Saturday, May 31, 2008

King Kong Off My Back

It's been awhile since I've had to think about King Kong as an opponent. The last few times I've played in the WCA Friday Action he has not been there. Not that it's mattered, my combined score in those past two events is 0 wins 5 losses and 1 draw. It's ceased bothering me since the rating range from top to bottom is less then 100 points. I'm usually number two or three in the top quad. So instead of having Harry as number one in the section it was back to Kevin holding that spot. One of these days I'm going get bounced out of that top quad when all the kids rated over 1700 show up on the same night.

In the first round I played Kapil again. Once again I was black and had to deal with his Maroczy Bind. I didn't like the position I got earlier in the month, so I tried a different line. As the cleaned up expression goes, different day, same old stuff. Instead of getting a crushing attack, he won two pawns and then just ground it out. In the meantime King Kong was up a pawn against Josh, but as he put it "I got too fancy." and walked into a nasty pin. The next time I looked Josh had promoted and mated with a queen and rook.

King Kong may have been suffering from what I refer to as "Saratoga Syndrome". That's what I call what happened to me after I won the tournament in Saratoga Springs. I was afraid of playing and losing rating points. When I played, I was tentative and sure enough I tossed all those hard won points in my next two events. He went 4-0 at the Marshall over the weekend and gained a bunch of points putting him over 1900 for the first time. I know he was concerned about his rating because before the first round had started he was discussing how many points he'd lose if he went 2-1 in the quad. He figured he'd still be around 1900.

I wasn't sure what to expect in our game after he blew the game against Josh. Would he have a melt down or take out all his frustrations with me? At least I had white. In all my games with him when I've been white I've had good positions before imploding. I debated between c4 or d4. I finally opted for d4. He surprised me when he castled queen side, but didn't follow that up with a king side pawn storm. He usually plays more aggressively then he did, and instead of creating a weakness in my castled position he made a pawn push that allowed me to win a pawn.

I've learned with him to not get overly excited about being up a pawn. I've lost too many games against these kids when I'm winning because I've lost focus or just haven't been able to finish it. My game against Kapil earlier the month was a stark reminder of that. I was up two pawns, but let my advantage slip away, and got crushed. I wanted to try to avoid that situation in this game so I went for the queen trade after winning the pawn. Even with the queens off the board I was almost expecting the worst. He had doubled his rooks on the f file with 30...Rdf8, and I was concerned about how I would defend the f2 square. After much analysis and debate I said the hell with trying to hold f2, I was going after his 7th with Re1 followed by Ree7. Given my history with him I knew sitting back and defending would be asking for trouble. I was going to go for my own attack. I figured if nothing else I'd force a pair of rooks off the board if he played Rf7.

He went for his attack on f2 with Nd3. I wasn't afraid of losing the pawn on f2 since I was going to pick up the b7 pawn with check. After his 33rd move he offered me a draw. I was a little surprised by it since he rarely offers draws. He's also not one of those kids who offers a draw when they're about to lose. I wasn't ready for a draw. After I played 35. Nxc6+ he was apologetic about the draw offer. He said that he had not seen the mate coming when he made the offer.

I'd like to say there was a happy ending to this tournament. One would hope that by getting King Kong off my back I'd be totally inspired for my last round game. Nope! For the third tournament in a row I played Josh in the last round, and for the third time I'd lose the toss for color and end out with black. When Josh was in 2nd grade, he played wild attacking chess and moved way too fast. The first time we played he tried to out blitz me in my time trouble and blundered. As he matured he slowed down, but then went into very boring games where he'd trade down to very drawish endings. Often he'd do that even when he had a lead in development. As a 4th grader he's gone back to more aggressive play.

After my big win I was content to play safe chess and try for a draw. I figured an even score in this quad would gain me a few rating points. Trying not to lose is a bad mindset, especially when playing a kid who is looking to gain as many points as possible and get back over 1700 again. I was a little too anxious to trade down. Unfortunately getting the queens off the board did nothing for my position. I ended out not being to castle and gave him all the play. I dropped a pawn, and then a piece. Another potentially good tournament bites the dust. C'est la vie.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

MDC Action Edited

I thought by playing in the Action tournament I'd be far away from AK, but he dropped out the three day event and entered the action tournament. Oh well, can't win them all. I decided at this point I had to stop being annoyed by him. His fourth round opponent last night told him off, so perhaps he'd be a little gentler on the pieces this time around.

I got paired way down in round one. I was on the next to last board. When I'm paired down that far down it either means I a pathetically low rated player or I'm playing an unrated. I'm not sure which is worse. Playing a really low rated player can either be a total blow out, or they can surprise you, and put a serious fight before going down. No matter what it's annoying because there not much to gain from the win. Playing an unrated player is no bargain either. You just don't know what to expect. They could be a really strong player with an unpublished rating or they could be a total fish.

My opponent is an older man with a Eastern European name. I didn't make the connection to the last name when I wrote it down. Before the round had started I took a few pictures of the top board players in the Open Section. I looked at the pairings so I knew who it was I had taken pictures of. This was one of the pictures I took.

This is Grandmaster Melikset Khachiyan. He's originally from Armenia and lives in the Los Angeles area. He coaches many of the talented young juniors in the Los Angeles area, including AK. He tied for 1st with 5 points out of 6. I didn't make the connection when I saw that my first round opponent on the next to last board in the action was named Zaven Khachiyan. Note to self: Beware of unrated players with the same last name as GM playing in same place. I had no clue that he is the father of GM Khachiyan. All I saw was I got paired way down against an older guy who was either low rated or unrated. I'm not sure if knowing who he was would have helped or not, but perhaps I wouldn't tried for some of the little cheap shots.

Ouch! That was not the way I wanted to start the tournament. Now having lost in round one I was going to get paired way down. This time I played an 1200 who was trying to mate me right from the get go. One's gotta love adult players who try for variations on the Scholar's Mate.

I won my next two games including one against an eight year old who was far better behaved then some of the other kids I had seen over the weekend. He didn't slam the pieces, adjust constantly, tap the clock excessively or do all those other annoying things that I see way too many kids do. He did make two of those wishful thinking draw offers. Somehow when a cute little eight year old kid makes a draw offer it's not as annoying when a 12 year old does the same thing. He fought hard to the end. I felt bad because he burst into tears when I mated him.

It would have been a nice tournament for me if I had not played like a total idiot in the last round. I finally got paired up against a 2200, but didn't put up much of a fight. Maybe I should have taken a last round bye in that section! Racing back to play my last round in the Lina Grumette tournament gave me a convenient excuse to resign quickly and be done with the ugliness.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lina Grumette Memorial Day Classic Round 6

I did not sleep on the plane coming home so I was totally fried by the time I got home. I swear if I hear that damn female recorded voice with the security reminders one more time I'm going to ......never mind. Best left unsaid. I will let you fill in the rest of the setence any way you like. The last day was chess junkie heaven for me. Six games of chess in one day. One slow game and five action games. In the main event I took a 1/2 point bye for round five. The pre-emptive bye stratagy was most effective. I would have gotten a bye in round two. That was the round that I was 55 minutes late for, and I don't think they would have found me a house player having showed up that late. I drew my round six game in the main tournament. Once again I had a win where I just couldn't get it done.

I accepted a draw on move 82. Fritz rated white plus over minus with 2.08, but it was unclear even to Fritz how to convert. Here's one of the lines Fritz came up with. 83. Qa8+ Kh7 84. Ke7 Bg6 85. Qa4 Rh5 86. e6 Rf5 87. Qg4 Rd5 88. Qg1 Rf589. Kd7 Rd5+ 90. Kc7 Be8 91. Qb1+ Bg6 92. Qb4 Re5 93. e7 Bf7 94. Kc8 Re3 95.Kd7 Rd3+ 96. Kc7 Re3 97. Qd6 Re1 98. Kd8 Kg8 99. Kd7 Re2.

