Friday, March 28, 2008

King Kong Sr.

I have the 10 year old version of King Kong who I haven't had to play recently. My schedule has been such that I've been unable to attend Friday Quads so I haven't had to face Kevin. But lately I've been dealing with the senior citizen version of King Kong. We have played 33 times and my record is 4 wins, 2 draws, and 27 losses. This is third Thursday night in a row that I'm playing him in my last round. All three games I've been black. The last two Thursdays he's played a Closed Sicilian, and I've gotten crappy positions. Two Thursdays ago was when he toyed around with me in my time pressure, and I over looked trapping his queen. Last week was one of those insipidly boring games where I chucked a couple of pawns. I've lost 5 games in a row against him, and 14 out of our last 16 games.

I can go months without having to play him, and then I get these spells where I seem to play him all the time. He has not missed a Thursday night in a couple of years, so it's no great surprise that we cross paths a lot. We tend to play in round 4 when we're both 1-2, or in the brutally strong tournaments we play in round 3 with both of us being 0-2. He finally gets paired down in round 3 and I get paired up again. Losing to him under either of these circumstances is painful because it means I'm finishing 1-3 for the night, or perhaps 0-3 and a bye if I'm lucky. If I'm having one of those miserable nights where nothing is working I may even end out 0-4.

Once again I'm sitting at 1-2 and I'm paired with Gabor again as black. I think he was tired of playing against my Sicilician so he played 1. d4. I didn't know whether I should jump for joy for not having to play against the Closed, or burst in tears because I'd see another random queen pawn opening. Given my lack of success against random d4 crap I didn't really think this was much of a bargain. Despite giving up a few tempos early on, I managed to trade off some stuff and won a pawn on the 20th move. I had a comfortable lead on the clock so I felt I had good chances. However one thing I've learned from our many encounters is don't count him out. He's very adept at handling time pressure, and usually finds interesting counter play to mix things up. He won the pawn back on move 32.
We traded off queens and the remaining pairs of bishops and reached this position after 47. Re2. I played 47...R3a4 and offered him a draw. I didn't really see anything progress being made. He can stay on the second rank as long as he wants and I can stay doubled on the a file. Given my time edge I figured he'd take the draw, but he didn't.

The game continued 48. Rc1Ra3 49. Re4 Kf6? I completely missed Rxa2+. That tends to happen when you're in draw mode, but still expecting the worse to happen. 50. Re2 Ra6 51. g4 R3a5 52. Rec2Kg7 53. Rc6? Rxa2+ I don't miss Rxa2+ a second time. The game continues 54. Kb1 Ra1+ 55. Kb2R6a2+ 56. Kb3 Ra3+ to reach the following position.

He has 51 seconds left and I have 2:18 left. At this point he says "Okay I will take draw now." Okay tournament director wannabes, what is wrong with this picture?

It's an improper draw offer. He's supposed to move first, offer the draw and then press his clock. I know this rule. I'm a Senior TD. I have the experience qualifications to become an Associate National TD, but I don't have the time or energy to take the test. But some how in the heat of a chess game that I don't want to lose, all my rules knowledge goes to right out the window. I stupidly agree to a draw without making him move first and decide based on where he moves whether I still want the draw. It was as if I had made the offer on that move and he accepted.

In the last paragraph you will notice the phrase, chess game that I don't want to lose. It doesn't say a chess game that I wanted to win. That choice of wording tells all you need to know about my mental outlook on the game. I would be satisfied with not losing, instead of going for his throat and trying to win. I think was dwelling to much on this game of ours from September.

I almost had the feeling that he knew that he had conned me with his "draw offer". He wasn't so anxious to talk about my possibilities in the position. When I mentioned that perhaps I had winning chances he brushed me off with "maybe." After I left the club and was walking to the subway station I started thinking about the position and realized that I had winning chances, and shouldn't have taken the draw. On the train ride home I got out my Mon Roi and analysed the position. Depending on where he moves the king, I can give another check, trade the rook on a1 for the c1 rook and then capture the pawn on either f2 or g4. He may pick off my a pawn, but I'll get another one of his king side pawns and then push through. It's not easy but it's doable, especially with the time edge.

This was just another one of those games where I let feelings get in the way of objective analysis. If I could simply separate who I was playing and the circumstances I would have been able to work it out, and not jump on the draw after winning the pawn. Sigh. Will I ever learn?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wacky Wednesday!

Sometimes I get to be the observer of the wacky instead of one of the participants. My only participation in this one is it occurred in a tournament that I directed. I have changed the names to protect the guilty. Let's just say it was a case of an adult acting like a kid against a kid.

The position may not be 100% accurate since I'm recreating it from my head, but the pieces crucial to the play are correct. "Mr. White" had just played Rh3 with the vicious threat of Qxh7#. He was sure that young "Mr. Black" had no defense against this mate threat. When Mr. Black imediately played g5 Mr. White figured he was just giving up by allowing the mate. As soon as g5 was played Mr. White plays Qxh7+?? and says "Checkmate". Mr. Black says nothing and plays Bxh7!!

Alas, Mr. White fell into "Do as I say, not what I do" mode. I know that he has told his students to double check their move before making it. Also some things are best left unsaid. Checkmate is one of those things.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Oh Rats!!!

I saw this cartoon in the comics a few months ago, and it reminded me a of few chess bloggers I know, me included. When it came out I had thought about posting it and labeling the two characters. I can picture a few of us sitting around at a tournament and having this type of conversation. There are times I feel like the rat, and other times I feel like the pig. Up until last weekend I felt more like the pig. Having picked up nice chunk of rating points, I was feeling more like the rat. Maybe it's appropriate since it's the Year of the Rat.

Monday night six people including myself showed up at the club for the St. Paddy's Day Action. I was hesitant about playing, and if there had been an odd number I probably would been happy to not play. I thought I was just being silly to worry about how I'd do in the tournament. What is this? I win a tournament, and suddenly I'm worried about protecting my rating?

The first round I'm paired down against a kid with a 1200 rating. He plays decently, but I win. The second round I play white against Alan who I beat last week. I've had a good streak against him lately. I've won our last 4 games, but I played like crap and he snapped his little losing streak against me. In the last round I'm paired against a 2050. I lost the toss and ended out with black, but I play a decent game against him. I had excellent drawing chances and then this happened:

My opponent has 4 seconds and I have 3 seconds. Alex just played 48. Be4. As Fritz so nicely points out on the diagram the threat is hxg6. I have one of those time pressure induced brain freezes where I overlook the hanging queen and play Kh8 as my clock hits 00:00. It took me 8 freaking seconds to come up with that pathetically lame king move.

One would think that missing something like that and losing on time would make a person want to swear off any time control under an hour. Not me. I'm a glutton for punishment and keep telling myself my time issues are all in my head. So what are my plans for Thursday evening? "Four Rated Games Tonight!" at the Marshall Chess Club.

