Sunday, August 3

40th People's Tournament

The people are playing chess!  Credit: Chessdryad

The 40th annual People's Tournament took place at the Santa Clara Convention Center on the last weekend of July.  One of the Bay Area's oldest chess traditions, this event has survived changes in organizer and location in recent years.  My first People's dates back to 1995, when I was still a naive B player.  Every President's Day weekend, chess players young and old would meet at UC Berkeley for three days of mental gymnastics and listening to bongo drums.  The traditional venue, Pauley ballroom, offered a spectacular view of historic Sproul Plaza and the Campanile.  The tournament shares its name with People's Park, a nearby public park dating back to the protests of the 1960s.

Unfortunately, the chess community could not secure this breathtaking venue once student leaders moved on.  I won a hastily organized People's Replacement event of 2008 in Santa Clara.  The 35th edition in 2009 was the last at Pauley.  Subsequent years saw the tourney take on a nomadic existence under the auspices of Bay Area Chess, moving to Concord, Fremont, Pleasanton and finally to Santa Clara.  The dates also changed from February to July, avoiding a conflict with the popular Amateur Team West national championship.

This historical perspective brings us to the 2014 People's Tournament at the Santa Clara Convention Center. Roughly 175 chess enthusiasts and (for many) their parents participated in a weekend of mental gymnastics, minus the bongo drums.  The drummers were replaced by 30,000 fanatic 49ers season ticket holders attending the open house at brand new Levi's Stadium.  I cannot name any other chess tournaments held across the street from a major sports stadium!  The venue also lies adjacent to the Great America water park, which offers an evening fireworks show to complement the explosive tactics on the chess boards.

Top boards in final round. Credit: Chessdryad
Believe it or not, some people even played chess!  The top seeds, GM-elect Darwin Yang and IM Andrey Gorovets, travelled all the way from Texas.  Both finished in the money, but were surpassed in the final standings by a third Texan, SM Faik Aleskerov.  (Participants at master camps during July should recognize their coaches Andrey or Faik.)  A pair of California IMs, John Bryant and Vladimir Mezentsev, joined the 4-way tie for second behind Aleskerov.  The Bay Area youth attended in full force, with no fewer than ten players under 18 (mostly teenagers) and rated in the 2100s.  Amazingly, most of these talented experts gained rating points--at the cost of everyone else!  A special recognition goes to 10 year old Josiah Stearman, who shared top U2300 honors by vanguishing two tough emeritus NMs on the third day.

Major Prize Winners
  • Open: 1st = F.Aleskerov ; 2nd-5th = D.Yang, A.Gorovets, J.Bryant and V.Mezentsev ; U2300 = M.Aigner, J.Stearman
  • U2000: Yuan Wang
  • U1800: Seaver Dahlgren
  • U1600: Sunny Kahlon
  • U1400: Shawn Knapp, Sudha Kowtha

Aigner versus Sevillano in Round 6. Credit: my father
I turned in a successful result with an undefeated 4.0 out of 6 score.  This was my first performance above 2400 in more than six years, ironically since People's Replacement in 2008!  Actually, almost everything started badly, when I miscalculated a strong combination in Round 1 and could have resigned by move 25. Somehow, the high school student missed several tactics and traded into a drawn pawn endgame, which I botched three times (!) until he offered me a draw!?!?  I felt awful about my play, yet fortunate to have a half point.  I managed to recover and win two of the next three games, all against mid-expert level opponents. On the third day, I faced IM Andrey Gorovets and GM Enrico Sevillano, both rated over 2550, and earned two fighting draws.

Read full annotation of the Gorovets game on my website.

Thanks to Bay Area Chess for rescuing a tradition and to NM Richard Koepcke for capably directing over three long days, despite occasional periods of chaos.  

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