I wanted to give the queen back for bishop and rook, but not have to give up the e pawn in the process. I couldn't find a way to force the e pawn through. Even though I still had over an hour on the clock. He had two hours, and I had a plane to catch. Sometimes one reaches a point where it's time to declare victory and go home. Though in this case it was declare a draw, and go play bughouse with my teenage opponent and his friends. As I was sac-ing pieces, dropping knights on annoying squares and flushing the opponent's king out into the open one of the players declared, "Finally an adult who understands bughouse theory!" The innder child got to have some time before having to go sit in the airport waiting for her flight to go home.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Lina Grumette Memorial Day Classic Rd. 4

This will be the last post until I get back. Tomorrow I get my cracktion fix so ther will be no time between rounds to post games and updates. It's probably just as well. Maybe my mind come out of the blog so to speak.

Even with the merge I had to sit next to AK (annoying kid). All the other rounds he was sitting on my right. This time he was on my left so his score book was right next to my clock. He has one of those bound hardcover scorebooks that seem to be so popular with the kids. I hate the damn things. They take up so much space on the table, and a lot of kids make such a production over writing their move down and hiding it from the opponent. Sometimes I'd like to strangle the person who brought one of those back from the London Chess Centre and told the Rochester Chess Center they shold make their own and sell them. What's wrong with the old spiral bound pads that don't take up huge amounts of space? (End of rant.)

I asked him to move it over some but it was still in my space. I should have been clearer about where he should put his score book. No that's not what I meant. Just simply draw an imaginary line down the table between my clock and his clock. All his stuff should be to the left of the imaginary line. It wasn't like the boards were jammed on top of each other. I guess I don't like my personal chess space infringed upon. Does that make me a little strange?

I admit it. I allowed him and his father to become a distraction. Every time his father stood behind me to watch his son's game I'd stand up so he'd have to move. It was rather juvenile on my part, but I was annoyed especially since the board to his son's left was empty. He could have stood there and not bothered anyone. I should have tuned the two of them out, but sometimes I just let people's behavior get under my skin.

This game sucked. I got my knight trapped, and I only got a pawn for it. I had no play for being down material. I fidldled around for another 20 moves, but then i just gave up. Too many pieces were getting traded and he had all the play. Here's the game. Not much to say about it.

Besides judging from the total lack of comments my last three posts have gotten, I think nobody is home. Anyone out there? Am I writing to myself? Phew! I managed to get this done before my connection ran out.

Dear Diary,

I suck at chess! Nobody likes me anymore.

Love, Polly

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Lina Grumette Memorial Day Classic Rd. 3

I was sure I was going to end out playing the annoying kid since we had the same score and the colors were right. I was fully prepared to tell him off if he slammed pieces during our game, and tell his father to stop hovering behind me. However my result had been put in wrong so I ended out playing a new player who entered the section today with two zero point byes. I pointed out the incorrect result to the TD. He assured me the pairing would have been the same anyway. At first glance I thought he was right, but after looking more carefully at the pairings I'm not sure that's correct. My second round opponent got paired as a win so he played a one instead of a 1/2. Annoying kid got paired against the low 1. With the correct scores the two higher 1/2s play each other and I drop to the zero. But the colors are bad since the two higher 1/2 are both due black. Most likely my 2nd round opponent drops to the zero and I play white against AK (annoying kid.)

Instead I got to play a very nice woman who I underestimated when I was up a piece for a pawn. More on that later. AK's opponent didn't put up with the slamming piece nonsense at all. About 10 minuts into the round he told AK that how he was playing was very rude. I wanted to give the guy a high five for setting him straight, but I refrained.

This seems to be my weekend to just try different stuff. Since I've been getting some better games with d4 I played that instead of c4. Instead of a straight Colle set up, I played Bf4 on move 3. I liked my position out of the opening. In some ways it was similar to the set up I had against Steve the other night. I was looking at the same idea of winning the d pawn. However this time I wasn't dancing around the center with my knights and trying to deal with an undeveloped bishop. I won a bishop for a pawn by move 17 so I liked my chances.

The only problem is when I like my chances, that's when my mind starts to wander a bit. On move 21 I'm salivating over the open f file and sticking my rook on f7. This is where in the midst of my analysis stray thoughts such as "I really didn't want to get paired down, but if I win this game I'll get a good pairing tonight." start getting in the way. It's also the point that my mind goes into a "blog". That's a potential blog article induced fog. I start thinking about what I'm going to write about and lose focus on my analysis. Maybe this blogging as I go stuff isn't so good. This is also the point where I think I took my opponent a little too lightly since she had played some conservative responses to some of my moves. After I played 21. Rf7 she responded with Qg5, followed by Qg3. The annoying Qh2+ put the kibosh on trying to double the rooks on the f file.

I think part of the mind in a blog issue is because one of my regular readers from this area is playing in the tournament. Shout out to Saul! We had met a few months ago when he was visiting New York and came to the Marshall. I'm flattered by how much he enjoys my blog and he actually can quote things I've written. We've talked in between rounds and he's taken great interest in watching my games and sitting in on some of my post mortems. I feel like I have my own blog groupie. Some how knowing that one of my readers is seeing the live action even before it's written is a little distracting.

At move 25 the position becomes complex as my opponent's queen is deep in my territory, but I still have all this pressure on my opponent's 7th rank. I spent 25 minutes thinking about what I should do. Do I keep trying to attack, or do I move the king off f1 and away from the g2 pawn. I saw that if I left the king on f1 that she had Qh1+ skewing my a1 rook. However I felt she didn't have time to wander off to the queen side to go material grabbing when I have so much play on the king side. I didn't give enough consideration to 26...Qxa1. I spent most of the 25 minutes looking at all the other possible responses to my various moves. I finally thought to myself, "Go for it!" and played 25. Ne6?? Unfortunately in my superficial analysis of 25...Qh1+ 26. Ke2 Qxa1 I over looked the eventual Qxb2+ forcing the repetition.

The round starts in 25 minutes. I will be there on time. The three day and two day schedules merge this round. Hopefully I'm not sitting next to or paired against AK.

Polly In LA LA Land

"I'm late, I'm late for a very important date!"

I have to remind myself I'm in California. They do things a little different around here, and the passing of time and distance isn't the same as it is in New York. Be prepared for a much longer walk then planned when a bellman tells you just to walk down to Sepulvida Blvd and walk three blocks to get to the closest supermarket. "It will take about 15 minutes." 15 to minutes to where? Sepulvida? 3 blocks? Who are they kidding? Three blocks in the land of giants? I'm a New Yorker. There are street blocks and avenue blocks. These were not either. So what I expected to be a 45 minute food run ended out being more like 90 minutes. Oops!

I didn't mind the long walk. It was sunny and finally had warmed up. It was so cold yesterday I felt like I was still in New York. In fact it was warmer in New York then it was in "sunny California". Go figure. But there was one major issue in terms of time and distance. I thought since the first round was at 10:30 the second round would be at 5:30. Most tournaments I play in with six hours of playing time usually have one hour between rounds. So when I arrived back at the hotel at 5:50 I thought "Okay I'm going to be 25 minutes late for the round. No big deal. I almost never use all my time in the first control." I went up to my room, dropped off the food, and got my chess bag. The message light on my phone was blinking, but I paid it no mind. Usually it's message from the manager saying "Welcome to the Hilton. Enjoy your stay." Anyone who really wants to reach m calls me on my cell phone. Though I leave it off during my rounds because I get no reception and only drain the battery. I had turned on when I got back to my hotel room, but I forgot to take it with me when I went out.

I get downstairs, calmly walk up to the pairings, write down my opponent's name and head into the room. Someone asked me if I was alright. I said I was fine. I told the TD I had walked to Ralph's Supermarket and it took longer then I thought. He said "you walked to Ralph's? That takes about 40 minutes!"

