Monday, May 29, 2006

Texas State Championship Part 1

I played in the Texas State Championship this Memorial Day weekend. I actually finished it a few hours ago, and I am completely exhausted (physically and mentally). I am struggling to stay awake as I type this. I heard that playing a game of chess is as physically exhausting as 3 rounds of boxing. Karpov lost 30 pounds or so when he played in the World Championship one year. I have always been a little skeptical of these "facts" but I personally feel like I can sleep for a whole day. Luckily I am taking a little trip to Dallas for a couple days so I can get some rest.

These are my overall results with a brief summary of the game (the ratings are rounded).

Round 1: White - Win against Chris Toolin (2150)
I was winning, he was winning, then I won.
I played the opening and middle game extremely well. I won a piece, but he got compensation. In time pressure I made a few errors and he stood better. For a few moves he was completely winning (if he played the winning move I could have resigned at one point). He made some horrible mistakes towards the end and I came back to win. The strangest thing about this game was that for a very long time, I had less than 30 seconds. On some moves I made I had less than 5 seconds. There was a 30 second increment, so it was hard for me to lose on time, but I really had to think fast for a few moves. He always had over an hour on his clock. He did something that was very bad though: He moved very fast because he saw that I was low on time, and he wanted me to lose on time. If he used his time to find the best move, I probably would have lost. At one point soon before he lost, I attacked his Bishop with a knight in a position where he stood better. I had about 30 seconds at this point and he had over an hour. He just ignored it and let me take his Bishop for free. With all due respect to him, I've never seen an expert do this before. I think he was really thinking too much about trying to beat me on time. He is a young talented player that plays chess for UTD (my school) and I think he will avoid making this mistake with a little bit more experience. I know he must feel absolutely horrible for losing the game, and I feel bad for him.

Round 2: Win against Adam Coveney (2150)

I was winning, he was winning, then I won.

I played very well in the beginning. In time pressure I won material, but I let him get a nice counter-attack. If I converted the win when I should have without messing up, this would have been one of the best games I ever played. At one point in time pressure my king was running around the board to avoid checkmate. He was completely winning at this point but he was low on time also. I played some perfect moves in extremely complicated situations where I had only a few seconds on my clock. It was almost as if I had to "guess" the best moves a few time, but I kept on "guessing" right. I had to find the best move to avoid being checkmated, and it seems that I dodged checkmate perfectly each time. Because of this I was able to avoid being checkmated. Then I came back and won.

Round 3: Draw against GM Magesh (2550)

I was winning then we drew.

He played into an opening that I have been preparing carefully. The game started equal, then I got a huge advantage, but I took a draw. More info is below.

Round4: Loss against GM Alejandro Ramirez (2550)
He played like a very strong GM. I played well too, but he lost. He stood better the whole game and won. I learned a lot from this game. This is by far my most instructive game of the tournament.

Round 5: Draw against Selby Anderson (2250)
I was better for most of the game, then he equalized and we drew.

Round 6: Draw against Warren Harper (2200)

I used experience from the Ramirez game to get an excellent position against Warren. I stood better for a lot of the game, then he stood slightly better for a few moves, then we took a draw in an equal position (I was low on time when I accepted his draw offer. Otherwise I would have played on). Earlier in the game he offered a draw and I declined. Then later I offered a draw and he declined. Then a few moves later he offered a draw and I accepted when I had 2 minutes on my clock.

Round7: Draw against Chris K. Land (2200)

Equal game where I thought I had a winning tactic, but instead I had to go into a very boring drawish position. We drew early.

Total: 4 out of 7 (gained 10 rating points)

I did ok in the tournament, but nothing great. This post is a general summary of the tournament... I will soon post my annotated games and write some more about the tournament in the future. I plan on doing this after every tournament I play in. This will be useful for me as a player, and I think it will be very useful for the readers who want to learn how a Master approaches serious competition. I like to write a lot about a lot of the mental facets involved in tournaments, as well as describing my games in detail, so stay tuned for that. Also I am sorry that I did not post anything new in almost a month. I have just been very busy.

I finished with 4 points out of 7, and I gained about 10 rating points. Considering that this is my first tournament in almost a year, I was happy with my plus score. I also got to play two GMs (drawing one, and playing a well against the other). I always prefer to lose to a GM than to beat a Master as I learn much more this way.

