Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My game from chess.com

I haven't played an OTB tournament since my last blog post.  I am trying to get active in an online slow chess league hosted on chess.com.   I used to play in this league last year, but am not part of that league anymore.  So I had to play a qualifer to become eligible for future tournaments in the league.  Here is my game 1 from the qualifier. I blogged about it on chess.com, wanted to post a link here.

Round 1: DHLC qualifier: chess.com

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My second OTB tournament - The 14th Max Wilkerson Memorial, Mechanics Club

This was my second OTB tournament.  I wrote about my first full OTB tournament in my introductory post.  It was very disappointing as I did not win a single game against a 1000+ opponent, and lost a couple of games very badly.  I will soon post my games from that tournament.  This tournament was a 1-day G45 tournament, which is a little too fast for my current style of play.  So this is what I set as my goal for the tournament:  Regardless of my opponent's strength, I should not get rolled over in the opening phase.   I should try and avoid tactical blunders early in the game so I get to play games of good duration.  It would be a good learning experience for me that way, regardless of the result.  
To accomplish my goals, I decided to go prepared with a few openings that I could force my opponent to play into.
- I remembered I felt comfortable playing lines resulting from d4-d5 in my first tournament.  In fact, the couple of games which I did really well were both queen pawn opening games.   So I decided to play d4 as white and go with a queen's gambit setup as much as possible.  I studied the main line for queen's gambit and quickly read through the most popular variations.
- I really want to avoid theory-heavy and tactically sharp e4 openings at any cost, Sicilian and Ruy Lopez in particular.  I just don't think I am ready for them yet. So I studied Center Counter defense (a.k.a Scandinavian defense) a little bit and decided to stick to it as black if White goes for e4 opening.
Here are the games I played
Game 1: (Won)
Being the first round, I was paired up against a 1600+ player.   I was playing White.  My goal was not to get crushed in opening, not to blunder away my pieces and play a good game that I can learn from.   But I really surprised myself by winning (yes!) this game.  The nice thing is that I did not win because of my opponent's blunder.  I slowly gained a positional advantage, cramping my opponent's pieces, and slowly converted my positional edge into a favorable endgame in which I had a couple of passed pawns.    This is my first win against a 1200+ player and it turned out to be a game that I am really proud of.   Honestly, I really don't think I am a 1600 player as my subsequent losses showed.  But this game gave me a lot of confidence and made me feel I can get there with lot of study,  and practice.  My final state: Ecstatic

Game 2: (Lost)
After my surprise win in game 1, I was paired up with a 1700+ player.  I thought I played really well.  In a middle game with queen and 3 minor pieces, I was a pawn up and even had a strong attack going.   I had my first bad moment in the tournament at this point.  I lost my important dark-squared bishop to a skewer that proved to be decisive.  I played  a few moves after this, but my opponent was too strong to give me any chance of counter-play. I resigned soon.  I played a good game against a strong player until I made that blunder allowing a hard-to-see skewer tactic. It was a great learning experience.   My final state: happy.

Game 3: (Lost)
I faced e4 for the first time in the tournament and per my original plan, went with Center Counter defense to avoid tactical lines.   I did reasonably well in the opening and the middle game, but was really having time trouble as we entered a rook endgame.  It should have been a draw with a precise play, but I  was simply outplayed here.  My opponent successfully got rid of his doubled pawn and used his queen-side majority to promote his passed pawn. My time trouble didn't help either.  I really need to work on my endgame skills to hold these kind of positions.  My end state: slightly disappointed not to draw the game, but still ok.

Game 4: (Lost)
Playing d4 as White, I was hoping to get  a slow positional game, but changed my mind midway when I saw an opportunity to attack.  This was the lowest rated player I was playing in the tournament (1250) and I felt I should get out of my comfort zone and go for a pawn-sacrificing attack just as a learning experience.   I went ahead with it, and after some really good attack, made a blunder and lost a minor piece.  The game was probably lost here, but I continued my attack and put my opponent under some pressure before my attack fizzled out.   My end state - wasn't too happy losing the 3rd straight game, but it was a conscious decision to play a risky line and I did learn a lot playing this. So I was ok.

