Having a Cold, and Focus in a chess game

Round 3

So, I’ve had this terrible cold all week, but by the time I was on my way to the club had finally stopped sneezing.  Essentially, I’m now over the usual sympoms, except that I couldn’t focus on chess all day (and have had next to zero energy all week), and wanted to see how it would affect my game.

I was fairly certain that I would get paired down (at .5/2, I was more or less out of this tournament) and wanted to practice moving more quickly.

Matthew is a strong up-and-comer, very under-rated, so this would be a good test.

I was surprised that when I calculated lines on my turn, I was very efficient, and generally pretty accurate.  On Matthew’s turn, however, I wasn’t able to focus so much.  Matthew’s weakness in terms of rating, shows up in time-pressure, but it was obvious that this game he was very determined to move quickly other than for on a few moves.  When I made a move, he would immediately put his food down and come join the board.

My strategy for time seemed to be to calculate definite tactical threats on my turn, and then consider general strategy on his turn.  This strategy had a major flaw in that I would see/find/consider non-forcing, developing moves typically on his time rather than my time.  So I was always seeing his actual next move only on his clock but never on my own.

(sneeze – I spoke to soon).  In this post,  I want to illustrate the difference between accurate, effective calculation and focus.

13…Ne4?!  Not such a great move, as the trades will speed up his attack, and are strategically good for him.  This crossed my mind as soon as I moved, but here is where my lack of focus began to hurt me.  I thought …b5 would be a better move, even before making my move, and definitely after, but somehow the poorer move was more calculation oriented, so I went with it.

16…Nf6.  …Nb6 and …Qd6 are reasonable moves here, no worse, but my move was the one easier to calculate (the same could be said for many of my opening moves as well).

17…Be6  This as an easy move to go with, but 17…dxe4, 18.dxe4 Qd(any) was the more creative move/idea to look for.  Hitting d4 occurred to me, but this creativity did not.

18…Nd7  Here, I resorted more to generalizations, wanting counterplay with …c5, supported by the Nd7.  18…Nh5 was also interesting, and I gave it some thought, but didn’t look critically at any lines, only looked for ideas.

19…g6.  Didn’t think this was going to be necessary until now, when I should have calculated more correctly earlier.  I saw 19…c5, 20.f4 cxd4, 21.fxB dxN, 22.e6xN (missed this one until I was here).

20…Nf8?  I didn’t really want to play this move, but it’s the result of settling on an obvious-looking move in terms of future eventualities, almost like choosing a move “by committee”.  I figured he would play this move, but spent my time in the bathroom and walking around waiting for him to move.

I looked at 20…c5, 21.Rg3 cxd4, 22.Ne2 (#1 continuation by Houdini) but then wanted a move which covered more eventualities – again, this sort of thinking covers for a lack of focus.  Next, I really wanted to play 20…Kh8, that was the move I wanted to play, but wasn’t sure and kept missing on and off that I had the Bd7 covering the h3 square.  Even …Qh4 is a move, but somehow I forgot countless times about my bishop covering that h3 square, so in the end played the blunderously passive 20…Nf8? move.  Of course, I couldn’t decide OTB, and actually wasted a lot of time not calculating anything, but sort of in a fog, and immediately regretted not playing 20…c5 after playing my move.

22…c5?  I did consider the better 22…f5, (and 22…Nh7, but only seriously after the game).  Again, that …Qh4 move was floating in and out of my consciousness at best.  I should also mention that before making this move, and had taken my second and final bathroom break (mainly to get away from the board) and paced the room until he moved, and didn’t really consider the game while doing so other than that he would probably play that move, and I’d double-check 22…c5.

After the game, Expert Earle pointed out that he thought I should have played 22….f5, only move, and only now do I see the computer’s line of 22…f5, 23.exf Qxf, 24.Bxg6 Qxd4+! (I can’t believe I rested my opinion during the game, half a ply short of this move!).  The thing is that Earle was probably looking at the board for only half a minute.  Master Josh and Expert Daniel also see things and conclude much faster than do I.  I really need to step-up my OTB habits of analyzing.

23…c4?  When I played this move, I wanted to double-check the capture line on g6, but told myself not to as I should have had the discipline to check it fully when playing …c5.  Well, five seconds after this move I saw that 24.fxg6 c4xBd3 would be met by 24.g7+ followed by 25.gxNf8+ winning a piece.  Here, I figured I was probably busted, missing the 24.g7+ line (only considering 24.gxf7 before I made my move).

26…Qh4.  I already saw his mate before I played this move, but knew it was time to resign and this is how I choose to do it.

In the end, I wish I had played 22…c5 in time, as I saw the ideas of taking on d4, opening the c-file, getting a check with …Qc5+.

I had seen some other lines accurately, and OTB was surprised at how well and efficiently I could calculate, but it only came in bursts and as you can see my real problem was/is not in calculation (except where I didn’t do any of it), but in focus.  I was not focused during this game.  It even took me a while just to get into the mood where I could focus enough to write this post.  I sounded like I had a cold, and Matthew said that’s why I won.  I don’t want to take anything away from his victory since it was completely legit, and it’s not like was dropping pieces except for missing that g7+ move in that one line.  Actually, I was totally, obviously out of it, just as I was when I went to grocery shopping afterwards, but that’s because of the cold not because of chess.

The point I wanted to have come across is that when you lack focus, decision-making is harder to come by and sometimes irrational.  Certainly, I should have done more calculating on some key moves while in doubt, but it’s almost as if the lack of focus is what caused me to not want to calculate so much (sneezing again now).

Focus is what helps with your game-management, when and what you choose to calculate or not calculate.  There was too much in this game that I didn’t calculate or more importantly stopped short on.  I need a more efficient algorithm when it comes to choosing a move, and I need to calculate more.  I can calculate way more than I am OTB, I just need to tell myself to do so, and practice doing it more so that it becomes more a part of what I do OTB.  Looking back, my focus was super-sloppy during this game, and I need to reprimand myself for looking deeper into lines and then comparing them.  If you can’t tell yourself, then no one else will get inside your brain to tell you to do it either.

I arrived with 13 minutes off my clock, mostly because it was hard to drag myself out the door, and could have resigned with 14 minutes on my clock.  This was more like a G/60, 30 increment for me, the way I chose to approach it.  It made me realize how dependent I’ve become on having the full 90 minutes, and the differences in my play, and more aware of some of my very substandard analytical habits.

After taking three motrin for my thumb pain, I fell asleep near the fire and slept for eleven hours.  I feel so much better, have finally beat this cold; I heard Alex come home late sneezing, however, so maybe he picked it up late.  My thumb is doing a good job healing; I can only hope that months from now the nail will grow back in straight like it was.

Here is a nice game that I just played on Chess.com, as if to illustrate my inconsistency:







2 thoughts on “Having a Cold, and Focus in a chess game

  1. The guy definitely plays on a few hundred points higher level than his rating.
    I think the moment when it started to go down was when you played 17… Be6.
    If 17… dxe4 then he can’t take with a pawn – 18. fxe4 because of 18… Qd8.
    So he has to play 18. Nxe4 and it is equal after 18… Nxe4 19. fxe4
    After 18. e5 Nd7 White position is easy to play and yours is difficult.
    You are still worse after 22….f5, though it is better than what happened in the game.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, I have a much better idea of what to do in this opening now, as well as what my alternatives are. I considered some of them during the game, but now I have an idea of why they work.

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