First, just a word about tournament prep. I think actually my greatest fear was about food. I actually put a pretty big effort into making sure that I had enough to eat in a bag with me at all times plus water. I had read some horror stories online about games going long and then the player having to rush to next game without time to eat. I'm not diabetic but I do have pretty serious reactions to blood sugar swings. I think it was smart of me but fortunately the schedule was quite relaxed, so even though one of my games did go fairly long, I was never in a situation where where I was desperate for food.
I was visiting my family in Minneapolis. I arrived there late Thursday and spent Friday hanging out and doing a very slight amount of opening prep, then drove the short 2 hours up to Duluth after dinner. I did have a slight problem with the hotel due to some complications with the online booking, but fortunately it got sorted out and I was into my room before too late. Word of warning: I didn't realize Duluth is a bit of a vacation spot in the summer, so actually hotels are super expensive for what you otherwise might be used to.
Round 1 was Saturday morning. The tournament venue was quite nice and there was plenty of parking in the area. It was right near the lake front, there were restaurants and a coffee shop. Also, Alex Yermolinsky was playing in the tournament. I'm still at that stage where seeing these famous grandmasters is unusual and cool for me. This is the second GM of real fame I had seen in person. (Nigel Short was here in Taipei campaigning for Kasparov at one point.) Also, IM John Bartholomew (of youtube fame) is a native MN player and was playing in the tourney.
Another thing I was happy to see was a surprising number of young women at the tourney. A number of these seemed to be teenagers. This seems to be a significant issue in the chess world. I don't want to stir controversy, but I guess I will just say that in my opinion, we will see the level of women's chess rise when we get more women playing at all levels and that begins with developing talent at the early stages. I can certainly understand that people feel there is room for argument on this topic, and this isn't my full view, but that's my basic belief.
My first round game, I went to my spot. Unfortunately, because I was traveling, I didn't have a board or a clock and this was an issue a couple of times. This first game, the fellow was super nice, but he hadn't played over the board in a while I think, and his clock was an analog one that couldn't do increment which it was supposed to. So we had to fuss around a bit at the beginning, eventually we got a digital clock but I think it still didn't do increment or we didn't know how to set it right, luckily it didn't matter at all.
Second game was against a little Russian girl who was rated maybe 1850 or so according to the tournament. I played white and we had a long game which she ended up winning despite the fact that several people told me (and I myself believed) that I was winning at one point. You may or may not think it strange, but I didn't much mind losing that game in the end. I felt quite good about it for the most part, and felt very much that I had gotten my confidence back, because online and against an 1800 something player I usually don't have much of anything happening.
Third game, neither my opponent nor I had board or clock so we had to get one from the organizers. I am quite sure that I was won, but I blundered and allowed him a perpetual or forced repetition to escape with a draw. This was a bit frustrating because I really felt I was set to win. I think this is where tournament inexperience came in. It had already been a long day with ups and downs. Again, the player was rated significantly higher than me and by ICC standards it should have been no contest for him. I am also very aware that sometimes it can be harder for me to hold it together when I think I am winning than when I think I am losing. I actually don't feel too bad defending, but I can get quite over-excited when I feel I am winning, especially if there are other issues to increase the nerves. So, I was consciously trying to rein in my excitement and focus on the game, but in the end, I fell victim to a kind of tunnel vision that I am familiar with where I start focusing just on finishing the opponent off and forget that he still has possibilities. I also felt that my opponent was less than perfectly polite. It wasn't anything egregious, and I definitely would not say anything unsportsmanlike, I just felt a sort of unpleasant attitude from him, and he had a habit of getting up and walking around the room to look at other games a lot. Again, there's nothing wrong with that at all, but due to my inexperience it affected me a little bit and contributed to a sub-optimal headspace.
So, after this I went back to the hotel. I thought I might study a bit, but I ended up just taking a shower and watching a Johnny Depp movie and chatting with my wife on skype a bit.
Morning round, on Sunday. Actually had fairly high hopes going into Sunday. (Obviously not for money or anything.) My idea coming up here was to win one game. I figured this was possible because if I kept losing I would eventually be paired against a player much closer to my level. After how I played on Saturday, I actually felt like I had a chance to go 50%. I felt I had gotten good positions against players that were ratings wise heavy favorites, and that on Sunday I would be paired with players at the bottom end like myself. Unfortunately, not to be.
Round 4, my opponent had a fancy digital clock but didn't know how to operate it. Luckily we were able to find someone who could help us after the round had already started. I felt in round 4 I played the opening well and was starting to get an attack going where he didn't have much going for him. I'm not sure how accurate this impression was. I will have to analyze to find out. However, I felt I was doing ok. I think I have an idea of one turning point in the game, and this was followed by a blunder on my part that simply dropped a piece. I played on for a bit but it ended quickly then.
So, again, I was disappointed but felt there were things to be happy with. I took a break and came back determined to win my last game, only to find I had been given a bye. Fortunately they had a house player. So, I got to get a rated game in. Now they told me before hand that he was rated about 1200 and that he was just a parent of one of the chess playing kids. So this game didn't change my tournament result which was 1.5 / 5, but it did change my USCF rating.
Luckily I got white, and played my now standard English. He seemed to leave a pawn hanging in the opening. As I have said before, this is another mental weakness, that when I expect to win a game, sometimes I don't check such things because I feel that this is just what to expect. Luckily, I double checked, found the trap and avoided it. However, he played surprisingly well given what I understood about the rating system at that point, and he ended up beating me in a nice endgame. It was I think a valuable game in terms of learning potential, but of course did leave me feeling slightly sour about my point total. He himself was super pleasant.
Overall, my experience was really great. I obviously have a lot of things that I need to work on. In that respect I feel my result was an accurate reflection of my ability to play over the board chess. However, I still feel good about a number of the positions I was able to create on the board, so surprisingly I ended up feeling pretty happy.
Also, want to thank the organizers, as I did have a couple of small issues come up as I mentioned and things were always resolved smoothly. I would definitely do it again if I could.