Converting the elusive +/-

Dec 23, 2012, 11:26 PM |

Friday 30th November: me and a friend leave school camp early to join the rest of the chess team, heading off to Canberra for the Australian Schools Teams Competition (ASTC). This was the first time both of us had competed in a nation-wide competition. We planned to arrive at our hotel ~4pm but due to certain mishaps (including a nasty accident on the freeway between a truck and something else), ended up arriving ~7pm. Thus we had little time to relax and prepare for our games tomorrow. We bought some takeaway dinner, practiced a bit and slept ~11pm.

Saturday 1st December: slept for maybe 5 hours. Our chess coordinator gave us a mini-speech, then we drove to the primary school that hosted the competition. The pairings were done on the day and we ended up having to play against the toughest schools on the first day. Great.

On paper, our team was supposed to be one of the strongest, and it seemed like the only tough opposition we would face was from Victoria. I was unrated, although the board 1's dad said that my JCL rating (~870) should correspond with around 1500 ACF. I remembered what GM Ian Rogers' said: that ideally we would like to score at least 3-0 each round to win the competition, but something always goes wrong...

Our first round was against a school in the ACT (this state entered two schools), which Mr Rogers considered quite dangerous. My opponent was unrated. While me and my opponent were seated and filling in our scoresheets I felt nervous/excited but this combined with my lack of sleep meant I was actually rather calm. The downside was that my brain was fuzzy and calculating things was rather difficult.

Wow, that was tough! I drank close to a full bottle of water for this game (and in the subsequent games as well)! Our board 1 also won, board 3 drew but board 2 unfortunately lost, so we only managed 2.5 in our first round.

Round two was against Queensland. As the chess coordinator wanted me to play in the third around (against Victoria) I elected to take a break and let my friend play to stock up on my energy levels. After 3 hours (where trying to relax/rest was rather difficult) we scored 2 points: boards 1 and 2 were a draw, board 3 won but board 4 (my friend) unfortunately lost. Meanwhile Victoria had a perfect score (8/8), I think. Not looking good...

Now in round three we get to play against Victoria. Fun!

A depressing loss to say the least. The other boards didn't fare better: we lost 4-0 against Victoria. This meant we were in 5th place (out of 6 teams).

We trudged back into our hotel room, where everyone (including me) was still complaining about their day. We walked to a Chinese restaurant (the same one we bought takeaway from) and while eating dinner our team captain (board 2) told us a story of how in a certain tournament, he (or maybe his team, I forgot) was playing in a tournament, and at the end of the first day, was only in ~4th place, and on the second day, he/they managed to edge out the other teams to claim 2nd place: very impressive but equally unlikely to happen to us.

Sunday 2nd December: this time I slept a bit better. As we were playing the two easiest teams, we really needed to get 4-0 in each round to be in contention for second or third (while it is extremely likely Victoria will take first).

Round four saw us playing against the second ACT school. My opponent was 1365 ACF, which would imply that he would be fairly easy.

Sorry did I say that game should have been fairly easy? Anyway boards 1 and 3 won, board 2 lost (again!!): from a superior position he missed an elementary tactic in time pressure. Threefold repetition occured (which was blatantly obvious) but neither player was keeping score and the arbiter refused to adjudicate it as a draw. So we failed to score 4-0. Something happened after that: me, my friend and board 3 were escorted outside the primary school while board, 2, the chess coordinator, board 1 and his dad were...

In round 5, we were playing against South Australia. My opponent was rated around 1100 ACF. When my game from the previous round finished I went over to look at his game (he was playing against the first ACT school we versed). Even though he was EASILY winning, he refused to simplify into a K + 3P (all connected) vs K endgame and missed mate in 1 several times. I didn't know what to expect from this round...

Me, board 1 and 3 won easily. Board 2 was up a pawn but had less time, and it wasn't so clear how to convert the extra pawn to a win. Queensland against ACT finished and we found out we only needed a draw to clinch second place on tiebreaks (else third or even less). Fortunately our board 2 avoided time trouble and drew his game (the end position was a trivially equal king and pawn endgame).

So we managed to (just) get second place, and our team captain's story actually came true!!! We talked/slept on the four hour trip back to school and I went back home at around 10pm. Bring on ASTC 2013!

What did I learn?

  • I need to practice converting advantages into easy wins.
  • Never trust ratings!
  • Chess has so many rules and laws concerning draws, winning on time, etc. and for a competition such as this, knowing them could end up being very useful. Supposedly (at least in Australia) if two players are in mutual time trouble, player 1 loses on time, player 2 announces the win on time but fails to stop the clock and also runs out of time, the game is drawn (perhaps unless an arbiter saw what happened).
  • Being 5th place in a tournament is not the end of the world!