When I go to the Marshall I take the # 4, 5, or 6 train to Union Square. I usually make my way over to Fifth Avenue by W 12th St. A lot of times it depends on traffic lights. I cross a street or avenue when the going is good. There's an old expression about walking around New York City. "There are two types of pedestrians, fast ones and dead ones." There's a wonderful Episcopal church on the corner of Fifth and West 10th. They have a wonderful choir and sing beautiful hymns and oratorio pieces. It's almost like being at a concert. I attended Easter services there last year, and intend to do so again tomorrow.

This particular day it's Holy Thursday and the church's service had started at 6:00 pm. As I walked by I saw somebody slip in late. One side of me wants to going to church even though the service had started 20 minutes earlier. The other side said "You're going Sunday. You came down here to play chess." I start walking on 10th Street towards the club. I'm finding myself getting anxious. I stop mid way on the block. Church or chess? The debate rages within, but I felt it's more about avoiding the possibility of having one my typical Thursdays then feeling the need to be in church. I finally tell myself that I'm being silly, and to suck it up. Unless I'm willing to completely stop playing anything faster then game/60, sooner or later I'm going to have to confront the possibility that I may piss away more rating points due to time pressure induced stupidity.

Since Foxwoods is this weekend, many of the higher rated regulars weren't at the Marshall including my usual round one nemesis, Vladimir Polyakin. Instead I played Raven Sturt. He's a junior high school kid who I remember when he played in the Primary section of scholastic tournaments I ran. Back then he seemed like just another kid with a 700 rating. Since that tournament in 2001 he's gained 1300 points. Ahhhh to be young and talented. He's one of those kids I don't mind playing. He's not one of those "in your face mouthy" kids. He's a polite young man who plays a wicked game of chess. I simply got outplayed and eventually overwhelmed by his attack.

Unlike most Thursday nights, I got paired down in round two against some high school kid I'd never seen before with an 1189 rating. What I did not know at the time was that the rating was provisional and his April rating is 1423. I try not to allow the opponent's rating impact how I play against an opponent, but sometimes I can't help myself. I wasn't taking him lightly, but I was getting annoyed that he wasn't falling for my little combinations. I was also getting annoyed by his constant trading down. I'm thinking to myself "He's simply trying to get a draw with me." Finally I decided I'd trade down and see if he could hold his own in the ending. Many kids I've played are great at tactics, but their end game needs work.

We reached this position after his move 40. c4+

I didn't really like the idea of splitting up my queenside pawns with 40...bxc4, so I retreated to e6 immediately. My opponent felt I should have taken first. The game continued 40...Ke6, 41. Ke4 exf4. Better would have been 41...f5+, 42. Kf3 b4. His queen side will be locked up and I still have opportunities to penetrate on the king side. A possible continuation would have been 43. Kf2h6 44. h4 Kf6 45. Kf3 g5 46. hxg5+ hxg5 47. fxg5+ Kxg5 48. Kf2 Kg4.

The game went 42. Kxf4 h543. h4 Kd6 44. g4 hxg4 45. Kxg4 Ke5? It looks natural, but once again splitting the queenside with 45...bxc4 46. dxc4 Ke5 will be better for me. It prevents him from creating the passer. 46. cxb5 axb5 47.a4 Kd4?? This was one another one of those situations of panicking instead of looking carefully at the position. I still had 4-5 minutes. I could have spent 2 of them working out what happens after 47... bxa4 48. bxa4 Kd5. Sheesh! Didn't I learn anything from last weekend?

Instead, I had one of my meltdowns that I can't really blame on the clock. 48. axb5 Kxd3 49. b6 Kc3 50. b7 Kxb3 51. b8=Q+Kc3 52. Qg3+ Kb4 53. Qe1+ Kc4 54. Qe6+ Kb4 55. Qxf6 c4 56. Qxg6 c3 57. Qb6+ Ka358. Qc5+ Kb2 59. Qb5+ Kc2 60. Kf4 Black resigns.

So here I am on another Thursday night 0-2 after two rounds. Unfortunately it's not because I've played up two rounds in a row. Now I'm totally pissed off and take my frustrations out on a 1200 rated high school kid. He keeps blundering, and I keep grabbing everything he leaves for the taking. He won't resign despite the fact that he has a king and a bishop against my king, bishop, knight, rook, and three pawns. Even after I promote he doesn't resign. Yeh, I know what I said last week about premature resignations. But.....

I was kind of irritated at that point. I don't care if someone doesn't want to resign, but he spent more time wandering around the room looking at the other games instead of playing our game. Is it just me being grouchy, or is it disrespectful to be wandering around watching other games while playing out a totally lost position?

After the fourth round pairings went up I heard someone say "Who is Please Wait?" I said "That's my usual fourth round opponent." Instead I had another shot at Schnitzler. This week there was no messing around waiting to run me out of time. The clock was not a factor. Unfortunately for me his bishop pair was deadly, and like so many of our previous 32 encounters I was on the short end again.

Sigh. There went another 31 rating points. C'est la vie. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. :-Þ

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!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mind Games 201

Having survived my near death experience from round one it was time to see what round two would bring. I looked at the pairings, and my opponent's name seemed vaguely familiar. I then realized it was one of the coaches from my team's big rival. I caught hell last year for losing to him in Houston at last year's grade nationals. Again I had to keep my mind on the present and not dwell on past results.

There have been some posts on chess superstitions on the Boylston blog and also Soapstone's. One of my old superstitions from years ago was to sit facing the same direction if I won, and sit the opposite direction if I lost. Since it's hard to apply after losing two games in a row, I kind of gave up on that ritual. I tend to lose at least two games in a row. However this odd ritual came to mind since I'm #1 in the section and will be seated at the same board as long as I'm in the top score group. I was going to change seats since my back was to the door, and I like seeing who's coming and going. But then I thought it's better to sit where I won then worry about my back facing the door. I sat in the same seat as I did in round one.

I did screw up on move move 16 when I played the wrong rook to d1 and allowed him to trap my knight with a5. I did get two pawns for the piece, and I just kept reminding myself "I'm not a quitter. I'm a winner." Later on I got a third pawn for the piece.

At one point I had left the playing room to use the bathroom. I didn't want to see anyone associated with my team. I had not told anyone that I was paired against the other coach. I didn't want to have to say that I was losing to him either. When I saw the parent coordinator in the lobby I'm thinking to myself. "Oh crap, I don't want to talk to her. Maybe I should just go back in the room before she sees me." She saw me and asked me how I did. I tersely said "I'm still playing" and made my beeline to the ladies room.

Here's the game with no notes:

When I came back into the team room I told the mom who I had tried to avoid that I won, and got revenge for Houston. She had sensed from my body language and words during our lobby encounter that something more was going on the a simple game of chess. Now I'm 2-0 and the team is pulling for me.

In round three I play the same guy from my chess club that I played up here in December. What were the odds of that happening again? I guess one good thing about playing somebody you know well is understanding how they click. Poor Guy has had a rough spell lately. As his son's rating has shot over 1700 he's gone down below 1600. I was happy to see him at 2-0, but I wasn't happy that I had to play him. On the one hand I didn't want to see his good run come to an end, but on the other hand I didn't want to see his good run continue at my expense.

