Missed Chances and Lucky Escapes (SA Closed; Pt 1 of 3)

Missed Chances and Lucky Escapes (SA Closed; Pt 1 of 3)

rebooks
WCM rebooks
|
2

The South African Closed Chess Championships was held from the 7th to the 17th of December, and the 12-player round robin A sections (Open and Women) crowned the national champions and selected the first 2020 Olympiad team members (top 2 finishers). In this mini-series, I will be going through my games in the Women’s section.

Going into the tournament I was second seed, hoping to obtain my first senior national championship title. As written about in my 77 Days of Chess series, I had attempted to do 11 weeks of training for the tournament (during which I revised my entire opening repertoire), after which I was outdoors for a month, where I did almost no chess.

I didn't have many chess boards around in the run-up to the tournament. Photo: Bronte Davies

In retrospect, I didn’t have the best overall preparation for the tournament, as I forgot much of my opening theory while I was away and I had a disrupted start to the tournament while I was still “moving house” and flat-searching for 2020 until Round 4 of the tournament.

On the plus side, many of the players in my section were unaware of my new repertoire, as my last recorded OTB games were from the 2018 Olympiad, and I hadn’t changed my opening repertoire since 2010. I was hoping that I would be able to surprise my opponents with my new repertoire in the earlier rounds, and that I would have the upper hand when it came to preparation.

The field for the Women's section. Source: chess-results.com

Round 1

My first-round opponent was someone I was familiar with, having played two tournament games against her in 2019, winning both of them. I had white, which I had had against her in a September game, so we both had an idea of what the other would play.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to prepare for my game, else I would definitely have looked at the best response to her blunder of 15... f6. OTB, I felt it was a bad move, but I failed to find the correct continuation and only equalised. After a series of missed moves and miscalculations, I found myself an exchange down but managed to get to an equal endgame after inaccurate play from my opponent. Despite this, I evaluated the endgame as giving me a slight advantage, thinking that my passed b- and h-pawns, supported by my bishop, gave me some chances. A final blunder in time-trouble gave my opponent the game, and she went on to lead the field for the majority of the tournament.

Round 2

After a frustrating loss with white in the first round, I knew I had to win my second round game since I had white against another lower-rated opponent. My opponent usually played Sicilian against e4, so although she could see from my Round 1 game that I may not play my usual 2.c3 Sicilian, I knew she wouldn’t have any idea what I would play against her. I therefore expected her to play her usual lines (not having specifically prepared something different for our game), which involved an early e5, but a transposition to a Sveshnikov by playing Nf6 before pushing b5. I prepared an aggressive variation against this, and was fairly confident that we would reach my preparation OTB.

Alas, she omitted Nf6 before playing b5, and I found myself in a position I was unfamiliar with, where I wasn’t sure of my plans, since I had played very few similar positions with my new openings. Nevertheless, I managed to build up a good advantage, which I squandered away by missing how vulnerable my uncastled king was. I was fortunately able to win a couple of pawns in the endgame and convert the game, but it wasn’t a comfortable win.

Round 3

From the first two games, I knew that I was not yet “in form” for the tournament. To make matters worse, I had the black pieces against the defending champion in Round 3. I didn’t do as much preparation as I had hoped, as load-shedding started unexpectedly and I hadn’t charged my laptop, but I was comfortable going into the game, and I felt prepared against what I expected her to play.

In what seemed to become a theme for me in the tournament, my opponent played a line that she had never played on record before, but fortunately this resulted in me getting a comfortable position out of the opening, despite me forgetting my lines. Her 17. Rxf6 looked scary, but I soon saw that after giving back a pawn with f5, I should be fine and keep the exchange.

I comfortably increased my advantage, and after my opponent blundered her knight in time trouble, I was clearly winning. I knew the only reason she played on was for perpetual tricks, and despite spending time checking that Rxh7 did not lead to a perpetual, I somehow missed that once my h7 pawn was gone, g6 would be available to white’s queen. It was an incredibly disappointing result, despite it looking like a decent result on paper.

Round 4

My round 4 opponent has a few Olympiads under her belt, and is not an easy game, although I don’t think I’ve lost to her in our previous encounters. She plays a variety of openings, but I knew that she mainly plays Sicilian, and in her recorded games she appeared to mainly play Sveshnikov or Dragon-type positions. Since these were both variations I’d played against earlier in the tournament, I expected her to stick to preparing one of those lines, as she would know my responses. But once again, I was out of my preparation by move 5, although I was able to build up a large advantage and a potential king-side attack with no counter-play for my opponent.

Unfortunately, I got scared and unnecessarily retreated my bishop (despite my coach repeatedly telling me to avoid backward moves), and after underestimating my opponent’s threats, I was disappointed that my opponent had a perpetual check (as I thought I was much better), so I offered her a draw. She accepted, and I walked away upset that I hadn’t got my win. When reviewing the game later, I saw that my opponent was very clearly winning when she accepted the draw, and that almost any move wins for her, as my attack is non-existent and my king is stuck in the centre.

So I had both missed chances and a lucky escape in this game – it just shows how great a role psychology plays, as I don’t think my opponent and I would have evaluated the final position as a draw if we’d just been presented with it as an exercise – it was only after the pressure I’d been exerting earlier, that we both thought we had gone from a white advantage to equality.

Overview

After these games, I was sitting on 50% score (2/4), knowing that it could easily have been 4/4 if I hadn’t missed the chances that had been present in each of my games. I thought that my shot at becoming champion was over after these results, which was disappointing, but took some of the pressure off for the games that followed.

***

If you’re interested in seeing how the rest of the tournament went, follow my blog to get a notification when I post part two of this mini-series. Thank you for reading!