Play Like a Patzer; Think Like an Expert

The 2016-2017 Albany Chess Club Championship came to a close on Wednesday, February 1. The runaway victor was, once again, Jeremy Berman. Congratulations Jeremy!

This year a trophy was offered to Second Place as well, providing the rest of us something to vie for beyond “mere” rating points.

I’ve been playing rated, competitive chess for over twenty years, starting when I was in high-school. My first rated games were in a scholastic trophy tournament, run by the ubiquitous CCA Tournament Director, Steve Immitt. That started a 500+ games journey through the D-A rating classes.

In my youth I played every tournament I could possibly get to: a 12-round US Open in Virginia; consecutive World Opens in Philadelphia; multiple team championships in Parsippany; too many NYS Championships in Saratoga; random CCA tournaments all over New England; all-night tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan; and countless games cutting my teeth at the Vassar-Chadwick Chess Club, in Poughkeepsie, NY, my hometown. I had some decent wins, but mostly mediocre results. As an under-employed student, I got caught up in trying to win money over rating points, stunted my chess growth, and saw a high-school rating peak of 1770 foolishly brought down to the 1600’s. So I walked away from the game to focus on life.

And I did. But I missed the game. Even more so, I missed the carefree days of youth, when the young conscience is free of those pesky adulthood burdens – careers, bills, marriage. It’s not easy justifying playing chess as an adult. “How can you take time away from what’s important in life to play a game?” – is how the responsible-adult rationale goes. So now, I’m down to less than ten rated games a year. But I know this all-work-no-play attitude ultimately can’t compete with Caissa, my first love. If you’re reading this blog, then you too have been seduced by her. She’s my lifelong affair; no matter how determined I’ve been to leave her – and I’ve tried – she enchants me back. 

I decided to commit to playing in the Albany Chess Club Championship. But I quickly regretted that decision. I lost my first game. A close, contentious battle with Jeremy Berman, being ultimately decided on one move: if I make the right move, I gain a solid positional advantage; if I play incorrectly, then I’m saddled with a losing disadvantage. I missed the strongest move, and didn’t recover. I say there’s no luck in chess – just weak moves. He who makes the final weak move loses the win.

My first round opponent (Berman) and last round opponent (Dean Howard) were the only players rated higher than me entering the tournament. So sandwiched between those two games, I’d be playing rating-roulette: anything can happen in these late-evening midweek battles. My starting rating: 1998. Two points away from achieving the Grandmaster-equivalent-for-club players, the elusive rank of National Expert. So after that loss, I began the tournament instantly down 12 points. But I slogged my way through the next ten games (dropping a game to Gordon Magat, who simply outplayed me), and entered the last round 9-2, to Dean Howard’s 9.5-1.5. I’m now up eight rating points: sitting unofficially at 2006. The battle is on not just for Second Place, but also to secure my rating. I need a win to earn Second Place, but would also be happy with a rating-saving draw. A loss would be horrific. Twelve games, around 36 hours of intense chess, all for naught rating-wise. A loss would mean zero rating points gained, and a fitful night of chess-loser-regret tossing-and-turning. The reward from five months of laborious chess-work is earned or lost with this one game.

In prepared openings, it takes two to stay on course, and only one to go off trail. I always joked I’d make it to Expert without knowing any opening theory. Every game is a new adventure – I ignorantly blaze my own path, and quite often enter thorny thickets. One can say this is the hallmark of a chess swindler – frequently fighting back from losing positions.

My game with Dean predictably soon had me in the briar patch, and we arrived at the following position.

Playing for equality, I decided to trade down. I should have exchanged queens first. Instead, after a good think, I play 16. Nc5. Which immediately turned into 16. Nc5??

WHAT DID I JUST DO!!!??

Only now, AFTER I played the move, did it become clear: he can simply take my knight, and my planned recapture of 17. Rxc5 utterly fails to black simply moving his queen to c7 or e7. If I play 17. QxQ first, after 17… RxQ, I’m basically forced to play 18. RxR, and then black recaptures with the knight, solidly protecting the hanging bishop. There is no recourse. I’M LOST! JUST. LIKE. THAT. Of course, Dean takes the knight. 16…Bxc5.