Here's the final position. It was a pretty ending.

Now I'm 3-0. People kept coming up to me and asking me if I'm going to win the tournament. I really didn't want to talk about it. I felt like I was going to jinx myself if I said anything. I kept telling people I was taking it one game at a time. I didn't sleep well Saturday night because I was nervous about Sunday. I kept waking up every couple of hours. It has been a long time since winning has kept me up at night. I've had way too many Thursdays where some butt ugly loss has kept me awake at night.

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.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I Can't Freaking Believe It!!! 5 1/2 - 1/2

A picture is worth a thousand words. This wall chart looks a lot better then the last one I photographed in Saratoga Springs.

I went into the 6th round with a 1.5 point lead over the field. It didn't matter what I did in the last round I was winning the tournament. I drew the last round. One might assume that I went for a quick "grandmaster draw". If only it had been that simple. I wanted to go 6-0, but I had a serious brain fart early in the game. After 17 moves I was down a rook for a pawn. I almost resigned on the spot, but I didn't want my wonderful tournament ending on such a crappy note. I also thought about "Winners never quit. Quitters never win." What are you doing when you resign a chess game? You're quitting that game. I'm not advocating playing out ridiculously hopeless positions. However why should I resign barely out of the opening with queens on the board?

28 moves later we reach the following position after 45. Rxb7.

Now I'm down a rook and a pawn. He's threatening Bg7+ forking my king and knight. It also looks like within a few moves he can get his queen down to the back rank and get mate. Once again I'm giving serious consideration to resigning. I start thinking about where I can possibly place the knight to avoid the fork. I finally come up with 45...Nf3+. 46. Kg2 is his only move. 46. Kh3 loses outright to 46...Qh1+ 47. Qh2 Qxh2#. I was hoping, but he did find Kg2. This little cheapo accomplished one thing in that it made him burn a good chunk of time.
The game continued 46... Ne1+ 47. Kh3 Qg4+ 48. Kh2 Nf3+ 49. Kg2 Nxh4+ 50. Kf1? He can avoid the perpetual with 50. Kg1 Nf3+ 51. Kf1 Qh3+ 52. Qg2 Nh2+. I run out of checks. I think he panicked because he was running low on time.
50... Qd1+ 51. Qe1 Qf3+ 52. Qf2 Qd1+ 53. Qe1 Qf3+. I salvaged a draw out of a totally lost position. It was a nice way to end a fantastic tournament. Grandmaster B. M Kim will be proud of me for carrying his Taeo Kwan Do credo to chess.

Steve Immitt presents me with my prize check for $300. This is the most money I've ever won in a tournament. This is the same Steve who organizes and directs "Four Rated Games Tonight!" on Thursdays at the Marshall. Steve was kidding around with me yesterday after I started off 3-0. He said the pairing program kept wanting to put "please wait" next to my name but couldn't. When he gave me the check he and Andre (in the background) were kidding around about how many Thursdays it would take for my rating to go back to its normal level. I gained 59 points this weekend. I'd like to think that this is the start of my rating moving back towards 1800, and that I can beat some of these guys on Thursday.

In the next day or two I'll post a couple of the games. Some of them were very interesting.

Saratoga Open

It's Sunday morning, and I have to play in about 25 minutes. I find myself in a very strange and unfamiliar position. I'm number one on the wall chart, and after 3 rounds I still find myself sitting at board 1 with a 3-0 score. I can't say I'm suddenly playing brilliant chess. In fact I was losing every single game at some point. The brilliance comes in the form of mental attitude. The two posts that I wrote about Thursday's meltdown allowed me to articulate what goes through my mind at times. They helped me realize exactly what I do to myself emotionally and mentally.

Saturday I made the decision that regardless of what was happening over the board, I was not going to let my mind defeat me. If I was going to lose it was going to be because my opponent finished me off over the board. The first round was crucial because I was playing a 1400 who just had a crushing attack. My mind was going "Here we go again. I should have played in the open section." Then I said to myself "Stop thinking like that. Look at the damn position and try to find something." I spent a lot of time really thinking stuff out, and finally decided I would sac a pawn and try to get my pieces on better squares.

At the end of my Tae Kwon Do class we have closing ritual that the master leads us through. It goes like this:

Winners never quit.

Quitters never win.

I'm not a quitter.

I'm a winner.

So as I'm playing every time I felt like I was ready to roll over and play dead I would repeat this to myself. I really felt it helped. Later I will post some positions and one of the games. Wish me luck today. My first opponent this morning is the other 3-0.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Two Days Later

I reread the post I made last night when I got home from the Marshall Chess Club. Damn I felt like a patzer extraordinaire. I felt like I was reading a cleaned up version of one of Chess Loser's "I sucked this tournament, and I'm totally hopeless at this game!" posts. He just uses more colorful language in describing how he messed up. Suck, crap and hell are about as colorful as I will get in public writing. F-bombs and S-words may be rattling around in my head as I'm thinking about what occurred. I'm not sure what I wrote even remotely conveyed how annoyed and frustrated I was about how I played. Perhaps if one just replaced my adjectives and verbs with stronger ones of his own choosing then the idea would come across.

I think the worst part about last night was looking at the games on the computer as I was writing the post and seeing all the stuff I missed. How is it one day I see lots of good stuff over the board, and several days later I play as if I just learned the game last week? It would have been really cool to find Nxe4 and get the mate if my opponent had taken the queen. I don't think all the tactic exercises in the world would have helped me find that combination. It was there, but I had been blinded by the feeling that my opponent's move was crushing and that no matter what I did I was going to lose something.

I think what totally pissed me off was that my third round opponent got away with sitting back and watching me implode in time pressure. It was as if he was saying, "I know I have this crushing move that wins easily, but why bother? I'll just run you out of time by fiddling around . You have nothing." It would have given me great pleasure to trap the queen when I had the opportunity. The time deficit would have been meaningless with such a big material advantage. I would have been able to say to myself "Take that! That will teach you to take me lightly." I would never say it out loud, but emotionally it would have given me confidence to play the fourth round while he got to take the early train home. Instead I was the one with the 0-3 score and scooting out the out door with the proverbial tail between the legs.

I'm up in Saratoga Springs at the NY State Scholastics. There's an open tournament with two sections. I debated whether I wanted to play or not. Once I decided I wanted to play, I debated over which section to enter, Open or Under 1800. I decided to play in my own section instead of being fish food for a bunch of Experts and A players. I felt it was time to stop avoiding lower rated players, and try to win a tournament. It's too easy to keep getting pounded and accept losing game after game. Let's see what I can do against easier competition. Even as I write this I'm wrestling with my decision, but I have to get over the fear of higher expectations. "You go girl! Kick some butt! Get back the 16 rating points you tossed on Thursday."

Thursday the 13th

It doesn't quite have the same ominous ring as Friday the 13th, but I had a bad feeling about tonight's tournament. It was a small field to start with. Only 12 players for the first round. I was number 11 out of 12, and actually that was a mistake since #12 has a FIDE rating of 1974. The first round got paired with me as #11. Almost every Thursday night this year I've played either Vladimir Polyakin or Yevgeni Margulis in the first round. If I haven't gotten one of them in the first round I've gotten one of them in third round when they're having a crappy night. Tonight it was Margulis.

