Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hope Everyone Had a Very Merry

I did nothing chess related over Christmas except look at a blog here and there. I did receive "The Kings of New York" from my brother in law. I already have it, so I'll return it and swap it for something else. Since it came from a small local bookstore I'll probably end out swapping it for some crime thriller, or other mindless novel. Maybe I'll look at one the chess books I brought with me to get myself into some sort of chess mindset for the weekend. Hopefully the year will end better then it started.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bye Strategy Gone Bad -Edited

It's always fun watching masters on Thursday night staring at the wall chart and trying to figure out who gonna have to play the grandmaster next round. The plotting often starts before the first round is even done. Somebody will see that they're going to miss the break and have to play the GM so they take the strategic round two bye in the hopes that come round three they will have avoided the GM and will get an easier pairing because they only have 1.5 and the other contenders have 2.

I stare at the wall chart and try to figure out whether I can avoid getting a 1 point bye in round two or three. One tournament I tried the preemptive requested last round bye and it blew up in my face. So for the most part I roll with the punches and hope for the best. So after losing the first two rounds on Thursday I was facing a round three bye, however Steve was willing to give me a way out. The way out was to take the preemptive last round 1/2 point bye. I wasn't thrilled with either choice. I was getting tired of only playing 3 games. When I saw that I'd end out playing an unrated who was also 0-2 I decided I would take the full point bye in round three. I figured I'd get a better game in round four being paired as a one pointer.

A third round bye normally sucks because I have to wait around for the fourth round. A last round bye gets me home earlier. However I just wasn't in the mood to play an unrated again. I lost to one in the third round last week. I took my bye and went for a walk during round three. I thought a little fresh air, and a chance to clear out my head after two losses might help me out. Then I'd come back and hopefully get to play someone rated 1800-1900 in round four. Maybe the worst that would happen is I'd be the low 1 and drop down to the 1/2 which would probably be Steve Chernick. If nothing else Steve and I would have another one of our crazy time scrambles that would make for good blog material.

But this was Hell Week, so even my bye strategy failed miserably. What happened? The unrated won in round three against a 1759. So now the one score group had a bunch of people due the same color. Swiss pairing rules state that unrateds don't get dropped to the next score group. The one score group consisted of a 2157, 1965, 1784, 1700, 1694, unr. The 2157 got paired against the low 1.5. That now left an odd number in the score group. The 1694 should have been the one to drop down to the .5 point score group which would have left 1965 vs 1700 and 1784 vs unr. But the pairing program will do some odd things to make colors work. Color shouldn't matter for the two of us that who gotten byes in rounds two or three. We had one of each color so it doesn't matter. We can play anyone who needs whatever color to give them 2 of each. So what does the pairing program do? It drops the 1965 (high) to the 1/2 pointer leaving me in the top half of the one point score group. I end out playing the damn unrated that I carefully was avoiding by accepting the assigned third round bye.

The full point bye might have been worth it if I had any chance of winning the under 2000 prize, but a kid with two points had taken a 1/2 point bye for round four so he already had 2.5. I ended out waiting an hour to play the same person I could have played an hour earlier and been on the 11:14 train. Was it worth waiting around for? Hell no. He had no clue how to play the opening, hung a rook and put up little resistance. I go into a tournament like the St. John's Masters in order to avoid games like that.

Edit: Here is the game in question.

You gotta love his bishop on b3 totally blocked in by pawns after 9 moves. Typically when I play against a c3 Sicilian the light square bishop is tormenting my king along the b1-h7 diagonal. At move 20 he finally gets rid of the crappy bishop, but in doing so allows my light squared bishop to get pressure along the h1-a8 diagonal. That light squared bishop was going to cause him lots of problems before the game was over. Normally I have lots of problems with finding good squares for it when I'm black. Instead it became very active. At least he defended the mate threat after 21...Qg6. However the the killer bishop would take advantage of the light square weaknesses caused by the mate defense. He finally gave up after 32 moves.

And as for me, I give up! I'm not playing at the Marshall until next year. Enough of trying avoid byes and to out guess the pairing program.


Next tournament will be the Empire State Open in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hell Week At The Marshall

Technically hell week started a week ago Thursday when I paid the extra $5 to qualify for this week's St. John's Masters. I don't even want to think about last Thursday's third round when I flagged against an unrated when I was up a pawn. This was super cracktion week for me. Tuesday was the St. John's Masters which once again I subjected myself to paying for the privilege of getting pounded on by higher rated players. Then on Thursday I returned to the scene of the crime for "4 Rated Games Tonight!" Which lately keeps turning into "3 Rated Games and a Bye Tonight!" What a week. Not my lucky week that's for sure. Maybe I should play 13 in the lottery.

In the first round of the St. John's Masters I played Boris Privman for the 13th time. For the 13th time I lost to him. He joins Jay Bonin as the second member of the 13-0 club against me. It was one of my better games against him. There are centainly other players who have more wins against me, but I've managed to nick them for a win or two. Leif Pressman has beaten me 30 times, but I've won 2 and drawn 3. Yeh, I know my winning percentage against Pressman still sucks. But .100 seems a whole lot better then .000. Hell, even .050 against King Kong looks better on paper. Though if truth be told, and I don't really need to be tell my regular readers this; .000 against a FIDE master is less annoying then .050 against a 5th grader with a rating a little higher then mine.

