Pushing Through Part III

Jun 10, 2016, 9:34 AM |

With the exception of a six month stretch in 2011 I had been solidly in the A class since 2008. So finally getting into the expert class was such a huge relief for me. The USCF rating estimator had me at 2025 after round four and the lowest I could have fallen based on who was in the three point score group would be 2003. This meant that I was free of any consideration of withdrawing to protect my new status.

Nonetheless, I still had to deal with many people asking me "Jeff, since you are now an expert, are you staying for the last round?" It's kind of an unfortunate tradition in recent years for people to withdraw from a tournament when they earn the rating points necessary to reach a new rating milestone. While it may be understandable for a new master or even an expert to walk away, I've seen people as low as 1500 do this. I have seen one person get burned because he didn't realize that one of his opponents was provisional and his rating was much lower than it was on the wall chart. That particular player left the World Open with a rating of 2199. He picked up his master title in his next event, but I can't imagine how he'd feel if he never got a sniff at 2200 afterwards. 

My philosophy on this is that if I really am an expert, I'd prove it over the board, and I enter tournaments to see where I stand in the field. Yes, it's easy to say this when I don't have to make the decision. I just can't see myself walking away just for self-gratification.

So with expert firmly in my back pocket, the next question was, "Can I finish?"  There was still an outside chance of a tie for first, but with a 2600+ GM sitting on top board with four points, I couldn't see that as realistic. He would play the top player of the five in our score group and eventually draw leaving the other player with 3.5. That left four of us and the natural pairings dictated that I got to play NM Dominique Myers in the last round. 

Dominique is a really fun guy to watch play chess. He's especially creative and is more than happy to throw caution to the wind against anyone. You should check out one of his past games against current US Women's Champion IM Nazi Paikidze from the 2013 US Masters to get the essence of the inner mongoose of Dominique. The game is about midway through the article.

My game with Dominique was much more subdued. In fact I ended up attacking him and much like in my second round game, I launched an unsound attack. Dominique missed 25... Bf5 which would have put him firmly in control of the game. Otherwise it was a pretty even affair. 

Unfortunately I began losing focus during the game and had some trouble maintaining my scoresheet as well as calculating combinations. Not coincidentally this occured after taking a peek at board two on the projector in the skittles room and realizing the potential for that game to be a draw. Clear second was within reach and I was eyeing my connected passed pawns on the a- and b- files as a potential source of leverage. As the game advanced I was able to force him to cough up his bishop leading to a R+B+P vs R+4P endgame.

Unfortunately my lack of focus started to intensify as he went into the tank on his 47th move. My mind was racing like Secretariat as I tried to calculate a non-existent mating net. I flagged down a TD to let him know that I need to take a walk for a while to "reset my brain." While on this walk I promised myself I would take at least ten minutes on the next move. After all his d-pawn looked very dangerous and I need to find a soultion for it. 

As I sat down I suddenly got a small bit of clarity in my head and realized that the mating net was not there. So quickly before I could get riled up again, I played 48. Be7 which turned out to be the best move by far. The mate threat forced him to play h6 leaving his pawns on the kindside as sitting ducks. Instead of taking advantage I reverted back to my "mindblur" of a mating net and refused to take the pawns. By checking his king I allowed the king to defend the pawns and equalize. He followed up with a mistake by challenging my bishop on the e-file and allowing me a discovered threat to reset the position.

Then he put his rook on d4.  

The bells started ringing.

The confetti started flying.

A couch was tossed into a college bonfire.

OK maybe not.

But it was the end...... and suddenly my mind no longer raced. My "dream tournament" was complete. I gained 103 rating points to attain a 2061 rating... well into the expert class. I earned my biggest payday ever from a chess event.... $800.

I had struggled for eight years in the A class wondering if I'd after achieve that expert ranking. With my concussion and heart issues I knew that every shot could easily be my last. It meant so much to me to put a crooked number at the front of my rating. Curtis Graham, a long time expert in his own right, told me back in 1997, when I was rated around 1300, he thought I had expert potential. I always remembered that and used that as motivation when I could find time to work on my game. It's not potential anymore. 

Of course there is work to do. Do I have master in me? I often ask my students how good they are at chess. Usually they respond with varying levels of self-perceived incompetence. Then I prompt them to ask me how good I think they are. When they ask me how good I think they are I always tell them, "I don't know how good you are. For all I know there is a master level mind hidden away somewhere inside that noggin of yours. We probably won't know how good you are for years. We'll only know if you put forth an honest effort."