The Worst Kind of Good Tournament at the Liberty Bell Open
Some good things certainly happened to me at the Liberty Bell Open, but it was really the worst kind of good tournament I could have. Not only did I continue to suffer an ailment, I added two other issues that were true surprises that I haven’t dealt with since I started chess. I’ll mention the good things, before I run off and start complaining.
I wouldn’t have come close to the result I had (jumping from 1778 to a new peak at 1850) if I hadn’t had opening in which I was still ok or just not busted. Right now, I’m probably getting iced in about the first 12-15 moves of half the games I play. I draw and win from some of these positions, which indicates that I’m loads stronger than many of the A-Class players I’m playing. However, I’ve only begun looking at openings since September, because I was (correctly) told when I began as a complete beginner that openings are hardly even relevant at 1700 or 1800, and that I wouldn’t need to study them until I made it to 2000-ish. The assumption was that I’d likely never make it to 1500, having started from scratch at 25. The advice was pretty much right, but if you play theoretical openings with lots of traps, then you need to start a little ways out from 2000. The results are beginning to show, as I’ve hammered players from the white side of the Najdorf in 8 consecutive games, and in under 18 moves. Despite the fact that general human memory capacity doesn’t translate immediately to chess memory, my near-eidetic memory has allowed me to memorize hundreds of lines in, for example, the Najdorf, and in only months. It will still take a about 1,000 hours to get my repertoire up to NM-level status, and those hours will be hard to find before the summer; but I consider it a blessing to be able to pour cement into those holes so quickly. At the Liberty Bell, I just happened to fall into openings I either knew or was not wrecked instantly.
Another good thing was that I had defeated my first 1900 in 2016, scalping a total of 3 in 2016. As good as that was, I have scalped 3 1900’s just 3 weeks into 2017. The year could certainly be big for me. It looks like I could be back on track with my 200-points per year gain by July 2017. The nice thing about that is that I told my coaches I’d be happy to get to 2000 in the next three years, knowing how hard the climb can be from 1800-1900. I’m bound to give away points, now that I’m back in Boston, but it was clear before I left that my rating had stabilized with respect to the Bostonian player pool, and was again climbing. I guess there are a few other good things that happened at the Liberty Bell Open, but let’s get to the complaining!
Decision Fatigue. This thing is driving me bonkers at this point. I’m finding that lots of basic decisions I need to make at the board are infinitely harder than they normally are. Just look at the position I offered a draw from in round 6. Black to move.
My initial thought was that I wasn’t sure if my pawn advance would take so much time that black would be able to coordinate pieces. Despite having plenty of time, I couldn’t decide to calculate and plan, get up and walk about before making some decisions, or just make a super early draw offer while the opponent was still pressured. I had decided to get up from the board and think things over, re-evaluate the position, and probably push for a win with the idea of withdrawing. However, before I got up, I immediately said “draw?” with the idea that I could play to win against a weaker opponent in round 7. Of course, my opponent, who had peaked at about 2100 (USCF), accepted without much hesitation. As soon as I stood up, I began thinking about why I didn’t play on for the win, especially considering that my flight home might run close to the end of my last game, and I’d hate to feel artificial time pressure, resulting in a mediocre tournament result. In fact, I had already decided before the event that I would only play in the last round if it would make or break my tournament. The draw offer made no microscopic or macroscopic sense. It was snap decision-making, and was more the result of not wanting to make a decision than anything.
In my game against the top 8-year old in the country, Liran Zhou, I was worse after I had a difficult time deciding which R move better held my position. Rather than look any deeper, I just vacillated between one and the other with no real search for reason. This decision fatigue is like having a pendulum inside your skull, rather than an actual decision-making process. Anyways, I had a very consorted following that poor decision, and I wrangled the little guy into a situation in which I had an ending that had me up three pawns versus a N. For the first time since very early in my career, I was caught up in the psychology of playing a much higher rated player (listed at 2014) and the sentiment that I was fighting for a draw. After garnering a third pawn for the piece, I was dead won. The psychology of the moment definitely forced my mind overlook an important concept in the final position, in which I offered a draw. I looked at the N sacrifice and the fact that I could shoulder the opponent’s K to promote, but it was like my mind pitched that variation completely out, and I offered a draw.
In those two games, my performance rating went from 2200+ to something like 2050. Meh…
I’ll end on a good note. For the first time ever, I played halfway decent rapid, blitz, and bullet(!) chess in a standard game. Being decent at any of these controls doesn’t mean that you’ll be good in standard games at them. Transitioning from one control to the next can be pretty difficult. I certainly have found it to be. In this position, I found correct move, winning a pawn, getting initiative, and giving myself huge practical chances versus a 1993. (Actually, after checking with the engine, it said that my move was the second best, but others will likely see the move that I played here.) White to move with just ticks left on the clock to make the 40th move:
Well, I lied. I’ll end on a negative note. That same 1993-rated player ended up giving me a tricky, very geometrical two-move tactic to win that hanging R, and my nerves were absolutely shot afterward. Once the win was imminent, I had the hardest of times finding the best moves afterward. I had not experienced nervousness since I began playing chess. I imagine this was the result of not exercising as much, again, due to the new job. Here is the positions and the critical move that I almost missed, as I was flustered by my opponent’s blocking counter check. Fortunately, I found the right move.