This is my game against Privman:

On move 20 he played Qb6+. It seems I lose a pawn after 21. Kh2 Qxb4, except I came up with the nice cobination of 22.Nd5 Qa3 23.Nxe7+ Kf8. I was content to simply win the pawn back so I traded queens with 24. Qxa3 Rxa3. What Privman pointed out afterwards that instead of trading queens I should play 24. Qc2! after Kxe7 25. Ra1 Qxa1 26. Nxa1 Rxa1 27. Qb2 Ra7. It's not an easy win since he has a rook, knight and pawn for the queen, but he felt I was better.

Unfortunately I played quieter, and though it was equal for a while the position started to unravel for me around move 50. He had two passed pawns on the b and f files. It's hard to be in two places at once. If only I could clone my king. One can see that at the end his king has penetrated, and one of those passers is coming in.

Having played a decent game against Privman I thought maybe this would be the night I might finally score a point in this tournament. Round two was against Vladimir Polyakin. He's part of my Thursday night usual suspects group. He's another one that I have a sucky record against, but I do have 2 wins to go along with the 15 losses. This particular night I'd end out with loss #16, not win #3.

Rounds three and four were against players I don't play too often, and I actually have won against them in the past. Both games went down to endings, but I had lost too many pawns earlier. In round three I missed an exchange sacrifice that when I have to give back the exchange I'm down 2 pawns and heading to a rook and pawn ending.

Round four I again lost pawns earlier. I guess it pawn dropping night. It's hard to hold an ending of opposite colored bishops when your opponent has just played 50... Kc4 and your position looks like this:

The Black king has penetrated and d4 will totally cut my bishop off. All over except the shouting. Another St. John's Masters with another 0-4 score. I felt like I played better, but I missed small things that cost me pawns early. I can't be giving away pawns, especially against players who outrate me by 300 to 500 points.

So Thursday night I return to the scene of the crime. How I played in round one against Larry Tamarkin was a crime. Second time this week someone has pushed their record to 13-0 against me. Unlike loss #13 against Privman thsi one had no redeeming features to it, and I played like crap. The only reason I didn't resign was I wanted to see which way I'd get mated. The final position gives White the choice of mating with a rook or queen. I'm not even going to post the position. It's too much like work. He opted to mate with the rook, and it wasn't enough to simply deliver the mate, he had to say "mate". Some things are best unsaid. I tend not to say mate, just in case it isn't. I'd rather let the opponent draw his own conclusion.

After Tuesday's 0-4 being fresh in my mind, one would think I'd just not even think about trying to qualify for January's masters tournament. However the opportunity presented itself to slide in so I paid my $5, and hoped that for a change I would actually score a point on Thursday by doing something besides getting a bye. Round two was not going to be the round. I couldn't believe it, I actually got paired against someone I've never played before. That rarely happens in this tournament. Unfortunately different player did not lead to different second round result. I overlooked a fork and tossed a bishop on move 25. Different day, same old crap. The rest of my evening merits its own post. This one has gone on long enough.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blog Addiction

Pawn Shaman had a post on his blog a the blogger quiz. I took the blogger addiction quiz and scored

64%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Looking for x ray tech schools?

The most interesting question on the quiz was #9:

If something interesting happens to you, do you immediately think about how you're going to write about it on your blog?

Absolutely YES. I thought it was an odd thing to be in the middle of a chess game where something interesting was happening, and my mind would be wandering off thinking about what I was going to write about the incident. I guess it's a classic sign of blog addiction. It's bad enough being ADD, and having things run amok in my brain while I'm playing. But now it's gotten worse as I find myself be thinking about the story line for my next blog entry.

Crap! Just another thing I have to think about not thinking about as I'm playing. Maybe I need to go back to having stupid camp songs going through my mind instead.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Falling Into The Analog Clock Gambit

In the December issue of Chess Life Jon Jacobs has an interesting story about the strategic use of analog clocks in fast time controls. At one point in the article he writes the following:

"Nevertheless, analog clocks remain ubiquitous at tournaments. Since delay-capable models cost two to four times as much as analogs, it’s hardly surprising that the “house clock” at most chess clubs—pressed into use in club events when neither opponent brought a clock—is an analog.

Less understandable is that a sizable segment of the playing population continues to rely on their own analog clocks. In fact, analogs may still outnumber digitals in the real world of USCF-rated play."

I do agree with the first paragraph, but I disagree with the second paragraph. Outside the Marshall Chess Club, I rarely see analog clocks in tournament play. When I walk around the tournament hall in most weekend swisses I see mostly digitals. I might see some old timer with an ancient BHB. There are so many digital clocks on the market now, and there are a number of them that are about the same price as the old BHB clocks that I grew up using.

As a TD I go a little crazy with players coming up to me and asking me how to set their clock. Hell, the only reason I can set my Chronos is because I spent an hour with the instruction book, found all the different settings I might need, and programmed them into the user preset. If I need anything besides a one or two control game with time delay I'd have to dig up the book and find the code for that setting. If someone hands me a Chronos that doesn't have the time control format in one of the presets I'm screwed. A good rule of thumb for tournament directors is "If you can't set your own clock then you lose the right to use it if the opponent provides a clock that he can set."

In the article Jon also talks about Rule 14H. I must say I agree with his description. "Their (people who use analog clocks) persistence also is a source of aggravation for tournament directors across the U.S. who must daily interpret the infamous Rule 14H, “Draw claim based on insufficient losing chances.” This rule was the TD community’s biggest collective headache until Rule 15A came along (the abortive “move-then-write” rule, sometimes wrongly tagged as the “MonRoi rule”). The need for an “insufficient losing chances” rule is a direct consequence of the chess-playing public’s stubborn attachment to outdated analog clocks."