I am really getting frustrated playing Black against random queen pawn openings. I just find myself full of dread after 1. d4 Nf6, 2. Nf3. I keep getting really crappy positions where it takes me 15 moves or more to get the bishop off of c8. This game was no different. We reach this position after he plays the questionable 20. Nd5.

This is where one needs to step back from the negative thoughts that abound in situations like this. My mindset was "My position sucks. White's pieces are active, and mine are all sitting on my first-third ranks doing nothing." With this mindset when the opponent plays a crazy move like Nd5, one assumes the worst. I'm looking at the pins on the h3-c8 diagonal and c file, and I'm looking at my queen being attacked. All I can see is I'm losing material. What I don't see is my counter play with 20...Nxe4. If he plays 21. Nxc7 Nf2+, 22. Kg1 Nh3#. I didn't find this on my own either. Fritz showed me. Instead I played 20...Bxd5. The game continued 21. cxd5 Qd7?, 22. dxe6 Qe8?? 23. exf7. At that point I was totally disgusted and resigned.

In the meantime 5 more people have entered bring the total up to 17. I'm no longer at the bottom of the wall chart, but the people below me have 1/2 point byes, and the former #12 now has his FIDE rating on the wall chart. So do I take the preemptive last round bye to avoid a second round bye or look for a decent house player? Had Steve been running the tournament I would have ended out doing the preemptive bye because there were no house players and it looked like we were only going to have 17 players. Fortunately Steve's substitute isn't quite as speedy as Steve, and he was running a little late. He also delayed pairing while I looked around for a house player. In the meantime an 18th player showed up. I was saved from having to make that decision.

Round two wasn't much better then round one. I lasted a few more moves, but the game ended when I hung my queen. I never even saw that his knight was attacking my queen, so I made some defensive bishop move. After I made the move, my opponent shakes his head and points at my queen. It's then I notice that his knight can take her. He didn't actually make the move. It was almost as though he wanted me take the bishop move back, and play the queen to a safe square. I wasn't going to try to figure out what he wanted. I had made the bishop move, and as far I was concerned that was it. I stopped the clock and shook hands.

In round three I played another one of the usual suspects. He asked me if I minded playing at a different table. He didn't want to play at the table were assigned to because it's close to the window. It didn't matter to me. He wanted to use his clock even though he was white. We both have Chronos clocks. He has the one with the regular buttons, I have the touch sensor one. If I was feeling snarky I could have insisted on my clock even though I know he doesn't like the touch sensor buttons. At that point I didn't give a crap, and didn't feel like getting into a pissing match over which clock to use. I've seen him fuss over other people's Chronos that rocked on the table. I didn't feel like dealing with his fussing if I opted to use mine.

I'm not sure what was going on in my head tonight. I didn't have much fight in me after the first two games. The problem is when I get in that mindset, it's almost impossible to find good moves. The inner pessimist thinks there are no good moves and plays accordingly.

The problem with playing somebody a lot of times is they know a lot about how you play and think. He knows I'm prone to time trouble. The last time we played I tossed away a winning position in the throes of a time scramble. Though in that game I had a big time advantage that I pissed away, and then imploded. In tonight's game he was playing some rather cautious moves instead of playing a few brutal attacking moves. When I asked him why he had not played f5 and gone for the attack he admitted that he figured he'd run me out of time.

That strategy could have blown up in his face. Unfortunately with the inner pessimist working overtime I missed trapping his queen. Later we simplified, and the ending was drawish. I didn't offer a draw. I knew he wouldn't take it anyway. Besides given my luck with draw offers lately I decided not to even bother. Being short of time I let his knight in and dropped two pawns. At this point any fight I had to hold on as long as I did went with the second lost pawn.

Mercifully somebody had dropped out. Why take a preemptive last round 1/2 point bye when you can wait around and get a full point bye for the same round? Though the difference between a 1/2 and 1 point doesn't really matter except for a place or two on the final standings.

So off to Saratoga Springs for the NY State Scholastics this weekend. Hopefully the kids on our team won't catch whatever seems to be going on in my head right now. Maybe I should have stopped with Monday when I went 2-1.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wacky Wednesday!

I mentioned in my first post about my weekend at the UMBC Open about my second round game that was worthy of Wacky Wednesday status. As promised (threatened?) is the story of my second round.

I have been known to resign prematurely on occasion. Sometimes it's been done in haste without seeing what is really happening. Sometimes it's just simply not being in the mood to fight on in a position that is most likely lost, but has a little fight left. No matter how you look at it, you'll never win by resigning. As Yogi Berra would say, "It ain't over til it's over." But it's over if somebody resigns.

In round two I'm paired against an 1854. I've actually played this guy two times in Philadelphia at the National Chess Congress and Liberty Bell Open. I have a 1-1 record against him. It's unusual for me to play somebody from a different state in several different tournaments. Like the first round, I was not in synch with the slow time control. I was playing too fast and had dropped a pawn. We reached this position after I played 34. Re2 in response to 33...g5.

I had only used a little over an hour, and he had used closer to an hour and a half. I was disgusted with my position, and my mind was off on one of its "looking ahead to next round pairing scenerio" ramblings. This is the sort of thing that happens when I start spending too much time looking at the pairings, requested bye lists and results. I had noticed that 1 player had taken a 1/2 point bye for round 2 so there had been an even number for the round. I knew he was going to play round three which meant there would be an odd number. I then looked to see how many players were taking byes in round 3. Four players were taking byes. I did the math. 1 player is returning making it odd, and 4 are taking byes, keeping it odd.

I'm sitting at the board staring at this miserable position while my opponent is thinking. I know he's going to play 34...Qh8. I will have to trade rooks and then move my knight away. I'm down a pawn, and I'll probably lose the isolated a pawn or backward d pawn. A normal chess player would probably be trying to come up with plans on how to hold on in such a position. What am I thinking about here? "Damn, the two players lower rated then me scored points this round. I'm going to end out getting the freaking bye. There probabbly won't be anyone around to be a house player since so many people are taking requested byes. Also the kids aren't playing in the evening so there won't be any parents or coaches hanging around who might want to play. What am I going to do this evening? My host is at a party, and my friends are away." Yada, yada.

While my mind is off on this rant I happen to notice that my opponent's body language is changing. He's squirming in his seat, and shaking his head as if to say, "I'm toast." I'm thinking to myself, "Am I missing something here? Can't he simply play Qh8?" I start looking closer at the position. Nope, there's nothing there. There is no skewer on the e8 rook. Qh8 holds everything. Is there some combination I'm missing after Qh8? He suddenly stops the clock, shakes hands and leaves the board. I'm totally stunned. I continue to stare at the position to see what I missed. After 35. Rxe8 Qxe8, 36. Nd5 I'm threatening a fork, but it's easy enough to stop.

