Saturday, December 18, 2010

Adventures in Chess Journalism: Getting there is half the fun!

I got back from Orlando on Monday.  It's taken me most of the week to catch my breath and collect my thoughts.  It was a busy weekend as I tried to keep track of what was happening in 13 different sections, and sort out who I had taken pictures of and who I still needed shots of.  Multitasking was the operative word as I juggled my various tasks over the course of the three days.  However getting there was probably my biggest challenge.

In the past I've usually traveled on the same flight with the kids on our team.  We would get down early so the kids could play in the blitz tournament.  However this year people made all of their own travel arrangements.  Some came down Wednesday so they could go to Disney or Universal and then play in the bughouse tournament Thursday morning.  Other came down Thursday morning so they would get there for the blitz.  I had three classes to teach on Thursday so instead of trying to get substitutes I decided to do my three classes.  Chess teachers don't get paid vacation, so I decided it was worth teaching the classes and taking a later flight.

My last class on Thursdays is in Manhattan on the Upper East Side.  It finished at 4:00 pm, so I had 2.5 hours to get to JFK airport and still have an hour before my 7:29 departure.  There are two things I don't like to do during rush hour.  One is try to take a bus to the airport.  The other is to take a taxi to the airport.  The fastest way around New York City is by train.  However unlike some of the wonderful cities I've visited where there is direct train service in and out of the city to the airport and back, New York sorely lacks in that department.  Chicago has the Blue Line into city and easy transfers.  San Francisco has BART into Powell St.  Seattle recently put in a direct train from SeaTac. Then there is London and Paris where it's easy to get to and from the airport.  So what the hell is New York's problem?

It's relatively easy if you're near Penn Station.  You can take the LIRR out to Jamaica and catch the Sky train there.  However 82nd St and Lexington Avenue is 3 different trains to get to Penn Station.  Lexington Avenue line to Grand Central, shuttle train from Grand Central to Times Square and then #1, 2 or 3 line to Penn Station.  Once you get there you still have to get a ticket for the LIRR train.  I hate Penn Station under normal circumstances.  It's the basement, the ceiling are low and feels claustrophobic. It's even worse during rush hour.  I really didn't want to deal with my luggage, getting a ticket and dealing with all the crazed commuters trying to get home.

I decided I would adventuresome and try to do the entire trip by subway.  I got on the subway and when I got to 59th St. I thought one of the train lines that goes straight out to the Sky Train left from 59th St.  I was wrong, however I really nice lady explained what I needed to do.  She said take the R strain one stop to Queens Plaza and transfer to the E train.  The E would take me right to the Sky Train.  The next train that pulled in was an N train going to Queensboro Plaza.  I figured that was same thing.  However if I looked at a subway map before I got on the train I would have discovered that Queens Plaza and Queensboro Plaza are two distinct stops that have nothing to do with each other except they both begin with Queens and end with Plaza.

Oh crap! Now I'm in Queens, but not sure whether the train I'm on is going where I want to go.  I look at the subway map to see if the N line has a place where there's a transfer to the E.  It looks like there is, but I ask someone to see if I'm right.  She tells me I need to get on the 7 train, and transfer.  She tells me to follow her.  So we get off the N train in a few stops and get on the number 7 train.  I have no idea where I'm going at this point, but I'm putting my faith in this stranger that she'll get me to the E train.  In the mean time I'm starting look at my watch nervously, wondering if I'd make it on time to catch my flight.  Fortunately I wasn't checking any bags and my frequent flyer status on American would get me through security quicker. I also had purposely left myself plenty of time to get from the upper East side to JFK.

My guardian angel tells me we're going to change from the number 7 express to the local because the express skips the stop I need.  We get off the train and wait for a local.  Again I'm glancing at my watch, but I still have over two hours until departure.  It just means less time in the Admiral's Club to surf the internet and finish up the previous post.  A local train pulls in.  She tells me that she's getting off at the next stop, and that I should go one more stop. She tells me the E train is all the way at the bottom of that subway stop. She told me there were elevators to the bottom.  However when I got off the train I couldn't find them right away so I started walking down many flights of steps with my suitcase and backpack.  On one level I did find the elevators, but there were a number of people waiting so I just kept taking the stairs.

Finally I get to the platform for the E train.  It was obvious which side of the platform I wanted.  I could safely eliminate the side with Manhattan bound trains on it.  I spent way too much time getting out of Manhattan.  I knew I didn't want to go back.  I still didn't know how long it would take me to get to the Sky Train.  Nor did I know how long the ride on the Sky Train took to get to JFK.  However at this point I was just relieved to be on the right train. Finally I knew where I was going, and no longer felt like some dumb out of town tourist without a clue.  I pride myself on being a savvy New Yorker who can help tourists get where they want to go on the subway.  I guess every once in awhile it doesn't hurt to have someone return the favor.

I finally got to JFK and to terminal 8.  I couldn't believe how dead it was.  Even if I had a bag to check it would have taken no time at all.  I already had my boarding pass so I just went straight to security and breezed right through.  The hardest part was pulling myself back together once I got through.  Now I remember why when I'm traveling I don't normally wear pants that require a belt.  It's just one more thing to have to fuss with at security and when using the bathroom.  That morning I put on normal work clothes because the new travel outfit I got really didn't fit right.  The pants I grabbed are a little big in the waist so a belt is necessary.  Note to self: When traveling never wear pants have a zipper and need a belt.  There is a reason woman's travel clothes always have an elastic waistband.

The flight was very uneventful. I saw a few familiar faces of other chess people heading down for the tournament.  When I got off the plane I hooked up with one of the other coaches I knew.  He too hadn't checked any luggage.  He was also taking the Disney Magic Express to the hotel.  It's a free shuttle to the hotel and if your flight arrives before 10:00 PM they'll pick up your luggage and deliver it to your room.  Our flight didn't get in until 10:30 PM, so that wasn't an option for me. I didn't really care, especially since I had checked luggage anyway.   I'd never used the shuttle service before since in past trips I've traveled with the team, and we would have vans take us to the hotel.  Jeremy had used it on his last trip, but couldn't remember where it was.  We spent a lot of time wandering around the A concourse looking for the bus and finally found out we needed to go to the B concourse.  It would have helped if I read the instructions that had been mailed along with my bus vouchers.  DUH!

However at least I had read the part about the luggage transfer service not being available after 10:00 PM.  One of the other coaches did not read that part, and left his bag at the airport to be transferred to the hotel.  It was only when he got to the hotel that he found out that his bag was not being picked up and he needed to go get it himself.  By the time he went back to the airport, found his bag, and came back it was well past 1:00 am.  So much for a good night's sleep before Friday's games.  Fortunately round 1 wasn't until 1:00 pm.  That still gave him plenty of time to sleep in and still help prep any of his students who wanted to do a last minute review before the first round.

