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#vienna #greekgift #confidence #psychology 

I haven't been doing so well in chess in terms of my rating. Compared to my peak in rapid of the mid-1400s on, I've now dropped to just below 1300! Now, part of this is simply playing often when I'm rushed or tired and trying out openings that I'm less familiar with. However, I must admit that this has given me a bit of a blow to my confidence.

I realised this quite acutely in this game of 10+5 rapid that I played on Lichess. This was a game where I didn't have much time, and I usually play shorter format games on Lichess (as 10+5 is a standard format and matches quickly). It started off well as I had a Vienna Game and Black responded with the inaccurate c6 (1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 c6). Black played very quickly, treating the game more like blitz than 10 min rapid, and I quickly had a winning position, and I kind of knew this intellectually.

On move 9, Black straight up hangs and blunders their knight with (9... Bc5 10. Qxg4) and I take a commanding position and material lead with an evaluation of better than [+6]. Even better, Black defends against my queen's attack on their g-pawn on g7 by short castling (10... O-O), and I thought that I probably had either a mating attack, or Black will be forced to trade their queen for my knight as I had a Greek Gift Sacrifice available!

This gets implemented: I sacrifice my bishop to punch a hole in the h-file and draw Black's king to the h-file (11. Bxh7+) and advance my knight with check (12. Ng5+), and then position my queen to deliver potential checkmate (13. Qh5).

Theoretically, I KNEW that Black's only response that avoids checkmate was Qxg5, trading away their queen for my knight. However, when Black played (13... Re8), trying to create an escape square for their king, I froze. Where was the checkmate? I knew that it was there, but then I started to doubt myself and felt my confidence plummet. These anxious circular thoughts made it extremely difficult to calculate calmly. After a minute, I forced myself to make the first move that I thought couldn't be wrong as I win a pawn and I could always just go back to a repeated position (14. Qxf7+).

This was correct, but then after (15. Kg8), I was stuck in the same position again and felt paralysed. On analysis and with the pressure off, I found the mating sequence quickly - 16. Qh7+ Kf8 17. Qh8+ Ke7 18. Qxg7# - not overly difficult as with each check, Black has only a single forced move available. In the game, however, after one-and-a-half-minutes of psyching myself out, I had convinced myself that for some reason there was no mating line (despite my previous knowledge otherwise), and so instead, played (16. Nce4), bringing another piece into the attack.

Now, I still had a forced checkmate, so this wasn't a disastrous mistake, but it does go to show how important psychology is in terms of appreciation of the positions. We see what we expected to see more than necessarily what is there! On move 20, I had literally a checkmate-in-one with Qf7#, but as I had convinced myself that no checkmate existed, I instead played Nf6+. Now, this was still an "okay" move as it forced Black to trade their queen for my knight (which was my intention), but I feel silly for missing an obvious [+M1]. I wonder what my opponent was thinking!

The agonising position was finally over a couple of moves later with a back rank checkmate, but I felt relief more than elation from winning. Retrospectively, I was ahead, if not with a winning evaluation the entire game, but always felt like I was on the edge of blundering.

The big takeaway from this game is that it's okay to take a bit of a break from the game! I think that I had fallen a bit into the trap of worrying about losing and ELO, rather than just enjoying the game, win or lose!