A Wrong Approach

For the final round this month, I was paired against Katie. We have a 2-2 record head to head.

Round 5

I decided to play quiet, Alapin Sicilian, because Anthea showed me this position where she showed her coach that I had blundered last night by allowing Bb3, Ng5 and Nf7+. It freaked me out, thinking I had blundered right off the bat and that I didn’t know how to get through the first few moves without blundering (which is how I often lose).

I just checked, and it is as if White were given an extra tempo against that Ruy Lopez Open Defense, with what she showed me, because I checked with Fruit and I didn’t blunder after all, played it right – post-mortems are often like that, with “ghost blunders”. But otherwise, her coach confirmed what I had told her.

Anyway, that was what was in my head before this game. I decided that Katie is quite a capable player, so I didn’t want to blunder and a draw should be fair result between us.

Well, I get a lot of mileage out of opponents being unfamiliar with theory, and such was the case in this game. She was spending lots of time in the opening as if unfamiliar with it, which right there justified my playing it.

I knew that 8..Bd6 would be a blunder before she played it, was expecting ..Be7 or ..Bb4. She could patiently play against my isolated pawn, but instead went on the offensive. Psychologically, this didn’t surprise me because I know that she likes to ‘jump the gun’ offensively. I love it when opponents attack me right off the bat with the Black pieces, as it is often a sure recipe for disaster, and not very drawish.

She kept the attack going skillfully, but it was sort of like throwing fuel on the fire. OTH, she had ‘crossed the Rubicon’, and there was no turning back for her attack.

The rest of the game was mostly a middlegame technical skill challenge for me. Her 10..Nbd7 was a powerful psychological blow, and I needed time to find my way before finding 11.hxB Nxg, 12.g3

She asked me after the game what would have happened after 10..Bxh3, and I told her that I would have continued with 11.Ne5 Qh4, 12.g3 and the queen has nowhere to go (it +4.5 or thereabouts). I also mentioned to her that after 10..Bf5, I had 11.Nb5, but I think she had seen this and didn’t like it (I didn’t realize how truly losing it was for Black).

In any case, the Alapin variation is mostly a quiet opening, and I told her that her attempt to play it tactically is what helped me most.

I signed up for this weekends tournament because it looks like I may start this new job on Sunday (tech support at a call-center), with possibly a month of training during swing-shift, so that I would miss the club games for next month. It is an “Open” tournament, and I almost wasn’t going to play because I know that I will face a lot of lower-rateds where I have everything to lose, ratings-wise, and I will need to take a last-round bye.

In a way, now I have to face some of these same opponents this weekend, and they won’t be as gullible next time.

I can play 4 rounds, and hopefully the 4th round doesn’t last beyond 75 moves or I will possibly be late for my first day of training. This is the problem with G/90 + 30 second increment. One cannot be sure when the game will end! After 90 moves I would be forced to resign in order to run out the door in time.

I should feel excited about this, but I have been feeling more burned-out in a way, lately. At least this tournament will be during the day, though, which is always appreciated. But for example, I am not even playing the openings lately, I am simply refuting people’s boneheaded approaches in openings which they are unfamiliar with. I feel like this, combined with lack of openings study and only playing, is weakening me possibly. These don’t feel like “real” games, even when I am playing them. In fact, tonight’s game was a miniature as was last nights. How realistic is this?? When people play these weekend tournaments, they rarely fold quickly, even the 1300 players will force me to put one in the ‘best games collection, so to speak, just to gain the win as if it were automatic, and we all know that none of these wins are “automatic.”

I don’t think that Anthea’s borderline-Expert-rated coach helped her too much with that one (that is the problem, we are not computers). She was saying that I played ..b5, Bb3 and _then_ ..Nf6 (I play ..Nf6 first), which allows Ng5, and then it was like “Eww, I am so busted because I have to play ..d5 (Alex and Rhett were also looking at it)”. But after ..d5, exd Nd4 it is Black who has an advantage, according to Fruit. Too funny. This is why one has to stop freaking around with the position, and simply know book to some extent. IOW, follow the main-line, and stop looking for garbage shots on every move.

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The Magical Disappearing Act

Finally, I am paired with Anthea once again. I am Black, and she plays 1.e4 for the first time that I’ve seen, and then it moves on to a Ruy Lopez. I spend 5 minutes here thinking either main-line Tchigorin Def., or Open Defense. I figure that her Expert teacher taught her the main-line Ruy, so the Open Defense might catch her off-guard, particularly by her playing 7.Re1 instead of the main-theory 7.d4.

