The Art of Losing and Triumph: Chicago Open and Beyond
Before I get into the practical, concrete elements of loss (applied to me in a personally disturbing yet instructive way), I'm gonna get a little philosophical on you: Losing is beautiful--especially when you fall hard.
Why? Well, if any game can affect you so profoundly, if any pursuit can probe so deep into your psyche and emotions, then it must be worth something (a semi-productive addiction at the very least). And now we can return to a comforting truism: the wins'll be all the sweeter. This is all just (simplified, Westernized) Yin-Yang 101...but it's easy to forget it in the fog of war. Juice your losses for all they're worth; enjoy the (fleeting?) misery they provide, because you know that soon enough you'll be basking in the joy of victory...and then the delusions of grandeur, and subsequent fall, that ensue.
Now I'll step away from the mushy philosophical generalizing and delve into the cold specifics of a case study, the latest phase in my chess journey:
If there's anything that's marked my journey thus far, it's been inconsistency. I've proven that I can beat an IM and lose to a 1600, all in the same sweat drop. Yet, with the exception of the Chicago Open, I've actually been pretty consistent recently. I finally passed 2200 last February, hit 2255 and have hovered safely above 2200 for a while (and hopefully it'll stay that way after this weekend!). I attribute any semblance of consistency I've had to enhanced self-awareness, which I explore in "Finding a formula for chess success: Invent your own dictums" and elaborate when I review my path to NM (and don't forget to talk to yourself when you're playing chess!).
So what led to my lapse in consistency in the Chicago Open? In short, I forgot to take my own advice. Caissa tests us over the board every single encounter; hard-fought lessons are no good if not deliberately, painstakingly applied every single game. The main thing I forgot to do was to "put everything into every game." This may sound trivial, but it's actually a sort of cue that's been highly effective for me. It's easy to approach a chess match--especially against a lower rated opponent--as just any other encounter. But you can't treat any match as trivial. Forget about conserving energy for your next match, or any other rationalization you might come up with to not give it your all! You must put everything into every game, and you must remind yourself of this before every match. Well, I must, anyway (you have your own auto-dictums to invent and follow).
That's why I have my note, titled "Every Game," on my old phone that I lug around with me every tournament and read before every match (and it's another source for wi-fi...and data mining, so that companies globally can get a scoop of my "chess secrets" disguised as mad aquaculture experiments). I'm pretty sure I read the note before every match, but I feel that I skimmed over the "put everything into every game" part. I needed that cue. I needed to be reminded to give my all every single game, to treat each game, as Calsen has said, as "an event" in its own right. It doesn't matter who you're playing or what the circumstances are. This is the first game of the rest of your life. I also had time pressure issues, which largely explains why I kept blowing advantageous positions--it was also a matter of rustiness--but then I over-corrected in game 6, which I'll explore here, and moved too quickly...which had the same effect of allowing a highly advantageous position to flip into my cunning opponent's hands.
This first game--which really drove the nail into the coffin of this tournament for me--is an instructive example of how to gain an advantage, and then how to lose it (which ought to remind us how to, well, not do that...do learn from my mistake!).
To my relief, I ended my dry spell by winning the last game of the tournament after making the necessary corrections. The game ended in a prolonged attack on my opponent's centralized king, and I was also happy with my win in the DC Chess League last Friday against a talented young player who recently achieved the NM title, Isaac Chiu.
White has just pushed 14. b5. How should Black respond? (Hint: This is one of those moments where you want to drop your general principles and focus on the specific demands of the position.) Don't just think of a move, but come up with the best plan for Black, given the central pawn structure.