I was happy that I got a room in building 3 which was just as close as building 1 to the convention center and main part of the hotel.  My colleague with the AWOL suitcase ended out in one of the buildings on the other side of the lake.  The first year we attended this tournament at this site we were in one of those buildings far away from the convention center.   When we came back two years later we made a point of booking early and getting into building 1.  This year I had made my own reservation, but I was hoping one of the early arrivals from the team could check me in.  However they needed my photo ID.  At least she was able to request that I be put as close to the rest of the group as possible.  Building 3 was fine. 

I don't mind the walk around the lake.  I did numerous laps around the lake with various people during the course of the weekend.  It was a nice way to catch up with people without being interrupted by questions or the overwhelming desire to hunt for the next picture or story.  Sometimes the only way to relax is to just go for a walk far from the action.  I needed the walk breaks in order to clear my mind, and mull over possible ideas. Fortunately as the tournament progressed it was easier to come up with ideas for my story.

Stay tuned...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Black Is Beautiful!

I'm not referring to how I play with the Black pieces.  I'm referring to my new Tae Kwon Do belt.

Black Belt - 1st Dan

The week before Thanksgiving I did my Black Belt test.  Somebody in the comments section asked me if I passed.  If you make it to the Black Belt test, you're not failing.  You've made it that far because you met all the training requirements, including a 24 hour fast, a three hour meditation and successfully passed four other tests (gup tests).  I suppose it's possible screw up so badly at the Black Belt test that they make you do it over again.  However that would mean pulling the all-time choke job.

I actually was pretty relaxed going into the test.  I think I was more nervous during the four gup tests I had done in the last year.  I think that's because I never knew what I would have to do.  I would be told I would be doing certain color belt forms, but most times I ended out doing other ones instead.  It often depended what color belts were testing at the same time.  For this test we knew exactly what forms and one-step sparring routines we would do and we knew what type of breaks we would do.

Everything I did leading up to board breaking had gone well.  I didn't mix up the forms and I remembered all the defensive moves in the one-step sparring.  In the picture below I'm completing the take down move of this particular sequence.

After all the forms and sparring, Grandmaster Kim had us doing pushups, situps, some endurance drills of 100 punches and then 100 kicks.  The 100 kicks are particularly exhausting.  In the picture below I'm doing the 100 punches.  If you look at the picture you'll notice I'm the lone adult on that one row.  That's what happens when you're the shortest adult test candidate.  There were 5 people in each row.  With 14 children there three row of kids, but I filled out the last spot in the last row of kids.

Fortunately in Tae Kwon Do I don't have to compete against kids like I do in chess.  Given my "success" in chess against kids I found it kind of amusing that I would be the one adult in the row of little kids.  There were two teenage kids in the row behind me.  Teenagers are treated like adults in these tests.

By my feet is the board that I was supposed to break using a speed chop.  I hold the board in one hand and break it with the other hand.  The Monday before the test we had a board breaking class.  In that class I nailed my breaks.  The speed chop and back kick breaks I did on my first try.  The spinning hook kick break took a few tries.  However that was vast improvement over the previous month where I had a lot of difficulty with it.

Notice everyone else is watching because they're all done.

For what ever reason I could not do the speed chop on the first try.  Nor could I do it on the second, third or 4th try.  Each attempt got me more flustered and my focus was rapidly vanishing.  Finally they held the board and had me attempt the chop.  I still couldn't do it.  They finally had me do a hammer fist break.  The hammer fist break is the most basic break.  That's the break a new student does in the trial lesson.  It's also the break that a newbie does in his first belt test.  Here I am having to resort to that break to do a hand break.  Note: Last week in board breaking class I once again nailed it on the first try.

Once the speed chop went awry I could not get my focus back to perform the back kick and spinning hook kicks.  Again I was the last one to finish.  I eventually got the back kick done but they held up two children's boards instead of the regular board.  The spinning hook kick did not happen at all.  That's a kick I have difficulty with even under normal circumstances.  Under pressure to perform I couldn't do it.

What happened during that portion of the test reminds me of some of my chess meltdowns.  It's hard for me to get back on track when I'm still thinking about what happened before.  Since taking up Tae Kwon Do I have found many similarities in the mind skills necessary for chess and martial arts.   The same type of concentration and focus is needed to progress and be successful in both.  As I discovered in this test, the loss of focus or inability to move on can disrupt one's form in Tae Kwon Do just as much as it can in chess.  I know doing a martial art has helped me in chess though at times my results don't necessarily reflect it.  I've been working on a post reflecting on my Black Belt training and preparation and how it compares to chess training.  I will finish it eventually!

This picture was taken at the Black Belt Tea Ceremony that was held several weeks after the test.  One does not receive the new black belt at the test like one does for color belts.  Instead there is a waiting period and then this formal ceremony where you are presented your belt. It's a lovely ceremony and steeped in much Korean tradition.  Grandmaster Kim ties each belt first around his waist and then around the recipient's waist.  The reason behind this is a symbolic gesture of the bond between teacher and student.  The teacher being loyal to his student and his student being loyal to her teacher.

I started this post Wednesday night. I continued working on it sitting in the airline lounge at JFK yesterday evening.  I'm finishing it in between rounds at the National K-12 Championships in Orlando.  I will be taking pictures for Chess Life Online and also writing another article for Chess Life.  Come back for the adventures of Polly the chess journalist.  Getting to the airport was just the beginning of my adventures.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving.  To my readers abroad have a nice Thursday. :-)  At least for a week I can hold on to the 30 rating points gained on Monday.

Usually at this time I'm off to play in some Thanksgiving weekend tournament.  This year I decided to stay home.  For once this travel crazy chess player is tired of traveling this year.  So there will be no train wrecks at LAX or a blogger get together in Redmond, WA.  I am thankful for a nice weekend at home, and the chance to visit old friends.

By the way I did my Black Belt test last Saturday.  It went pretty well except some problems with board breaking.  It reminded me a little of what sometimes happens to me during a chess game.  I will be back later to share some observations on this past year of intense Tae Kwon Do review, and how it relates to chess.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday Money Madness

There are the behind the scenes part of a director/organizer's day that many players never get to see much of.  Players show up for a tournament, pay their entry, get their pairings and start playing.  A good director/organizer makes the process appear to be seamless.  Players will sometimes take for granted how well a tournament is run, and the timeliness of rating report submissions.  That's assuming everything goes smoothly.  It doesn't matter how good one is at running tournaments, sometimes Murphy can show up.

As my regular readers know I run a chess club on Monday nights.  Sometimes I direct and play and on other days I just direct.  It all depends on the number of players.  As long as there's Internet access I'm content to direct only.  However if my playing avoids giving byes I will play.  How I structure the sections depends a lot on who shows up and the rating distribution.  Sometimes I run quads which are 4 player round robins.  Other times I may run 6 player Swiss sections.  It's always a delicate balancing act as I try to keep everyone satisfied with their competition.

