Wednesday, December 9, 2009

American Open: Train Wreck @ LAX

Saturday morning the 4 day schedule and 3 day schedule merged. Now I would be playing the much slower 40 moves in 2 hours followed by remaining moves in an hour. I've been prone to having difficulty making the transition from the much faster time control to the slower one. However in this tournament I had a night to sleep on it, before making the transition. In most tournaments where I've played the shorter schedule I've played 3 - 4 games and less then an hour after the last fast game I've had to switch gears. Sometimes the result of that transition have not been pretty. Round 4 of the 2008 NY State Championship, or Round 4 of the 2007 Empire State Open come to mind.

Since this was the first day with all the schedules together Randy Hough got up and spoke about Jerry Hanken. Jerry had played in the previous 44 American Opens. My trip to the tournament was my own little tribute to Jerry, and Randy had asked me to say a few words. Unfortunately with no mike, and despite my loud voice I don't think people in the back heard what I said. I just shared about how much he cared about chess, and what a good friend he had become. Nothing particularly eloquent.

I felt rested and ready to make the transition to the slow time control. For a change I actually got a half way decent night's sleep, time zone change and all. When I got to the board my opponent already had his equipment set up. The previous day I had played all the rounds with my pieces. When I'm on a good run I kind of like to keep things the same. When I won the Under 1800 section in Saratoga Springs I went to great lengths to sit in the same seat, use my equipment, and wear my "lucky" cap. I couldn't control the seat thing in this tournament since the board numbers were constantly changing. I could have been a pain in the ass and insisted on using all my equipment since I was Black. I've seen players do that to try to intimidate or annoy their opponent. Actually I should say I've seen a psycho chess dad do that to their child's opponent. I think that's rather obnoxious and over the top, but I digress.

My opponent had a very nice wood set, so I saw no need to make a fuss over the set. If it had been some crappy plastic set with mismatched colors I probably would have asked to switch. I did ask to use my clock since I prefer my Chronos and the way I set it for a two control game. I like the time delay always showing, I like seeing hours, minutes and seconds when then clock is running, and I like the move counter. A lot of people don't like the move counter because it can get messed up if someone forgets to press the clock. I like it because when the first control is done, it automatically adds the extra time for the second control. That way I know how much time is really left and I don't have to do time math. "The clock says 33 minutes, but it's really 1 hour and 33 minutes."

He tried to play the Smith-Morra Gambit against my Sicilian, but too many ugly games with Eric Hecht cured me of taking the c pawn. Instead I play Nf6 and it usually transposes into a c3 Sicilian. Not that I'm overly fond of that line either, but it beats getting smashed in less then 20 moves. Early in the game he was using a lot more time then me. I got up a few times to get water, use the bathroom or look at other games. However I wasn't overly restless, so I wasn't constantly jumping up from the board. That's what tends to happen to me when I've just gotten through a G/60 game and now have to deal with an opponent who is using a lot of time.

I try to gauge my pace by looking at how much time I've used by the 20th move. It's not a good sign when I see I've spent a measly 10 minutes on the first 20 moves, and my opponent has spent an hour on those same 20 moves. That means I have not made the transition well, and that I'm likely make some move that I'm going to regret not having given more thought to. I was kind of surprised when we hit 20 moves and both of us had used over an hour each. At one point in the game he had used about 20 minutes more then me, but by 20 moves the time edge was down to 5 minutes. Perhaps that was because I spent 11 minutes on move 19 and after he spent 10 minutes on move 20, I spent another 8 minutes on my 20th move.

It was probably around move 25 when I noticed the move counter was off by a move, and would showing 39 moves when we actually had made 40. It wouldn't be a big deal if we both made the time control with plenty of time to spare. I thought about mentioning it to my opponent, but he was so intense in his concentration. I didn't want to say anything on his time, and I didn't want to stop the clock on my move and break my train of thought. I decided I would let it go for the time being. Things did get a bit wild between moves 30 and 40. We traded queens and then had a battle of doubled rooks on open files. I was looking for cheap shots on his back rank because he had not moved any of his pawns around the king. He was looking to penetrate since I had gaping holes on both sides of the board.

I made my 40th move with 23 seconds left, and it was at that point that I mentioned the clock. At time control there tends to be a natural break as both players just verify that 40 moves had been played. Once we had agreed on that I just pressed the clock back and forth to get the extra hour put on both sides. Note to self: Fix the error when first noticed instead of worrying about it approaching the first time control.

The real fun started after time control. Often when somebody says that, it's a cliche. In this case it's not a cliche because the game truly became fun and exciting. It would not have been fun if my opponent had just ignored my desperate attempt at counter-play. He won my a pawn, and my b pawn would fall soon, but he responded to my crazy 48...Nh5. If he just goes after my b pawn I'm going to have difficulty stopping his queen side pawns. But at this point I'm in the "I'm losing, but I'm going to have some fun before I resign." mode. I'm not sure why he was so concerned about my knight going to f4 ang e2+, but he wasted time with 49. g3. There's an old teaching expression that is sometimes used. "Rooks on seven are in heaven." I had two rooks on his 7th. He had one rook on my 7th.