One of the main reasons I went to a time delay capable clock was because I reached so many positions where I had to invoke Rule 14H, and hope the TD had enough experience and chess knowledge to make an appropriate ruling on the position. Since in many cases these types of situations arose at my local chess club where I outrated the TD by 200 points. It was difficult to expect him to really know how to rule. Obviously if I was up a bunch of material it was easy to call it a draw, but in marginal positions it was tougher call. My nickname was "the queen of no losing chances". (Back then it was called no losing chances. Then they changed the wording.)

14H has become easier to work with since in a case where no time delay clock was used the tournament director has the option of placing a time delay clock on the game with the claimant losing 1/2 his remaining time with a one minute max. I remember the first time I made a claim under this new 14H rule I had to explain to the newbie manager at The Marshall who was directing what his options were. As a player I don't like being in the position of having to explain to the TD how to rule. However there was no one else around to tell him what to do. So before he went into the playing room, I told the TD, "go in and look at the position. If you think it's a valid claim call it a draw, if you don't think it's a valid claim then make the game continue and if you're not sure put a time delay clock on the game."

I was up a piece, but there were still rooks on the board so I don't think he felt a C player could hold the position against a master so he opted for the delay clock. The funny thing was a few moves after I made the claim, I hung the piece. Several moves after that my opponent hung his rook. Eventually he offered me a draw, which despite being up a rook for a pawn I accepted. I think my mindset had been in draw mode, so I just took the draw. Also at the time I wasn't as proficient with handling the clock with 2 seconds left with a 5 second delay. I've had lots of practice since that time.

Jon's observations on the clock scene at the Marshall are spot on. With the exception of Jay Bonin and Vladimir Polyakin most of the higher rated Thursday night regulars show up with no digital clock. Despite the fact that Steve Immitt has bought 4 Saitek II digital clocks, many of the old masters would rather borrow the beat up old BHB clocks from the club then use Steve's nice new digitals. This is rarely an issue for me since I bring a Chronos with me 99.9% of the time. It's those rare moments when things get moved out of my "Going to the Marshall" bag that I find myself clockless, and at the mercy of the opponent. The other possibility is when I've shown up late.

A few weeks ago I had one of those rare times when I actually showed up late for the first round. This particular Saturday I was being a jack of all trades. I started off the morning doing a 15K race in Central Park, and then doing a mad dash via subway from 103rd St. down to the Marshall. Just my luck that in the first round I get paired against Yefim Treger. He is one of the old school Russians who prefers an analog clock. So I come into the playing room in my sweaty running clothes and sit to play Treger. He's borrowed one of those old crappy BHB clocks. 8 minutes have elapsed already and I have no time delay. To make matters worse, in trying to remember to bring everything I'd need for running and chess I forgot my Mon Roi, so I had write by hand. The Mon Roi is a major time saver for me.

The clock he borrowed wasn't working properly so we needed to replace the clock. I offered my Chronos with no time delay. That would have been a permissible substitution for the defective clock. Adding the time delay wasn't permissible since one is not allowed to switch to a delay clock once the game has started. Nope. He wanted another one the crappy clocks from Steve. None of this high tech stuff for him. Having gotten to the board first and being able to start my clock without me, gave him the edge on the clock war. This was the same guy who last month made me play out R & P versus R with 5 seconds on my clock. I had the pawn. It was only someone getting Steve to come count to 50 for me that allowed me to get my draw. Had I played that game with the analog I would have needed to make a 14H claim.

I had a good game against him. Here's the first 40 moves:

I'm up a pawn, but this no position to try to make a 14H claim. Unfortunately "delay-less" time pressure caught up with me, and I ended out misplaying it. As the clock struck 6:00 this was the final position. Cinderella's position had turned into a pumpkin, and "Prince Charming" was about to become a queen.

The moral of this story: Time is of the essence both in the running race and at the chess board. Next time I'm taking a 1/2 point bye for round 1.

DUH!! Sometimes Looking Ahead Doesn't Help.

Wormwood has an excellent post about how deep players look. At times when I play my mind gets cluttered with the different lines I'm considering and the number of moves in each line. I can recall as a college kid trying to make my way through "Think Like a Grandmaster". The whole tree of analysis thing would just overwhelm me and I'd end out setting the book aside. I never did make my way through the book. 30 years and a few less brain cells later I still have no interest in picking up the book and slogging through that stuff.

What drives me crazy is when I look at something that's only 2 moves deep, and miss the simplest of moves. Take this position from Friday night's tournament:

My opponent just played 10. b3. If I spent a little more time brushing up on some of the off main line stuff that white plays against 7...Qa5, I wouldn't get myself into time trouble, and I wouldn't play stupid moves like the one I chose. Simply playing 10...Ng4 or 10...O-O gives me a slight advantage out of the opening. Instead I come up with the bright idea of 10...Nxe4? I'm looking at 11. Nxe4 Qxd2+, 12. Nxd2 Bxa1, 13. O-O Bg7 winning a pawn and the exchange. I also looked at continuations for white such as 11. Bxf7 Kxf7 12. Nxe4 Qxe4, which don't do a thing except lose material for white. So after a good 4 minutes of thought I played 10...Nxe4.

