Friday, October 1, 2010

Phantom of the Chess Board

The New York State Championship is old news at this point.  However my round 5 was quite interesting.  Not just the game itself, but the contrasting personalities at the board. Before I could even play my game there was still the long drive from Westchester County back up to Albany.  Fortunately I was not the one driving.  I could just sit in the front seat, watch the scenery and talk to the dad who was driving.  We made very good time back up to Albany.  Just about two hours.  So we arrived by 9:45 AM for a 10:00 AM start.

When I arrived at the board my opponent already had his set and board set up.  His set was a wood set with stylized pieces where it was hard to tell the king from the queen, and bishops from pawns.  It was not a Staunton set, so despite being White I asked to use my set.   There was just no way I could play with this set and not risk doing something stupid because I can't tell the queen from the king.  I can find other ways to be stupid without trying to blame it on the pieces.

I really don't like being a nudge about whose set we're using, especially when the opponent has set his up already.  I've seen players who had Black insist on using their set despite the fact that the opponent has his out and set up already.  It didn't matter that the sets were pretty much the same, or that White's set was actually nicer.  The player with Black just does it to be annoying, or to intimidate the opponent.  I wasn't trying to do either.  I just wanted to know for sure what piece I was actually moving.

He didn't say anything about changing sets.  He simply started picking up the pieces and putting them back in his bag.  I helped him clean up his set and set up mine. I didn't think to swap boards so we used his.  The board didn't matter.  It was a standard green and buff roll up board.  After all the equipment adjustments we finally got down to playing chess.

The game started out very quietly.  We traded pawns early and then after he took my knight on c3, I recaptured with the d pawn giving him a chance to trade queens.  He did not want the queen trade so he moved his queen off the d file.  If I had any concerns about making the transition from Game/40 to 40 moves in 2 hours followed by Game/60, they were quickly dispelled.  It took us 40 minutes to play the first 10 moves.  He had used more time in the opening.  I would be the one using more time for the next 30 moves.

I wish I could say that it was time well spent.  I find with these quiet positions it's sometimes difficult to come up with an attacking plan.  With so much time available I often spend a lot of it looking at many different things.  Often it's easy to get bogged down in looking at all sorts of complicated ideas, and overlooking the obvious.  A clear example of this occurred on move 25. In the position below.

Position after 24... Kh7.

I thought I was going to be able to win a piece by playing 25. e5 Qxe5 26.  Bd4 attacking his queen and blocking his rook from defending his bishop on d3.  Sometimes in the pursuit of something clever like a pawn sac, it's easy to miss the simple way of winning a piece.  I can simply play 25. Qd2!  I didn't play it because I was  concerned about a discovered attack that's not there.  The bishop is pinned. If he plays 25...Qd7 I have 26. Rd1. The game continued 26...Qb5 27. a4 Qa6 28. Qe3 Bg6.

I knew I had something in the position, but I just couldn't find it.  This was match of Ying and Yang at the chess board.  My opponent had not budged from his sitting position.  He was hunched over and just staring at the board.  He made no eye contact with me, or even looked around the room.  His only movement was making moves over the chess board, pressing the clock and keeping score.  I on the other hand was in non-stop motion.  I was constantly changing positions in my chair.  The week before I had fallen on my back and was still in pain.  I couldn't do my usual kneeling on the chair or bending way over the chess board.  I'm trying to maintain some sense of decent posture, so I ended out standing and sitting a lot.  When I was sitting my legs are bouncing up and down or I was fidgeting with my hands.

I kept the pressure him, but somehow I missed another opportunity to win a piece.  We reached the position below after after a series of moves that allowed me to win a pawn with 29. Qxe7 Re8 30. Qd6 Ne4 31. Nxe4 Bxe4.  

Position after 31...Bxe4

I was debating about whether I should continue with the trades in the center with 32. Bxe4 or play 32. Bxg7.  I didn't like the idea that he would play 32...Bxf3.   I was concerned about him having the light square bishop and follow up with 33...Qe2 after I retreat my bishop from g7.   His fierce attack is all  a mirage.  After 32. Bxg7 if he does play 32...Bxf3 I have 33. Qxh6+ Kg8 34. Qh8#.  He has to play 32...Kxg7 which allows me to win the Bishop on e4 with 33. Qd4+. Because I had not seen the mate threat I chose to simplify with 32. Bxe4 Rxe4 33. Bxg7 Kxg7.

With that series of trades I managed to allow Black to activate his rook.  I totally missed that when he played Rxe4 he's attacking my a pawn a second time.  I brought my queen back to d2 because I wanted to get my queen back for defensive purposes.  He can bring his rook to e2.  However he simply wins his pawn back with 34...Rxa4.

