Hilton Blogs from Foxwoods: Part II
By Jonathan Hilton   
March 22, 2008
Today is Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, and one of the most sacred days in the Christian church. Right now, I would be helping out around my home parish back in Glendale, Ohio. Instead, I’m here at the Foxwoods Casino & Resort, one of the largest centers of gambling and other vice in the country—and I’m loving every minute of it.

Looking around, it becomes apparent that chessplayers are a slight anomaly in this huge paradise of human vice. We stand out from the crowd, with our bright-colored chess bags slung round our shoulders and our apparent lack of interest in the hourly cash drawing announcements that come over the loud speaker. At first, I felt slightly uncomfortable being surrounded by so many non-chessplayers. I was especially worried when I noticed that there was an ash tray by every toilet in the restrooms by the tournament hall! Back home in Ohio (which has stringent anti-smoking laws), smoking chessplayers usually step outside the building between moves; here, chessplayers and non-chessplayers alike can light up right in the hallway.

I’ve adjusted quickly to my new surroundings, however, and just laugh whenever someone asks me in the elevator if I’m headed to the casino. Since the playing hall is down that way, I just say “yes”—and if asked if I’m a good gambler, I just smile and tell them I’m playing in a chess tournament for a ten grand first prize! I’ve learned my way around the building just fine and have learned to enjoy the exciting and stimulating atmosphere of the resort. Before going into highlights from the event, including my own performance, let's recap the situation in the Open going into Saturday night's game. 

Foxwoods Open

Standings after six rounds
1-5-GMs Alexander Ivanov,Yury Shulman, Darmen Sadvakasov, Julio Becerra and Mark Paragua- 5/6
6-14- GM Alexander Shabalov, Ildar Ibragimov, Alexander Stripunsky, Pascal Charbonneau and IMs Jay Bonin, Robert Hess, Justin Sarkar, Dean Ippolito and David Vigorito-4.5/6


My own performance in the tournament has been nothing less than a miracle for me. After drawing with FM Enkbhat (see Part I of my blogging), I swindled IM Mikhail Zlotnikov in a drawn queen and pawn endgame. I have two other wins, one against FM Andrew Karklins, and the other against NM Carl Boor. My score as of now is 4/6. I haven’t bothered to compute any performance ratings, but I’m thrilled to have had the chance to play six straight games against players over 2300!

My sole loss was in the third round against IM Jay Bonin, of New York Knights in the US Chess League. Emboldened by my win over IM Zlotnikov in the morning, I rushed to create a big pawn center with the White pieces and eventually landed pawns on e5 and d5. Bonin calmly nodded off to sleep. I thought my position was exciting and impressive, but Bonin never had to look twice before making a move: I would play, he would open his eyes, and without even sitting up, he’d fire off a move and go right back to sleeping! I overextended my pawns, eventually losing both of them. By the time I resigned, Bonin had used less than an hour on his clock!



In round five, I had my first-ever win over Ohio legend Carl Boor. I’ve held the aggressive master to a draw several times now, but never without first being made to quake in my boots. Boor is known for his over-the-board intensity. He makes no secret of the fact that he does not like to lose. My play in the opening might have given him chances for the advantage early on, but I consolidated and then finished him off with a nice string of tactics.



CarlBoor.jpg
Photo Carl Boor



Yesterday morning something incredible happened to me. I was standing around the tournament hall when a young gentleman walks up and asks, “Are you Jonathan Hilton?” It was IM Alexander Lenderman. As someone who’s done a lot of volunteering on the ICC, Lenderman—known as “manest”—is a god. In blitz odds-giving sessions he is comparable to GM Larry Christiansen. Lenderman had seen my first Foxwoods blog and wanted to introduce himself. We shook hands and found a place to sit down and chat.

Lenderman250.jpg
Alex Lenderman. Photo Michael Atkins


 Lenderman, who had 3-0 at that point, was leading the tournament along with a small handful of others. He was very optimistic about his chances to earn a GM norm. “I’ve been lucky to play all foreigners in my first three rounds,” he told me. Playing against foreign FIDE-rated players would be essential to helping Lenderman achieve his norm. “Now that I’ve one three games, there will be a long line of GMs for me to play, so if I play well I will have a shot at getting it.”

As for his studies at college in Brooklyn, Lenderman said, “I’m studying to be a math teacher. It is difficult to have both a chess career and be a student, because both require so much practice. In math you must study and then practice problems constantly. This takes time away from chess, but here, at the tournament, I just leave it all behind and focus on the games.” Lenderman also spends time coaching his many students over the ICC. Right now he’s also working on a video lecture series for Chess.fm on the Smith-Morra Gambit.

Lenderman’s recent research on the White side of the Smith-Morra Gambit has been winning his many games. He was particularly proud of his victory in Round 2 over FM Michael Dougherty.
 


Although Lenderman lost his game to GM Sadvakasov later that morning, he is still on his feet and fighting. On Friday night, Daniel Yeager held him to a draw, but his 3.5 score could go a long way over the next four rounds. (Editor's Note- since writing this article, Lenderman lost his sixth round game. In the seventh round, he is paired to none other than the article's author, Jonathan Hilton!)

Kasan.jpg
Kasun Waidyaratne


Remarkably, I’m not the only Ohio junior off to a running start. Kasun Waidyaratne, who for many years was the #2 rated scholastic player in Ohio—he has only now just passed me for the #1 spot—defeated Denys Shmelov in the first round and has kept pace with me at 3.5/5.0. His only loss was on Friday to GM Pascal Charbonneau. Because Kasun and I have ratings within ten points of each other and are due the same color each round, it’s unlikely we’ll get to face off this tournament, but entirely possible. All of Ohio is looking forward to the state high school championship coming up next month, when Kasun and I will undoubtedly play for the first time in more than five years.
 
The tournament is shaping up to be quite a fierce dogfight. Stay tuned for the next few rounds!