An "Indian Summer" for Tom Braunlich?
By Joe Veal on February 1, 2023
Sometimes a great player of the past has a brilliant period during which they play as if they were many years younger. This phenomenon, which some call an "Indian Summer," is a reminder to the field that this competitor's claws are still quite sharp despite their numerous years of battle.
Last weekend started off with a bang for Oklahoma chess with the 1st Bela Rozsa Trophy tournament, a two-day round robin for the top six players in the state. Those players were:
FIDE Master Ryan Amburgy (2360), our current state champion; two Original Life Masters: six-time state champion Tom Amburn (2200) and two-time state champion Tom Braunlich (2214), who was our Seniors representative to last year's US Open; National Master Mark Hulsey, who was Oklahoma's #1 in the '90s and '00s); and two strong experts: Anthony Paolercio (2070) and David Zelnick (2098).
One can easily ascertain that FM Amburgy was the big rating favorite in this event. He had earned his first IM norm the week before, at the Robert Byrne Memorial in Illinois.
But a few factoids are missing from that story. For one, Braunlich and Hulsey had, earlier in their careers, achieved even higher ratings: 2365 for Braunlich in 1980 and 2375 in the '90s for Hulsey. One must also factor in the advantages of a invitational format. The players were told several days in advance who they were playing and what color, so they had the opportunity to prepare their openings much more deeply than at a normal weekend Swiss, where you don't know who you'll play until five minutes before the round starts. Finally, chess tournaments are never won on paper.
Scoring 4.0/5 (three wins and two draws), Braunlich won the event outright, edging out Amburgy and Hulsey by a half point. The result bumped him to 2236, his highest rating in (almost!) a decade.
He was in control for the entire event. He began with three straight victories in his games with Hulsey, Zelnick, and Amburn. Against Hulsey, his opening preparation in the 8.h4 Petrosian variation of the Kings Indian forced Hulsey to make several uncomfortable decisions, and Braunlich was accurate in punishing the resulting inaccuracies. And while there were a few inaccuracies in his battle with Zelnick, the engine indicates equality was Zelnick's best hope. And he outplayed Amburn in an interesting middlegame that arose from a Nbd7 Kings Indian.
In the fourth round, Braunlich drew Amburgy in a game where both sides had potential winning chances: Amburgy's in the opening and Braunlich's in the endgame. He had a significant advantage in the final round, against Paolercio, but sagely accepted a draw, believing that there was no play in Hulsey-Amburgy.
How long will Tom Braunlich's Indian summer last? And how hot will it get? Only time will tell.