A few weeks ago I shared part of my Black Belt essay, and then ended the post with the following:
I'm still working on how to transfer the focusing and self-discipline piece to chess. I'm encouraged by the fact that I've managed to not toss away winning positions by losing focus, and getting distracted by external factors. Every time I've gotten a winning position recently, I've reminded myself that it's not a win until checkmate, the opponent's flag falls or he resigns.
I guess this blog would get pretty boring if all I showed were mundane wins and losses with no good story behind the result. I don't think it's my deep and insightful analysis of the moves themselves that draw most people to this blog. There are far better players and annotators out there that can provide the deep analysis of various positions. What I have to offer is another train wreck story which would not have occurred if I had been able to make an earlier train.
In a recent Thursday night cracktion tournament I was having a bad night. I dropped 2 pawns against an IM within the first 20 moves. By move 26 those pawns were being shoved down my throat. In the second round I played a kid rated over 200 points lower rated then me who seemed to want to do nothing but trade and go for a draw. She got her wish because it was just a nothing position and I couldn't see anything worth playing for. In the third round I played another kid and I managed to get my knight and bishop forked on move 14. It just went downhill from there.
It was one of those nights if the round 4 pairings had "Please Wait" next to my name I would have probably given the tournament director a kiss. Making the 11:15 train would have made my day. However on a bad night things don't work out that way. It was one of those nights where the pairings were up 20 minutes early but my opponent had left the building. Every single player in the tournament got to start 15 to 20 minutes early except me. I couldn't even start his clock before 10:45 because that was the scheduled start time.
Up until this summer I had this kid's number. Every time we would play he would have some meltdown and after losing a piece would resign. Some kids wait far too long to resign but this kid sometimes resigns without even trying to put up a fight. After drawing with me in June he started beating me in July. From July to early October we played 4 times and he won every game. I'm not so sure it was him improving tremendously or me just having lots of time management issues. Whatever the reasons now he had my number.
I was till a little annoyed about our last game which ended out being a draw. It was annoying because I had filled in for one round and had to play him. He just started trading things off and we ended out in a bishops of opposite colors ending with an even number of pawns. I offered him a draw after playing 32...Ke6 to reach the following position.
Most of the time I will not say anything and will quietly stew over what is happening, but I couldn't help myself. I asked my opponent "Are you really going to make me get out another set in order to play out this ridiculous position?" He looks at me like he has no idea what I'm asking. I finally say "I'm offering another draw. Do you really want to keep playing out this position?" He takes the draw and I give the other player his set and board.
Afterward I ask my opponent why he wanted play the position out. He tells me his dad isn't coming for another 45 minutes and he's bored. I offered to play blitz chess with him, but he declined. Then I made the observation that he was better at one point in the game and wondered why he didn't opt to recapture with his rook at one point. Recapturing with the rook would have given him a battery on the d file. He tells me he doesn't feel like he's good enough to try to win against me. What the hell? He's beaten me the last 4 times we've played and he's telling me he's not good enough to try to play for an advantage against me! He blames his winning on my blundering. Yes I did blunder in our games, but he was making things difficult which in 3 of the games put me in bad time pressure.
Back to round 4 on that Thursday. I'm irritated because; 1) I was played like crap all evening. 2) I really didn't want to be playing the last round, but I don't like to drop out and stick somebody with the bye when I'm having a crappy tournament. I was so hoping to get the bye and go home early. 3) Everyone else has started early and I'm still waiting for 10:45 to come so I can start his clock. Finally I can start his clock. He still hasn't come back. Now I'm thinking to myself "So help me if he left thinking he told Steve he was taking a bye for the last round I'm going to kill him!" I've actually have had that happen to me. I've been paired against someone whose coach was supposed to tell Steve he wasn't playing the last round, and the coach forgets. I have to sit there for 30 minutes until his time runs out.
Finally my opponent comes in at 10:52 so I have a 7 minute edge on the clock. Just like our last game he has White and plays the c3 Sicilian. I have mixed feelings about this line. It can be annoying at times, but I'll take transposing into it versus accepting the pawn in the Smith-Morra. I decided I would play a little more actively and not necessarily make every trade offered to me. After 7. Nc3 instead of trading right away I played 7...Bb4. I did trade after he broke the pin with 9. Bd2. I was interested in seeing whether he would try to trade down again. After I played 9...Bxc3 he recaptured with 10. bxc3.
One of the problems with having a big edge on the clock is the temptation to move too fast. For the most part I didn't feel like I was rushing my moves, but I did miss several opportunities to either win a piece or the exchange. The first opportunity on move 20. I saw the move after I played a different move. I won a pawn on move 27 and then went conservative trying to nurse my pawn advantage and the big edge on the clock. I figured I might just be able to squeeze him and run him out of time.
Then something bad happened. I was winning the exchange. Normally that's a good thing, but not when the mind set switches from play safe and squeeze it out to "I'm going crush this sucker!" We reached the position below after I played 34...Ng5.
I stared at the position for probably a minute or two just soaking in what had happened. I look up at my opponent and just shook my head and laughed. I couldn't believe how an easily won game quickly turned into mate in one for my opponent. Laughing was about the only thing I could do at that point. I suppose crying or sweeping the pieces off the board in a fit of anger might have been a more normal response. However there was just something utterly comical about expecting a resignation from my opponent, and instead being the one that was doing the resigning. I was not going to make the king move hoping he didn't see it. It was clear from the speed at which he played the last two moves that he went for a desperate cheapo and it was successful on his part. I wasn't going to allow the game to end in mate.
Here's the game in it's entirety.
It wasn't until the train ride home that I realized how I let myself lose focus and got over-confident. It was stupid on my part. The rook was going nowhere even after I spend a move to get my king off the diagonal. His rook will still be pinned. There's a fine line between self-confidence versus over-confidence. I'm not there yet. I would have another one of those moments the following week in a slow game at the Westchester Chess Club. I did bounce back this past Monday with 2.5 out of 3 and a nice gain of points. I continually need to keep my emotions and focus in check.