2018 Australian Chess Reserves: Ending the Draw Curse
Edited image from http://mariafresa.net/clipart/1-2-fraction-clipart.html

2018 Australian Chess Reserves: Ending the Draw Curse

CM Data_Pillars
Jan 19, 2018, 6:17 PM |

After a bit of a hiatus from serious chess, I played in the Reserves division of the 2018 Australian Chess Championships, which ran from 2-12 January. In each of the last few big tournaments I had played in, I only had four decisive games and drew the rest. I decided that this tournament would be different: I would simply not offer draws in positions with plenty of play, and it was okay if I lost a lot of games. I was helped by the fact that everyone in my division was rated under 2150, so there was no reason to settle for a draw against anyone.

In the end, I actually had my best tournament performance yet, coming equal sixth with 7.5/11, scoring six wins, three draws and two losses. From the start, however, my goal was to play eleven games that I could learn from, so I am analysing them all here. All games were played at 90+30, with another 30 minutes after move 40.

Results can be found here: http://chess-results.com/tnr324105.aspx?lan=1&art=1&rd=11&wi=821

Round 1:

I was paired against a lower-rated player in the first round, but my focus was just on playing my best game. I achieved an excellent position out of the opening as White, but my opponent started to defend well and threatened to wriggle out. I kept trying to pose problems, and managed to provoke enough weaknesses in my opponent's position to eventually break through into a winning endgame. The key factor in this game was how quickly my opponent played, only using 38 minutes the entire game and missing several opportunities to equalise.

Round 2:
I was paired against a strong player in the second round, but managed to obtain another excellent position out of the opening. The problem for me in this game was moving too slowly. I was influenced by my last game, where my time management had seemed perfect, as I had five minutes left and a winning endgame when I got to the move 40 time control. However, my opponent put up much better resistance in this game, and I eventually panicked and lost the thread in time pressure.
Round 3:
Round 3 was played on the same day as Round 2, and in the past I had scored extremely badly on double-round days. I was playing against a supposedly weaker player, though as a junior she was almost certainly better than her rating suggested. I tried to learn from my previous game and play more quickly in the opening and with a bit more confidence. Indeed, it was my opponent who ended up in severe time-trouble, and although I couldn't find any immediate breakthroughs, I kept posing problems until she blundered just before move 40.
Round 4:
I hadn't had the most convincing first three rounds, but from rounds 4-8 I produced a string of good results against higher-rated players. In round 4 I achieved another excellent position out of the opening against the third seed (who eventually won the tournament with 9/11), but didn't play accurately enough to consolidate my position and let my opponent escape with a draw. This was definitely frustrating for me because I had resolved to not let higher-rated players escape with draws when I was clearly better. I think psychologically I still wasn't ready to push really hard for the win because I didn't do much to stop my opponent's drawing plan once I had seen it. Fortunately, this result stung me into pushing even harder to win in the next rounds.
Round 5:
In my next game, I managed to catch my opponent in some opening preparation which gave me a pleasant endgame. I didn't transition well into thinking for myself when my opponent deviated and I missed a chance to keep the Queens on the board and have a dominant middlegame. Fortunately, I played the endgame well and kept the pressure on until my opponent blundered material in a tough position. At this point, this was my biggest win yet.
Round 6:
Against another 2000+ player, I was doing fine in the opening but missed a trick by my opponent and was simply a pawn down. I fought back hard, but my opponent eventually managed to unravel his pieces and obtain a winning position. I played for one last trick and with 40 minutes on his clock, my opponent missed my threat. I was a little embarrassed, but quelled my instinct to offer a draw and converted the endgame up The Exchange.



Round 7:

This was possibly my best game of the tournament. In the Averbakh variation of the King's Indian Defence, my opponent made a very risky pawn grab out of the opening and allowed me a dangerous attack. I think he made his moves too quickly thereafter, though it wasn't an easy position to defend. Eventually, he allowed me to break through with a pleasing double-Rook sacrifice to force checkmate.


Round 8:

Playing against the second seed this time, I again achieved an excellent position out of the opening. However, when my pieces seemed optically on the best squares, I couldn't make the central breakthrough e4 work and instead just lost the thread. This was a very complicated game for both of us, and we both ended up quite low on time by move 20, by which time my opponent had managed to win a pawn. I managed to win it back in the time scramble, and offered a draw in one of my biggest regrets of the tournament. To be fair, it was only move 32 and I was down to thirty seconds, but my position was suddenly slightly better so I could have tried to play on.

Round 9:

After a string of excellent results against strong players, I was brought back to earth hard. This was one of those games where you suffer for five hours and lose anyway, and it was the only game of the tournament that I felt that I had been outplayed from start to finish. Again, a big issue for me was moving too slowly and being too pessimistic about my position, which inhibited my ability to find resources.

Round 10:

The previous game had shaken my confidence a bit, but I bounced back immediately with a convincing win over another strong player. My opponent didn't know how to respond to a well-known pawn sacrifice in the Symmetrical English, and I obtained great control over the dark squares. Black eventually lashed out with a pawn sacrifice to free his pieces, but it failed tactically and I managed to calculate a transition to a winning endgame.

Round 11:

I didn't play well in the last round of the tournament. I tried to learn from my Round 9 loss and play with more confidence, and I was indeed very cheerful about my position this game despite it being quite bad. I started by deviating from my opening preparation by transposing into a Benko Gambit for no real reason at all. Then, when my opponent initiated a Kingside attack, I sacrificed a piece "to change the nature of the position". It paid off in the game, when my opponent forced a Queen trade, realised the endgame was not easy to win, and offered a draw, apparently having had enough of chess. Before the draw offer, I was still quite happy to play on, but then I assessed the position objectively and saw that I didn't have any real winning chances, so I accepted.

Overall, I think my level of play had improved significantly from my last tournament. I was more aware of imbalances regarding pawn structure and minor pieces, and showed resilience and resourcefulness in bad positions. My main problems were moving too slowly and with not enough confidence, and surprisingly some glaring tactical oversights. One recurring theme was that I would see that one possible response to my move could be refuted tactically, so I would play the move only to overlook a completely different response! This could also be partially due to the transition from playing online to looking at 3-d pieces. Going forward, I think I should play through some instructive endgames, as that was by far my weakest phase of the game in this tournament.