I can't even begin to describe the craziness that ensued. He chased my king from one side of the board to the other, and with seconds left on my clock I came up with a combination that won a piece. Here is the game up to the point that I stopped taking score. The last few moves I included are from memory, and I'm not even sure if they're correct. What happened afterward defies explanation.


At this point the game has drawn a crowd because we're the only game left. I've won many games with only seconds left on my clock, but I'm not sure exactly what happened after I stopped keeping score. I was a bundle of nerves. If one only looked at the part of me that was visible across the board, I looked fairly calm except the quick movements of my hands as I went for pieces. Under the table was a whole different story. My legs were bouncing up and down, and I was having trouble sitting still. Linux-Guy thought I looked very focused. However what was going through my mind along with the analysis wasn't really very focused. At one point it crossed my mind "Why doesn't he resign? I'm up a piece and 2 pawns and I'm going to shove my f pawn down his throat." That type of thinking gets me into trouble.

I have no memory of the moves that followed once I stopped keeping score, but somehow I never got around to taking the a pawn, my king wandered too far away from his queen side pawn majority, he played a5, and ran the b pawn down the board. With a total of 6 seconds (1 second real time & 5 seconds delay) per move, I could not find a way to get back to stop him from promoting. My knight and king were too far away, and my rook was blocked. Linux-Guy who was watching, seemed to think I may have had a way to sac the rook for the pawn. With my advanced f pawn I still should have been able to win even down the exchange.

As I'm writing this I stopped to look at 6 seconds tick off on my watch to get a sense of how much time it is. In the comfort of my house with no pressure to calculate a series of chess moves, it seems like enough time. However when one is banging out 20 or more chess moves one right after another and is in hyper mode, it's very hard to sort out the emotions from the problem at hand. I know why this happens. I discussed it at great length in my Chess Survival post.

I know I was very emotional that game. I went from a feeling of hopelessness when it appeared he would just gobble up my pawns and march his down the board, to a feeling of euphoria as I came up with the combination that won a piece, then to a feeling of utter panic when I couldn't find a quick win with so little time. Then I got angry with myself when he made the passed pawn. I try to keep the anger to myself, and not project it towards my opponent. When he promoted the pawn, I stopped the clock so that he could replace the pawn with the queen. The pawn was sitting in front of me, so I picked it up and tossed to the side where the other captured pieces were. I guess my toss would a little harder then intended because it went shooting across the table and my opponent got annoyed and said "It's only a game." I said "Sorry", but somehow when somebody says "It's only a game" when they've suddenly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat it sounds rather hollow. I had not paid any attention to his body language, but Linux-Guy told me afterward that he exuding arrogance as he marched the pawn down the board.

The position was certainly resignable at that point, but I chose to continue playing with my one second. I think I was just too angry at myself to give up at that point. I think I was also ticked off by the "It's only a game" remark. I'm not 100% sure how it ended. The position below is a rough reconstruction of the final position. Usually I write down the position at the end, but having played for over 6 hours I couldn't think straight. I did apologize again for tossing the pawn. I was kind of embarrassed because I don't like showing anger by throwing things around, especially my opponent's nice pieces.

The next round was scheduled to start in a few minutes. The smart thing to have done was take a bye for that round. However in one of my "suck it up, get over it, and get back on the horse" moments I chose to play round six. I wasn't in contention for money after that loss, so a zero point bye would been acceptable.

When I started playing round six, I knew it was a mistake. I got a second Black in a row. I almost offered my opponent an early draw. But no, since I hate early draw offers I chose to play out the game. I got a so-so position out of the opening and then just lost focus. He was going to win a pawn, and I thought it was going to be deadly to give up that pawn, so I sac-ed the exchange. Sometimes I make irrational decisions like that. Eventually I just resigned. The previous game had sucked the energy right out of me. I figured I needed to save something for rounds 7 & 8.

My opponent and I looked at the game, and concluded that losing the pawn was not going to be devastating. In fact it didn't really look like White was going to be able to do much with it. It's hard to get out of the losing mind set after a long and heart breaking loss. Decisions get made based on that mind set. The funny thing was my opponent told me he almost offered an early draw, but looking at me he thought I wasn't in the mood to accept such an offer. If he had offered the draw, I would have taken it. Socializing over a glass of wine afterward was the best part of the evening.

At 9:30 he said that we both should head back to our respective rooms, and get ready for the next day. I wasn't quite ready to do that. I went back into the playing room to see how Linux-Guy was making out against Ryan Polsky. When that game was done, I got someone to take a picture. Brian and Ryan get join my rogues gallery of bloggers and commenters I've met at tournaments. Welcome to the club.

Ryan, Polly & Brian (aka Linux-Guy)

I was going to write another post about Sunday's games, but this one ended out taking longer then I expected. To make a long story short; in the 7th round a played a 5th grade girl with one of those names that's hard to spell and even harder to pronounce. (Always a bad sign!!) I won a pawn, and then messed up. In round 8 I played Black against someone who played 1 .d4 followed by 2. Nf3. For some reason I just get really crappy positions and have been getting smashed as Black against that kind of line. I guess that will be part of my ACIS agenda. Work out an opening plan against random d4 openings.

