Well, folks, Day Three ended as exciting as anything chess-related can end. Before I get into that, though, allow me to try and convey how it feels to be in the playing hall at any given moment.
A chess tournament of this size is quite possibly one of the only events in the world where a couple thousand people can be in the same room and yet the only sounds are the occasional cough, and clothes reporting as people walk. One doesn’t realize how much noise clothes make when we move until one is in a setting like that; it’s really intriguing. It made me realize why Ninja wear tight suits.
I noticed this year that there are very, very few analog clocks being used. Just about everyone has moved on to digital. While that is kind of sad in a way, it’s also a sign of the times; digital clocks are far more accurate and they allow for multiple time controls and increments, so they are hard to argue with. Most of the clocks here are either the Chronos variety (touch-sensitive, mostly – push-buttons have all but gone the way of the dodo) or the blue Saitek plastic jobs. Both are very nice.
Okay, on to the good stuff.
So, I’m sitting and watching a game in which two 1940s USCF players are battling it out in an endgame. One player was a male, and had a lot more time on his clock than his female opponent, who had an easily won game. Making sense? I am not very caffeinated yet this morning.
Anyhow, it was king and pawn vs. queen and king – it’s not hard to win that, but it’s technical, and the lady’s opponent was giving her every bit of grief he possibly could. Stalemate threats were all over the place, so she had to be careful with each and every move. She was making a few inaccuracies due to being low on time, but she was generally doing well. Suddenly her cell phone, which was in her handbag on the table, began ringing very loudly. At first I thought it was me, but I’m very careful about muting mine.
She finally got her hands on it and it stopped going off, but it was far too late. The TD came over and announced that she would suffer a ten-minute loss because of the offense.
He picked the clock up, messed with it a bit, placed it back on the table and said, “You now have four minutes instead of fourteen. Good luck.” It was ruthless but again, big props to Continental Chess for sticking to their guns and enforcing the rules. Needless to say, she wasn’t happy but she kept going, neglecting to continue writing moves down due to being very low on time.
Ten minutes later, her phone went off again. None of us could believe it.
She pointed at her purse and continued to look for the correct move on the board because she had almost no time left. I reached in, pulled the offending phone out, and desperately searched for the button that would shut it up. I didn’t find it and after she made her move and hit the clock, she took it from me and fuddled with it. The problem was, she didn’t know how to shut it off, either. Uh-oh.
While this was going on, two IMs were battling in an extremely technical endgame, and they were both terribly low on time. That made for a bad combination, as it’s never a good idea to disturb an IM in any portion of the game, but especially when low on time.
The TD came back over and announced that the second offense was an automatic loss, and stopped the clock. The girl was very upset, and began pleading with him, loudly. One IM stood up and yelled for everyone to go outside. The voices quieted, but not by much. It’s tough to find chess-drama but when you do, it’s highly entertaining.
That’s when something weird and very touching happened.
The female said to her opponent that since she was in such an easily won position, they should have forced a draw instead of a loss – it just wasn’t fair. Her opponent, who had just won the game by forfeit and had the full point, told her he’d take a draw, but he wasn’t sure the TDs would allow it. She brought one over, they discussed it, and the game was drawn. That was definitely one of the coolest, most selfless maneuvers I have seen in a long time.
Once that debate was settled, I went to watch the IMs play, which was the only game still going on. These IMs are very, very young; one of them doesn’t look a day over sixteen and the other maybe eighteen. One IM is just under the 2500 Elo mark, the other just above. These are not patzers. I took a gander at the position and decided that I had no clue how I would proceed, and these poor guys each had less than six minutes on their clocks in which to do so. Oh, boy. I snapped a few silent pictures off as they struggled, which I think turned out real, real good.
Strong move after strong move was made, and a ton of rook checks and double-exclam pawn pushes, all very quickly. I hate to use the term, but this was pure chess porn. I’m a total nerd, and so I’m literally getting chills writing about it and revisiting the moment in my head.
Finally, the lower-rated IM made a fatal mistake and dropped one of his pawns. He had another pawn that would be captured easily and with mate to follow, so he stopped the clock and offered his hand, which his opponent gladly shook. They did a little post-game rehash and got up to wander back to their rooms. It was 12:30 in the morning and the huge ballroom was almost completely empty. There’s nothing like watching a hard-fought game. It really was awesome.
I snapped a picture of the chess clock just before they shut it down: the losing player had 4 seconds left, the winner 7.
That’s chess, ladies and gentlemen, at the highest and most brutal level.