Having gotten over fixated on the idea that White would take back with the knight to preserve his castling rights, imagine my surprise when he played 12. Kxd2. It never even occurred to me that he'd recapture with the king. I forgot that Kxd2 protects the rook. When he played the move I actually said, "Duh!" I was really annoyed with myself for overlooking the obvious, especially since I had spent a decent amount of time analyzing the possibilities.

I get ticked off when I move too quickly, but I think I get more annoyed when I spend time on a move and it's totally wrong. It's easy to rationalize a mistake made because one moved too fast. The "I was low on time" card is a handy excuse. Time pressure causes us not to look deep enough, but that excuse doesn't work on the 10th move of an Accelerated Dragon Sicilian. Had I been distracted by having seen King Kong's opponent blunder a piece early and losing in 1o minutes? Did I feel the anticipated pressure of going into round 3 against King Kong knowing he was 2-0 and the best I would be is 1.5 -.5 if I won my current game? Was I having one my ADD moments where I simply over focused on one idea? I think it may have been a combination of all three.

At that point I opted to deal with his having two minor pieces for the rook and pawn. Unfortunately I think I had trouble adjusting to the flaw in my analysis so the position kind of deteriorated from there. His bishop pair was pretty overwhelming. The rest of the game continued: 11. Nxe4 Qxd2+ 12. Kxd2 Bxa1 13. Rxa1 Bf5 14.Ng5 e6 15. Bd4 Rg8 16. Nxh7 O-O-O 17. Kc3 b6 18. Ng5 Rd7 19. h3 b5 20. Be2 Rgd821. Bf6 Re8 22. g4 1-0. Knowing that I was having to give up a third piece, and he'd still have the bishop pair I decided enough was enough. I need to save my energy for King Kong.

There is the story behind the story of this game. My opponent in this particular is the kid in my lunch time chess class. Earlier that day I had done the last class of the session, and gave a simul. I let all the kids pick what color they would have against me, except Mike. I made him take black. A lot of the regulars were missing so I had mostly the 1st and 2nd graders to play. I could concentrate on my game with Mike. I knew there was a good chance he would be in my quad that evening. I just didn't know whether I'd be white or black against him. Just in case I would be white that evening, I decided I wouldn't play my regular stuff against him in the simul. Too bad I used up all my good moves in the afternoon. I was up the exchange against him when class was over.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Drawing The Line

I'm a kid at heart, and sometimes I can get very silly when playing bughouse or blitz with the kids. When I'm hanging kings or flagging in a won position I get flak from my bughouse partner. The kibitzers will rag on me and tell me I suck. They're right. My reflexes aren't so hot, and sometimes I suffer from brain freeze. It's all in good fun, and I'm among friends even though they're 40 years younger then me.

In regular tournament play it's a whole different story. Leave the snarky comments and trash talk out of the tournament arena. One needs to show respect to opponents no matter what his or her age or rating is. Sometimes I've let certain kids slide when they've made snide comments making fun of my time pressure issues or my inability to beat certain players. I've also put up with another kid from Manhattan telling me I should stick to directing because I'm a better director then player. One kid once told me player X was over rated because he's beaten me so many times when I've been on my floor. That was not a nice thing to say about me or the other player.

At one tournament one of the kids was yapping to my first round opponent on how to beat me. "Get her into time pressure and you'll crush her." Albeit true about me, IMHO it's disrespectful to talk about one's competitors like that, especially when one of those competitors is one's parents' age. Then in between rounds he started ragging on me for drawing with a 1688. "1700s aren't supposed to draw with 1600s! It gives us 1700s a bad name." Give me a break it was opposite color bishops with even material. There's 12 points between me and the 1688. I'm glad he wasn't in the room when I lost my second round game to a 1632.

Maybe I was just having a bad night, but I decided I would say something to him about his comments. I've lost to lots of kids, and unless I limit myself to tournaments for players over the age of 21 I will lose to more kids. I didn't want it to sound like I couldn't deal with losing to kids, or that my feelings were hurt by his snarky remarks. Truth be told it does bother me when he needles me like that. But I'm more bothered by the general lack of respect that I see amongst many kids. I see it in chess, and in other places. It's not just kids saying crap to adults, but to other kids. About the only place I don't see it is at the do jang where I'm studying Taekwondo. I'm amazed at the respect shown by the students to the masters, and to each other. It's a very different world in there.

The short version is, I ended out telling him with his parents present that he needs to show a little more respect, and not be so cocky. It doesn't matter how good or bad one's opponent is, or what one's record is against that person, treat the person with respect. I tried not to be harsh, but he did get a little upset. I wasn't trying to be mean, but I just wanted him to know that sportsmanship and respect are very important. Chess Karma, a new blogger hit the nail on the head when he listed his 10 things to make chess more popular. Although the post is very funny, #10 on his list strikes a very serious note. "10. When top level players play one another have them treat their opponents with courtesy and respect. I know the previous suggestions are easily achievable but I have to admit this one is a bit of a stretch." Thanks Karma for such wise words, and welcome to the chess blogosphere.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Houston Hangover

Usually I would not go to the chess club on Monday after spending the weekend at the scholastic nationals. Many trips I would not even get back on time, but I couldn't use the "My flight was delayed" card on this trip. Nationals are physically and emotionally draining, but since the last round of the club championship was scheduled for 12/10 I couldn't really skip the round. Taking a last round bye would have left a player with no game. I was going to have to be there any way to take care of the results and prizes, so there was no point in trying to reschedule my game. Also it's bad form for the TD to state every week that there were no more make up dates, and then want to make up her game. Besides I was the knucklehead who chose the dates. Note to self: Don't schedule round dates without having one's personal calendar up to date.

