Who Needs Sleep If You're 2150?

NM blitzcopter
Jun 27, 2016, 10:12 AM |

Still not sure how I pulled this off with 3-4 hours of sleep, but I gained over 50 rating points (and some pocket cash) in Solon, Ohio this weekend!

As I mentioned before, I will soon be joining chess^summit, with the relaunch in one (!) day and my first post scheduled for July 5. I'd planned for a few more chess^summit-style posts to aid my transition, including a post on my last game from a local G/45 tournament, where I survived a menacing attack from the White side of a Benoni, despite being significantly worse and 20 minutes down for much of the game. However, last week I didn't get enough analysis/writing time, and I want to document yesterday's remarkable tournament before I forget too much, so expect a post on the Benoni game in a few days.

A while ago I was referred to the monthly tournaments (usually G/30 held in an organic market in Solon) run by the Cleveland-area organization Progress With Chess. Saturday's did not disappoint; I can see why it's so popular locally, even among the higher-rated crowd.

If the tournament hadn't gone so well, this could have easily been pegged as one of my worst non-lethal decisions ever. G/30 isn't exactly my favorite time control. Due to public transportation details I won't go into, the trip involved a 3:30 am bus to Cleveland and 2 more hours on local buses. As someone reminded me, the last time I got up that early for chess[...]

But it wasn't enough to prevent me from scoring 3.5/4 with two victories over masters, finishing clear second, and bringing my rating from 2104 to 2156. Still not completely sure why, but a few things did work in my favor.

  • Yes, I did sleep. I'm not sure how much I slept the night before Cherry Blossom, but for reasons discussed earlier it wasn't much more than the hour on the flight to DC. This time, I used the whole bus ride, though I wasn't able to sleep much before that. Among my weird college friends I'm one of the bigger advocates for healthy sleep habits, but sometimes things happen and I made the most of it.
  • Staying hydrated. One of my biggest untold lessons from Cherry Blossom. This time, I planned and kept enough water for my waking hours, generally felt as good as reasonably possible, and didn't crash until well after the tournament had ended.
  • G/30. Surprise!! What do sleep-deprived players worry about? Exhausting long games and general alertness. Even a few long games in the same day would tire anyone, especially me on a few hours of sleep. And sleep is important for staying alert enough for a chess game (particularly G/30), but staying hydrated compensated for that, a lot. At least for four rounds.
  • Outsider status. Occasionally I hear the Cleveland players are overrated. I won't comment on that, but despite such strong competition, this was just another local tournament for many players, who play each other so often locally that the ratings, even for the masters, are all over the place. Maybe they were too casual for G/30, not having to prove the worth of hours-long transportation and sleep deprivation, or not accustomed to newcomers. (Note: based on my limited experience I have found players from Pittsburgh to be underrated compared to those from other areas)
  • Familiar openings. In three of my games, I got some pretty familiar stuff to work with. Always helps.

Now for some key moments from each of the games:

Round 1: Clock Favor

My first round opponent, local high school senior Ian Golias, wasn't familiar with the Closed Sicilian and I built up a 20-to-10 minute advantage by move 14.

Here I wagered that the position after 14. Bh6!? would be harder to play for Black, who after taking on f5 will have to spend some time dealing with pressure on the f-file, giving White some compensation.

However, I soon faced time pressure as well. The position evaluation swung between -1.2 and +2.5 over the next few moves, and after a few errors from both sides we reached this position.

White's rook and queen (and soon knight) are a little too close to home. Black had to chase one of them out with 27...Ng8 or 27...h6, but with less than 30 seconds left, Black could only produce 27...d5? and after 28. Nf4 threatening 29. Rxf7+ it was too late for 28...h6?? 29. Nh5+

However a few moves later I accidentally knocked over a bunch of pieces because I saw the delay count down, thought it was my remaining time, and panicked (I had closer to 45 seconds left). Fortunately my opponent was already lost and graciously called his own flag.

Round 2: Bogo, Trouble, Escape

Local TD Bill Wright played the 4. Nbd2 counter-Bogo, which often leads to Black trading off the knight and planting his own on e4. However after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+ 4. Nbd2 b6 he played the less common 5. e3 and after 5...Bb7 6. Bd3 Black has several "normal" solid options, such as a 6...d5 Queen's Gambit with the knight on d2. Instead the game continued 6...Ne4? 7. O-O f5 and White could play 8. Qc2, forcing Black to vacate e4 and ensuring an advantageous e3-e4 push in the next few moves, or 8. a3 which led in a few moves to:

White is clearly better, but Black can make things even more difficult with the reckless 13...c5? and after 14. bxc5 bxc5 White can win a pawn or wreak havoc on the dark squares with 15. Rb1 or 15. Qb3 Bc6 16. Bb2 cxd4 17. Bxd4 Qg6.

