Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Turning Point

Saratoga Springs update: I have good news and bad news. The good news is I did not lose all of my games playing in the Open section. The bad news is I did not win any games either. 2 draws and 2 losses. Not a horrible result, but it could have been better as this post will attest to.

Often in analyzing games we don't necessarily come up with a specific move that changed the course of the game. Sometimes it's a series of small mistakes that add up. A rook placed on a wrong file, a tempo lost here or there, castling on the wrong side, pushing a pawn too soon, or not soon enough, etc. Those little mistakes on our part or the opponent's part can add up and lead to loss of material or a deadly attack. As we're looking over the game we might reach a point where we ask ourselves "Where did that come from?"

I know in my own games I have difficulties with certain openings, especially from the Black side. Often against 1. d4 I have trouble getting the c8 bishop developed, or if I do get the bishop out, the b8 knight ends out on some random square completely out of play. When that happens I usually end out losing horribly because I've spent the entire game defending basically playing a piece down. Sometimes I feel like I'm playing two pieces down if the a8 rook sits in the corner the entire game. Other times I manage to develop the queen side pieces, but the position still falls apart. Games like that sometimes more difficult to pin point the errors, and learn from.

Then there are the games that jump out at you because there's a clear turning point in the game that gives you or the opponent something that wasn't there before. Maybe a lost game turns into a draw or win. An "easy" win turns into a draw or a loss. Those "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" games are my trademark train wreck stories. Is there something that can be taken from the wreckage, and applied to future games? In real life there is always an investigation after a train wreck or other accident. The investigators look to find answers to questions such as:
Human error?
Mechanical failure?
Weather issues?
What can be done to avoid a repeat?

In examining the turning point move in a game there are also questions to be answered. Some of the answers might be obvious.

Human error? YES
Mechanical failure? NO, though maybe if there was a problem with the clock we might say YES.
Weather issues? Maybe, if we take into account that the playing room was too hot or too cold.
What can be done to avoid a repeat? If there was ever a million dollar question in chess, that would be it. Is there an answer to that question? There are the standard answers;

Study tactics.
Study openings.
Study endings.
Manage one's time better.
Slow down.
Stay focused.
Etc., etc., etc.

These are answers that are written about amongst various chess bloggers. For a long time we had the Knights Errant. As longtime knights realized, there are different approaches to improving one's game, particularly as adults. The knights have evolved into A.C.I.S of Caissa. Unfortunately no matter what course we follow on the road to chess improvement, there is no guarantee that we won't make the exact same mistake again. Sometimes I think I should start my own group ADHDACIS for those of us who would like to improve at chess, but have ADHD issues that get in the way.

So allow me to share my two turning point games from the Saratoga Open. In my first game I was black against a 2000. Like me he is sitting on his floor. His floor just happens to be 300 points higher then mine. It was not the prettiest game of chess played. We both made small mistakes that gave up time or space, but none of our respective mistakes were real killers. I did win a pawn and was surprised when he let me trade off the final pair of rooks to reach a king and pawn ending with 2 against 1 on the king side. We reach this position and it's Black's move.

There are no clock issues. We've passed the first time control. I have over an hour of time left. The two moves I was considering here were 45...g5+ or 45...h6. g5+ makes the most sense. A possible continuation is 45... g5+ 46. Kg4 Kg6 47. h4 h5+ 48. Kf3 g4+ 49. Ke4Kf6 50. Kf4 Ke7 51. Ke3 Kf7 52. Kf4 Kf6 53. Ke4 Ke6 54. Kf4 Kd5. However I was also thinking about wanting to back up the g pawn with the h pawn which is why I also considered h6. In thinking about the two moves I didn't look deep enough into the possible variations, and somehow what I decided on did not line up with what I actually did. I decided I would play 45...g5+, but because h6 was the last thing I thought about, I picked up the h pawn and played 45...h6. As you will see by playing out the entire game below, that one little pawn move turned a won ending into a draw.


Fast forward to the last round. Nothing spectacular about the two games in between. In the last round I'm playing an 8th grader who decided he'd rather play in the open tournament then the NY State Scholastic Championship. He wanted the slower time limit of 30/90 SD/1 instead of SD/1 which was the time limit in the scholastic event. He got some pressure early on, but I did not get rattled by his having a knight sitting on d6 on move 14. I was able to move my knight around to force a trade or retreat. In the meantime he over extended his queen side pawns hoping to insert a pawn on d6 after the knight trade or create a passed pawn on the c file. Instead I was able to win the c pawn. I had just played 24...Rxc5. He played 25. Rxc5 to reach the position below.

