Out of Gas
No gas, still cruising; stabbed but still moving"
After the interesting game with Nyzhnyk, I let go of the disappointment of not getting the win I had expected, and turned back to the problem from rd 7 that I had promised myself I would face up to today: putting a halt to my terrible skid with the black pieces. It's not just about wins and losses: I could not get past move 10 alive. I lowered my standards further to respond to this: the goal is not to win with black, the goal is not to get counterplay, or even to equalize: my goal now was just to get a position that was not stupidly lost. I wanted my opponent to at least play 60 good moves to beat me.
With this goal in mind I prepped the more solid Caro-Kann instead of my "best" opening, the Najdorf for round 9. I reminded myself not to be too ambitious, and not to disdain bad positions. Black *is* worse, I reminded myself. Trying to deny that black is worse, refusing to accept worse positions, was leading me into stupid contortions that essentially constituted suicide against Grandmasters. The attitude adjustment was, I believe, absolutely what I need to realize and do (though it's perfectly fine for me to play the aggressive Najdorf, which is a candidate for best opening in all of chess). Unfortunately playing the Caro which I do not have nearly as much experience with entailed cramming variations and example games almost up till the round started...
Before the game even ended I was really disappointed with myself. I hurried home, and unlike usual, I did not put the game behind me. Instead I thought about it: what was wrong? I chose to check the game with an analysis engine, to gain some insight, breaking my typical rule of always analyzing my games personally before getting any computer input to cloud my judgement. The computer showed me that
1) the forced win I had seen for my opponent was not indeed a forced win and had a defense.
2) the move he played that had shocked me as really sketchy was really sketchy, and the variation I had considered to win the h7 pawn, would indeed have won the h7-pawn.
In conclusion, I thought that had I not given up on it so quickly, had I been using my time to think and try, I would probably have easily calculated the pawn win, and then won the pawn-up position against the opponent harried by severe time pressure. This was slightly shocking material to process. I thought about it for a while and came up with a theory: I was exhausted. I did not have enough energy, the tournament had been long, and I had been facing a long procession of strong opponents. I had also been prepping daily, with limited success: I had been out of opening theory before move 10 every single game.
So I came to a conclusion: for the last two rounds of the tournament, I had better not prepare, and go into the games with maximum energy. With the way I had run out of gas the last two rounds, there was no way I could overcome the resistance of a grandmaster and win another game this tournament, regardless of what opening position I got.
Around this time I got the information about the next day: I would be playing white against 2500+ IM Benjamin Bok, and a win was required to make a GM norm. I glanced at his results so far this tournament, and he had done great, beating Cheparinov!! and only losing to Gharamian. Given his strength and rating, I imagined that he had probably already completed his final GM norm today, and took the attitude that I would be playing a single game, with white, against a GM, for a norm the next day.
I was very confident and calm...