That certainly resolved the bye issue. When I saw Ron on Sunday I asked him if he had not seen that he had Rh8. He thought his king was on h8. I showed him the position on my Mon Roi with the king on h7. He asked me if that position was right. I assured him it was. I think he was kind of shocked that he had missed that. I probably didn't make his morning with that bit of news. To make matters worse for him, his opponent was a no show.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Psycho Psunday Part 2: How to lose Rd. 6 in a 5 Rd. Tournament

So could it get crazier and weirder then getting mated by a pawn in the middle of the board in an even position? Use your imagination.

She gets the bye in the last round, and gets to go home early. Ho hum. Boring. Been there, done that over and over again.

Gets paired against a master who has 1 more point then she does. Done that too.

Opponent is a no show. Yawn! But you're getting close.

The opponent shows up, but isn't really there. Bingo!

There were two things I was trying to avoid in this tournament. First thing was trying not to get the bye, particularly in round three when there was nobody around to play as a house player. Second was not having to play the 1220 who was in the Open section. I don't play in Open sections in order to have to play 1200s. I can stay in my own section, lose in the first round and then play a 1200 in round two or three. I don't need to get pounded on by experts and A players for the privilege of playing a 1200.

Since my morning game only lasted 2.5 hours I had a lot of time before the next round. I had kind of forgotten about the possibility of having to play the 1200. He had taken two 1/2 point byes for rounds 3 and 4. Why somebody would take byes in those two rounds and come back to play just round 5 is beyond me. I thinking more about the possibility of getting the bye, but had to wait to see if that was going to occur. I think in some ways I'd rather gotten the bye. The player who did end out getting the bye got to play a house player rated 1900.

Sure enough I get paired against the 1220, and to make me more anxious he's late. He finally arrives at the board with a score sheet and a pen. He doesn't bother to fill in any of the information on the score sheet. I offer my hand to shake and he ignores it so I press the clock. I had gotten a heads up from his first round opponent who said he was terribly weak, and seemed to be recovering from some sort of brain trauma. I think it perhaps was a nice way of saying is elevator didn't quite go to the top.

The game started off 1. e4 c5, 2. Nf3 Nc6, 3. d4 cxd4, 4. Nxd4 g6, 5. Be3 Bg7, 6. Nc3 Nf6, 7. Bc4 Qa5, 8. Qd2. There's nothing spectacular about the opening. Basic Accelerated Drgaon stuff with slight differences in the move order. The only reason this took any time was because he struggled to notate and he was using English Descriptive. After he made his 8th move he took a different pen out, put it with his score sheet and got up and left the board. I just figured the other pen wasn't working so well, and the he went to use the bathroom. I made my 8th move of Qa4, and then waited for him to return.

After about 10 minutes I was starting to wonder about where he had gone. Some how I didn't think he was sitting in the bathroom with Pocket Fritz or an Accelerated Dragon book trying to figure out what to do next. Somehow I just had this feeling that he just got up and left. He had not come in with any equipment or a jacket so the only thing at the board was his score sheet and the pen that he had swapped with the original one.

After 15 minutes I complained to the TD. He didn't know what the guy looked like, however one of the local players who was hanging out did. He checked in the bathroom to see if he was there. He wasn't there. Then he figured maybe he went down to the second floor to get something to eat. No sign of him in the cafeteria either.

Now I'm getting pissed. I want to play challenging and competitive games of chess. Having a player walk out 8 moves into the game is just out annoying, and rude. Why the hell did he come to play one game on Sunday, and leave after 8 moves without saying anything? But what can one say about a player who has played 6 rated tournaments between 1998 and now, plays in the Open section in every single one, and doesn't play all the rounds? He either takes 1/2 point byes, gets assigned a a full point bye, or forfeits a round.

Does a director have the right to refuse his entry, or make him play in a section that's more appropriate to his strength? Looking at his tournament history he has a win or two against 1100s and a 900. Why play in a section where the next lowest rated player is over 400 points higher rated? I'm sure some of the 2300s I've played in the Saint John's Masters wonders the same about me. However as 1700 who has been as high as the mid-1900s I feel that I have enough of a grasp on the game, that I won't necessarily get crushed by the 2300. Also even if I lose ugly, I have enough ability and resources to understand what I did wrong, and perhaps improve the next time. I'm not sure a provisionally rated 1200 adult with other issues benefits from such a mismatch.

Editorial rant over with. Back to the tournament. I wasn't particularly interested in winning the game like that. I would have been perfectly happy if they treated it as a forfeit loss for him, and just repair me with a house player. I was even willing to play a shortened time control to compensate for the elapsed time. I just wanted to play an interesting game of chess with somebody!

One of the tournament directors offered to play me. One of the other tournaments directors told us to take the elapsed time and divide it in half. The original time control was 20/1 followed by G/1. The TD I'm playing resets the clock for 20/35, and tells me "Don't worry about the 20 moves." Since I use the move counter setting on my Chronos I knew that would be a problem if one of us took more then 35 minutes to make 20 moves. I suggested we change it to one time control. I'm not sure how I came up with this number but I set the clock for G/75. All I know is I should not be trying to do math when I'm tired and aggravated. I should have set it for G/95. At the time I didn't even realize what I had done. I think I took 35 and divided that in half to come up with 15+60=75.

I was not aware of the mistake until later when I was watching some other games and noticed that the other clocks had a lot more time on them. I was short on time, but couldn't exactly tell my opponent/tournament director that I set the clock wrong, and that we should each have 15 minutes more. There are rules about this kind of stuff, so I knew I was stuck with what I had set. Note to self: Let well enough alone when the TD initially sets the clock.

I'm having trouble with Chess Publisher so I'm going put in a diagram and let all the endings junkies pick it apart and see if either side can win, or whether it should be a draw. This after White played 32. Rxa6.

Nobody seems to want to comment on this position. Perhaps people find it as overwhelming as I did. With so little time it was hard to determine my best course of action. Here is the entire game, but for some reason Chess Publisher 2 wouldn't generate the moves with all my comments. I have put some of the comments following the game.

On move 15 I missed just taking back on d5 with the knight. He can't take the knight with his queen. (15..Nxd5, 16. Qxd5 Rad8)

After I played 22...Rc8 I thought it was a killer move because I thought he had to play Rc1. I overlooked the very simple c3. I was looking at this line of play. (23. Rc1 Qe5 24. Bd4 Nxd4 25. Qxd4 Qxd4 26.Nxd4 Bxd4)

After 36 Kb1 I play Re1. I'm trying to see if he'll come out again with king and allow me to repeat the position.

37...Ne5? I'm trying to be too clever. I was trying for something along the lines of Nd3 and piling up on the pinned bishop. Remember the axium. "Passed pawns must be pushed!" e3 was much better for me. (37... e3 38. c6 e2 39. Rc5 Be5
40. c7 Bxc7 41. Rxc7 Rd1 42. Rxf7+ Kg8 43. Re7 e1=Q 44. Rxe1 Rxe1)

I sac the bishop on move 43, and on move 46 he sacs back. I was surprised he sac'ed back at this point, but I didn't have time to think about it. I have 3 seconds on the clock.

