Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
My trip to Las Vegas was a success. It doesn’t look particularly great on paper, but a mental catalog of what I accomplished tells a different story. In either case, my trip was shrouded with fear and loathing; although GM Larry Christiansen provides a little but different of a different type of commentary. We’ll get to that.
Let me start with some serious loathing at the end of the trip. I’ll begin the loathing with a thousand words:
After the tournament, I was stranded in Vegas, because Spirit Airlines cancelled my direct flight from Vegas to Boston. What’s more, the flight for the following night, 24 hours later, was also cancelled. I had to head back for the Westgate to stay at least one more night, until I figured out what to do, given that there were no more flights out for the night. That wasn’t a big deal. My brother is a poker pro, so he has the hook up everywhere in Vegas, so the night’s stay was on him, once he caught wind of what happened. The real issue was getting a flight back. I had gone with Spirit to save a couple of hundred bucks nearly 3 months prior, and now, somewhat ironically, I’d be forced to either spend $1K+ on an immediate flight back or stay 48 hrs to catch the next scheduled flight back to Boston. Knowing that two consecutive flights had been cancelled, and the additional information from the agent that previous flights had been cancelled, so I opted to drop the stack. It’s a good thing I’m a philosopher with an olive press. In short, I’ll caution anyone against flying Spirit in the future, unless absolutely necessary. I may even write a blog post on business ethics (on milliern.com), based on a discussion I had with the Spirit agent in Vegas, because I think they are functioning in a very duplicitous and unethical way. More on that later. Back to less loathsome things, like chess.
The first interesting item of note is that one of my coaches’ (GM Miroslav Miljkovic’s) other students, Anthony He, defeated GM Aleksandr Lenderman in a blitz match in the Walter Brown Memorial. It was bitter sweet for me, since Lenderman is one of my favorite GMs and wish success for Miljkovic’s other students. I’ll put the game here, as it was published by the National Open Chess Festival News, volume 1, 2017.
My Walter Browne Memorial, as well as all of my blitz tournaments over the weekend –four of them, total–, was less than mediocre. The time change was a little much for me: I usually head to bed at 8:30pm on the East Coast, unless MMA contests are on, so I rarely have to be mentally on so late at night. Thus, operating at 1am Eastern Time is not easy –and wasn’t easy. I definitely had my bright moments. It started well enough. I went blow for blow with NM Vahe Mendelyan. I iced him in the first of two games, but couldn’t keep it together in the second game. Then I went on a run of four losses against Candidate Masters, in which I was better or winning in three of them. I simply wasn’t mentally aware enough to hang on. So… all pretty poor performances, but I had some good wins and draws here and there. I think the crosstable for the last blitz tournament says it all. Take a look.
I defeated the toughest of the bunch, and then waned very quickly. I drank an espresso before the final tournament, since I didn’t much care whether I slept all that well. The caffeine spike showed in the results, as did the caffeine letdown. On the bright side, I had previously drawn Ritika Pandey, a very nice (and strong) girl I played at the University of Wisconsin Open in Madison, and so I had the opportunity to show how much stronger I was than before. Considering how much stronger I am in the standard control, a blitz game against her proved a tremendous challenge, especially with the added pressure of being 3/4 at that point in the blitz tournament, as well as suspecting that she was objectively the strongest player in the event. My abilities definitely proved, as I was up a pawn and a huge positional advantage on the white side of a Marshall Attack. Thank you, IM Vigorito, for the line! Ultimately, I could not convert, and the game ended in a draw. I was okay with the result. Ritika was very resourceful. After that, I went on a losing streak to finish up. The espresso wore off, and I dropped 85 blitz rating points over the four tournaments. Not the end of the world, by any means, and I certainly don’t regret playing tired. Intentional practice requires that type of emotional charge to maximize results, and there is a major neuroscientific reason for why intentional practice at night optimizes learning and rewiring.
The main event is what I’m really pleased with. Like I said, on paper, it wasn’t spectacular. I gained 10 points. Whoopty doo. I didn’t win a game, either. However, I did score 4 draws in the U2300 section against players rated 2014, 2024, 2108, and a 2116. Actually, I didn’t lose to anyone under 2153. In fact, I was better in every one of those draws, and I had a theoretically, but non-trivial, draw against a 2166 in round 1, but time I was down to something like 7 minutes to the opponents 20, and I blundered, allowing him to make progress.
The most tragic game of the tournament for me wasn’t even letting that draw against the 2166 slip by. For some background, the one opening I know is the Sicilian Dragon. Before this game, I was sporting a 2252 performance rating with it. The results have been absurd, and I was confident that this game could net me a full point. When my close friend, NM Jim Diamond looked at the game, he just raised an eyebrow, saying, “And here, you offered a draw?!” Umm… to me, in the final position, I thought white had all sorts of potential shots to open up my K and make for a tricky game, which, sure I might win, but I was also thinking of the possibility of losing. One of my coaches has a training exercise where I evaluate middlegame positions, then he tells me his evaluation (classical plus/minus style) and then we look at Stockfish’s evaluation. The reason I offered the draw is because there is a simple, very helpful practical truth that I derived from this exercise: when the classical evaluation is clearly winning for one side versus an engine evaluation that is much less extreme, it means the position is generally very scary for the side that is better –or, at least, there is a tremendous amount of compensation for the weaker side, making the position very easy to play for one side over the other. For example, in the final position, despite being up a piece and assigning the position a clear minus-over-plus assessment, I thought of all the plans, lines, geometry, developmental considerations, and assumed that an engine would assess the position as -1.00, not -3.00. I was rudely awakened when I got back to my hotel room and pumped in the final position, and the engine read that I was basically up a piece for nothing. Blah. Fear. Here’s the game.
At least GM Larry Christiansen didn’t think of me as fearful. His words were “fearless” and “brazen,” referring to another game. I brought a game to his analysis, one with a complex ending that I simply couldn't believe wasn't winning according to an engine (a draw vs a 2116), for GM Christiansen to have a look at, during one of his analysis sessions, but one of my opponents, unbeknownst to me, was having our game from that round (rd. 5) analyzed. I was amused by the comment, so I’m including the game.
So, not a bad result. About a 2000 performance in a U2300 section, which is not a trivial task. Add in the fact that I was a heartbeat away from a 3.0/6 finish, and that a 3.5-4.0/6 finish was a realistic possibility, and I’m very happy with the qualitative indicators of improvement. What do they indicate? I am hoping it means that 2000 is around the corner.
I had some real fun at the end. My last round game was one of those poor openings I get against an NM, and there's no shaking them to find play, so I was lucky to hold it together. I got to meet chess.com friends WCM Mary Kuhner, NM Jim Diamond, NM bikingbrian, and a name I knew but have never met, NM Jeff Quirke. They helped me analyze my last round game, which was tremendous fun. They are all so much better at positional play than I am, so it was educational for me to hear their thoughts. Mary came up with a couple of winning plans for my opponent, while the back-and-forth of the NMs was a great deal of fun.
Next stop, Philadelphia… tonight, as it were. I head out for the U2300 tournament, World Open Warmup, and World Open Action Championship leading into the World Open main event. Sprinkle in an insane number of blitz tournaments, and we can call me “quite busy” over the coming 12 days.