Reno Report (2018)

by admin on October 23, 2018

What a strange tournament I had this weekend at the Western States Open. But before I talk about my experience, let me recap the bigger picture.

The victor was Grandmaster Fidel Corrales Jimenez, with a score of 5-1. He benefited a bit from the fact that the other two grandmasters, Sergey Kudrin and Enrico Sevillano, played against each other in the last round and had a short draw, while Jimenez was paired against Ezra Paul Chambers. I don’t mean to criticize Chambers, who impressed me a lot when he scored a Fischer-like 8-0 in the Mechanics Institute tournament I played in this summer… but scoring 8-0 against experts and low masters isn’t the same as playing a 2600 player in the last round of a big-money tournament. Jimenez ground him down in a long endgame.

Overall, the tournament had 200 players, a decent turnout, but it had many fewer titled players than it used to. Only the three GM’s and two IM’s. In the old days, ten years ago, this tournament routinely drew ten to fifteen titled players. I’m not sure what the problem is. It seemed to me that, in general, the casinos in downtown Reno are not as crowded as they used to be, and I wonder whether Internet gambling and the increasing number of casinos in California is starting to hurt their business. Of course, that shouldn’t affect a chess tournament, but if Reno in general is becoming a less attractive tourist destination, perhaps it might.

My tournament got off to a good start when I won as Black in the first round against a master, Mike Zaloznyy, who is actually a Facebook friend of mine. It was a bummer to have to win a game against a friend, but at least I was happy with my own performance.

In round two I got to play on the stage (the top five boards, which are roped off and have spectator seats set up) against grandmaster Enrico Sevillano. I was bummed this time to have my second Black in a row; however, I was happy when he went into the Ruy Lopez and I was able to trot out the Bird Variation, one of the solidest parts of my repertoire. But in spite of all the blog posts I’ve written about it, I still made a stupid move-order error! This made the difference between having an absolutely fine position that I would be glad to play against any grandmaster, and having an iffy position. Unfortunately, grandmasters annihilate iffy positions. I’m sure I will learn a lot from studying Sevillano’s play in this game.

So in general I was satisfied with the first two rounds, but then in the last four rounds the wheels absolutely came off. Round three: loss as White in the King’s Gambit against a master, Dale Haessel. Round four: loss as Black in the Marshall Defense (Queen’s Gambit Declined) against a master, Eric Li. Round five: lifeless draw as White in a French Defense against an A-player, Ruth Haring. Round six: loss as White in another King’s Gambit against an expert, Adrian Kondakov. Final result: 1½-4½. My confidence at the end was absolutely shot, and that win against Mike Zaloznyy seemed like a lifetime ago.

I am not going to bore my readers (yet) with a lengthy treatise on all the things I did wrong. Suffice to say that I played badly in all stages of the game. In my four losses I played four opening variations that I thought I knew well. Yet in every one of those games I stood worse by move 20. Tactically, I was missing stuff. Obvious stuff. Things that I would see in two seconds if you showed me the position from a cold start (a diagram in a blog, for example). Strategically, I was not coming up with effective plans. On the few occasions when I had decent positions, they just seemed to go downhill.

Things I think I learned from my failure (and what I’m going to do about them):

  1. About 95 percent of my training over the last couple years has consisted of playing against the computer. This approach is not working. I need to play more humans, and I need to get back to formal studying.
  2. Openings have always been a suspect part of my game. I play risky openings. I don’t apologize for it; how can I give up on the openings I love? I don’t want to give up on the King’s Gambit, I just want to play it better. Nevertheless, I think that as a radical change and experiment, I might go to my next tournament with the intention of playing only boring, old-man openings. Just to see what happens.
  3. I’ve gotten away from the habit of making a short blunder check before I move. It’s my foolish pride, to think that I can ride a bike well enough not to need training wheels. Time to put the training wheels back on.
  4. In general, I’m just not looking at enough moves. Very often my “analysis” is one move deep. “If I do that, he’ll do that, and I don’t like the way that feels.” If I went two or three moves deeper, in many cases the things I don’t like would have easy tactical solutions. This is something I often notice during my time-outs when playing the computer, when I can actually move the pieces around physically. In the tournament, of course, I’m not allowed to do that. But I failed to “move the pieces” around in my head. Instead I would just sit and stare at the position and think how much I hated it. If all you do is think for five minutes about how much you hate the position, it won’t bring you any closer to an answer for what you should do next.
  5. Strategically, Mike Splane’s chess parties have laid out exactly what to do when forming a plan. We’ve made a list of eight to ten questions, such as “What are the trades and which ones are good for me? What are my best and worst pieces?” and so on. But I apply these questions infrequently, at most one or two times a game. Usually I’m too busy trying not to blunder on the next move. (And in view of point #3, I’m not even succeeding at that.) Again, perhaps I need to start playing old-man chess, trying to get more of the calm positions where one can effectively apply strategic thinking.

I’d be delighted to receive any reader advice or comments. Of course, I haven’t given you much information to work with; I haven’t shown you any positions or moves from the tournament. But I suspect I will probably write at least two or three more posts with more specifics.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Aigner October 23, 2018 at 12:34 pm

gt was Good to hear that you are pushing wood again! I seriously cannot imagine you playing “old-man chess” at a future tournament.

Failure #3 burned me repeatedly last year. Even when I did double check my intended move for tactical flaws, I managed to miss the obvious. Over the course of three tournaments, I hung four pieces to elementary tactics, all in equal or slightly better positions. For example, one opponent played Qa4 check, forking the my king on e8 and an unprotected knight on e4.

I came to the conclusion that my subconscious pattern recognition needed a reboot. I chose to play a bunch of blindfold 10, 15 and 20 minute games online. I would type in the moves and would see the replies in algebraic notation, all the while hiding the actual board underneath other consoles. Although my online blindfold rating still stinks, this project proved successful. I have not made a single maddening unforced blunder since.

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Mike Splane October 23, 2018 at 9:17 pm

About #3. I lost two games back to back last month by failing to make a blunder check. Interesting comment from Mike Aigner re training.

About #4 – I have made this observation about your game many times. Let’s talk about this and see if we can come up with a training method to help you.

About #5. I confess that I never use the entire set of planning questions in any game. I often use four or five of them, but never the same set. It all depends on what the issues are in a given position. The Mike Splane question is always in the back of my mind.

About #1 I have just started to organize a weekly Friday afternoon get-together for the retirees from my chess party group, for the purpose of playing chess. We’re meeting at the Willow Glen Senior Center on Lincoln near Curtner in San Jose, from noon to 4. You’re welcome to join us. It’s about 8 miles closer to Santa Cruz than the distance to my house is.

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Todd Bryant October 25, 2018 at 8:45 am

Hi, Dana.

I am taking a sabbatical year from work, during which I’ll be working a lot on chess. If you’d like to play training games with me, or analyze on Skype/lichess, please feel free to contact me on the attached email. I’m learning the King’s Gambit from Shaw’s book, so we’d have some overlap there, too.

Personally, I think serious chess training should include:

* Tactics every day (I strongly prefer ChessTempo)
* Studying hard chess books (Yusupov, Aagard, Dvoretsky, Nunn)
* Playing tournament games regularly and analyzing them deeply

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Derek November 25, 2018 at 12:48 am

Nice recap of the event. It is tough to write about one’s losses, and I am sure all of your chess followers want to give back somehow!

I will offer my own two cents to address your points (some of which have already been stated by other readers):

1. I agree — don’t play against the computer. Computers do not play like people. Even when you are analyzing your own games, do all of your own analysis and only use the computer to blunder check. Personally, I disregard computer lines unless I think there is something to learn from it. Chess is about pattern recognition and if the computer spits out something you don’t think you would ever find, then make a note of it if it’s interesting, but move on!

2. I won’t comment on the King’s Gambit in particular, but in this day and age you absolutely need to know your openings down cold. Mindless opening memorization and computer-assisted opening preparation are not the entire game at all, despite what a few cynical players might have you think, but they are your ticket to a playable game especially against strong masters, not to mention Grandmasters.

3. Drill tactics until it’s second nature. I use ChessTempo as well and it is one of the best tactics training websites out there because it takes games played between actual players (admittedly I am a little biased against endgame studies that feature positions you would never get over the board, but that’s another matter). I haven’t been using ChessTempo that much recently, but I’ve only cut back on it a bit because I have moved on to reading more chess books and doing positional and strategic puzzles.

4. This is a tough one, and a relatable problem because no one likes to suffer in bad positions. Doing puzzles regularly and timing yourself might help you break out of this rut. Even if you get some puzzles wrong, getting yourself into the habit of making practical decisions and putting up resistance in bad positions instead of despairing is probably a good thing. Chess is, after all, a logical game where your task is the find the best move over and over again!

5. Don’t play what you are referring to as old man chess, at least if this entails becoming more one-dimensional as a player! In chess you need to be versatile and reasonably well-versed in a variety of position types. If you only feel comfortable playing certain types of positions (i.e. dry or solid positions), your opponents will figure this out and punish you for it by getting you out of your comfort zone.

[In a hypothetical example, if you start playing the exchange slav very frequently with the aim of obtaining dull positions with a tiny edge, your next opponent might catch wind of this and force you to play something sharp by playing the queen’s gambit accepted, or play an aggressive line against the exchange slav like an early …Nb8-c6 combined with …e7-e5]

These are just a few of my thoughts mainly taken from my own experiences — hopefully some of the suggestions are helpful!

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