I go to my board and notice my clock reads 65 minutes. Huh? What's the time control again? 40/120 G/60. I'm 55 minutes late?? The round started at when? 5:00 PM. In the 36 years I've been playing in tournaments I've never forfeited a game, and I've never been that late before. 40 moves in 65 minutes. A little hairy, but doable. I'm not sure what got into me, but I played the opening totally crazy. Maybe it was due to how late I was, and how far behind on the clock I was going to be. As it turned out the time handicap wasn't much a factor. In fact at one point in the game I was only a few minutes behind on the clock. He used a lot more real time then I did.

Here's the game with not too many notes. I was lucky to draw.

It turns out I had gotten several phone calls from different people wondering where I was. The message on the hotel phone was from Randy Hough telling me I was about to run out of time. Another friend had called me on my cell phone, but since I didn't have it with me I didn't get her call. If I had it with me then I could have had her come pick me up. She assured my opponent that I would come. Better late then never!

Hopefully tomorrow I can make it to the board on time, and hopefully I don't play the obnoxious kid in my section who slams his pieces on every move, has a hovering father and played a position all the way out to mate down a rook and queen. He's way too high rated to be playing out a position like that against a higher rated adult opponent. I got a good chuckle when his opponent retaliated by slapping the queen down on the mating square and screwing it in as he said mate. When I mentioned to one of the locals I thought the kid was obnoxious his comment was "It didn't take you long to figure that out."

Note to self: Rounds are at same times as they were today. 10:30 AM and 5:00 PM.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lina Grumette Memorial Day Classic Rd. 1

As one may have gathered from reading my last few posts I'm in Los Angeles playing chess. There were many different options in terms of possible tournaments this Memorial Day Weekend. So why this one? Certainly there were closer and cheaper options. Cheapest would have been Steve Immitt's weekend swiss at the Marshall. The downside would have been having to play all the same people I play every week there. I could have played in the US Amateur East. The upside would have been getting to put "cheap" New Jersey gas in my tank. The down side would have been playing under rated little kids.

I could have gone to the Chicago Open and hung out with Chess Loser. I wouldn't have had to get on another plane when I arrived at O'Hare. But where in earth is Wheeling, IL? How do you get there from O'Hare without renting a car or spending a fortune on a taxi? I was too lazy to figure that out. Other options were the US Amateur West in Tucson, AZ or Washington Open in Redmond. I'm not sure me and my Mac would be allowed in Microsoft Land. Also there's the how to get there without a car rental thing again. Renting a car to drive to and from a chess tournament is a waste. What does one do at a chess tournament? Play chess, analyze games, eat, drink and sleep. All of that can be done within the confines of the hotel. Those were more interesting venues then the LAX Hilton. Talk about boring locations! Any hotel at an airport tends to be pretty boring since the food and entertainment options are rather limited. Also the view from the room kind of sucks.

However one can not beat the ease of getting off an airplane, grabbing her luggage, and jumping on the free hotel shuttle. So here I am for second straight year hanging out at LAX over Memorial Day weekend. Unlike last year when I played in my own section and had a marginal result against randomly rated California players this year I opted to play up. I also took the pre-emptive round 5 1/2 point bye to avoid early full point byes, and to repeat my double dip of playing in Monday's action event.

Some people are crazy enough to try playing their fifth round of the main event while playing in the game/30 at the same time. I may be stupid, bu I'm not crazy. Last year in the second round of the action I played someone who running back and forth between events. The funny thing was he had been assigned the bye in his section in the main event, but accepted a game against a house player. If that had been me, I would have graciously accepted my full point bye, and concentrated on the action games.

In the first round I got apired up against a hgh 1800. It was a slow positional grind. It reminded me of why I hate 6 hour time controls. I should have played the 2 day schedule where I'd have 3 games at G/60. That would have also saved me a night in the hotel, and I bet my airfare would have been cheaper flying on Saturday instead of Friday of Memorial Day weekend. I thought about that after I booked my airfare. Note to self: Look at different tournament schedule options before booking my flight.

Here's the game. Fritz had better ideas then what we looked at during the post mortem.

Hopefully I'll play better in the next round.

Round Four Fun and Follies

This also could be subtitled Gorilla in a Fog. (Apologies to Dian Fossey.) As I mentioned yesterday, Steve Chernick is one of the first players that I designated as beyond being simply a monkey on my back. Since I had written that initial post on our games, the rivalry has become a little more balanced. These days we tend to go back and forth in terms of winning and losing. Our games rarely end in a draw anymore. Regardless of who wins it usually comes down to some time pressure induced craziness or other unexpected nonsense. This game would be no different in that regard. The only difference would be winning would give me an even score, a chance of winning the under 2000 prize, and gain back the rating points I tossed on Monday. Ohhhhh the pressure!

Sometimes I just need to tell the inner pessimist to shut the hell up so that I can concentrate on the game itself. After I won two pawns by move 17 I had to keep reminding myself that one; I'm up two pawns, two; that doesn't mean I can cruise to the end game, and three; stop thinking like that and play the damn game! My brain tends to function at warp speed and I often have scattered thoughts running amok. That's probably why I simply missed the free bishop on e7 after he played 17....Qa5. I wanted to trade queens so that I don't give him any cheap mating shots.

My other problems with the game at this point are the stupid bishop on c1 that's going nowhere fast, and the knight on c2 that is on a pretty useless square. Even though I'm up two pawns, I feel like I'm down two pieces. His knight on e4 is cramping my style, and if I trade it another knight will take its place there. In the mean time he's getting the one cheap mating threat that I feared was lurking somewhere. I had to spend equal amounts of time to find the best defense, and to convince myself that I had nothing to fear. This is where I have to block out memories of past implosions, stifle the urge to panic and come up with a good defense. Be2 would have been a slightly better move to allow me to stop the mate threat with f4 instead of g3. I was too focused on g3 as the only defense, and saw that the knight sac on g3 would be fatal if I didn't have the queen near by to interpose after Qxg3+.

I did finally get rid of the pesky knights, and life should have become simple at this point. However nothing is ever simple in a Wright-Chernick game with less then two minutes between the two of us. Evn though I'm the one with more time, I still manage to come up with one of those time pressure induced miscalculations. I'm up a piece and a pawn, and I want the queens off the board. I want them off now! Hanging pawn on e3 be damned! With that in mind I play Qd2?! Oops! Bxe3+ is rather annoying. Fortunately I have two things working in my favor. I have a bishop, knight and rook for the queen, and he has less then 10 seconds left. Having seen what he does with that little time, I figured I still could win this game.

Now the fun begins, and not just at our board. I've just played 34. Bd4 (Bxa7 would have been better.) He picks up his rook on b8 and starts waving it around as his time is counting down. He puts it back on b8 and presses my clock. I say "you didn't move!" and I press his clock. This gives him back the 5 second delay. He hesitates as he's not sure if he really moved or not. I had the correct position on my Mon Roi so I knew he had not moved. Forget it, if I had been writing my moves instead. I would never have the correct score this deep into a time scramble. The hesitation was enough that as he played Rxb2 he ran out of time.

As Steve and I were having our moment of confusion at our board at the next board there was a dispute over whether somebody had let go of his knight or not. Gabor claimed Ed had let go. Ed claimed he still had his hand on the knight. It sounded like the typical dispute between two kids in a K-1 section. Gabor is indignant over Ed's denial of letting go. He says to Steve Immitt "You've known me for years, why would I lie about this?" Ed is insisting he still had his hand on the knight. Director Steve (too many Steves here) asked player Steve and I if we had seen anything. I look at him and say "I was too busy claiming a win on time over here to see what was happening over there."

It's situations like this where Steve's years of experience directing scholastic tournaments comes in handy. The way the touch move and determined move rules are written, an outright denial of touching or letting go of a piece works in the favor of the one making the denial. In the absence of witnesses a skilled TD has to ask a lot of questions of the two players, gauge the responses and come up with a fair ruling. There are times where the denying layer has touched or let go of the piece, but it happens so quickly he's not even aware that he has done so, hence the vehement denials. There are times where the denying player is outright lying and using the rule to his advantage. I know that was not the case here. Ed sincerely felt he had not let go. It was only by Steve asking him to demonstrate what he had done when he moved the piece that it became apparent what happened.

