A couple of weeks ago I finished first place in the club championship at the strongest chess club in the county! The tournament ran seven consecutive Friday nights, one game each week, starting at 7pm and finishing at or before 11pm.
Although I was the third seed in a field of forty or so, all of the top seeds were close enough in playing strength so that it could have been anyone’s tournament. Nevertheless, this was a major win psychologically – before I used to stress out too much about making the right move not to blow it in positions where I “should” end up winning. Now I’ve just focused on making the best move every time, enjoying the game, and not being focused on the result – and due to all this I have been playing better!
The game by game recap follows.
The first round had the mismatches, much like March Madness, so I had a quick win against someone who made a bad mistake early on.
The second round already had some of the best players facing each other. I played a 14 year old who was seeded lower, but clearly improving fast and therefore not to be underestimated. According to the computer (consulted after the game of course!), he got an edge, but it was a position that was a lot easier for me to find the best moves. Nevertheless, he played well, but at the cost of using a lot of his time on the clock. I was able to muddy things up over the board, so that a critical moment later in the game, where he needed the time that he didn’t have to find his way through the jungle, he played a natural looking move that was bad, and I found the refutation to win the game.
In the third game, I played a good friend of mine, and frankly I expected it to be an easy win, especially with the White pieces (due to the slight advantage of moving first). But I missed a shot that put me behind the eight ball most of the game, though I was able to dig in and hold the draw (tie) rather than lose.
That put me at 2.5 out of 3 (one point for each win, and a half point for the draw) and so in the fourth game I got to play the only one with a perfect score of 3/3. I had a pretty clean attacking win against someone seeded not too much lower. My win knocked him down to 3/4, while an 18 year old and I climbed to first place with 3.5/4.
I was expecting to play the 18 year old for the fifth game, but he was sick and took a bye week. So instead I played someone else who also wasn’t seeded much lower. After coming back from the slight disadvantage of playing Black, I started outpIaying him and was pressing for the win, but he was able find the right moves to hold the draw.
After the fifth game, the 18 year old and I were still tied for first with 4/5, so we got to play each other for the sixth game. Frankly, I was concerned because I’ve seen the progress he’s made over the years and he knows some of the opening moves I play and could therefore prepare against me. Interestingly enough, we both aimed for the same position – he went for it because the computer said it was good for him, while I went for it because my knowledge and experience told me that it was good for me. Indeed, old age and treachery won out over youth and skill, and so with 5/6 I had propelled myself to sole possession of first place.
Going into the seventh and final game, there were two other players at my heels with 4.5/6. Therefore, only a win would guarantee me clear first, while a draw could let one of those two others sneak in for a first place tie, and a loss would likely drop me down to third place.
Therefore, for that last game, I knew which one of the 4.5/6 players I would face – a 12 year old kid who had improved a lot in the last couple of years and was a A-player going into the tournament, but his recent results elsewhere had already pushed him to Expert level. Meanwhile, the other 4.5/6 player – the 14 year old kid who I had beat earlier – faced off against the second seed who had 4/6.
I was able to research what opening moves he played, and sure enough, we went 23 (!) moves deep into my preparation – at that point he had spent an hour on all his moves, and I had only spent five minutes on mine! My positional sacrifice of a rook for a bishop would not have been obvious to a newly minted Expert – the game settled into a position where I had zero chance of losing (aside from an egregious blunder on my part), and the only question was whether I would win or draw. He defended really well, and at a critical juncture I sensed that I didn’t make the best move and that the win was slipping away.
Meanwhile, I had been keeping my eyes on the game with the 14 year old 4.5/6 playing the 4/6 old guy. It had been even throughout the night, but the 14 year old had used up too much time (just like he did against me), and then the old guy was able to outplay him and win. With that game complete, I then immediately forced the draw in my game to secure the club championships by the narrowest of margins – 5.5/7 overall, with four others finishing behind me at 5/7.