At the New England Open

09.08.08 Long-time Maine chessplayer and former University of Maine Professor Fred Irons took a trip to Boxborough, Massachusetts to compete in the 68th New England Open. In this report Fred brings his own unique insight to the challenges of a senior player competing against the game's youth.

The Holiday Inn in Boxborough, Massachusetts site of the 68th New England Open

68th New England Open Crosstables

On Labor Day weekend, my wife Sally and I drove to Massachusetts so I could
participate in a 1-day tournament offered at the New England Open held at the
Holiday Inn in Boxboro, MA.

This 68th NE Open tournament was played in 4 sections: Open, U2000, U1800, U1600 over three weekend days, Sat, Sun, and Mon. There were two rounds each day with time
controls set at 40/2, SD/1 for the six rounds. I don't know the actual total numbers of
participants but due to the board number, I would guess there was on the order of 120
that started in the open. (A total of 117 players competed in the 68th New England Open. --Ed.)Apropos a recent discussion here on, it was a surprise to see that
several players withdrew from the tournament as it progressed. This was in addition to a
liberal bye policy where apparently it was sufficient to play only one game per day
while getting a half point for each bye round.

The end of a round at the Holiday Inn Conference Center.

In addition to the Open, there were five other tournaments held over the weekend.
They were all titled with the 68th NE Open at 4-rounds each:

Scholastic K-12 on Sat in G/30 with sections U1400 and U800;
Scholastic K-3 on Sun in G/30 with sections U1200 and U600;
Scholastic K-6 on Mon in G/30 with sections U1300 and U700;
1-Day Open on Mon in G/60 with sections U2000 and U1300; and the
Speed Championship on Sat in 5-rounds at G/5 plus quick rated double Swiss.

That is a lot of chess in one weekend but everything went like clock work with
great efficiency.

Unfortunately, I don't know any results but assume they can be found online. (See link to New England Open Crosstables above. --Ed.)
The following photo shows two Alexes battling it out for first place in the Open final round.
Alex Cherniak is on white against a perennial champion, Alex Ivanov on black.
We have seen Ivanov at a couple Maine tournaments in the past, I think at Augusta
when Lee Doucette ran a string of tournaments.

Alex Cherniak (left) working hard to think about the position in his game vs Alex Ivanov.

Another player I was impressed to see was Harold Dondis. He is well known
in Boston chess circles for writing a weekly chess article for the Boston Globe
for over 30 years. He still plays tournament chess, accompanied with his friend,
John Curdo, and he is famous for getting a win against Bobby Fischer in a simul
that Fischer gave in his early chess days.

Harold Dondis (right) playing black against Gary Brassard in the final round
of the U1800 section.

I had a long discussion with Steven Frymer, a long-time participant in MACA
activities, and he lamented the current state of the NE Open no longer being
a true New England tournament due to lack of representation from other
states. Basically he complimented me for coming down to get beat by the students.

In the 1-Day Open, there were 18 players in the U2000 section, in which I had to
play, and there were 4 of them with ratings over 1900. It was a tough section
plus there were several youngsters playing to get experience against open
players and they were deadly with ratings that were all rising. Upsets
were the order of the day as the final round showed Jerry Williams, with a rating
around 1670, playing Michael Pascetta, with a rating around 1830, for first
place in the event. The 1900 players had been cleaned out with upsets
from the youngsters.

I went 1-3 for the event, waiting until the last round to get a point. In round 1
I lost to Neil Cousin (1945) but we just about used all of our time for the game.
Neil had 5 minutes to my 10 minutes when I resigned to imminent mate no
matter what I did. Somehow I eventually let him load 'Alekhine's Gun' and
it was aimed right at my King and Rook crammed into the corner.
Subsequent analysis by Fritz said I did not have to lose more than a piece
and a pawn, but my analysis was giving mate in at least four no matter what I did.
Neil went on to lose his next two games so I like to feel I took some oomph
out of his game. In the meantime it was downhill for me as the game also
turned my brain to mush.

I prepared for this tournament over several weeks so I was psyched to do better this time. I will share my game 2 with you to try and illustrate the problem us declining oldsters have to deal with as we try to keep up our chess game in relation to what we used to be able to do at our peak. I think John Curdo may be experiencing some of these problems as his rating appears to be bottomed at 2200 right now. He knows he used to play at a Master level, (he is a Life Master), and so it has to be frustrating for him to have bad things happen, in spite of his best intentions for it not to happen. John withdrew from the last round of the tournament and I can fully empathize with how he must feel about it. He was at the forefront of NE chess for several decades and the Open championship almost always went through him during that time period.

Fred Irons (1500) vs Eric Chen (1225), a fifth grader, Round 2.

1. e4 e5; 2. Nf3 Nc6; 3. Bb5 Bc5; 4. O-O d6; 5. c3 Bd7; 6. Ba4 Nge7; 7. Bc2 g6;
8. d4 Bb6; 9. d5 Na5?; 10. Bd3 f5; 11. b4 fxe4; 12. Bxe4 Bf5; 13. Bxf5 gxf5;
14. bxa5 Bxa5; 15.Qa4+ c6; 16. Qxa5??? Qxa5! (0-1)

There's not much explaining about how these things happen when you are trying
to tell yourself to pay attention and do the 'count down' after each move. On move
15, when I checked, the Bishop on a5 was not guarded and of course c6 opened the
diagonal for the black Queen to guard the bishop on a5. Somehow my brain did not make a connection to the change in spite of thinking that I was watching the board and my opponent's moves. It makes me feel like there are some missing synapses in my
brain and it's due to some strange deterioration there. I did have some
compensation for the Queen with the two minor pieces, but I was so rattled from the
blunder that I felt I had to resign. There is no point in playing if you don't even
see your opponent's moves. I did get to do some teaching with Eric however,
as I pointed out how he had erred on the opening by trapping his Knight.
He needed to move it back to b8 instead of forward to a5 but it is hard for youngsters
to want to retreat their pieces when they are misplaced.

And this also shows that when you are not playing well, maybe you should withdraw.
It's allowed by the rules.

In round 3 I lost to another student, this one with a 1700 rating. It was like playing
Cullen Edes. A couple pawns disappeared on the Queen side and then a mating net
appeared like magic. I felt like I was truly running on air instead of regular.

I won the last game against a 1400 student. I think my endurance was better than his.
He played a devilish combination in the middle game where he pawn forked my
Queen on d3 and a Knight on f3. The pawn was supported by his Rook on e8 and so
what he missed was that, after my Queen moved to e3, he could not capture my Knight
without losing his Rook to a back rank check. So I came out a piece ahead and
ultimately won the game.

It is definitely hard to get chess out of your system and the NE Open offers a great
experience in the great game!


Enjoyed Fred Irons' writing on the NEO. In the '70s and '80s, I somehow managed at least 2 tourneys a month---so that many of the names had faces to go with them. Most are new--to me. It is quite poignant to me to see the warhorse of NE chess, Curdo, Terrie, Kelleher, et al, still laboring at the game we love. Age steals from us all. Thanks, Fred and Dan, for some revived memories that still have bite and meaning. Good Chess!!

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