Sunday, May 29, 2005

G/60 tournament report, and a study

I played a game-in-60 tournament yesterday. Before I talk about it, here's a funny study I looked at today: White to play and draw. (C.M. Bent, "Tidskrift for Schack", 9/1964). Solution at the end.

I'm not crazy about sudden-death time controls, to put it mildly. I was very happy with the old repeating time limits (30/90 forllowed by 25/60 repeating was the most common one), and the switch to sudden-death controls at the start of the 1990s was a big reason I stopped playing for 12 years.

The use of time-delay clocks makes sudden-death a little less awful (at least the game doesn't degenerate into complete smash-the-clock). Since there are no slow time-control tournaments I can play in locally this summer, I decided to try a G/60. I had played some of the NY Masters G/30 tournaments when I was first coming back to tournament chess, but I find playing that fast too stressful.

Anyway, my result wasn't too bad--beat a C-player and an A-player, lost to a master. That last one knocked me out of prize contention, and since it came after a vicious time-scramble, I decided to pack it in. I didn't feel too bad afterwards, though, so I'll probably do it again.

Solution to study: 1.h8Q+! Nxh8 2.Bf8+ Kh5 3.Ng7+ Kh4 4.Be7+ Kg3 5.Bd6 Qxd6 6.Nxf5+ Bxf5 7.Ne4+ Bxe4 stalemate!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Quick update

I played last weekend in the monthly open at the Marshall Chess Club with indifferent results; drew one Class A player, beat another, lost to an IM.

The draw was my first Sicilian with Black in twenty or so years (over the board, anyway), and my lack of experience with the line showed. Under pressure, I deliberately went in for unfavorable complications, and was lucky that he didn't find a winning path.

The win came when my young opponent, who had played well to neutralize pressure on his queenside in an English, decided that he could get more than an even endgame.

The loss was as Black in a Dutch Stonewall. I had a slightly inferior position and mis-evaluated the endgame resulting from a forced tactical sequence.

No huge tactical errors, but I found other ways to suffer. 8) I'll post analysis over the coming weeks.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Round 3: Win (Self-Criticism)

Here's my third-round game from last month's tournament. (Just in time for me to play again this weekend, work permitting.) This was hard to annotate, because superficially it seems to be a fairly easy win. It wasn't. In particular, avoiding Black's attempts at a perpetual check was draining.

I had a couple of real tactical blind-spots. Missing 28...f3 and 44.Qxf8+ were especially bad; it was just luck that my position was so strong they didn't matter. I also missed several opportunities to win by a direct attack on the King, being hypnotized by the prospect of strangling all of his Queenside pieces in their beds.

Once interesting thing is that I feel much better about my play overall now, looking at the game after several weeks, than I did right after the game. I think my realization of those tactical flaws colored my perceptions, and made me think that all my middle-game play was too slow, when in fact it was mostly fine. Another part of the problem is that I don't feel I'm good at exploiting certain kinds of advantage, such as the extra space and better development I had in this game. So I criticised myself for not acting faster, when in fact my simple development and strengthening of my position was appropriate.

I study my games in two phases. First, right after the game, I jot down my immediate thoughts about what I was thinking about during play, what things I missed, and so on. Later, I do a slow pass over the game, usually starting from the end, looking for improvements and verifying--or debunking--my initial impressions.

In this game, to point out the differences between my initial and later impressions of my play, I've put my first round of notes in quotes.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Stopping the slide

One of the hardest things to do in chess is to realize that your position is becoming bad.

Tell me this hasn't happend to you: at some point in the game, you feel that you have a small advantage, or at least comfortable equality, and you try to improve your position. Your attempts don't lead anywhere, and you start to feel that you're under a little pressure. But you haven't made any mistakes that you can see, so you just keep playing normal chess. You still don't get anywhere, and suddenly you realize that you're worse. Your opponent has all the play, and you can only sit there and defend. Eventualy you crack, and rack up another loss.

Sometimes, you don't ever realize that you were adrift, and you blame the loss on the final tactical mistake, the one you made when you cracked. The only way you're going to realize what really happened is by carefully analysing the game afterward.

I can't give you any advice about how to spot when you're starting such a slide. If I knew that, I'd be a much stronger player than I am. I can, however, make a suggestion about stopping the slide if you notice it in time: consider disrupting the material balance. A well-timed positional sacrifice can take the pressure off, and give your opponent the problem of trying to use the extra material.

Here's a correspondence game I recently finished against a very experienced Belgian master. I realized while thinking about my 28th move that I was in danger of slipping into a passive, prospectless position, so I sacrificed a Pawn to weaken my opponent's Pawn structure and give my minor pieces--especially my Knight--squares to occupy and targets to attack. I could see that in some cases, I could force my opponent to either give back the Pawn or exchange pieces in a way that let me block all his ways of making progress. And that's how it worked out!

Now, if I can start doing this in over-the-board games, I'll be getting somewhere.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Round 2: Win

I've mostly finished analysing my second game in my April tournament:

It's amazing how much two pretty decent players can miss during the game. I think the main thing I learned from this game is that I have to be more careful about how loose my Kingside can get in this type of Dutch position.

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