It's been awhile since I've written about bye strategies on Thursday night. The reason the topic hasn't come up lately is because for the 5 months the tournament has been drawing in more kids with lower ratings. There have been weeks where I've gotten paired down in round two and won. If I can win in the first or second round then the matter of trying to avoid becomes moot. If there are 8 players lower rated then me, then there's a good chance that I'm not going to be in line for the bye in round 3 even if I start out 0-2.
With the Elementary Nationals being in Atlanta last weekend, I figured there would not be many kids showing up on Thursday night. I was correct on that count. Outside of a few teenage kids, the rest of the tournament was made up of adults. However it also meant I near the bottom of the wall chart, and that the prospect of a bye before round 4 was a distinct possibility. I was ranked 18 out of 21. #21 was an unrated (can't get a bye unless only player in bottom score group). #20 was an 1140 who got the bye in round 1, #19 was a 1539 who would get the bye in round 2 if he lost the 1st round and the number of players remained odd.
In round one I had the mathematically predicted result of losing to a 2060. At least this time I managed not to get mated in 12 moves. Though I did manage to break one the cardinal rules chess; "Don't chase your opponent's pieces to better squares" when I played 8...e5 chasing his knight to b5. From b5 it went to e6. I paid dearly for that. I lost the exchange several moves later.
Andre is getting ready to make the round 2 pairings. I ask him if the number is odd or even. He tells me it's odd, and that #19 was getting the bye that round. Unless I won round 2 or the number of players became even I would be in line to get the bye in round 3. Now I have to decide whether I want to take the preemptive 1/2 point bye for round 4 in order to definitely avoid a round 3 bye, or take my chances on winning round 2 and/or the number of players being even for round 3. My history with bye strategy has not not been very good. In fact most of the time it backfires. I decided I would take my chances and see what would happen between round 2 and 3. If worse became worst I could always request a zero point bye for round 4, and play round 3 instead. A 1/2 point wasn't going to be relevant if I was 0-2 going into round 3.
My round 2 game was actually rather interesting. I got a bad position out of the opening. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I could do to dig myself out of the hole I had dug for myself. I think the thing I was most proud of about this game was my mental attitude. It would have been very easy to say "I'm getting smashed. My position sucks, and I'm going to lose." That did cross my mind, but I realized that despite Black's space advantage he didn't have any truly crushing moves. I simply had to be patient, reposition my pieces and try for some play.
I eventually got play on the queen side, and won a pawn. He started burning up time, but I was still behind on the clock. Unfortunately in my time pressure I ended out giving it back. I still thought I had decent chances, but I ran out of time. We played a few more moves including one where I hung another pawn. He only had 6 seconds when I flagged. I was kind of hoping he wouldn't notice, and might run out of time himself. He did notice, but after hanging the pawn my chances of holding on where not so good.
Now I'm 0-2 and the chances of a third round bye have increased dramatically. Fortunately Evan Rabin joined the tournament for the third round so the number was even. In round 3 I played Max Yarmolinsky. Last month we played each other two weeks in a row with him having Black each time. He won both games. This time I had Black. He's been in a slump so he decided that he would mix things up this round by playing 1. e4 for the first time ever. That sometimes can work out, but at other times it can be a strategic blunder. Facing my Accelerated Dragon with my junky, but trappy 7...Qa5 line. The correct response is 8. 0-0, but often people will play 8. f3 attempting to play the Yugoslav. Play has to be precise at that point otherwise White loses material. White's play was not precise and in true Wacky Wednesday form I fork his queen and bishop thus winning material. He promptly resigned instead of trying for a little play with 10. Bxf7+.
Now suddenly I've gone from sweating about byes to having a chance of getting an even score if I win the last round. I was paired against an 1877 whose rating is provisional based on 3 games. I knew his rating was provisional, I just didn't know how many games it was based on. Playing someone with so few games it's like playing an unrated. You don't know how good they really are. I decided I was not going to take that into account, and just play the game. It was wild one, and he fortunately missed an opportunity to force a perpetual and get the draw.
I ended the evening with a 2-2 score, won a share of the under 2000 prize, and saw my rating hit 1785. That's the highest it's been in many years. That will be my rating for the June list which put in to dilemma in terms of what section to play in next month at the National Open. Do I play in the under 1800 section where I'm going to be ranked in the top 10, or do I play up and be at the bottom on of the under 2000 section? I decided to play in my own section even though my rating had dropped. I did spring for the extra hotel night and I'm playing the 3 day schedule. Hopefully that will help.
PS. I started writing this post before I went down to play again the following Thursday. The make up of the field was very similar and I was faced with the same sort of decisions regarding bye strategy. It didn't work so well the second time around. I got the bye in round 3, played a house player rated 2100, and in my desire to win I bypassed the opportunity to to repeat the position, and went on to lose. In round 4 I played the same 4th round opponent as the week before, but this time he avenged last week's loss. Easy come, easy go. 2-2 one week, 0-4 the next week. We'll see what tomorrow brings.