Ed showed that he had put the knight down on the square in question and was getting ready to let go and realized it was hanging. He felt he still had contact with the piece when he changed his mind about the move. Each time Steve asked him to demonstrate what he did after putting the piece on the square it became apparent that he had briefly let get of it. He probably had his hand less then a 1/16th of an inch away for a fraction of a second. However it was enough to doom him to having to leave the piece there.

Even when I don't have to play Gabor it seems his wiley ways in time pressure has a way of impacting my result. Having the ruling in his favor gives him an easy win. His win in the final round combined with his re-entry after starting 0-2 (Re-entry gets a 1/2 point bye) gave him 2.5 points, thus giving him the under 2000 prize and qualifying for the Saint John's Masters. I hate re-entries out of general principle. I don't feel players should be able to buy a second chance at winning. His re-entry cost me 1/2 the under 2000 prize. He won the same number of games as me, but the bought 1/2 point bye that replaced his 0-2 start gave him the full prize.

Friday, May 23, 2008

First Round Shocker!

Preface: I started this post when I got back from NYC. I continued it killing time in Chicago while awaiting my flight to Los Angeles. (I'll be playing in the Lina Grumette Memorial Day Classic. ) I would have finished it in Chicago but I did one of those incredibly stupid things that happens when you forget to hit save as draft before logging out. I had initially posted this first round position when I got home from the Marshall. It was a wild start to what ended out being a decent tournament. I was so excited about my first round game that I posted the critical position before going to bed. Given how little sleep I ended out getting I might as well stayed up and written the whole damn article.

Now I'm in Los Angeles, and maybe I can finish it without losing all my changes. What was annoying was that I spent a lot of time adding to the initial post. Between being very slow on the keyboard, and trying to come up with pithy descriptions on my evening I lost over an hour's worth of work. True confession: I type with two fingers. I liked what I wrote, but it vanished into the Internet Great Beyond when I logged out of Safari on Mac and logged in on Windows to pull up my Chess Base stuff. Damn when are they going to make a Mac version of Chess Base?? Note to self: "Press save as draft when editing a published post."

For the second time in two weeks I achieved an even score in a tournament at the Marshall. This is rather unusual for me since typically I get paired up so much that I end out with minus scores, and or go 0-3 and get a bye. I actually got to play every round of 4 Rated Games Tonight! No byes! I also didn't get Polyakin in the first round. I did get him in round two, but I'm getting ahead of myself. My first round opponent who is rated 2079 plays slash and bash chess. All of our games have had at least one dubious sac and a wild time scramble. This game would prove no different. However unlike my previous encounters I would be the one ahead on time, and the one coming up with a counter-sac.

Knowing that my opponent likes to attack wildly I decided I would not accept his Smith-Morra. Instead I ignored c3 and allowed it to transpose to a c3 Sicilian. This was a fun way to start a tournament. My usual late round encounter with "Please Wait" would have to wait for another time. My opponent is sac happy. He's already sac-ed a rook, and now he's offering me a bishop to reach this position.

White just played 28. Bxg6?! Now the fun begins. I didn't like the looks of 28...fxg6. I couldn't figure out if I get mated or he just gets a perpetual. I decided two could play the sac game so I replied 28...Bxg2+!? 29. Kxg2 Rxd2+ 30. Kh3? This gives me too much play. Better is 30. Kh1 Rd1+ 31. Qxd1 Qxe5 32. Qh5 Qxh5 33. Bxh5 After 30 Kh3 it continued 30...Qd7 31. Bf5 Rd3+ 32. Kg2?? Qd5+ 33. Kf1 Rd1+ 34. Ke2 Qd2+ 35. Kf3 Qf2+ 36. Ke4 Qe3#

I guess if I don't play Polyakin in round one I'm going to get him in another round once I win. This week it came in round two. Unfortunately unlike two weeks ago when I held him to a draw playing white I had to play him as black this week. I had to play against his annoying d4 opening. I was doing okay until I walked into several discoveries. The discovered attack picked up a pawn. The second was a discovered check that picked up my queen. Stupid tactical oversight on my part. That's what I get when I play a little too fast and don't look gift pawns and skewers in the mouth. I resigned after walking into a fork losing what compensation I had for the queen.

Now I'm 1-1, and I get paired up again against Larry Tamarkin. I'm 0-13 against this guy, and every game some horrible happens. Talk about a serious monkey on my back! He should be King Kong II. This game proved to be no different then the previous 13 against him. I played totally stupid. I knew he would get around to sac-ing the knight on e4, but didn't see that he sacs on f2, not g3. I can't accept because I lose my queen. If I don't accept I'm down a pawn and the exchange with a horrible position. Having gotten into an argument with him between rounds, I did not feel like dealing with him any longer then necessary. I didn't think it was necessary to continue down the exchange and a pawn in a horrible position. I disgustedly knocked my king over and left the room. It was one of those times I wanted to pull a Nimzovitch by sweeping the pieces off the board and yell "Why must I lose to this idiot?"

Now being 1-2 I finally get paired down. So who stands between me and my chance at an even score? Steve Chernick. The original gorilla on my back. Our games are always an adventure, and there's always a story to accompany them. That being said, I decided round four merited its own post.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Losing Sucks Scale.

Losing sucks! However there are varying degrees of suckiness when it comes to losing. The lowest degree of suckiness is when you're outplayed and out maneuvered by a higher rated player. You lost which sucks, but you put up a good game. You didn't humiliate yourself so that isn't terrible. My round one loss to Shabalov in last year's US Open is that type of loss. The highest degree of suckiness is getting mated or losing your queen in some book trap in less then 15 moves. This game last fall qualifies matches the extreme suckiness criteria.

Then there are the games that fall in varying places on the losing sucks scale. In no particular order:

Missing a capture or pin from a piece at least 4 squares away.

Missing a simple tactic.

Blowing a totally won position, by falling into one of the above.

Time pressure induced implosions.

Losing on time in a won position.

I've lost my share of games in the ways described above. However one of the most annoying ways to lose that I rate high on the suckiness scale is when you see a threat on one move and then a move or two later fall into the same threat in a slightly different position. My Monday night loss demonstrates this idea.

Mike and I played each other numerous times at the Manhattan Chess Club when it was located on 46th St. We also played in the NY State Championship. Our games were always hard fought even though my record was a measly 1-5. We haven't played since 2002 so I was actually looking forward to playing him again after 6 years. Too bad I couldn't keep the forking pattern in my mind for another few moves.

Sometimes forks and pins involve squares not pieces. I consider Paul Morphy vs Duke of Brunswick & Count Isouard one of those games where a piece is pinned to a square. The knight on d7 is pinned to d8. The decoy move of 16. Qb8+ forces the knight to move and expose the d8 square to the deadly rook check on d8.

In my game in my Monday night game the idea was a fork of a piece and the mating square of h7. Here it is.
What was totally aggravating was that I saw that on move 14 I can't take his e4 knight because he recaptures with the queen which is attacking my bishop on f4 and also attacking h7 which is going to be mate. Two moves later I miss the same threat but instead of losing a bishop it's a rook. Are the two positions so different that I couldn't recognize the same threat two moves later?

Position 1 after 15. Nf3. I know 15...Nxe4 loses my bishop after Qxe4. He's attacking the bishop and threatening Qh7#. I play a different move to avoid that.

Position number 2. I've just played 16...b6 with the idea of Bb7. I wasn't concerned about 17. Nxf6+ Qxf6 18. Be4. I'll move the rook to b8 and then develop the bishop b7. So why could I analyse those moves, but totally miss 18. Qe4? I could see Qxe4 on move 16 with the same idea of attacking an unprotected piece and threatening the exact same mate.