It was pretty obvious that I am rusty, based on the time pressure I was getting into. I would say that I played about 30 moves (between two games) in this tournament where I had less than 30 seconds on my clock! The fact that there is a 30 second increment made it so I never lost on time (I won both of these games). Spectators told me that there were many times when I had less than 5 seconds (apparently I got down to 2 seconds a few times). In 6 games I got into time pressure. This is not good! Every morning before I drove to the tournament, I did about 10 pretty simple tactical puzzles to "warm up". It's weird, but there were many times where I was in time pressure and I had to find the best move very quickly. I felt that my tactical "eye" was very sharp, and maybe these morning warmup puzzles helped me out. Mark Dvoretsky (possibly the world's most famous chess trainer) and GM Yuri Shulman both recommend doing puzzles before a tournament game. Yuri told me it's a "blunder check". Mark Dvoretsky writes that it is similar to a musician playing scales before a recital. This is something that I will always do for now on.

In the games where I played the best I only got draws. In two other games I played superbly in the beginning but then I made some errors in time pressure and I was completely losing. However in both of these games where I was losing, I defended very well and came back to win. One of my favorite things in chess is to win a game where I am "hopelessly" losing. One of my biggest strengths as a player is that I am very good at defending positions where I am losing.

In my first day I played 3 games, and got 2.5 out of 3 (drawing a GM). So I guess I was not too rusty. I felt that I was getting stronger after each game, and I played my best in day 2 and 3 (although my results were best on day 1).

I did two things in this tournament that I thought were very weak of me. Against Grandmaster Magesh, I took a draw in a much better position. Fritz thought I was clearly better, with a decisive advantage. I knew I was better when he offered the draw, although I spent all of my energy trying to calculate a forced win (I had a variation that comes very close to winning by force, but it just leaves me with a clear advantage). However if I just play simple moves in the position where I took the draw, I am winning also. I felt nervous having about 18 minutes on my clock when he offered the draw, and I didn't have confidence in my ability to convert the win against the GM. I know that if an IM or weaker offered me a draw I would not even consider accepting, but I just have so much respect for Magesh's play. Either way, that was weak of me, and I will not repeat that mistake again. Twice before, GMs offered me draws in a position where I was much better and I declined (and then went on to lose). Maybe I had those memories in the back of my head.

Another very weak thing I did was in the final round. I played an opening that I played several times. I thought my opponent made a blunder that allowed me to trade off my queen for two rooks (giving me a material advantage). I played the first move of my combination which was a simple pawn trade that is normally not good in this opening. After he recaptured the pawn, I realized that it was not good for me to trade off my queen for two rooks. My calculation of the tactic was correct, I just misevaluated the position after I win the material. I decided that if I go into the variation I will be worse, so I had to go with a different plan . The problem is I already worsened my position by making the preliminary pawn trade. Either way, the main thing that I did wrong was not spend enough time on this move. This was a very critical decision, and I should have spent maybe 20 minutes or so before making the move. I probably spent less than 10 minutes. After I made this mistake, I had a completely even position where we soon agreed to a draw.

In my game against Grandmaster Ramirez I thought I played very well, and he played brilliantly. I made a few slight errors in the opening. I then reviewed the game carefully after playing it. I found about three improvements in my opening. The next day I played Warren Harper and he repeated the exact same opening. I was able to play my three improvements and I got an excellent position against him (much better than the one I got against Ramirez). It goes to show you that opening preparation and reviewing your games carefully will help you improve immediately. Too bad I could only draw the game against Warren (he played incredibly well).

I went to this tournaement with a few simple goals. I consider myself to be a very "realistic" person when it comes to making goals. I know some people try to psyche themself up by "thinking big". I don't think being over-confident helps me play any better, and my moves are still to the best of my ability when I have realistic expectations of myself. It might seem that I have low expectations of myself, but keep in mind that I have not played in almost a year. Once I play a few more tournaments I will set higher goals.

1) To not lose a significant amount of rating points.

I was successful in this goal. I actually gained 10 rating points. When a Master is rusty, sometimes we can lose a lot of rating points by losing to a lower rated player who is "in shape".

2) Play all 7 games equally hard no matter how well I am doing in the tournament. To not "fade" at all and play worse at the end of the tournament. I want a person to be able to look at all 7 games, and not be able to tell which game I played early in the tournament when I was "fresh" and which games I played at the end of the tournament where I am "tired".

I did a good job with this. I am actually quite proud of how mentally tough I was this tournament, although I was slightly weak in my last game where I misevaluated a variation. But I think that could have happened to me in any round.

3) Not "fade" at all throughout my game due to fatigue or psychological reasonings (such as giving up on a worse position). Basically to play the endgame as well as the middle game, and middle game as well as the opening.

Again I did very well in this. I know I played worse when I was in time pressure, but I never "faded" for any reasons other than having to move fast.

4) Not to withdraw (play all 7 games with no byes) no matter how poor I am doing in the tournament.