Now 18. Qb4! intending to jump into d6 leaves Black completely tied up since 18...Na6? 19. Qa5 is unbearable. White chose the tamer 18. Bc5 Rf5 19. Bxa7 (19. Bd6 also allows the knight into play) 19...Na6 20. Bd4 Nc5 21. Bxc5 Rxc5 where White's pawn structure makes it surprisingly difficult to do anything constructive. White later broke out in time trouble chaos, forcing a pawn-up queen ending that was very dangerous for me, but eventually settled for a perpetual with 10 seconds left. A very tough (and lucky) game.

Round 3: Attacking in the... Caro-Kann?

With another Black, this time against local master Ben Weaver, I expected another tough fight, but 11. Bd2 Classical Caro-Kann lines were among the first I seriously studied. White ended up allowing a potent ...b5 sacrifice that gave me a very easy game.

The Classical Caro-Kann gets a boring reputation but mostly because too many people just play 12...Qc7 and follow White queenside. We blitzed through 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 Nd7 8. h5 Bh7 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 e6 11. Bd2 Ngf6 12. O-O-O Be7! 13. Kb1 O-O.

White usually plays 14. Ne4 or 14. Qe2 here. Instead White played 14. c4?! allowing 14...b5! 15. cxb5 cxb5 16. Qxb5. Objectively White may be okay here, but it seems very difficult to play, even against someone as materialistic as me.

A move earlier I had missed a chance to win a piece but was nonetheless cruising. The simplest continuation seemed to be 21...Bb4 where 22. Bxb4 Qxb4 23. Qxb4 Rxb4 is likely best, although the resulting endgame is pretty miserable for White despite the temporary pawn advantage, since f4 (and later e5 with high probability) are falling. However White fell apart after 22. Ne2?? because after 22...a5 23. Rh3 Rfc8 White can't stop ...Qa6 which wins on the spot. White got mated about 10 moves later. With the exception of my miss at move 20, this was basically the smoothest I could hope for a game against a master.

Round 4: Momentum

Generally last rounds aren't the most ambitious occasions for me, since I usually have trouble keeping form late into a tournament. But at 2 pm, I was still wide awake and confident from my surprising Round 3 rout, with one more White to boot, this time against another active Cleveland-area master, Pappu Murthy. Plus I somehow had a chance at a USCF "Master" norm, since the expected score for a 2200 against my opponents is less than 2.5.

The game began normally enough with a Closed Sicilian (1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. d3 d6 6. Be3 Nf6 7. h3 O-O 8. f4) but my opponent soon got carried away.

I was surprised by 8...Ne8!?, which seems like an offbeat attempt to keep a hold on d4 at the cost of some time. The game continued 9. Nf3 Nd4 10. O-O Nc7 11. Qd2 Nxf3+ 12. Rxf3 Ne6 13. Raf1 and now 13...Nd4 or even 13...f5!? (the point being 14. exf5 Nd4) would have been natural and consistent.

Instead Black dawdled a move too long with 13...Rb8? and after 14. f5 Nd4 15. R3f2 Be5 16. Bf4 (16. Nd5! was even stronger; there are many reasons Black won't survive after 16...Bxg3 17. f6 Bxf2+ 18. Rxf2) 16...f6 17. fxg6 hxg6 18. Bxe5 dxe5 19. Qh6 Black was hanging by a thread.

19...Qe8 20. Nd5 Qf7 was more or less forced due to 20...Be6? 21. c3. After 21. g4 Be6? 22. c3 happened anyway. Since 22...Bxd5 23. exd5 Nb5 24. d6! is hopeless (White threatens to play Bd5 or wreck the kingside) Black tried 22...Nc6 but this allowed (finally) 23. Nxf6+ exf6 24. Rxf6 Qxf6 25. Rxf6 Rxf6 26. g5 and I converted easily due to all the weak pawns.

What a day! 44 points until master, which means I can hopefully start gearing up for the challenge of breaking 2190 multiple times. For now I'm planning on enjoying the lighter side of chess with World Open side events (don't judge) on July 3, but I'll remember to get out the Benoni post this week.