Well, I’m here in Vegas at the NAO (North American Open), held at Bally’s hotel and casino. Is there action? You bet. I have been standing for twelve or more hours each day, bouncing around from strong game to strong game, trying to guess the moves, smiling at people, and wishing I were playing. There aren’t as many well-known players as there was last year, it seems, but there are definitely some powerhouses in attendance.
GM Francisco Vallejo Pons (his friends call him Paco) is batting his opponents around like they aren’t there. I really enjoy watching him because not only are his games extremely strong (he is listed on the tourney roster as 2778 Elo – not a fish), but he dresses the part, too, always looking well-groomed and wearing a suit. There is something I have always enjoyed about titled players wearing suits to play chess; it gives the impression that they respect the game, they care about appearance, and they honor the masters of old, who always wore suits to professional tournaments.
He is tied with GM Ivan Sokolov, both at 3.0 points out of three rounds. When they meet and push wood, it’s going to be a fabulous game. As I type, GM Pons is in a *very* interesting position with GM Ivan Sokolov on the white side of a Reti turned QGD. I’m no GM, of course, but it’s very hard to say how this one will turn out. Pons is super strong, though, and it seems his specialty is coming up with last-minute knockouts. He’s seriously good, and a blast to watch.
The air in the tournament hall is nothing short of electric. Other than the occasional cough or throat-clearing, it’s silent as the tomb. Yes, the occasional idiot’s cell phone goes off loudly, but the directors are extremely vigilant about chasing them out. I’m thoroughly impressed with how well such a big tournament is being run. So far, I have witnessed zero issues. Kudos to Continental Chess and Randy Hough. Major kudos, in fact.
Other strong folks in attendance are GM Var Akobian, GM Josh Friedel, GM Alexander Shabalov, WIM Iryna Zenyuk, and IM Adam Hunt, just to name a few. Needless to say, it’s awe-inspiring being in the same room with these people. At least, it is for me; when a 2778 passes me in the hallway, it may as well be Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt for everyone else. My eyes go wide, I get a chill or two, and I wonder how their mind works, and what’s wrong with mine that I suck so hard at the same game in which they excel.
Anyhow, I slept in a little (a lot) this morning because I burned the midnight oil (the 4 A.M. oil, as it were), so I’m off to the tourney now. I’ll get there in time to see the conclusion of the first round and to grab a snack before getting back to being a professional gawker. Life, as they say, is good.