Wednesday, February 20

People's Replacement Tournament in Santa Clara

(Photo of time scramble at the end of round 1 game Alan Naroditsky vs Michael Aigner. Thanks to Mark Shelton of ChessDryad.)

The annual People’s Chess Tournament in February is one of the oldest traditions of Northern California chess. Its history dates back to the topsy-turvy era of free speech and free love in Berkeley around the early 1970s. Normally the tournament takes place in magnificent Pauley Ballroom looking out at Sproul Plaza and the Campanile (Sather Tower) on the campus of UC Berkeley. The spirit of the counterculture remains alive today, symbolized by the incessant noise generated by the bongo drummers that spend each afternoon in the plaza.

Unfortunately, a scheduling snafu robbed us chess players of this tradition in 2008, for the second time in three years. When it appeared there would be no People’s Tournament at all, South Bay organizer Salman Azhar stepped up to the plate despite only three week’s notice. The People’s Replacement Tournament was definitely not the Real Thing, but it would have to suffice. The event was moved 50 miles south to the library of Granada School in Santa Clara. Only four rounds were played over two days, instead of the usual three-day schedule. And at least one veteran player complained about the lack of drums. On the bright side, the new venue allowed easy freeway access and plenty of free parking.

About 80 players showed up for the 1200+ sections while another 40 kids played in the one-day side event restricted to players rated under 1200. These attendance figures allowed Dr. Azhar to increase the advertised prize fund slightly to $2500, a respectable 71% of last year’s payout in Berkeley despite having 45 fewer players. Players competed in four sections: Master/Expert, Class A, Class B and Class C/D. In an era of G/30, G/45 and G/60 tournaments, the People’s time control was slow enough for classical chess: 30/90, G/60. In fact, some parents remarked how pleased they were to see their kids actually take their time to think while playing chess!

The top section featured local IM Ricardo DeGuzman as the top seed, followed by two FMs and two NMs. Upsets began rolling in as early as the first round: fifth grader Yian Liou (1900) crushed FM Eric Schiller’s anti-Dutch system within 20 moves but high school student NM Sam Shankland could only draw against extensive opening preparation by adult expert Brendan Purcell (2023). In the third round, reigning world U12 champion FM Danya Naroditsky calmly held DeGuzman to a draw. These results left this reporter as the only player with a perfect 3-0 score going into the final round, with DeGuzman, Shankland and Naroditsky tied for second at 2.5 each.

That set up my critical round 4 pairing with IM DeGuzman. We played many times before, with DeGuzman scoring a lopsided 23.5/27 = 87%. I had never won, achieving just seven draws despite several completely winning positions. Our typical game saw DeGuzman overcoming an opening disadvantage through his creative and aggressive middle and endgame play.

Aigner, Michael (2242) vs IM DeGuzman, Ricardo (2457)
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 e6 6. Be3 Nd4 7. Nce2 Ne7 8. c3 Nxe2 9. Nxe2 d6 10. d4 cxd4 11. Bxd4 e5 12. Be3 O-O 13. Qd3 Qc7 14. Rd1 Rd8 15. c4 Be6 16. b3 Qa5+ 17. Qd2 Qc7 18. O-O a6 19. Nc3 Qa5 20. Nd5 Qxd2 21. Nxe7+ Kf8 22. Nxg6+ hxg6 23. Rxd2 b5 24. c5 dxc5 25. Bxc5+ Ke8 26. Rxd8+ Rxd8 27. Be3 Bf8 28. h4 Ba3 29. Kh2 Rc8 30. Rd1 Rc2 31. Rd2 Rc8 32. Re2 Bc1 33. Bb6 Rc6 34. Ba7 f6 35. Bh3 Bf7 36. Kg2 a5 37. Bg4 a4 38. bxa4 bxa4 39. Re1 Bxa2 40. Be2 Rc3 41. Bb5+ Kf7 42. Bxa4 Be6 43. Be3 Bxe3 44. Rxe3 Rxe3 45. fxe3 Bg4 46. Bb3+ Ke7 47. Kf2 Kf8 48. Ke1 Bf3 49. Bc2 Ke7 50. Kf2 Bg4 51. Bd3 Kf8 52. Be2 Bd7 53. Ke1 Bc6 54. Bd3 Kg7 55. g4 Kh6 56. Kd2 Bb7 57. Kc3 Bc8 58. Be2 Bb7 59. Bf3 Kg7 60. Kc4 f5 61. g5 Kf7 62. Kd3 Ba6+ 63. Kd2 Bb7 64. Ke2 fxe4 65. Bg4 Bd5 66. Bc8 Ke7 67. Kf2 Bb3 68. Bb7 Bc2 69. Ke2 Ke6 70. Kd2 Bb1 71. Kc3 Bd3 72. Bc6 Ke7 73. Kb4 Bb1 74. Kc5 Ba2 75. Bxe4 Bf7 76. Bd5 Be8 77. Bg8 Ba4 78. Bc4 Bd7 79. Bd3 1-0

To replay this game, click on the link to Chess Publisher.

The game in Santa Clara was no different; I achieved a huge opening advantage from the white side of the Maroczy bind. The veteran IM meekly lost a pawn with 19… Qa5 allowing the thematic tactic 20.Nd5, but the game had just begun. Surely a clear pawn up should be enough to win. However, after two inaccuracies (I should have played 32.Bh3 instead of Re2 and 34.Ba5 instead of Ba7), history was well on its way to repeat. Was this the DeGuzman Curse?

Fortunately, history would not repeat itself. Known for impeccable play in the late middlegame and endgames, the sly magician blundered with the greedy 39… Bxa2 when the pawn push a3 would have sufficed for an advantage. The brilliant retreat 40.Be2 threatens three black targets on the a5-e8 diagonal and, from this point forth, black was in trouble. The bishop of same color endgame up a pawn that resulted from further trades on moves 44 and 45 was merely a matter of technique despite white’s doubled pawns. After nearly seven years since our first meeting, the monkey is off my back!

Approximately a quarter of the players in the tournament won a part of the prize fund. Much has been said about the rise of scholastic chess in our area, with many adults dropping out simply because they no longer can keep up with the tactical skill of underrated kids. In fact, the three players who tied for second place in the Master/Expert section were age 12, 14 and 16. But there is still a glimmer of hope for the older generation: the Class A and Class C winners were all adults! Hopefully this success by George Mandrusov, Harold Parker and Kenneth Voss can inspire players at their age not to quit but rather to keep fighting on.

List of Winners
Master: 1st NM Michael Aigner; 2nd NM Sam Shankland and FM Danya Naroditsky
Expert: Rohan Agarwal
Class A: George Mandrusov
Class B: Kartik Chillakanti and Chris Tsai
Class C: Harold Parker and Kenneth Voss
Class D: Muhammed Mohideen
U1200: Daniel Liu, Stephen Leung and Rahul Swaminathan
U900: Linus Wang and Malik Khalil
U500: Muzammil Khan

1200+ rated:
U1200 rated:
Saturday photos:
Sunday photos:

1 comment: said...

This was a really fun tournament to go to!