Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wacky Wednesday: Mind Games & Superstitions in Saratoga

This is not my typical Wacky Wednesday fare, but some of the things I did this past weekend were pretty wacky.

When one finds oneself in an unfamiliar spot, sometimes one has to use what ever little trick to help get through uncharted territory. Sitting on board one at 3-0 after one day's play definitely was a new experience for me. Of all the multi-day events I've played in over the years I've only won two of them. I think in both cases I tied for first with 3.5 out of 4. Those two events were thirty years ago. I don't even remember if I was nervous going into the last day.

Years ago I had other little superstitions and rituals related to chess besides the direction I'd sit in the playing room. Most of them had to do with "lucky pens" and the color ink of those pens. If I lost writing with blue ink, I'd change to black for the next round. What ever pen I won with I'd make sure to keep using it until I lost with it. When it came to ink red was always a bad color for me. I would always lose if I kept score with red ink. When I went on a long losing streak after having my white Mon Roi swapped for a red one, I was thinking maybe the red ink thing had transferred itself to my Mon Roi. That proved to be false much to my relief.

I've had my favorite chess pins that I wear to tournaments, and my assorted chess shirts, sweaters and vests. I've never felt that any one item has been lucky or unlucky. I know some players have had their lucky shirt, and some athletes are well known for their lucky undershirts. Saturday night I was thinking maybe I shouldn't change my clothing for Sunday's rounds. I thought it was kind of silly thinking on my part, but I did decide to wear the same pants and jacket on Sunday. I also made sure that I wore the same pins on Sunday, and put them in the exact same place on the other shirt I wore.

Looking back on this it does seem rather silly. Happy Hippo in one of his recent comments wrote the following: "And it is you yourself who will make or break the game, not Lady Luck. Wearing 100 rabbit's foots or horseshoes around your neck ain't gonna help you (albeit it might frighten your opponent into submission). *grin*" He's absolutely right, but sometimes rituals and superstitions help take the edge off. Sunday morning I got down to the playing room early enough so that I could sit in "my chair" on board 1, and set up my equipment. Once I got set up I realized that I had left the red baseball cap I'd been wearing all tournament up in my hotel room. I know it's totally irrational, but I actually raced back to my room and got the cap. How lucky can this cap be? I've worn it on some Thursday nights when I've gone 0-3 and gotten a bye. But for what ever reason I wanted the cap.

After beating the only other 3-0 in my shortest and perhaps "easiest" game all tournament, I started to think I could actually win this tournament. Though every time one of my friends would ask me if I was going 6-0, I'd tell them I didn't want to talk about it. To me talking about 6-0 before the tournament is over is like talking about no hitters in baseball before the game is over. I DON'T WANT TO DISCUSS IT!!! (Covering ears and loudly singing la la la la la la.)

In round 5 I'm the lone 4-0 so I play the highest rated 3-1 I haven't faced yet. Once again I make sure I get to the board first so that I can have my seat. At this point I'm on a roll so why mess with things? Though by now I have a good feeling about my play so where I sit really shouldn't matter. I was so pumped at how round 4 went, that I played aggressively as black. It's probably one of the best games I've played against a Closed Sicilian. I pushed d5 early, and got a good position.


He resigned once it became clear that stopping my king side pawns was going to cost him his bishop. Now I could relax since I was 1.5 points ahead of the field. Maybe I jinxed myself over the 6-0 when I spoke to our team's top player about whether both of us could go 6-0 or not. He won his last round game. I guess 5.5 - 0.5 was a fitting score for my best result ever in a 6 round tournament, since my worst result in a 6 rounder was the 0.5 - 5.5 I had at last year's New York State Championship. If I went 6-0 maybe the chess gods would have demanded that I go 0-6 some time in the future. :-Þ Perish the thought!!


Soapstone said...

5.5-0.5 was the best I ever did in a weekend swiss, although I did go 7-0 once in a long club series. It's really fascinating how much irrationality can come from our own minds despite our best efforts to stay as logical as our game. Agree wholeheartedly about the jinxing talk (lalalala).

Phaedrus said...

I had my rituals for years. Throwing away scorebooks after two consecutive losses, favourite shirt anter a win, favourite pen. But one day I decided to stop.

The rituals were in a way contraproductive. I got so absorbed in the coming game that an unhealthy tension started to build up.

Now I trie to forget as much as possible the game that is coming up. It is mostly enjoying the good companie of my team and clubmates before the game that I enjoy before the game. As soon as I have shaken the hand of my opponent I switch on to the game, and I concentrate as much as possible.

Throwing away rituals as favourite pen and so on, also gave me a bit more self confidence. It is as if I say to myself. "It is me who is playing, only me, not a pen, a shirt or a scorebook, and my opponent will have his hands full to win or draw".

And best of all, it is no problem at all when a loved ane has accidently lost your lucky pen or brought your lucky shirt to laundrette.

Polly said...

phaedrus: It's been years since I've even indulged in these silly rituals. I think I just needed something to give my mind a little respite from the real issue of trying to win when I know everyone is gunning for me.

Sitting at board one all tournament attracts attention to yourself. Since it was a fairly small tournament and the top board was on the aisle everyone could watch my games. I just try to tune out what's going on around me. I was proud of myself because I did not once resort to my ipod to tune out the background.

nemo said...

5.5-0.5 is damn good results! I can only hope to achieve such results for myself someday. Who knows, I have a butt load of tourneys coming up. Perhaps the god's of chess will be with me ;]. Great games!

Phaedrus said...

Way to go Polly. It took me years to be loose the cramp that stopped me improving and enjoying tyhe game as much as I do now. But sometimes in this all to chaotic world we unwillingly fall back to old habits.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I could think of that would justify him doubling his pawns is trying to pressure the a-Pawn, although he didn't really try it. Maybe b/c it wasn't so vulnerable.

You had so much more space than him; it really helped as well.

some of the things I did this past weekend were pretty wacky.

Sounds like college.

tanc(happyhippo) said...

Hi polly,

There's no problems with rituals as long as it allows you to 'settle' quickly before the start of the game and put your mind at ease, alert and make yourself comfortable.

If you're sitting a board where there are lots of people around, one way to avoid is not look at the crowd forming and just concentrate on the board.

I find that when I'm at the board, I can never find enough time to assess all the threats present, constantly look for new ideas, find weak squares etc.

And congratulations of a terrific tournament result!