My first OTB tournament games

My first OTB tournament games

Jul 26, 2011, 9:59 AM |

After about 2 years of online playing, I finally played in my first OTB tournament in a U1400 section, 35/90 with 5 sec delay.  

Just to kill the suspense, I scored 2/5 and was 0-2 with white and 2-1 with black.  

Game 1 - I won as black in 36 moves against a middle-aged GM playing in his 2nd OTB tourney (unrated could still mean super-GM strength, so back off).  He was a friendly chap, a good ol' sport.

Game 2 - I got crushed in 33 moves as white against a pleasant high-school boy computer- genius-type rated 1266.  Before both of our next games, we had a good conversation on the colorful quirks of several of the former chess champions, online playing, engines, and chess960.

Game 3 - I got crushed in 30 moves as black against a very friendly positive encouraging 6th-grader rated 1304, who unfortunately I can't bring myself to call a punk.  I asked him before the match how many tournaments he plays and he said, "[my dad and brothers and] I go to dozens of tournaments every year".  

Game 4 - I got crushed as white in 22 moves against a senior citizen with an 1159 rating, who said maybe 3 words total and would fall asleep at times in the seated position at the board with an unlit cigar in his mouth, but then wake up when I'd hit the clock and proceed to destroy me, in the way he probably destroyed the axis of evil in World War II.

After this game, my 3rd consecutive crushing loss, I was seriously demoralized and made the difficult personal decision to quit chess forever until my next game later that afternoon (not counting the chess mentor lessons I did zwischenzug). 

Game 5 - I won as black in 56 moves against an adult male rated 1155 in what was by far my longest and most mentally grueling game ever. This game came down to king/pawn(s) ending.  This guy was a friendly chap, also a good sport.   

Some observations about my first OTB tournament experience...

1. Time was never an issue at 35/90 with 5 seconds delay.

2. Even though I made errors/blunders aplenty, I wouldn't have changed any moves on the basis of time since it was never a factor in the first place (G/45, G/30 would be a different story, however).

3. Adjusting to writing moves / hitting clock was easier than expected, though I did forget to record some moves (easily corrected), and as black I sometimes accidently wrote in "descriptive-esque" notation (writing Nf3 when I meant Nf6, for instance).  It was easy to correct my own notation errors during and after the games.

4. Openings.  It was I who deviated from the openings (in my repertoire) first in all of my games, simply because I forgot my repertoire lines, having decided a few weeks earlier that I'd continue drilling tactics, endgames, and some chess mentor <1200 lessons, instead of dedicating any time to memorizing openings for this first tourney.  I left my opening book at moves 8, 5, 2, 2, and 4 in my 5 games as black, white, black, white, black, respectively.

5. Middlegame: 

a) PAWN PLAY.  Although time was never an issue in any game, I seriously underestimated how much time I spent calculating my and my opponents' potential pawn advances/exchanges.  I felt entirely lost in timing these advances against U1400 players.

b) Strategy/positional play: Even though I can verbally regurgitate the common truisms of strategy/positional play, I had no clue how to move when I could not find a tactic or superficial threat or when I left the security of my opening book. I simply tried calculating in the manner that Silman says not to.

c) Tactics: The importance should be obvious, but the only tactical blunders made by my opponents that I could immediately recognize were in game 1.  On the flip side, I made numerous blunders that I immediately recognized after my opponents punished me severely.  My victory in game 5 was decided by my opponent's 2 consecutive decisive endgame blunders with his king.  I probably made several blunders in games 1 and 5, but I have not computer-analyzed any games (although I had Stockfish running after the tournament when I inputted my moves into my Chess Openings Wizard ebook, where I saw the marked change in position assessment after the 2 blunderous king moves).  

d) None of my 3 losses went to an endgame...these were opening/middlegame massacres.

6. Endgames:

a) My 2 victories came down to the endgame.

In game 1, I had a minor piece advantage with a pawn structure disadvantage.

In game 5, I don't recall any material imbalance between the sides.  This game came down to a king/pawn(s) endgame with multiple mistakes made by both sides, but my opponent made 2 consecutive decisive blunders with king moves (based on 2-seconds analysis by Stockfish as I inputted the moves into Chess Openings Wizard...after the game of course) that eventually led to a classic KP vs K ending with me with the opposition on the winning side.  

b) Once again, calculating PAWN advances/exchanges proved to be the most memorable unexpected unpleasantry of the tournament experience, in the opening, middlegame, and endgame.  

7. Post-mortems: Nobody asked me for one nor did I ask for any.  The 2 opponents that I beat initiated a kind of 1-minute mini-post-mortem where the obvious was stated, "looks like no matter what I do, you are going to queen your pawn", playing out a few potential lines, and that was it.

Overall, it was a pleasant but frustrating and humbling experience.  I have a newfound respect for the grueling amount of time playing in these matches / tournaments esepcially for those at the upper levels where a tiny lapse in precise calculation can kill your position.  I have a new respect for playing conditions that players get pissed off about.  The hotel we played in had issues with the air conditioning and the playing rooms were adjacent to a large wedding reception on the 2nd day and to the bar the last day with loud music permeating the rooms.  

There were several times when I was thinking about how I just wanted my game to end soon, notably the last game...can't imagine what it was like in those epic Karpov-Kasparov battles.

I have another tournament in about 5 weeks (this one has a blitz component making me think I may need to drill the opening repertoire some more) and then I have to call it quits (for OTB play) for probably at least 1 year.  

My games are posted here for your amusement.  I have not performed any lengthy computer-analysis or checked any databases except my own opening repertoire books.  Do not spare the rod for assessment / advice / quick-fixes (can't fault me for trying) for my play, although at this point I sense it is "study/analyze/play more, tactics tactics tactics, opening principles, endgames, and positional play basics."