49...Ng6 was not good. I couldn't find a way to hold the pawn so I just made a move to keep my knight closer to the king. Kf7 would hold the pawn after Re5, Kf6.

After losing the pawn I still felt I should be able to draw. I'm simply making moves to avoid forks and skewers. I'm now down to 1 second.

58...Rh7 is probably a mistake. I'm putting the rook too close to the king. I should have left the rook on h2, and continued moving my king towards the queen side.

59. Ne4+ Kd5?? Walking into the fork I had been very carefully avoiding for the last 10 moves. 60. Nf6+ I resigned. In some ways I wish I had flagged before I blundered. Result would have been the same, but at least I could have blamed it totally on the clock.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Psycho Psunday Part 1: Draw Pschology Revisited

This day went beyond the realm of Wacky Wednesday. I've been playing in rated tournaments since 1972. I have over 3300 rated games, not counting quick chess. I thought I had seen everything until my last round in the UMBC Open on Sunday. As I mentioned in my previous post, I didn't play so hot on Saturday. The only reason I had a point was the massive brain fart that my opponent had in round two. I think part of my problem is when I play a slower time limit it takes me a couple of rounds to actually pace myself correctly. I tend to rush my moves early on, and then end out with a crummy position that I have trouble recovering from.

My 4th round opponent was about 15 minutes late. I always get a bit anxious in a morning round where I have a crummy score and my opponent is late. It's even worse when day light savings time has just begun. I start thinking "He got the bye last night. He's disgusted with his score, and is not going to show up. He forgot to set his clock forward so he's not going to show up until noon because he thinks it's 11." So on, and so forth. I hate forfeit wins. They're worse then byes.

This game was a struggle. I got a marginal position out of the opening, and couldn't get my pieces coordinated. I did use a lot of time. The 15 minute time edge I had evaporated and for a change I was the one behind on the clock. I felt my opponent had a few different opportunities to either trash my pawn structure or win a pawn, but he just slowly built up pressure and did not rush into anything that would give me play. We eventually traded queens, and I thought I was okay. I offered a draw after playing 29. Kf3 to reach the following position.

I usually don't offer draws when there are so many pieces on the board, but I was tired of struggling with the position. I didn't see that he had so much now that the queens were gone. He didn't say anything. He simply played 29...g5. I spent a couple of minutes debating between Rb3 or h3. I played 30. Rb3. I didn't think that 30...g4+ was that big a deal. Maybe I need to re-read posts like this one regarding draw offers, because I certainly had the "post rejected draw offer" let down. I'm not sure where my head at this point, but I played 31. Ke4.

Now talk about being totally oblivious to danger. After I make the move I'm thinking to myself "Oh damn, he's going to play the rook to d1 and get behind my h pawn, and I can't get back to defend." That was the least of my problems. He plays 31...f5. He doesn't say anything and he doesn't press the clock. I'm thinking to myself "What's this? How come he didn't press the clock?" Then it hits me. DUH! It's mate. Unfreaking believeable. I get mated by a pawn.

What else could possibly go wrong at this point? Remember Murphy's Law. "If anything can go wrong it will." O"Tool's commentary on Murphy's Law is "Murphy was an optimist." I think ole Murphy is a guy with a twisted sense of humor, who decided I needed something totally crazy and different to blog about. See Part II of Psycho Psunday for the details.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

On The Road Again

Greetings from Baltimore, Maryland!

I'm back to full chess mode again after a few weeks off due to my trip and getting sick. I played LEP on Wednesday night, and won. I'll post the game when I get back to New York. Thursday night I played at the Marshall. I thought I was going to have a repeat of my last tournament there since I played the same people in rounds 1 and 2 that I did a few weeks ago. Unfortunately the results were the same. However I did draw in round 3, and got lucky in round 4 against Eric Hecht. We had one of our crazy time scramble games where I went a long time with 1 second on my clock and then he left his king in check. The two minutes, and his having to block the check with his rook saved my butt. I was white against him, and did not have to face his Smith-Morra. I was afraid I was going to play him in round 3 with black. 1.5 - 2.5 gained me the walloping 5 rating points. Big whoop. Though I guess it means when the April rating list comes out I won't be on my floor for whatever it's worth.

I'm in Baltimore this weekend playing in UMBC Open at University of Maryland Baltimore County. I played in the tournament last year and scored 3.5 out of 5 in the under 1800 section. I choked in the last round last year. This year I decided I did not feel like playing random 1400s and choke again, so I entered the Open section. There are few players lower rated then me in the section including a 1200. I'm not sure why he's playing in that section since the next lowest rated player is 1650, but who am I to say anything? So far I'm 1-2. The 1 point was a serious gift. It qualifies as Wacky Wednesday material. Stay tuned.

I'm not on my own computer so I can't upload any games. Not that these games are worth looking at. I'm having trouble staying focused and my play reflects it. I have my laptop with me, but no Internet access on it. I don't dare unplug the Ethernet cable from this computer that I'm on and attach it to my laptop. It would be my luck that after I plugged it back into this machine that my host's Internet would stop working.

After the first round I put the game into Chess Base and let Fritz rip it apart. Fritz says I played like an idiot. I thought my opponent was just playing really good moves, and that I had no play. My problem was, I had no game. I played passively and like a chicken. He played the Smith-Morra and I decided not to take on c3. I figured it would transpose into a c3 Sicilian, except that he didn't take on d4. So I still had an extra pawn, but I let him get too much play, and missed opportunities to beat back his attack and hold on to the pawn.

Tomorrow is another day. My one point has staved off the infamous "please wait" for the time being. Maybe I can scare up another point, and gain another 5 rating points. :-Þ

Don't forget to reset your clocks tonight! Spring ahead!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Life Lesson in a Chess Lesson

As a chess teacher I do different things to get kids involved in the material I'm trying to cover. I try to make it interesting, and will use humor to draw their attention to what I'm trying to show them. If some kid tells you that his king is taking the secret tunnel to the other side of the board to avoid mate, chances are he was in my lesson on the ladder mate.

Sometimes no matter what I do I'm not going to reach certain kids. Those are the kids who don't want to be there, but mommy thinks it's a good idea to learn chess or uses after school programs as a cheap baby sitter. There's also the kid who has learning problems. Chess is just another one of those things that he can't quite grasp or sit still long for enough to understand what I'm trying to tell him. "No you can't move the pawn 3 spaces, or yes kings can go backwards."

Sometimes to try to reinforce a mating technique I will have little contests to see who can execute that mate against me in the least amount of time, and number of moves. I particularly like doing these types of exercises for Q&K vs K. When I teach the mate, I'll start with this position. I show them how they can force the king to the side of the board with no checks by positioning the queen a knight move away and by mimicking the king move with the same queen move.

After the kids learn the technique, I'll put the kings and queen on different squares and see if they can execute the checkmate. Once I feel they have the technique down, I'll issue my checkmate challenge. I set a clock with the move counter on and give them 10 minutes to get the mate. The best I've had a student do against me is 8 moves in 11 seconds. From this position it can be done in 7 moves.

