Today, I have a confession to make. I have not abided by my own suggestions that I made in my last post, "Staying Strong", available here: http://blog.chess.com/Shankland/staying-strong I do maintain that physical strength is a very important quality for a chessplayer to have, and I was at my peak physical condition before the US Championship 2011. I didn't do much hard exercise starting 10ish days before the event, but just before that I had set my own personal records for the mile run (5:25) and for longest distance with an 8 minute mile maintained (5 miles, 40:00) and for weights. In fact, I'll show a picture of myself right after a workout before leaving for Saint Louis:
Sure enough, that physical strength payed off and even after 2 weeks of grueling chess against the best players in the country, I was able to produce a great final game to clinch third place and take home an extra $5,000.
However, I just felt that because I got strong, I would always stay strong. Then followed some bad habits, and they really made an impact. Here is a picture of me from last week, just before the recently concluded California State Championship:
As you can see, I got a little out of shape. This turned out to really hurt me. I started off by winning my first 3 games of the rapid schedule pretty easily, and then I made a good transition to the slow games by beating Enrico Sevillano in a study-like way:
So that was all fine and good- I started with 4-0 and was tied for first with Hayk Manvelyan, a 2200 player who had won all his games but dodged having to play the top seeds so far. I would have black against him in round 5. And boy, did I play a bad game! Although the computer never gave him more than a slight-moderate edge, my position felt so unpleasant and during the game I thought I was completely lost for quite awhile. I managed to escape with a draw, but it was such a poor effort, and it took me some time to see the problem- I was just tired after having already played 4 games the previous day and not sleeping well the night before. A smart person would then realize they need more energy and get a power bar or something, but what did I do? I attacked some monster burrito that made me even more tired!! Bah!! Bad decision!! In any case, I was playing Roman Yankovsky with white in the last round, and he is a very aggressive IM who has improved a lot lately. I tried to keep the game pretty boring and level, not wanting to risk losing my State Championship title, also bearing in mind that he would be uncomfortable in quieter positions. Sure enough, the plan worked brilliantly, I won a pawn, and the following position was reached:
So far I thought I had played the endgame almost perfectly. Here, the win is very trivial- White simply puts his rooks on the dfile, maneuvers his bishop around to a4, then plays Rd7, exchanges all the rooks, and Bc8 at the end to take all the black pawns, and in all the meanwhile the black king is conveniently unable to join the action. This was not a massively hard plan to see, but at this point, I started to get really tired, drowsy even, and I had to keep pinching myself not to fall asleep at the board. I came up with a decent plan of bringing my king to the queenside and then playing c6 and trying to win the a6 pawn, but this allowed too much counterplay because the dfile stayed in black's control and my king was unable to defend my f2 pawn.
Now here is where I really let fatigue get the best of me. White can probably still win if he avoids the exchange of rooks and plays carefully, but I got lazy and exchanged the rooks, thinking that the 2 connected passers must be enough to win. But, I allowed a fortress. And not just that, a fortress that I had actually already recorded a video lesson on just a month ago (not yet published)!
How bad can you get?? I usually am able to play with very high levels of energy and it's un-shanky-like to fail to convert a good position, but the fatigue I was experiencing easily cost me half a point in both of my games on this final day. Luckily for me, Sevillano managed to beat Manvelyan in the final round so I still ended up in clear first with 5/6, winning $2,000, but I lost 2 rating points and a lot of my dignity by playing so horribly in the final 2 games. After this tournament I made a vow to never let this disaster repeat itself, so after 2 days off to rest up I started a very serious workout program again, aiming to get myself back in shape. Not just the kind of shape I was in before the 2011 US Championship, not even an olympic athelete kind of physique, but that of 2 monstrous bears who can wreak havoc wherever they go:
Good luck to all!
GM Sam Shankland