Perhaps two things came into play here. In position 1 I'm the one preventing the queen from getting to e4 by not playing Nxe4. If he clears e4 for the queen by playing Nxf6+ after Qxf6 I'm protecting the bishop on f4, so all I have to do is prevent the mate by playing g6 or Re8.

In position 2 he initiates the combination by clearing e4 with the forcing Nxf6+ I do guard the f4 bishop with Qxf6. However my ill advised 16...b6 allows him a different attack on a newly unguarded piece, namely my rook on a8. Unfortunately the mate threat on h7 still exists. I could have avoided to the problem by eliminating the potential mate threat. It wasn't like I didn't see it, but in my anxiety to try to complete my queen side development the threat got put on my brain's back burner. This game needed a double dose of Tempo's scanning process.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Dr. Jekyll/Ms. Hyde: Will The Real Chess Player Please Stand Up!

I just wonder how the same person can be playing this game. I'm cruising along up three pawns and then the bottom falls out. Who took over my mind after move 32? Or did the little overconfidence monster strike earlier when the stray thought about being able to recover from my crappy start in the tournament by winning this game crept in shortly after winning the third pawn? I tried to beat back that thought by reminding myself that I've lost better positions. I also reminded myself to stay focused on the board, and not worry about potential 4th round opponents or recouping pissed away rating points.

This is from the third round of our club championship. I was off to a rough start having drawn with an underrated adult 1190 in round one, and then losing to a 1300 after turning down his premature draw offer. How much worse could it get? After this game I don't want to know!

The problem was how I reacted to my opponent's 32nd move. When I played 32. e5, I was totally oblivious to queen pinning the e4 pawn to my rook on b1. I did not see 32...Qxb1 until he played it over 3 minutes after I had played e5. When he did take, I was totally shocked. I did manage not to have a premature resignation meltdown like I did last year. However I think it upset me just enough that my confidence was shaken. Instead of settling down and playing simple chess by trading off his potentially pesky bishop and pushing my passed pawn to e7, I panicked. I traded off his do passive rook on b8, and started giving stupid queen checks. By move 35 I had let him equalize despite my extra pawns. Overlooking the hanging pawn on e3 was deadly.

These were not errors caused by time pressure considerations. I missed an attack on a long diagonal. However the exchange of rooks in that manner wasn't a huge mistake. In fact it gave me a potentially powerful passed pawn, but I got too upset with having to defend against the pin on f1 and giving him one of the pawns back. Giving the c3 pawn up to break the pin on f1 was actually good because then I can simply trade off the bishops. However I was too busy beating up on myself about allowing him play and the opportunity to gain back some of the material. What's a pawn among friends when one has another one that can get to e7 and e8 without many problems?

I guess the lesson from this game is step back from one's inner critic who can't be emotionally detached, and get back to the real position. I had a chess teacher who would like at games like that and ask me what is wrong with simple chess? Push those pawns, eliminate the annoying threats and get it done.

Am I going to have to sit in the car and meditate for 30 minutes before my game, and just show up and play? The mind is a terrible thing to mind.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Elementary Nationals Wrap Up and Rant

All over but the cleaning up

I survived another scholastic nationals! Sunday was a great day for the kids. Being a group of inexperienced kids, we didn't have tremendous expectations in terms of bringing back hardware. Saturday night I had looked at the team standings. The K-3 under 800 team was in about 50th place, and the K-5 under 900 team was around 37th place. After a good sixth round for the K-5 team, I looked at the standings again. We were 31st, and only 1.5 points out of 25th. With another good round we had a reasonable chance at moving up. I hadn't even said anything to the kids before the round, except to keep playing slowly and give it their best shot.

I take a very laid back approach when coaching a group like this. I don't have a bunch of parents going on to the USCF MSA to check the real ratings of their child's opponent. I'm not sure any of these kids' parents would even know where to look for ratings. I'm more concerned with the kids having fun, and learning something. Winning a trophy with a group like this is icing on the cake. After the seventh round was done we headed out for dinner. The restaurant was about half way between the convention center and our hotel. There was debate as to whether we should go back to the convention center or not. I was able to contact the coach of the team that we shared the team room with. He sent one of his players off to find out our place. He called back and told me we came in 25th. YES! We had a reason to go back.

It's nice to work with a group like this because then I don't have to deal with the type of crap referred to below. This came off the USCF Issues Forum (One must be USCF member and registered to view) and is written by one of my regular readers whose daughter plays for the team that won the K-5 championship.

Actually, this was my 6th scholastic national tournament and maybe I wasn't aware of it previously but there seemed to be a lot more whispers about cheating than in any previous tournament. I didn't see or observe anything (but I try to stay in the cocoon of our team room most of the time because my kids and I are much happier without the hovering parent thing going on) but I did hear things from several parents from several different schools. Things ranging from kids entering moves on their mon roi before they made them, kids leaving the tournament hall in the middle of games to talk to their parents, kids with notes in their notation books, kids who circled "won" when they lost. I think the playing hall which had an observation area one floor up where parents were perched with binoculars (!) to watch their kids' games may have fed into an overall feeling of paranoia. I overheard someone talking about one family, where one parent was watching the game through binoculars and calling the other parent who was down on the tournament floor with moves on a cell phone, etc. Again, I have no personal knowledge of any actual cheating but the spectre of cheating was in the air like never before and I think it is something that needs to be addressed firmly at future scholastics.

Then in the USCF Chess Tournaments Forum there was this post from a coach.

Well, for the first time in my life I've been accused of cheating. My K-5 U900 team in Pittsburgh was the object of a cheating accusation last weekend. The problem started when, to encourage the kids to play slow, I told them to get up, get water, go to the bathroom, and look at teammates games (always from behind their teammate and never making eye contact) during their games. This way they would not be glued to their chairs and could relax and play slow. Our bright tied-dyed team shirts made it clear in the first round than many of our players listened and did look over teammate's games [ many players did set records for the longest games they'd played in their lifetimes]. Late in the first round one parent of one of my kids opponents was quite upset that teammates were looking at his daughter's game. He also didn't like that other teammates were in the spectator area trying to see what the position was. He confronted me with quotes of "she is playing your whole team" and that I should be ashamed of teaching kids to cheat. Well, I didn't really know how to respond. I knew they were not cheating and when I told him that he didn't believe me.

After the first round I instructed the kids to not look at any teammates games and to take the long way to the bathroom to avoid walking behind a teammate's board. I thought this would be the end of it. When I asked them later they said that they did not look at teamate's boards.

Then during Sunday's morning games I was confronted with another accusation of cheating by the coach for a group of schools and we went to see the floor TD. Then we spent 45 minutes hearing about how a surveillance program had been set up and that one of my kids had gone to the bathroom three times in the last hour. The basic accusation is that my kids were meeting in the bathroom to exchange ideas. The floor TD was very patient but since they could not provide proof (which was impossible since there was no cheating!) and he would not punish us right then, they became very frustrated.

I got to talk for about a minute but it doesn't do any good once some is sure you are guilty. I admitted to telling the kids they could look at the teammate's games. I also said that I told them not to any more but they claimed that we were still doing it. We did have quite visible shirts but there were other similar tie-dyed shirts that a couple of other teams had. I also found out that they had instructed their players to follow our players to the bathroom! When I tried to apologize to the coach of the teams, he said he didn't want to talk to me an walked away.

In the end, I told the kids for the last round to go to the bathroom before the round, limit water intake, and not look at teammate's games. All these are things that are within the rules but I thought that it was better to be extra clean. We had the floor chief TD come to our room and talk to the team for 20 minute before the last round. He said that they could look at teammate's games but I still told them not to. I'm not sure if all the distractions affected the play of our kids in the last round. We did a little worse than I had hoped in the last round and finished 19th.

