November Quads

November Quads

WCM mkkuhner
Dec 10, 2017, 6:59 PM |

Quads, for those who haven't encountered them, are round robin tournaments for groups of four players, generally played in a single day.  I had been nervously avoiding tournaments after two disastrous events in a row, and I felt quite anxious about this one.  But it was clear I wouldn't get any less anxious by waiting longer, and I felt that I was more or less back in playing shape.  My tactics-trainer rating went up 150 points very abruptly after the grant was turned in, and other online ratings followed it more slowly.


[The grant was due November 8.  The dramatic uptick in that curve is November 10-12.  That's almost too perfect to be believable, but it's true.]

I was also, to be honest, nervous about playing Joseph Frantz, with whom I often study.  In theory I should gain just as much inside information about my study partners' styles as they do about mine, but in practice...I don't know, perhaps my weaknesses are particularly exploitable, but it never feels like an even trade.  (It's not a good thing to have openings variations in your repertoire that you dislike.  It's even worse when your opponent knows exactly which ones they are.)  I privately hoped he'd be in the top quad and with my newly reduced rating I'd be in the second one....

When we had finally accumulated all the players--the event was a bit slow getting started--I found that I was in the top quad, and I had a bye as Addison Lee was off playing sports and would miss the first round.  The same situation applied to the second quad, so the TD said, "I'll just pair the two odd players together."  Great!  Which meant I was playing...Brian Raffel.  For the SEVENTH time.  Given the large difference in our ratings I don't know why this happens.  This time we weren't even in the same section and still had to play each other!

The combination at the end of the game--sacrificing the queen to attract the enemy king and queen into a knight fork--has been one of the most difficult for me to see in Tactics Trainer.  I was quite pleased to have spotted it here.  This game gave me some hope that I was actually in shape to play; Brian played better than usual but I beat him convincingly.

In round 2 I had to play Joseph Frantz.  Regrettably, I don't have the scoresheet:  I analyzed it with a study partner the next day but then it vanished.  It will probably turn up a decade later tucked into a mattress or something.

Joseph played the Exchange French.  I have seen him offer early draws to study partners and co-workers before, and was wondering for a while if he was looking for a way to make a draw without actually conniving.  Then he started to shift pieces toward my king, and I realized, no, he's trying to kill me.  He's just chosen one of my least favorite openings in which to do it--a highly practical decision, despite the opening's drawish reputation.

I did have the better bishop, having played my usual Ne7 and Bf5 approach to the Exchange French and traded off his good bishop.  But I missed, as a different study partner showed me later, a chance to play ...g6 to stabilize my kingside.  I ended up having to play ...f6 and ...h6 instead, and endured quite a bit of unpleasantness over this structure.  Both of us thought I was much worse.  But I slowly untangled myself and we got to an endgame with the typically boring Exchange pawn structure, and agreed to a draw.

To my great surprise, Stockfish felt I was at least slightly better all game long, including the times I thought I was losing.  I was very attuned to White's threats and pressures, and perhaps over-impressed by them.  I did see a glimmer of an attack at one point, but Joseph definitely didn't want me attacking, and shut it down.

Somewhat tired, though probably not as tired as the rest of the quad--I had easier pairings than Joseph and didn't have a sports game like Addison--I had to play LM Viktors Pupols in the last round.  This was our third game:  I got a big advantage against him and drew the first, and got a moderate advantage and lost the second.  He is particularly tricky in the endgame.  I once saw him fanatically playing out a drawn-looking rooks and bishops of opposite colors endgame.  Some hours later I chanced to meet him and asked if it had been a draw.  He chuckled evilly and showed me the ending position, in which he'd arranged a neat mate with the rook and bishop in the middle of the board!

A satisfying draw!  Uncle Vik is no slouch--he held local prodigy Anthony He to a draw in the previous tournament, which is more than I've ever been able to do--and I not only drew him, I did so in a rook endgame.  I have been diligently studying rook endgames, but it seems soon for a real payoff to that work.  In any case, it was welcome.

Joseph Frantz beat Uncle Vik with a nice combination but was held to a draw by Addison Lee, so Joseph and I tied for first, winning a glorious $5 each towards our next quad entry.  But the morale boost was a much bigger prize.  I made mistakes, certainly, but I was decently focused, had enough energy for all three rounds, and felt like I was actually playing chess at last.  I'd have signed up for the next quad too, but I caught a bad cold and had to sit it out.

The quads are G/120 d10.  It was a decent amount of time--I was aware of the clock in the second and third games, but not desperate.

Lessons from this event:

(1)  Keep your head even when your center is falling apart.  This happens quite often in the Dutch and it's not necessarily the end of the world:  you just have to make sure you have counterplay in the resulting position, no matter how ugly your pawns may become.

(2)  Fatigue in a one-day event may be intense but it's not as bad as fatigue in a multi-day event, which seems to accumulate from day to day.  Even in the third game I was in acceptable playing form.  I need to work on how to handle later days of the longer events.

(3) Just because your opponent is your buddy does not mean he isn't trying to kill you.  (To be fair, I was trying to kill him, too; it's just hard as Black in an Exchange French!)