Helpless On Defense

That is how I felt during and after this Round 3 game, utterly helpless to defend myself at that G/90 time-control.

I wish someone could teach me how to defend better, be it a mindset or whatnot. This is something that RollingPawns seemed to calculate deeply at, and have a feel for, but which for me I can’t find even an elementary defense, nor know when to defend or how to combine attack and defense. Sure, it’s easy to attack when your opponent has zero counterplay, but this wasn’t the case in the game.

While trying to examine a little of theory, I played the …Bb4 line against myself last night as Black and lost. I can’t even defend against myself as Black. haha. So I decided to try a new line against Joe, knowing that I would be better off playing the line we always play, but at some point I need to grow as a chessplayer and not play that same line which I can hold at rather easily, but seem to draw every tim from, so I wasn’t going to be shocked, going into this line, if Joe were to win.

I did violate the rule where you are not supposed to have a big meal before the game, so I don’t know how much that hurt me, and Joe was moving fast throughout. I hate it when I can sense and know beforehand that all of Joe’s G/30 etc games will help him. He will play on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday all in the same week and I feel that this makes it hard for me to keep up with him at the board with the speed of play and of thought. I am trying to learn something and play, whereas I feel like everyone else is just going straight for the result/scoretable.

Stockfish likes …d5 just as much as grabbing the e4 pawn.

I was going to play …Be6 after his c4, but tried to get fancy with …Ba6, but each time I did something weird like this, I felt that the speed of his play was causing me to try to make some unjustified attacking move instead of stick with positional play and ignore that his attacking moves were played so quickly.

22…Rd7?! was my longest think of the game and where I first felt that I had lost the thread of position, simply not knowing what to do. Somehow I saw 22..gxh4, 23.Bxh4 Re5, 24.Qg4+ Qg7, 24.Qf4 threating Bf6 fork. But I completely missed that after 22…gxh4, 23.Bh4 I had the simple 23…Qe5+! trading queens, and maybe I can even win from here. I sensed I must be missing something but could not find it. Perhaps not being as mentally conditioned as Joe was was already taking an obvious toll on my ability to keep up in the game. My analyis was too shallow and not done in a systematic way. For example, I did look at 23…Qe5+! but only noticed that after 24.f4 that both my rook and queen are attacked, but did not notice that his queen is hanging there, so White must trade queens and my biggest middlegame situation of the game is solved.

So, there was a simple intrinsic defense to the position and my analytic abilities were too marginal to find it. I was looking at exotic moves/continuations like 23…RxBd3!? giving up the exchange for another pawn, and instead played 23…Rd4?! This has been my problem in nutshell. Instead of making more defensive-minded moves, when unsure, I give the position a steroid-shot of attackingness, which comes back to bite me. I need a lot of time to mentally settle in to playing a move whose highlight is a defensive value. Part of this stems from always needing to win to maintain rating points. Even this game was really only against an equally rated opponent, so I will lose a lot of points. I’ve had so many draws in last couple months that I really wanted to play for a win. I could have given up my queen for bishop and rook at the end perhaps, but didn’t want to bother with defending, didn’t want to switch mindset back to defense, but I’m lost on the clock anyway because quickly played defensive moves are what would have saved me.

After the game, we both preferred 24…hxg5, and I did spend a lot of time on this move, but spending a lot of time on it was the worst thing about my move, as Stockfish even slightly prefers 24…Qxg5 (but it’s very sharp).

25…h5?? At this point, I was not able to re-orient myself to the ever changing strategy on the board. I wanted to keep the h5+ double attack on Re1 open, but I was running out of time and needed a plan, even the bad plan of trying to trap his …g3 bishop. I was hoping to then be able to think on his clock, but this sort of thing doesn’t happen when playing against Joe, he just keeps on moving. When I got home, I figured that this must have been the moment that I should play the strong retreat 25…Ba6-c8, and Stockfish agrees.

26. Re1! This was already like a bolt from the blue for me, White is winning here. I was kicking myself for not playing 25…Bxc4, but after the game, realized that 26.Bxc4 (He seemed to initially miss the power of this move in the post-mortem and may have played differently, but he knew how to follow it up for the win) Rxc4, 27.Re2 Qg7, 28.Re1+ with 29.Be5 coming to finish it up for the win (something like that). Therefore, 25…Bc8 was correct, which threatens …Bg4 and can lead to …Be6, clogging up the important e-file from White.

