Tucson Open is one of my favorite competitions in Arizona to participate in. The tournament is one of the three adult tournaments held in Tucson each year and therefore attracts many adults from all over, while younger players have many more opportunities to compete during the chess year. The tournament is traditionally held on the January of each year and usually attracts lot of players not only different in age but in strength too. It is not uncommon to see most of the Arizona highest rated and titled players compete here along with some masters from New Mexico and California. With the recent addition of the “Scholastic” sections, the tournament also greatly gained in overall popularity. By my calculations there were 253 participants overall, with great many prizes, trophies and plaques for the winners in each section. I was amazed to see how many players (some actually really strong) from Mexico and Nogales were present this time. I don’t think I’ll be far off attributing the popularity of the tournament to the pleasant environment, its location (usually the Palo Verde Holliday Inn) and the professionalism of the organizers Enrique Huerta and Karen Pennock in running this tournament.
That might be one of the reasons that the Tucson Open has become the official Arizona State Championship battleground for the second year in a row. Last year the ACFI and SACA jointly decided that the Open section is perfect to also serve the purpose of deciding who the Arizona State Champion will be for that year. Unless the winner of the tournament is from another State, the Tucson Open Champion is also the Arizona State Champion for that year. I was able to win it last year and was looking forward to defending the title this year. It is never easy with so many strong and titled players participating along with many young and upcoming masters. However this year I had another reason to be there: my 4-years old daughter Ani was participating in the Scholastic section and as I unfortunately found out during the course of the tournament, being a chess parent and a tournament participant do not bode well.
I started the tournament with a very tough game with an expert Danny Schucker, who moved here from Gilbert, AZ to attend the U of A. To be perfectly honest, before the 1st round I was hoping to win the game fairly fast and spend the evening at home watching a movie we rented. That plan was not to become a reality, as the game took about 5 hours to complete and along the way I was very close to drawing the game. After coming home at 1 AM, I hoped the next day would be easier. In the round two I faced Master Nick Thompson, also from the Phoenix area. That was no better, as constantly checking out the situation with Ani and solving few problems along the way, I found myself both in a better position and in a time pressure. Missing several easy wins and winning only after a very long and tough battle, I started seriously wondering if this is an indication that my tournament strength is in a downward spiral, the chess is becoming harder or if the young Arizona players are seriously getting better. It was a weird feeling to both want to win the games and at the same time being proud of my opponents when they played strong moves. Round 3 found me facing my usual opponent, teammate and Foothills High School Coach Robby Adamson. We have played so many games against each other in all these years that for me it was hard to figure out even my very first move. Curiously we repeated the same line as we played about a decade ago with a slight deviation. The opening worked very well for me at the end and after a long and grueling fight, I won the game despite the usual very tough defense that Robby is well known for. In the next game I faced another very strong player and another teammate: Danny Rensch. Danny is a very charismatic character with a great desire to win every game he plays. Just ask the Grandmasters that lost to him recently. He is also the organizer of the widely popular Master Treks in Phoenix and was the Guest Instructor at the June Western Alliance Summer Chess Camp in Tucson. I was in an unusually peaceful mood that morning and once again was running around watching my daughter’s games. At some point the unclear game we had tilted in my favor, but when in my time pressure (once again) my opponent offered a draw, I decided not to temp the fate and accepted it. However, if the tournament had ended in a different way, I would probably regret my decision. Now I had to win my last game. I faced a very strong master Ben Marmont (also from the Phoenix area and now at the U of A) and played an opening I usually do not use. It did indeed work out well as on move 15 we reached the position I had on my laptop before going to the game but once again it was far from being an easy win and once again I was low on time.
The tournament ended with me winning the 2009 Tucson Open and therefore defending my Arizona State Championship title from the last year. Perhaps it is symbolic that the 2nd place winners were both young and very talented players ( Leo Martinez, David Adelberg ) followed by more talented and strong youth immediately after. Seeing that makes me very hopeful of the chess prospects in Arizona.
I would like to personally thank everyone for participating, making this event such a great success and hope to see everyone at many more chess tournaments and events here in Tucson.
IM Levon Altounian
Arizona Chess For Schools