nervous about possible differences in chess tournament customs (I even e-mailed the tournament website to ask if there was a dress code in the tournament), the scene was generally very familiar to me, except for the amazing lack of conflict and the smoothness of operations.
All the pairings were done by computer immediately after the conclusion of the round; there were no arguments about pairings. Only once in 10 rounds did I hear any arguments at all. Players were generally very polite and courteous, far more than in United States’ tournaments.
The tournament was played on the 20th floor of one of Reykjavík’s tallest buildings, with spectacular views of the surrounding city, harbor, and mountains — at least on the occasional periods of time when it was clear outside; it rains a lot in Iceland. The chess federation was given the site for free, and, while it was very spacious, it was also an unfinished floor with bare concrete walls and the absence of insulation did create a noise problem since the room for analysis was separated from the main tournament room only by a curtain.
Schenectady teams lead Capital District Chess League
The Schenectady A team has clinched first place in the Capital District Chess League with a score of 4 ½ – ½, with one match left against the Albany A team. Its club rival, the Schenectady Geezers, finished second with a score of 4-2.
The Geezers were undefeated, at 3-0, and defeated the Uncle Sam Club with the help of a lucky win on first board when Phil Thomas tried too hard to win a drawn game and lost. Uncle Sam also finished with 4-2, but placed third on the basis of fewer game points.
However, the Geezers lost to the Albany A team, and then lost a tough match to the Schenectady A team, 2 ½ - 1 ½. There were draws between Phil Sells and Peter Michelman on Board 1, Carl Adamec and Jon Leisner on Board 2, and John Phillips and Dilip Aaron on Board 4. The only decisive game was on Board 3, where Bobby Rotter returned from a long absence from tournament play, to defeat the Geezers Michael Mockler.
The Albany A club is fourth at 3-2. Even if Albany defeats the Schenectady A to finish at 4-2, it cannot gain enough game points to catch Uncle Sam. Albany A is followed by RPI at 2 ½ - 3 ½, the Capital Region team at 1-5, and Albany B, also at 1-5.
Follow-up on the news
My March 21 column described a tragic situation, where Georgian IM Salome Melia was trying to raise money for an operation for a rare medical condition that threatened the life of her five-month-old daughter. There was a tremendous worldwide response to the fund-raising effort. Ms. Melia thanked everyone and announced that the surgery was scheduled for April 2, in Germany. However, neither any chess website, nor Ms. Melia’s Facebook page has any further information. It is good to know that the chess community rallied to Ms. Melia’s aid, and we can only hope that the surgery was a success.
I have been writing this column for over three years. As some readers may know, I have recently commenced an indefinite sabbatical from my law practice, to devote the bulk of my time to other activities, including tournament chess, training for a marathon, and scholarly and creative writing.
I will also take a sabbatical from writing this column, at least for this summer (when there is not too much chess news anyway), and possibly for the rest of this year.
This week's problem
The Uncle Sam Club’s fourth board, Dr. Chibbzo Ilonze, was the Most Valuable Player in the Capital District Chess League this year, with a perfect score of 6-0. As an unrated player, he was able to play fourth board, and, while he did defeat some very strong players, and obtain a performance rating of over 2200, we did not have the opportunity of seeing him play against other top players.
Unfortunately, Dr. Ilonze was only in the area for medical studies for this academic year, and he will be leaving the Capital District soon.
In his last game in the CDCL, he defeated the Geezers’ John Phillips. While Dr. Ilonze played a very strong game, he missed a forced win, which caused the ENYCA blogger Bill Little to comment, “Moves like this … lead me to question if Dr. Ilonze is actually a 2200 player [because] a Master is unlikely to miss the killing move ____.” See if you can find this killing move yourself.
— From the Icelandic Open website
Tough match: International Master Saevar Bjornason, left, and Peter Henner play chess at the Icelandic Open tournament. After four-and-a-half hours and 62 moves, Henner scored an upset victory. Henner’s previous match ended in a draw with another international master. The rest of the tournament did not go as well for Henner.
Chess players in the United States are generally regarded as somewhat nerdy, if not downright weird. However, in Iceland, chess is very respectable and good chess players are actually held in high esteem. I had always wanted to visit Iceland, partly because of chess, partly because it is a spectacular and interesting country, and partly because I wanted to experience Scandinavian culture.
This month, I finally got my opportunity. The Icelandic Open chess tournament, a 10-round tournament held between May 31 and June 8 was open to anybody, and the playing schedule, one round a day, at 5 p.m. except for the two Saturdays, was conducive to “chess tourism” —having most of the day to travel and sightsee, while playing in the evening. My wife, Nancy, and I planned a two-week vacation, spending the first 10 days in Reykjavík with another six days to tour the country.
