Thursday, April 30, 2009

Traveling with Catalina Foothills - Part 2

Paul Gold traveled with the Catalina Foothills High School chess team to the recent SuperNationals IV. Paul continues his journey from Day 1 with this second installment of his recap from Nashville, TN.

Day Two – 3 April
As I wrote this on the morning prior to the opening ceremonies at the Grand Old Opry House, followed by the SuperNationals tournament proper, I thought I should say a few words about the site itself. The Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort was one of the largest hotels I had ever seen, with some 2800+ hotel rooms and seemingly endless conference space – perfect for this kind of event. The structure was a series of floors of sleeping rooms that face inward toward lush atriums, gardens and even an indoor waterway, capped by a glassed ceiling hundreds of feet above. This created a dramatic feeling when one first entered. The grounds were truly labyrinthine, although there were good maps everywhere…still, it was very easy to get turned around and lost – good thing we coordinated cell phones to stay connected. There were a number of eateries in the place but you could go to the Opryland Mall as well for a bite.

There is even an indoor boat ride.

On the way back from another breakfast/lunch at the mall, we stopped in at the Grand Old Opry building to catch the opening ceremony speeches, punctuated by some fine words from astronaut Greg Chamitoff. The main attraction was former World Champion Garry Kasparov, who remarked that he remembered being a scholastic player in large events and that the thing he hated the most was opening ceremonies (with respect to the organizers – big laughs). But truly he understood that the players come to play chess, as much and as soon as possible!

Before the opening round I dropped into the enormous bookseller and chess booth area, where I was delighted to locate Chess Life editor Dan Lucas by pure chance. Dan and I (and Robby) had carried on a lengthy running conversation for months as The Wavemaster article was generated and edited. I always imagine people as looking a certain way that is consistently incorrect, sometimes comically, though for some reason I had not developed a mental picture of Dan – perhaps this was because we never actually spoke, all of our contact being online. It turned out that Dan is a tennis player – he lives in Atlanta and was here with his son. Dan was articulate and a good listener and I found him to be immediately warm and accessible.

Today would be the start of the tournament, with rounds at 1:00 PM and 7:00 PM. It was expected that maybe 350 players (~50 teams) would compete in the K-12 Championship section and that the Foothills team would be challenged right off the bat – while Eli’s 1894 rating ranked him 95th, the accelerated pairings would likely pair him up in the first round – this is known as being “on the split”, in Swiss system terminology. This turned out to be true, Eli pairing up to play a 2200 player. At the end of the round, Jacquelyn led the charge with an upset over a 1600-rated player, while the rest of the player pairings held form, the exception being a tough loss for Kevin paired down. Robby worried this result a lot, tempered by the fact that Kevin did not make any really obvious mistakes and that his opponent played strongly. So the team got off to a not-so-roaring start, but not so bad either.

Between rounds I wandered over to visit GM Tal Shaked, a famous chess acquaintance from his playing days in Tucson – Tal is now a software engineer for Google, 31 years old and engaged to be married. He gave up his chess playing career at the age of 21; how many people can you think of that would eschew something they do at world class level at such an early age? I figured Tal must often be in some kind of a twilight zone, indelibly known for his GM status, however, inactive as a player. Tal was voluble, articulate and just downright friendly – I enjoyed talking with him very much. We had lunch together and shared a bit of catching up along with some editorializing commentary on the folks we know in common, critical but kindhearted.

We stopped by the team room in which Ross Colby was holding forth – Tal is here to help analyze games with Ross’ players. Ross is another old home Tucson favorite, now living in Philadelphia, teaching philosophy at the university level. Ross was busy with his kids but we had a few minutes to share and he quickly asked about his omission from the Wavemaster article – I hate having to miss important people – I knew we could not include everyone. But Ross was very kind and funny and knew all of that – still he got in a little dig about being a chess teacher long before Robby and to note that influence. Ross is a wonderful teacher with a razor sharp wit and intellect to boot.

Round two results were pretty grim for the Cat Foot team – not too many points to tally at the end; Robby would note that after this round the team was in 9th place. Kevin recovered nicely from his first round trouble with a hard fought win. The diagram below shows a critical position.

Kevin just played Re4. See how this wins?

Andy remained in the best form this round, winning quickly. Poor Eli suffered a loss paired way down – he is such a smart person that I could only attribute fatigue to his poor play. Sam lost paired down, holding a worse position for a long time – I believe this tenacity will pay dividends in his chess and life (he held a 2000 player to a draw in round 1). Jacquelyn’s upset streak would halt in this round, but she still stood well with 1 out of 2 paired up. Jenelle would hold out to the last paired up but also eventually lost. Michael won in round one but had an oversight or two that led to a loss in round two.

Scores after two rounds:
Andy: 2
Eli: 0
Hugh: 0
Jacob: 0
Jacquelyn: 1
Jenelle: 1
Kevin: 1
Michael: 1
Sam: ½
Sangeetha: 2
The first day at nationals was closed out with a sighting of Ed Friesen, an old friend of Ken Larsen’s and someone I knew when he lived in Tucson, 20 years ago. I just did not recognize him – we are all getting old! Ed and his wife are ministers in the Nashville area.

Join us again soon as Paul continues his adventure at SuperNationals IV with the Catalina Foothill High School chess team.

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