Lost to Neal, again, as Black
At first, I played Nf6 too fast and then realized that meant that I couldn’t castle queenside, which should be excellent for Black here (with Ne7). There were about 6 other people there that I had never played before, strong players, I just happened to end up playing Neal again, and he seemed surprised too.
The time controls were faster for the first 30 than usual, which made me play some moves that were more passive than should have been played. I tried to get a tactical position by giving him a hole on d5 and one for me on d3, but it didn’t work out that way. Of course I thought I was fine once the queens were traded, but against Neal’s expertise that wasn’t to be the case. At least I remembered to ask for a draw this time, but he knew what he was doing. He really hardly seems to need any time on his moves. I used up my 2 hrs, and he had used up maybe 30 minutes for the game.
When I play Neal, he beats me like a man, and I lose like a little kid. Of course, he is a couple decades older, so perhaps it’s understandable. 😉
1825 -> 1816
I should have a “if Neal didn’t exist” rating, which would be close to 1900. My “if I keep playing Neal” rating is probably somewhere around my floor.
I played moves 30 and 31 rather quickly, so I’d say the time control had a great effect on that, as I should have played …g6. Also, I note that it does seem more unnatural to find tactics around move 30 and beyond, but they are there. I can see now that I didn’t take advantage of where his bishop is placed, and that it’s critical to play against that tactically above any other positional considerations. So that if a rook leaves that file, then RxB, pawn takes, and the Rd1 is en-prise.
At the end, it was hard to see that opening up the queenside and trading a rook would lose because it would activate White’s king, which of course not only adds a piece to the attack but pushes out the bishop from defense. With two rooks, a fortress seemed to have been possible. During the game of course, I was not sure which way to go while I was pushing that a-pawn. In fact, that’s when I offered the draw and actually thought I was better, even though he was the one winning, but he seemed to know immediately. I liked …Ra4 to keep the king out, it seemed most solid, but I did not stick with it. It takes a lot of confidence to defend a fortress because if you are wrong, you lose, it’s that simple, versus playing bad by opening things up, but at least trying to create some doubt. After I had moved, I felt sure that a fortress was best as I was analyzing what I should have done.
Incidentally, …g5 loses, as he can still pry the a-file open with a4, trade a rook, then invade with his king to take that b5 or c4 pawn. …g6 and gxf would weaken that whole weird looking bishop fortress, let Black trade bishops, and then be able to try to draw a pawn down in the rook endgame.
With my gift-certificate prizes I bought Lev Alburt’s book on tactics and Khemelnitsky’s test yourself book, but I could really use some work on the endgame. Not simply to learn an endgame theme, but it seems like I have looked at middlegames and tactics for so long that when Neal starts marching his king, all of a sudden it hits me like a new concept “What is he doing with his king, where is it going?” I feel like a caveman getting hit over the head with a novel concept.
My original strategy was to “study tactics until I make Expert”. That is now back-firing as I’ve come to see that there is no way I am going to make Expert unless I improve my endgame. My game has become lopsided, even though I can easily outplay a 1600 kid at the endgame. Winning endgames against a 1900 level player, however, is another story.
My mind has been going blank too often in these endgames. Neal even makes moves that Crafty doesn’t see, but he “sneaks up” on me, same as I do to junior players. I need to become more comfortable with endgames again, and just looking at a book on endgames, it takes more discipline to concentrate than on some neato Kasparov middle-game killshot.
We know that I could go on forever, but another thing is that when I get to endgames, the brain isn’t as fresh. It’s so easy to spend time looking at all kinds of tactics in the opening, then get to the endgame and think “I’ze tired, the queens are off the board and there is no mate, can I go home now?” bzzzt, wrong answer Private, that’s exactly where they want you, in a position where you can’t easily escape.
I could spend a fortnight on what could have happened in this game. My ….QxQ loses by force, it’s just lucky that he didn’t find it, whereas Nc5 actually seems better for Black – of course he is not Crafty, and might improve, but it was winning in the variations I looked at. The amazing thing about this opening is that it looks so placid and staid, but once the queens come off, there is like another 45 moves or so to follow. The queens coming off is when this game really begins, not where it ends. Next time I’ll have another go at perhaps a nearly identical variation.