These Monday night tournaments are not big money events.  I charge a $10 entry fee and there's a $40 first prize.  The larger sections will usually have a second prize too.  Since I pay out the prizes on the spot, I just take cash.  I had one player who always wanted to give me a check.  That would have been fine since I could have him make the check out to cash and cash it myself. However there would be times he'd post date the check and forget to tell me.   After one trip too many to the bank only to have the teller inform me the check was post dated, I told him no more checks.  I didn't want to be the guy's personal banker. 

Cash works great until I get the occasional player who shows up with a hundred dollar bill and wants $90 back in change.  It's hard to pay out a bunch of small prizes when all my cash is in the form of a hundred dollar bill.  I know I'm going to get players showing up with twenties so I usually try to show up with some tens in my wallet so I can make change.  On Mondays I end out playing various games to get extra change during the course of the day.  One of my tricks is to give the parking garage guy a twenty for $4.00 parking. Sometimes he gets a little cranky and asks me if I have something smaller.  I apologize and say no even though I may have a five sitting in my wallet.

Last Monday I had a fifty that somebody had given me for some work I did.  I figured I would get rid of the fifty at the gas station where the cash price is five cents cheaper then using a credit card.  I get gas and it comes out to $33.00. I hand him the $50 thinking to myself "Great I'll get $17.00 in change."  He asks me if I have $3.00.  I could have be obnoxious and said no, but I was nice and scrounged up two ones and four quarters.  He doesn't even say thank you as he hands me back a twenty.  That's the second time he's been rude to me.  I decided I'm not going back to that station.  Although the trip to gas station did allow me to get rid of the fifty, I'm still stuck with a twenty.

I did manage to find $30 worth of tens and ones at home so I would be going to the chess club with $50 in hand.  If there's a Murphy Law of handling tournament registration it would be "The first  people to enter will not have exact change."  Sure enough the first player who shows up comes in with a twenty.  I go into my wallet, take out the two tens, put the twenty in my wallet, give the player one ten and put the other 10 in the entry fee kitty.  I have to be very precise in the sequence that I use to handle tournament money and making change from my personal money.  That's because there have been times where I've shorted myself because I put the twenty in the entry fee kitty and not replaced it my wallet, or I've put everything in my wallet and nothing in the entry kitty.  On a bad night I end out handing the two tens back to the player.  I would not make a good cashier.

The next player that comes in hands me a fifty.  That wipes out any sort of change I might have in my wallet.  I hand him my two twenties and put the 10 ones in the entry fee kitty.  Eventually as players come in I start accumulating tens.  I actually get to a point where I can give change.   It looks like my day is going to end the same way it began with me having a fifty dollar bill in my wallet and no other cash.

When I'm taking entries I'm having to multi-task between collecting money, writing down who paid, and entering names on the computer.  I always have a couple of players who come in near the end of registration.  They're regulars at the club and their ratings are such that it gives me some flexibility in terms of how I'm going to divide up the sections.  It appeared that I had 14 players so it looked like the best format would be two quads at the top and a six player Swiss at the bottom.  My top quad had four masters in it.  The second quad had four experts in it.  Those sections were perfect.  The 6 player section had an ugly rating distribution starting with a 1990 followed by a 1750 and then going down to 1150.  Sometimes you can't make everyone happy.  For the most part players at my club would rather play up then down.  Some don't really care.

I set up the three sections and then read off the pairings.  One of the latecomers asks me "Who am I playing? I didn't hear my name."  I realized that I had written his name down and taken his entry fee, but not put him in the computer.  That meant I was going to have put myself in the tournament and redo the bottom section.  Now having 8 players, I decided to make two more quads.  So much for me having an evening where I could catch up on blogging and not have to play.  I wanted to analyze a couple of my games from the previous week's lose-a-thon.  (0-3 on Monday followed by 0-4 on Thursday.)  This would be the third week in a row that I was playing on Monday night, and it would be the third week in a row that I had Alan and Hubert in my quad. 

I was concerned that my 7 game losing streak could balloon to 10 games if I had a repeat of last week's results.  Once again I was at the bottom of the quad and would start off with Black against the number one player.  To make a long story short, I did lose to the number one player rated 1990.  However I bounced back and avenged last weeks losses against Alan and Hubert by beating both of them.  I will put the games in a separate post as it was interesting to see how I adjusted my play against both of them.

It's time to pay out the prizes, but there's still this matter of the fifty dollar bill in my wallet.  Since I had to enter myself into the tournament at the last second I had not put in my $10 entry fee.  This meant I would have to take $40 worth of change to put in my $10 from the fifty.  I resolved the issue by giving the fifty to one of the winners who I had given change to at the start of the evening, and got the ten back that I had given him earlier.

Perhaps a fitting end to my day was going out to a diner with a few players after the tournament.  When it came time to settle the bill, I gave one of the guys a twenty for my $7.00 portion of the bill.  Finally I got my change of a twenty that I was trying to get from the snarly gas station attendant.  I think next time I'll go to the bank and ask the teller for 5 tens for my fifty.

BTW I have another fifty in my wallet after last night's tournament.  Once again I was a reluctant last minute entrant.  However it worked out well as I scored 2.5 out of 3 and won my section.  I took the fifty and gave back ten.  Let's see if I can break it before next Monday without pissing off some merchant.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Get Over It!

What does one say? "Do as I say, not as I do."  How often have I told a student after a tough loss "Forget about that game.  Think about your next game"?  How often have I not been able to follow my own advice?  Probably more times then I've admitted to in various posts to this blog.  Usually the dwelling on a bad game just impacts the rest of the games in that particular tournament.  Last year's American Open comes to mind. However sometimes a game like the one in my last post can come back to haunt one several tournaments later.

I had lost that game on a Thursday and the following Monday I ended out playing because there was an odd number.  There was nothing spectacularly great or awful about the tournament.  I got paired against a 2000 in the first round and lost.  In the second round I got paired against Silvio for what seems like the gazillianth time, but was actually only the 110th time.  I beat him for the 61st time.  In round three I got paired against one of my former students who is little higher rated then me, and I lost.  No big deal. I've lost to him before.  I got outplayed and also had clock issues.

Two days later I played at the Westchester Chess Club in a one game a week slow tournament.  The time limit was Game/80 so time pressure implosions should not have been an issue.  In fact what occurred had nothing to do with the clock except perhaps I should have used more of it.  We reached the following position after 32...Kc4.

I was delighted with my position.  I felt it was easily won ending, especially after he allowed me to trade off the last bishop pair.  Fritz gives the position - + (-9.22) for Black.  I had made the move 32...Kc4 rather quickly because I was so relived that he had not played 32. Kd3 before I could get my king in. I was a little concerned about his queen side majority so I wanted my king close to the action over there.  I've lost too many "won" games by allowing the opponent to convert on the queen side, including the round 4 train wreck at LAX.