Iceland is everything I would have expected: very friendly people, fantastic hiking, and all of the amenities of modern culture. (I strongly doubt that Icelanders would tolerate the poor quality of Internet service in rural New Scotland where I live.)
The country relies entirely on hydroelectric and geothermal energy, has clean air and water, and I was amazed at drivers who actually obey speed limits. Unfortunately, my memories of the country are bittersweet because of my performance in the chess tournament.
If someone had told me that, on the same day, I would win a game and draw a game against two International Masters, I would not have believed it. And, if I had also been told that I would lose two successive games against 12-year-old players rated under 1400, I would not have believed that either. However, in the same tournament, I did both.
Following is the daily diary I kept of unfolding events.
We arrived in Reykjavík a little after midnight on Friday morning, just after the sun had set, and about an hour before it rose. As we learned to our sorrow, our apartment was right across the street from a construction site, where, throughout our stay, we were serenaded by pile drivers.
We spent much of the day walking around the city of Reykjavík, a very pleasant and walkable small city.
I went to the tournament site about 4:30 in the afternoon, and paid the registration fee of 16,000 Icelandic kronor (about $140). My first-round game was against Petur Johanneson, an older man rated 1000, who played quickly and badly. I was happy to finish the game by 6 o’clock since I was still jet lagged.
I looked at the tournament website from my computer at my apartment and knew that I would be playing Bjorn Thorfinnsson, an International Master rated 2377. Although I had White, he had a significant attack by Move 14. Still, I was able to obtain a theoretical material advantage: rook and two pawns against bishop and knight.
The game got complicated and, as a result of a mistake, I had to give the rook back for a bishop, and wound up in an end game with two pawns against a bishop. Fortunately for me, he missed a win, and I somehow held on for a draw, after more than four hours and 63 moves of play.
We analyzed the game afterward. Bjorn described his experiences visiting the United States, and how he taught a gentle lesson in humility to a street chess hustler in New York City (I assumed it was in Washington Square Park) who approached him by saying, “Let me show you how to play chess, white boy.”
Bjorn couldn’t let that go, but he did refund the hustler’s money after beating him a few times.
In the evening game, I played a second International Master, Saevar Bjornason. Mr. Bjornason informed me that there were too many Americans in Iceland, and that some Icelanders were happy to see the American base close in 2006.
After the game, he complained of being “an old man” (according to the Fédération internationale des échecs website, he is two years younger than I). I did not play the opening well, and was defending a difficult position with doubled isolated King pawns.
However, somehow I managed to break up his attack, take control of an open file, and actually have a slight advantage into the end game. A few mistakes by my opponent gave me a winning position, and I did not hesitate to turn down his belated offer of a draw. It was the last game to finish, taking four-and-a-half hours and 62 moves.
Walking back to my apartment. I remember thinking that, regardless of what happened in the rest of the tournament, I should be happy. I would have cause to remember that thought a week later.
But on June 1, I began to fantasize a spectacular result, possibly even achieving a performance norm for an international title. The next day’s tournament report remarked on the surprising result of the American player drawing one of Iceland’s top players.
Nancy and I spent the day visiting the site of Iceland’s first parliament, which is also the location where the European and North American geological plates join, and then hiking three miles to a swimming place where cold river water is geothermally heated above 100°.
I played another Icelandic master, Sigurdur Pall Steindorsson, and was more than holding my own when I offered a draw at move 35. I was fantasizing the shock waves of an American First Category player starting the tournament with a 3-1 record, and beginning to think that I might really be able to go somewhere as a chess player now that I have closed my law office.
However, I missed a forced draw and managed to misplay the resulting endgame, and eventually lost. Once again, the game lasted four and a half hours, and we were the last game to finish.
We had our first experience driving on an unpaved road in Iceland, in pouring rain. We also went to the famous Blue Lagoon, which is an overpriced tourist ripoff ($100 to soak in an artificial pool).
I played Fide Master Thorsteinn Thorsteinnson, who asked me before the game if I was a lawyer. (I assume he looked me up on the Internet, and saw my website.)
I made the kind of positional mistakes that 1800 players normally make when we play masters, and lost. Thorsteinn graciously gave me information about Reykjavik and offered to try to get tickets for a Jethro Tull concert the following Sunday. (Unfortunately, Nancy and I had to leave Reykjavík early that day).
Although I had lost my last two games, I still had achieved a performance rating of about 2150, and had an even score of 2 ½ - 2 ½. I could now look forward to being paired down against lower-rated opponents, with the expectation of achieving a positive score and gaining some rating points.
In the morning, we visited a museum in downtown Reykjavík built around the original foundations of a house built in the Ninth Century, and then visited the island of Videy, which was the home of the administrator of Iceland in the 18th Century, and is also the site of the Imagine Peace Tower conceived by Yoko Ono in honor of John Lennon.
