Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chess Roommates Once Upon a Time

Chess Roommates Once Upon a Time

It was Memorial Day weekend 2000 and the 69TH MASSACHUSETTS OPEN (200005296270) was being played in Marlborough MA. I reserved a room (that I thought had two beds) and so previously agreed that two BCF clubmates Chris Desmaris and Ilya Orsher could room with me to help defray expenses.

Three people in one room doesn't even come close to my personal best which was seven at the World Open in 1976 in New York City, where we rented out floor space and many slept on the floor in sleeping bags. So when we got to the hotel we were told that all that was left were single bed rooms. Chris and Illya asked that the hotel put two cots in the room and they would use them being deferential to this old man who was twice as old as they were at the time.

The fact that Chris was in the Open, Ilya in the U2200, and me in the U1800 probably contributed to the relaxed feeling we had in dealing with each other because none of us were competing for prizes. It was very interesting to compare and contrast the preparation style each of us used in getting ready for playing.

I had brought about half a dozen opening books of my pet lines and had prepared some lines ahead of time in my openings to be used. I would set up a board and review things I wanted to play in the hotel room. I also bring a couple of "combinations" chess books to warm my brain up when I wake up.

Ilya amazed me as he had with him only a multi-volume encyclopedic set of openings and would "shop" for an opening that he thought he might use. And it appeared almost a random choice but Ideally he would have an idea who is opponent would be. I had seen Ilya at the BCF pour over an openings book at a skittles table and whip something up just for that next game. And he's the only player that I ever saw prepare like that, but with a rating of 2061 it was obvious he was successful doing this.

Chris Desmaris did not have any obvious preparation routines before a game except to relax, and I don't recall him looking in any chess books. But Chris would participate in Ilya's brain storming, or take time out to show me a few wrinkles he had seen in the French Defense. And Chris would move around the hotel and check out this and that in the skittles rooms while making small talk with the contestants in a totally social way. BTW a hotel room is great for crashing in between rounds, it makes a big difference in your endurance, rather than having to kill time hanging around at the hall.

Chris began the tournament with a fantastic start winning two games in a row in the Open. For that Chris got the privilege to play Grandmaster Alexander Ivanov on Sunday morning. 10 years ago Marlborough didn't have the number of eating establishments it has today so you were bound to meet other players in any restaurant you went to. The three of us went to dinner together after the second round and as Chris walked around one strong player after another would approach him and offer advice as how to proceed against Ivanov. Chris listened to all suggestions but never once set up a set. Instead sat on his mattress, which he had pulled off his cot and deposited on the floor, in relaxed contemplation - almost meditating. Meanwhile Illya sat at the desk and would be feverishly working through the next preparation. Unfortunately Chris lost to Ivanov but it was a battle.

One of the games Ilya prepared for was a Schliemann Gambit where he actually stayed in theory of his book for 26 moves!? This astounded me.

My results for the tournament was not so good but Chris and Ilya had good performances.

Overall I enjoyed the experience of these two contrary comrades. Chris went to Europe following the tournament then dropped out of chess for while, although I see he has recently played in Florida. Illya went to India and that's the last I ever heard of Ilya.

Do you have any interesting roommate stories or know the whereabouts of either Chris or Illya. Both are a sad loss for local chess.

Please Comment. Thank You.

Mike Griffin


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