Tomorrow I head off to Dallas for the National K-12 Championships. I'll be tending to my job as assistant coach to the team, taking pictures, and following the action closely since I'll be writing an article for Chess Life about the tournament. I was very excited and honored when the Chess Life Editor asked me if I'd write the article for the tournament. Finally I get to play a real chess journalist. I probably won't have time to torture myself by playing under-rated chess parents in the Parents & Friends tournament.

Stay tuned for pictures and other tournament tidbits. Maybe I'll post my first Texas game to Checkmate State by State in honor of the occasion.


Hank said...

Hi Polly,

Wow - that game against Jose sure was exciting. I can only imagine all the emotions you must have felt during the time scramble, especially after winning the piece but with not enough time left to think through the complications!
I was wondering, in your post-game analysis, if you looked at 65...Ng4? I know in the game that you would have been just about out of time at that point, but I think it hypothetically gives you good chances for a win, with your "hungry rooks" on the 7th... :)

Thanks for sharing your experiences, of both winning and losing, with your fans!

Best regards,

LinuxGuy said...

When I first came to the board, it was move 44, and Nh5 looked like an obvious blitz move, eyeing Nf4. You still would have had the chance to play ...Rc7 on your next move, which covers your back-rank nicely. His Bc6 was a nice way to cut your rook off, I didn't see that either. Instead, you spent a lot of time ...Rd6.

His 50. Bd5 seemed crazy, as he can play Rf1 and then pick off the g-pawn.

During the game, even as you blitzed it, and he blitzed back, I thought 61. Kg2 looked most interesting, and now that I look at it more carefully g3 looks like a sanctuary spot for the king, for long enough. But by this point, you already have the pawns and a sturdy king.

It's fair to say that he messed up by playing into your time-pressure, but it's also fair to say that that is how he won the game.

"Calm down (lady)! It's only a game!" I think he did say 'lady'. In any case, he seemed to derive some pleasure from his blitz strategy working out for him (thinking to myself - as if chess were some arcade game. Oh, brother). You gave a heartfelt apology for flinging his piece. hehe.

They made a sensible choice in picking a journalist! I'm not sure what there was to write about, but "Many of the players were focused as if their lives depended on gaining prize-money" wouldn't haven been far from the truth. By the last day, I think most everyone had lightened up some.

Steve Wollkind said...

Wow, that was certainly a marathon game. It's not always so easy to convert winning positions if your opponent can make any kind of counter play, I find. I've floundered around and lost several times when I was "winning." Dealing with that is one of my ACIS priorities.

I used to like having a move counter on my clock (I have a GameTime 2, and as far as I can tell the only way to do a two tiered time control on this clock is with the counter) but I've been considering getting a chronos so I can avoid the very issue you had come up. I just don't want to have to think about it during a game :P

Polly said...

Linux: The journalist gig is for the upcoming K-12 championship in Dallas this weekend. I am on the way as I write. Airplane internet is cool!!

I'm not sure how heart felt my apology was, but just didn't feel like leaving board with a bad vibe. Last year when I apologized to psycho chess mom, she wasn't so gracious even though her son won.

LinuxGuy said...

Too funny.

Okay, so what happened in the last 3 games? I saw this because I am the opposite, my meltdowns come in quick games rather than slow ones.

In that game, now that I saw the whole thing. I thought your knights got clogged together once the other one went to c6 (recalling this from looking at it yesterday), but then he had a chance to keep his pawn pair together by pushing and instead traded off.

Basically, what I am saying is that I think you outplayed him in this game up until you made your ...Rd6 move, and then the game took on a frantic quality for both sides. You outplayed him overall, so you deserved the win, except for your clock (I have clock issues as well).

LinuxGuy said...

I meant 44...Re5.

I figure that you were probably tired by then. If you got tired then decided to go for broke, I know how you feel. That's basically what I did in a game last night, wasn't feeling that up for it, sticking around for another 40 moves or so, was a bit mentally tired from earlier in the day.

Polly said...

Linux: I think Sunday I was tired even though I thought I was alright. My morning opponent defended against my attack really nicely, and all I got out of it was a pawn. I was sure I was winning a piece. Then I had one of those lapses in concentration where I just walked into something stupid. Maybe I'll post the game when I get some time because it was interested.

The last game just sucked. I got smashed out of the opening and it went downhill from there. It lasted 24 moves and took less then two hours. Lately I've been having trouble when people play 1. d4 2. Nf3.

I'm in a match at my club and my opponent has played that against me in both games where I've been Black. I'm 0-2 in those games.

LinuxguyonFICS said...

Polly, post the games and we'll help you with your repertoire. ;-)

1.d4 2.Nf3 is not easy to play against, but there are time-honored ways.

I play QGD, though might switch to the Slav one of these days. Nimzo-Indian is also a nice way for Black to get good play, but I don't play that yet.

Here is a nice draw for Black, for example, in the QGD:

Polly said...

Linux: After I get back from Dallas I'll post more games.