Getting home after Saturday's games, I ate dinner and started preparing for Yankovsky. I had a general profile of him already, but I needed to play through a bunch of his games to ascertain what variations he played against my defenses to e4 (c5, c6, e6, e5). Seeing that he played 3.Nc3 against the Caro, I decided to go for that, as it offers the least sharp attacks to white, and to summarize the profile, he's a sharp attacker. I sacrificed some sleep to also get up early and go over a bunch of Caro lines. With the round moving up and daylight savings thrown in, that was not a lot of sleep.
Kostya opted to sleep a little more instead of eating or preparing, and we arrived late at the tournament, by 12 minutes. Amazingly, this was the ONLY round that started within fifteen minutes of the scheduled starts times-- a lot of them started 30 minutes late. And yet, arriving at the board, there were already 12 minutes off my clock!
I played c6 quickly and Yankovsky sat and thought for 3 minutes. Probably he had prepared for the Najdorf I played against him last year. Then he chose to play the Panov Botvinnik instead of the mainline, throwing out my prep. I can play the Nc6, e6, or g6 line against the Panov; and that's the order of frequency in which I have played them. I opted for g6, because that seemed like a line where white had the fewest attacking chances since they are busy hanging onto the extra d5 pawn in the mainline. With the opening decisions explained, we can now look at the game:
Alright, let's pause for a second, to share the funniest chess moment in recent memory. I was talking to someone about preparation for the tournament. Kostya had studied a bunch for the event: openings, tactics, games, etc. I mentioned that my entire preparation had consisted of solving 15 minutes of puzzles on Thursday and Friday. At which my interlocutor said: "That's it? But what if your opponents don't set up puzzles for you?"
Hilarious as that is as a stand-alone joke, it turned out there was one player at the Western Class Championships who would set up a series of tactics-trainer-esque puzzles for his opponent... me! So now I'd like to offer you the opportunity to solve a couple really fun chess puzzles (the 3rd and 4th are easier than the 1st and 2nd, so don't get discouraged if you don't get them. I put them in this order to not spoil the game.)
Here is the full game:
After the game was over, I was not steaming mad like the previous year. This game at least was very aesthetic. It felt as if he had had the advantage all the way through the game, and deservedly won with some very nice moves. Before the game had even ended, in fact before he'd played Ne6, I had thought that if he did, it would make a really cool game for people to see and learn from. He offered to go over the game, and, suspecting that he was stronger than I had realized, I agreed happily so that I could learn something from him.
That suspicion proved to be true: he had calculated better than I had throughout the game. He had seen Ne6 immediately, but had also seen that Ne2 was decently strong, and therefore calculated carefully and deeply a bunch of lines. I realized from this that I had actually been making two important errors during the game:
1) under-estimating the opponent. I don't know if I always have this problem, because in the first three rounds my opponents had not played well at all, so perhaps I had just been lulled into this error subconsciously from the three recent experiences. But I should have assumed that my opponent was seeing most of what I was seeing, and not wasted any energy on hoping he would miss wins.
2) I did not work hard enough. Kind of the flip side of that is: I should have been devoting all my energy to desperation mode, searching, searching, for any line that was remotely unclear no matter how ugly it looked. Some way to force my opponent into a position that was not a definite win, or where he had to find truly difficult ideas (Ne6 is not actually that difficult at all of an idea for a player of this caliber).
But now I realized that the wind had come completely out of my sails. I was tired, and I no longer had a tournament to win. After eating a burrito, came a one hour period that was really a low-point. First, I saw that there were two possible pairings for the last round: either I could play Khachiyan, or Amanov could play Khachiyan and I could play Michael Brown, a young 2300 player in the midst of a lucky result. Whereas before the tournament I wanted to play Melik because he is so strong, now I found I wanted to play Brown. Melik plays a defense to d4 that I did not want to face, but I wanted to practice playing d4. Also playing Brown, I could massacre him and still finish in second place in the tournament, whereas I did not believe I could possibly beat Melik this evening.
Then the pairings came up and I was playing Melik. Well at least I had a pleasant conversation with him and Sevillano before the start of the round, but meanwhile my brain was whirring, what first move should I play?? I could not decide, but I did not want to use the time off my clock, so when the round started I just played e4. After a few moves, the burrito suddenly sank in. It was awful. A leaden weight in my gut, pulling me down, down, through my chair. I did not want to be playing. I wanted to give up. The position seemed really equal already, and I considered offering a quick draw, something which I may never have done yet in my life. Then I could salvage something of a decent rating point result, and stop the pain.
Then finally I broke out of the funk (though my body was still dragging behind my will, in particular my stomach). I reminded myself that I had learned recently that offering a draw when you really really want the opponent to accept, is a dangerous move: when they decline it's a kick in the gut that will send you spiralling down. Well, I did not need any more pain in my gut. Plus, I would be so mad at myself later, even if he accepted, at such a betrayal. No, I'd come all the way to L.A. hoping to play a game against Melik, and even if I was listless, I was going to make a lot of moves, I told myself. And indeed, a lot of moves we did make...
I was not disappointed about the Rf3?? blunder that cost me second place and some more rating points. I figured Melik had totally deserved to draw with his fantastic exchange sac and defensive play. I felt really bad when he blundered the Ra4 zugzwang, and it seemed fair that I would fumble at the end and the game should end as a draw. The reason I had no time on the clock to even execute the win I had found with Rh8 is that I had spent all of my time trying to come up with a way to track that fortress, which I thought should be crackable, but could not crack. I was down to 3-4 minutes when he blundered Ra4, and was close to agreeing a draw.
I am happy overall with this game. One important goal for some time now has been to do better in my first and last round games, and in my last three tournaments I have done that: win+win, win+draw, and win+draw; and just as importantly, I have played normally and well in those last round games, with a full effort. I was so close to caving completely to fatigue and the burrito, and Melik easily equalizing out of the opening. But I resolved that even in an equal position I would play my hardest and just make a lot of good moves; I did, and it was clear that I even had some chances to win the game with that effort.
And then, while waiting an hour for 4 prize checks to be written, my head slumped on my chest and I passed out in the hotel lobby, as so many chess players have done before me :-)
Fatigue always wins in the end!
PS- the tournament was won by Enrico Sevillano after a last round victory over Yankovsky. I wish I could show you the game because it looked thrilling!! Final Standings:
1: Sevillano 4.5
2-3: Yankovsky, Amanov 4
4-6: Khachiyan, Small, Pruess 3.5