It was disappointing giving the pawn back, but I still felt I was slightly better with my solid pawn structure.   However I made a few so so moves right before time control.  I made my 40th move with 13 seconds to spare.  At that point I should have gotten up from the board, and walked away from the position for a few minutes.  I was still in the hyper state of constant movement and being a bundle of nerves.  Walking away for a few minutes perhaps would have let me catch my breath, control my thoughts, and slow me down.  Instead rushed my moves as if I was still racing the clock.  One of the moves I rushed was 43. Kh3?? which allowed him to push his a pawn to a3. At that point I had a serious meltdown and allowed him to push the pawn and queen instead of playing Ra3 which allows him to win a pawn, but it's harder for him to queen in that position.  Here is the game.


I spent over a week working on this post.  While trying to come up with ideas for my narrative, I ended out going over the game several more times and got thinking about what was going on in my head.  It's easy to chalk it up to poor tactical understanding on my part.  However I think it goes deeper then that.  I've written about tournaments where I've had trouble making the transition from the accelerated schedule time control to the slower main time control.  I've gotten in trouble by playing too fast and not using the available time.  In this case I think I was making such a big effort to use my time that I allowed myself to get bogged down by unnecessary analysis.  I also was looking for problems that weren't really there.  Guarding against the phantom threats distracted me from the real threats that I had. 

This is a pattern that has shown up in a few of the games I've played in the past 10 days.  I see things that I can do, but don't because I think the opponent has a big threat.  I'm not sure why it's happening.  Sometimes I think when I'm in a bad mood or a little down on myself, I go looking for the worst in a position.  It may be I'm looking at the position in "the glass is half empty" mode when in reality "the glass is three quarters full."  I know I'm stressing a lot over my upcoming Black Belt test so I'm sure it's impacting what I'm thinking about.

It's also been hard to keep up with my blog.  Writing has not been coming easily as of late.  I've had to do several writing projects in conjunction with my Black Belt test. Even those I've had some difficulty with.  I had a book report due last week.  I felt like I was back in college as I was madly writing even on the day it was due.  Some of it may have been procrastination, but most of it was just trying to figure out what I wanted to say about what I read.  I think I changed my overall theme two or three times before I finally finished it.  Even this post changed a lot from my original premise.

Perhaps one of my upcoming posts will be the essay I have to write as part of my testing requirements.  The topic is "The Goal You Set, Is the Goal You Get."  I have to admit I have not set any chess goals, which is perhaps why I'm coming up with a lot nothing in chess.


LinuxGuy said...

"In this case I think I was making such a big effort to use my time that I allowed myself to get bogged down by unnecessary analysis. I also was looking for problems that weren't really there. Guarding against the phantom threats distracted me from the real threats that I had."

"I see things that I can do, but don't because I think the opponent has a big threat. I'm not sure why it's happening. Sometimes I think when I'm in a bad mood or a little down on myself, I go looking for the worst in a position."

I know why this is happening because it's happened to me, too. My advice, take it as a positive that this is happening. It is happening because you are looking deep, at the cutting edge of your current capability. IMHO, most people don't do this nearly enough.

Once you get good at, the ability will get easier and quicker. I believe that is how better chess players got that way.

Practical results will tend to favor the "go with what you know" crowd, move at the right pace and such. If you want to become a "black belt" in chess, then I would advise that you don't beat up yourself over it too much, but it's good to want to beat up on yourself because it means you are internalizing a lot more of what is happening on the chessboard than another player who is simply making plausible looking moves and defending them, rather than calculating concrete variations.

If you did this more often, it would get easier, you'd get more proficient. My hunch is that going back to "cracktion" might erase some of these gains because that favors the more practical player. It's a different type of chess, a little more bravado, and a little less calculation, but more openings traps.

Ideally, you get to the point where you can calculate it through and are not asking your emotions what to do as much, which is I think what "weaker" players do more of. If you don't have the calculation or ideas, then what is left but emotional reasoning? I've done it too, many times, most games.

I looked at those positions and the Qd2 jumped right out at me, as did Rb4. The Qd2, it doesn't look like it's winning a piece to me, but to trade your queen and rook which are undeveloped, for his that _are_ developed would seem beneficial.

That was a neat combination that you saw, but you could also have looked-it-off quickly if you were regularly employing these skills. The other thing with taking Bxg7 first, that is not something that leaps out but is something most would have to look for, but may not find in rapid chess. So, that skill of calculating _is_ necessary, although that example is more at the tactics level as in "he who sits on a tactics server for hours should find it".

LinuxGuy said...

My "psych 101" view of what is going on with your playing, from the one tournament which I observed you is this. First part of the game, if it's 40/2, you will begin to play appropriately, then get bogged down toward the end. All the while knowing that you are going to kick it in to "cracktion mode" at the end, because you allow that to become your "failsafe" mode.

So, I think you could get better but sorta doubt you will unless you can shake off the quick-chess mindset a bit more. Sarcastic example: Playing the first 20 moves in 1:55 and the last 20 moves in 5 minutes, may feel like your intuition is rewarding you, but it also means that an oversight blunder can jeopardize most of your games.

If "deep" becomes your normal, my feeling is you _will_ eventually learn to pace it naturally, without undue contortions such as "gotta move fast now" - the chessboard doesn't know what that phrase means.