As I say, I think I've lost my mojo. I haven't played in a little while (around a month), and when I marshalled myself into logging in and starting a game tonight, I was surprised at how difficult I found it. I found myself going through the opening on autopilot. I also found it difficult to know which moves to make, and when I tried factoring in my anticipation of what black would do, I basically had to fall back on intuition (which is dodgy at the best of times).
Maybe it was just a confidence issue, or maybe I just need to keep playing regularly and get back into it properly. Maybe I just need to systematically check every capture I or my opponent can make, their consequences and make a move based on that. Whatever it is I need to do, I'm hoping you can tell me, or at least give me a hint. Hopefully, this game gives you some insight.
2f6 loses imediately
I agree with most of Oran_perret's comments, but I develop them a bit more. And generally speaking, you seem to be too anxious about your own security - you want to counter all your opponent's threats before creating yours. It doesn't work that way ! Sometimes you just have to push your plan without caring about the opponent's.
2...f6 ?, the Damiano defense, is unsound as Oran_perret mentioned, but after 3.Nxe5, 3...fxe5 ?? loses by force - as far as I know, the only move that gives Black something playable though vastly inferior is 3...Qe7.
4.a3 -> useless. Instead, 4.d4 (or even 4.Nxe5, it's still good enough) : your opponent lost time with pawn moves that do not develop (...f6 and ...c6) ; you can take advantadge of it by opening lines. For instance 4.d4 exd4 5.Qxd4 (the queen is safe here, because ...Nc6 is no longer possible) and White is much better.
7.Be3 is ok, but you missed 7.Bxh6 ! where Black's pawn structure is totally ruined. His 'best' (less worse) seems to be (7.Bxh6) 7...Bxd4 8.Qxd4 gxh6 where 9.Bc4 gives White an obvious and devastating advantadge.
Move 12 and 13 : see the rook on a8 ? Your queen is hungry... Move 12 is ok, but 13.0-0 ? lets the material escape. 13.0-0-0 or 13.Rd1 were giving a huge attack also - you don't care about the 'weak' a3 pawn, Black is too worried running for his life along the d file to care about it. There is no weakness if you cannot attack it.
14.Bc4 : take the rook !!!! 14.Qxa8 axb4 19.Nxb4, with a later Bxh6, is a killer. All it needs to win after that is to know how to convert an extra exchange ; additionnally Black's pawns are ruined.
16.Be6 : this is indeed a good move (I would have played 16.Bd5, but I'm not sure this is better). But have you considered the line 16.Bxb5 axb5 17.Nxb5 with pressure on d6 and two pawns for the piece ? It doesn't work (the resulting endgame is 'only' playable for White, which is not great when you started with a crushing position), but you have to calculate it to be convinced. I guess from your 'style' you did not even look at it, but you should have.
17.Qd4 ? is not great, because it helps your opponent to develop. Better Qd2 followed by Rd1 and d6 is lost.
And eventually, Bb6+ could have been played sooner (moves 20 and 21), but anyways Black has no good move.
Ok, you might find that I repeat myself, but you need to evaluate more objectively your opponent's plans. You want to counter them all, when the good course to follow sometimes is just to laugh, say 'so what ?', and go on as if he did nothing. If you perpetually defend you lose the initiative and eventually you cannot defend anymore.
i lost my mojo too
It's nearly 1am here, so I'll have to read all this and take it in in the morning. But skimming over it, it looks really helpful. So thanks for your time!
"There is no weakness if you cannot attack it." That, Irontiger, is one of the things that I know I won't be able to help but recall in any chess game now. Thanks =). Sometimes, the obvious eludes me =P
By the way, what is "converting an extra exchange"?
And how do I do it?
I suggest you concentrate on tactics. That's the most important skill. After investing a lot of time you'll get totally different feel of positions.
An 'exchange' is the fact of having a rook against a minor piece (bishop or knight).
'Converting material advantadge' means managing to transform that material advantadge into a win. It can be more or less easy, but one more exchange in a position that otherwise is equal with still pawns on the board should be an easy one (an exchange is worth between one or two pawns, depending of course on the position).
You also missed 7. Qh5+ g6 8. Qxc5 d6 9. Qc4 Nf7 with an extra piece. Not neccesarily better then wreaking Black's kingside, but a piece is a piece and this particular tactic is fairly important.
I doubt it
At the O.P.'s level, 3.Nxe5 is a mistake: He could not find the proper moves to finish Black after the "obligatory" (for that level) 3...fe5. Notice the missed simplistic piece steal 7.Qh5+.
And- in any case, objectively 3.Nc3 is at least as good as 3.Nxe5.