After I played the move he played 33. b5.  In my brief analysis leading up to my Kc4 move I determined 33. b5 was no big deal because after 33...axb5 34. axb5 I just play Kxb5.  Then I realized to my horror that he isn't going to play 34. axb5.  he's going to play 34. a5!  It was at this point I just totally lost my internal cool, and had a serious analytical and emotional meltdown.  I didn't think I could get my king back in time to stop his pawn.  Instead of taking a deep breath, looking at the position and do a little counting I went on one of those emotional beat downs.  I got really angry with myself and started thinking "Here you go again.  You have a totally won position.  You get overconfident and play too fast.  This is a friggin' repeat of last Thursday! How can you keep doing this to yourself, especially against these players you're supposed to beat?"

 With all of that going through my mind and trust me friggin is the PG13 version of what really was going through my mind it's hard to find this simple solution.  34... Kc5 35. Kd3 e4+ 36. Kc2 b4 37. a6 Kb6. Instead the game continued 32... Kc4 33. b5 axb5 34. a5 b4 35. a6 b3 36. Kd2 e4 37. a7 to reach the position below.

I still have drawing resources and potentially winning chances if White misplays it. 37... e3+ 38. Kxe3 is forced otherwise after 38. Kc1 I can play 38...e2 39. Kd2 b2 40. a8/Q e1/Q+ 41. Kxe1 b1/Q+b2. If he plays 38. Kxe3 the line would go 38...b2 39. a8=Q b1=Q 40. Qc6+ Kb3

 However because I was still kicking myself over my alleged mistake of Kc4 I didn't see those moves.  Instead I resigned myself to his queening his a pawn and me trying shove the b or e pawn through to get my own queen.  Needless to say it did not work.  Here is the game from move 32 onward.


Since this particular game I have managed to get over the meltdown. I analysed the position and realized I had not thrown it away at the moment that I thought I had.  I threw it away when I lost control of what was going through my mind at the time.  I've been making a conscious effort to keep my thoughts on what's really happening on the board.  It's meant slowing down which at times causes clock issues, especially when playing "cracktion."  I've had some up and down results.  Unfortunately mostly down.  One Monday night I scored 2.5 out of 3 and picked 47 rating points. The following Monday I went 0-3 and lost 35 rating points.  Two out of my three opponents were the same both weeks. I lost another 4 games last night in the Thursday "cracktion" event.  Right now I'm on a 7 game losing streak, but I'm not overly concerned at this point.  I've gotten the emotions back under control, but I know I need to do work on my openings.  Some of my recent games I've just not done well out of the opening.  I almost feel like I don't remember how to play my openings.

However the chess stuff can wait.  In 8 days I will be finally doing my Black Belt test.  I've been very focused in sharping my technique.  It's taken me over a year since my last color belt promotion to reach this point.  It's been a lot of reviewing of things I learned at the lower belts.  It's also been refreshing my memory on things I forgot.  At times it's been frustrating as I've done the same things over and over again, and have not learned new forms.  However the benefit of spending so much time on the old stuff is I know it really well now, and I've sharpened my technique.  When this is done I will analyze how and what I did leading up to this test and see how I can apply to refreshing my chess memory.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wacky Wednesday: Eating My Words

A few weeks ago I shared part of my Black Belt essay, and then ended the post with the following:

I'm still working on how to transfer the focusing and self-discipline piece to chess.  I'm encouraged by the fact that I've managed to not toss away winning positions by losing focus, and getting distracted by external factors.  Every time I've gotten a winning position recently, I've reminded myself that it's not a win until checkmate, the opponent's flag falls or he resigns. 

I guess this blog would get pretty boring if all I showed were mundane wins and losses with no good story behind the result.  I don't think it's my deep and insightful analysis of the moves themselves that draw most people to this blog.  There are far better players and annotators out there that can provide the deep analysis of various positions.  What I have to offer is another train wreck story which would not have occurred if I had been able to make an earlier train.

In a recent Thursday night cracktion tournament I was having a bad night. I dropped 2 pawns against an IM within the first 20 moves.  By move 26 those pawns were being shoved down my throat. In the second round I played a kid rated over 200 points lower rated then me who seemed to want to do nothing but trade and go for a draw.  She got her wish because it was just a nothing position and I couldn't see anything worth playing for.  In the third round I played another kid and I managed to get my knight and bishop forked on move 14.  It just went downhill from there.

It was one of those nights if the round 4 pairings had "Please Wait" next to my name I would have probably given the tournament director a kiss.  Making the 11:15 train would have made my day.  However on a bad night things don't work out that way.  It was one of those nights where the pairings were up 20 minutes early but my opponent had left the building.  Every single player in the tournament got to start 15 to 20 minutes early except me.  I couldn't even start his clock before 10:45 because that was the scheduled start time.

Up until this summer I had this kid's number.  Every time we would play he would have some meltdown and after losing a piece would resign.  Some kids wait far too long to resign but this kid sometimes resigns without even trying to put up a fight.  After drawing with me in June he started beating me in July.  From July to early October we played 4 times and he won every game.  I'm not so sure it was him improving tremendously or me just having lots of time management issues.  Whatever the reasons now he had my number.

I was till a little annoyed about our last game which ended out being a draw.  It was annoying because I had filled in for one round and had to play him.  He just started trading things off and we ended out in a bishops of opposite colors ending with an even number of pawns.  I offered him a draw after playing 32...Ke6 to reach the following position.

There was not going to be any clock issues.  We both had about 15 minutes left.  I think I could hold a draw in the position even with 2 seconds and delay on my clock. He refuses the draw. What? He trades down and then refuses the draw?  The game continues 33. Bc3 Bc6, 34. g3 f5 35. Ba5 g6 36. Bc7 a6 At this point all my pawns are on light squares and his king can't get in. We were not using my clock or set.  The clock owner wants to leave, so I get my clock and set it with the correct times. I give him back his clock.  Then he says "that's my board and set."  I'm thinking "Am I really going to have to get out another set and set up this position because my opponent wants to keep playing on?" 

Most of the time I will not say anything and will quietly stew over what is happening, but I couldn't help myself. I asked my opponent "Are you really going to make me get out another set in order to play out this ridiculous position?" He looks at me like he has no idea what I'm asking.  I finally say "I'm offering another draw. Do you really want to keep playing out this position?" He takes the draw and I give the other player his set and board. 

