In this first part of this 2 part series, Dr. Nagendra Rentala, shares his experience of the Chess Festival in Las Vegas.
The 23rd Annual North American Open was held immediately after Christmas from December 26-31, 2013 at the Bally’s Casino Resort in Las Vegas, USA. The tournament was conducted in the traditional Swiss league format unique to Chess in 6 different Elo rating sections (ranging from 1250 to 2300) plus the open section. As opposed to league (all play all) format, in Swiss league events players with the same or close enough scores are paired to play in each round. The pairing is done automatically using a well established algorithm that takes into account the ratings of the players, the color with which a player played in the previous game, the cumulative score etc.
With over 1000 players, their coaches / parents and spectators thronging the corridors of the Pacific and Las Vegas ballrooms, it was a veritable Chess Festival as is customary during these Mega Opens. There were free lectures by reigning US Women’s Champion GM Irina Krush during the event. With a total prize money in excess of $120,000, these events attract a large number of foreign and local Grand Masters and International Masters looking forward to some serious competition and financial gains. In addition, there are several talented youngsters seeking their own GM and IM norms while challenging the established players. And of course a handful of occasional hobby players like myself keeping their gray cells active.
Compared to my own experiences of participating in Swiss league open events in India during the 70’s and 80’s, one sea change I have observed is that in the same event like for example the Open, players can choose different schedules. For instance, a player can opt for the sedate 5 day schedule or the leisurely 4 day schedule, to the crash schedule of 3 days to cram the total number of 9 games to be played. All three schedules merge towards the final three games. It is not unusual for some players to check the on-line entry list in each schedule before taking their pick. I always prefer the 5-day schedule though since I want to enjoy playing as a hobby player these days. While these convenient and customized schedules help more players to participate by setting their own playing pace (and save on hotel room expenses with the crash schedule), it invariably leads to confusion with the pairings, seating arrangements, delays in start of the numerous events etc. But then again Chess players are known for their infinite patience. In spite of these logistic challenges, the Continental Chess Association organized the 5- day festival without serious complaints from the players. I have not seen too many tournament officials / volunteers which makes these events a really close knit and tight run ship by the organizers.
Before the event started, the escalators leading to the Pacific and Las Vegas ballrooms were shut -down for repairs making access to the playing halls a nightmare for most players. As a result, the elevators were working overtime at peak hours. We came to know about the stairs at the far back of the playing hall after the second day. Just before the start of each game, players were rushing to find their opponent’s name from the pairing roster, collect the score sheet from the registration room and finally settle down at the table setting up their own board, pieces and the clock. Players bringing their own Chess equipment has become a norm in these mega opens. As an Organizer in the 80’s and 90’s I remember the pain of maintaining the chess equipment, setting them up for the games and retrieving them at the end (sometimes with a pawn or a knight missing) with a team of volunteers. I am glad organizing Chess events has become a whole lot more stream-lined but with a different set of challenges these days.
The problem with players bringing their own board and pieces is that sometimes you land in an amusing situation where your opponent sets up a wrinkled chess board with pieces wobbling precariously at the creases and you constantly have to announce and ‘adjust’ the pieces to avoid penalties from the ‘touch and move’ rule. I found it more convenient to be the first player at the table and set up my own (hopefully) better playing equipment
In all the seven games I participated (I had to default the last two games to put out some year- end work related fires), there was at least a 15 minute delay before starting the game. The playing halls were spacious and well-lit with ample elbow and leg room for comfortable seating. Each game started with a routine set of announcements from the Tournament Director about the imperative of turning off the cell phones (If a player’s cell phone rings during the game, he / she forfeits the game no questions asked and a spectator whose cell phone rings gets thrown out of the hall), the time control, general admonition to all to avoid flash photography etc.
There was also the directive for both players to mark the result at the end of each game on the yellow pairing sheet. Amusingly I was the victim (beneficiary !?) of not following this directive after the first game. I lost a tense game to IM Chen Wang of China in the first round. I thought Chen, being the victor, would mark the result. Probably unfamiliar with the custom in US and not knowing the language, Chen did not post the result. An unmarked result is deemed a draw and as a result, I was paired against the much higher rated GM Sevillano in the second round. I lost that one too before getting on the score board from round three.
The Monroi PCM (Personal Chess Manager) was used on all the top boards to record the moves in algebraic notation and beam the games instantly on giant screens for the benefit of spectators. As is usual in the open events, top players tend to play it safe towards the end of the tournament opting for quick draws, resulting in an eight-way tie with 6.5 points out of 9. When the dust settled, GM Giorgi Kacheishvili (Elo rating 2578) of NY lead the pack on tie- break score. After an eight way split, his share of the prize money was $2952.63 that included the winner’s bonus of $300. My first round nemesis IM Chen Wang of China also scored 6.5 out of 9 and was at the trail- end of the winner’s group. Curiously Jeffrey De Jesus of Texas rated at 2249 scored 6 out of 7 winning the Under 2300 event solo and ran away with the bigger pay check of $6,832.