I already gave away the ending with my previous post, but now it's time to talk about the two battles going on during this game. In any chess game there is the battle that occurs on the board with the pieces, and then there's the battle with the mind. As much as one wants to start each game with a clean slate and only think about the moves on the board, often there are other issues at hand. Sometimes it's about what happened in the previous round. Sometimes it's about who you're playing, or how he is acting. Sometimes it has nothing to do with chess itself.
For me I was fighting the battle of what had happened to me from the fourth round onwards. I should note that my fourth round opponent who received the gift of my rook went on to win the section with a score of 6-1. *Sigh* If only I hadn't hung the rook...... I'm playing a kid from New York City who attends one of the major chess power house schools. That's not exactly who I want to be paired against when I'm in one these foul funks, but I can't dwell on it. I knew before the pairings went up that I was going to play him. So it wasn't a big surprise. Yes I too sometimes succumb to the pairing game and try to figure out who I'm playing next.
This is the game, and I have added some annotations to it. However the analysis only tells about what I saw on the chess board. It was what I saw off the board that was crucial to how this game went.
As I have stated on this blog and in the comments of other people's blogs I much prefer the human element of live chess that one does not get when playing on the Internet. Seeing my opponent let's me know more about him or her. Sometimes that's good, and sometimes it's not so good. It's interesting to watch how certain players sit at the board, how they handle the pieces and clock, how they react to what's going on around them, etc.
Some players sit very still, while others are in constant motion with bouncing legs, tapping feet, or changing positions in their chair. Some players move the pieces in a very deliberate and precise manner. Others casually flick the pieces out and if you're lucky they land on the center of the square. Then there are the slammers. Those are the ones who on every single move slam the piece down like they just played the killer move. Some players show a calm confidence in their move as they deliberately place their piece on the square. Others are showing a "in your face" cockiness as slam their pieces.
Most of the time one needs to tune out their opponent's "board side manner" and not read anything into how they physically move the pieces or how they're sitting in their chair. In this particular case I couldn't help but to notice my opponent's demeanor during the game. He has been trained in the Kotov "write first, move after" school of thought. There's been much debate about how useful it is, and whether it should be allowed at all. In my pre-Mon Roi days I had tried it off and on, but didn't find it overly helpful for me. I think it's helpful for some players to follow that routine, and I when I'm playing I don't care whether my opponent is writing before or after he makes his move.
The only reason I paid much attention to it this time was because what he did after going through his analysis. Most of time when a player uses this method he will think about the move, write it down, think about it some more and then play the move. If they don't like what they've seen, they'll erase it and repeat the process again. My opponent would go through the first three steps, but then when he went to make the move there was often significant hesitation. It seemed like he was spending an awful lot of time on the opening moves. If one plays e4 as White one should have his set lines for openings like the Sicilian. The c3 line gives White the opportunity to steer the opening into something that he knows, so spending 5 minutes on his fifth move of h3 indicated to me early on that perhaps he wasn't going to be the next King Kong of my chess career.
He spent 14 minutes on his twelfth move, Ke2. He had written it down, had looked at it for quite awhile and then when he went to make the move he kept hesitating. He'd reach towards the king and then pull his hand away, then he'd reach for the king again and pull it away again. Then he picked up the king, hovered over e2 and then pulled it back to e1. He's still holding onto the king, but now he has three plausible choices for connecting the rooks; 12. Ke2, 12. O-O or 12. O-O-O. He finally did play 12. Ke2. His reasoning was that I had already pushed a6 and b5 so he was concerned my queen side attack would be faster then his king side attack.
The funny thing was when he played this move I was actually nervous about the potential onslaught of pawns backed up by his rooks on the g and h files. I was even more nervous after he played 13. Rag1. I've fallen victim to many of these types of attacks while not being able to get at the opponent's king on the other side. Given my mental state going into this game I was having one of those "Here we go again" moments. However what I was forgetting about was that this position had not come from a typical Accelerated Dragon so I had actually gotten in a few extra moves on the queen side while he pulled the bishop back to c2 and pushed d4. So even though he had the center, my king side was solid, and I had nice possibilities on the queen side.
I figured I'd try to distract him with 13...Na5 with the idea of 14...Nc4. I thought he might just ignore it and play 14. Bh6. This was the point where his hesitations over making moves became more pronounced. I sensed that he was scared of the play I was getting on the queen side. I still didn't think my moves were such a big deal, but he did and I could tell that was his thinking. He actually was correct in his assessment of the position after Na5. He can't simply ignore 14...Nc4. Though b3 was probably too passive on his part.
When he played 14. b3 that changed my entire attitude about the position. I think if he had confidently played Bh6, I may have been intimidated by the move. Given my recent record against kids playing intimidating looking moves it might have totally psyched me out during the game. However looking at the game afterwards with no pressure and the aid of Fritz I can see that 14 Bh6 is an illusion. It's actually not so good any more since if he plays it, 14... Nc4 allows black to pick up the b pawn after 15. Qg5 Bxh6 16. Qxh6 Nxb2. Even with White's queen on h6 his attack is too slow. Black will get a lot of play with White's king in the center. However I wasn't seeing any of this at the time so when he played the defensive move of b3 I felt tremendous relief and I went on the offensive with 14...Rc8.
He could have played 15. Rc1 to shore up his weak c file, but he was overly concerned about 15...b4. At first glance it appears I win the pawn on e4, but after 16. Nb1 Bxe4 17. Bxe4 Nxe4 18. Qxb4 it's equal. At that point anything could have happened. Instead he play the very passive a3 weakening the queen side even more. That move totally energized me. Now I was feeling like a shark who smelled blood and was going for the kill. I was seeing lots of possibilities in the position for me. The game kind of played itself after that.
This game clearly showed me why it's important to play with confidence and not give anything away with body language. Poker faces are important in chess too. Even my third round opponent who was totally busted and had very little time kept playing his pieces as if he had some crushing blow. I think he was waiting for me to blunder in the time scramble. So by playing quickly and decisively he certainly made me nervous, but I kept telling myself I had time and not to be hasty in my responses.
There is a fine line in reading too much into an opponent's actions, but I think an experienced player has a feel for what is real, and what may be for show. Even though I've never played this particular kid before, I've played enough kids to have a feel for their perceptions of the game in progress. Kids can be intimidating and scary to play at times, but I think they're easier to read. Kids are more real in their emotions. I think adults are better at BS-ing their way through stuff so they're harder to read.