Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Knightmare on West 10th St.

The hardest thing about playing after a crushing loss is trying to forget about it, and move on. So even though I got to sleep on it, and try to start fresh I have trouble leaving it behind. It doesn’t help that I now have to play the higher rated 11 year old son who I’m 0-4 against. I don’t consider him one of those proverbial monkeys on my back. He’s young, out-rates me by almost 300 points and will probably become a master in the next few years.

All the studying of tactics, openings, endgames etc, does not prepare you for the battle of your mind. How one rebounds after a horrific blunder is probably worth a class. I can think about one instance where the inability to bounce back after a crushing loss cost me 67 rating points in one tournament. I know there have been others. That particular incident from 1989 stands out, because I had mate in two. I had worked the whole thing out, knew exactly what I needed to do, and was expecting the opponent to resign. I had walked away from the board, gave a friend "thumbs up", sat down, and when he didn't resign I forgot the moves. I lost about 12 moves later. I came back the next day and lost both games. In a tournament where I was the number 3 player I went 0-4. The only reason I didn't lose more points was because they had just put 100 point floors so I could only drop to 1845.

Often when I write an entry for my blog it takes several days before I complete it and publish. This I started on Sunday night, and here it is Tuesday. I mention this because tonight Paul Hoffman was at the Marshall Chess Club for a Q&A and book signing. I bought the book and started reading it on the train ride back. In the first chapter of his book KING'S GAMBIT: A SON, A FATHER, AND THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS GAME he talks about the same subject. "The world's top grandmasters are successful in part because they are able to recover from devastating losses. Every player, even Gary Kasparov, collapses in the odd game, but he has the inner strength to pull himself together and not let defeat unduly interfere with his subsequent concentration and performance."

So I guess perhaps I was being overly conservative in my assessment of the importance of psychological inner strength. So how did I rebound from Saturdays' crushing loss? I sucked. It didn't help that on the 7th move I made a dumb queen move that cost me a pawn on move 8. So not only was I angry about Saturday's game, I was angry at myself for making an error that I've made in previous games. On the 23rd move I lost another pawn. By move 35 we're in a rook and pawns ending. He has reached over for the black queen and set it down in front of him. That just got me more aggravated since my doing it the night before preceded my meltdown. Seeing him do the same action that I did in my game against his dad just reminded me of how cocky and unfocused I had been the night before. So here he is being the cocky little kid, but unlike me he doesn't screw up the won ending.

As we traded down he kept fiddling with the black queen sitting in front of him. I'd like to think that it wasn't intentional on his part, but the more he did it the more I was seething inside. Jay thought he was being obnoxious, but I'd like to think it was the twitchiness of an 11 year old kid. He gave me back one of the pawns and I was hoping perhaps I could hold on for a draw, but it came down to a classic Lucena Position. He played it perfectly, building the rook bridge to finally block my checks.

After move 64 we reached this position:

Jay thought maybe I could draw by "passing" with Rf7, but he simply will check on d4 and still set up the bridge. The game actually continued 65.Kd2 Ra2+ 66.Kd3 Ke1 67.Re8 Kd1 68.Rf8 Ra3+ 69.Kd4 Ke2 70.Re8+ Kf3 71.Rf8 Kg2 72.Rg8+ Rg3. Knowing that stopping the pawn would cost me my rook I resigned. At this point my rage is boiling over, and all I really want to do is throw pieces around, burst in tears, scream and go find mommy. Little kids can do that because they're children, and children can't always handle losing well. Even grandmasters can have major meltdowns, and get away with it because they're grandmasters. However, 50 something B players can't do that sort of thing without people saying "what a jerk!"
I suppose that's why internet chess appeals to certain people. They can curse at their screen, throw their mouse around, pound their fists, or any thing else they want to do. The opponent isn't going to know what's happening on the other side. For me, I want the human contact, even though in situations like this I might be better off hiding behind a screen name where I can be just another somebody in cyberspace.

It's funny how such anger can mess with one's thought processes, and make it hard to see what is really happening in a particular position. In the last round I'm black against Joe Felber rated 2000. I've known Joe since 1976 when we both were living in Baltimore and attending some of the same tournaments, but this was the first time we actually have played each other. I was still in a totally foul mood from the morning loss that was not helped with being given the wrong salad dressing when I got lunch, and Aleksandr continually coming over to see what I was doing on my computer between rounds. "I vant to be left alone!"

So here I am still in a rage, barely able to think straight, and trying to appear calm. Anger can really cloud one's judgement. We reach this position.

I'm thinking Joe has a killer move, and that if he makes it I might as well resign. I'm seeing phantoms, and as he's thinking about his move I keep looking at my watch and thinking "If he plays 25. Nf6+ I'm going to get crushed, so if I resign I can make the express train, and get home in time for the online hearts tournament." The more he thinks the more I'm convinced I'm going to lose. It turns out 25. Nf6 is nothing, but I didn't realize it at the time. Instead he played 25. Nd6. That move is annoying, but I hang on, and in the process pick up another pawn.