27…Re5. I knew this was coming, but didn’t have time to calculate how decisive it was. My last move 26…Rd8 was already the end, as 26…kf8 even looks better. No, …f6 looks mandatory. The one thing I wanted to avoid was being “lost on the clock”, but really I already was here.

At the end of the game, he missed the Bh7+ sac mate, which I saw, but instead he played …Qh6 and I hardly remember what I did. I should have played QxBd3, but after Rg5+ Qg6, Be5 that would end any doubts as mate is coming up.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

…then it may take you another sixty moves, assuming that you do succeed.

In this Round 2 game, I had the position in the palm of my hands on move twenty-eight, but did not see the winning idea until after the game, which I spotted nearly instantly as I showed the game to Alex.

I knew the winning move was 28.g4, all along, but could not spot the winning idea, and didn’t feel like crucifying myself on the clock when a reasonable looking alternative in 28.Nc5 existed – whereupon he played 28…Nd6, equalizing, and I immediately regretted my mistake.

The winning “move” is 28.g4 (…Na6, 29.Nc5 is winning) Nh4, 29.Nd6+ Ke7 (..Kf8 is even worse), 30.Nc8+! (the winning “idea”). Now comes the third stage, the “verification” of the winning move and idea. If 30…Kd8, 31.Bb7 (..Bd7, 32.Na7 Kc7, 33.Bxa6 Kb6, 34.Bxc6 Bxc6, 35.Nxc6 KxN is only two pawns for a piece, losing. 32.Nd6 Kc7 wins a piece. The answer is in the problem-like 32.Nb6! when a piece trade will still win the a6 pawn, so 32…Bd8, 33.Na8!! forming a fortress. Now if 33..Kd7, 34.Bxa6 Kc6, 35.Bxb5! KxBc6, 36.Nc7+ forking bishop and king and winning. Little did I realized this would turn into an endgame composition! I just did all that without an engine :) ) Kc7, 32.Bxa6 Kb6, 33.Nd6 and Black cannot move his bishop to prevent White’s bishop from escaping via either b7 or c8 (30…Kd7 is the same story, plus the Black king has to move again or White will take the b5 pawn as well).

The move and verification part of it I do alright at, it’s spotting the idea that makes it all work that is the tricky, yet beautiful part of it.

If you are wondering if I see deep at the board, then I’ll point to the move 22.RxRc8. When I played this move, I already knew that I wasn’t winning a pawn by 22…Rc8, 23.Bb7 Nd6, 24.Bxa6 Qb6, 25.Bc8 Bc6 and I can’t see a way to stop 26…RxBc8 winning a piece, although I would surmise that there are numerous weird “computer lines” which makes this look half-playable for White; but like I say, I haven’t computer-checked any of the game, so I wouldn’t know.

I was shocked and pleasantly surprised when Shirley brought me a glass of water while I was playing her own son! That is amazing. Of course, all Daniel had to do at any point at the end was march his king to h8 and camp out there for the draw. He did finally ask for a draw at that point, but his king was going the wrong way, which is why I played on in the 0.0 position and eventually won. BTW, he had an hour to my 7 seconds when he asked for the draw, which surprised the onlookers when I played on.

I am taking a bye tonight, Thursday, so this will be my only game for this week.

Playing Against Your Own Preparation

…is what this opening felt like. In this Game I was playing the Black side of a C3 Sicilian with the e-pawns traded off, and even that is not too unusual. This tabiya is even more important as it is an equalizing line against the Scotch Opening, and I played the repertoire that the Master with the “ChessExplained” Youtube chanel uses. Be that as it may, I still was not comfortable playing Black against the two bishops here as this line he stumbled into is in my repertoire for White!

Spassky and Petrosian used to make their opponents play against their own openings like this because it is a very heavy thing to deal with psychologically, and in the instance of this game I spent a boatload of time dreading the rest of the game, which never came. Actually, once I saw him play Bf4 instead of Be3, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, and White quickly collapsed given that he was attacking me behind an <1400 rating.

Once again, I pulled up a word-processor and simply filled in the pgn blindfold-style, and then directly loaded it up to the site. The only mistake I made this time was to put …Qxf7+ instead of …Qxf2+. This is a positive exercise for me since my biggest weakness, given my rating, is my lousy score-keeping.

