With a 3.0/4 score so far, I was satisfied. Even more than satisfied, because there was an outside chance of tying for first place in the section. The top two players had 3.5, and there were six of us with 3.0. With a victory, I’d at least be in second, and if the leaders drew, I could tie for first! That would be pretty sweet.
But first things first, I had to take care of business against the highest-rating person I’d play in the tournament.
Now the leaders would be playing on the top board (in U/1600), and I’d be playing on the second board. As the match started, only one of the leaders, Alexander Yang (one of the aforementioned non-descript Asian schoolkids) had shown up, and my opponent hadn’t shown either. As the TD started the round, we both started our clocks and waited.
Eventually, a middle-aged white guy with glasses came over to my board, presumably my opponent. I had the Black pieces, and this man claimed he was supposed to have Black. I knew this to be wrong, but he went back to check. He came back and said he should have Black, but that if I wanted to play Black that’s fine with him.
Finally, I asked him his name, which was not my opponent. So I directed him one board over: “Uh, you’re playing that guy.”
Then I just looked at him a bit perplexed and thought: “So your opponent is named Alexander Yang and he has the White pieces. I’m a white guy with the wrong-colored pieces, and there’s this Asian kid right on the next board with the right pieces. What on Earth made you think I was him?”
My real opponent showed up shortly later. Dr. Javier Garcia-Larez only arrived in the United States a few months ago, barely managing to evade Hugo Chavez’s navy as he floated in a homemade raft across the Caribbean Sea.
Oh, wait, that’s Cuba. Sorry. I’m sure he was able to leave Venezuela voluntarily. (He’s here for education purposes.)
Unfortunately, I do not have the game, as I am traveling and did not put it on my laptop. It’s a shame, because it was easily my best performance of the tournament. Taking advantage of opening mistakes, I quickly went ahead an Exchange and a Pawn and cruised to victory.
Sitting at 4.0, there was little to do but wait for the results of the top board. As my game was adjacent to theirs, I could see the progress, and it did not look good (remember, I was hoping for a draw). Black was pushing White off the board. But the good thing is that the money was all or nothing proposition. The winner of the top board would get the $500 or so for first place, and the loser would get almost nothing. If they agreed to a draw, each was guaranteed $200 or so.
When I checked on the game later on, they had under 8 minutes, and a complicated position with this weird material balance of 2 Rooks + Bishop vs. Queen + Knight. Just perfect. They agreed to a draw.
Five of us tied for first with 4.0 and each received $210 in prize money. This performance was a watershed for me in many ways:
* This is the first time I’ve won 4 rated games in a row.
* For the first time since 2006, I will break the 1600 barrier.
* First time I’ve received triple-digit winnings.
Granted, the average rating of my opponents was so low, I have to temper the enthusiasm. But almost all my chess career, I’ve had to play in sections where I had no hope of winning (like smaller tournaments where there’d be two sections such as U/1500 and Open). It feels good to be on top for just a little bit.