Sunday, September 16, 2007

Odd Quads: The Adult's Worst Knightmare

Quads are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. You show up, plunk down your entry fee, wait to see who else shows up, get assigned to a section, and start playing. If you want to annoy the tournament director you can hover around to see whether you're going to be playing up, down, or in between. If you really want to annoy him you can beg him to move you to a different quad then the one it appears you'll be assigned to. "My latest MSA rating is xxxx, so move me up so that I don't have to play those lower rated players. I don't want to risk my hard earned rating points!

The ideal quad section will have 4 players within a 100 rating points of one another. A section like that makes it any one's ballgame, and there tends to be less whining about being a in quad with somebody much higher or lower rated then you. I've played in plenty of those types of quads. Sometimes I've done well, sometimes not so well. For the most part I like quads so that I don't have to deal with extreme pairings like the ones I got at the US Open.

Sometimes if there's a small turnout you can end out with some strange sections. One quad I played in at the Manhattan Chess Club consisted of three A players, and Grandmaster Ron Henley. Being number two in the quad I got to play GM Henley in the last round. I drew with the other two A players, and lost to GM Henley. Best $20 entry fee I ever spent. I got three games of rated chess, and a free lesson from a Grandmaster. Ron spent about an hour with me after the game going over the moves. It turned out I really had some chances in the game.

In 1988 I landed in another funny quad section at the Manhattan Chess Club. At the time I referred to it as an adult chess player's worst nightmare. Imagine being the fourth ranked player in a quad with a 16 year old master (James Schuyler), the winner of the Aspis Prize (Erez Klein), and the World Under 10 Boys Champion (John Viloria). The average age of my opponents was 13. I brought the average up to 18. The average rating of my opponents was 2130. I brought the average down to 2052. I put a decent fight in every game, but ended out with the statistically predicted results of no wins, three losses.

19 years later I'm learning the true meaning of the adult chess player's worse nightmare. When I think back upon that Manhattan CC Saturday Quad it wasn't so bad. I got the opportunity to play three outstanding young players of the time. Despite losing every game, I didn't totally humiliate myself by getting crushed in any of the games. If I had been playing three adults with those ratings I probably wouldn't have thought twice about it. It simply would have been "C'est la vie, I ended out in the bottom of the higher quad, not the top of the lower quad." Now I'd be happy to be at the bottom of a quad instead of the top of a quad full of bloodthirsty underrated kids.

Having said that, I must be a real glutton for punishment. Today I played in a quad with three kids rated from 1650 to 1726. If you add up the ages of the three kids they'd still be 13 years younger then me. Since the playing space is small, the quads are limited to 20 players. They send out an email, and it's first come, first serve. There is no on site registration so you know ahead of time who is going to be in your section. I knew going in that this had all the makings of being an ugly afternoon of chess. I've played all these kids a few times. One of the kids I'm 2-0 against. Another kid I'm 1-1-1 against. Then there is the proverbial monkey on my back. He's 10 years old. I've played him 6 times. My record is 0 wins, 1 draw, 5 losses against him. After five straight losses, I finally got a draw with him over the summer. I was hoping today I could get the monkey off my back and finally get a win.

A few weeks ago I made a number of observations about kids playing in adult tournaments, and some of their annoying little quirks. Today's tournament was kind of the reverse situation. I was the lone adult in a tournament full of kids. The kids in my section have gotten past the stage of fancy wrist flicks, dropping the pieces off center, constant adjusting, and fancy clock slaps. I guess as they get a little older and their ratings get over 1600 they tend to realize that move and clock theatrics don't win chess games against their rating peers. However with kids being kids and being the lone adult it was interesting in watching their demeanor playing one another versus their demeanor when playing me.

In the first round I played the 10 year old. I had white, and was perfectly happy to get this game out of the way. I didn't want to spend my early rounds wondering if I could remove the proverbial monkey. I made a small mistake on move 11 by playing my bishop to e3. It allowed him to pick up a tempo and grab the initiative. However I don't think that was the turning point of the game.

We reached this position after Black played 20...Qf7 with the threat of Bf4. What is White's best defense against that threat? I saw the threat, and defended, but unfortunately I did not make the best move. 35 moves later the proverbial monkey is still on my back. We were the last game done. In fact I think some of the second round games of the other quads were even done.

Kevin can be extremely talkative and animated when he plays. Despite his 1700 rating he is a 10 year old and can act accordingly. However with the exception of a few stray piece adjustments on my time, he acted like an adult when playing me. His only remark at the end was that I shouldn't have played Be3. Before I could comment about the wisdom of my 21st move he was out the door to tell mom how he did, and get a snack. Postmortem? What postmortem? Heaven help the opponent that stands in the way of a kid and a snack from mom. I let Fritz tell me I would have been equal if I played the right move.

The next round I played Harry. He's a 10th grader and up to this point I was 2-0 against him. I had been so absorbed in my first round game that I was not aware that he had beaten the number 1 player playing with black. I'm not sure it would have changed my approach to this game. I did beat him playing black the last time we played. However, just like I try to prevent previous losses against a current opponent mess with my mind, I also try not to let previous wins get me overconfident. He played differently this time against my Accelerated Dragon. Since he did not play Bc4, I played a line where I get d5 in, and delay the recapture on d5 by playing Nb4. He pushed d6 and I recaptured with Qxd6. What a mistake that turned out to be!

