One day you're on fire, the next...

Mar 16, 2014, 3:48 PM |

About a week ago, I went to a big chess tourney. I was eager to do well since I ended 2013 on a bad note with a dumb loss to a 1500 in the last game (I pretty much gave the game zero effort). I realized after that tourney that the biggest thing holding me back was lack of true effort in games. Unfortunetly, I had to wait six months before I got another shot at winning a tournament. I studied a little bit, but not in the right areas (I spent most of my chess studying working on the opening instead of calculation - which I should have worked on). The six month drought led to a thirst to compete. As the days wore on I became even more bloodthirsty until the tournament was finally here. I had been looking forward to playing National Master Nels (my nemisis) and Jerry John (my arch rival - rated about 1900 now). Not too long after I arrived at the playing venue I found out that both these players were not participating! Nels had some other event and couldn't make it. Jerry John on the other hand, had driven several hours to get to the tourney but had decided not to play since quote: "It's a bad omen to be the top seed." Well if Jerry is reading this I have to say I do not agree with the decision. In otherwords I think he is saying that he was afraid of losing. In fact the last tournament he played in, he was the top seed and lost to a 1600 and dropped 50 points. Despite this I still think that is bad logic, if I were the top seed I would still play because I would want to prove that my rating in where it should be. Anyway, after that decision the tourney was blown wide open for the rest of the players, including me. If I didn't get first, I figured I probably should just quit chess.

Game One: Light the Match, Strike the Flame

In the first round I was matched up against Micah Marks, a young, up and coming player who had, by some miracle, actually won a big tourney recently. He managed to beat a 1700 despite being totally worse (perhaps lost) the whole game - so I knew I shouldn't underestimate him. I played my fave opening, the Spanish. He played the Classical Defense and then played 6...d5 which is a mistake. I sank into a long thought and decided that 7.Nxe5 was best. At that point he should have castled but he kept his king in the center at which point I was able to keep it there with a Bxf7 tactic. After 11...Bf5, I took one of the longest thinks of the tournament trying to calculate out the best path; eventually I found it. The rest of the game was me being careful, keeping up my near super-natural calculation, and even getting a bit greedy near the end. Here is the game:

After the game I was amazed at how well I was calculating and how many great ideas I saw. I realized that I was "on fire!" and was reved up for the next round.
Game Two: When in time trouble, play crushing chess
I was matched up against a 1500-1600 rated player in the second round. It was a surprisingly a tougher game than I expected. My opponent played the English but let me get the b5 push quickly. However, after he played d4 I had no real idea of how to play the position. I looked at many ideas, but ultimately don't think I found the right idea. I began to look to stir things up and make the game complicated. I really wanted to play f5... but intuitively it seemed too risky to play. Instead I choose 19...Qe7 and after the mistaken 20.Nd5 was able to engineer the d5-push getting rid of my backward pawn. However, I had a moment of inattention when I played 23...dxe4 and was brought back to the real world when my opponent played 24.Rxe4. It should have been equal at that point but then my opponent started to play one bad move after the other. I was in time trouble but I kept calculating especially while my opponent was thinking. Some of my moves weren't the best - I knew this fact over the board, but figured that my opponent wouldn't find the best moves. After 37...Bd4 it was pretty much over though 39.Kf1 walking into checkmate really helped. During the game I was planning to meet 39.Kh1 with Rxb5! and I had fun analysing the position after 40.Rd1 after the game.
When I threw down 39...Rg1# my opponent didn't extend his hand, instead he just stared at the position for several minutes with a confused look on his face. Finally, he just shook his head and said he just didn't believe it, but then extended his hand. Looking at 39.Kh1 was really interesting, with a few other players chipping in suggestions as I analysed it. I was happy to collect another point but was disappointed at my poor play. I was happy that my calculation was still rolling - the fire continued!
Game Three: Bored Out of My Gourd
I was very happy that I had won my first two games, now I just had to win one more game (it was a two day tourney) to finish out the first day with a perfect score. When the pairing came in I was matched up against a 1790, Richard Diaz, someone who I had crushed a couple of years ago. He likes to play the Miles Opening against 1.e4 which I think is quite passive, but tricky. Last time we played I inadvertently saced a pawn, this time I decided to sac a rook on purpose. The game was awesome! I used a little over twenty minutes of my clock for the whole game and while my opponent was thinking for what seemed like ages, I paced around the room, double-checked and triple-checked my calculations, and just sat at the board, bored out of my gourd, waiting for my opponent to make a move or resign. He finally resigned on move 17 as I was going to win his queen! At that point the fire was an inferno!
The rook sacrifice looks insane but I have plently of compensation. Chess is all about what you have and what your opponent has. After 10...Bxh1 he is up a rook for a couple pawns but I have a mortal pin on the f6-knight, I monster pawn on h7, the g6-square is tender for a knight or bishop invansion, and his king is weak. The rook sacrifice is so easy to play it literally plays itself; black has to walk a tightrope in order to survive, in the game he fell off the rope.

