How to overcome a bad tournament
Anyone who has ever played in tournaments has most likely had a poor result at one point or another. The ability to bounce back from this temporary setback will help determine whether or not you will improve as a chess player.
I had a very poor result at the recently completed New York State Championships, and felt compelled to understand what went wrong and to avoid this in the future.
1) Assess what happened
One piece of advice that I always give my students is to invest in Chessbase and maintain a database of their games, complete with annotations of key moments. This has helped me more than anything. Entering a game not only helps you recall the actual game, but going through your game will help you spot where your mistake was.
This is where coaching really comes in handy, a good instructor can identify exact weaknesses and suggest improvements.
I can’t stress this enough. Reviewing my games with a coach or some friends who are stronger chess players than I am helped me more than anything in my chess career.
Adamec – Katz, Round 1, 2013 NYS Championships.
The following position occurred in my first round game. As you can tell, it's fairly complex. My plan as black here is to survive an attack on my king and use my pawn majority on the queenside to win. My opponent rightfully declined the rook trade and played a strong move Rh1. I had seen this possibility several moves earlier, and expected to play Rb3 here, gaining a valuable tempo. When I looked at this variation again, I slumped in my chair as I saw the superstar move Rxh7! Not only would my opponent gain 2 rooks for the queen, I’m very close to getting mated.
Going back to the game, after a 20 minute think after which I only had 3 minutes remaining on my clock, I played Kd8, with the idea to run over to the Queenside. I remember evaluating all of my candidate moves and simply couldn’t come up with anything better.
My opponent played 28. Rxh7. Being low on time, I immediately played 28…Rxh7, and my thought was to run away with my king and develop some counterplay in the center due to his weak king. This ended up allowing a winning endgame for my opponent after a timely queen swap.
What I missed was 28..Rg8! My position will get ugly, but it’s defensible for the time being, and if I were to survive the onslaught,
Sample variation if I had played 28…Rg8!
I assume he would have followed up with the natural 29. Qg6, after which I have a very strong 29… Be8! Which holds everything. I completely missed this as moves like Be8 don’t normally enter my thought process.
In the game, after all of the trades, I tried to mount a counter attack centered on his weak d4 pawn, however I overlooked a queen trade that left him with a superior endgame, due to his g-pawn. He did not have much trouble converting this.
After 30… Qb6, aiming for the d4 pawn.
Despite the fact that my opponent was 200+ points lower rated than me, his play was precise and I was taken to school.
What went wrong:
a) I was in severe time pressure. Following the suggestion of several GM’s, I have started to write down the time I have remaining every 5 moves. After looking through this, the results were surprising.
I spent 25 minutes on move 19, 25 minutes on move 21 and then 20 minutes in the position above. I simply spent too much time.
b) I did not respond well to pressure under my king. Maybe this is psychological, but I should have found 28…Rg8 under normal circumstances.
c) I should never have gotten into that position in the first place. I had a poor understanding of the Opening variation (a French Tarrasch), which allowed my opponent to slowly outplay me.
d. My opponent played well! This also happens
2) After assessing what went wrong, develop an improvement plan.
Why did I get into time pressure? That’s a very good question. I thought to myself that I must have not been confident for some reason. There is some truth to that as I haven't played that much since getting married in May. Rust was probably a factor, but I am usually pretty confident when facing lower rated opposition.
I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t psychological, it wasn’t due to nerves, it was simply due to not understanding the opening.
After 10… fxe5?!
I’ve been a Sicilian player for the past 5 years, but in my youth I played the French almost exclusively. I decided to give the French a try because I’d seen some recent games that Caruana played and was very impressed with how he handled it.
Fxe5 here releases the tension that I had in the position, and allowed his knight to jump to the important f4 square after the trade. I had so many additional lines to calculate due to this minor inaccuracy, which led me to spend a lot of time figuring out how to develop my pieces.
Improvement Plan part 1: Re-learn the nuances of the French if I’m going to play it at the competitive level.
Improvement Plan Part 2: As for responding to how to deal with things when my King is under attack, this is a much more serious endeavor. I think that a quote from Kasparov sums up how to respond beautifully.
“When your house is on fire, you can’t be bothered with the neighbors. Or, as we say in chess, if your King is under attack, don't worry about losing a pawn on the queenside.” – Garry Kasparov
I need to find famous games where players dealt with a “house on fire” and see how they reacted. It’s not easy, everything is dependent upon the position. This will be my next goal.
In conclusion, I ended up going 50% in the remainder of my games, losing 25 rating points in the process. I think that the thorough analysis of this game will help me tremendously in the long run. Losing stings, but it's the best way to learn. Watch out for me next time!
Here is the full game, for those that are interested.