I wasn’t surprised by her decision to trade the h2 pawn for my d5 pawn, but that wasn’t what happened. What happened next took me by surprise, but not so much, knowing Anthea.

Round 4

My 16..Kg8 was a mistake, as I should have played ..Qf6 immediately. I was playing hope-chess, hoping she wouldn’t see c4, but then I saw that it worked it out that I could defend, before I played ..Qf6 on my next move. She was down < -2 after my poor 16..Kg8 move.

I hadn't even seen 18..Bc5, threatening mate. Instead, I was planning on meeting 19.dxc4 with ..Nb6, protecting the Ra8.

The real magic was that I didn't even realize until I was going over this game port-mortem that I was up a rook! She resigned, unexpectedly for me, once she saw the queens coming off. Opening theory proved decisive in this one, as Black, although only psychologically of course. She wasn't into merely getting a center-pawn for a flank-pawn she said after the game. So she had seen her blunder, and I had wondered why she seemed smiling/laughing at herself at one point; so this explains it.

Another crazy finish

Well, I wasn’t paired with Anthea after all. Instead, I was paired against Rhett.

Round 4

I played Bd2, then figured “Oh yeah, he’ll win the b2 pawn with ..Qb6…good!” Sure enough, it exceeded my wildest expectations. At one point he had made six queen moves in a row, and I had 8 pieces developed (counting 0-0) to his one piece Nb6.

Well, I offered up my Ng5 and was hoping he’d take it because I had calculated a mate in 8 with exf7+..Kxf7, Ne5+ Kg8, fxg Be6, g6 and now I have Nf7 and if BxN, gxN+ Kh7, then I can probably get in a Qg6 mate. I haven’t looked at this with Fruit, this is simply what I saw OTB, but yes of course it is winning. I am surprised that he was surprised, and yet he smartly bailed out with …Bxe6+.

Then, I dumbly immediately captured on e6 with Qxe6 because I was “tired of all this thinking already”, tired from my previous combo which he didn’t go for. Simply Ne5, Bg6+ and Nf7 forking, winning the rook and it would have been game over. After I captured with the queen, I was like “That was a dumb move, I should have checked with the bishop, or looked for the right way to finish.”

I didn’t even see his ..Qf6, trading queens (I should though, she is only worth 3 minor pieces!), and thought to myself “I will have to win this one all over again. I am down a pawn, but he is stuck for a move, more or less.” I figured that ..a5 looked like a good try for him, but instead he gave me his b7 pawn, and then tried to trap my rook. I played …Na5 protecting the Rb7, but he can’t play Nc4 removing the Na5 defender because I will mate him, so he had to play ..e6 first.

Eventually, we both got into a mad time-scramble and I put my bishop en-prise with 2 minutes and 36 seconds remaining. He had 3 1/2 minutes. From the time that I put my bishop en-prise, to the point at which I checkmated him, I did all of that in approximately 30 seconds (with 5 second delay), because I still had over 2 minutes left at the end of the game, and he had just a couple of seconds left. My friend Alex was impressed that I dropped a piece and still won, and Rhett thought he needs to start practicing at blitz now. I told him forget it, analyze your games instead, because we were both moving so fast that neither of us was thinking, we were both making moves.

I told him after the game that I should have played Kh1 instead of Kf1 there (true), and that had he played ..Rf8 in that time scramble, activating it, he should have won.

BTW, I did intend with 32.c3 Nf5 to either win a piece or mate after Bh6+ followed by Nb7+. c3 was to open up c6 for my knight, but the time-pressure was so great that I couldn’t remember it after he played ..g5 and I played c3, and I wasn’t trusting that he hadn’t somehow prevented it, even though it is all checks and cannot be stopped. I played Nb3 and then blundered my piece within a manner of seconds. The surprising thing for me is how I ended up with so little time, as if it didn’t seem that I was taking up nearly that much time, and as if he were spending unbelievable amounts of time, and yet it was the other way around, I had 10 minutes to his 55 at one point.

