Friday, September 14, 2007

The Gorilla On My Back

One would think that playing at a chess club like the Marshall I'd get to play lots of different players from week to week. It's not necessarily so. Just like my little 10 member club in White Plains, the usual suspects show up each week for the 4 Rated Games Tonight! , and the one day weekend events that I tend to play in at the Marshall. According to my MSA records I've played 1054 different players from 11/10/91 to today. That will go up to 1055 after the results from the WCC Summer Swiss gets submitted later this week.

Of those 1054 players, 32 of them I have played 10 or more times. Of those players that I've played 10 or more times, 4 of them have a perfect record against me. I guess there is no shame in being 0-13 against IM Jay Bonin, but 0-11 against Ilya Logunov? There was a stretch of time I'd play him in the first round almost every week in the 4 Rated Games Tonight! tournament. He'd always call in his entry, and show up anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes late. Yet despite his always giving me time odds, I'd find a way to piss away the time advantage. He stopped playing over a year ago, so who knows if I'll ever get a chance to raise my winning percentage against him above .000.

The three players I've played the most since 1991 I have a winning record against all them. I racked up a lot the wins when these players were lower rated then me. As our ratings have gotten closer, my win percentage has slipped closer to .500. Number three on the list is Steve Chernick. We played each at the Manhattan Chess Club quite a few times, and after the Manhattan folded we continued our rivalry at the Marshall Chess Club. From 1998 to 2005, my record against him had been 15 wins, 5 draws, and 4 losses.

Then a funny thing started happening. From 01/06 to the present my record has been 4 wins, 4 draws and 11 losses! This year in February I played him 3 times in 2 weeks and I lost every single game. Not just the 3 games to him, but in all three tournaments I went into the last round against him having an 0-3 or 0-2 record. I was starting to think I'd never win another game of chess at the Marshall again. I was winning games at other clubs and tournaments, but I had that stretch at the Marshall where I could not win. I should have not played there during the month of February. I had a record of 1 win, 1 draw and 17 losses.
Steve seems to bring the worst out in me. We'll have some totally boring position where nothing is happening and I'll find some bizarre move that makes the position totally disintegrate. Here's game number 1 of Polly's February from Hell:

White just played 29. dxe6. What should Black play? 29...fxe6 is the right move. So do I play that move? Noooo! I'm trying to keep my nice pawn structure intact, or at least get the queens and a pair of rooks off the board before playing fxe6. I play 29...Qxe6?? As soon as I make the move I realize he is not going to play 30. Qxe6.

Suddenly I have that "Oh crap, I just blundered big time!" sensation. That's where you hope and pray that your opponent doesn't see it. Steve saw it, and played 30. Qf1. The game went all to hell after that. 30... Qd6 31. Rxe8+ Bf8 32. Bh6 Rd8 33. Rxd8 Qxd834. Bxf8 Qxf8 35. Qd3 Qc5+ 36. Kh1 Qc8 37. Rd1 Kg7 38. Qd4+ Kf8 39. Qd8+ Qxd840. Rxd8+ Ke7 41. Ra8 Kf6 42. Rxa7 Kf5 43. Rxf7+ 1-0

Four days later later I play him again. Once again I have Black, and once again my position goes all to hell. This game is truly a comedy of errors especially the last 5 moves or so. So here is game number two.


Nine days later, I'm playing him again. It's the third round of a three round tournament so it's a toss for color, and guess what color I get? Yep, Black again. I'm thinking to myself "Will I ever get white against this guy again?" It's also not helping that I'm on this major losing streak at the Marshall. All of this is wrecking havoc on my mind, so I approach the game fairly cautiously.

Once again we reach one of those positions where I feel I have better pawn structure, a knight on the outpost square d5,he has a do nothing bishop and his threats are easy enough to defend.

He just played 27. f5 with the annoying little threat of Qb8+. Annoying yes, but crushing no. I play 27...Qc7 28. Qxc7 Nxc7 29. fxe6. Now I have a decision to make. Which way do I want to recapture? Do I keep the kingside pawn structure intact, bring the knight back into play, but give him a passed pawn? Option number two is recapture with the f pawn giving me an isolated e pawn, stopping his d pawn, and having the option of bringing the knight back to d5.

Sometimes we can get overly fixated on pawn structure. I'm thinking to myself, "I want to keep my kingside pawns intact, and besides that stupid isolated d pawn isn't going anywhere." I made the very natural looking 29...Nxe6. Guess what? That stupid isolated d pawn became a royal pain as it made its little march down the board. 30.d5 Nc7 31.d6 Ne6 32.d7 f6 33.Bb6 Kf7 34.d8Q Nxd8 35.Bxd8 b5 36.Kf2 Ke6 37.Ke3 Ke5 1-0

I suppose I could have placed my pawns on light squares and fiddled around with my king, but having chucked another decent position against the same player for the 3rd time in two weeks I just had no desire to try for some time scramble funny business. I had less then a minute, and think he had 3 minutes. There have been times I've played on positions like that, and suckered my opponent into trying to out blitz me, and have pulled a rabbit out of my hat. In this case about the only thing pulling I was out was my hair.

I feel like I may be finally getting the gorilla off my back. I've beaten him two out of three in our last few games. I even beat him with black last weekend, despite getting ahead of myself and outright hanging a rook. Maybe I'll give it another shot this weekend.

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