Monday, March 31, 2008

Give 'em enough rope

This idea of blogging is becoming clearer to me now, particularly ‘chess’ blogging. I’ve been scouring the internet for other chess blogs out there and I’ve come to the conclusion there are two basic types: dead ones that people have stopped attending to, now just sitting there like a museum (this blog fell into that category for the last year or so) and highly active, vibrant ones that people post to almost daily! I had this crazy notion mine would fall somewhere in between, perhaps a weekly post that’s extensive, well written, witty. Turns out I’ve been too busy reading the vibrant, daily ones to post myself! Seriously, I find a new, interesting chess blog almost everyday. I’ll update my links on the right with my favorites so keep an eye on that.

So to wrap up my first tournament result in over a year (which took place nearly a month ago now, see why I need to get on the ball!) I was sitting at 1 ½ after the first two rounds. Round three saw me paired against an old friend of mine, National Master Albert Chow. I first met Albert back in 1994 at the U.S. Open here in Chicago. He was a friend of another chess player I had just met at the tournament earlier that week, the good Dr. Stitchkopf, Joe Stevens. Albert actually tied for 1st that year, a tremendous result for anyone, an historical marker putting him in with elite chess company. I can still remember seeing him up on stage, during his final round victory over fellow Illinois Master Andrew Karklins, sitting calm and serene in full fu manchu beard and dark as night sunglasses! Over the years I’ve shared the occasional hotel room with Albert and others during big weekend swisses, staying up til the wee hours with the likes of IM Emory Tate, regaling us with tactical wizardry that only Albert dare refute. Ah, the halcyon days of tournament chess for me! It was more about the event than the chess and even though my play back then suffered for it, great memories were certainly created.

Flash forward to early March of 2008 and I’m sitting in a cluttered room on North Ashland facing off against Albert in round 3! I had a few very minor things going for me here: the time-control for starters, Game/45. Albert’s bugaboo over the years has been time management and game-in-45 minutes can get stressful in a hurry. Another thing was my choice of openings: I had black in our encounter and once the clocks started, Albert sat for a minute or two before opening with 1. e4. I was puzzled by this since I figured he knew I play the Scandinavian Defense exclusively as black against e4 and would only play 1. d4 after a think like that. Turns out afterwards he thought I played the Benko Gambit against d4 and decided on e4 instead. Guess I’m not as memorable as I seem to think!

As you can see from the game score link on the right, Albert declined my early opening funny business and we transposed to a French Exchange Variation. So off we go into unfamiliar territory and in all honesty, it felt then and was confirmed by my laptop later that I was slowly, move-by-move getting worse and worse! By move 16 there was the familiar “Isolated Queen Pawn” scenario. I was doing a good job of attacking it, as you can see from the red arrows in the diagram below, but this misses the point of the IQP now doesn’t it? Shouldn’t I be working on controlling the square IN FRONT of the pawn, to restrict its advance?

Such “subtleties” were lost on me at the time, proof of which was my 16. …Na5 move from the diagram. Does anyone have a plan I could borrow? EXCUSE ME, I’m looking for a PLAN over here! Hello, can I get some service? Well, the fun doesn’t stop there; I actually missed luring Albert into a trap a few moves later. Mind you, I’m not saying he would have fallen for it, but I did miss the opportunity of at least allowing him to fall for it! After my 16. …Nh5 he played Ba2, I followed with a6 with the idea of b5 then Nc4 (hey, at least it smacks of a plan). He played 18. Qa4 to stop b5 but I could’ve played it anyway since Qxa5 Nc6 traps the Queen. I didn’t see this at the time, played my N back to c6 and things got ugly from there. However, the sands of time entered the bar at this point, parched as usual. Luckily I was the barkeep. A time scramble ensued and when the dust settled I was staring at mate-in-6, Albert was staring at 0:00. I offered a draw, which he accepted (see the game notes for an explanation of sorts) and I had a drawn a Master! Yahoo! Not how I wanted or expected it to happen but even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally.

