Marathon Games In The Zalakaros Open

Marathon Games In The Zalakaros Open

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In part one of my series on the Zalakaros Open, I described coming to Hungary and showed the first three games I played in the tournament. Honestly, the tournament didn't have a good start.

Not only did I lose with the white pieces against GM Gabor Papp, but I had also played awfully in the first round. As so often, I was really just looking to get through the tournament without it being a disaster. Even though the conditions of the tournament were excellent, it didn't change the fact that I felt I had given up on chess.

However, in the next two games I would play a total of 181 moves. First I was paired with IM Dennis Wagner. He was really just an international master in name only, since his grandmaster title had already been approved, and additionally his 2572 rating put him far outside of IM territory.

As before, I was hardly inspired at the start of the game, especially after I got no chance to fight for the advantage. The game seemed headed to a draw, but then I made a basic miscalculation and was stuck with a torturous defense. Eventually this transformed into an ending with queens and three pawns against two, on the same side of the board.

After the game another German player, Matthias Bluebaum, pointed out that the pawn ending should be a win.

For a moment we analyzed blind, and as so often the conclusion wasn't clear (it can be especially hard to concentrate right after such a long game). I didn't really believe that we had both misevaluated a such a simple ending, but as I said, "I just saw the stalemate defense and had to hope that the pawn ending was a draw, since there was no other possibility."

I went to eat dinner in a nearby restaurant and soon began thinking about the ending again. I noticed some point I had missed in our analysis. Soon the two German players appeared. I started to tell them what I thought, but they said, "no, no; we already put it on the computer, it says mate in 48 or something." That ended all discussion -- such is modern chess.

This was an incredibly lucky escape, but didn't really change my tournament. Total lack of decent opening preparation meant that I had been fighting miserably for a draw with the white pieces; however, even halfway competent play would have easily achieved this draw and it should have never come to this pawn ending.

In the fifth round I was paired with GM Alexander Kovchan. I was certainly happy to keep my head above water and avoid being paired with lower-rated players. As long as I continued playing grandmasters, I could finish the tournament in decent shape.

This game was a huge battle, full of flaws but also many interesting moments. Having achieved a completely winning position I did nearly everything possible to avoid winning.

In the evening after that game I should have been feeling very good -- after all, I had managed to win against a good player with the black pieces. But mostly I was worrying about the very painful state of my neck. Would this pain, which had been there for over six months, ever go away?

Also, I quickly realized that I had missed 35...Rxc1+, and was kicking myself for that and the other mistakes in the game. How is it, I thought, that I am so incapable of winning a won position? It almost seems like some part of my mind doesn't want me to win. I may have got away with it in this game, but in many other games I have not been so lucky.

Despite being rather down on chess and my future in it, I nevertheless enjoyed the environment of Zalakaros and the tournament.

When I was young, chess was quite different (especially in Alaska) and I imagined going to tournaments in far away and beautiful places. I didn't imagine that tournaments would be what my typical tournament in the U.S. looks like: some brightly lit conference room, crowded, with a chaotic atmosphere, and staying at night in some Comfort Inn or Motel 6.

Here in Zalakaros I could play chess in a dignified atmosphere, and in the evening I could sit on my balcony, overlooking the sleepy town, feeling the cool wind, with stars above and few street lights.

Stars over Austria | stock photo

In the next game against GM Robert Ruck, I was not in the mood to take big risks. I did not want to undo my work from the previous game, so it was a good choice to play in a safe manner. He played the Caro-Kann, an opening where I have had some problems in the past, and I chose a line which gives White a small but practically risk-free advantage. Perhaps I did not play in the most precise way at some moment, and the game was soon drawn.

During the middle of the tournament things had started to improve somewhat. The game with Kovchan, despite all the mistakes, made me think that maybe I could still play chess.

I will cover the end of the tournament next week.

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