Best of Times, Worst of Times
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," so begins A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. (If you have never read this classic of English Literature, shame on you! It's available on line for free at several places including here.) Now, it would be wrong to equate the experience of a chess tournament to the heady social issues concerning life in Paris and London during the times of the French Revolution, however, my experiences at a tournament are always full of opposite emotional experiences. I'm always excited, and frequently disappointed. Full of energy and exhausted. Confident and wary. Fun stuff it is!
Let's look at an OTB tournament I recently participated in from the point of view of Charles Dickens!
Best of times: I arrive at the tournament site after a 2.5 hour drive. I get to spend a few minutes chatting with people. Well, more than people. These are friends. I know most of the other participants --- this is one advantage of living in an area without a large number of chess players. You get to know most of the active people.
Worst of times: I'm having the usual pre-tournament jitters. While waiting for the first round pairings, I'm afraid that I'll get paired against someone much stronger than me and get demolished in the first round. Of course, I'm also afraid that I'll paired against someone much weaker than me, blunder in the opening and suffer a humiliating defeat. I just can't be happy
Worst of times: I get paired against the highest rated player. Who I've played against 3 times in tournaments prior to this (and lost all 3 times). On chess.com, Gunners2004 has been my "Bete Noire" (he properly identified our relationship in one of his blog posts.) Well, for OTB my bete noire is this opponent that I get paired with in the first round. I always play him tough and usual have a passable position if not a downright advantage. But in the previous encounters, he's always worn me down and gotten the win.
Even Worster of times: After 8 moves I've lost a pawn. Sheez, this is just great. Nothing to do but keep struggling. Maybe something will happen. Maybe pigs can fly.
Best of times: Finally, I catch a break. Opponent number one slips up and misses the tactic that I've been working on setting up. Suddenly I have won my pawn back, and have what I judge to be a superior position with winning chances. Well, I probably wasn't that much better but I definitely had the edge! Go me!
Even Besterer (yep, I believe in all sorts of non-existent superlatives. It's a gift!) of times: My opponent offers me a draw! That's almost like a victory for me. And, in a moment of exuberance I actually pay attention to something that Dan Heisman would advise: I say, "Let's play on a bit" and refuse the draw. No half point for Jeff. He's playing for the win.
Worst: I completely misunderstand the needs of the endgame, and quickly get myself into a completely lost position. Oh the humanity!
Worst: After the first round disappointment, I'm paired against another very strong player. I have black and decide to play the Petroff defense. My opponent plays the King's Gambit. I've never played the Kings gambit as either black or white! Also, at that moment my brain decides to seize up, and I can't remember hardly any theory. I accept the gambit (I decide not to wimp out) and quickly find myself in a tactical bloodbath for which I am neither looking for nor wanting. I should have played the Pirc defense.
Worst: I completely overlook a candidate move for the opponent, and Qb3 takes me by surprise. I now have a Knight and a pawn en prise and there is no way to save both. I spend 12 minutes (in a time control of g45; d5!) trying to analyze my alternatives. Yep, I'm trying to fix the problems I should have seen. Much like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.
Best: Finally, I decide that I can give up a rook, trap white's queen and wind up getting a queen and a pawn for 2 rooks with good activity. A position that I evaluate as favorable for me.
Worst: Oops. In my calculations, I missed an option that white had. I get the queen ... for 2 rooks and a bishop. I'm lost.
Best: The position is still sharp and I get my queen and remaining pieces well co-ordinated and manage to tie up my opponent. He has to sacrifice an exchange to avoid a mate. I deem the both sides have chances in an unbalenced position. I'm back in the hunt!
Worst: In time trouble and desperate to keep pressure on my opponent I push a pawn to attack his king's defenses. I knew something was wrong when he nearly jumped out of his chair to immediately play ... the move I had completely missed. A discovered check winning my queen! Aaaaaargh!!
Best: Two tough losses, but I can hold my head high. I've tried hard and put a scare into both opponents.
Worst: I blunder a pawn in the opening in my Round 3 game. Holy catastrophe, Batman!
Best: I find a tactic, win a pawn back and then win an exchange. I completely outplay my opponent and have enough technique to finish up and win.
Worst: After the game my opponent points out that I missed a devastatingly awesome tactic which would have won his queen. So, I could have shortened the game by an hour if I had just caught that one.
Worst: Round 4 against a player rated much lower than me. It seems like my brain is squishy and running in slow motion. I can't think and am struggling. My opponent is displaying a much better understanding of the position than I am.
Best: Finally, I get a sequence in that I've been planning. I allow my opponent to get a passed pawn knowing that I can snap up the pawn in a few moves. Looking good!
Worst: Uh, turns out I can't snap up the pawn. Now I'm struggling to hold on. I'm desperately trying to find a way to hold the endgame, but I'm running out of time.
Best: The opponent misplays the endgame terribly, allowing me to get two connected passed pawn and he doesn't know how to stop them with his rook. I go on to win.
Best: It's over! I've survived! I say goodbye to the players that are still around, thank the TD and organizer for hosting the tournment and get back on the road.
BEST: On the ride home, my wife and I stop for some yummy eats at Five Guys. Yum yum!
And here is the game from Round 2 with some humorous annotations: