Finishing the Last Round
I was tired. I was hot. It was the fourth and final round of the OTB tournament and with 3 wins already I was playing for first place.
The game could be going better. I wasn't happy with my position because my pieces were cramped and I couldn't see any way to generate a lot of play for myself.
Then the negative thoughts started to enter: what if I lose this game? Well, if I could get a draw I would probably still win the tourney or be tied for first. But ... then ... the correct thought flooded my mind!
I thought back to all the advice I've read in Dan Heisman's articles [see Dan's web page and look for the link to his Articles page. You'll see a link to his "Novice Nook" columns that he has written for chesscafe.com. Dan is now working on his 150th Novice Nook article! Also join the Dan Heisman Learning Center here at chess.com -- a group dedicated to learning to play better chess by following Dan's advice]
Suddenly it dawned on! At that moment, I didn't have to worry about whether I would win or lose the game. I didn't have to worry about winning the tournament, and I certainly didn't need to worry about my rating. All that mattered was finding the best move for this move using an appropriate amount of time. Dan's philosophy is simple. Just look for the best move you can. Then you make it and then again you look for the best move. The outcome of the game (and the tournament) would take care of itself. All I needed to do was to make one move at a time.
So I found what I thought was the best move. My opponent offered me a pawn sacrifice (with some compensation) and then I made the best move I could find. Soon, I could find ways to activate my pieces and start making threats and I had what I thought was a modest advantage. The game was certainly not decided but my attitude had completely changed. I was playing the position and enjoying the fight.
I got in serious time trouble and slipped up letting my opponent get his pawn back and also threatening to grab another pawn or two. By this time I didn't have time to worry if I would lose (a distinct possibility!) because I was down to scant seconds. My opponent, also under time trouble, managed to hang a piece and give me a win. I had 17 seconds left on the clock when he finally resigned.
Things I learned at this tournament:
(1) Play this move!
It sounds so simple but it is not possible to over-exagerate the importance of playing the move at hand on the board. Often you will here coaches of sports team say "We have to play them one game at a time", meaning that you don't think ahead about the next contest because you have to deal with the current game. The same thing is true in chess. You have to play it one move at a time.
(2) Time Management
My wife came along to the tournament to observe (and read a lot!). After the third round she noted that my game was the last to finish each round. I told that that was a reason I was winning! I was using almost all of my time during the game (another of Dan's basic philosophies) while my first three opponents moved way too quickly and gave me easy advantages.
You don't score extra points for using less time!
Yes, one can get tired, both physically and mentally, during a tournament. But as Dan pointed out to me, my opponent in the last round had also played three games. He was probably just as tired as I was.
Banish the thought that you are tired. All you have to do is play this move. You'll spend a few minutes at most finding the best move you can. How hard is that? And then you repeat. When I adopted this mind-set, I quit thinking that I was tired. I was completely immersed in the game and fighting to get an edge. And that's when chess is the most fun!