I played the number 1 guy on my usual suspects list. This would be our 73rd game since 1991. Number 2 on the list I've only played 58 times. (Italics for the sarcasm impaired.)Looking through old scores from pre-MSA days I couldn't find any other games between the two of us. This would be our 16th game this year. Going into this game I had 6 wins, 7 losses and two draws for the year.

Silvio and I always have amusing games with each other. Some of our blunders against each other are totally crazy. He's the player that twice went for a smothered mate against me by putting his queen on g1 (g8). Both times it was a blunder, however the second time he did I actually resigned thinking it was going to be mate. Serious duh! Pre-time delay I'd drive him crazy with my no losing chances claims. I'd be up material, but no time to win.

Monday night's game was not one of our wild and crazy games. It was pretty tame for us. Though he does have this annoying tendency to play some random move to begin, and the game ends out transposing into some position that I'm not happy with.

Lately when I end out playing against d4, I have a difficult time getting the bishop on c8 onto a useful square. Lately I've been trying a queen side fianchetto, but that hasn't been working so well. In this game my difficult piece was my b8 knight. It took 24 moves before I got it off the back rank. I dodged a serious bullet after my overly aggressive 17 ...Bd4. He blocks the attack with 18. Ne3. Every queen move seemed to eventually lose the B on d4. I couldn't sort it all out, and I played probably the worst of the possible queen moves when I chose 18Qb4. He can simply play 19. Rc4 QXb2, 20 Rxd4. I can't recapture the rook because of 21 Bh7+ winning the queen. Fortunately he did not see that move, and played 19. b3?

We simplified to rooks and pawns. Even though his rooks were more active I thought with my superior pawn structure I'd be okay. He had an isolated d pawn, but I had no way of piling on it. He ended out using it to break up my queen side with 32. d6. Eventually he won a pawn and used a Lucina type bridge to block my rock off the b file. Once he pushed 50. b7 I resigned. I guess it was a proper resignation since Fritz came up with the following mate in

This tournament was frustrating due to the poor turnout. The club lost $500, and only got one new player that had never played there before. I guess we'll think twice about guaranteeing that kind of money again. Congratulations to Lonnie Kwartler and John Kelly for becoming 2007 Co-Champions of The Bob Peretz Chess Club, scoring 4-1 each. Leif Pressman was 3rd with 3.5. Isaac Sherman won the Under 1800 prize with 3-2. Dario Dell'Orto won the under 1600 prize with 2-3. He also won the biggest upset award for his second round win against yours truly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Photo Essay: Chess Phashion Show in Houston

If you happened to go to Susan Polgar's Blog you would have seen a picture of me and one of the tournament directors with our matching outfits. This was one of her trivia questions. Who are these people? I have a large collection of sweaters, vests, shirts and scarves that all have a chess theme. I wore a few different chess themed shirts during the weekend.

Travel day chess attire.
Parents and Friends Tournament.

The shirt matches my Chronos! It's hard to see, but there are embroidered pieces on the front of the shirt.

However I wasn't the only one wearing their chess passion.

Susan Polgar had this beautiful chess shawl she was wearing on one of the days.

Here is a smart chess dad staying warm wrapped up in a chess quilt borrowed from his son's bed. He obviously knows how cold it can be sitting in a big exhibit hall waiting for his son to finish playing. The quilt was custom made for them. Below is a picture of the other end of the quilt. I want one of these for my bed!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Houston, We Have A Problem

A Chess Player's Version of "My Dog Ate My Homework"

I was all set to write a piece about playing in the Parents & Friends tournament at the National Scholastic K-12 in Houston this past weekend complete with several interesting games from the tournament. Unfortunately the high tech version of "My Dog Ate My Homework" came in to play in the form of my Mon Roi ate my games. The four games I played in this tournament vanished in the course of trying to resolve a software glitch. Let's just say that I'm the crash test dummy for Mon Roi's latest software upgrade. I think I drive their software developers a little crazy, but with all the games I play using their device I'm a good guinea pig. Hopefully somewhere in the guts of my unit the good folks in Montreal will find the missing games. So here it goes, sans games, but hopefully still a good tale.

The Parents & Friends tournament is a side event that is held at all the national scholastics. It's 4 rounds played at G/45. There are two sections. One is a rated the other is unrated. It's nice little event that gives parents, other family members, friends, and coaches a chance to play. Along with gift certificate prizes for the top 3 there are trophies for teams of mom/player, dad/player, coach/player, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandparents, etc. They combine the scores of the scholastic player after four rounds and the score of his partner in the Parents & Friends tournament to determine the winners in the various categories.

This is the fourth time I've played in the event, and it's almost always an adventure. I can write a separate story on "Close Encounters With Psychotic Chess Dads" about one of the Parents and Friends tournaments I played in. However there will be another day to tell that story. There always a few masters, experts and A players in the tournament, but there are also a number of lower rated parents who play. Many of the parents are not regular tournament players so they have provisional ratings. One never can be sure what the true strength of these players are. I've yet to play anyone higher rated then me in these events, because I always seem to manage to lose to some random underrated dad. Unfortunately this tournament would prove to be no different.