When I do these contests I give the winner a chess pin. I also give these pins out to anyone who wins or draws against me in a simul. There's nothing unusual or valuable about these pins. However the kids think they're special because they have earn the pin. It gives them a little extra incentive to work at the challenge I give them.

However just like the incident on Sunday with "James/Jimmy" and the medal he did not win, kids having various ways of coping with not earning the award. Sometimes the important lesson has nothing to do with the game itself. Last week in class I had given the checkmate challenge, and told the kids the one who do it in the least number of moves and time would win something. I had forgotten to bring the pins with me. In a class of 10 third graders less then half wanted to give it a try. That's unusual for me. Normally most of the class wants to do it. I only had one kid successfully checkmate me. It took "Victor" 20 moves to do it. The others either stalemated, or took 50 moves without being able to do it.

This week I brought in the pins and let "Victor" pick one. Then I offered the class another shot at the challenge, and another chance to win one of the pins. I figured if the kids saw what they would win some more of them would be inspired to give it a try. I have two girls in the class, and neither one of them wanted to do it. They just wanted to play each other. "Jake", one of the better players who always answers questions during the lesson refused to even give it a try. One of the kids, "Henry" asked me if he could buy one from me for a dollar. I told him they're not for sale, and that he'd have to win the challenge to get one. "Henry" at least was willing to try to earn it.

"Stan" was the first player to give it try. He had not been able to do it last week. He kept chasing my king around the board, and fell victim to the 50 move rule. This week he remembered not to keep checking, but he still ended out stalemating me. He immediately wanted to try again. I told him he could have another turn after everyone else had a turn.

"Dan" was next up. He got my king over to the side of the board in 7 moves, but he wasted a tempo on an unnecessary queen move. He executed the mate in 20 seconds and it took him 9 moves. I figured that was going to be hard for anone else to beat, considering that it was one of the best times ever in any class that I've done this in.

"John" was next. He started out on the right track, but on his 5th move he put his queen right next to my king. Naturally I took his queen. When I do this exercise with the kids, I'm aiming to draw so I'll take any free queens or stalemates I can get.

"Henry" was last one to give it a try. He chased my king around the board for awhile and then finally got me to the side. Unfortunately for him, he put his king on the wrong square allowing me another stalemate. Even if he had managed the checkmate, it was many more moves then Dan's.

I gave Dan his pick of the remaining two pins. "Henry" rationalized his not getting one, by saying. "Who cares? It's just a junky badge anyway." This became the party line for him and "Jake" who had refused to even give it a try. In reality it is a junky badge, but don't tell that to the kid who earns one. He will wear the pin proudly, and if someone asks about it he'll be able to say he won the checkmate challenge.

Though I'd rather not have kids denigrate an award that they did not get, it's preferable to Sunday's situation with "Jimmy's" "missing" 1/2 point. As I told "Jake" at the end of class, one can not avoid competition. It's always going to be there. Hopefully they will learn to deal with the reality that one is not always going to be the winner.

The real winner was "Stan". After everyone else had taken their turn, he came back and tried again. He still wasn't able to get the checkmate. However he wasn't calling the prize a "junky badge".

Wednesday Wackiness

I had wanted to post a game that tied in to the theme of losing totally "won" games that was discussed this week on DrunknKnites's blog, and followed up with a very insightful post from Phaedrus. I can't find the particular game I'm looking for. I've played that opponent over 50 times, so it's hard to look through all my games. I emailed him to see if he has the game handy.

Instead I will take you back to the 70s and amuse you with probably one of my worst games of chess ever. This game was not of those ones where I walked into some book trap that loses in 12 moves. This game consisted of a bunch of random moves where it seemed that black had no idea what she was doing. It's a game that I now use as an instructional example of the consequences of poor development and planning. It's so bad that I'm too embarrassed to tell the class that I was black.

The game is from a match I played in the Commercial Chess League back in 1979. The matches were played after work at one of the teams' office. We were the visiting team so we made our way down from midtown Manhattan to Port Authority's offices in lower Manhattan. I don't know if I had a bad day at the office, or maybe I caught some brain eating disease on the subway ride downtown. There seems to be no other plausible explanation for such piss poor moves.

I played like an 800, but my USCF rating was in the 1400s at the time. These matches were not USCF rated. The league had their own rating system. We all have those days where we seem to forget everything we know about chess. That seemed to be one of those days.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Monday Knight Blahs

Back to the live chess grind after an 18 day lay off. My last live games were at the USATE at the leisurely 40/2, G/60 time limit. Now it was back sudden death "cracktion" chess. It was another one of our small turnouts. Originally I had scheduled a G/45 tournament to play over the next two Mondays. One player particularly wanted play G/30 and have three games in the one night. Since it was a rather small field for four rounds, we changed the format. What we lacked in quantity, we made up in quality. The ratings of our five player field were 2210, 2104, 2089, 1700 and 1589. The astute reader and/or tournament director can see which way this is heading for me as the 1700. Ms. "I hate getting byes" is going to end out having to give herself a bye in the second round unless she can draw or beat the 2104 in round 1. I already know what the pairings will be for every round based on no upsets.

Round one I'm black against John Kelly. We've played 10 times before. I have one win, one draw and 8 losses. The game had no redeeming qualities to it. Between the lingering effects of my cold, and not having played live chess in 18 days my head was just not there. I had my usual problem getting my bishop off of c8, the h1-a8 diagonal was open and he had a knight and bishop lurking around there giving me fits. The position went all to hell from there after I lost my h7 pawn. The position isn't wacky enough to post on Wednesday, so I'm not going to waste time or space on posting it.

Round two I get the bye. I can't even go for the preemptive requested last round bye since I'm the TD. Sigh. I spend a little time looking at the last game and trying to find the so called play that John thought I had. There was nothing. My session with Fritz today confirmed that. I watch the other games for awhile, and then in a fit of utter boredom I start putting together a children's jig saw puzzle. Our chess club meets in the YMCA's after school program room so there are lots of children's books and toys. I guess I know why I'm not into jig saw puzzles. This was a 20 piece puzzle with large pieces. The picture was very simple, and should not have been hard to put together. The damn thing took me about 25 minutes to put together. As I'm struggling with this damn puzzle I'm thinking to myself "No wonder you played like crap in the first game. How hell are you going to have any chance against Lonnie in the last round?" Also as I'm messing around with the puzzle I'm hoping none of the guys will come over and see what I'm doing.

After I finish the puzzle I start flipping through a "find the animals" picture book. It's actually a beautifully illustrated book with lots of different animal drawings in it. Trying to find 20 little parakeets in the rain forest page was beyond what my brain was capable of processing at that point. Then again it's hard to find little things on page when one's reading glasses are sitting on another table.

Finally we're ready to play the last round. I'm white against Lonnie, John's white against Silvio, and Alex the guy who wanted to play three rounds in one night gets the bye. John asks me why Alex gets the bye. I think he wanted it so he could go home. I told him because Alex is lower rated, and I thought I couldn't make a legal pairing otherwise. Actually I could have, but at the time I didn't think there was one.