It’s funny how before the person makes there move you are going “Yeah, that’s right buddy, c3 then Nf5 and I win a piece.” Then after the move it’s like “Oh no, he played Nf5, I must have miscalculated something and need to play a safe move now to show that I am still better.” Completely irrational, but I find that this is sort of a normal reaction (because my plan didn’t factor in his next move ..g5, but this changed nothing). The only thing is that when you have time, you win the piece, and when you don’t then thinking sort of ends with that irrational thought. Not only that, but because of the fight-or-flight of time-pressure I suddenly couldn’t remember the line! (yet desperately tried to for a few seconds). That sort of survival pressure is so great that I completely forgot about it after the game and didn’t remember until now when Fruit pointed out. It’s as if I had a blackout during the game, induced by time-pressure.

Another tactic I miscalculated is 26.RxNb6 axR, 27.Ne5 Rc7, 28.Rxc8+ Rc8 and now I missed the tempo-gaining zwischenzug 29.Nf7+ Kc7, 30.RxR KxR, 31.NxR. I had only seen 29.RxR KxR, 30.Nf7 Rg8 (but White can still win that rook with 31.Bh7!).

19.Ne5! instead of Re1 would have been my blitz move, but I spent a lot of time and energy looking at a lot of lines, but not deeply enough.

Back to 1800! (live-rating is probably around 1804) 🙂

I should say that I got lot of tactics training out of this game. This is why I say I don’t need blitz. I get tactics study from game-analysis, which is what speeds up my blitz play. Blitz play in and of itself, is just the art of making safe moves quickly. The rest of it you get from studying tactics, combinations, and endgames.

Attacking into an abyss

I thought that I might get paired with Alex, but he didn’t show (probably couldn’t get a ride), so I was paired with Dan instead, whom I won against last Thursday.

This time I was White, and decided to play my trusty Advanced Var. even though I’ve already pegged him as being strong in closed positions, so it would surely be a good game all-around.

Round 3

In this game I managed my time much better than usual in the opening, still had 45 minutes after 20 moves, but then began to get pulled into this attack that was going nowhere, and using up a lot of my clock time. At first, I figured after he traded rooks on c3 that he was probably lost and I could simply play QxQ, but then the downward spiral began. Last thing I wanted was to get my queen or rook trapped (I saw variations), but I could not find a way to break in, and at last I traded queens when my goal became to not make his king good, and try to win his advanced h-pawn. I did miss some interesting tidbits such as after Qd6, I could play a4 to allow a retreat square for my queen on a3 (I’m not so great with queens, let alone closed positions, but I try). Fruit says that I was supposed to be playing g6, but that wasn’t clear to me, although it makes sense now considering how many of his defenders were over there on the queenside. So basically, I failed to play both sides of the board as well as I should have.

But I was already playing 28.Nd2 with a heavy-heart, realizing that if I win the h-pawn, he can play Nxd4 winning his pawn back for instance, drawing the defender off from the piece that would be capturing the h4 pawn. Just thinking about it now it occurs that I could probably defend d4 with a rook instead.

After move 36, I stopped keeping score, we were both in time-trouble. I was up 3 minutes to his 2 at the end of the game. He asked for a draw once or twice and I refused. I feel really bad for him because he played a great game and probably neither of us understood what was happening in the position, but just when I was beginning to experience some difficulties, he traded off my bad bishop and then let me trade bishop for knight. At this point I was back on track to try for a win, and somehow instead of ..Rg6 (not possible, I see now, drops h-pawn), blocking, he let my obvious pawn push in and it was won.

At the end, he picked up his king, then saw his rook was hanging. He said “I guess I have to move my king.” I was not Mr. Nice guy, and I made him play his king, so he resigned. I showed him that I was winning with Rxe6+ and Rxb6, but also I didn’t want to have to play out that win with so little time remaining.

So after all of those terrible losses, I’ve managed to preserve an 1800 rating somehow, although tomorrow I would have to face Anthea.

Funny, it looks like I had the game in hand somehow, going over it now, but I did not see that so clearly at the board.

This game was a good example of a game not being determined by tactics, but rather by strategy and calculation. These sort of performances are supposedly a rare-bird at our 1700 and 1800 rating levels.

This endgame is too good to not show you, RollingPawns. You’ve gotta see this one:
Possible Conclusion
Black can take the ..Bc5, but White recaptures with a pawn, and that passed pawn chain will be winning. It’s around +1.65 according to Fruit. I played these dark bishop moves, but Fruit found the Bc5 shot.

