Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chess From a Different Perspective

So I've had to cut back on my chess study a great deal since I started working, as one would expect. I've only been studying three days a week, and then only for about an hour. I've been working 10 hour days, and after work I'm just too tired to think about chess. Since my wife travels all week the weekends are just for us. I've only played one game since my job started, and I was pretty tired when I went in to play it. I was also ready to enjoy it.

That may sound obvious, but think how often you sit down at the board more worried about losing or really, really driven to win rather than with the idea of enjoying chess in mind. I almost always did. Though I think chess is beautiful, what I mostly got from competing was the thrill of winning. Consequently, losing made me feel awful. I studied not just because I enjoy chess, but also because I hate losing so much. There was an element of compulsion in it when I was unemployed because I felt the need to show progress at something, even if it wasn't something very important to my life in the long term.

This is all preamble to saying that the game I played last Wednesday was probably the most enjoyable game I've played in a long time. I won, but the reason I enjoyed it so much was that I didn't care all that much whether I won or lost. I don't think I realized how much importance I was placing on my chess performance, but after starting work and thus having my priorities shifted it became apparent that I hadn't been treating chess as a hobby, but rather as a serious undertaking the outcome of which I let affect my happiness, opinion of myself, and even relationship with my wife (I get very angry and difficult after losing and am not pleasant to be around). Though I know I won't be making as much progress (if any) as I continue to play, and I won't be playing as often, chess truly seems like a hobby now and I like it that way. It frees me up to just enjoy the beauty and depth of the game. I still want to win, but if I don't I don't feel like a loser (except in blitz...it's hard to be philosophical when you lose 5 games in a row on ICC, just human nature I suppose). I'd be interested to know how my few (but surprisingly loyal) readers approach the game and see themselves in relation to it.

As for the game, it marked my return to playing 1.e4 after 1.5 years of all 1.d4s. I just got bored playing the same positions. I'll probably play 1.e4 for a while and then gradually just start switching. Luckily I learned enough theory when I was studying 2-3 hours each day that I can play pretty much any opening I want, which is really nice. The game was a pretty dry Scandinavian where my opponent was trying to equalize rather than seize the initiative. He got pretty close to equalizing but misplayed when I broke in the center. In the resulting complications I was able to win a pawn and gradually bring home the win. It's a pretty interesting ending. I actually made it a little more complicated than necessary, but I think the tactics are cute. Enjoy (after move 20 or so, anyway. It's rather boring prior to that).


There you go. I'm only playing once a week and don't have a lot of time to blog, so it may be a minute before I post again. Peace out.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Getting Back to Chess

So I've started playing again. I never really stopped studying or playing online, but I was a bit hesitant about returning to rated play, just because the US Open went so badly. As it turns out, I was over thinking it. I've found that the key for me is to be as relaxed about the result as possible and not to take the game too seriously.

That can be very hard, as we all know. To be good at chess requires commitment, and it's difficult to care about something enough to work hard at it while at the same time being unconcerned about short term results. I certainly haven't mastered that mental skill, but I'm trying. It helps to play in club tournies and avoid the big weekenders. There is so much more stress playing all those games in a row, plus the steep entry fees demand that you take it very seriously if you're playing at all. So I don't know if I'll ever play a big individual event again. Team events still sound like fun, but the major national tournaments are just too much investment, both monetary and mentally. Chess is my hobbie, and while it's a great hobby it's a horrible obsession because it's so unforgiving.

I have been enjoying chess in other ways lately. I've been teaching elementary kids, and that's been fun. Seeing how happy there are when they find the right move or watching the solution to a problem dawn on them is really rewarding. I'm going to have to stop teaching soon however as I'm about to start a job (finally, after all these months). I think getting a (good) job has actually been very beneficial to my attitude about chess as it's reaffirmed that chess is secondary for me, which has helped me to take it less seriously. In any case, I played my first serious game in about a month last night and it was very interesting.

My opponent was a guy I've played once before, and I've looked at his games a lot so I know his style and repertoire well. It's fair to say that he's an attacker to a fault, and I knew that if he got an initiative he could be dangerous despite our rating difference. Our previous game was in the Grand Prix Sicilian, and while that ended in a draw I was under more pressure than I liked. That game actually caused me to change my repertoire versus the Grand Prix, and I was happy to have a chance to play my new line. Joel knew that I had a new system as we're friendly and have discussed the opening several times, so he was a bit worried about playing his normal stuff. As a result he made a mistake and played something very offbeat which I imagine he'd never played before.

Look: when you're playing a higher rated player, you should just play your normal lines. At least you'll understand the position. If you play offbeat junk lines, then neither one of you will be familiar with the position and you're likely to get outplayed. If you put me and anyone 300 points lower than me in a position neither one of us have ever seen before, I'm usually going to win. I'll simply out calculate him, plus since my knowledge is broader than most 1600 players there's a great chance that any random position will be closer to something I know than something he knows. By playing a weird opening, Joel took away a lot his first move advantage because he no longer had the chance to steer the game into familiar (to him) channels. When you look at the game you'll see what I mean.

That said, it was a very sharp and entertaining game in which both sides took risks to try and seize the initiative. I went from winning by a lot to winning by a little as Joel found a series of accurate defensive moves, and eventually he obtained a drawn position. Up until that point he had played very well, way above his level, but then two consecutive endgame blunders left him with no chances to save the game. The finish of this one is also pretty cute as it appears near the end that white may have drawing chances, but instead he loses by one tempo. Here's the game:


Neat game, huh? It was a nice return to playing, and I'm looking forward to playing this Friday as well. Two games a week in club play is plenty for me, and I still feel like I'm improving though I imagine that will slow down now that I'll be working and won't have 2-3 hours a day to devote to chess. Hopefully I'll be able to study positions on my lunch break. I guess we'll see.