Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Houston, We Have A Problem

A Chess Player's Version of "My Dog Ate My Homework"

I was all set to write a piece about playing in the Parents & Friends tournament at the National Scholastic K-12 in Houston this past weekend complete with several interesting games from the tournament. Unfortunately the high tech version of "My Dog Ate My Homework" came in to play in the form of my Mon Roi ate my games. The four games I played in this tournament vanished in the course of trying to resolve a software glitch. Let's just say that I'm the crash test dummy for Mon Roi's latest software upgrade. I think I drive their software developers a little crazy, but with all the games I play using their device I'm a good guinea pig. Hopefully somewhere in the guts of my unit the good folks in Montreal will find the missing games. So here it goes, sans games, but hopefully still a good tale.

The Parents & Friends tournament is a side event that is held at all the national scholastics. It's 4 rounds played at G/45. There are two sections. One is a rated the other is unrated. It's nice little event that gives parents, other family members, friends, and coaches a chance to play. Along with gift certificate prizes for the top 3 there are trophies for teams of mom/player, dad/player, coach/player, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandparents, etc. They combine the scores of the scholastic player after four rounds and the score of his partner in the Parents & Friends tournament to determine the winners in the various categories.

This is the fourth time I've played in the event, and it's almost always an adventure. I can write a separate story on "Close Encounters With Psychotic Chess Dads" about one of the Parents and Friends tournaments I played in. However there will be another day to tell that story. There always a few masters, experts and A players in the tournament, but there are also a number of lower rated parents who play. Many of the parents are not regular tournament players so they have provisional ratings. One never can be sure what the true strength of these players are. I've yet to play anyone higher rated then me in these events, because I always seem to manage to lose to some random underrated dad. Unfortunately this tournament would prove to be no different.

In the first round I get paired against a dad whose son is playing in the 11th grade section. We exchange pleasantries. Where you are you from? How long have you been playing? How's you child doing? Etc. It turns out he's from Long Island. (Great! I fly to Texas to play someone from New York in the first round.) This is only his second tournament, and he said he's only won one game. He thought his rating was 100. I'm sure he meant 1000. I wasn't on the last board so I didn't think it was possible I'd be playing someone with a rating in the 100s. I was hoping that he wouldn't be like one dad I played in one these events that I crushed in 13 moves. I want to be challenged and have an interesting game that isn't over in 10 minutes. (Note to self: Be careful about what you wish for.)

The tournament director gave her opening speech about the rules, and keeping score. It sounded similar to the one given to the children playing in the main event. This year the tournament directors decided to take a tougher stance on keeping score, especially for the older kids. The party line was keep score until someone had under 5 minutes. If you didn't keep score then your clock would be set for 5 minutes. Ouch! IMHO I think that's rather harsh, though I understand their logic. (If you're in 4th grade or over and are playing in a national championship you have no excuse not to keep score, except for a handicap or religious reasons.)

We're getting ready to start and I notice my opponent doesn't have a score sheet or a pencil. I'm thinking to myself "Oh great, am I going to have another score keeping argument with a psycho chess dad? Should I say something, or just let it slide since he's only playing in his second tournament?" Based on our pleasant conversation before we started, I figured he was just a nice guy who wouldn't go nuts on me if I said something about having to keep score. On the one hand I didn't want to feel like I was at a disadvantage on the clock if I let it slide. On the other hand I didn't want to seem like a hard ass if I complained to the TD and made him play with 5 minutes on his clock. One of the players gave him a score sheet, and I loaned him a pen.

Sometimes I think I'm too nice to succeed at chess. I gave him a little crash course in notation before we started, and if he was having trouble with how to write something such as castling or a capture I told him what to do. The game started 1. e4 c5, 2. f3. The inner teacher in me wanted to say "You really don't want to play that move. Take it back and play a developing move like Nf3." I had remind myself of two things; one this was USCF rated tournament game, two my opponent is not a seven year old kid who only wants to move pawns. I'm playing an adult with a son in 11th grade, so no more Mrs. Nice Guy. Though Mrs. Nice Guy kept coming back and reminding him to press his clock a number of times.

After a second move like that it was tempting to play for some sacrifice on e4 as soon as possible, but I decided I would simply develop normally with 2...Nc6. The position morphed into a cross between a Closed Sicilian (d3), Rossolimo (Bb4) Yugoslav Attack (f3). He castled king side instead of queen side with the pawn storm. (Yes, I had to tell him O-O for king side castling.) He did get some annoying attacks going and at one point missed the opportunity to fork my two rooks by pushing his pawn to e7. Instead he took my knight on d7 after I had captured his bishop. So instead of being down the exchange it turned into a simple piece trade.

After surviving that scare I traded down to a rook and pawn ending. He was very short on time and had stopped keeping score, and my moves are floating around somewhere in limbo. From what I recall I was ahead a pawn and had the big time advantage. Who knows what was going on in my mind when we reached this position. This may not be exactly right, but the mating pattern is.