I saved my worst move of the tournament for my last game. Quite possibly the worst blunder I’ve made in three hundred rating points. Completely unforced. No tricks. No tactics. No traps. No zaps. A wholly unnecessary move with zero advantage gained, and no saving grace. I’m down material and position, with no counter-play. This is resignable. Just put your hand out; abscond; soothe your sorrows with Wendy’s; go home and kick the dog.

Now I’m staring at the board, suffering through the five stages of grief. Is this REALLY over? I’m searching and analyzing the position. There’s nothing. My clock is ticking down. Ahh, ok. Forget it. I’m done. I’m going to resign. I’m not going to sit here and play hope-chess, where one hopes their opponent sinks to their level. I’ll spare myself the humiliation.

But Dean isn’t at the board. He’s walking around. Predicament: how do you resign with no opponent? So I sit there and keep studying the position, accept it’s hopeless, and have a full-on internal dialogue, that goes something like this:

What just happened? I made a horrible move. Why? Because I’m an idiot. Ok, but you ARE rated around 2000, which means you’re a good chess player. True, relatively speaking, I am a good player. I just made a bad move. So if I’m a good player, and I’m capable of making a bad move, then logic says my opponent, who is also a good player, is also capable of making a bad move. Good point. Wait. This is just like the Superbowl from a few days ago. The Patriots are a good football team – had the best record in the league, but they played a horrible first half. Then the second half, they played great, and the Falcons played weak. So just because the Patriots played a weak half first, doesn’t mean they are the weaker team. The Patriots were down 28-3. Down 25 points. In the third quarter. That’s a loss. But somehow, they came back. They didn’t give up. They didn’t quit. They waited for their opponent to make weak moves.

But I’m not the Patriots and this isn’t football. But okay, I’ll let myself make ONE move, then I’ll resign. What move gives my opponent the best opportunity to make a weak move? I exchange queens. 17. QxQ. Dean comes back to the board.

He makes his move. 17…Bxf2+. WHAT THE??? UNBELIEVABLE! I’M BACK IN IT! JUST. LIKE. THAT. I felt like the Patriots.

Forget the pawn. I KNEW I’d get it back. Suddenly it’s a game. And just like the Superbowl after regulation, it was a tie score, stopped one move before bare kings. Draw.

But really a win-win.

Dean earned Second Place in the ACCC, and I finally, on game 543 of my chess life, became a National Expert.

LESSONS FOR THE NOVICE

1) No one has ever won or drawn by resigning. If it’s a draw, then the game will play to a draw. The endgame experience gained playing until the very end is worth the effort. If you make a blunder, don’t give up. Weak moves can be contagious.

2) Stay at the board. Think on your opponent’s time. We’re not grandmasters, calculating while we wander the aisles. The more you look, the more the board reveals. In post-game analysis, I’m always amazed to see what I missed. “How did I not see that??” Also, you never know when your opponent will prematurely resign.

3) Study tactics. I use chesstempo.com. Solving tactics puzzles is the most efficient way to study. You can make Expert without knowing deep opening theory. Patzers love openings. Makes them sound like a chess player. They’ll show you all the sidelines. Then they’ll drop a piece to a tactic.

Near-upsets at the AACC Championship

On November 30, two games from the Albany club championship could have ended in big upsets, but did not.

Gordon Magat was a Rook down against Kun Park in a Q+R vs. Q+RR position. It wasn’t simple, especially with less than a minute on both clocks. Kun lost his Queen for a Rook trying to avoid perpetual check, and Gordon won the ending that followed.

My game with Paul Moore was almost a routine win for me. I won the exchange in the early middlegame. His attacking position was insufficient, but he had more CP (Cheapo Potential) than I realized, and it could have ended badly for me.

Enter the Dragon

The Sicilian Dragon is one of Black’s most aggressive options to play for a win. The “Dragon” is characterized by Black castling kingside and fianchettoing their dark square bishop (“The Dragon Bishop”) to g7, where it eyes the h8–a1 diagonal, aiming at the center and queenside. White frequently seeks to meet Black’s setup with Be3, Qd2 and Bh6, exchanging off the dragon bishop, followed by launching a kingside pawn storm with h4–h5 and g4.