What I didn’t realize is that the endgame is won for White. Even in the game, when he played ..Ne4 and then traded it for my dark-bishop. Assuming he hadn’t made that trade, I still had Nh2-g4-h6 which is winning. Craayyyzy endgame! Some Master level wins were possible from it 🙂

My live-rating at this moment is around 1792. Lose to a 1580 and draw a 1440 and you may as well purchase your own grave ahead of time. hehe. There’s no way I am playing at this low 1792 strength within my own opening systems, particularly as White. Even then, I am getting lucky that my opponents are not booked better. Really have to save time for the endgame at G/90, that is a big part of it.

With the g6 move, the idea is to play gxf7..Kxf7, pulling the king away from the 7th rank c-file entrance. It’s a more dynamic way of exploiting both the h4 pawn, and the weak 7th rank – it adds another coal to that fire. Of course, I was concerned about defense during the game, and didn’t notice how strong g6 was.

The idea of opening it up is that Black lacks tactical defensive space in this French opening, it is the true downside of the opening. One needs to have space to defend, not only to attack. White can get bishops, all pieces involved against Black’s king for the temporary price of a g-pawn (g6 allows Bg5).

Mr. Blue Sky

Round 3

My opponent’s past relationship woes we spoke about after the game reminded me of this song from E.L.O. Chin up, as they say.

The game, yes, well first I’d like to say what I kept to myself. It was really annoying for me during the game how at this site everyone walks by close and looks at the game, even someone who wasn’t playing. This is really okay, but the venue has the tables scrunched together and I found this to be really distracting. For example, I had seen that 20.Nxg6 would be a blunder, before he played it, say that I could get my knight out with Nf3+, but once he played it lots of people started walking by to see the combo and it was driving me nuts inside. So I didn’t see it once he played it and I thought to myself “Okay, just to stop everyone from looking at my board, I will take his knight, because I know it is a good move.” Simply didn’t see the Nf3+ working at that point, but thought I had seen it before.

I love the venue where we play at on Wednesday’s, but on Thursdays I put up with playing here because that’s what I have to do to play against higher-rated players. It’s simply tougher to focus when people stand next to my board because the aisle between tables isn’t even 2 ft. wide, and sometimes we even play in the middle of the restaurant. It’s very bright in there and makes distractions more prominent. I’m really lucky that the game ended up as well as it did, because I am not calculating all that well lately, and particularly not there.

In any case, my opening preparation sucked, as usual, but I got lucky when he played NxBe7, trading one of his best pieces for my worst piece on the board. I was planning to play ..Bf6, not noticing he can play g5, hitting it, until right after I had played ..Nd7. Not sure how the game would have gone for me had he not made that trade, probably pretty badly I suppose.

My opponent was a gentleman, and I like playing him. I have to say that he was working and away from chess for 6 months, so he is rusty and the win was not unexpected. But with rating points, you take them any way you can get them of course.

Dan, my opponent, saw a ghost when he played 19.Qe1. He was afraid after 19.Qe3, that I would play 19…h6 and his bishop “has nowhere to go”. This isn’t true though. After 20.NxB, he was 21.Bh5.

Next Thursday I play Anthea, if nothing changes. She just came back and won her two games this week looking/playing very serious in the first time I can remember. She beat Alex with 44 minutes left on her clock to his 4, and he usually has an hour left. Alex beat me with the King’s Gambit in blitz, but I don’t even remember the last part of the game because I was talking to Dan about his girl-trouble woes while playing (I wasn’t even hitting my clock). I’ll probably play Alex on Wednesday is my guess (as White), as we both have 1 out of 2, but I’m not as sure of that matchup.

Jumping on me early

Round 2

There was nothing unusual about this game from my perspective. Spent a lot of time in the opening, mostly to look-off bad moves, yet still never quite playing anything resembling a world-beating opening, just normal stuff.

Well, my opponent beat me last time we played. I had a winning position, and then played some losing moves quickly. That was the game which began my downward spiral of losing to 1400 level players. Sure enough, he must have gained some courage from that result as he was trying to “punk me” early, I guess.

It took me no more than a minute to calculate that 13.Ne5 is dropping a pawn, and then I spent one more minute looking at f2 sacs. So 13..NxBc3 was one of my fastest moves in the game, which is somewhat regrettable because I didn’t see his Bxh2+ sac, and yet it didn’t feel right at all that he could attack me so early this way. I was rather confident that I had a winning advantage when I played 13…NxBc3, and it simply seemed just that I would win a pawn out of it.