This was game #34 against Lonnie. (2 wins, 1 draw, 30 losses). A typical game with Lonnie tends to be a positional grinder with either one or both of us in time pressure. On a good day I'll end up in a crazy time scramble with dead even material only to find myself either down a rook, on the verge of being mated, or flagged when it's over. I'll end out shaking my head and muttering to myself. On a bad day I'll be down on the clock, down in material and getting slowly crushed to death.

This game had all the makings of being one of those bad day games. I dropped a pawn on move 18, and he had a 10 minute edge on the clock. Considering how the first round and the stupid jig saw puzzle went, I thought it was going to be another one of those painful and butt ugly losses that I've been having against Lonnie lately. Maybe losing the pawn woke me up, but I started defending well, and countering his cheap shots. On move 50 I won my pawn back and we reached this position.

I had about 3 seconds left, and he had over a minute. I think he was so stunned over giving the pawn pack that he went into a deep think. I'm looking at the board trying to figure out what he's thinking about, but I also have one eye on the clock hoping that maybe he's forgotten about the time. He suddenly looks at the clock as it gets down to 11 seconds, and quickly plays 50...Nb3?

I see that my queen is under attack, but almost ever square it can go to is covered by a black piece. Before the 5 second delay counts down, I pick up the queen. I'm waving it around the board looking for a safe square in the exact manner that I tell my students NOT to do. (Look with your eyes, not with your hands!) As the clock hits 00:00 I put the queen on g5. He doesn't notice the clock, but immediately picks up the knight and puts it back on d4 before I notice the blunder he made with Nb3. What was wrong with 50...Nb3?

With more time I probably would have found such a simple two move combination, but having immediately picked up the queen I limited my options to queen moves. Many of the squares were covered by his minor pieces and the rook, or would lead to ugly pawn structure after a queen trade. We rattled off a few more moves that neither of recorded, and then he noticed I was out of time. It didn't really matter at that point because I had hung some pawns, and he had an attack going.

I guess getting more rating points on CTS for solving the problem in 3 seconds has its merits. However CTS is not touch move, and I don't feel the same sort of pressure that I feel in a live tournament game. Considering how the evening started I'll chalk this one up as a moral victory of mind over matter.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Is This Checkmate? and other thought provoking questions from kids.

If you want to really mess your chess vision, try being a tournament director at a scholastic event. But not just any scholastic event. Some of those kids really know how to play, and will smack you around the board if you're not careful. If you don't believe me look here, here, here, or here. (Note to self: Tags such as Killer Kidz would make it a lot easier to find this stuff.)

The tournament I was directing today was small unrated event open to kids from one particular school district where we have chess programs. It was divided into three sections based on level and age. Out of 60 players only around 10 of them had played in a tournament before. Of those experienced tournament players only one has a four digit rating. Needless to say you see some interesting piece movements and hear some interesting questions, especially in the novice section.

In a tournament like this we try to keep fun for the kids, but at the same time we hope they'll learn a little something from the experience. One of the things we insist upon is that they raise their hand when they think it's checkmate. This avoids the "captured king" checkmate, the "stalemated king" checkmate, or the "I won, no I won" shouting match. So when a pair of hands go up, you're never quite sure wheether the game is really over or not.

One game I was called over to, the kid who was ahead asks me if it's checkmate. I look at the board, and neither king is in check. Hmmmm, that's a tough one. "No the king is not even in check."

Then in this position, white was claiming threefold repetition.

The move sequence had been 1 ...Qf2+ 2. Kb1, Qf1+, 3. Kb2, Qf2+, 3. Kb1, Qf1+, 4. Kb2, Qf2, etc. I had not observed this sequence, but both kids agreed this is what had happened. I'm impressed that the kid knows about repeating the position, but then I notice the rook on b8. I told him he had been leaving his king in check to the rook, and couldn't be making all the repeating moves. No draw yet. Black eventually did checkmate.

Some might say that I should have let the claim stand since the position did repeat at least three times, and this was a small unrated event where the results weren't all that important. In situations like this I don't tend to think that way. Though I can't cite chapter and verse off the top of my head, I know what the rule book says regarding the TD observing illegal moves. As I'm writing this, I have the rule book open. According to 11H in the rule book says if a director observes an illegal move, he shall require him to make a legal move. There's also a rather lengthy TD tip about situations where the king has been left in check. (Damn, I sound like a frigging lawyer.)

My favorite question in this tournament was "Can the king eat two pieces at once?" "No this is not checkers." That was not my answer, but that was what I was thinking. Sometimes it's best to give a one word answer of no.

My least favorite question was "How come I didn't win anything?" I don't mind explaining that a player had to get 2.5 points in that section to win a medal, and 3 or more for a trophy. I do mind when the player asking got one of his points on a bye, gives me an argument and then procedes to tell me he really had 2.5 points not just two. When a kid tells me his score is wrong, I will go back and check what was written on the pairing sheet. Sometimes I make mistakes when inputting the results. I had done so with this particular kid's friend. It's possible I messed up another result from the first round. Mistakes often crop up in the first round because of repairing opponents of no-shows.

I show him what I have on the computer, and he tells me he drew in the first round. I find the pairing sheet, and it indicates he lost. Then he tells me he got the draw playing as James. (Not his real name. Not that anyone would be able to figure this one out since he's never played in a tournament before.) He had been entered twice. Once as James and once as Jimmy. Yeh right, nice try. The problem with that argument was that James was a no show, and his opponent was repaired. The kid had sat at the Jimmy seat, and been paired as Jimmy for all four rounds. Jimmy had two losses, a bye, and a win. James had a forfeit loss and then was withdrawn as a no-show.

I can understand wanting a medal or something, especially when your friends got something. But it saddens me when they try to pull a song and dance number on me to do so. Did he really think I'd say "Oh you drew in round 1? I'm sorry I messed up. Here take this medal. I believe you." Give me a break!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Tournament of LEPers Rd 3: Dynamic Duo

Not Batman and Robin! I had my fill of Batman on Thursday. I still am feeling the affects of this miserable cold, but compared to Thursday I'm the picture of health. That's not saying a whole lot since I felt like total bat poop that day. You know I'm feeling lousy when I willingly pass up my Thursday night cracktion fix at the Marshall Chess Club. I'm surprised the calvary isn't knocking down my door wondering where I've been the last two Thursdays. I guess I better show my face next week before they file a missing person's report.

Back to today's game. The painting above should give a hint of what pair I'm speaking of. The funny thing was I kept offering to trade off bishops and Wahrheit kept refusing my kind offers. This was one of those games that was a yawner for the most part. It wasn't until the queens were traded that things opened up for me. I don't think either of us had our A game going. He hung pawns several times and I didn't notice. I'm glad when I put my moves into Fritz it doesn't sit there and say "Yo butthead! Why didn't ya take the free pawn?"

If I keep this up, I may actually start to like playing chess online. I guess next week I get to try to scramble up some eggs. Would ya like hash browns and pork product with that?