Game 5:  (Won)
I faced e4 again and once again employed Center Counter gambit.  That allowed me to get into a decent, equal middle game. I once again was getting into time trouble, but got an opportunity to play a tactic that won a pawn and an exchange for me.  I managed to use my material advantage to win more pawns, and trade away the remaining pieces.  Though I had less than 2 minutes in my clock at this point, I was able to promote couple of my pawns and get a checkmate.  End state - happy to sign off with a win. 2 out of 5 also did some justice to my overall play which I was very happy with.

Overall, I was very happy with my performance.  My win in game 1 was a huge morale booster.  Though I lost 3 out of 5 games, I met my basic goals of not getting crushed in the opening, and playing games of good duration without making major blunders so it's a good learning experience for me.  My USCF rating will jump to around 1050 due to my wins against higher-rated players, which would mean I can expect to get paired up against higher-rated players on an average in future.  .I expect to continue using Center Counter defense to avoid sharp e4 openings, but I am beginning to realize that's not going to work in the long run. So I need to start studying tactically sharp openings sooner than later.

Chess and me

Like many others, I learnt to play chess young when I was 9 or 10 years old. I used to play casually with other kids who knew very little about chess other than the basic rules. As the first move, a4 and b4 were as common as e4 and d4; Rooks were exchanged for bishops without hesitation; In almost all my games, scholar's mate was attempted by either side. Though we eventually figured out how to ward off the mating threat, queen's early development was not frowned upon or exploited.  Let me stop here, you get the idea.
I never got a chance to formally learn chess, but love for the game was somewhere deep inside my heart.  About 10 years ago, I was new to the United States and used to surf the web obsessively to kill time.  I tried to revive my interest in chess by searching for good chess books.  Based on a recommendation in a forum, I bought Jerry Silman's "Re-assess your chess".  I read through the book. I don't remember getting lost reading the book.  For someone with a basic knowledge of chess rules, it was an interesting read but I don't really think I really understood the advanced concepts like bishops vs knights, and controlling the center.  I also remember playing a few games in Yahoo! chess, and getting whipped royally trying to establish my pawn chain and convert my "bad" bishop to "good" bishop.  And then I stopped trying again.  I still had the book and used to pick it up for a quick read from time to time, but didn't really start playing chess seriously.
And then about 2 years ago, some chess enthusiasts in my company started a chess club and organized a casual, G20 intra-company tournament. I signed up for it and that really got me hooked to the game once again.   I was particularly inspired by my friend and colleague Ashik who also played in the tournament.   Ashik is a tournament player rated around 1800 back then and was too strong a player for others to beat (he is even stronger now inching closer to a National Master title).  He won the tournament.  Based on his insights and guidance, I bought a couple of books.   After another year of reading the books on and off, I decided to start playing online about a year ago.
I signed up for chess.com and ICC membership, and started playing there.   Again, I wouldn't say I was playing regularly.  I was playing on and off, and doing tactical puzzles on my phone regularly.  I also participated in a couple of one-game-a-week OTB tournaments, but dropped off after  2 or 3 games.  Last month (Feb 2014), I decided to take the plunge and participate in a traditional OTB tournament.  This was again thanks to Ashik, who suggested that we play as a team in an OTB tournament where we could represent our company.
This was a 2-day, 6-round tournament and I would say this was my first real tournament.   Thanks to some G30/G45 online games in chess.com where I had some decent success,   and the books I have been reading, I completely overlooked the hard work and preparation that OTB tournament demands, and went in to the tournament with very high expectations.  My world came down crashing, as I lost 5 out of 6 games.  My only win was against a 700+ player, and I lost to every other opponent.  Though they were all rated above 1300, I did not expect to lose so many games.  In many of those games I was caught clueless in the opening, and a couple of losses were quick and humiliating.  I did play one game really well, though I was outplayed in the endgame with my clock running out. I will write more on the first tournament in the next few blog posts.
My perspective of the game changed totally after this tournament, and after a few days nursing my injuries,  it slowly dawned on me that this game is very different from what I originally thought it was.  I realized it would require  a good mix of studying, and playing to become a successful tournament player.    A lot of practice, preparation, perseverance, and hard work is needed to get there.  So here I am creating a blog exclusively to track my progress. I will be posting my  games here with my analysis and will be sharing them with my friends and online chess forums.  This is primarily for my own improvement/reference, and  to get some good feedback from the great chess minds around me.