Afterward I ask my opponent why he wanted play the position out. He tells me his dad isn't coming for another 45 minutes and he's bored. I offered to play blitz chess with him, but he declined.  Then I made the observation that he was better at one point in the game and wondered why he didn't opt to recapture with his rook at one point. Recapturing with the rook would have given him a battery on the d file. He tells me he doesn't feel like he's good enough to try to win against me.  What the hell?  He's beaten me the last 4 times we've played and he's telling me he's not good enough to try to play for an advantage against me!  He blames his winning on my blundering.  Yes I did blunder in our games, but he was making things difficult which in 3 of the games put me in bad time pressure.

Back to round 4 on that Thursday.  I'm irritated because; 1) I was played like crap all evening.  2) I really didn't want to be playing the last round, but I don't like to drop out and stick somebody with the bye when I'm having a crappy tournament.  I was so hoping to get the bye and go home early.  3) Everyone else has started early and I'm still waiting for 10:45 to come so I can start his clock. Finally I can start his clock.  He still hasn't come back.  Now I'm thinking to myself "So help me if he left thinking he told Steve he was taking a bye for the last round I'm going to kill him!" I've actually have had that happen to me.  I've been paired against someone whose coach was supposed to tell Steve he wasn't playing the last round, and the coach forgets.  I have to sit there for 30 minutes until his time runs out.

Finally my opponent comes in at 10:52 so I have a 7 minute edge on the clock.  Just like our last game he has White and plays the c3 Sicilian.  I have mixed feelings about this line.  It can be annoying at times, but I'll take transposing into it versus accepting the pawn in the Smith-Morra.  I decided I would play a little more actively and not necessarily make every trade offered to me.  After 7. Nc3 instead of trading right away I played 7...Bb4.  I did trade after he broke the pin with 9. Bd2.  I was interested in seeing whether he would try to trade down again.  After I played 9...Bxc3 he recaptured with 10. bxc3.

One of the problems with having a big edge on the clock is the temptation to move too fast.  For the most part I didn't feel like I was rushing my moves, but I did miss several opportunities to either win a piece or the exchange.  The first opportunity on move 20.  I saw the move after I played a different move.  I won a pawn on move 27 and then went conservative trying to nurse my pawn advantage and the big edge on the clock.  I figured I might just be able to squeeze him and run him out of time.

Then something bad happened.  I was winning the exchange.  Normally that's a good thing, but not when the mind set switches from play safe and squeeze it out to "I'm going crush this sucker!"  We reached the position below after I played 34...Ng5.

My opponent had a dejected look on his face after my knight move.  In a number of the games where I've beaten him he's resigned the moment he drops a piece.  Given his past, I'm thinking to myself "He's going to resign soon.  I'm going to be up an exchange and pawn and he has less then two minutes left and I have 10 minutes."  He didn't resign.  Instead he played 35. Qb2.  I see that there's a discovered check after 35...Nxf3 36. Nxf3+.  I didn't think the discovered check was a big deal after the recapture.  Instead of moving my king off the diagonal and eliminating the discovered check, I mindlessly played 35...Nxf3.  In my rush to crush him in time pressure I neglected to notice that he doesn't bother to recapture on f3.  Instead he plays the killer knight move 36. Ne6 + +.  It took me a moment to realize it was not a simple discovered check, but instead it was double check that had no outs for me.  My two choices were 36...Kh7 or 36...Kg8.  Both moves are answered with 37. Qg7#.

I stared at the position for probably a minute or two just soaking in what had happened.  I look up at my opponent and just shook my head and laughed.  I couldn't believe how an easily won game quickly turned into mate in one for my opponent.  Laughing was about the only thing I could do at that point.  I suppose crying or sweeping the pieces off the board in a fit of anger might have been a more normal response.  However there was just something utterly comical about expecting a resignation from my opponent, and instead being the one that was doing the resigning.  I was not going to make the king move hoping he didn't see it.  It was clear from the speed at which he played the last two moves that he went for a desperate cheapo and it was successful on his part.  I wasn't going to allow the game to end in mate.

Here's the game in it's entirety.


It wasn't until the train ride home that I realized how I let myself lose focus and got over-confident.  It was stupid on my part.  The rook was going nowhere even after I spend a move to get my king off the diagonal.  His rook will still be pinned.  There's a fine line between self-confidence versus over-confidence.  I'm not there yet.  I would have another one of those moments the following week in a slow game at the Westchester Chess Club.  I did bounce back this past Monday with 2.5 out of 3 and a nice gain of points.  I continually need to keep my emotions and focus in check.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


As promised in my last post, I would start writing about chess again.  So here it is; a post that's completely about chess. 

A few weeks ago I did a lecture for one of my chess classes.  I showed one of my favorite games that Judith Polgar played back in 1988 at the tender age of 12.  It's short, but full of wonderful tactics and ends with a spectacular queen sacrifice.  When I show the game I bring up a few different themes in terms of development, removing the defender tactic and square weaknesses.

J. Polgar

Position after 12...Qb6

It's easy to see from the little arrow that Black is threatening White's bishop.  I typically ask the students what the threat is, and how to defend against the threat.  Most students can see that the bishop is hanging, but I'll get various answers on how defend. Answers range from moving the bishop to guarding with a4.  Some students will come up with Polgar's move 13. Nc3. With a more advanced class, the students will be able to explain that the move not only defends the bishop, but completes White's development by connecting the rooks on the back row.  With a group that hasn't quite gotten the hang of opening principles it's an excellent example of how to complete one's development.

After 13...Bxe5 14. Rae1 Bxc3 15. bxc3 this gives me a chance to discuss the tactic: removing the defender.  Even though Black erred in going this route it's still a good example of how remove a defender, leading to the win of a piece.  However in this particular position 15...Qxb5 is a blunder. This leads into the last lesson of weak squares.  Exchanging off the fianchettoed bishop protecting the king is dangerous if one is not getting the same color square bishop in return.  Polgar punished Black with 16. Qh6. No matter how Black defends she can't stop White from mating.

Here's the complete game with the crushing queen sacrifice on move 17.


I did that lesson on a Tuesday, and on Thursday I would play a game with another female where we would both be giving up our fianchettoed bishops for some other then the same color squared bishop.  It was the race to see who could mate first on g2 or g7.  Admittedly the game was sloppy on both our parts leading up to the crucial position.  This was one game where Caissa blessed me with kindness.

Position after 27. Qd2??

Here is where Caissa truly smiled on me.  Move order is the difference between life and death in this position.  Black played 27...Nxf1+? which causes the game to continue 28. Rxf1 Bxf1 threatening mate in two with 29...Qh3+ 30. Kg1 Qg2#.  I defend against the mate with 29. Qh6. creating my own mate threat of 30. Qg7#

However if Black reversed the move order by playing 27...Bxf1!, it leaves White with the unpleasant choices of 28. Rxf1 Nxf1+ forking the king and queen or  29. Qxe3 Qh3+ 30. Kg1 Qg2#.  Fortunately that move order did not occur so I was able to play 29. Qh6 to reach the position below.

