US Open Round 8: shooting your age

One of the nice things about national opens is that you know who your opponent will be at least an hour or so before play begins. I looked up my opponent, Paul Tomaino, who was rated exactly 1800.  Ratings that end in 00 tend to be "floors": their owners tend to be veteran players who were once rated once higher than they are today. And indeed, Paul had been an expert in the early 1990s.

I arrive at the round and size up my opponent: nice guy, motorized wheelchair, Red Sox cap, I'm guessing late sixties or early seventies. We make small talk about the Boylston Chess Club and the Red Sox and begin play. After a mediocre opening, I make significant progress in the transition to the middlegame.  I mentally move the game into the "soon to be won" column.


Photo: Daaim Shabazz


Then I wander over to the crosstables: hmm, Paul has already taken the scalps of other experts in this event. So I go into "paranoid prophylaxis" mode: I decide not to sac material or concede a square unless and until I can see a clear win.  This game did turn out to be my most routine win of the Open: you can safely skip it if you wish.



But I'm glad I spent the time to talk to Paul afterwards: he's not in his late sixties, he's eighty-three years old! And in addition to being confined to a wheelchair, he's a diabetic. The brain runs on glucose, and both low and high blood sugars can interfere with your cognitive performance. (This is true for all of us: I remember one top Illinois player, not a diabetic as far as I know, telling me that he would have won a crucial game if only he'd had a chocolate bar at a critical moment.) So we talked about peak performance managment for older players with health issues: someday, I may benefit from his advice!

And yes, Mr. Tomaino knocked off his third expert of the event in round nine, and picked up 94 rating points in the process!  Sort of like "shooting your age" in a round of golf?

Chess is like golf in this respect: your "opponent" is in a sense your collaborator, and your true opponent is the game of chess itself, the golf course itself.  Risks must be taken, and risks must be managed. You have to play within yourself, and when you're older, you can't do certain things that you did when you were younger. Those limitations do not include an inability to beat much younger and much higher-rated players!