With 7:43 remaining on my clock, I began to unzip and take off my jacket whereupon Eugin resigned before I could, sensing that I was going to make perfect work of it. As soon as he resigned, I showed him that I was going to play 24.Ka6 Qc4+ 25.Kb7 Rb8+, whereupon Alex played 26.Kxc7, and I instantly played Re7+ 27.Kd6 and then Daniel grabbed the rook and played the picturesque 27…Rd8 mate.

Birthday Present

…was how Jordan described our Round 1 game when he resigned. I told him that I hadn’t wanted him to resign because I wanted to get the variaation on my scoresheet 21.Qe1 or Qc1 ..NxB, 22.QxN BxRf1, 23.RxRf1 Bxh2+, 24.KxB QxRf1 where White will be up two clear rooks.

Without the blunder (I pointed out after the game that he should have played 8.Be2 instead of 8.Bb5??) there might be no win, but the biggest victory for me, besides the score, was getting him out of his Cheescake opening familiarity (although he said that we were still in his system on move 8).

I didn’t feed this game into an engine. In fact, I put all the moves to the game down on a text file, blindfold, and then checked the scoresheet. I only made two transpositional errors. One was I thought he played 2.Nf3 instead of e3, and the other was I put …0-0 before ..Ba6, but I figured something was wrong here anyway since I remembered castling before him, and that explained the discrepancy. See, you hardly need a computer after all other than for record-keeping!

Rating Point Bleeding Has Stopped

Round 4

New opponent, will annotate later.

Me, Alex, and Rhett co-won the tournament with 3.5/4. :-) Rhett made 2000 even, Alex made 1801, and I got my rating back up to 1833.

In the game, I spent too much time on the 10…Bd7 sham-sac, which he declined and the position transposed anyway. I have always disliked this variation as Black and I had to feel my way through it to gain the confidence – this is something that a blitz game in this opening will not give you.

White didn’t find a way to continue the attack (I would have come up with sharper stuff as White), and so it was up to Black to break through.

I have not done any engine analysis of this game, but I feel the way to get to Expert is actually to shut the engines off and figure it out for yourself. You need to be that strong on your own, that’s the only way anyone makes it to Master, otherwise one could follow an openings book to Master or etc.

22.Nf3. To be a solid class A player one can’t sort of “wimp out” like this. 22.f4 was the move I was afraid to see, solidifying the center, then he can get back to his Nd2 with ..a5 business.

25.Nd2 Now it is too late for the …a5 idea because the bishop’s diagonal will be opening up.

28.Nd2 He continues to “return to the scene of the crime”. Why not grab the d-file with a rook or get some h3 luft in here. He is probably stuck on the …a5 idea, but it’s stronger as a chessplayer to be flexible. I would simply take on a5, then give up the c5 pawn for the b7 pawn after trades.

29.Rcd8 I played this move with misgivings. This was the last opportunity to play 29…Bxb2, which I almost played. After 30 RxBb2 c3 30. Rc2 (or Ra2) cxNd2 this should be winning for Black here with back-rank ..Rc1 type threats or promote on d1. After last night I decided to win this game “Botvinnik-style” instead of “Tal-style”, but really the slow positional way takes more time to flesh-out, unless your opponent cracks and blunders seeking undue activity, which is what happened in this game.

32.e4?? This is the loser in a lost position, but it stunned me because I had thought it not possible. In fact, I thought I had determined that this drops the Nd7 but in time-pressure couldn’t remember why! (…Bg5 wins). I played 32…Rd4? as a “clock-move” being down to 59 seconds on my clock, and then slapped my face, walked away from the board to curse my stupidity. Not only had I forgotten …Bg5 in response, but I had dropped a pawn as well. Like I say, the unrefuted move becomes the “good move” – I noticed this back as a 1500 player, and I’ve never heard anyone else notice this or write about this other than myself, so it’s probably just assumed at a Master level, but ough to be explicitly pointed out at the class level.

After 33.Qxf4, luckily I have an only-move which may still be winning in …Bg5, but I knew that 34.f4 was probably losing, and not the way for White to play. After the game, I insisted he must have a better move here, and he found 24.Nf6! which threatens to create perpetual chances or win back the exchange when White is a pawn up. Idea is to play Nf3-e5 next, hitting the Qd6 and coming further into Black’s king position. I don’t know how realistic his drawing chances were, but combined with his 4 minutes to my 1, his chances would have been a lot better that way.

Expert Game

Paul did show up for the last round even thogh a bye would have secured first place. He showed up for a shot at ratings, as he is trying to make 2100.