Position after 29. Qh6!

Once again Caissa smiled on me as Black played 29....Kf7?? allowing me 30. Nd6+ forking her king and queen.  She could have defended with 29...Qh3+. After 30. Qxh3 Bxh3 31. Nd6 Bd7 we'll end out in a complex position with White having two pawns for being down the exchange.  Given that we were playing cracktion and both were under 8 minutes who knows how it would have gone.  I'm not sure Caissa would have given me another second chance.
Here is the entire game.  It was rather sloppy  I probably should have been punished by Caissa for my play, but maybe she was just being kind knowing how the last two rounds would go for me, two ugly losses after an ugly win.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Write Stuff

My posting has been rather sporadic as of late.  I have been playing some chess in September and October with mixed results.  Some games have been pretty good, and other games just butt ass ugly!  I will confess a majority of the games have been played at the "cracktion" time control of G/30.  On a positive note there weren't many time pressure induced implosions.  On a not so positive note some the games I got smashed out of the opening or missed simple tactics early before time became a factor.  In those cases blaming the clock doesn't help.

I have been doing a great deal of writing for the past two months, but it hasn't been blog related.  As my regular readers know, I am testing for Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do in November.  At our school the requirements for becoming a Black Belt go beyond knowing the forms, breaking boards and sparring.  We have to do a fast, go on a group hike, read a book and write a book report on it, write an essay and do a 3 hour sitting meditation.  Yes, "Ms. Can't Sit Still During a Long Chess Game" actually sat still for 3 hours! I did have to change leg position sometimes because sitting cross legged for such a long time tends to hurt after awhile.  No I can't put my legs up on top each other like the very limber yoga types or even like Grandmaster Kim did for the meditation.

The essay we had to write was about our goals in Tae Kwon Do, and benefits we receive from Tae Kwon Do.  Being one of many words I wrote an eight page essay on the topic.  I wanted to share the benefits portion of the essay because I think a lot of what I've gained through Tae Kwon Do transfers over to chess.  In these last couple of months as my Tae Kwon Do training has intensified I've started to actually see that some of what I've gotten from the sport is transferring  to chess.  There are still technical elements that I need to work on in chess, but some of the psychological elements are falling into place.  If I can get back to the technical elements (tactics training, opening preparation and end game study) I believe I can perhaps get my rating back over 1800.

Black Belt Essay


"I would see ads in the newspaper for various martial arts schools.  Each ad would tout the benefits of martial arts for children with phrases such as “Develops self-discipline.” “Improves their behavior at home and school”, “Builds self –confidence”.  The marketing to adults was more on the line of physical fitness, self-defense and losing weight, with no mention of self-discipline or self-confidence.  I would look at these ads and think to myself “Couldn’t adults get some of the same benefits that were being marketed to kids?”  I knew I sure could use a dose of self-discipline and self-confidence to help me find some direction in my chaotic dyslexic ADHD driven life.

For a number of years on trips to Borders bookstore I sometimes would stop and look in the window of Grandmaster Kim’s and watch the kids doing class.  I think even one time I walked in and asked about adult classes, but got scared off by the time commitment and the cost.  At that time I wasn’t ready.  It was on one of those trips to Borders that I saw 6 adult women taking class during the day.  That was when I walked through the doors and signed up for a trial lesson, “and the rest is history”, or so they say.

The rest is not history.  It’s journey that started the day I took that trial lesson, and decided I wanted to learn Tae Kwon Do.  I’m sure Instructor Mitchell probably wasn’t convinced he would make a sale from that trial lesson.  I think one of the first questions I asked upon seeing him bring out a board with the paper work was, “You’re not going to have me break that?”  Yes he was going to have me break a board before our time was up.  I kept saying there was no way I could break that board.  Talk about needing self-confidence!   I did break a board in that lesson, just not the one he initially brought out.  I was so afraid of hurting my hand, he had me break a children's board instead.

The trial lesson convinced me that Tae Kwon Do was something I needed in my life.  I signed up for a one-year program and paid for the whole thing up front.  I figured that would be good motivation to get me going in a new direction.  I left the school that day with a crisp new dobak and a student handbook. 

After having read the student handbook several times, I decided it was time to fill in the Personal Goals section in the back of the book. 


Fill in three things you would like to improve or accomplish through Tae Kwon Do.

This is what I wrote at the time:

 Build up confidence and self-esteem.
Develop better focus and concentration.

Get stronger physically and mentally.

These were pretty general goals.  They weren’t as specific as what was quoted at the bottom of the page. “My Goal is to be a Black Belt, Instructor, Master and Grandmaster!”

At the time I didn’t have such ambitions.  After my first class my goal was to make through my second class without having another meltdown, and perhaps get past #2 of Kam Sa Hyung. The idea that I could become a Black Belt seemed absurd at the time.  In fact I had told myself before I even started taking classes that I wasn’t going to get wrapped up in this whole “belt thing.”  I just wanted to get a workout and see if I could learn to focus better.

It would take me 3 weeks to get my first patch.  I found it humiliating to come in week after week with this plain white uniform with no patches on it.  In my mind having a totally unadorned uniform screamed out “Total newbie!”  I felt like people were looking at me and thinking, “She is so hopeless, she’ll be gone in a month.”

What I was feeling was not what was actually happening. I was not being made fun of, instead what I found was a group of very supportive people who were at various stages of their Tae Kwon Do journey.  Every single person whether he was a White Belt, or a seasoned Master said the same thing, “I started in the same place.”  These people were able to help encourage me, and explain things that I was having trouble understanding.

Benefits of Tae Kwon Do
Those early months as the most junior of belts were very humbling.  Anything that I had accomplished as an athlete in the past did not matter when I stepped into the dojang.  It didn’t matter how many medals and trophies I won as an accomplished age group triathlete.  It didn’t matter that I had represented the United States in the Triathlon Age Group World Championships.  These things weren’t going to make me into a Black Belt.  Only hard work, focus and patience would put me on the path to Black Belt.

I would have to say a benefit of Tae Kwon Do that is not touted in advertisements for martial arts schools is humility.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ad announce “Learn Tae Kwon Do to get humility!”  Most people don’t want to be told they need to become humble in order to succeed.  They want to be able to accomplish great things and let everyone know how great they are.  Being prideful and arrogant are major roadblocks on the Tae Kwon Do journey. In his book Tae Kwon Do Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior, Master Doug Cook states "By allowing humility to become the medium in which discipline can germinate and prosper, the martial artist will harvest a newly found sense of self-esteem that will act as fortification against the enemy within.". Without humility it's very difficult to reap the other benefits of Tae Kwon Do. 

