Monday, March 17, 2008

Mind Games 101

There's one of those motivational posters that says something along the lines of "Attitude determines altitude." I'm not sure if that's the exact quote, but it will do for this discussion. As I wrote on Friday I really wrestled with which section to play in over the weekend. Now it was it was show time. Time to put up or shut up. Needless to say I was a little freaked out to see myself on board 1 as the highest rated player in my section. Not counting quads or dinky little tournaments at the club, I've never been the number one ranked player in a section. I don't know where all the players rated 1701-1799 were, but they weren't playing at the Saratoga Open. Maybe they were playing in the NY State Scholastic Championship being held at the same location.

Believe it or not, the most crucial position in the entire tournament occurred right here in round one:
I'm black in this position and my opponent just played played 14. g4. How can a position from round one be the most crucial one in the entire tournament? Because this was where I had a serious argument with the demons that dog me when I think I'm losing. I'm staring at this position and thinking to myself, "I am so busted here. He's going to put his queen on h4, and push g5. How am I supposed to stop this mating attack? I can't believe this crap! I'm the highest rated in this section and I'm going to lose in the first round to a freaking 1465. I knew I should have played in the Open Section. I suck. How could this be happening already? I'm tired of getting these crappy positions from random openings."

If I had continue to follow that train of thought I probably would have simply rolled over and let him blow my king side apart. Emotionally I'm not sure I would have recovered from allowing myself to get crushed in the first round. Finally I told myself not to give up so easily and try to find something to do in the position. I finally decided on 14...Ne4. I knew it was going to lose a pawn, but I felt I had to do something to keep the queen off of h4, and give me a little more space. It wasn't really the best move, but it showed I was willing to take chances to mix things up a bit. I could have played 14... dxe3 15. Qxe3 Nd5 16. Qf2 Bd6 17. Qh4 h6 18. g5 f6 19. gxf6 Nxf6.

The game actually continued 15. d3Nd6 16. exd4 cxd4 17. Bxd4 Nc8 18. Bb2 Bc5+ 19. Kf1 f6 20. Nf3 Qxf4, reaching this position.

I thought awhile about 20...Qxf4, and decided I was not afraid of 21. Qxe6+ His attack has petered out and my bishop pair is aiming right at his king. Even though I'm still down a pawn I'm quite happy with my position. He hasn't developed his knight, I have an annoying pin on his f3 knight and his king is still exposed. The game continued 21...Kh8 22. Qf5 Qxf5 23. gxf5 Ne7 24. d4 Bxf3 Here I give up the bishop pair to win back my pawn.

25. Rxf3 Bxd4 26. c3 Be5 27. Ba3? I didn't think that was such a good move for him. It chases my rook to a useful square, and takes away the only safe square for his knight which still has not moved.

27...Rfe8 28. Kg2 Rd1 29. Bc5 b6 30. Bd4 Bxd4 31. cxd4 Rxd4 32. Na3 He finally moves the knight, but it cost him a pawn to free it up, and my rook is dominating the open d file. As soon as I move my knight my rook on e8 will get into the action too. 32...Rd2+ 33. Kh3 Nd5 34. Rc1 h6 35. Nc4 Ra2 36. Kh4 Rxh2+ 37.Kg4 Ree2 38. Rg3?? This moves loses out right. Rd3 avoids mate, though I still have an excellent game after 38. Rd3 h5+ 39. Kf3 Rh3+ 40. Kxe2 Nf4+ 41. Kd2 Rxd3+ His actual moves leads to a quick end. 38... h5+ 39. Kf3 Rhf2#

I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted off my back. My four game losing streak was over, and I had won the mind games being played between myself and my inner pessimist. "Winners never quit. Quitters never win. I'm not a quitter. I'm a winner!" Now I was ready to really try to win this section that I was number one in. One round down, five to go.


Icepick said...

It's funny, but when I look at the initial diagram my gut response is "White's going to get crushed!" Your pieces were all developed, you had more compact pawns, his King is looking very exposed andhe's playing without two pieces. I have no idea if that feeling is correct (it probably isn't), but I'd much rather have Black in that diagram.

Polly said...

You are right. When I put that position in Fritz, it had black better by about with = over + for .34. However at the time I was playing I just had it in my mind that white's attack on the kingside was unstoppable. It was forcing myself out of the "I'm going to lose" mindset that made me realize that I had the better position.

Often we are our worst enemies. What had to do for myself is not give up mentally. That's why this position was so importnat for me. I had been able beat back my inner pessimist and see the real possibilities of the position.

drunknknite said...

polly, friday's no good because we have a tournament here all weekend, maybe monday

Polly said...

Drunkn: Monday is one of my chess club nights. If I'm not totally wiped out I could possibly play at mid night my time which I guess is 10 your time. Tuesday would be better though that puts us into the next roun. I'm sure everyone is anxious to see what happens in our game. Wanna a draw?? :-Þ

Wahrheit said...

Wow, I don't visit for a few days and I come around to find you winning a tournament! This post is an excellent explication of thinking processes and psychological pressures that can help or hinder our results. I'm very interested in the physical and psychological aspects of chess these days and will be studying and posting more about it. I will link up to this series, as I hope a lot of people will read these thoughts and be encouraged.

Polly said...

wahr: I think people take the physical and mental aspects of the game lightly. They'll invest many hours in working on the different parts of the game itself by studying openings, tactics, endgames, etc.

However all that doesn't help if you're physically exhausted 2 hours into a potential 6 hour game, or if you're totally psyched out by what the opponent is doing.

drunknknite said...

Tuesday is fine. I get off work at 5 which is 8 your time and I'm available any time after that.

On the topic of exhaustion during a game. Is it really a physical exhaustion? It doesn't seem like you're exerting yourself physically, playing chess doesn't burn calories I don't think. What types of things could you eat or do to increase chess stamina?

Polly said...

Drunkn: I can't remember where I read it, but I believe several grandmasters have talked about physical conditioning and the fact that they do lose weight during tournaments. Susan Polgar has made some posts recently on this topic.

I can't speak for others, but if I'm in a tense game, I don't sit still. My legs are bouncing around, I'm standing up, I'm sitting down, I'm kneeling on my chair, I'm pacing around the room. Things like that don't burn calories or exhaust me in the same manner as racing my bike does, but the tension does take a physical toll.

I believe that physically fit players have an advantage over their less fit peers. So assuming all other factors being equal (ability, knowledge, preperation), the fitter player is going to be more alert in a long game. That extra alertness may be the difference between finding the correct continuation in a crucial position.