Fall Open 2014
Two months later I was back for more, despite a punishing first tournament. By a quirk of USCF I was now rated 1815. As I'd feared, I had to explain to several kids why I'd been rated 2100 just a tournament ago. "The last time I played competitively was before your mom was born." "No, it wasn't." They were fast with math, too....
In the first round I played an Expert, which at least reduced the pressure. The game became violent very quickly.
If I thought that my piece sacrifice would lead to perpetual check, that was a pretty bad miscalculation, though a very typical one. I'm good at finding attacking options but not as good at rejecting them. Piece sacks against the castled king, in particular, attract me like a moth to a candle.
I lost the next game to a Derek Zhang, a young player who has since become a strong Expert, but at the time was rated 1895. His queenside attack netted him a pawn and he was able to win the pawn-up queen endgame elegantly. I've since seen him deliver the same treatment to masters, but at the time it was discouraging.
I beat a 1400 player, not convincingly, and was then paired with an intense Indian teen. He has also turned out to be a dangerous up-and-coming player--he upset a master in the Washington Open. In this game I had bad problems in the opening, a Dutch Defense, but to my surprise found some queenside counterplay. I'd always tended to play the Dutch as a source of kingside attacks and nothing else, an approach which McDonald, in his book on the Dutch, calls "naive." I was somewhat pleased that I managed to break the pattern, though quite frustrated that I couldn't win the resulting endgame.
The following game was almost eerily similar: also a Dutch in which I got into bad trouble, scraped up some queenside counterplay, and then could not win the endgame despite feeling that I should. Brendan tells me that he's not related to Derek. In fact the Washington State chess scene has an incredible number of strong young players named Zhang--I've played three and there are several more to meet.
Despite opening misadventures, in the last two games, particularly, I felt like I'd begun to play chess. Middlegames, that is. Openings? Endgames? Not so much....
These were the same weaknesses I'd had as an Expert. Around 1985 I studied briefly with IM Nicolay Minev, who tore his hair over my opening play. (Probably greatly to my detriment, I was too stubborn to listen to him.) I began to consider that, as I'm unlikely to regain my youthful quickness and energy, I'd better try to develop new strengths instead.
I made a resolution to do every endgame-related Chess Mentor exercise on the site. I also considered doing the computer-assisted endgame exercises, but gave that up quickly after I managed to beat the computer in a dead-drawn theoretical endgame--something is not right with its endgame play. I'd made similar book-study resolutions in the past, but maybe the tools of a new millennium would help.