For his rating, he was going for too much against me. After that, it was a matter of technique. I could have played the finish more boldly, but for me the most important point was that I had 11 minutes at the end of the game compared to his 4 minutes. IOW, I could afford to slack off and make quick moves, being up a piece, compared to his position where he had to try to make something of it (the sac).

Maybe this will signal the end of my and RollingPawns’ unlucky streaks. 🙂

Two Knights Defense

Round 2

I played Dean. His rating is usually around 1600, but it’s down right now. Dean’s a good player, knows his line and analyzes it afterward with an engine.

I enjoy playing against him because he knows his line, and produces a game worth referencing for later on.

He varied with 8.NxNc6 instead of the routine BxNc6.

The crux of middlegame was that I spent too much time debating whether to play this line that I saw, which I was correct is equal. But I am Black, so I should want equality! Instead, I keep the position complicated, looking for tricks. Here is what I saw:
17..Be4, 18.Qg4 Bc2, 19.Bg6 g6, 20.BxRf8 BxB, 21.b3 BxR (I saw that I can’t win that knight as after 21..cxb? (he has 22.Rd2 zwishcenzug here which I didn’t see), 22.axb Bxb3, 23.Ra1 defends the Na4, which is why I have to play 21..BxR. Still, equal is better than playing for tricks, since I was going to play correctly after 17…Qd7, 18.b3 Rfd8 but my mindset was to bail out of the position already. I had seen that 19.bxc5 is not possible, and so this was a line that I was originally debating to emphasize. If 19.Be3, Black has ..Qc6! which I didn’t see. White can continue 20.Bd4 Rb8, 21.Bxa7, and it’s complicated but only =+. Fruit preferred Rd2 with Rb2 defense I think. I think I actually play this better than Fruit. hehe.

The problem in this game, and I talk about all this other stuff, but I really wanted to mention that my flawed plan was this ..c5,..d4 formation, which he let me have. I thought this was going to be a plus, but it’s mostly a minus because it makes his Na4 sort of good. This misunderstanding of the position is what ruined my winning chances in the latter middlegame.

25..Rb8? blunder. If I trade bishops on g5 or play ..Re8 (indirectly putting pressure on the e5 pawn, after BxBe7 QxB), I am equal. Well, after BxBg5 I am equal, but ..Re8 allows White an edge.

Move 28..Kh8?? quickly played. I saw f6 coming since before he even started the march with f4, but I couldn’t figure out how to defend and hadn’t managed my clock, allowed time for a thoughtful defense. The key idea here was to move the queen so that it won’t be attacked by f6, and as soon as f6 is played I can defend with ..Bg6. Clever bit of defense which I didn’t catch onto. Beautiful defense after f6 Bg6, fxg7 (Kxg7??) ..d3! (pushing the pawn equalizes). ..d2..Rd3, and then get the queen in there trading queens with check on e3 (with White queen on g5), very nice

Also, I probably should have gone with ..Bf5 as a defense as well as I have time to defend against a Qf3, h3, g4 push, and that is probably creating holes for him as well. My common-sense was weak when it came to defending quickly, needed to spend time there. Yes, that attack is slow and cumbersome. I have Qxe5, Qh4 attacking a Re1 and double-attack on g4. Plus even after Bf5-d7 it attacks his knight on a4. BUT, there is a problem with 27..Bf5? though as 28.Qg5!, double-attacking queen and bishop should be winning. The queen trade on g5..Bg6 tempo gained will win the c5 pawn Nxc5. So the best defense was to go with ..Be4, as I had done, but making sure that I can play/defend with ..Bg6 just as soon as White plays f6.

Beautiful defensive line 28.f5 Qc7, 29.Re2 Qc6 and now if 30.Nxc5 (deflection, winning this pawn) QxN, 31.RxB d3+!, 32.Kh1 d2 – White is up a pawn, but at this level the better player probably wins, and even with Fruit I held it to -1.25.

I should have played 29..gxf6, since after 30..Qf8, White has to sac a pawn on g7 to play Qg7+. I saw that he still had 31.Nxc5, but after ..Bg6 the big difference is that I can get my queen back into the game.

30.Nxc keeping queens on is stronger for White, as I suspected (and winning).
31.Ra1 is also winning the endgame.

(I am still adding to this game/notes in reverse).