I recently had the chance to travel to the West Coast for two events a week apart. My first event (August 16-20) was an all-woman IM norm round robin in Berkeley, California organized by the Berkeley Chess School. If you are thinking that that sounds like an unusual event that would be difficult to organize, you are correct 🙂
The Berkeley Chess School was founded in 1982 by Elizabeth Shaughnessy, an Irish Women’s champion and member of the Irish Women’s Olympiad team. It has grown to offer chess instruction in more than 135 schools and recreation centers reaching 7000+ children in the Bay Area. In the tournament hall, I enjoyed studying the map of the Bay Area which marked all the places where BCS ran programs.
Elizabeth mentioned a fact about BCS to me of which she was particularly proud. It purchased the building in which it is housed, turned it into a chess center, and being a 501(c) (3) non-profit, it will remain a chess center for future generations of chess players to enjoy.
I can absolutely see why that is so meaningful for Elizabeth and a kind of culmination of her life’s work. Growing up in NY, I had the chance to play at two legendary clubs of the twentieth century: the Marshall and Manhattan Chess Clubs. Unfortunately, only one of them owned their own building, and only one of them exists today. A permanent home is a crucial factor in the bid for longevity and long-lasting impact.
Now here’s the surprise: Elizabeth is 82 years old. I have to admit that I was shocked at learning that, as it’s so hard to associate that number with the energy she has. She drives, she works, and she was the visionary behind this whole initiative of organizing an all-female norm tournament, because she wants to see women getting more opportunities and recognition in chess. It is really amazing to see her still have so much energy and desire to undertake these initiatives for the chess community!
The hardest part about putting on the event was…getting the players. It is simply not that easy to find enough titled female players in the Western hemisphere. It also didn’t help that the dates coincided with the North American Youth Championship in Canada, which took away a few potential invitees. Elizabeth was even told by a member of the Bay Area chess community that they wouldn’t be able to pull it off! (I think she was happy to prove that prediction wrong).
Elizabeth’s right hand woman for the organization of the event was WGM Carla Heredia, who recently moved to the Bay Area. Carla used her contacts to invite the top female players from South America and Cuba. In the end, we had a very international field, representing Canada, Cuba, Argentina, Mongolia, and the United States.
While I was the top seed by a bit, I expected to get competition for first place from IM Carolina Lujan from Argentina, IM Lisandra Ordaz from Cuba, and our own rising star Annie Wang, who recently received her IM title by winning the Pan-American Under 20 Championship in Bolivia. Ironically, Annie’s victory in Bolivia made an IM norm performance less crucial for her, though she was really the most likely in the field to achieve it (and she did).
As it turned out, neither Carolina nor Lisandra were in the most optimal shape and it turned into a two horse race between me and Annie. Our matchup in round five had all the drama of our game a few years ago in the US Women’s Championship.
The game had been proceeding pretty smoothly for me; I had been nursing a pawn advantage in a queen and rook endgame, and a not particularly difficult winning move was available to me on move 48. But I was down to a few minutes, and I made a mistake, compounded with a really big mistake on the next move, and suddenly my advantage was gone and my king was falling under an attack!
I still could have held it together with precise play, but with no time and the psychological shock, I kept playing badly and should have lost at that stage. So many things happened between moves 48 and 64, when Annie had a hallucination that allowed me to trade queens by force and go into a rook endgame up a pawn. But since this game was destined to be dramatic, my technique was not the best and I found a way not to win with two connected passed pawns. It was a long game and we were the last ones in the playing hall when it finished around 10 PM.
I definitely learned something from this game: avoid time trouble at all costs. Even though I can’t say I played slowly, and it is natural to get low on time deep in the endgame of a G/90 +30 increment time control (no second time control), it was a big reminder of the price of little time. I could have lost up a pawn in a queen and rook endgame. Overall good time management helped me pick up a number of points in this tournament.
The next pivotal moment in the tournament for me was against Lisandra Ordaz in round eight. She had 1 point less than me and was playing White. However, I didn’t feel like trying to “hold” as Black, and went again with 1.d4 d6 which I’d already tried against Thalia Cervantes earlier in the tournament. This approach worked out well as I had the initiative from the beginning and a knight sac out of the opening led Lisandra to accept a pawn down endgame which I managed to convert.
I was really happy with that game: the opening choice, the knight sac; it is always nice to take control of the game as Black and never even let White enjoy the advantage of the first move. But the tournament ended on a bit of a letdown, as I drew Agniezka Matras-Clement in the last round with the Black pieces.
The result was not so much the issue, just I felt I could’ve played better to pose more problems, but instead misplayed it to such an extent that I felt I couldn’t even play on (I certainly would’ve taken some risk to try to win the tournament outright if I felt it was possible). After the big encounter in the morning with Lisandra, the rather bloodless draw in the afternoon to finish the tournament left me feeling like something had been left undone.
I had little doubt that Annie would win her final game against Tsogtsaikhan, who was in her usual time trouble. That had worked out in some of her games, but Annie tends to not let that kind of practical advantage slip away. She won and we both finished the tournament with 7 points. Neither of us had lost a game.
♟GM Krush and IM Elect Annie Wang tied for first. They are playing a blitz game to know who takes the trophy 🏆. pic.twitter.com/WiyIJzo2KA
— Berkeley Chess (@berkeleychess) August 21, 2019
I was surprised and happy to hear a proposal for a blitz play-off, as I just wanted a chance to shake off that last-round draw. We played two 3 min/2 sec increment games; I won the first as White and needed a draw as Black. It was an even position in the second game when Annie pointed out she’d lost on time.
The day following the tournament was like a “rest day” except that there was an evening blitz tournament for the local community and the norm tournament participants. Our FIDE arbiter, Bryon Doyle, was kind enough to be my tour guide around Berkeley and we found the Berkeley Rose Garden somewhere in the Berkeley Hills. It’s an exceptionally tranquil place with great views of Berkeley, a real hidden gem. Of course all the roses make it look pretty nice too 🙂
Then we had a little time to explore Tilden Park, which is described at visitberkeley.com as “a sprawling 2,079-acre wonderland of forested hills that ring the San Francisco Bay’s eastern cusp” that is “just a few minutes from the city’s downtown district.” Living as I do in Brooklyn, I’m not used to “forested wonderlands” being within easy reach, or hilltop views, or perfect weather with no humidity in the summer! Berkeley is a beautiful place I’d be happy to come back to anytime.
Thank you to Elizabeth, Carla, Bryon, and the Berkeley Chess School for making the effort to organize this unique event, and to all the ladies for their fighting spirit on the board and camaraderie off the board.
I have to mention one last detail. My hotel (La Quinta Inn) had the following sign at its entrance throughout my stay in Berkeley: “Tonight La Quinta. Tomorrow You Triumph.” I am sure this constant inspiration helped me win 🙂