A Modest Showing at SCL's 2018 Championship (Part 2/2)

A Modest Showing at SCL's 2018 Championship (Part 2/2)


After a lucky 3rd round draw against a stronger opponent I had 2.5/3 under my belt, which meant I was half a point shy of what I was aiming for coming into the 4th round, because I estimated that if I wanted to reach the fifth and final round with a realistic shot at the title, I could afford only one draw in the first four rounds and that draw would better be spared for round 4. (For all the background information on the tournament and the analysis of the 2nd and 3rd round games, please see this blog post: https://www.chess.com/blog/philidor_position/a-modest-showing-at-scls-2018-championship-part-1-2.)

In the fourth round I had the White pieces against constantine73, a near-expert strength player with a USCF rating of 1960. I like testing myself against officially rated players since I have no OTB experience and that’s as close as I can get to gauging my ‘real’ level. So this game carried some extra weight for me.

The tournament situation demanded that we both play for a win if we wanted to fight for the title. My opponent did exactly that with the Black pieces, sacrificing two pawns to initiate a dangerous King-side attack in a KID game.


The result is not bad: Drawing against a 1960 USCF player actually made me very happy. I think I can fairly say that I can now hold my own against Class A players and give experts a decent challenge. I’ve come a long way!

But I was frustrated with the game for two reasons. One is that my helplessness against the King’s Indian continues. Some time I’ll have to sit and study the ins-and-outs of this opening, analyse several model games and cultivate that soothing sense of ‘knowing what to do’. I’ve purposefully kept postponing serious opening study until now, but I guess I’ve just reached a level where at least some will be necessary, as one can’t keep running forever. What makes all this even more annoying is that objectively I think White should be doing much better in many of the KID lines, yet when I do face it, in the ‘heat of the struggle’, it feels as though I’m playing a class or two below my level.

The second reason is my handling of the clock. If I had more time, say, 15 more minutes at the final position, which could be easily spared with more efficient calculation during the early-middlegame, I would have played on and would have good winning chances. I need to either raise my blitzing skills up to a point where I’d feel comfortable playing ‘by hand’ in positions where I think I’m much better, or spend way less time for making non-critical decisions. There’s a lot of ‘wandering around’ going on which should simply be eliminated. Just calculate, trim down the generalities (or limit that kind of thinking to your opponent’s clock-time), focus on concrete lines.

CAP Score: 76.86 for White and 88.72 for Black, rating me at exactly 1200 OTB level. Ouch! And come on, it wasn’t my best game but it definitely wasn’t that bad either.

Moves of the game: 17…e4 and 18…f4, double pawn sacrifice by my opponent. Although objectively f4 was better, it takes a lot of courage to commit so much to the attack, which he carried out to the maximum the position allowed for.

The Final Round:

With another draw in the penultimate round, I thought I’d lost my chances for contending for the first place, but in the final round I got paired with the 1st seed and the tournament leader himself, and I found myself in a Giri-Carlsen situation in  Wijk aan Zee 2019 where if Giri wins he wins the tournament but if he draws Carlsen is victorious. Well, in my case, if I had won I would only share the first place with my opponent, but I guess I would have more ‘bragging rights’ for defeating the other winner in a direct match-up. So everything was in my hands.

SJFG is one of the strongest players I’ve ever played. He is near-master strength with a USCF rating of 2153, and to win the game and the tournament I would need to be at my best and he would need to have a less than perfect day. But I was convinced I had my chances. I did my homework this time and went into the game with decent opening preparation, which allowed me to reach a playable middle-game.

CAP Score: 99.40 for White, 97.60 for Black, putting me almost on a par with Karpov. Thank you very much, CAPS, but that sounds like you’re being ironic. Not cool. Move of the game: 25.d6. Not particularly difficult to see or spectacular, but it creates just the right amount of complications where Black can go wrong, and go wrong I did.

Losing on time is never fun. What’s also not fun is the fact that when one skims through the game, it looks as though White did not even have to try hard for anything and Black just blundered in the end and lost. I’m not sure that precisely reflects all that there was to the game, but well, in a sense that’s almost always how players lose against players two or three classes above them.

Going into the 26th move against someone of SJFG’s calibre with an equal position is not an easy thing to do. But of course what matters is actually holding throughout the whole game. So why did I fail to do that? At move 25, the critical position, I had 22 minutes (against my opponent’s 49) to figure everything out. 22 minutes is only mild time trouble and it should have been enough to handle the position better than I did. I misevaluated the positions arising out of 26…cxd6 AND missed simple winning moves such as 29.Rd6 in the line that I chose. Lessons: calculate more efficiently in non-critical positions so that you don’t get into time trouble, and when faced with a critical position in mild time trouble, calculate even more efficiently!

What about the whole tournament? I ended up sharing 5th to 8th place, which I find ‘modest’ at best. But I did achieve my goal of reaching the final round with still a shot at the title. My overall level of play was decent, but time trouble, which is a euphemism for inefficient calculation, emerged as a decisive pattern. I need to learn to think more quickly and accurately. Sounds simple enough.

Thanks to the good people of the Slow Chess League who make this exciting tournament experience possible for all, thanks to my opponents for the good games, and congratulations to SJFG for winning the tournament! Cheers and good chess to all!