Often times White will follow this plan by castling queenside and enter what is called the “Yugoslav Attack”, which is White’s sharpest line to the dragon. All together, the opposite side castling will lead to positions where the victory is decided by who can checkmate their opponent first — Black attacking on the queenside and White attacking on the kingside. In these lines, all positional considerations are thrown away and tactics reign supreme.

Today’s game is from Round 3 of the AACC Championship, where Mr. Park and Mr. Narayan fearlessly enter the Yugoslav variation of the Dragon and make their way through the heavy complications. Needless to say, the Dragon is not for the faint of heart. But it is fun to watch!

A fun and swashbuckling game! Black had several chances to win, as did White who ended up winning. When you enter the dragon, from either color, you must be prepared to swing from winning to losing positions or vice-versa. The analysis and objective measure of “truth” will come after the game ends. But until then, it is just you and your opponent going for each other’s throats, and the game isn’t decided until one of you is mated. If you are looking for an opening to spice up your boring chess positions, then consider preparing or entering the dragon!

Until next time,

Jeremy

Schenectady Club Championship, Upset Alert

This year’s Schenectady Club Championship is a top-heavy event. Fourteen contestants, five former club champions. Today’s game features a major upset of one of the favorites by a rising player. The 368 point rating difference between the two players is likely to be the largest disparity of this year’s event.

A cool little effort in defense of the King’s field by young Northrup. We have grown accustomed to Mr. Sells ability to surf the rogue waves of time trouble over the years, but even for the best, occasionally, the wipeout. Cue the Surfaris.

Albany Club Championship Begins!

On Wednesday October 26, 2016 the first round of the Albany Area Chess Club (AACC) Championship 2016-17 occurred at the Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church in Guilderland, NY.

This year’s AACC Championship format involves a single round robin of 14 participants; a typical number of participants in recent years. The participants include (decreasing rating order): Jeremy Berman (2048), Dean Howard (2000), Dave Finnerman (1998), Gordon Magat (1929), Tim Wright (1943), Krishna Nallamothu (1832), Arthur Alowitz (1724), Kun Park (1687), Cory Northrup (1686), Tom Clark (1608), Paul Axel-Lute (1534), Premjith Narayan (1521), Paul Moore (1382), and Adam Steinberger (unrated).

There are many familiar faces to the Capital District chess scene, with 5 players (Berman, Finnerman, Magat, Wright, and Howard) above 1900. However there are also the new faces of Krishna (1832), Premjith (1521), and Adam (unrated). And Kun Park (1687), who played in the club championship two years ago. These guys promise to inject fresh energy and surprises to the usual club championship, and the round robin format will give them the chance to show their stuff against the usual suspects. Welcome to all!

The results of the first round are given below:

Jeremy Berman 1 – 0 Dave Finnerman
Gordon Magat 1 – 0 Tim Wright
Cory Northrup 1 – 0 Paul Moore
Premjith Narayan 1 – 0 Arthur Alowitz
Krishna Nallamothu 1 – 0 Paul Axel-Lute
Adam Steinberger 0 – 1 Kun Park
Tom Clark 0 – 1 Dean Howard

The first round featured all decisive games, with the higher rated player winning each game, except for the one upset of Premjith (1521) winning over Arthur (1724). More on this game below.

The top two boards featured exciting games between four of the top five rated players. Berman-Finnerman featured a Symmetrical English with positional play dominating the game play, finishing in the final minutes for each player with Mr. Berman winning the ending. Magat-Wright featured a Slav defense with Mr. Wright grabbing the c-pawn and trying to hold it. Eventually Mr. Magat found enough initiative to bring about a very tactical game in which he got the better of the position and won.

Today’s game of the week features Premjith’s win over Arthur. Premjith joined the AACC last year, after the Championship. He and his son have frequented the club this past year, with lots of chess practice. Arthur of course is a grizzled veteran of the Capital Region chess scene, and has been a solid and super fast player. As we will see below, Premjith uses his opening preparation to throw Arthur off balance and to take the early lead. But a game is not always won so easily at club level, and Arthur looks for chances to hold. Enjoy!

When Black resigned, due to the overwhelming White advantage and the eminent fall of the black b-pawn. A well played game by White, using his opening knowledge to score an early advantage. But some critical miscues allowed Black a few opportunities to equalize the game. As the saying goes, you sometimes have to win a won game several times over…and in this case White did just that. But as a lesson for the weaker side, there often are chances to come back…but you have to look for tactics!!

Jeremy

AACC Officers & Championship 2016-17

At the Annual Meeting of the Albany Area Chess Club held October 5, Jeremy Berman was elected President, Walter Mockler was elected Vice-President, Paul Axel-Lute was re-elected Secretary, and Glen Perry was re-elected Treasurer.
The Club Championship will be played on Wednesdays, starting October 26th. Start time is 7:30 pm, and time control is game in 90 minutes with 5-second delay. If there are 17 or fewer players, it will be a single round-robin; with 18 or more players, there will be two sections, each playing a round-robin, with the top two finishers playing a final quad. Ties will be decided by two-game playoffs using the same time control (game in 90 minutes with 5-second delay). Playoff ties will be decided via Armageddon games.
The registration fee for the Club Championship is $40 regular, $30 scholastic, $10 of which is refunded to participants upon completion of all the player’s games. Participants in the Club Championship also become members of the Albany Area Chess Club for the current fiscal year. In order to register, payment must be received by Wednesday October 19th. Payment can be made at the club (Wednesday evenings starting at 7:30 pm) or directly to the TD (Glen Perry). For questions, or to arrange registration payments outside of club hours, please contact the TD at glenmperryATgmail.com.

Peter Henner Memorial Service

Details for the memorial service for Peter Henner have been announced. We shall gather to celebrate his life, and to mourn his passing, on October 9th, 2016, at 2 P.M., at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY, 12206. Those wishing to speak, briefly, at the service, should contact Dr. Nancy Lawson, lawsonn AT strose.edu.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the Adirondack Mountain Club or to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Please remember to leave spaces near the building free for the family. Arrive early, and let’s turn out in numbers.

If any of you need to review Peter’s rich and full life, please visit his obituary published in the Altamont Enterprise.

Albany Area Chess Club Annual Meeting

The Annual Meeting of the Albany Area Chess Club will be held Wednesday October 5th at 7:30 PM at the Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church, 2291 Western Avenue, Guilderland. The business of this meeting will include: approval of the minutes of the last two annual meetings; receipt of Treasurer’s report of financial status of the club; receipt of Secretary’s report of club activities for preceding year; nomination and election of officers for 2016-17; determination of dues for the 2016-17 year; and
determination of format for the 2016-17 club championship tournament.

Sad tidings

For those of us who have lived awhile, we know that our time is short, and that much must be packed in to our precious days. Our friend, and President of the Albany Chess Club, Peter Henner, filled his days with meaningful effort, both as a lawyer, and as an enthusiastic supporter of the local chess community. It is with great sadness that the news of his loss in his battle with cancer must be announced. He was a good man, with a big heart. We shall all miss him deeply.

No announcement on services has yet been made. I will post any news as it becomes available.

Staunton Club Quick Chess Event Nov 13

Hopefully the details will show up in the usual places where such things are announced and publicized but here are the promised details

Staunton Club Quick Chess Event Nov 13

Quick Chess Tournament, USCF Quick Chess Rated, USCF membership required. Official rules apply. Quick Chess is touch move. For pairings we will use the higher of the Quick Chess or Regular Rating.

Prizes (based upon 15 entries) 1st $75, 2nd $30, 3rd $15, top under 1800 $20, under 1500 $20, under $1200/unrated $20

EF $20, (Staunton Club members $15)

Time limit: G/10 d3

Registration from 7:00PM to 7:45 PM

Rounds 8:00, 8:35, 9:10, 9:45 PM