A lot of this is due to parents who were able to continuously observe their kids play. They then interpret anything out of the ordinary as suspicious. From there it all just feeds on itself to become clear cheating. Once they had set up the surveillance program, only sitting in the chair for three hours would have removed their fears. It is just a real shame to place this level of distrust in the kids. I could have watched my son's games easily from the crosswalk but I could not take the tension of sitting a watching. Overall, it was one of the most depressing and frustrating things in my life! To have people be 100% sure you are cheating without proof is surreal. I was barely able to hold it together when I talked to the team before the last round. I now have 13 schools sure that I've taught my kids to cheat. Personal integrity is important to me but there is not a thing in the world I can do to convince them that they are wrong.

Though I disagree with encouraging kids to go watch teammates' games, there wasn't anything wrong with what these kids did. I tell my kids to stay away from each others games, and stay focused on their own. Somehow I seriously doubt players under 900 could give their teammates any useful information in a trip to the bathroom. This team scored 1 point more then my team. Somehow I don't think it was because their kids were talking about their positions while hanging out by the the water cooler or in the bathroom. Having looked at over 70 games from that section, I seriously doubt cheating was an issue. I think some parents and coaches seriously need to get a life.

Before I got involved with teaching and coaching I used to be a tournament director at many of these scholastic nationals. Being on the floor at events like these is very challenging at times. Often one needs to make decisions that may not be based on normal rules. One needs the wisdom of Solomon when trying to decide where a piece is when there is no scoresheet and the placement of that piece is the difference between winning and losing. One also must be gentle but firm when dealing with a crying child that one is having to rule against. Sometimes we screw up and make the wrong decision at first. We can only hope that when everything is said and done that we get it right in the end.

I remember one elementary nationals where I think there must have been a full moon. The parents and coaches were just going nuts. In between rounds I had gone out for a run with one of my friends who was coaching a small NYC school. We got talking about the nutty parents and we got joking about how to solve the problem. Hold the nationals at an undisclosed location. Tell the parents their kids will be met at the airport and taken to the tournament. They will be taken care of by the directing staff for the entire weekend. When the tournament is over, the kids will be flown back home. No parents to second guess the tournament directors or accuse other children of cheating. Wouldn't that be nice.

I am kidding about the solution, but often when a decision is made on the floor the tournament director and the players involved are able to work everything out. It's when the players go back to mommy and daddy that sometimes the story gets distorted and now the tournament director has a pissed off parent on his back. The parent innocently asks "How was your game?" and now the kid gets all emotional and starts crying. Naturally the parent is going to get upset because he/she thinks their kid has been screwed. Then the tournament director has to go through the whole process over again in order to make the parent understand what happened and why a particular ruling was made. Damn! I don't miss directing at these things anymore!

Monday we had nice train ride back to New York. Any train buffs out there recognize this scene? My little point and shoot doesn't do it justice. This is the horseshoe curve on the old Pennsylvania Rail Road route near Altoona.

What do you when you got 100+ hungry kids from various schools on a long train ride? You call ahead for pizza in Harrisburg. No offense to the good folks in Harrisburg, but nothing tastes like New York pizza. It must be the water.

Good to be home, though I caught a nasty cold. Nasty enough that I was very happy when my opponent in the club championship had too much homework and couldn't make it until next week's make up round. Nasty enough to keep me away from my weekly cracktion fix for another week. This means I'll go for over a week with no rated games. No chess this weekend either!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More Observations From Pittsburgh

Despite the brutal schedule on Saturday, things started looking a little better for the group. Kids that had started off 0-3 finally got some wins. I was hoping I wasn’t going to have to deal with any of the kids going 0-7. Even I haven’t gone 0-7! There have been those 0-5 and ugly .5-5.5 that have happened a few times. I’ve been spared 0-6 or worse.

With the kids that got off to the bad start I make it a point to find something positive in their game no matter how ugly it had been. Sometimes they just feel so bad, especially when the other kids are winning and they're not. I also make sure at the end of my analysis session with the kid to remind him or her what the lesson was that he or she should take from that game. Sometimes it was as simple as when a piece is attacked by a pawn to move the piece. The first few rounds I kept having to remind them that guarding a piece attacked by a pawn is not enough.

Sometimes as a teacher I have to be careful exactly how I explain something, because kids take things so literally. A few weeks ago in class I was talking about a few different things including etiquette. We also were talking about stalemate. During the etiquette discussion I said it’s not a nice thing to keep promoting pawns to queens when one has an easy mate with what’s already on the board. I told them about the obnoxious kid who made 4 queens and was about to make a fifth, when I told him to stop showing up his opponent. I also said that making too many queens could lead to stalemate if the opponent has nothing but a king.

One of my players reached this position and promoted to a rook.
When I asked him why he didn’t promote to another queen, he said “You told us it wasn’t good to take another queen.” I had to explain that wasn’t what I meant. Especially since promoting to queen in that position was mate on the move. It would not have been a big deal, except that he kept missing easy mates in one or two with the rooks and queen and ended out drawing. I suggested to his parents to get him a checkmate workbook so that he could practice queen and rook checkmates and begin to recognize the patterns. Is this a future Knight Errant? (Note: I wrote this before reading the heated discussion regarding the Knight's Errant on Elizabth Vicary's blog. For the record, I think for kids that type of exercise is useful.)

The Parents & Friends tournament was on Saturday, but with a group this size I don’t have time to play in it. By the time the first round started at 10:30, I had over half my players done their 9:00 AM round. Despite my pleas to slow down any game that took over an hour and half was considered long. Our local scholastic tournaments have a time limit of game/45 so game/120 is just beyond their comprehension. It doesn’t matter how I explain how much time 4 hours is they just don’t get it. In one round, one of my players comes back in about a half hour. He tells me he played so fast because his opponent had a clock and wanted to play with it. For some reason the mere presence of a clock makes a lot of inexperienced players think they need to play fast. Part of that may be because when they use a clock at chess club they play 15 minute chess. The other reason is they get a clock put on their game late in a round. In the local tournaments any games without a clock going gets a clock put on with 10 minutes for each when there’s 25 minutes before the next round is scheduled.

I was perfectly happy I wasn’t playing in the event since they held it in the skittles room. There were kids running around playing ball, and some teams were using that area in lieu of a team room. The noise would have made me crazy. One of the New York parents I know was using his iPod to block the noise. I’ve never seen him use an iPod when we’ve played in New York. Also given my track record in the event I didn’t feel like tossing a chunk of the 53 rating points I gained on Tuesday.

I met a remarkable young man named Domingo Santoyo who was playing in the Parents & Friends tournament as brother/player team. He's a 10th grader from Brownsville, TX who was born with no arms. He moves the pieces, presses the clock and keeps score using his right foot. He can move the pieces so quickly with his foot that I couldn't even get the picture fast enough. This picture I took he had just put the piece down and was going to press his clock.

His "footwriting" is neater then some high school kids' handwriting that I've seen.

I got to speak to him briefly afterwards. I wanted to make sure he wouldn't mind my posting some of the pictures. He's very a very easy going kid. I wish I had more time to ask him how he got involved in chess. It seems like all of his family plays or directs scholastic tournaments in Texas. I had to check on my team, and I think he was anxious to see how his kid brother was doing.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

National Elementary: Day 2

It's a little after midnight, and the most exhausting day of the tournament is over. The kids play three rounds starting at 9:00 am, and last round starting at 7:00 pm. It's draining for the kids and the parents. By the time I got going through the last bunch of games I was getting punchy. At one point I'm playing the white moves with the black pieces and the black moves with the white pieces and trying to figure out why the score was backwards. Don't ask! I'm not sure I can even explain what I was thinking at that point. Finally I figured out what I was doing, and just started all over again. I guess when I see so many score sheets with notation errors even when it's right I start thinking it's wrong.

Here are a few pictures from today.
The calm before the storm. An empty tournament hall waiting to be filled.

How fast can parents seat their child, and get out of there before the tournament directors starting having to resort to force?

A big part of this tournament is the team aspect, and the pride kids feel representing their school at nationals. Each school has their own way of showing team spirit. The classes at one Oklahoma school each make a poster for the chess team to take to nationals and hang up in their team room. Here are a couple of the posters that the team's school mates made for them.