Assuming that this is the actual position he played f4+. (I don't think it is, since I think the queen side pawns may have been split up, but one gets the idea.) He had less then 2 minutes, and I had over 10 minutes. I ended out doing one of those dumb ass things that I tell my students not to do. "Don't try to out blitz your opponent in his time trouble." I moved Kh5?? As soon as I let go of the king I realized much to my horror that Rh1 is mate. I tried to keep a poker face, and not let my body language betray me. However this is one of those no brainer positions that I could give to a class of second graders, and most of them would find Rh1#. Needless to say he found the move. *Sigh* Another Parents & Friends tournament where I wouldn't get paired up. (Note: His rating was actually 1044 based on 7 games. He played in the unrated section at Foxwoods in the spring.)

There was nothing special about rounds two and three. I won in round two, and lost in round three. I played another New Yorker in round three. Though I did discover afterwards that my round three opponent was one of the coaches from our big rival from New York. I caught some good natured crap from the parents and kids about losing to our rival's coach.

Round four would be my version of a chess triathlon. (chess, run, team photo shoot, run, chess). The round started at at 4:30, but the photographer from mychessphotos.com was scheduled to come to our team room at 5:15 to take our team picture. I was either going to have to finish my game in 45 minutes or do a mad dash between the convention center where I was playing to the Hilton where our team room was in between moves. I was paired against a 966, so at first glance one would think I'd be able to go for the quick kill. However this 966 had 1.5 points with a win over a 1500 and a draw against a 1566. His one loss had been against a 2100, so I had a feeling this was not going to be a quickie blow out on my part.

My opponent blundered a piece around the 15th move so I thought there was hope that I would finish early. However leave it me to allow complications. Shortly before 5:15 we arrive at roughly the following position. Again I'm doing this from memory, so some of the pieces aren't on their exact squares. In one my attempts to reconstruct the position in Chessbase, Fritz had black giving mate in 5. I forgot that either my queen or bishop was covering f2.

My opponent was thinking about his move. I knew he was going to play ..Bf3. I had to figure out whether I could accept the sacrifice or not. In the meantime our team coordinator called to let me know the photographer was there. I ignored the vibrating phone, and waited for him to move. It took me awhile to determine that I could take it because I can escape with Re1. Finally he plays ...Bf3. The game continues Bxf3, Qh3, Re1. At this point I tell the TD I'm leaving for the team picture, and run across the street, and up the two escalators to the third floor of the Hilton. The photographer is there, but not the other coach. He's in the bathroom changing into the team shirt. I quickly scoot into the ladies room to put on the team shirt. In the meantime I'm thinking about the position, and about the possibility that he'll sac the knight and try for perpetual.

Finally we have the whole group together to do the picture. The kids are goofing around a bit and make it hard to get a decent picture. I keep saying "Hurry, my clock is probably running." We finally get the picture done. I go running down the two escalators, and back across to the convention center. This entire process ended out costing me 7 minutes on the clock. It's a good thing I'm in shape and can run. I managed to avoid cheap shots and perpetual checks, and traded down. My opponent offered me a draw thinking that I would not have time to figure out how to win with so little time. I turned him down since I was up 3 minor pieces and the queen and a pair of rooks had been traded off. He offered me another draw when I got down to under 30 seconds. I ignored the draw offer and kept moving. I was not taking a draw up three pieces, time or no time. With the 5 second delay I had time to figure things out. With 19 seconds left I finally mated him. Phew!

When I came back to the team room everyone was glad to hear that I managed to win the game. That was a little too much excitement for me. Also my grossly underrated opponent made the game too much like work. Maybe dealing with psycho chess dads wasn't so bad after all.


Anonymous said...

Hey Polly- I have mentioned this before, but here goes again- sorry to be a bore. I play at about 1800 level, so it is hardly GM advice for what it is worth...

I felt bad at that endgame mate you allowed. It is a common problem- people are focused on winning pawns or promoting pawns in the endgame, and forget that the King can still get mated in the middle of the board.

The only solution is to become less human and more computer-like. I refer to Dan Heisman's routine of methodically scanning for all the opponent's checks, captures and threats before doing anything else.
Then we repeat this for each candidate move that we consider.

Liquid Egg Product said...

Isn't technology grand? Those 5 second delays really can be a lifesaver.

I really wish I'd swung by and checked things out at least. I thought I didn't have the time this weekend, but by the time I figured out I did, it was already too late.

Chessaholic said...

Sounds like a busy but fun weekend!

You know, although it's probably not beneficial to your score, I think it's very cool that you are so nice as to remind your lower rated opponent to press the clock etc. Very refreshing.

Polly said...

Anon: It's never boring. We all need the constant reminders about considering the possibilities in any given position. Your suggestion sounds a little bit like what chessloser was thinking about doing because he was tired of missing stuff.

LEP: I hate it when my I arrive late and have to play with an analog clock. That happened to me two weeks ago. It sucked!

Chessaholic: As a grizzled tournament veteren and chess teacher I feel iy's important to help tournament newbies. If a newcomer can walk away from a tournament with a positive experience regardless of his results it's more likely he will play again. In the case of a parent, the willingness to play in a tournament gives them another opportunity to bond with their child.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ouch on that mate, but congrats on finishing an off-season triathlon! :)

Anonymous said...

Polly, thx for everything, anychance you can post the full game??

I would really like to see it?


Polly said...

Anon: Unfortunately I lost the scores from all four of the games. I have a partial score from the first round game, but my opponent didn't have the entire score and what he had was difficult to make out.

Losing the scores ruined the story to some degree, but c'est la vie.