I shall start with some philosophical musings today. My Chess blog hasn't been seeing any action recently, and it is all very sad because this is an activity that I enjoy very much. It just appears that I have been 'doing' too much and 'being' very little - just to lift this little thing from Rowson's awesome book 'Chess for Zebras'. Also, after my woeful (see below) performance in the Labor day tournament I think I'll have to put a stop to playing so much bad online chess and just hunker down and study, and maybe stop doing those 3 am days coding, as much fun as that activity is! Nevertheless, I should boycott FICS as time badly spent. The reason for this is that online chess is just not conducive for developing concentration, which is an aspect that is so very necessary during those long games. Also, while soaking up the positions - in fact, I should even say, penetrating deeply into them - it becomes apparent that there is so much more to the game than just a few quick, superficial moves to develop knights and evade cheap attacks that would summarize most of online play, blitz or otherwise. To play well, one needs a sense of calm and slowness (even at the cost of time trouble) so as to make each more deliberately. I think during the first two days, I played the moves in staccato fashion, only to rue them after making them. This was a phenomenon that had plagued me when I first started playing OTB, and it was back here.
I played in the expert (3 day) section of the labor day tournament in San Francisco - as ghastly a place as could host a tournament. It was on top of some hill, blustery and mostly freezing and about a mile away from the BART (which I planned to take at first). Thankfully, they did have parking (costing $40, which became $20 after their discount validation for the tournament - though that was also an irksome experience since the validation machines died on me (or was it the ticket itself) three times in the three days. I scored a pathetic 2.5/6, which was generally reflective of the quality of my play. But I must say that the last day was great fun, and I totally enjoyed myself on that day. The first two days were studies in exhaustion and an inability to concentrate.
I think I had difficulties concentrating the entire time during the first two days, and just kept blundering. In the first game against Vikram Ganesh, I made a trivial calculation error which fortunately sent the game off into chaos - I discovered soon after my blunder that my opponent could have captured with the queen instead of, as he did, with his pawn, with clear positional advantage; but his continuation (which led to the chaos) forced me to react with a weird but tactically flawed exchange sacrifice which for some reason (I think it's the shock value) was not refuted - although I am sure that he would have done it under normal circumstances. I was very lucky indeed to win that game. However, this luck did not last in the second round. I got into a bad Caro Kann and somehow hung on not getting mated, and eventually, held on in a very grim endgame, only to blunder out of exhaustion and cloudiness at the very end. The queens were coming off and the position was drawn, if I were only able to think it through. Unfortunately, the game was so depressing and I had spent so much time wriggling (incidentally, I think the endgame was played rather brilliantlly, albeit with some help from my young opponent Abhishek Handigol, who I think is well on his way to doing great things in his Chess life).
The third game - against Pranav Nagarajan - was an exercise in futility - and hopelessness. I blundered early - wouldn't exactly call it a blunder, as it's apparently 'book' but it's not the kind of game that I am used to and failed to react properly.The fourth round (against Joshua Cao) was again one of those faulty games where both sides got lost in the complications. It was a QGD exchange and I was white. I had set up a preventive structure against the battery on h2 (Q on d6, B on c7) by keeping the N on f3 with h3 to stop it from being harassed by the B. But just when it seemed that my preparations were all done and the queenside pawn push (which I think was also played too directly) was going to crash through I found that although the preventive measures indicated were adequate against Bg4, they might not have been good against a pawn storm. So I spent something like forty min working out the complications, deciding that they were favorable for me and that there was no mate (actually, later during the postmortem, my opponent and I concluded that it was totally favorable for white, and that I had made another characteristic error in my calculations ...). Fortunately, or unfortunately, my opponent played a completely different - positional - line. This wasnt very good, but I didn't react to it well enough. He sacced the exchange (after failing to win a piece) for positional compensation (in the form of 2 Bs, and very weak white pawns). I had to sac my knight to have a material balance with 2R+P against R+2B which was almost certainly winning for him - or at least very close to. Somehow, my opponent then offered a rook trade in zeitnot and the game was saved. Rather eventful but faulty. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, these youngsters are all growing in strength as a group. Chess is a remarkable gift for them to pick up at their age, and it's nice to have parents who support this activity. I suppose it's good to pick it up at any age - but it would be a blessing to play it when one is in school, with all the time that is available at that age.
The only game where I played marginally well was in the last round (it was also the last game of the tournament!) against Dana McKenzie (who was also having troubles of his own in this tournament). I was white and played into an English Botvinnik formation, which we all know is a slow and dry opening, well suited to my tastes. In the game, I was struck by a curious preventive idea of sacrificing the exchange for light square control. But it might very well have been faulty - Shredder gives a consistent advantage of about a pawn or a pawn during most of the 'calm' period. Some seige warfare took place after this, where I felt that I was slowly gaining control. But again, I should have paid more attention to my opponent's possibilities. It became apparent that he was going to start his kingside pawn storm - and I wonder if I should have prevented it by blockading the pawn. Somehow, I saw something wrong with that scheme. Besides, it seemed that I had a blockade against his pawns, only to see later that they could have been busted by a piece sacrifice. Things began to get nasty for me, and I found a crazy piece sac of my own putting his king in a mating net, in which it was shrowded for most of the game after this. I also had to sac a second exchange, but then my opponent blunted out the attack and then started to grind down with his two extra exchanges. We were both in big time trouble - and after trading queens (also probably not right - considering that I had no play) he gave back one exchange and we had a minor+P against R with a more active king for me - which was hard to assess. More drama followed though and Dana blundered a pawn, immediately offering a draw which I declined (there is something to be said about getting losing chances after declining draw offers). In major time trouble - I tried to set up a cheap shot, missing that my N was pinned, and resigned instead of flagging (which would have been the same, as I had 10 seconds or less).
The games will be annotated in the upcoming articles. I am not overly bitter over my showing after the third day. Still, I don't think one can do anything about being in the wrong state of mind, and during days when one just cannot calculate correctly, and I am sure everyone sees these days. But it does appear that there is a lot to be said for living a healthy, boring life where one wakes up at a sane hour, drinks little coffee (not that I have anything against coffee, but let it be known that it bathroom breaks become a bit too frequent with indisciminate consumption), and is more of a person than the zombie that I was when I started the tournament.