Many teams have shirts in their school colors that they wear through out the tournament. The shirts give the kids a sense of team identity, and depending on how colorful they are it helps parents and coaches spot their kids. My team wears purple and white. The only problem is, one of the biggest teams from New York City also wear the same color purple, so it's hard to tell at glance who is from which school. Next year I'm going suggest purple tie-dye shirts. The teams with tie-dye shirts were easy to spot.

The most unique team shirts were these shirts being worn by a team from Baltimore. Each kid had a different piece on the back of the shirt with a different motto. A friend of the coach did the art work. These are totally awesome shirts. I thought they had been done by a friend of mine who is also from Baltimore and does similar chess art work, but they weren't.

More pictures to come!

Friday, May 9, 2008

On The Road Again: Pittsburgh, PA

Welcome to Pittsburgh! The city of bridges! There seems to be a bridge on every block. I've been told that Pittsburgh has the most bridges of any city in the Western Hemisphere. From what I can see from the convention center, I can believe it. In this city I guess one has many opportunities to "cross that bridge when they get to it."

Here is a view of the playing floor from the upper level of the convention center. My dumb little point and shoot camera does not do the vast scene justice. There are a lot of tables off to the left that can't be seen. Then there is the K-1 section in the Westin Hotel next door. This scene is very calm. Tomorrow I'll shoot another picture before the round starts when there's hordes of parents and coaches making sure their kids are in the right spot.

As I mentioned in my Junior High Nationals post, I travel with several different schools. For this tournament I am here as the coach for one of the elementary schools that I teach chess at. Working with this group of kids is presents different challenges then the kids from the junior high championships. Dealing with 7th and 8th graders who are very tournament savvy and have several years of nationals experience under their belts is have different issues and needs then 2nd through 5th graders who are for the most part brand new to the nationals scene.

With my junior high group, I'm the assistant coach and much of what I do is simply answer the rules and ratings questions, play chess with them in between rounds so they can try out stuff. Sometimes they just need to curse and vent a bit. My role with that group is technical grunt. Also there are certain non chess issues that one has to deal with when you're talking about teenage boys and girls.

With this group I am the only coach. Their regular teacher has not made the trip with the team the last couple of years. Some of the kids attend my session on Mondays along with the other teacher's session of Thursday. Some of the kids never have attended my Monday class until I insisted that they come so I could at least get to know a little about the kid and put a face to the name. With the Monday regulars they're used to my style, and I know what to expect in terms of skill and how they're going to deal losing and my instruction.

With the newer kids I have the delicate job of trying to show the kid what he or she did wrong, help make sure he or she knows what to do next time, but at the same time not make him feel bad for missing a good opportunity to take advantage of the opponent's oversights. It's taken me the first two rounds to kind of gauge reactions to my instruction. After I went over one kid's second round loss I realized I got a little over zealous in explaining how to take advantage of a player who has traded off his fianchettoed bishop on g7 for something besides the other dark squared bishop. It appeared that he had the opportunity to stick his bishop on h6, driving the rook of f8, and then sticking the queen on h8 diagonal and forcing mate on g7. He felt so bad about missing this that he burst in tears. I can deal with the kids coming in crying, but I don't like it if I cause the child to burst into tears. I assured the kid that he should not feel bad for missing it. I wanted him to learn how to take advantage the holes in the king side. Perhaps it was a bit over the head of a 3rd grader with a 300 rating.

Then I had the little girl who fell into her first four move checkmate. She was so embarrassed to lose so quickly. She came into the room in tears. She had even beaten me back to the team room. One of the parents was trying to work with her, on figuring out how to stop. He didn't really know. I quickly gave her my anti-four move checkmate lesson. By the end of our session she had it covered. As long as she remembers it I won't see that happen again.

Then I had the kid who on his first move grabbed the queen pawn and had to move it. Being very inexperienced and doing things on automatic pilot caused his game to go up flames almost immediately. The teacher at school has taught all the kids how to play the Giacco Piano. They're pretty proficient with it, but some of the kids learn the opening but don't understand what they're really trying to do. This particular kid played 1. d4 d5. 2. e4 (trying to get back to his familiar e4 opening 2...dxe. 3. Nf3 (again thinking about trying to get back on track, but overlooking 3...exf3). He simply panicked and tried to make it into some familiar, but became oblivious to the fact that the opponent's pieces were not in the same spots they'd be in if the game had started 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5. So in 3 moves he managed to give up a pawn and a knight.

It's been a tough day for the group. Half the kids are 0-2. 5 kids are 1-1, and 1 kid is .5-1.5. The kid with the draw had one of the most amazing games for a kid with 500 rating. He kept coming up with good moves and find the correct responses to various threats. His missed mating with a pawn, and at the end he moved the wrong piece to cut of the king and it lead to stalemate. I hope to get it into Chessbase and share it. It was very interesting.

Internet access has been a major pain the butt. The free wireless at the Hilton has been impossible. I finally was able to borrow an Ethernet cable from someone and get access back in my room. If I'm not totally trashed after 3 rounds of trying decipher scores I will post an update. There will be no Parents & Friends tournament for me at this event. Coaching 14 kids by myself is quite enough. Though for round one "King Kong" had a quick game and came into the team room afterwards. He asked me if he could go over some of the kids games. I think the kids enjoyed getting pointers from one of their peers. They asked me if Kevin had ever beaten me. His mom and I got a chuckle out of that question as we'd answer it, "Yep a few times."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wacky Wednesday! Who Wants to Lose??

Last night I played in the New York Experts at the Marshall and got crushed in the first round by an old nemesis who is making his chess comeback. This is the second time he's totally trashed me with black in less then a week. Before last week we had not played each other since 2005. Last night's game got me thinking about our various encounters from 2002 to 2005. Our 9th game is worthy of the Wacky Wednesday designation.

The first time we played he was going into third grade and was coming down to the Marshall every Thursday. His rating was moving up rapidly from 1100 at the start of 2002 to 1600 by the 2002 Annual list. Over the course of a year we played each other 8 times. He won the first 4 in a row, and then I won the next 4 in a row. Our 9th encounter was a comedy of errors. What can one say about a game where both players keeping hanging pieces? Remember the old maxim "Who ever makes the next to last mistake wins." This clearly applied here. If one did not know the players or ratings involved, he might think it was some game between a couple of 800 players. No notes or deep analysis included.

My last move was one of those time pressure implosions done when I had 21 seconds versus his 8 minutes and 21 seconds.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Learning To Learn

This is not a chess piece, but it ties into what I'm trying sort out in my mind regarding making forward progress in chess. It's my story of a journey through a whole new thing for me. How I'm learning I believe can carry over to my chess study. I share my story, and in another post I will try to link this to chess. Feel free to make any observations in my methods as a student.

I wanted to name this the "Art of Learning" but that title has already been taken. Besides I'm not sure what I've been doing for the last six months could be considered art. Back in November I wrote about taking a trial Tae Kwon Do class, and then signing up for a year's program. I'm into my sixth month, and it's been an interesting journey. I have not only learned something about an entirely new sport, I've also learned something about learning, and more specifically, how I learn. At times it's been overwhelming and frustrating, but when it clicks it's been exciting. Soon I hope I can take all of these experiences and transfer them to the process of regaining much of what I feel I've lost from chess.

This foray into Tae Kwon Do is the first time in over 25 years that I have attempted to learn something that is totally new, and totally unrelated to anything else I already have experience in. All my years as an athlete did not prepare me for this because the sports I already do have no movements or components that transfer over to the martial arts. Probably the closest thing would be my experiences doing modern dance in high school. The forms we learn in class remind me of a choreographed piece of dance. Though I think all those years of turning my toes outward in dance had a bad influence on me in Tae Kwon Do.

I don't remember what it was like when I first learned how to play chess. That was 40 years ago. I don't remember if I had difficulty learning the names and movements of the different pieces. I do remember that I lost many games before I won my first game. Perhaps being a teenager I picked up the movements quickly even if I had no clue what to do with the pieces. Though if learning how the pieces move was anything like my first night in Tae Kwon Do class I may never had taken to chess like I did.

