With the World Open now done, it's probably time for this post. As has become tradition (alternatively: a meme), this will be pretty long, rambling, and perhaps totally incoherent. The tl;dr is that I have several (personal, not necessarily objective) issues with the current American chess scene that are making tournaments not very enjoyable for me, and will be substantially scaling back my tournament participation for the foreseeable future as a result (though I will still be involved with the chess community, and will still play a decent amount).
I came to this decision quite some time ago, so it's not a knee-jerk reaction to (extremely) poor recent results. In fact, it's probably the opposite; I've known for some time now that World Open would likely be my last serious American event for a good while, and my play has perhaps suffered as a result (whether due to not caring or not putting in enough effort or whatnot). This is due to a number of reasons, in no particular order (again, to be clear, not all of these are intended as criticisms; many of them boil down to personal preference and/or a target audience that does not include me):
1. Tournaments, and chess in general, serves largely as a social outlet for me; most of my fondest memories stem from late nights analyzing or playing bughouse or tandem chess or a million other things, or just hanging out with friends I've made from chess. However, basically everyone I've grown up playing with has long since quit, and frankly there aren't enough players reasonably close to my age to try and rebuild a substantial friend group. As I start work next month and have a girlfriend and have friends I like to meet up with and whatnot, It's increasingly hard to justify de facto socially isolating myself for a week for the sake of a tournament, even a major one.
2. Tournaments are SO LONG. Probably #1 wouldn't be *too* much of an issue with any reasonable time control, but for some reason we insist on this ridiculous archaic idea of spending 12+ hours a day playing during tournaments. What other activity, competitive or otherwise, demands this kind of commitment? For instance, any sport is max 3 hours or so. 6+ hour games just aren't enjoyable, especially when a) you're probably spending at least a third or so of that not thinking about your game (don't lie, you don't use your opponent's time to think) and b) you're VERY not allowed to have even basic interactions with anyone else during that time period
("fun" story: during World Open I was yelled at by a TD for asking a friend how they did during the round. Fine, technically not allowed, TD is doing his job. Later the same round another friend who had just finished walked up to me, and while I was in the process of telling him the TD had explicitly yelled at me for talking, the same TD came over and yelled at me again. When I tried to explain this to the TD, he told me to "shut up and go away". Sad face.).
There are so many better options: 1 game a day, 4 games of 15+10 a day, 2 games of 90+30 a day (still long but mostly acceptable), that it's absolutely mind-boggling this continues to be the standard. Tournaments shouldn't require more than 6 hours or so a day; otherwise, there's no time for anything but the tournament games (whether that be socialization, sleep, or even eating -- I've gone full days off just a light dinner when rounds take too long).
3. Yes, the cheating problem is quite a bit out of control. Probably 2-3% of players have, are, or will in the near future cheat, and I doubt more than a small percentage of them have been or will be caught. Perhaps more importantly, the *perception* of cheating is even more out of control; because there are so many cheaters, everyone thinks everyone is cheating and the community is pretty fragmented as a result. It's clear that this is not being taken seriously; a few quick World Open stories (again, not intended as criticisms of the World Open itself):
a) In the warmup rapid event (I forget the official name), I started well with 2/3 having already played the top 2 seeds. However, in round 4 (of 5) I was paired against a known cheater (having been falsely accused many times myself, I do not use this term lightly -- I am 100% confident in this label), who had been caught *in the same tournament last year*. Of course, he had received only an insubstantial time penalty and went on to win a 4 figure prize. Anyway, on principle I refused to play this game and forfeited instead, but I was quite shocked that they allowed him back into *any* event, let alone the one he was caught in.
b) Even worse: my friend's first round opponent was caught with a phone in the restroom, which should of course be an unquestionable forfeit right? Wrong, EIGHT MINUTE PENALTY. Amusingly, later in the tournament a different player received a 10 minute penalty for having a postmortem with his opponent before leaving the tournament room, which I guess says a lot about how severity of infractions are viewed. Not that it matters so much, but that game ended in a draw, and my friend ended up missing the money by a half point.
c) Apparently I was accused of cheating in a World Open game that I not only lost, but lost very badly; in fact, my opponent played almost perfectly the entire game including moves the computer takes a minute or two to understand. I don't really know what to say about this, other than it's extremely indicative of a paranoia problem on the entire chess community's part (I don't really blame the accuser himself).
4. The culture of the chess world makes it very hard to feel good about any result unless it's overwhelmingly positive. This manifests not only in obnoxiously topheavy prize funds (which mean a single bad result often invalidates an entire event) but in a constant obsession with "steady improvement" and achieving rating milestones and whatnot. Essentially, it feels like nobody is really playing chess for chess; rather, they're playing chess for the sake of winning at something. That incredibly interesting, maybe even theoretically important draw you just made with someone 200 points lower? Disaster. Lost 10 points in a tournament? "Mega yikes". Given that I'm not, and probably will continue to not be, substantially improving, this leaves me in a weird spot.
There are a few other reasons but I think these are the major ones. Essentially, I increasingly feel like (American?) chess offers certain demographics (kids, very strong professionals, among others) a great deal, and I no longer fit any of those demographics.
Now, I still enjoy pretty much everything about chess other than actually playing these specific kinds of tournaments. Playing online, analyzing with friends, watching top events, exploring opening novelties, doing puzzles, etc. etc. are all still very enjoyable to me (also the little streaming I've done has been fun; I might do more of that). And ultimately, I'm sometimes (but certainly not always) willing to put up with all the complaints I ranted about above to play in tournaments anyway. However, I will probably be scaling back a bit for the foreseeable future; in particular I've canceled participation in events for the remainder of the summer (unless I decide to play some small CCA event my family might attend). When I do decide to play -- and realistically, there's a good chance I do decide to play some major events (e.g. World Open), especially when the few friends I have left are going -- I'll probably be taking a lot of byes to at least artificially get 1 game a day some of the time. I also plan to aim for some of the more major European events (Gibraltar/Rejkjavik/etc.) since I feel like I'd probably enjoy that style/culture more. You won't get rid of me so easily! :)
A last note: I realize this post might be a bit of a downer for people who still actively play and enjoy American tournament chess, and probably there will be many who rush to disagree with me and/or defend their own attitudes towards tournaments. I'm not looking for a big debate or to convince anyone here to stop playing; I think it's fantastic that there are so many players who genuinely enjoy this kind of culture and are getting a lot out of the way said system is currently structured. It's just not, or perhaps more accurately no longer, for me.