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Saturday, December 31, 2011

NAO 2011 Report Three: The Last Day

Well, the tourney sure ended with a bang. GM Pons won the even clear with 6.0 of 7 rounds, two of which were draws. That guy is a monster at chess! In the last round, he offered a draw to GM Akobian, who said ‘he’d think about it’. GM Pons got up and wandered around for about five minutes, and when he came back GM Akobian stuck out his hand. The game was drawn, and Pons had won $10,000; not a bad Las Vegas trip, if I do say so, myself.

You can see the final standings for the Open Section here: http://chesstournamentservices.com/cca/2011/12/north-american-open-2011-standings-open-section/

Was there excitement during the last round? Only over the board excitement, really; it’s hard to find a boring GM or IM game to watch, especially when there’s this much money at stake. There was a lot of fighting chess, and several games were very thrilling. So, when did the good stuff happen? The good stuff came about when the blitz tournament commenced. It was really something, let me tell you.

In between the main event and the blitz tournament, GMs could be seen downstairs at the Nosh restaurant and generally wandering around, talking to each other. How many times a year does one get to see that? Needless to say, it was super cool.

I registered early for the blitz tournament because I know how long the line gets about 30 minutes beforehand. I figured if I was going to throw away $40, I might as well do it comfortably, right? That allowed me time to snack on a donut and a Mountain Dew while I watched the other participants registering. I met quite a few people while I waited, and everyone I talked to was really, really nice. The chess community, as a whole, is a very friendly bunch.

Okay, let’s get to the blitz tournament.

In the first round, I was paired with a guy who beat me badly twice in a row (we were playing two games with each opponent, 5 rounds) with a beer in his hand. I forgot to check his rating but trust me, he didn’t play like an Under 1900. People were complaining after a few rounds that a 2180 and a 2400 had somehow made it into the U1900 category. I’d be real curious to see if my first opponent wasn’t one of these entries, because I was playing a strong game, I had a clear advantage out of each opening, and this cat found mating nets out of nowhere. The rest of my games were so-so, and that’s to be expected for after-midnight blitz.

At first, we were upstairs from the main tourney hall in a small room, boards all set up and ready to go. Each year the event is held in that room, but this year there were too many players for it to hold. So, we were all herded back downstairs to Pacific Ballroom where the main event was held each day. I never got an official count, but if I were to estimate, I’d say 150 entries would be in the ballpark.

Once we finally got settled and playing, it was much later than originally scheduled. I was fortunate enough not to have played in the main event or I would have been brutally tired. As it was, I was full, caffeinated, awake and ready to thump some pieces around. I’m garbage at blitz but I enjoy it from time to time, so I was ready for some battles.

Now for the fun stuff.

The place was so packed that the pairing sheets were hard to get near enough to see. I finally muscled my way close enough to read one of them for the second-round pairings, but it was upside down on a table. I managed my way to the playing tables, set up my board, pieces, and clock, and waited for the TD to announce game start. I noticed that the poor girl adjacent to me had no opponent; it was late, so I figured he or she may have just taken off.

Finally, we could start. My opponent and I were well out of the opening and trying to figure out middle game plans when the TD showed up behind me and asked if I was Derek Odom. I answered yes, and he pointed at the opponent-less girl and said that I was supposed to be playing her. So, I thought, *that’s* why she was sitting alone! *I* was her opponent! I apologized and moved over, played my staple 1. Nf3 and the game was afoot. I won the first one and lost the second on time – she was pretty good!

It was something like 3 A.M. when a large crowd gathered around a certain game. Pieces were banging loudly and the clock was clearly being abused. Two IMs were in extreme time trouble and trying desperately to flag each other without getting mated in the process. One of their bishops got knocked over when it was moved, and was actually laying on its side, off the chess mat.

Thinking he was being nice, the other IM picked the bishop up and placed it back on the board. The other IM informed him, loudly, that the bishop wasn’t on that square. Yes it was, said the other. They went on like this for a few seconds before the first IM picked the bishop up and threw it at his opponent. Luckily, the TD was right there and so no fistfight ensued. I couldn’t help but think of the story where Alekhine threw his king at his opponent after losing. Chess players definitely get weird about their games, sometimes.

Near the 4 A.M. mark, there was another noisy dispute, this time between much lower rated players. I lost my final game on time and quickly got up to see what the commotion was. Apparently, there was a brand new player in the event who was not aware that an upside-down rook was a queen, and he neglected to move out of check. He hit the clock, and the dispute was on.

The TD explained to him that he was to continue from the position where he was checked, and the player refused; he wanted to continue from the position *before* the check. The TD insisted, and the player got a little louder. The TD informed him that if he said another word the game would be a loss, and the player said another few words.

“Fine, you forfeit this game, then!” yelled the TD.

After another couple of loud exchanges, the TD told the player that if he kept it up, he’d forfeit the next game, as well (it was his first game of two with that opponent). The guy told the TD no, it wouldn’t be, and the TD announced a double-loss. By then the crowd was so big around them that I don’t know what happened in the end, but it probably wasn’t good for the unrated player. I have to agree with the TD on this one: it’s up to registrants to know the rules if they enter a competition. I believe the TD did nothing wrong. Also, he was an older gentleman and it was four in the morning; I’m convinced he was in no mood for tom-foolery.

The girlfriend and I didn’t wait around to see who won. I believe the last round was scheduled for 1:15 in the morning or so, and the event didn’t end until 4:00; who knows how long it took to decide the winners of each category and cut the checks? We ended up giving a ride to a really nice guy I met at the tournament (we used to work together online) and then heading back to our hotel. I had a quick snack and laid down, dreading the alarm I would hear five short hours later. We live four hours from Las Vegas, which turns into six hours with holiday traffic.

I had a wonderful time, though, in spite of the abuse I put my poor body through. You can bet your bishops I’ll be back next year. Heck, I may even play. Having the freedom to move about and keep an eye on the GM games is really neat, though; maybe I’ll just cover the event and lose the blitz tourney once more.

Until next year, kind readers. :)

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