One thing I've noticed about playing in tournaments with mostly kids is there's a lot of nervous energy before the round begins. When I play at the Marshall the kids are playing blitz or ragging on each other before the round. Though there is one certain annoying kid who shall remain nameless who plays at the Marshall who likes to rag on me about my playing ability. The adult players may be talking amongst each other or maybe looking at a chess book. Depending on my mood I may be engrossed in some non-chess book, eating my dinner and tuning everyone out with my iPod. Other days I'm talking to my friends both adult and child. At the Marshall there is enough space to spread out before and in between rounds.
At the Westchester Chess Academy space is at a premium. It's in an office building and its primary purpose is chess training. However they also run these action quads several times a month. It's an excellent opportunity for the students to get matched up with other players close to them in rating. There are two classrooms that are used for the tournament. Two quads play in the smaller room and the other sections play in the other room. 20 players is the ideal set up, but sometimes there will be 22 players. The waiting area outside the classrooms is fairly small so parents tend to hang out not only there, but in the hallway outside office space. Needless to say short of hanging out in the parking lot, one can't really get away from the pre-tournament energy that kids or nervous chess parents bring to the table.
Before the tournament begun Kapil and Kevin were having a discussion that then led to them going into the tournament room and start playing. Other kids were watching or playing blitz at the other tables. Before I start my round I like to take my seat, and fill in the tournament and player information on my Mon Roi. That's the one thing that does take longer then old fashioned writing. I also like to straighten out all the pieces so I don't have an "adjust-a-thon" at the start of the game. Many kids go through this whole ritual of adjusting all the pieces while saying "adjust, adjust, adjust" the entire time. I simply center all the pieces before I shake hands or start the clock. In order to get ready for the first round I had to get through the group of kids who were watching Kevin and Kapil, and ask for my seat.
As the four of us in quad 1 are getting ready to play Kevin says something to the effect of he did not want a repeat of last week. I joked about wanting to win more games then last week. The kids are relaxed and so am I. I've gotten to the point where I don't let my stomach get twisted into knots over the prospect of losing to these kids. I was hoping by changing my move order a bit I could get Kapil to do something besides play 5. c4. However I was not successful in that regard. I may just have to suck it up and try 4...Nf6 and take my chances. Every game I have with him tends to be very positional where he squeezes me and then wins a pawn or two. This game was no different except that it took him longer to finish me off. I guess that's progress on my part. Though "making progress" don't change that I'm now 0-5 against the kid.
In the mean time Kevin is doing something similar to Josh. He wins a couple of pawns and then trades down. This time is was apparent that he wasn't going to try anything fancy. It was funny because at one point I had looked at the position and thought he had dropped a rook. I thought to myself "Here we go again. Poor Kevin!" Later on I looked and both players have rooks and Kevin had the extra pawns. I guess his rook was in my blind spot when I first glanced over. I guess that shouldn't surprise me since at times my opponent's pieces end out in blind spot where I don't see what they're doing.
Second round I'm playing Kevin. Needless to say he wasn't going to play the same moves as the last game. I'm not sure getting King Kong off my back really helped my outlook or not. I got intimidated by his bishop sac when in reality it was nothing. I could have taken the bishop after all. Even after declining the sacrifice and playing safe I missed 17. Ba3+ which is very strong for me.
While Kevin and I are playing our game Josh and Kapil agree to draw. Kevin leans over and tells Josh that he missed a win earlier. He resets the position and shows Josh how he can push his passed pawns through for the win. I'm watching this happening and I'm just shaking my head. How can he play his game against me, remember the position on the adjoining board and show those players where the win was? I have enough trouble trying to figure out what is going on in my game, much less seeing the winning move in someone else's game. I suppose the inner tournament director in me should have chastised Josh and Kapil for analysing in the playing room, and the inner teacher should have told Kevin to pay attention to his own game. However the inner child and outer chess enthusiast was enjoying the "hanging with the kids" moment and kind of forgot where she was.
After the momentary detour of looking at the other game it's back to trying to extract myself from the mess I've made with my chicken play. Again it comes boils down to not withering in the heat of an attack that isn't as powerful as it seems. It's easy to mentally throw in the towel when you're in a slightly worse position against a player who has a totally dominating record against you. Even though I spent a lot of time trying to work out the best defense and try to get some counter play, I couldn't seem come up the best moves. On move 25 I just made probably one of the worst possible moves. Instead of simply trading on f4, I opened up my weak position even more with f3. Eventually the mental throwing in of the towel became the physical as I tipped over my king and said "good game."
The story of the last round, and perhaps the whole tournament was King Kong's comeback from a "finger fehler." If I were to level one criticism at Kevin it would be that he does not know how to keep a poker face. If he blunders, you'll know it without even looking at the board. I was looking at my position when I suddenly hear what sounds like snoring followed by a groan. I look over and Kevin has his face buried in his hands and he's shaking his head and moaning. He had picked up the b2 pawn with the idea of pushing it to b4 when he realized that his knight on c3 was no longer protected. After 12 moves he's down a knight and a pawn.
One thing I've learned from watching a kid like Kevin play is never relax against him, because you can't count him out until it's mate or he's resigned. You know the expression "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." Kevin wasn't ready to hear the fat lady sing. He sent me the game, but for what ever reason I was having trouble getting it to load in Chess Publisher. Here are two critical positions with his comments.
Position after 20. Rxg7. Kevin: Faulty, black had better move in 20...Nxg7 21. Qg3 Bg5 22. Qxg5 f6 -+
Game continued 20...Kh8, 21. f6 Nxf6 22. Rf1 e4 23. Qg3 Nh5 24. Rfxf7 to reach the position below.
After Kevin played 24. Rfxf7 he had stood up from his chair. His body language had changed from what I had seen after his 11th move. I couldn't help but to smile as I looked at the black knight forking the queen and rook, but unable to take either due to the mate threats. He smiled back at me, and I watched Kapil as he tried to figure out what to do. Kevin seemed a little nervous. Kapil then resigned, seeing no way out. Actually there was a way out, but still winning for white. At first Kevin had thought Bf5 wins for black. He shows the move to Kapil. Josh and I look over from our game. The three kids are looking at the moves for black. I look over at the TD, shrug my shoulders and go back to the mess on my board. He tells them to stop analyzing in the playing room.
Kevin: Bf5, although still winning for white. Hard though.
This is what Fritz gave me. 24... Bf5 25.Nxf5 Qc5+ 26. Qf2 Rxf7 27. Rxf7 Bf6 28. Rxf6 Qxf2+ 29. Kxf2 Nxf6 30. Bg7+
Watching Kevin in this tournament gave me a greater appreciation of his talent as a chess player, and his ability to come back from adversity. It would have been easy for his parents or him to say "The rating difference is too much, and it's not worth risking points. Let's not go back." Instead he came back and demonstrated why he's number one in the section. Since my first game with him in 2006 I've watched his rating shoot up over 700 points. I've also seen him mature tremendously in how he handles both winning and losing. I know he's reading this so I'll just say one thing. "Work on that poker face, kiddo!"