This year, the Arizona Chess Federation experimented with getting back to the old system of running the most prestigious tournament of the year- The Arizona State Championship. If you remember, the last 2 years the Arizona State Champion was determined in one of the biggest tournament of the year- the Tucson Open. This year, the task of running it in the new format was given to Master and tournament organizer Joel Johnson. As with anything new, there were several problems to overcome to make sure the event took place. It all worked out very well at the end and we had a nearly perfect State Championship by any measure.
The event was held at the beautiful Unity Chess Club, Scottsdale facilities. I was convinced that the tournament will be wonderful and the site would have all necessary amenities, as in August I had the pleasure of organizing the 1st Annual Western Alliance Scottsdale Summer Chess Camp with the owner of the Unity Club —FM Pedram Atoufi. The State Championship attracted most of the best players of Arizona, from young talents to older generation masters. Being the highest rated player in the tournament, I was hoping to win my 3rd straight State Championship title but chess is not math and you never know how each round will go or how the final standings will turn up.
In round one I was facing Master Robert Rowley. Apparently, he holds the record for winning the most Arizona State Championships. The game was interesting in a sense that I was able to go between 3 openings in the first 4 moves and end up in a side line of Gruenfeld that I was sure my opponent was less familiar with. In other words, I got in the opening I was happy as I ended up in a position I was going for before the round started. However, somehow I had screwed up the move order in the early middlegame and the game ended up with less advantage for me than I thought I should have had. After some complications, and some mistakes by my opponent, the game ended with a mating attack on his King.
In round 2 I faced Vaishnav Aradhyula. I’ve had the pleasure of having Vaishnav as one of my students since my move to Tucson. Vaishnav was one of my strongest and most talented students, has won numerous State and National titles and is currently a very solid chess master attending Stanford University. This game was one of the toughest for me in the tournament, as being Black and mainly playing side lines, I was faced with a very unique problem. Throughout the years I had shown Vaishnav the most unpleasant and strongest lines to play against all the Black’s systems, and now I was facing him with Black having to deal against my own systems. Of course I was playing for a win, but during the game some part of me was constantly proud of Vaishnav every time he made a good move. After wild complication, time pressures, tactics and exchange sacrifice I was unfortunately forced to commit to, I won the game. Meanwhile, Atoufi won a very complicated game against Danny Rensch.
In Round 3 I faced FM Pedram Atoufi with white. Knowing he likes Kings Indian defense as Black, I prepared (after 5 hours of ChessBase Opening reports and a sleepless night) a very unique line to challenge his favorite set-ups. I had never played that precise line before but was very familiar with similar structures and systems. I knew that Pedram being less of a theoretician and more of a practical player will play some side line, but I had no clue which. Over the board he invented a very creative line- transferring the position into some version of a Dutch Stonewall. However, after some small tactical exchanges, I obtained a small but lasting advantage and I slowly converted it into a win. This was probably my best and most solid game of the tournament. This round also saw my roommate and Arizona Scorpions manager Master Leo Martinez win a very impressive game against ever-dangerous FM Danny Rensch.
In Round 4 I faced Leo Martinez. Leo deserves the highest compliments for his performance, determination and result in this tournament. In this game he completely surprised me with his opening choice of very solid but very rare Ponziani Opening. My biggest problem was that the best line for Black leads to a draw and I wanted to play for a win. After choosing the most solid line against it, I ended up in a slightly worse but apparently theoretical position.I had to find some very strong moves and make a theoretical novelty to keep the balance. At the end, it looked like I had a chance to win, but apparently there was nothing for me there and the super computer RYBKA could not find any improvements for me either. Great game by Leo coupled with a great opening preparation.
In Round 5 I faced Master Spencer Lower. This was a very interesting battle with a very interesting and funny psychological connotation. I knew he plays the Modern but in 1995 he also had some games with a side line of the Rui Lopez (Bird’s line). After checking the databases, I decided I really didn’t want to face that line so I was hoping he won’t play it. I even asked him about the tournament where he played those games, in a sense hoping that it will have some effect. Since he should guess that I know he played it, there is a less chance he will play it. Unfortunately I think he could not remember his games from that tournament so my little psychological trick became totally useless. After the first 2 moves, I got a sense he will be “surprising” me with the Bird! I avoided it by playing a quite Italian and after some unclear opening straggles ended up with a small edge. Luckily he blundered a tactical shot and I won 2 pawns. I managed to miss a detail and make my life complicated right after it. All ended up well at the end and I won this very important round.
Round 6 left me in a unique situation: I was playing one of Arizona’s best youngsters- David Adelberg. Draw lets me win the State Championship by tie-breaks in the worst case scenario. However I really didn’t feel like playing for a draw or offering it too early just to win the tournament. I obtained a very nice edge as Black but quickly realized that it is very unpleasant playing chess when your mind is split between making the best moves and playing safe to make sure you win the State Championship. At some point I decided I had enough mental torture and that a draw was in order. David accepted it without much thought. A few minutes later, it was clear that the draw was enough to win the clear 1st place and therefore the 2010 Arizona State Champion title.
I want to thank all players, helpers, volunteers and donors who helped organize the tournament and took the time to travel to play in this important event. I do hope we will see this event take place each year, see new raising stars showing their increasing strength and grow the overall support for this wonderful event.