Shabalov Simul!

NM blitzcopter
Feb 6, 2016, 7:00 PM |

Tl;dr I was okay, then I was winning, then I missed a bunch of draws, then I lost.

Today, the Pittsburgh Chess Club held a 20-board simultaneous exhibition with GM Shabalov! I was lucky and saw the announcement when it came out so it didn't get sold out quickly to everyone else that realized the value in paying $10 to play Shabalov and support the club.

(Next weekend, four of us from CMU are headed to US Amateur Team East, where as first board, I could potentially face some scary titled player/similarly qualified master. I suppose I can thank Shabalov for the preparation!)

I had never played or watched a simul before, but my expectations for the procedure turned out to be mostly correct, if incomplete. There were no clocks, all of us had Black, Shabalov moved around the square of boards, pausing/thinking/moving at each, and we were expected (though not strictly required) to move when he showed up at the board. Each of us got to postpone moving twice. Pretty standard simul procedure.

Shabalov won all 20 games. The four experts tried their best, but a certain one (who?) lost with a knight vs. two pawns, another messed up an equal opposite-colored bishop ending, and the two others were defeated handily.

Wikipedia cites the late GM Jan Hein Donner's advice for simul participants, basically:

  • Play what you know well; be especially careful in the opening. Well, I played into the 1. c4 e5 English, probably the mainstream opening I know least about, and didn't feel I was being particularly thoughtful. But the computer thinks I kept up with the GM pretty well in the opening.
  • Play aggressively. I'm not a naturally aggressive player, so I don't buy the psychological backing. But I did avoid the passive tendency pitfalls, which Donner specifically addressed.
  • Don't be afraid to exchange. Not so relevant to this game. In any case some exchanges are clearly bad, so I'd still say it depends completely on the position.

As I said, the opening was pretty reasonable especially considering my lack of knowledge. A later White blunder gave me a knight for two pawns. According to Shabalov, I played most of the ending as I should have, but almost all the other games had finished when the ending became really tricky. Because of the move-timing custom (although Shabalov graciously allowed me to break this a few times near the end), it was basically like playing a GM in time pressure. 

I hadn't really expected to win since the ending was tough, but I always thought I had a draw in hand. Indeed, even after I gave back the knight I had some easy draws, but I overlooked a simple interference tactic allowing White to queen.