In the meantime Kevin and Robert are in some totally insane position where Kevin seems to be mopping up Robert's pieces. Kevin is giggling and talking to Robert. The two of them are making little comments back and forth. I guess this is the stuff I don't see at scholastic tournaments because I'm holed up in classroom with my computer. I can't help but to look at their position and see what is so amusing. You know how it is when somebody yawns it makes everyone else yawn. Same thing seems to happen with laughter. Now the four of us are giggling, and the players from the other section are trying to figure out what's so funny. Meanwhile back on my board, I'm trying to figure out what to do with my queen that is under attack and defending my knight on b4. My position was no laughing matter.

A few moves later there's more mumbling from Kevin and very animated body language. He resigns on the 11th move. Geez! This is the same kid who just took me apart in the previous round? You just can't make this stuff up. The two of them start talking about the game, and I'm trying to get them to quiet down so I can concentrate on my game. I feel like I've been transported into a K-1 section of some scholastic tournament I've directed. However there is no crying here. Finally the room has emptied, and all is quiet except perhaps the pounding of my heart and the sounds I make as I chew nervously on my Mon Roi stylus. The comic relief provided by Kevin's animation and absurd position has morphed into the depressing reality of I'm down the exchange, he has the bishop pair, the queens are off the board, and I'm way behind on time. With two seconds left on my clock I opted to resign.

Kids can come up with some of the funniest questions or comments. Kevin asked me if I flagged or resigned. "Resigned" I told him. He told me I should have flagged instead. Like it really mattered? A loss is a loss. I can't blame it on the clock. There was no time scramble implosion on my part. If anything, I played the crucial move of Qxd6 too fast. It looked so natural keeping the pawn structure intact that I played the move almost immediately. Perhaps a little more time on that move would have made it unnecessary to spend over 5 minutes on the next move.

The pairing sequence in a quad is such that when you get to the last round 1 is playing 2, and 3 is playing 4. In theory 1 vs 2 in the last round is going to determine the winner of the quad. So much for theory. Number 4 is 2-0 and only needs a draw to win the section. Number 1 and 3 want to win, and create a 3 way tie for first. Number 2 would just like to win a game and avoid the indignity of losing to three kids young enough to be her children.

There are just some days where no matter how hard you try to forget what happened in earlier rounds you just can't do it. Stupid things get you rattled, and it's hard to focus. I think this was one of those days for me. It's hard to describe the physical sensation that overcomes me when I feel the pressure to avoid the worse case scenario. Sometimes I lose and it's no big deal. I move on it's done. There have been other times where the loss was so devastating that I cried. Yes adults sometimes will cry over a loss. The heartbreaking losses bring out emotions that might not be expected from adults, but they're there. We just are a little more discreet in how we show those raw emotions. Kids tend to be more open with their feelings.

The times that losing affects me it's not so apparent on the outside. Instead there's this feeling of "Oh crap, this can't really be happening to me." Physically there's an uneasiness in my stomach, and a tightening in the chest. It's almost like I'm having a panic attack, but the symptoms aren't quite as severe. When I get like this it's hard to focus. I feel like the deer caught in the headlights. It started as soon is it was apparent that Kevin was going to beat me again. There must have been that look in my eyes because every time I came bursting out of the playing room to refill my water cup the TD would look at me. Sometimes he might say hi other times he'd just watch as I went into the parent area to get water. I don't think he wanted to know what was going on inside, but I think he sensed some agitation going on internally. The parents didn't say anything as I hustled over to the water cooler, refilled my cup and went running back inside. Those who seen me at action events, know that I rarely get up from the board, much less leave the room.

The other thing with quads is the last round toss for color. One of the players from another section came up with an innovative way to "toss" for color. He tells my opponent to toss the pawns up in the air and predict which one will land first. We opted for the more traditional "pick a hand" method. Continuing what was rapidly turning into a lousy afternoon, I picked the hand with the black pawn. Maybe I should have asked him if he wanted to do "Rock, Paper, Scissors" for the white pieces. Come to think of it, maybe I should have played "Rock, Paper, Scissors" to determine the outcome. It would have been quicker, and probably less painful.

Our section is the only one still going. The lower two sections had finished earlier. I swear some of the players finished all three of their games before I had finished my first. It wasn't quite like that, but most of the kids in the other sections finished their three games before I had finished my second. Once again Kevin was having a very animated discussion with his opponent. I'm not sure what that was all about. I glanced over at them, but I decided I was going to ignore them and deal with my own problems. They eventually drew, but Kevin was very quick to point out to Harry that he had a winning position. At this point I was in no mood to listen to their postmortem, and reminded them that this was a chess tournament.

Eventually my position deteriorated, and I decided enough was enough. It's hard enough getting blown out of a quad 0-3, but somehow if my opponents had all been 20 years older I wouldn't have left with that sickly feeling. When you think about it, it was an ideal quad. There was less then a 100 point difference from top to bottom. Anyone of the four of us could have gone 3-0, 0-3 or something in between. One just never knows, but especially playing kids. I've watched these kids start off quite young, and slowly work their way up the rating scale.

Some of the adults from my chess club admitted they don't like playing the kids. The organizer of this event was looking for one more player. He contacted some of those guys from my club. The all begged off. Too much pressure, and the kids go in with the attitude if there's nothing to lose. I have noyjing to lose when I'm hovering at my rating floor. All I do is contribute rating points to the youthful masses, and not have to cough up my own.

So am I masochistic enough to play again when the next tournament there comes up? You betcha. I'm not letting a clean sweep get me down. Payback time is coming.

1 comment:

Icepick said...

For me personally, the worst thing about playing children is that you never know what you're really going to get. Someone might have an 1100 rating but actually they play more like a 1600. And that 1600 might actually be playing like an expert. With adults one usually has some inkling of how good they are (or aren't), but with children? The only time one really knows with children is when they've already far exceeded one's own rating, and that's depressing.

- Icepick (1750 USCF)