2018 Australian Chess Reserves: Ending the Draw Curse
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.