August 16, 2009 • General
Greetings to everyone from Japan once again. It seems that despite my best efforts to set certain time schedules for blogging, I end up doing it sooner than planned. Therefore, without further ado, I present a recap of the past week and all its wild adventures which were to be had. Enjoy!
Day 1: “Arrival”
Early Tuesday afternoon, I arrived at Tokyo Narita International Airport after a long 14 hour flight from Newark. Fortunately, due to all my traveling, I really did not feel like this was anything particularly surprising. For the first five hours of the flight, I slept like a baby so there really is nothing to mention there. After that, I spent the next two hours charging up my computer and then studying some chess for the tournament here in Japan. After I got bored by this, I chose to turn on the entertainment system and spent time admiring how much better movies were in the old days, having re-watched To Catch A Thief (Alfred Hitchcock) and Diamonds Are Forever (Who doesn’t love Sean Connery?). At this point, we were only two hours from landing, so I decided to spend the rest of my time reading Market Wizards Volume I. Not such a bad flight after all since it was quite productive.
After clearing customs, I was met by Ms. Watai and Mr. Ozaki, who are both members of the JCA (Japan Chess Federation). Both have been quite generous to me over the past couple of years since I started making my annual voyage out here each August for the tournament. We then took the train from the train station out to Kamata, which is where the tournament was being held. After my mother and I checked into our hotel, we pretty much crashed immediately. On a complete sidenote, one of the great things about coming to Japan is that there is always free high speed internet everywhere. One of my big pet peeves about Europe is the ability of hotels to rip people off for internet instead of simply having it like most places in Asia do. Alas, we do not live in a perfect world.
Day 2: “Let’s Try This Game Instead”
On the second day, my mother and I, along with Mr. Ozaki headed over to go see a shogi festival where the legendary Habu Yoshiharu played a rapid game. It was here, that I had the pleasure of meeting one of Habu and GM Joel Lautier’s friends, Jacques Pineau. Although this was nice, it led to me ending up playing several games of shogi in which I got absolutely destroyed…sigh. I guess you can’t be good at all games, eh? After this somewhat enjoyable, somewhat traumatic experience, we all went out and had a nice dinner at an eel restaurant as Habu put it. Nevertheless, despite all my trips to Japan, I will never get used to having to sit on tatami mats as they make my legs hurt! With a 10 AM round looming, we did not let it get too late and returned to Kamata as I got myself into chess mode.
Day 3: “And So It Begins”
After having a day and half of trying to get on the time zone, the tournament began the following day. As much as I would like to start talking about the games, the morning had an event which I have not felt for some time. Having woken up at 5 AM, I decided to take a short nap from 7-9AM. This was, however, cut abruptly short when I got awoken by my mother and instantly realized that my bed was shaking?! The day before we had left New York, there was an earthquake in Japan. Although we originally thought this was an aftershock, it turned out to be a completely different earthquake which measured 6.6 on the Richter Scale. This certainly was NOT what I expected before the round and certainly a new experience which is saying something considering all the traveling I have done.
In the first round, I was paired against the Japanese player, Ryo, Shiomi (2124). After a very quiet opening, my opponent fell apart pretty quickly after he could not come up with a good plan in the middlegame. I duly converted without any problems at all. The second game was a bit of a surprise as I played an unrated Japanese player Goto,Susumu. It appears that due to the Japanese tournaments being only 7 rounds in cases such as this one that some players never get a FIDE rating. However, since I had played him last year, I was quite aware that he was around 2000 strength. After a roughly equal position from the Scandinavian, I proceeded to outplay him in the ensuing queenless middlegame without any major issues. Obviously, it is good to get off to a good start, but I found it much more useful here since I had not played a classical game of chess since San Sebastian which was already nearly a month ago.
Day 4: “Keeping The Status Quo”
On the second day of the tournament, I was definitely surprised, when I noticed that I was paired against Nakamura. Luckily, I was not paired against myself, but against Ryuji (2177). In another typical game with White, I chose to play an extremely slow fianchetto opening and achieved a small advantage. However, I was able to slowly build up an advantage and eventually won when my opponent finally collapsed at time control. The fourth round was definitely a step up when I was paired with Ryosuke Nanjo (2199) with Black. Nanjo and I go way back having co-tied for first place in the nationals about 10 years ago now (I forget which nationals it was in…sign that I am getting too old)! Nanjo, like quite a few of the other top Japanese players has been on a bit of a downswing. Nevertheless, he gave me a serious run for my money three years ago when I played in this tournament for a second time. This time however, I avoided any real dramatics as I got a small advantage with Black and then after a few miscues a completely winning one. I did not make any mistakes and was off to a 4/4 start after two days. However, as I have learned from previous years, there are always one or two games where I have some issues.
Day 5: “Rolling Along”
The fifth game brought me my third White of the tournament against Gene, Nakauchi (2193) who is Japanese, but apparently plays for Australia. Despite another pairing against a significantly weaker player, I was not going to take my opponent lightly as he played a marvelous first round game against FM Kojima (brightest Japanese junior player) and should have won but only ended up drawing. After getting a nice advantage with the Tromp, my opponent decided to go for a very speculative exchange sacrifice, but then mid way through it realized that it did not work. This simply left me up an exchange with no problems. I easily finished off the game moving to 5/5. In the sixth round, I got Black once again against British junior Samuel Franklin (2133, 15 years old). After a roughly equal position out of the Scandinavian, I took a big risk since I had to win the game. Ironically, I had looked at the exact line on the plane during the flight over, but then decided against what I had prepared as the line was simply equal. This led to me reaching a slightly worse position but still playable. However, as Samuel used up more and more of his time, he eventually went astray and this led to an unpleasant ending where he suffered for a bit before blundering away a pawn and the game. 6/6
Day 6: “The Finale”
Once again, for a fourth year in a row, I came into the last day with 6/6. However, unlike previous years, I had to play the second best player in the last round as opposed to earlier rounds. In the final round, I was paired against FM Akira Watanabe (2339) with White. Unlike previous days when I took a slow and steady approach, I came right out of the gates going into an open sicilian. This backfired nearly immediately when I reached a slightly unfamiliar pawn structure. After a couple of very careless manouvering moves, I ended up with a slightly worse position. However, I was able to wind through the complex complications of the late middlegame and turned the game around near time control. After a long endgame, I won and thus ended the tournament with a perfect score of 7/7. This now puts my career score in Japan at 28-0.
After the prize giving ceremony, there was a simul with twenty player. Despite facing a master and several 2100’s, it only took me an hour and a half to complete a clean sweep. Unlike past years, there was definitely a certain feeling of finality to this year. Perhaps, I will be back against next year or in the future, but my schedule will likely make it difficult. Either way, it has been a great run and I have had a lot of fun here over the past four years. In particular, it has been great meeting some gringo’s Simon, Phil and semi-gringo, Paul. Overall, I have nothing negative to say about Japan chess, only positives. Hopefully, God willing, I can become world champion and generate some genuine interest in chess here. Tomorrow morning, I fly back to New York for a day before heading off to Amsterdam for the NH Rising Stars Event. Enjoy the following pictures below!
Trying my luck at Shogi against Mr. Pineau!
A picture from the dinner. Left to right: Me, Mr. Habu, my mother, Mr. Pineau.
Some idiot looking all smug after receiving the first place prize.