Can you remember the last time you played in an open tournament reserved for players rated 2400+? Playing such strong events is like swimming in a pool full of sharks: some game losses are typically unavoidable, and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted! On the other hand, ambitious players seeking International Master or Grand Master norms have ample opportunities to succeed in their pursuits.
When Xuhao He invited me to Seattle to play in his December event (Dec 26-30) called WOW, or Winter of Washington, I accepted his offer immediately. I knew it was going to be a great experience!
Xuhao is one of the founders of the Pacific Northwest Chess Club (PNWCC), which opened its doors to the chess fans in 2018. PNWCC was founded on a premise of being an alternative to the old Seattle Chess Club. The founders were committed to provide better playing conditions and a nicer venue for the local players.
Before the PNWCC opened, only one Grand Master had played in Seattle in the previous decade! Since 2018, due to the Club’s efforts, more than 30 Grand Masters have visited Seattle and enjoyed playing at the PNWCC. Xuhao offers quite generous conditions to all the Grand Masters he invites. Every invited player gets a royal treatment and truly feels welcome.
Here’s a look back at my time in Seattle…
After spending a fabulous Christmas Eve with the family, I was in high spirits and excited to fly to Seattle. The flight though was a bit rocky. The flight attendant said something like “the weather is not very suitable for flying, so we expect lots of turbulence.” A minute later, she said “say goodbye to the ones you love, we are ready to take off.”
As it turned out, just a few days earlier, I was watching Lost, the TV series from the early 2000s. Good thing, I thought to myself, because I’m fully equipped with the knowledge for surviving the airplane crash.
Some 4 hours later, we successfully landed. Whew!
After arriving to the hotel, I found Xuhao was already there to meet the players. Since every restaurant and grocery store was closed on Christmas, Xuhao ordered pizza for everyone who arrived early. Later he took us on a tour to the playing venue, the Pacific Northwest Chess Club. I was very pleased to discover that it was only 3 minutes of relaxed walking away from the Marriott hotel where we stayed.
Show time! The first round was scheduled at 7:00 PM. Many people wonder: what do Grand Masters do when they have the whole day before the game starts? Do they prepare and study chess openings? Not me! I slept in until 10 in the morning, got my breakfast, and then was studying programming for the rest of the day.
The games have started at 7:00 PM sharp. Xuhao spoke briefly before the round start and thanked everybody for coming, with special thanks to the Super GM and our American rising star, Jeffery Xiong! I am sure the tournament wouldn’t attract as many promising young players if it wasn’t for his participation. International Arbiter William Broich talked about the rules very briefly as well. I liked it a lot: everything was concise and efficient.
My first game was a nightmare though. Somehow, I managed to give up my knights for absolutely no reason and was forced to resign shortly to IM Bryce Tiglon. Not a great start.
Round 2 was a disappointment as well. Being up two pawns against a frequent participant of the US Women Championships, I got completely relaxed and found the only way not to win. Kudos to my opponent, Ashritha Eswaran, for a resilient defense.
Despite such a slow start, I wasn’t too upset and managed to remain calm. I thought that I should at least enjoy my time here if the chess part isn’t working out as well as planned. I told my roommate, GM Andrey Gorovets, that I’m going to watch TV series Lost because I keep losing. I also started playing Plants vs. Zombies.
These two things occupied the vast majority of my time between games for the rest of the tournament. The point was to get my mind off chess and do something mindless, fun, and relaxing.
In round 3, I played a good game against Eugene Yanayt, who really loves chess and plays lots of tournaments nationwide. Having 50% after 3 games is better than 0.5 out of 2, so I got more cheerful and optimistic about life.
Jumping ahead, here is a fun game between the two players scoring their first GM norms in the tournament!
The morning game against FM Costin Cozianu turned out to be a breeze and only lasted about 2 hours. I surprised him with my opening choice and then he made a costly blunder.
In round 5, I played GM Zhou Jianchao with Black and was keeping him under pressure for 5 hours. At the end, he managed to survive after my small inaccuracy. Truly, to beat a strong GM, you need to play an almost perfect game!
The leaderboard after 5 rounds looked like this: GM Jeffery Xiong, IM Zhaozhi Li, and IM Joshua Sheng were sharing 1st place with 4 points.
My best chess day of 2019. In one day, I beat GMs Andrey Gorovets with White and Jeffery Xiong with Black! Time to join the leaderboard!
An easy day in the office: I secure a clear 1st place after beating IM Joshua Sheng in 22 moves and making a 13-move draw against IM Mykola Bortnyk, who was happy with a draw as it secured him a GM norm!
Unfortunately for Joshua, he was a half-point short of getting a GM norm after losing to GM Jeffery Xiong in the last round.
Two norm seekers got their norms after the last games. IM Zhaozhi Li, also (like me) living in Chicago, got his first GM norm after drawing GM Zhou Jianchao. Jack Qijie Zhu got an IM norm after beating IM Bryce Tiglon.
Everybody was happy with the playing conditions, the venue, and the hotel proximity. I can’t remember any other open tournament running so smoothly without a single complaint or misunderstanding. One of the most enjoyable part for myself: Xuhao provided free snacks for the tournament participants after each round. The tournament also had a non-quitting “Ignacio rule”, so there were no withdrawals. I think it greatly contributed to the promotion of the fighting spirit!
At the end, there was pizza, beer, and a blitz tournament!
Organizers say that playing in PNWCC tournaments can bring good luck to the participants. It may be true. Cases-in-point include GM Evgeny Shtembuliak becoming World Junior Champion, IM Xu Yi getting a GM title, IM Carissa Yip got a huge rating boost… and some of the titled players even got internships and full-time jobs at Microsoft!
Future PNWCC events
I have no doubt the future tournaments hosted by the Pacific Northwest Chess Club (PWNCC) will attract lots of GMs and ambitious players!
PWNCC has already scheduled 3 big events for 2020.
Check them out at https://www.pnwchesscenter.org/ and you are welcome to register at https://www.uschesshub.com/Organizers/Details/A6051987.
Join the PWNCC events and feel a part of the Chess Renaissance in Seattle!