In the first round I get paired against a dad whose son is playing in the 11th grade section. We exchange pleasantries. Where you are you from? How long have you been playing? How's you child doing? Etc. It turns out he's from Long Island. (Great! I fly to Texas to play someone from New York in the first round.) This is only his second tournament, and he said he's only won one game. He thought his rating was 100. I'm sure he meant 1000. I wasn't on the last board so I didn't think it was possible I'd be playing someone with a rating in the 100s. I was hoping that he wouldn't be like one dad I played in one these events that I crushed in 13 moves. I want to be challenged and have an interesting game that isn't over in 10 minutes. (Note to self: Be careful about what you wish for.)

The tournament director gave her opening speech about the rules, and keeping score. It sounded similar to the one given to the children playing in the main event. This year the tournament directors decided to take a tougher stance on keeping score, especially for the older kids. The party line was keep score until someone had under 5 minutes. If you didn't keep score then your clock would be set for 5 minutes. Ouch! IMHO I think that's rather harsh, though I understand their logic. (If you're in 4th grade or over and are playing in a national championship you have no excuse not to keep score, except for a handicap or religious reasons.)

We're getting ready to start and I notice my opponent doesn't have a score sheet or a pencil. I'm thinking to myself "Oh great, am I going to have another score keeping argument with a psycho chess dad? Should I say something, or just let it slide since he's only playing in his second tournament?" Based on our pleasant conversation before we started, I figured he was just a nice guy who wouldn't go nuts on me if I said something about having to keep score. On the one hand I didn't want to feel like I was at a disadvantage on the clock if I let it slide. On the other hand I didn't want to seem like a hard ass if I complained to the TD and made him play with 5 minutes on his clock. One of the players gave him a score sheet, and I loaned him a pen.

Sometimes I think I'm too nice to succeed at chess. I gave him a little crash course in notation before we started, and if he was having trouble with how to write something such as castling or a capture I told him what to do. The game started 1. e4 c5, 2. f3. The inner teacher in me wanted to say "You really don't want to play that move. Take it back and play a developing move like Nf3." I had remind myself of two things; one this was USCF rated tournament game, two my opponent is not a seven year old kid who only wants to move pawns. I'm playing an adult with a son in 11th grade, so no more Mrs. Nice Guy. Though Mrs. Nice Guy kept coming back and reminding him to press his clock a number of times.

After a second move like that it was tempting to play for some sacrifice on e4 as soon as possible, but I decided I would simply develop normally with 2...Nc6. The position morphed into a cross between a Closed Sicilian (d3), Rossolimo (Bb4) Yugoslav Attack (f3). He castled king side instead of queen side with the pawn storm. (Yes, I had to tell him O-O for king side castling.) He did get some annoying attacks going and at one point missed the opportunity to fork my two rooks by pushing his pawn to e7. Instead he took my knight on d7 after I had captured his bishop. So instead of being down the exchange it turned into a simple piece trade.

After surviving that scare I traded down to a rook and pawn ending. He was very short on time and had stopped keeping score, and my moves are floating around somewhere in limbo. From what I recall I was ahead a pawn and had the big time advantage. Who knows what was going on in my mind when we reached this position. This may not be exactly right, but the mating pattern is.

Assuming that this is the actual position he played f4+. (I don't think it is, since I think the queen side pawns may have been split up, but one gets the idea.) He had less then 2 minutes, and I had over 10 minutes. I ended out doing one of those dumb ass things that I tell my students not to do. "Don't try to out blitz your opponent in his time trouble." I moved Kh5?? As soon as I let go of the king I realized much to my horror that Rh1 is mate. I tried to keep a poker face, and not let my body language betray me. However this is one of those no brainer positions that I could give to a class of second graders, and most of them would find Rh1#. Needless to say he found the move. *Sigh* Another Parents & Friends tournament where I wouldn't get paired up. (Note: His rating was actually 1044 based on 7 games. He played in the unrated section at Foxwoods in the spring.)

There was nothing special about rounds two and three. I won in round two, and lost in round three. I played another New Yorker in round three. Though I did discover afterwards that my round three opponent was one of the coaches from our big rival from New York. I caught some good natured crap from the parents and kids about losing to our rival's coach.

Round four would be my version of a chess triathlon. (chess, run, team photo shoot, run, chess). The round started at at 4:30, but the photographer from was scheduled to come to our team room at 5:15 to take our team picture. I was either going to have to finish my game in 45 minutes or do a mad dash between the convention center where I was playing to the Hilton where our team room was in between moves. I was paired against a 966, so at first glance one would think I'd be able to go for the quick kill. However this 966 had 1.5 points with a win over a 1500 and a draw against a 1566. His one loss had been against a 2100, so I had a feeling this was not going to be a quickie blow out on my part.

My opponent blundered a piece around the 15th move so I thought there was hope that I would finish early. However leave it me to allow complications. Shortly before 5:15 we arrive at roughly the following position. Again I'm doing this from memory, so some of the pieces aren't on their exact squares. In one my attempts to reconstruct the position in Chessbase, Fritz had black giving mate in 5. I forgot that either my queen or bishop was covering f2.