So ends the first day of the tournament, I was literally blown away by the ideas I was seeing and the variations I was calculating; not to mention I was brave enough to sacrifice a rook in the third round. I think that day I was pretty much playing titled strength, at least in terms of my calculation. This video kind of sums up the fire I had on the first day and what my chess was like:

The second day of the the tournament was much different than the first. I made the mistake of crashing late the night before and was somewhat tired the second day. Still I had no idea that I had lost the fire until...
Game Four: Back to the old me
I was matched up against James Lenz in round four. A 1600-1700 rated player, he has many comebacks :) and is an active chess coach who promoted chess locally. Going into the game I felt this wasn't the worst pairing I could have gotten and was fairly confident that I would win. However at the board I couldn't concentrate, my mind kept drifting off, and I couldn't calculate. In short, I went back to the old me. I was black and played the Nimzo and got a good position after a couple of inaccuracies by my opponent. At that point I was itching to sacrifice a pawn in order to dominate his light squares but my calcultion was so poor that day that I couldn't see the simple contiuation (16...Bf5!) after the sacrifice otb or in post-mordem. Only on the ride home did I realize that I missed 16...Bf5 in my calcultions. Instead I played Re8 and proceeded to slowly collapse. After this game, I realized the biggest weakness I find it almost impossible to change gears and play for a draw, which I should have during the game as early as move ??. I may have exaggerated a bit after the game when I told my opponent that a draw was just as bad as losing but I hate draws where there is still plenty to play for and yet both parties agree to a draw. Instead of playing for the half-point, I was still foolishly looking for to win. Eventually I blundered a piece and the game. I fought on but the end was never really in doubt:
After the game, I found out that I was jinxed. During the game, apparently the local GM (who happened to be the TD) was talking with some other players about how I was most probably going to win the tourney! Well, not after that game. I still had an outside shot at a share of first as long as certain things lined up in the last round.

Game Five: Somehow, someway
I had long realized before the fifth round started that the fire I had yesterday was no longer there. However, I was determined to win my last game. Before the game I relaxed by playing some bullet chess. Then it was time to roll. I had the white pieces and was matched up against a 1500-1600. He was something of a "gangster" and reminded me of one of the "chess hustlers" you hear about in New York; they play fast, sharp, and are great at tactics. The opening was crazy. I missed an easy tactical shot in the opening that would have given me a great position, overlooking the simple 8...Ra7. After that I realized I was botching the game. All of a sudden I was on my heels until I found 13.a3! After that I slowly began to take over. I played slowly and catiously just trying to make sure I didn't blunder. He made the mistake of taking my b2-pawn and after 24.Ne5 Rd6? I found 25.Nc4! winning the exchange. After that I showed flawless technique in converted my extra material, trading queens and not giving him a shred of conterplay, before trading into an easily winnning king and pawn ending:
I was glad that I won that game despite my bad day.

Now all I had to do was wait and see the result of the top game. James Lenz lost to Richard Diaz (the guy I crushed in the third round). Richard really played a great game saccing a piece in the opening and quickly wrapping up the game. After that there was offically a three-way tie for first. Richard, James, and I split the money equally. The trophy, somewhat ironically, went to Richard who said he didn't expect to win it after that game in Round Three. Congrats to him and James for playing some good chess. I am very unhappy with the way I played the second day, but having said that I can't argue with a share of 1st, though I wish I had gotten clear first. I realized that I have several deficiencies in my play. If I play like I did the first day and realize when I need to start playing for a draw my chess level should jump immensly. Also actually working on my calcultion should help a lot. Could this be the start of a new era for me? Possibly, but I will just take it one step at a time: