Impulse Control

by admin on July 28, 2014

After my epic fail yesterday against Josiah Stearman… number two 10-year-old in the country Josiah Stearman, that is… I just had to go over the game and see what I did wrong.

It’s actually a very complicated question. But let’s get to the position where the game finally, irrevocably became an Epic Fail.

stearman 1FEN: r3qr1k/ppp3Rp/3p3P/3Ppb2/2PnNp2/8/PP2BPP1/R2QK3 w Q – 0 21

Position after 20. … Bf5. White to move.

I’m playing White, and the opening was a King’s Indian Defense. Up to this point neither side has played very much defense. Black didn’t do anything to prevent White from getting his rook to g7, and White on the other hand didn’t do anything to prevent Black from getting his knight to d4.

White has a knight hanging on e4, and the question is what to do about it. Should I:

(A) Defend with 21. f3?

(B) Defend with 21. Bd3?

(C) Continue in Full Throttle Attack Mode with 21. Bh5 Qd8 22. Ng5?

This is where we come to the subject of today’s post: impulse control. I’ve played the whole game so far in Full Throttle Attack Mode and I sure has heck wasn’t going to stop now. So I sacrificed an exchange (or rook?) with variation (C).

What made this idea an Epic Fail wasn’t so much the moves themselves, as the way that I played them. I did not analyze variations (A) and (B) at all. Not even past one ply. I just said: “21. Bd3. Ugh. Passive.” And then I said “21. f3. Ugh. Passive.” That’s it. That was the full extent of my “analysis.”

And then I looked at (C) and I said, “Yeah! Now Nf7+ is a monster threat! How can he possibly stop it?” I did in fact look a little bit deeper than that. I figured that play would continue 21. Bh5 Qd8 22. Ng5 Nc2+ 23. Kd2 Nxa1 24. Nf7+ Rxf7 25. Rxf7, and I decided that White was fine here.

stearman 3FEN: r2q3k/ppp2R1p/3p3P/3Ppb1B/2P2p2/8/PP1K1PP1/n2Q4 b – - 0 25

Position after 25. Rxf7 (analysis). Black to move.

Yes, White is a piece down, but Black has two pieces under attack, and I figured he would play something like 25. … Bg6 26. Bxg6 h6 27. Qxa1.

I’m sure that you have all seen what I missed: Black has the much superior move 25. … Qg5! which defends the bishop on f5, attacks the bishop on h5, and in most variations rescues the knight on a1. Black stays a piece up in all lines, and the game is over.

I belatedly saw this a couple moves later and so I didn’t play 24. Nf7+, but there is nothing better; White is just busted. The way the game actually ended was 21. Bh5? Qd8 22. Ng5?? Nc2+ 23. Kd2 Nxa1 24. Bg4 Bg6 25. Ne6 Qh4 26. Nxf8 Qxf2+! (going for the jugular) 27. Be2 Rxf8 28. Qxa1 Qe3+ 29. Ke1 Qg1+ 30. Bf1 Bd3 31. Kd2 Qe3+ 32. Kd1 Bxf1 White resigns.

So now let’s go back to (A) and (B), the lines that I didn’t analyze at all.

(A) I still think that 21. f3? is a lemon. It does nothing to improve my position and opens up new weaknesses around my king. After 21. … Qd8 threatening … Qh4+, Black is better.

(B) On the other hand, 21. Bd3! is an excellent move! It defends two key weak points — the knight on e4 and the forking square at c2. But even better, is is not a completely defensive move. There is definite discovered-attack potential along the b1-h7 diagonal. Even though there are several pieces in the way, the bishop is eyeing the ultimate weak square in Black’s position — the pawn on h7.

Black has several possibilities here and I won’t go over them all, but trust me that White is doing all right. The most obvious move for Black is also his best move according to Rybka: 21. … Rf722. Ng5! Rxg7 23. hg+ Kg8! Notice that the pawn is poisoned: If 23. … Kxg7? 24. Bxf5 25. Nxf5 Ne6+ followed by Nxc7 and White wins the exchange. After 23. … Kg8! 24. Bxf5 Nxf5 25. Ne6 Rybka rates the position as about equal. The g7 pawn will probably fall eventually, but White has plenty of compensation due to his active knight and the exposed Black king.

In this line we see how White has managed to use his light-squared bishop for attacking as well as defensive purposes. If I had analyzed at all, even far enough to see that the pawn at g7 is poisoned, I’m sure I would have played this variation. My mental mistake was thinking that Bd3 was “just” a defensive move.

To sum up, my Epic Fail occurred because I played the impulsive move 21. Bh5? without either analyzing it or the alternatives properly. Time trouble is no excuse: I still had 38 minutes to make 20 moves, which is plenty of time.

I think that fatigue did enter into it. Fatigue alters your thought process in certain ways: it causes mistakes in lengthy variations, and it makes you cut corners — ruling out variations like 21. Bd3 without even giving them a proper chance. I think fatigue makes you more impulsive — at least, it makes me more impulsive.

Whether you are fatigued or not, I think that any time you are considering a material sacrifice (as I did with my moves 21. Bh5 and 22. Ng5), you need to ask yourself two questions:

1) Does the sacrifice really work?

2) Are there good risk-free alternatives?

Of course, these are totally obvious questions, but they are especially relevant when you play sacrifices. In this case, the answer to (1) was no, and the answer to (2) was yes. I got both of them wrong, and that’s why I lost. Period. End of game, end of weekend, end of blog post.