The final round saw me with white against an Expert and in all honesty it was a strange game. I actually remember doing something during the game, something I should be doing after EVERY move my opponents take: asking myself “what gem of an idea does THIS move offer?” In other words, determine WHY my opponent made a particular move and plan against or around it. My Expert foe made a curious move at one point early in our game (7. …Nb6) and I for the life of me could not see the plan. One thing I did know was if I simply proceeded with my strategy (the minority attack), his move would not smell so sweet. Turns out this is exactly what happened! By move 16 he blundered, blundered some more two moves later and I spent the remaining time plucking the wings off a fly until mate was delivered. An Expert scalp! Sweet mother-of-pearl, and in my first tournament back no less!

So in the end I finished tied for 2nd and garnered $55 in prize money. On the flipside, sadly, this tournament has yet to be rated so I’m not over 1800 yet, which this result would have done for me. Typically tournaments are rated within days (if not the next day) so I’m not expecting much, nor am I expecting to play at the Touch Move again unless I hear back from IM Young on this. Not trying to be ornery here, but I did enter with the idea this tournament would get rated and I could begin my chess quest again!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Luck be a lady

So naturally my initial foray back into tournament chess was a mixed bag. Much like the halloween sack toted around on a dark fall night (minus the face-paint and ill-fitting superman cape) I stuck my hand in and literally did not know what I was going to pull out. The first goodie I retrieved started off sweet, turned sour, then ended up bland and tasteless, like gum that I've chewed for too long: A draw. Sure it was against a kid rated 1130 but I've learned over the years the ratings of junior players are rarely accurate. I had the black pieces and at one point I had the following position:

Optically, this looks OK for black. White's pieces are jumbled and passive and I have a decent pawn presence in the center that's clearly pointing me towards the white King. It's like my pawns are saying "Psst! Go here! Go this this way!" Yet chess is not always so clear cut. My own pieces are nothing to write home about, as a matter of fact, I'm not even developed! And white can start chipping away at my big one way sign with f3. Being "new" to this thing all over again, my plan from this stage didn't go over so well and I barely escaped with my life. Ten moves later I had just taken his c-pawn fully aware I was losing a pawn right back. Can you see the win of a pawn for white in the position below? There's actually two ways to do it, although only one keeps white in the game:
The "good" way to win the pawn back is 1. Nxf7 Qxf7 2. Qxf7 Kxf7 3. Ne5+ forking the Bishop.
The "bad" way to win the pawn back is 1. Nxf7 Qxf7 2. Qxe6 Qxe6 3. Rxe6 and now black has Bxf3 4. gxf3 cxb4 5. Rxa6 Rb8 which looks winning for black.

Check out the game score in the annotated games section for how it ACTUALLY went down.

Round two brought a wolf in sheep's clothing since my 1365 rated opponent played much stronger than that. He came out swinging for the fences and I had a chance early to refute his attack and proceed with a better position. I missed the chance though. Sobering when you go over your games later and (with the aid of our silicon friends, i.e. chess-playing software) find very simple, straightforward moves that, quite honestly, I didn't even comtemplate over the board. My rust is showing! After black plays this Queen sortie to the H-file (Nh5, 0-0 Qh4, g3 Qh3 was the sequence) I'm thinking this is all very bold of him. What does he take me for, some patzer? Turns out I more than obliged that thought as you can see from the game score. At any rate, I missed the calm Nd1-Nf2 manuever which would trap the black Queen:

But did I see this over the board? Noooo, of course not. I attacked the Queen with the N to f4 which is just awful. I ended up paying the price for this and losing material. By move 30 I'm just sitting back defending, defending, defending, waiting for the final blow. Oddly enough I had this weird fortress constructed and black had a hibernating bishop on b7 that he didn't know what to do with. Thus entereth the fatal disease of thine class player: "HOW TO WIN A WON GAME". My opponent did not get this memo luckily. Not that I've ever read the missive myself, mind you. While my opponent was busy just being busy (he did not seem to have a clear plan after winning the exchange. Like the one-hit wonder rock star, he came and played his hit and then it was "Thank you! Good night!"), I was busy missing ACTUAL tactics that would have gotten me back in the game! For example, after his Ra7, the point of which escapes me, I missed d5! uncovering an attacking on the R at a7:
Apparently I left my x-ray glasses at home. The juicy continuation of that is in the annotated game on the right. Later on in the time scramble, with the rest of the games finished and everyone huddled around our board waiting for my demise, my persistent chipping away for any kind of activity paid off, my opponent hung his Bishop (the same one he didn't know what to do with) and I escaped with a win.