In many sports people are ranked by ability.  If someone joins a running or cycling club, he will be placed in a group that is appropriate for his ability.  It may be the first day he runs or rides with the club he might be in a group that’s either too slow or too fast.   After a meeting or two he’ll find the group that’s appropriate for his pace.  As he improves he’ll move to a faster group.  However there is not necessarily a step-by-step progression he takes to move to a faster group.  Not every single person in that club will have started in the beginner group.  Some people are naturally talented, and it doesn’t take much to progress from back of the pack to front of the pack.  Sometimes these very talented athletes don’t have an appreciation for what it takes to progress in their sport.

Every single person who comes into Grandmaster Kim’s dojang to learn Tae Kwon Do starts in the same place.  He or she starts in the back of the classroom in a brand new uniform with no patches and no belt.  It doesn’t matter if she’s the prettiest girl in her class, or the fastest runner in her school she will start her Tae Kwon Do journey the same way we all did.  Learning and showing proficiency in the basics will earn the patches and that White Belt that she’ll eventually will wear.  The basic requirements will be the foundation on which everything else is based.

It took time to adapt to the traditional ways of a martial artist. The etiquette was nothing I had learned before.  I was not used to bowing and greeting people as sir or ma’am, or having people greet me that way.  At first I felt awkward when I would come into the dojang and people would say “hello ma’am”.  It wasn’t something I was accustomed to, or even something felt I deserved.  I thought sir and ma’am were just for those senior to me.  I quickly learned that regardless of rank, students greet one another this way as a show of respect.  It took getting used to following instructions in manner that wasn’t natural to me.  At times it was difficult to accept the fact that it the master’s way, not my way.  It took time but I eventually learned what was meant by rule #7. Establish trust between teacher and student.

It may take some students longer then others to learn humility. Once learned then it gives each student a greater appreciation of what their seniors went through to get to where they are now.  It also helps them relate to their juniors who are facing the same challenges they dealt with at their stage of their development as a martial artist.  Grandmaster Kim continually reminds us to respect our seniors and love our juniors. It’s hard doing those things if we're so full of ourselves.  Personally I’ve found myself looking at people and things with a greater sense of appreciation.  The world I live in does not revolve around me.  I find myself spending more time looking at what I can contribute to others.

What is the very first set of movements we learn? Kam Sa Hyung. Those movements are the building blocks of the basic stances and punches.  It's also referred to as the Appreciation Form.  The understanding being, “The more knowledge we posses, the more we appreciate everything around us.”  It's a form that is common ground for every single student. It’s the first thing we do as a group after meditation and warm ups. Everyone from No Belt to Master performs Kam Sa Hyung every time she or he attends class.

With humility comes another benefit of Tae Kwon Do: Self-discipline.  Discipline starts from Day 1. In fact it started before Day 1. In my trial lesson I learned the proper way to bow, how to address instructors and masters, and how to enter and exit the dojang.  All of this I learned before I even signed up. There are no short cuts in Tae Kwon Do.  Every kick, block and punch must be practiced over and over again.  The 10 basic motions and poomse become ingrained in our minds with constant practice.  It takes self-discipline to continually practice in order to make our forms better.  It is too easy think "I know this. I don't need to practice anymore."  It's also easy to get discouraged when learning something new.  There were times when I would be learning a new form and felt like I would never be able to do it correctly. It was during those periods where I would have to force myself to keep trying.

There is also the discipline that is demanded of each of us during class.  Proper discipline requires us to give our complete attention to the masters and instructors.  When we hear Cha Ryut that's the command to come to attention. No looking around the room or adjusting of uniforms. Mind and body together.  This attention to discipline has helped me focus better. The focus and discipline not only helps in class, but also in other things that require a lot of focus and concentration. Staying focused has always been a challenge for me. I was the kid who was bouncing from one thing to another and not paying attention in class.  I was ADHD long before anyone knew what it was. It's something that has continued to be a struggle for me even as an adult.  The self-discipline I've had to develop to make progress as a martial artist has been helpful in other areas of my life.

 This self-discipline has helped me in making better food choices and lifestyle changes. With these changes I'm finally getting my weight back to where it was when I was in racing condition. I'm not quite there yet, but it's a goal that I'm very close to reaching. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight will play a big part in being able to achieve my long-term Tae Kwon Do goals.
As I have developed discipline I have derived another benefit from Tae Kwon Do. Self-confidence. Self-confidence can seem contrary to the humility that we gain in our training.  However there is a big difference between self-confidence generated by belief in yourself and your knowledge and the over-confidence that comes from false bravado and cockiness. Grandmaster Kim encourages us to believe in ourselves. He tempers that belief in ourselves by asking us to be honest with ourselves. If he asks, "did you do your best?" it's up to us to answer the question honestly. There are times where I've lacked focus and really didn't do a very good job. If I raise my hand to say I did my best then I'm not being honest with Grandmaster Kim or myself.

Having the confidence in myself makes it a lot easier to be honest in evaluating myself.  I can tell myself "I can do better." When faced with new challenges I can tell myself "I can do this."  Staying positive and being confident makes it easier to deal with difficult situations.  The self-confidence I’ve developed in class helps me in real life situations.  Something may prove to be very difficult, and I might not be successful at first. However having self –confidence gives me the determination to keep working at it.  I often will think to myself “Yes I can!” when I need a little encouragement to get over whatever hurdle I’m facing.

In Master Cook's book Tae Kwon Do Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior, he devotes an entire chapter to "The Enemy Within". This is an area of my life I've spent much time thinking about and working on. With my learning issues and ADHD I've had many problems with discipline and self-esteem through out my life.  It's been difficult to be confident in myself when through out much of my life I've been criticized for being lazy, unfocused and disorganized. As a child I was teased a lot about my funny speech and the way I acted. Even as an adult I've struggled with insensitive people who ask me about the way I talk. I’ve struggled with organization and then have beat myself up when I can’t find something or miss an appointment.  I truly have been my worst enemy in terms of emotional growth.

In the chapter, “The Enemy Within”, Master Cook states, "....the image we perceive is a reflection of the person we've created in our mind.  Our persona is (in addition to a multitude of other psychological and physical factors) a product of the manner in which we were raised, our physical appearance, the criticism we receive from others, and our successes and failures. is difficult, if not impossible, for us to remain genuinely objective regarding our self-image. To dwell too long on this topic can result in either conceit or despair. ...given the wide spectrum of emotional possibilities we are capable of,  we should not be overly critical of ourselves. Rather, we should concentrate on developing our strengths while transforming, fortifying and eliminating our weaknesses."

Master Cook pretty much summarizes what has been the biggest obstacle in my Tae Kwon Do journey. For me it took a long time to build up confidence in myself.  As I slowly progressed through the color belt ranks, I was extremely hard on myself.  It was too easy to blame age, my learning issues and poor coordination on my lack of progress.  It probably was around Blue or Purple Belt that I realized that I really was becoming a martial artist, and that my past history should not be a hindrance to becoming a Black Belt.  It was at that point I could really start believing "a Black Belt is a No Belt who never quit."