The anger has faded, but now it's been replaced by fear. In this case the fear of blowing another game. It doesn't help that people keep coming over and watch the game. Aleksandr keeps coming over, and standing too close. I keep using hand signals to tell him to back up. Finally I tell him, "Stay back. You're standing too close." I don't mind people watching, but when they hover next to my right side I find it annoying. I think it's because I want my space where I have my scoresheet. Also I almost feel like he's bringing me bad luck. He kept coming and watching my game against his dad, and then I lost to him in the morning round. I don't recall him watching my first round game that I won. Though that game I was sitting on the bench against the wall. Sitting there one does not have to worry about spectators being on one's back. (Note to self: Next tournament take sit on the bench even if it means switching the board around.)
Here's a classic case of nothing to fear, but fear itself.

I'm seeing ghosts again. I didn't want him to play 46. Rxd8, because I was afraid after I play 46...Rxd8 that he'll play 47. d7. What I was missing was the pawn is pinned to his queen. So instead of making a hiding place for my king with 45...h5, I play Rxc8. The game continues 46. Qxc8+Kg7 47. Qc3+ Qf6 48. Qc6 Qe6 49. Qc3+ Kf8 50. Qh8+ Qg8 51. Qe5 Qg7 52. Qc5 Qf7 53. Qc3 Qe6 54. Qh8+ Qg8 1/2-1/2 I was too afraid to let him chase my king out so I repeated the position.
Emotions are a tough thing to control. Maybe I wouldn't be so affected by them if I played chess on the internet.


ookwelbekendalsemc said...

Trust me, you definitely want to pound your fists, curse at your screen and throw the mouse around when playing on the web ;)

Anyway, you drew a 2000 rated player! That's gotta feel pretty good, doesn't it?

Temposchlucker said...

and when he didn't resign I forgot the moves.

That's miraculous!

Glenn Wilson said...

Great post!

Wahrheit said...

Your latest posts are excellent, showing the raging emotions under the surface that I presume we all feel during games, and especially after making mistakes. Thanks for sharing the personal part of chess with us.

Sciurus said...

I totally feel with you. In an online tournament just last night I thought I could win my opponent's queen with a nice knight fork. What a surprise as my knight got simply captured in the process... That caused some big time cursing and the strong feeling that chess is really not the right thing for me.

atomic patzer said...

It was nice meeting you at the book signing last night!

Three weeks ago I had a similar experience after losing a won game. I had to play the next round right away but was so stunned that I couldn't think of anything but that loss. I was going to resign on move two, but played on mechanically until I dropped a piece and resigned. The whole time I could think of nothing but the previous loss. And it's still haunting me.

Samurai Pawn said...

I really like reading your posts! Great stuff! I don't know if you remember, but I told you a while back about a game I lost due to travel and an obnoxious kid. Well, yesterday I finally got my revenge and kicked his ass.

Remember...there is always revenge! ;)

Polly said...

Samurai: Revenge is a sweet thing. Now if I can only get a small bit of revenge on King Kong. :-) I do remember you sharing about travel issues.

Wahr: The human element in chess is so much a part of the game. I love observing people and writing about what I observe, even if it's the inner me that I'm observing.

sciurus: Chess is about the things we see both real and imagined. It's the ability to tell them apart that makes us a better chessplayer.

tempo: Miraculous? I'm not sure i follow.

ook: I play hearts online, and I cuss at the screen when I do something stupid. Though when all else fails, I blame the cards. In chess I can't blame the pieces.

atom: Hopefully by tomorrow I'll be over it, otherwise I may be writing another piece on getting blown out on Thurday night. :-Þ

Thanks Glenn!

Temposchlucker said...

My mind sometimes plays tricks with me too. Like after 20 minutes thinking grabbing the wrong bishop when they stand next to each other. Or when I'm thinking "whatever I do, I must play f3 first" and then start a combination without f3. Forgetting a mate in two hasn't happened to me though. Yet:)

Polly said...

tempo: play as long as I have, it's bound to happen! LOL

Blue Devil Knight said...

Great description of the rage we all feel. My dog is so sweet when I scream at the board when I blunder he usually comes to try to give me kisses (though sometimes he gets scared of the lound noises and hides in the basement).

I would be so pissed if someone was sitting there fondling his queen in an endgame.

Congrats on the play with the 2000. That's impressive. It's hard not to see phantoms against those higher rated opponents.

Polly said...

BDK: Fondling the queen sounds rather obscene and kinky. It was more like tapping it like a pencil.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Queen fondling leads to blindness.

Samurai Pawn said...

And hairy palms...

likesforests said...

"How one rebounds after a horrific blunder is probably worth a class."

What would you tell the class? It's easy to say focus on how to play the board in front of you and not on the mistake you made a few moves back or a game or two ago, but it's sometimes hard to do in practice.

"It was nice meeting you at the book signing last night!"

Polly wrote a book?! Cool... so where can I pick up a copy? :)

Polly said...

Like: There I go with my danging participles. Worth a rating class is what I meant. 200 points. Though I have used the blowing mate in two game as a lesson on focus and over confidence.

Write a book? LOL I wish! We were at Paul Hoffman's book signing.

gorckat said...

Waitzkin's Art of Learning talks good bit about dealing with mistakes and damage control.