Dean said “If your oppoent is not here, you can start the clocks”, so I did so and Paul was 7 minutes lates.

In this Game, Paul varied from his Moden Defense and played the Caro-Kahn instead.

As usual, I am getting over a cold and sneezing as I type this. My call-center job/environment has been getting me sick on a near weekly basis as of late.

On move 27.Nxd5, I played this combo at 11 minutes remaining with the intent of clock management; it leads to a 0.0 position, but keeps me in the game on the clock, which is what I was looking for at my lessened energy level from the cold. I did consider 27.Nfe4, which is +2.5, but it was beyond my reach at G/90. Against a lower-rated player, I would have opted for my originally intended 27.Ng4 Nd7, 28.Rc7 Qc5, 29.Qf4 with the idea of Nf6 (attacking h7) and after ..NxNf6, QxNf6 followed by Qe7 QxQ, RxQ and the rook/s can dominate (this is not an engine variation) – but I hadn’t fleshed-out that trade on e7. Also, I considered getting the Nf7 and then to d6, but that is still a vulnerable place and takes time to prepare and calculate. At a longer time-control, this game would taken a different path here.

27.Nd5, I believe is most like a phantom combo, as White should first set this up with Re1 to save the e5 pawn, but after a knight move from Black the combo likely won’t exist anymore, not sure about that though. In any event, I realize that I should have continued to build the position here, and the combo was too much of a cop-out.

I should have traded queens right off the bat, and Paul makes some inaccurate moves to keep the draw within reach for me. At the end, I was going to play 62.Rf3, but it had gotten difficult for me to think quickly here, and I played 62.Rf4 instead and immediately resigned. It didn’t help that I had a cold, nor that I had 26 seconds remaining on my clock and made that game-losing blunder with 24 seconds. If I had made it past that move, it would have been 0.0, but the swindling chances then would have been more on my side than his, but really it is an easy draw at least for White, but should be for both sides there.

The Fix Is In

Whoever thought that chess didn’t have it’s fair share of drama? I say this humorously, as I could theoretically go 3.5/4 this month without getting a shot at the tournament leader. I suspect that if he takes a bye, then it will be to “punish me” for my earlier draw. It’s comical how many are taking byes. Not sure who I might play as Black next week, possibly Rebecca who has been an “upset” queen of late, and is currently rated 1420. Daniel is my other likely opponent, he’s around 1700.

Well, I played Sarah. She is a sweet and talented kid, and once rated in the mid 1300′s after one tournament, but you know how kids ratings are all over the place.

Round 3

I blitzed out the part where I won the piece on c5, as little Fabio had stopped to watch at this point. I was going to play 13.Ba3, but was feeling rather complacent at this point, playing 13.Bd4 quite quickly and then noticing my blunder. At this point, some people found the game “interesting”, but I knew that it never was in the winning sense.

Stockfish likes the c4, d5 push when I had the chance, thinks it’s a big deal, but I would have to analyze since I don’t see it yet.

Both of us played inaccurately during non-critical moves, and I played less accurately than her aside from the blunder, but we both played well during critical positions. For example, 15…NxBe3 16.fxNe3 Nxe3 17.Rf4 and Black is not winning the exchange after all; this was another trap I had calculated during the game.

Well, Sara almost had me on my second scoresheet, and had my clock down to 2:28 remaining compared to her 51 minutes, so kudos to her.

On a chess politics note, as much as it gives me headache just to bring this up, I will say that I was scheduled to play Paul Anderson on board 1 on Wednesday, and Rhett on Board 1 on Thursday. Both players are taking a last-round bye to lock in their prize money. Okay, so once a couple years ago I took a last round bye at the last moment because I was sick and had been working that day, and I don’t know what happened there but I had split first place on the bye and was completely taken by surprise when Dean emailed me about where to send the prize money check to (it was maybe for $20, tops). What’s taking place these days is planned, and the first place winners frequently even show up to these last rounds after having taken their bye.

What happened to old-school toughness? I feel if players are going to put the pressure on to go 3-0 just to make the last round interesting, then it should be an eight-round two month tournament! Zero point last round byes, which Shirley and I favor, is another a great idea. I still catch heat from Alex sometimes that I took that last round bye at the last E. Coast Deli tournament. He wanted to win the last tournament there, whereas I probably felt the last tournament there made it more of a “lame duck” tournament.