An Expert and a Chess Mom Tackle The US Masters
By Melinda J. Matthews   
September 16, 2012
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GM Giorgi Margvelashvili
Nicky arrived at the US Masters circuitously via IM Robby Adamson’s excellent camp, which Nicky attended this past summer thanks to a little scholarship magic.  Midway through the camp, Nicky began texting me excitedly about “some guy” who had spoken to them about “this tournament” limited to adult players rated over 2200 and juniors rated over 2000.  He really wanted to go.

The “some guy” turned out to be Walter High, whose enthusiasm for the US Masters fired up Nicky’s.  As usual, cost was a big factor, as was finding the time to take on a nine-round tournament in the midst of school, activities, and (for me) that pesky little thing called work.  We waffled on and off about the tournament’s feasibility, even exploring the possibility of sending Nicky solo if he could find a trusted roommate.  After roommate plans didn’t pan out, I decided to make hotel reservations assuming they could be cancelled, only to discover the reserved room block was fully booked.

Tournament organizers Walter High and Gary Newsom came charging to the rescue in response to my email asking about safe alternatives within walking distance.  Before the day was out, they secured additional accommodations in the host hotel.  One week later, airfares dropped dramatically.  Our fate was sealed: North Carolina, here we come!

GM Giorgi Margvelashvili, who emerged as clear winner of the tournament, scored major points with Nicky early on when he appeared at breakfast Friday morning sporting a Washington Capital’s t-shirt bearing the name of Alex Ovechkin, that team’s superstar and one of Nicky’s favorite hockey players.  Nicky recalled how he tortured FM Mike Klein at Castle Chess camp a few years ago by constantly calling him Ovechkin, insisting the two bore a striking resemblance to each other.  It inspired us to do a little Google search to verify Nicky’s claim.  Here’s what we uncovered – what do you think?

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Nicky entered the tournament with no expectations other than to play his best and to get some good games out of the experience.  His tournament began with a match against IM Andrew Young, which Nicky felt he played well, but which he ultimately lost.  He lost Round 2 as well, came back to win Round 3, then embarked upon a three-game drawing streak before losing to New York wonder-kid, Josh Colas, whom he had played against last spring in the high school nationals.  Nicky ended the tournament with two more draws for a final tally of one win, five draws, and three losses.  Here’s his third-round win over NM Peter Giannatos:

 

I came to the tournament with loads of books and my spiffy new ultrathin laptop, planning to develop a new blog for my fledgling yoga program.  I assumed I wouldn’t know anyone and would be entertaining myself solo while Nicky played.  Consequently, I was surprised and pleased to run into fellow South Floridians, Christopher Heung, and his mother, Rita.  As luck would have it, Nicky and Chris were paired in Round 4.  Their 19-move game ended quickly in a draw, which worked in Nicky’s favor as it allowed him to indulge in another favorite pastime: watching his beloved Florida Gators defeat Bowling Green.

I enjoyed my conversations with Rita, which were tinged with nostalgia for both of us.  We’ve kept each other company at tournaments on and off for over six years, both locally at the Boca Raton Chess Club and at national events.  Chris is (unbelievably!) in the midst of submitting college applications, and while he obviously still loves chess, he doesn’t plan to attend a chess college or necessarily play on a college chess team.  Rita compared Chris’s chess journey to that of GM Ray Robson’s, a fellow Floridian who was Chris’s major competition back in the days when Ray was a fixture in the scholastic tournament circuit.  While Ray‘s path has launched him into the ranks of chess superstardom and into a university with an impressively strong chess team, Chris, even with multiple national titles under his belt, has veered in a direction where the strength of the chess program figures only slightly (if at all) in his post-secondary academic decision.  

Rita also mentioned that they were following Ray’s games in the Chess Olympiad.  Coincidentally, the Olympiad was on my mind was well.  CLO editor Jennifer Shahade originally asked me to report from the Florida state tournament if Nicky was attending – though she pointed out that enthusiasm over the Chess Olympiad might overshadow Labor Day Madness coverage. When I told Jennifer that Nicky had decided to tackle the US Masters in lieu of the state tournament, I added that I’d been thinking about the Olympiad from my own perspective: how the Masters is a huge tournament for Nicky – expanding his scope beyond the world of regional and scholastic tournaments – yet it pales in comparison to the excitement and challenge of the concurrent Olympiad.  Still, I see a common thread: while I can’t begin to imagine the emotional impact of representing the country on an international stage or liken it to any experience Nicky and I have shared, I’m positive the same sense of wonder must belong to young players (and even more, to their parents!) at each new juncture and every new level of play.  

I took to heart (a little) Chess Journalist of the Year Mike Klein’s recent observations that good chess reporting focuses more on the games and players and less on the venue and the lighting; however, as a non-chess playing chess parent, I deliberately steer away from in-depth chess talk and keep my point of view personal – which usually translates into some sort of venue chat (sleeping arrangements, tournament accommodations, availability of healthy and inexpensive food, access to non-chess diversions such as places to walk, etc. are important to a parent).  

So I cannot resist a shout-out to the very pleasant and extremely accommodating folks at Embassy Suites.  Airport hotels have the advantage of being convenient to the airport, which often gives them the disadvantage of being inconvenient to everything else if you don’t have a car.  Embassy Suites’ convenient/inconvenient location was no exception; however, they graciously made their shuttle available at all times and for any reason, from running me to the grocery store to stock our room with drinks and snacks, to an “emergency” Office Depot run for the notebook paper and index cards that Nicky forgot to pack with his homework, and, post-tournament, to a real, sit down, all-you-can-eat pasta dinner.

Both Nicky and I were sad to see the tournament come to an end.  He truly enjoyed being tested and challenged in every match, and the relaxed pace in between games gave him time to rest, study, watch some sports, and sleep.  Although the tournament didn’t affect his rating at all (he netted one rating point!), the experience itself was invaluable, and you can bet this is only the beginning of his appearance at tournaments such as these.

Also see Todd Andrews report on the US Masters in our first wrap-up of Labor Day tournaments across the country.