I played all games, and I never considered withdrawing. But then again, I was always doing pretty well in the tournaemnt. In the past I often don't play my last round if I have to play a weaker opponent (and when I am not in contention for a prize).

5) Get a lot of sleep each night.

I could have done better with this. I got about 6.5 to 7 hours each night (mainly because I was doing opening preparation each night on my computer). For me I think it's much better to get more sleep than this, but I never felt tired during my games.

I feel that the training I have been doing in the past few months have really paid off. Although I am rusty as a player, I still have a lot of skill from all of the hard work I've been putting in. If I just played in this tournament without doing the work I put into it, I probably would have done poorly. Once I play more often, and study as I have been, I expect to become much stronger and hopefully improve my rating to the next level.

In the next post I will show my games with notes about by play. Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 12, 2006

As many of the readers know, I have been studying chess for a few hours a day for the past couple of months. Ben Finegold has been doing a great job of coaching me and I would like to thank him for all of his help. Also I am very happy that he is healthy. His hospitalization gave everyone a good scare.

As well as working with Ben Finegold once as a week, I started working with Grandmaster Yuri Shulman. I know Yuri

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

1100 Level Puzzle: Game against former coach Rade Milovanovic.




Black to play and eventually checkmate white (or force white to sacrifice his queen to defend).

This puzzle is probably good for about the 1100 rated player, although anyone can solve it. Look for the answer in the "comments" area.

This is a game where I am White. I am playing against my coach at the time, International Master Rade Milovanovic. He is the first coach of the University of Texas at Dallas chess team and has been there ever since. I was a freshman in college when he joined the team. During that year our team was a lot different than it is now. For one thing, we only had about six masters total. We only had the man-power to send one team to tournaments. Now University of Texas at Dallas often sends three strong teams to tournaments and could send five if they wanted to.

Rade helped our team win several National and Pan-American chess championships. I not only thought of him as my coach, but also a close friend. He would often invite members of the team over to his house for wonderful dinners cooked by his wife. We used to have long discussions about things such as his career as a chess player in war-torn Yugoslavia, or simpler things such as "World Wrestling Entertainment". He was always laughing and joking, so he put the chess team at ease during critical times in tournaments.

He is also a very strong chess player. Recently he won a very large prize in the "HB Global Chess Challenge tournament" in Minneapolis. This is the biggest open tournament in America and it had a $500,000 prize fund. I saw Rade at the State Championship held in Houston a few months ago. He was coaching University of Texas at Dallas players in the collegiate section. I was telling him about how I plan on playing chess very seriously again, but I am concerned that I might not do well because I am rusty. He encouraged me by telling me how he played almost no chess in the year before he won his prize in Minneapolis.

I like his playing style very much, and it is somewhat similar to mine. He plays in a very simple, solid manner but with a very keen eye for tactics. This is kind of like how the former World Champion Tigran Petrosian plays (he is possibly my favorite world champion). Rade has a very good understanding of positional chess, and he can play many different openings because of it. I would never know what opening to prepare for when I played him. He is a very good blitz player because of his great positional understanding. This goes to show you that you do not need to play complicated tactical chess like Gary Kasparov to be a strong chess player. If you just have a very good positional understanding then you can do well.

In the "puzzle" position, I am playing White. Out of the opening I achieved a small advantage in a variation of the Queens Gambit Declined. I held this advantage for much of the middle game, but he very calmly defended. I used to have a serious weakness that is common among many players strong and weak. If we let an advantage slip away, we then start to play worse. Alex Yermolinsky addresses this psychological issue very carefully in his "trends and turning points" chapter in Road to Chess Improvement. Let me give you a hypothetical example of this happening:

You are up a pawn for most of the game. You now blunder two pawns back. You become very discouraged. Instead of being ahead one pawn you are now down one pawn. You now start to make more blunders, and you defend the endgame lazily. You then go on to lose the game very fast, even though there was still a lot of fight left in the position.

Yermolinsky uses graphs to demonstrate that more mistakes happen right after a player makes an error that changes the nature of the game. This chapter in his book has helped me improve a lot. In my opinion, the best way to solve this problem is to simply understand that the problem exists (I believe Yermoinsky says this too). If you are playing a game where you just made an error that gives your opponent an advantage (or you simply lose your advantage), take a little break. Get up and walk around if you have to. Remind yourself that you might (and probably will) start playing worse because you are shaken up psychologically. Once you admit that this might happen, remind yourself that you do not have to play worse. Make a very conscious effort to play the rest of the game to the best of your ability. Go back to your game and forget the past, and play it as if it were a brand new game.
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