I'm post the final two rounds tomorrow. I've played in a second tournament since this one and have plenty more chess to share. Stay tuned...

Friday, March 07, 2008

Getting the band back together

OK, so I took a 573 day break from posting! I’m back now, ready to fire this old blog up and see what we can make of it. I’ve been getting back into chess lately and actually played in my first tournament last weekend in, well, 567 days! Yep, I haven’t been over the board since the 2006 U.S. Open. Didn’t play in a single tournament in 2007, quite a drought for me. The stars finally aligned last Sunday and I was able to slip away to the Touch Move Chess Center and play a 4 round, Game/45. But before I get into that, let’s recap, since I never did post any thoughts on my final round at the U.S. Open oh so many moons ago.

I lost. Horribly in fact. I was really crushed by this back then, I can remember sulking around the city at lunch time for days afterward contemplating which bridge would be best for me to chuck my chess set, clock, books, the whole she-bang into the Chicago River. A bridge near the Eastland Disaster site? Fitting. How about the same bridge where the Dave Matthews Band tour bus took a dump on unsuspecting tourists below? Also fitting. I had been paired down and went into it thinking a win would put me at 5/9, a plus-score and possibly a money prize. Counting your winnings before your opponent has tipped his King over is NOT a good recipe for success! I had the white pieces to boot, but passive play against an opponent who was also thinking of finishing strong and soon my position was overwhelmed and it finally collapsed. He went on to tie for first in his section (he won $800, your welcome). I finished in 302nd (out of 543) and put my chess set away for awhile. Looking back now, had I won I would have taken home a cool $28.57, prizes being split among a large group in my section that finished at 5/9. That’ll learn ya.

I actually have not been chess-free for the last 573 days, I’ve played literally thousands of blitz games online over the months. It’s the only chess I have time for, often late at night on the Playchess server based in Germany. I like the software interface they have over the other servers and most of the players are European which, in my mind, means they’re decent players. The FICS site (Free Internet Chess Server) is, well, free, which means the quality of players is, well, uneven and the ICC (Internet Chess Club) server is U.S. based so most of the players are Yanks which means, well, they can be rude.

So, yes, I did finally play in a chess tournament again! I had contacted IM Angelo Young, proprietor of the Touch Move Center Chess, via e-mail earlier in the week about needing to re-up my state and national memberships in order to play. He replied asking me to show up prior to the start of the tournament to get this settled. Two things are humorous about this: um, I was planning on and, if you really think about it, REQUIRED to show up prior to the tournament wasn’t I? Also, it’s the 21st century Drew, both organizations allow online signup these days. I could have hopped online and re-upped my memberships at any time. Duh.

Being mentally buried in the late 90’s, I arrived at the club about 40 minutes early. Turns out it’s only 2 ½ miles from my house! Well, I was the first to show up, even prior to IM Young so the doors were locked and the club empty. I went back and sat in the car for awhile until I saw activity in front of the club via my rearview mirror. I hopped out and went across the street only to find out it was another player waiting for the doors to open as well. I milled about on the street for another 15 minutes or so, the tournament was scheduled to start at 9:45 and it was already 9:40. I was thinking the whole thing was a bust and visions of the murky greenness of the Chicago River filled my head until IM Young appeared from down the street, opened the doors and away we went. The bridge launch will have to wait.

Only 11 players showed up, an Expert or two and two Masters, one being NM Albert Chow a friend of mine from chess days past. With a field this small, the likelihood of me being paired against an Expert and/or Master was high so I’m figuring “welcome back, Kotter” After a 19-month tournament hiatus I was going to get thrown right back into it. “You’re dreams are your ticket out” indeed!.

I’m in the process of analyzing and annotating the four games I played for posting on the blog so keep checking back over the next few days or so to see how I did. I was rusty and played some gruesome chess, let’s be honest. I was lucky, too, in that each of my opponents was a human, so the gruesomeness has that way of affecting both sides of the board! I’m excited about chess again, I’d love to drive up to Wisconsin tomorrow and play in the “First MCA/SWCC FIDE FUTURITY” tournament but let’s not get hasty here. My schedule doesn’t permit it and I could use some study. The Chicago River will always be there for me if my chess turns south again but I’d rather not have to load the trunk up with chess paraphernalia for that sad drive just yet. Chess clocks do float, don’t they?