Each promotion test is measure of progress that helps remind me of just how far I've come. To progress from the 53-year-old woman who cried her first night of class to the woman who is on the verge of becoming a Black Belt has been a life-changing event. I feel as though I've had an emotional breakthrough as I've overcome both mental and physical challenges to reach the point I'm at right now.  This is the first time in many years that I have undertaken something brand new, and stayed with it.  Traveling this road towards Black Belt makes me realize that I have it within me to try new things and make changes that will have a positive affect on my life."

I'm still working on how to transfer the focusing and self-discipline piece to chess.  I'm encouraged by the fact that I've managed to not toss away winning positions by losing focus, and getting distracted by external factors.  Every time I've gotten a winning position recently, I've reminded myself that it's not a win until checkmate, the opponent's flag falls or he resigns.  It's true I had a close call last week when I went for an insane attack.  However that was not overconfidence, it was overlooking one line.  I'd rather miss a line then throw it way because I thought it was a win.

Stay tuned as I will resume analyzing some of my recent games.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Phantom of the Chess Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

Position after 24... Kh7.

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

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

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

Position after 31...Bxe4

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Just In Case You're Wondering.....

.....I have not been abducted by FIDE space aliens.  I've been away for a few days and the space between tournaments was 11 days.  My mind has not been on chess lately.  I'm busy trying to get a handle on all the stuff I need to do for my November Black Belt test.  Here are a couple of pictures from our 5 hour boot camp last Saturday. What I love about Tae Kwon Do is being able to yell at the top of my lungs, and not have people look at me like I'm strange.

Start of a running drill.  Sometimes I would like to scream like that when I blunder.

Can I kick my opponent under the table like that?

 3 tapes down, one to go.  

Tonight I did the 3rd of 4 preliminary tests before the Black Belt test in November.  Each of the yellow tapes on my belt represent a test leading up to black belt. The first one I got a year ago.  Then I had the hiatus due to my inability to talk and walk down stairs simultaneously. When I fell on my back month I could help to think "Here we go again! It will be another 6 months."  However the back is doing better.  When does it hurt the most? When I'm sitting atbthe chess board.

I will be glad when this is done.  Between having to read books, write a book report, and write an essay, I feel like I'm in school again.  At least I'll get a break from that stuff.  However becoming a Black Belt doesn't mean it's really over.  I'll start learning new things the moment I'm promoted.  However I won't be stressing so much over everything I'm trying to do right now.

I will get back to some chess games in a bit.  I realized I never did finish up my NYS Championship report, and then there are the misadventures of another Thankless Thursday.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Even Score After Four

Spoiler alert! My title gives it away.  I did get a win on Sunday.  In round 3 I got paired against a 1790.  I couldn't get paired any higher in the section since he was the number one seed in the section.  He had 1.5 points, but since there were only 4 of us in the 2 day schedule I had to play him despite only having .5.  He had beaten my 2nd round opponent and had drawn with the other player in our little foursome.  I'm thinking to myself that I have my work cut out for me.  I'm also thinking that if I lose again I may just shoot myself.  Not really, but I might just not come back after my 4th round bye. (More about that later.) 

I did tell Steve if I lost again in the Under 1800 I would want to go back into the Under 2000 section with all the 1/2 points byes I'd be entitled to.  I figured playing in the Under 2000 section with 1.5 points worth of byes would be better then staying in the Under 1800 section with 1 point worth of byes. Fortunately that became a non-issue.  The game was a back and forth affair with both of us missing chances to gain a material or positional advantage. 

At one point I was convinced I was going to get my queen trapped, but he didn't play the move.  As it turns out the queen doesn't get trapped, but White will have a strong position.  It got a little hairy towards the end as we both were short on time.  I mated with 9 seconds to spare.  He missed the defense that puts mate off for 5 moves.  hopefully with 9 seconds I would find all the correct moves.  However one never knows when the clock is running down.  Here's the game:


In past years I've had timing issues with round 4 when trying to make plans to meet up with my sister.  This year that was not an issue since she left Sunday morning to visit a friend and wouldn't be back until late Monday or Tuesday.  However I did have a conflict.  I had been invited to a party that was near where I live.  3 other people in the tournament were attending this same party.  At first I thought they would play three rounds, go to the party and not come back.  I didn't want to play half the tournament and go home, so initially I declined the invitation.  However I noticed all of them had requested 4th round byes, but not byes for Monday's rounds. I found out they were planning to come back and play on Monday.  I decided I would attend the party and come back with them to play on Monday.

Why was I willing to attend this party over 2 hours away, spend the night at home and come back on Monday to play the last two rounds?  Am I nuts?  Perhaps, but there were two good reasons to attend.   The main purpose was to inform people about Chess for Change, a charitable organization that is bring chess to children in South Africa.  This is something that really interests me because I would love to go to Africa for chess or to volunteer for a Earthwatch project.  These are things on my "bucket list".  The other reason to attend was Jeremy Guthrie of the Baltimore Orioles was coming.  I'm a big baseball fan, and grew up in Baltimore watching the Orioles.  I still root for them even though I'm in New York.  I can't be a New York Yankee fan.  Hating the Yankees was all part of growing up as an Oriole fan.

It was a nice party. I saw a lot of my chess friends and it was a "Who's Who" of chess coaches with Bruce Pandolfini, Sunil Weeramantry and GM Maurice Ashley in attendance.  It was funny when our host introduced me to Maurice Ashley.  We both laughed and Maurice said "We don't need an introduction.  We go back a long way."

Bruce Pandolfini Dvid Berman (party host) FM Sunil Weeramantry and GM Maurice Ashley

Jeremy Guthrie was a big hit at the party. He talked about playing chess as a kid and attending two National Elementary Championships in 1990 and 1991.  I was at both those tournaments.  I volunteered and observed in 1990 in Hollywood, Florida, and then we organized the 1991 championship in Rye, NY.  Needless to say I don't recall meeting him as a 4th or 5th grader at those tournaments.  He hasn't played in any tournaments since then, but he has a rating of 1472 from that time.  That's a pretty good rating for a 5th grade kid.  He still loves to play, and when the Orioles are in New York he likes going to the Chess & Checker House in Central Park. 

Only 3 people in that picture are lower rated then me!

Jeremy was one of the last ones to leave.  He played a game with Joshua Berman, and won.  It was an interesting game that went down to the ending.  For a guy who makes his living throwing 95 mph fastballs, he plays a good game of chess.  It would be interesting to see how he'd do in a tournament after a very long lay off.

Sunday was a long day and Monday would be a long one too, starting with the two hour ride back up to Albany for rounds five and six.  Fortunately I did not have to drive.  How would a two hour commute affect my 10:00 am game?  Stay tuned.....