Although my opponent Loftur Baldvinsson was rated only 1706, I was keenly aware that he had defeated a Grandmaster in the first round, and that he was much stronger than his rating. He played an opening that I have had trouble defending against, and I lacked confidence in my ability to defend against it and failed to choose the strongest defense. I began to doubt my ability to analyze the position properly, and just did not play well, and lost.
We hiked to a volcanic crater in the morning, and were joined by several Icelandic school groups, which were having field days at the end of the school year, and then visited the outstanding National Museum.
My opponent was Sigridur Bjorg Helgadottir, a very quiet and shy young woman of 20 who appeared to be about 13. (Icelandic last names are the first name of the father followed by “son” for males or “dottir” for females).
For some reason, I was totally unable to calculate accurately. I thought that I had some attacking chances, but completely misread the position, played some horrible moves, and lost in 25 moves. The next morning, when I analyzed the game with my computer, I was shocked by what I was not seeing and wondering how I could be playing so badly.
I now had a score of 2 ½ – 4 ½, with three games to play and no realistic chance of playing any more high-rated players. I was also very upset by my poor play.
Normally, I would think seriously about withdrawing from the tournament at this point. However, I had come all the way to Iceland for the experience of playing against Icelandic players, and we were not scheduled to leave Reykjavík until the weekend in any event.
Nancy and I did the most popular mountain hike in Iceland, to Mt. Esja, about 15 miles from Reykjavík. The hike was about 2,500 feet of climbing over four miles with the last half-mile scrambling over steep wet rocks in a complete fog.
My game was against 12-year-old Heims Pall Ragnarsson, rated 1388, and probably a couple of hundred points stronger. I played as bad a game as I have ever played.
At three key points, I managed to find very bad moves, after I had taken advantage of my opponent’s poor play to salvage a lost game. I also began to notice that my thinking seemed to be impaired: I would analyze a prospective move for several minutes, make the move, and then realize I had completely overlooked something that was obvious.
When I analyzed the game, the next day, I was shocked at what I wasn’t seeing, and, of course, was keenly aware that I don’t usually lose games to players rated under 1400.
From a chess standpoint, I had nothing more to gain from the tournament: I had lost five straight games, playing worse in each one. I planned to withdraw, and asked not to be paired for the ninth round.
Nancy had planned a variety of activities for this date, and it was just as well that I did not have to be back at the tournament site for a 5 p.m. game. We visited the grave of Bobby Fischer, hiked to the top of a 200-foot waterfall (and I did a trail run of about three miles upstream from the waterfall), and had a lobster dinner at a well regarded seaside restaurant.
Icelandic lobster is somewhat different than what we are used to: Lobsters are somewhat smaller and the only viable meat is in the tail: 600 g of lobster tail was more than enough food for a meal.
I went to the tournament site just to watch the games. I had a nice talk with my second-round opponent, Bjorn, who was one of the leaders of the tournament. He told me that his last-round game would be against his brother, who is also an International Master, and that he needed to win to get a Grandmaster norm. He also told me that Icelandic chess players are watched closely, and he would have to win the game honestly.
I spent some time, too, talking to the mother of my eighth-round opponent who was very supportive of her son’s chess playing, but happy that he was also very interested in playing football (soccer).
I decided to play my last-round game, even though I knew I would be playing another kid rated less than 1300. As bad as I was playing, I had come to play chess, and felt that I wanted to be part of the tournament.
I went for an early morning run along the waterfront.
My game against Bjorn Holm Birkisson was even worse than my previous games. I simply could not see anything on the board, I had no confidence in my ability to analyze anything, and was easily distracted by the noise in the tournament room. I had thought that, even so, I should be able to beat a player rated 1182, but still lost.
Nancy and I went for a whale watch that evening. I was sufficiently upset that I did not return to watch the playoff for the Icelandic championship.
Bjorn Thorfinnsson won his last round game to tie for first place with GM Hannes Stefansson, who had won the championship 11 times, including the past three years. Unfortunately, I can not claim to have drawn the 2013 champion: Bjorn drew the first game of a G/25 match, but lost the second one to permit GM Stefansson to win his 12th title.
Although we very much enjoyed our second week in Iceland, including an epic 11-hour hike to the top of a glacier, I could not, and almost three weeks later still have not, recovered from the shock of losing six games, and turning what could have been a great personal victory into a shattering defeat.
It was about 10 days before I stopped having bad dreams about losing chess games. My performance rating for the tournament was an embarrassing 1616 – my FIDE rating may drop to 1800. I decided not to play in the last match of the Capital District Chess League, and I do not know when I will be ready and able to play tournament chess again.