At the Tae Kwon Do school (do jang) I attend, a newbie starts as a no belt. One has to earn the right to even wear a white belt with their uniform. Newbies stick out like a sore thumb. Their uniforms are crisp and clean, and have no patches on them. As soon as the warm up and stretching part is over the class goes into a routine called Kam Sa Hyung (Appreciation Form). It's a 10 step form which includes the most basic stances and punches in it. So if it's your first day of class you get pulled to the side to learn the 10 steps to it. Most people learn the 10 steps in their first class. In my first class I barely got past number one.

Number one involves simply moving your left foot to the left so your feet are shoulder width apart. At the same time your hands go from being flat and straight at your side to fists resting above your hips. For what ever reason I could not get the hang of that movement. I'd move the wrong foot and my toes would being pointing out instead of my feet being perfectly parallel. My stance would be too wide and my hands would be in the wrong spot and not in a proper fist. I couldn't understand a word the master was saying to me because his English was so heavily accented. While I'm in the back of the room trying to do this one motion there are people moving about the room. Depending on what color belt they are they're all doing something different. Many of the things they're doing are accompanied by loud yells of kihop! For someone like me who is easily distracted all of this motion and noise was difficult to contend with.

When I'm trying to process something I try to visualize it my mind. That first class I spent a lot of time staring at myself in the mirror and trying to get my feet and hands to move in a coordinated manner. The master kept prodding me to keep practicing, but I was trying to picture it first and then do it. I kind of got the hang of it so he added step number two which simply involved moving the fists from my hips to pointing downward with a slight bend in the arms. I would figure out later that number two is simply the ready stance. (joombi)

Every time he fussed about how I was making a fist or where my left foot was I'd get flustered and pace around and shake my head. It's similar to what I've done sitting at the chess board after making some horrible move that my opponent has exploited. There were a few times that first night as I practiced those two steps by myself I was on the verge of tears. I was frustrated and and embarrassed as people walking past the do jang would be looking in the window at the class. The do jang is in a small shopping mall and the main classroom has large windows facing towards the other stores. Being closest to the window I felt like the runt of the litter in the pet shop window. "Mommy how come that little puppy isn't playing with the other puppies?"

It took me around 4 classes to learn those 10 steps and do it well enough to earn my first uniform patch. One thing that helped was a handout with pictures of Grandmaster Kim in each of the stances. I needed the cheat sheet to assist me when practicing at home. At the same I was getting the hang of that they started teaching me 4 basic blocks. These were confusing to me because I never could remember which arm should up or down, and which way my hands should be facing. There was no "cheat sheet" for that sequence and it was frustrating for me to try to practice that at home. Often the moment I walked out of class I didn't remember what I had learned. Hell there were days as soon as the master told me to practice on my own while he worked with somebody else, I'd totally forget what he had told me. On the one hand they want you to practice, but if you don't remember what they taught you it's hard to practice.

It usually takes a few classes before I'd know enough to have something I could practice at home. It took me more then the 7 to 15 repetitions that Tempo refers to in his excellent series of articles. Perhaps for me with my non-dominant hand form of dyslexia, steps that involve precise placement and movement of the left and right legs and arms go beyond the simple things that most people can learn by repeating it 7 to 15 times. The Korean masters work hard to make sure the student's form is correct, but often I don't understand what else they're telling me about what it is I'm actually doing. Sometimes in a large class they will have one of the black belts work with the newbies or junior belts. The four basic blocks began to make more sense when somebody could explain to me in simple English what part of the body I was trying to protect from what type of punch. I have to remind myself this is a form of self defense. Doing the four basic blocks without understanding defensive principles of them is kind of like learning an opening without understanding what you're trying to achieve in that particular opening.

I went through the same sort of process learning 10 elbow strikes. Once again until I learned what part of the body I was aiming for with each strike it didn't make much sense to me. Grandmaster Kim has a DVD with the Poomse (forms) that have to be learned at each level. The first chapter is an introduction and there's a brief clip where he is performing the 10 elbow strikes. I spent a lot of time just looking at that brief clip, stopping and starting it and running it in slow motion. At first my movements in class were big and exaggerated. I remember one evening in class this older woman watching and laughing as I was over exaggerating the movements to the point that I kept pulling a muscle in my back. She wasn't laughing at me. It was more about how the masters were trying to get me to aim to the right spot. It just looked pretty ridiculous at the time. Now as I do this particular exercise I can understand what Josh Waitzkin in his book "The Art of Learning" means by making smaller circles. It's a matter of fine tuning the movements and getting more out of each strike. I think it's similar to what the Knights Errant are doing as they get to later circles.

It took me two months to finally test to receive my white belt. The journey to yellow belt took even longer. I finally attained yellow after three months. A number of the students that started around the same as me are already at orange or green. My learning style is different and it's taken me longer to master the skills to move on.

That took longer because I missed three weeks of classes due to my Spain trip and then being sick. Coming back after a three week absence was hard. I had retained what I had learned for my white belt test, but I had lost much of what I had just started learning in late January and early February.

Each of those colored tapes on my belt represent a required component for promotion. The yellow is for 10 basic motions. The green is for the poomse which at this level is comprised of 20 movements. The blue is for Il Su Shik (one-step sparring). The red is for board breaking and the black is given to you when your ready to test.

The 10 basic motions are almost identical to the 4 basic blocks. The arm movements are similar but the stance and hand positions are different. It was only when I could make the connection to the similarities and differences that I could put them all together. Small things matter in terms of whether your arm is up or down, and whether your hand on the up arm is facing up or down. That drove me nuts trying to figure that out. It took someone explaining that the fist is rotating upward so it starts facing down. I don't process it correctly without understanding what is happening. For me it's not a matter of doing a movement I need to understand the the mechanics so that I'm getting the most from it.

The poomse for yellow is a 20 step form called Tiger 1. It's a combination of blocks, punches and stances that has one moving in 4 different directions. The challenge is remembering which direction one is going, what is being executed and which arm or leg is leading. Depending on the student they break it down into little chunks. I think I may have started with one and two. Then 1-4. Then 5-8 followed by 1-8. Gradually the remaining 12 steps were added in. Most of my progress on this form was made by staying for a second class on Friday evening that would be three teenage boys who were also white belts and me. With just the four of us working on the same thing I was able to concentrate getting the movements down without being distracted by other students working on different things.

Here I am performing Tiger 1 in my test. I still need work on my form. Shoulders should be straight forward.

I think the Il Su Shik (one-step sparring) was most difficult for me. I think that was because I'm doing it with a partner and I had to learn to respond to what the partner is doing. One partner is the attacker, and the other defends. Then the roles reverse. You do this a total of 6 times. 3 times as defender and 3 as attacker. (High, middle and low punches and blocks.) It was easy for me to get flustered working with a partner who could be my teen aged son if I had kids. I hate messing up as it is. It's worse when I'm messing up and making it hard for my partner to execute his moves correctly. The kids were patient with this lady older then their mother. None of the kids give me the infamous adolescent eye roll of "OMG I can't believe I'm doing this with somebody my parents' age."

I was happy that during the test there was an odd number and I got to have one of the black belt instructors as my partner. He had been in big help as I was trying to master this stuff.

The test ends with board breaking. Before we break the board we declare what bad habit we want to break. Breaking the board represents breaking that habit. I want to break the habit of beating up on myself so much. That will take time. The test was on a Thursday, and I got down on myself for pissing away another win into a draw to King Kong Sr, causing me to have my usual last round match up with "Please Wait".

Mission accomplished! Yellow belt in hand. Now it's time to go for orange. I'm hoping that my journey to orange will not take another three months. It shouldn't since I'm gaining more understanding of what I'm actually doing. The big overly optimistic goal is to do it in month, but the more doable goal is making it before I leave for Korea of June 30th. Stay tuned.