Ben and I have a long history together. During the summer of 2002 his mom would bring him and a few other players from our area down on Thursday evenings for the tournament. Before that time, I didn’t play in the tournament very much. If I did, I would take a half point bye in the last round because I wasn’t sure what train I’d be able to catch otherwise. At the time Ben was starting his climb from 1100. Since we traveled in together Steve would make an effort to try to avoid pairing any of us together. Finally after several months of coming to the tournaments together, he couldn’t avoid pairing us. Going into the last round Ben and I were both 0-3. Nobody else had zero so the pairing was forced. He even wrote next to the pairing “forced”. Ben totally outplayed me and won the game. I’m not sure whether he was 8 or 9 years old at the time, but he was the youngest player I’d lost to up that point.
Over the next year we’d play each other 10 times. We would play at the Marshall and also at some tournaments in Westchester County. He won the first five games we played. Then I won the next five games we played. When I won game #10 I made a comment in jest that "He'd probably win the next 5 in a row." I was trying to be funny, but sometimes young kids misunderstand the intent, so he was not amused by my attempt at humor. Number 11 was a game of “Who wants to lose this game?” He blundered a piece, then I walked into a fork several moves later and gave the piece back. Then a number of moves later he hung another piece. Was I able to capitalize on this gift? No. Shortly after that I hung my queen.
Since my last win against him in 2003 I have played him 9 more times. I'm 0-9 against him. This would be our 10th game since 2003. He took a break from chess, which is why we haven't played more in the past 5.5 years. I sometimes have played really well against him, but messed up in time pressure. At other times I have gotten a bad position out of the opening and lost horribly. Mentally I have problems when I play him. Part of it is our ancient history from when he was a little kid. Also he's the top player on the team that I often assist at nationals. Sometimes he likes to bust my chops when I lose to lower rated players. There are times when he asks me how I did I'll tell him "I'm having a crappy night, I don't want to talk about it." He will back off when I say that.
This was a game where I was holding my own. He messed up, and I won a pawn. It should have been a straight forward win in the rook and pawn ending. However I was behind on the clock, and he used that to his advantage. Since he's played me a lot, and he's seen me in these action tournaments he knows that I don't always handle time pressure very well. I couldn't come up with a decent plan for pushing one of my pawns through, so I decided I was willing to settle for a draw. I attempted to repeat the position three times, but he wouldn't go for the third repetition. Probably against a higher rated opponent, or one that he didn't know so well he probably would have been happy to take the draw. Given my history he opted not to repeat. He even said afterwards, he just made moves knowing that I'd start thinking and get way behind on the clock.
Here is the first crucial position after 44...Rc7.
I played 45. Ke5 and the game continued 45... Re7+ 46. Re6 Rd7 47.Rd6 Re7+ 48. Re6 Rd7 to reach the position below.
I played 49. Rd6 to see if he'd go for the three fold repetition. He did not play 49...Re7+. Instead he played 49...Rc7. In my attempts to go for a draw I ignored the very strong 49. g6+! Part of my reluctance to play that move is because I'm leaving myself with a backward pawn. It's easy to be distracted by positional flaws, instead of seeing potential mate threats. A possible continuation for me is 49... Kf8 (49...Kg8??, 50. Re8#) 50. Rc6 Rd8 51. Rc7 a5 52. Ke6 Re8+53. Kd6 Rd8+ 54. Rd7 Rc8 55. Rf7+ Kg8 56. Rc7 Re8 57. Kd7 Kf8
The game continued 50. f6 gxf6+ 51. Rxf6+ Kg7 52. Ke6 Rc6+ 53. Ke5 Rc5+ 54. Kf4 Rc7 55. Kf5 Rc5+ 56. Kf4 Rc7 57. Kf5 Rc8 58. Ke6 Re8+ 59. Kf5 Re3 60.Rc6 Rf3+61. Kg4 Rxb3 62. Rc7+ Kg6 63. Rxa7 Rc3 to reach the position below:
Sure enough Ben was right. I'm down to one second on the clock, and even with the five second delay I can't find the right move. 64. Rb7?? I forgot that he's taking my c pawn with check and then can play Rc6 holding on to the b6 pawn. 64. Rc7 b3 65. Rc6+ Kg7 66.Rxb6 Rxc4+ 67. Kh5 Rxa4 68. Rxb3 would have been the best continuation for me. Instead the game went 64... Rxc4+ 65. Kg3 Rc6 66. Kg4 b3 67. Rb8 b268. Rg8+ Kf7 69. Rd8 b1=Q 70. Rd7+ Ke6 0-1.
It's kind of ironic after explaining why it's not good to settle for a draw in the middle game, that I end out falling into the same sort of psychological trap. In my efforts to repeat the position and settle for a draw I was missing stronger moves. Perhaps against another player I would have taken more chances, but in my quest to not lose to Ben again, I ended out setting myself up to lose. The psychology of the draw offer works both ways. I knew if I outright offered a draw he would refuse it. However attempting to repeat the position is pretty much the same as making a draw offer. I probably should have made the offer, have him refuse it, and then not waste moves trying to repeat the position.
I'd like to say that I bounced back in round 4, took out all my frustrations on my fourth round opponent and crushed him. BUT......that's not what happened. Instead I got mated in 22 moves by an obnoxious kid with a provisional rating of 1183. I played this kid in December when he had an 842 rating based on 6 losses to higher rated players. He was beating me in that game too, but got overconfident and imploded in time pressure. This time I wasn't so fortunate.
Normally after such a quick loss in round four, I'd rush out of the club to catch the early train. Since I was getting a ride back with Kevin's mom, I went over the game with my opponent. I wanted to see what went wrong. What I didn't expect was this kid ripping my moves apart and lecturing me like he was some grandmaster and I was a mere patzer. I really wanted to ask the kid where he gets off talking down to a higher rated adult opponent like that? Ben's coach who is a FIDE master was observing our post mortem, and started challenging the kid's analysis. I just sat back and watched the kid act like a butt head arguing with one of the top scholastic coaches in the country. The kid had no idea who he was arguing with.
I can take criticism and I'm willing to learn from anyone, however I found this kid's post game behavior a bit over the top. Ben's coach can rip my game apart all he wants. He made a couple of very good points about my crappy 17...Rc8 move. It was bad because I'm defending a one pointer with a five pointer, and I'm taking an active piece and putting out of play. When I said "I was trying to free up my knight" he made the point of "You're trying to free up your knight by tying up your rook. Does that make sense?" No it made no sense at all. I paid dearly.
Here is the game. I suppose I could have saved it for Wacky Wednesday, but I have another game for that.