Friday, May 1, 2009

Traveling with Catalina Foothills - Part 4

Paul Gold traveled with the Catalina Foothills High School chess team to the recent SuperNationals IV. After an exciting three days (1, 2, 3...) of chess, Paul wraps up the last day at the tournament.

Day Four – 5 April

Today Kevin and I had a discussion about whether it is harder to play kids or adults and the resounding answer was kids! I found myself thinking more and more that opponent ratings are a good thing to ignore altogether, but especially when playing young people. For instance, I don't think that Eli's loss to a 1300 player in round two would have happened if that player was an adult, and the same goes for Andy and Kevin’s troubles paired down. Darn kids! This morning for the third straight day I got going with a large cup of strong coffee and cream, provided by the Egyptian ladies set up near Chess Control. God bless them. The round six pairings had a promising look to them on paper, most everyone pairing down, and the varsity team scored well. Sometimes pokey Sam quickly scored the first point, followed by wins by Eli, Andy and Jenelle, with Kevin making a draw. This was another one of Kevin’s missed opportunities that made Robby howl with frustration, but it was indeed late in the event and fatigue was markedly evident in the faces of the players. It was not as happy for the rest of the team – Jacqui had another long game on the wrong side of things, as did Michael. In the JV sections, Hugh and Jacob lost but Sangeetha came through with a win, leaving her with trophy chances intact for the last round.

Scores after six rounds:
Andy: 4
Eli: 3
Hugh: 1
Jacob: 2
Jacquelyn: 2
Jenelle: 3
Kevin: 4
Michael: 1.5
Sam: 4
Sangeetha: 4
Apparently Gilbert had had a disastrous sixth round, falling from 8th to 13th place in the current team standings, so that was something to note in the race for top AZ team. Foothills' good scoring in round six moved them from 11th to 7th place, making some kind of an end run the topic for Robby’s buoyant words to the kids delivered before the round. There was more credence to the "rating means nothing" theory as Jacqui would be paired in the final round against a player rated 600. I’d not spent too much time looking at it because Andy was the only Cat Foot player to sit up there on the stage, but top-ranked IM Robert Hess seemed to be doing his thing, sporting a 6-0 score going into the last round; must be cool to be able to stay on board one throughout the event. Hess would go on to be champion – I am told that a perfect score is rather rare in the top section.

Erwin and I had helped again with the pairing posting before the round, but we had also unwittingly agreed to hand out participation medals (a nice touch by the organizers) and collect tournament sets and boards as the players completed their games. I later found myself thinking "doh!" – it is always fine with me to help, but we got to see nothing of the games in progress, having to rely on translating the favorability of Robby's body language and facial expressions. But our work was appreciated by the USCF. Thank you still goes a long way in my book. [Ed. note - Thank you, thank you, thank you!]

The first player to finish was a shock – Andy, paired down as White, had somehow lost, and in one of his favorite openings…how could this be? Robby later explained that Andy's opponent had pulled off some kind of tactic, although Andy later said that it was not that great and that he had just missed it. This was a heavy blow, as Robby was counting on that point in particular. Still, the show goes on. And at least Andy was not as despondent as he seemed in earlier round losses. Sam made a draw paired up, finishing up a pretty nice event, a run that was continuing from his last USCF adult event, where he gained nearly 100 points. Eli finished with a win, completing a mini-comeback on the last day. After that, a long time passed before I finally saw another Cat Foot player. Behold! I finally set eyes on Jacob, who won his game. Hugh’s game was in progress nearby, and we were impressed at how long the game went; he would eventually lose, but seemed to enjoy being in Nashville with the team. Hugh is often very quiet, at least around me, but I also know that he really just learned to play chess this year. Sangeetha came in with a big winner’s smile, finishing with 5/7, which would indeed qualify her for some hardware. After that there was another long gap; eventually Michael finished with a draw. Jacqui fought to the bitter end – she lost but her competitive spirit was intact, seething through her teeth that "that game was the stupidest game I ever played!" This would leave just Jenelle out there. Since Leland Sanson could not make the trip due to illness, Jenelle was the lone senior, playing her final competitive high school chess game. I gave her a lot of credit. Her deliberate nature often made her the last Foothills player to finish. She would lose this game but a lot of effort was expended, as I saw it – she never gave up. Perhaps a bigger battle looms in her first year at Stanford in the fall.

Cat Foot would indeed best Gilbert – they placed 7th in the final standings, a half point and two places above Michael Reading’s team from the Phoenix area. Robby calculated that one more point would have vaulted Foothills into 4th place, pretty amazing when you consider the number of freshman on the team; perhaps motivation for next year. Before going down to attend the awards ceremony, Robby and Erwin gave some words to the kids about teamwork and that they should hold their heads high, maintaining the Catalina Foothills class act. I was heartened to see that the players listened respectfully and attentively. There is no doubt that they learned something about themselves in the past several days. After the awards, we all trouped over to the mall for a dinner – everyone seemed lighthearted and enjoying themselves. I got to sit next to IM Lev Altounian, finally meeting him. He is a very perceptive person, noting many subtle and interesting things about players, coaches and the Tucson chess scene.

Foothills with the 7th place hardware

Final individual scores:
Andy: 4
Eli: 4
Hugh: 2
Jacob: 3
Jacquelyn: 2
Jenelle: 3
Kevin: 4.5
Michael: 2
Sam: 4.5
I truly enjoyed the entire SuperNationals experience – it actually made me feel like playing tournament chess again – very good for the soul. And the kids? They will all be going places. I'm sure of that.

Your author impersonates a famous swimmer

Thank you Paul for the articles. We hope to read more about your adventures either on vacation or at the board!

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