“The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” I've heard that saying before whenapplied to sports, but I've never had it so perfectly captured in back-to-back chess games.
As you might be able to guess from the monkey in my picture, the tournament
where these games took place was in Gibraltar. My tournament was up and down
throughout. It didn't exactly get off to a good start when I hung mate in one, via a
back rank checkmate, in my first game. I was sick and thought my opponent's queen was on a different square than it was. I usually see that...
After that game the tournament was more or less going to plan until the penultimate9th game of the tournament in which I played the Romanian GM Parligras.
Going into the round, I was expecting a Najdorf but the variation he chose to play
against me was a little surprising based on his games in the database. I decided to
follow a game that I had actually played in the same variation with the Black side
against Daniel Naroditsky in last year's US Chess League. In that game, I felt like
Black was under a decent amount of pressure and as it turned out the opening in
this game could hardly have gone better for me. Naroditsky's 12th move of e5 was an unpleasant surprise, but I later learned it had been played before. In my game against Naroditsky, I made the capture 12... dxe5, which got me in some hot water. Parligras decided to make the natural Qxe5, but after a few more moves he had a lost position. The critical point of the opening was when I played the move 17.Nc6!
Black has to give up the exchange by playing 17... bxc6 after which the position is probably better for White but still messy. He didn't play this though and if I could find 18. Na4 my position is already winning. The best option he has is to sacrifice a piece for some pawns with 18... Bxf5. The move I played in the game was good enough for a nice advantage, but I felt like I had already lost the momentum. I'm not sure what happened, maybe it was psychological, but after letting him escape I lost concentration and energy and eventually even the game in excruciating and soul-crushing fashion. Even when I hung mate the first game of the tournament, it didn't affect me like this. To lose such a promising and seemingly unlosable position out of the opening is definitely the worst!
My last game was ironically against Leon Piasetsky, an International Master from
Canada. This was the second time playing him in back-to-back tournaments. As he
pointed out to me afterwards, I had the Black pieces in a morning round in both
games (Round 10 is the only morning game in Gibraltar). I had decided before I had seen the pairings that I wanted to win at all costs.
The game started off unassumingly, without many chances to mix it up. It wasn't
exactly the opening I was hoping for, but after we finished developing our pieces, some chances to complicate the position emerged. I had a chance to equalize in the opening by playing 12... a4. I'm not sure why I didn't play that move considering it was already a part of my plan when I captured on d4 that turn. I don't think I realized just how double-edged the position would get by using the move order that I used in the game. The resulting middlegame was very interesting. Both sides had many weaknesses…or maybe it was just mostly me. The best example of this is when I played 18... f5. It looks like positional suicide, but gives my pieces a lot of life.
My opponent played aggressively well during the rest of the middlegame. I was happy to see his kingside expansion because it gave my bishop and queen battery some extra squares to operate on. After the game we realized that we were both happy with our positions, which was kind of funny because that doesn't happen that often. Unfortunately, I was the first one to make a serious error. I missed a nice chance to keep the game complicated by playing 39... h5.
Instead I missed his tactic and although we were both in time trouble he did not miss the opportunity to strike. He found the strong 40. Bxh7! and my kingside was soon no more. Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for my defenses to come crashing down and by move 54 if he plays Qh6, the computer evaluates it as being + 10 for him. He unfortunately played 54. Nd8 which allowed for the strong countershot 55... Rxg5+
I imagine that the same thing that happened to me the round before happened to my opponent round 10, because after letting me escape he no doubt could have reached a draw. Instead, he ended up losing his cool and allowing me to win. I don't think I've ever experienced that kind of extreme role reversal in my games before: losing when I should win and winning when I can probably resign. If I had a choice, I wouldn't put such a bad beat on someone as nice as Mr. Piasetsky, but that's chess. I guess excitement like this is why we play chess!