My opponent was thinking about his move. I knew he was going to play ..Bf3. I had to figure out whether I could accept the sacrifice or not. In the meantime our team coordinator called to let me know the photographer was there. I ignored the vibrating phone, and waited for him to move. It took me awhile to determine that I could take it because I can escape with Re1. Finally he plays ...Bf3. The game continues Bxf3, Qh3, Re1. At this point I tell the TD I'm leaving for the team picture, and run across the street, and up the two escalators to the third floor of the Hilton. The photographer is there, but not the other coach. He's in the bathroom changing into the team shirt. I quickly scoot into the ladies room to put on the team shirt. In the meantime I'm thinking about the position, and about the possibility that he'll sac the knight and try for perpetual.

Finally we have the whole group together to do the picture. The kids are goofing around a bit and make it hard to get a decent picture. I keep saying "Hurry, my clock is probably running." We finally get the picture done. I go running down the two escalators, and back across to the convention center. This entire process ended out costing me 7 minutes on the clock. It's a good thing I'm in shape and can run. I managed to avoid cheap shots and perpetual checks, and traded down. My opponent offered me a draw thinking that I would not have time to figure out how to win with so little time. I turned him down since I was up 3 minor pieces and the queen and a pair of rooks had been traded off. He offered me another draw when I got down to under 30 seconds. I ignored the draw offer and kept moving. I was not taking a draw up three pieces, time or no time. With the 5 second delay I had time to figure things out. With 19 seconds left I finally mated him. Phew!

When I came back to the team room everyone was glad to hear that I managed to win the game. That was a little too much excitement for me. Also my grossly underrated opponent made the game too much like work. Maybe dealing with psycho chess dads wasn't so bad after all.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Wearing My TD Hat: Observations From The Other Side

On Sunday I directed a scholastic tournament in NYC with 166 kids. What's amazing about the New York City scholastic chess scene is there were 3 other scholastic events going that day on within a 80 block radius. In addition there was a another scholastic event on Saturday. I'm not sure how many the other events drew, but there were plenty of options. We even lost a few players who were traveling in from New Jersey and Connecticut whose parents couldn't deal with the icy roads, and the snow. Damn! December arrives, and the sucky weather comes right with it.

This particular tournament has 6 sections including 2 unrated sections for K-1, and 2-3. There are 4 rated sections including one for players rated over 1400. I'd be lucky to get a plus score in that top section, especially since King Kong was playing. I'm convinced spending too much time watching the unrated sections causes your playing strength to go down by 200 points. I saw one game where a kid had mate in two and offered his opponent a draw. I'm sure he had no idea there was a mate so soon, but he was up a queen and bishop. Who knows what what going through his head at the time. You can never predict what a 7 year old is going to do. Though there's no guarantee crazy stuff doesn't happen in the higher rated sections either. The final game in the Championship Section (Rating range 1000 to 1399) ended in stalemate with a player being up two rooks.

Sometimes my role as a teacher and coach crosses over with my directing role. The mom of one the kids on the team I'll be assisting in Houston came up to me. She said her son looked very upset when he came out of the room to use the bathroom. She also said that he was slumped over and shading his eyes while sitting at the board. The body language was all wrong. She was curious as to what might have happened, and asked me to take a look. I always try to be very careful with requests like this so that there is no appearance of a conflict of interest. With this particular kid I've never coached him before and this is his first year at the school that I travel with. I don't know him all that well, though he and I made excellent bughouse partners at the team season kickoff party in October. We were close to unbeatable.

I had no intention of saying anything to him, but since I was going into the playing room to check on the progress of the various games I figured I'd at least take a peek at the position. Sure enough he was not only slumped over the board, and trying to hide his eyes he was totally flushed, and looked like he had been crying. Yes, boys cry over chess too. When he saw me he told me that he had accidentally knocked his king over while reaching to write his move down and that the opponent made him move the king since he didn't say adjust. I asked him when did this happen. He said three moves before. I explained that if he wanted a ruling on the situation that he should have gotten a TD when it happened.

I did explain to both players about accidental touches such as knocking a piece over while reaching for another piece. Who knows if the opponent was being a hard ass or just didn't understand about incidental contact with pieces. Hopefully I set him straight on the matter, and hopefully the other player learned an important lesson about how to handle questionable situations in the future. Far better to learn it in a local event then at the grade nationals next weekend. The king move had cost him a knight for a pawn, but he did fight back and drew the game. That was a nice comeback from an unfortunate situation.

Even when I don't have to play King Kong, somehow he still manages to be in the picture. In the last round he beat one of the girls in the section. His opponent Maddie was really ticked about losing to him. I told Maddie's mom that she should not feel bad about losing to him considering that I'm 0-8-1 against him. I said I lost to him when he was 1100, and have continued to lose to him now that's he's higher rated then me. Mom tells Maddie about that. She also tells her that she should go over the game with Kevin, but she's too annoyed and says ."He's mean. I don't like him." Spoken like a 4th grade girl!

After I had gone back into the playing room Maddie's good friend, Lilia got Maddie to sit down and look at the game. Yes, this is the same Lilia who smacked me around at the Marshall a few months ago. Lilia also has lost to King Kong. Maybe he just does well against the fairer sex. So the two girls are looking over Maddie's game and trying to see what she could have done. As they're analyzing the game Kevin comes over and starts putting in his two cents. Then Kevin's friend Mike comes over, and the four of them are looking at the game. When they get tired of analyzing the game they decide they want to play bughouse. Girls versus the boys. Maddie's mom told me about this, but she did not say who one the bughouse games.