P.S. I want to say again how impressed I was not only by Josiah’s chess but also his sportsmanship. Of course I have criticized myself very harshly here and emphasized the things that White did wrong, but to be fair I should also say that Black’s play was direct and to the point.

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No Fool Like an Old Fool

by admin on July 27, 2014

The title is a line from a song you wouldn’t know, by a singer you wouldn’t know. It’s a line that came to mind this afternoon, as I was driving home from my latest tournament, the People’s Tournament.

There are some tournaments I often play well in, like the Reno tournaments. And then there are some tournaments that, for unfathomable reasons, I never ever do well in… and that’s the People’s Tournament.

I know that nobody reading this blog wants to throw me a pity party, so I’ll keep my account short. On Friday, the first day of the tournament, I had a great day. I beat two experts, and I know going into round three that I would be playing against either GM Walter Browne or GM-to-be Darwin Yang. Whichever one it would be, I was really psyched. I thought this might be my chance to finally beat a grandmaster for the first time.

Wrong! I lost to Yang on board one. Then I lost to John Daniel Bryant, an IM, in a really depressing game. Although these were both “expected” losses (both players rated more than 300 points above me), I took the losses hard and slept really badly last night. This morning I wasn’t at all sure if I was going to be in a condition to play well, and I thought, “Well, we’ll just see what happens. If I lose my first game I’ll just withdraw from the tournament.”

I’m not sure if I have ever gone into a game thinking about withdrawing before. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I played in reckless, do-or-die style against a very nice boy named Josiah Stearman. Of course, because this is the Bay Area, every little kid playing in an adult tournament is on a top-100 list. Sure enough, I just checked and Josiah is the number two 10-year-old in the country.

I don’t want to take anything away from Stearman. He played great, fearless chess and he won. I played crummy, fearless chess and I lost. At least I was fearless.

So, with a certain amount of relief, I withdrew. Usually I hate withdrawing from tournaments. For a very long time I never did it. By now I have done it maybe four or five times. This may be the first time I’ve ever withdrawn from a tournament where I didn’t even lose any rating points. When I estimated my rating change, I got exactly zero. But what a disappointment. After Friday’s games I had a chance to get back up to 2200 for the first time in almost twenty years, if I could keep playing well over the weekend. Instead, I ended up right back where I started.

Sigh.

Aside from that, it was a pretty good tournament. The open section was really stacked, with eight players rated over 2300 and maybe about 40 players total. It was twice the size of the other sections!  (There were also class A, B, C, and D-E sections.) As for who won, well, as I write this the games are still going on. The only thing I know is that  Faik Aleskerov was in clear first going into the last round with 4½ out of 5; Yang was in the group with 4 out of 5.

P.S. The singer who sang, “There’s no fool like an old fool” was Harvey Andrews. He is an English folk singer who never really had a chart hit and is just about unknown in America. I picked up an album of his when I was in England on my honeymoon and liked it. He has a song called “25 Years on the Road,” where he sings about spending your whole life “looking for that mother lode.” At first he’s expecting to have his big hit in a year or two… “because that’s what happens as a rule.” Then it become five years. Eventually he realizes he’s never going to have it, but he’s still on the road singing. “And there’s no fool like an old fool,” the song ends.

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Training with Shredder

July 23, 2014

Lately I’ve been playing more frequently against the computer program Shredder, with a purpose. After my last tournament I had a feeling that I was not getting enough practice in winning superior positions. In fact, playing against Shredder set at its maximum strength, I was hardly ever even getting a superior position. So I came […]

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Anatomy of a Miracle

July 21, 2014

At yesterday’s chess party at Mike Splane’s house, Bryon Doyle showed one of his two miraculous wins from the recent Sacramento Championship, where he tied for first place with his girlfriend Uyanga Byambaa. (Uyanga was also at the party and showed one of her games.) Bryon said over and over that he was just lucky […]

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The Seventh Samurai

July 12, 2014

Not long ago I wrote here jokingly about the fact that the U.S. has “too many” young players getting IM and GM norms. I hope everyone realizes I wasn’t serious… This is a true golden era of American chess. Today I was browsing the list of the top 100 juniors in the world, and I […]

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2014 Sacramento Championship Results

July 7, 2014

I’m back from my three days and two nights in Sacramento. For me, the tournament was a Learning Experience. That’s another way of saying that it didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Strangely enough, though, I enjoyed it and I will definitely consider playing in this tournament next year. I really liked the […]

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Where the 2171′s are

July 5, 2014

In my first 18 years of living in California, I somehow never played a single chess game in Sacramento, the state capital. There are a few reasons. First, it’s a three-hour drive. I can’t commute between home and the tournament, as I can if the tournament is in the Bay Area. Second, there have never […]

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What Might Have Been

June 30, 2014

Last week Gjon Feinstein asked me, “Can we go over a couple of my games on your computer?” This request was a surprise to me. He is a chess teacher, so he knows full well that computer analysis can be fool’s gold. I don’t think he even owns a computer chess program. Nevertheless, I think […]

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Unique Opportunities

June 23, 2014

Yesterday Mike Splane hosted another chess party that was devoted specifically to endgames. Uyanga Byambaa brought a fascinating game that she played in the recent U.S. Women’s Open in Las Vegas. She was Black against an unrated (!) player named Elena Rodriguez, a ringer who ended up tied for first at 4-1 and got a […]

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Where’s Dana?

June 16, 2014

… I’m back! Sorry about the two weeks with no posts (and the four weeks with not very many posts). I don’t really have an excuse, but I do have an explanation. First there was my 25th anniversary trip to Hawaii. Kay and I went to the Big Island, renting a cottage near Hilo. It […]

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