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.