What a great way to end a rough day of hard chess. None of the four kids had a great tournament. Poor Mike had a horrendous tournament. This is the same Mike from class who crushed me, and didn't make a big deal about it. He not only handles winning well, but he handles losing well. How nice that at an age when girls and boys aren't too crazy about each other they can bond over a few games of bughouse. All of them will be in Houston for the K-12 grade nationals. I'm sure at some point I will see them hanging out together between rounds. It's nice that players can butt heads over the board, but when the game is done they can be friends with their fellow competitors.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Oddities With Chess Publisher

If you have tried to follow my game against Anatoly Tsinker, you will see a very strange thing happen. For blacks' 18th move of Ng4, it takes the knight from a4 and moves it to g4. Then for black's 19th move of Bf6, it plays Bxf6. (It's capturing it's own knight.) Move 20 for black is supposed to be Kc3, forking my rooks. Move 21 is supposed to be Nxa2. Then the rest of the game seems to play normally. I checked the pgn file, and the moves are fine. It plays through normally on Chess Base. I even reloaded it on Chess Publisher and edited the post with the new link. Same thing! I'm too tired and it's past my bedtime so it's staying as is for the moment.

Anyone else seen this happen before?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's All In The Timing

In my last post I discussed my little debate with King Kong regarding my resignation in our game. Either nobody is paying attention or everyone thinks I was right, and that there is no need to discuss it. :-) I was expecting at least one person to say "You give up too easily" or "Damn kids wanting to drag it out." That post started out being an introduction to my Thursday night follies, but I decided it was long enough.

I was at the Marshall on Thursday for my weekly cracktion fix. I lost to one the usual suspects in the first round. In the second round I would have one of those mind meltdowns where one overlooks the obvious, and sees things that aren't really there. This game was a classic example of that.

After Black played 13...Nxe5, I went into this long debate over whether I should play 14. Nxe5, followed by Bf4 after he recaptures with the queen, or play 14. Bf4, pinning the knight. I decided to play 14. Bf4. What I was totally oblivious to was that the knight was attacking my queen. When he played 14...Nxd3 I was in total shock, and acted accordingly. I let out one of those "Damn I can't believe I just hung my queen" groans, slumped in my seat, and knocked my king over. My opponent is looking at me funny as if to say, "What's your problem? You're only losing a pawn." At that point I realize "Well duh! You played Bf4 because you were pinning the knight to his queen, and you can now play Bxc7." He puts my king and pawns back on their proper squares. In the meantime I had stopped the clock. He starts my clock back up and points at the board. Okay that's a new one. Not only has my opponent refused my resignation, but doesn't invoke the touch move rule. After all I did "touch" the king. I guess he was treating it as an "accidental touch, with no intent to move it."

After losing my composure it was a little difficult to pull myself back together. I was only down a pawn but my next few moves were insipid at best, and pretty crappy if truth be told. I'm not sure if I was having "survivor guilt" and just playing aimlessly in order not to give myself drawing chances, or just was too distracted to focus on the game. It also didn't help that my husband called twice during the first two rounds. He never calls unless it's urgent. The phone did not ring, and I did not answer it on my move. Not that my husband could tell me anything that would be at all helpful. This is a guy who forgets that pawns capture diagonally. My opponent did not refuse my "second resignation" when I was down to 1 second, and he was up the exchange and two pawns.

There had been an odd number every round, so it looked like my turn with the bye was coming up in round 3. Fortunately someone had dropped out so there was an even number. This set up the match up Steve Chernick having White against me. Oh joy! Just what I needed after the second round meltdown. I had already decided that regardless of what happened in round 3, I was not playing the last round so I could get home and hour and half earlier. Steve and I always have totally bizarre games, and for awhile he really had my number. Before King Kong there was a gorrilla named Steve. Though this fall I was actually winning more then I was losing against him.

It started out pretty quietly and I actually like my position, but then I started playing chicken. I had attacked his b pawn with 18...Rb8. He ignored it and made one of his crazy pawn pushes. Instead of ignoring it, and grabbing the free b pawn I played h6, to stop him from pushing h6. Despite playing defensively for a few moves, I still have an excellent game with some good attacking possibilities. Fritz had me ahead by 1.4 through move 31. Unfortunately the clock was getting to be a factor. No I had not left myself with 10 minutes, and it caught up with me.

When he played 34. b4, played cxb4 almost immediately. I figured we were simply trading pawns, and that he'd capture with the queen on d4. I had not even considered the knight capture, and when he did make it I almost moved my rook away until I realized my queen would be hanging. Ouch! At this point I'm just making moves, and proceed to drop two pawns along with the exchange. After dropping the second pawn I almost gave up. However he went from having about 8 minutes to my 10 seconds to having less then 2 minutes. Knowing his history of blowing big time advantages, and some of the crazy things that have happened, I decided to suck it up and keep playing. One premature resignation for the evening was enough.

Sure enough on move 43 the implosion came. I had played 42...Rb7. He took the rook with his queen thinking that after Qxb7 he plays Rc7+, winning back the queen and trading down to a easliy won ending. In fact I was on the verge of just knocking the king over when I realized he was in check, and that I would have time to move my king and avoid the fork. The score stops a couple of moves later because we're both blitzing.

This is the final position. He flags, but I ignore the clock, and deliver the mate. I had 2 seconds left. Though as a footnote, payback is a bitch. Today we played again. He was black, and mated me with 5 seconds on his clock, and 2 on mine. That was after he gave back a 9 minute time advantage. One might make the observation that the two of us have clock issues that we have not resolved yet.