I had two choices for the recapture. I can play 25...Qxc5 forming the battery with the queen in front, or 25...Rxc5 with the idea of creating the battery with the rook in front by putting the queen on c7. I was eying White's back rank since he had not pushed a king side pawn yet. I thought with the rook in front I would be able to play ...Rc1 at some point and force a rook trade. I was so fixated on this idea that I did not take into consideration what happens when I abandon my back rank. There are no back rank mate threats by White, but there is a check that I did not take very seriously. Without much thought I played 25...Rxc5?? He immediately plays 26. Qb8+. It then I realize that it's not just a simple check, but he's also attacking my knight. Curses! Forked again!

Instead of being up a pawn, I was down a knight for a pawn. At this point I'm totally disgusted with myself. I've thrown away a chance to get at least draw, and possibly win if I can convert the pawn advantage. I'm ticked off for not taking a little more time to take into consideration White's counterplay. I played a few more moves. Once he played 31. g3 to eliminate any of my back rank threats, I resigned. I was just too angry to even try to play on. Here's the game in its entirety.


So what did I learn from these two games? I'm moving too fast when it's not necessary. I'm not doing a clean blunder check before making the actual move.

What can I do differently to avoid these types of errors? Slow down. Take a few extra minutes to consider the possibilities.

How can I force myself to slow down when I have a lot of time? I've come to the conclusion that it's time for me to pick up pen and paper again when playing any game with two time controls. I need to go back to noting how much time I'm using, and I need to write my move down before I play it. On the last day of the Bermuda Open I find out I was supposed to be turning in a score sheet. So for the last two rounds I kept a written score along with using my Mon Roi to record the moves. Sometimes I'd fall behind on the Mon Roi, and catch up a few moves later. I won both those games. I think keeping both scores forced me to slow down, and kept me more focused on the game itself.

I'm going to experiement with writing my moves down during long time controls. I won't do it for "cracktion" games. Any benefit derived from writing during game/30 will be wiped out by horrendous time pressure. The Mon Roi is better for fast time controls. I figure I have nothing to lose by trying to slow myself down in this manner. I'm not sure when my two time control tournament is, so it may be awhile before I can put my theory to the test.

PS. On a happier note. The weekend was not a total loss. I had travelled with and hung out with my usual team. I was not acting in any official coaching capacity at the scholastic championships, but was happy the team did win the High School Championship. They were tied going into the last round, but won one more game in the crucial last round. That helped take my mind off my own crappy play.


LinuxGuy said...

I thought ..h6 was winning, too, and didn't notice the check that picks up the knight either, until after you marked it as (??).

I am doing the rethink thing, too, after playing in my current tournament. I am not really analyzing all great like I though it was. It must have been in my mind/ego. :-)

tanc (happyhippo) said...

Ouch. h6 doesn't win indeed.

I thought for a while then I realise that White has a spare tempo in h4 and can use it to deadly effect to draw the game as the g-pawn cannot advance now due to simple opposition in the resulting endgame.

As for the 2nd game, one needs to be very careful in the endgame because loose pieces tend to drop off. I'd notice immediately the Knight was not protected.

Nevertheless, great to hear your team won!


Polly said...

End games are tough. I had another interesting ending this past Monday with what I thought had a turning point moment, but the move I thought I should have played was no good either. Look for that game in the next day or two.

Tommyg said...

I was so convinced that ..h6 DID indeed work that I made Shredder convince me that ..g5+ was better. I have been studying pawn endings like crazy lately and the funny thing is that the logical "looking" move isn't always right.

And I still am envious at how much Chess you get to play!! I am struggling to find time for a one game a week event my local club is going to host soon. But that is the nature of doing what I do for a living.

I don't always comment but I love reading about your travels!

Polly said...

Tommy: h6 is just a waste of time because my king is guarding g5, so I can play g5+, and then position my king properly to get h5 in at the right moment. End games get very tricky when you're dealing with kings that are far apart, and you have to deal with distant opposition. Unfortunately once I allowed h4, there is no way for me to get the opposition at the right time.

chesstiger said...

I guess Mon Roi is only implemented in the USA, here in Belgium and i figure most other European states its still pen and paper for notating the game.

Polly said...

Tiger: It is FIDE certified and has been used in some tournaments in Europe. It's used more in the states. Kids like using them because it does make notation easier. I like it while playing fast time controls because it does save time. However i think in situations where I need to slow myself down, pen and paper is the way to go.