The annual gathering of chess aficionados in Kidlington was rather more traumatic than on previous years, due largely to my own poor play. It is also the first time I’ve ever seriously considered dropping out of such a tournament before the end. On balance, I’m glad that I didn’t do so, but the fact that it was on my mind probably didn’t help my play especially during the first game on Sunday. It’s also the first time I considered not doing a full blog write-up of the tournament, but instead just doing a one-liner consisting of a single, terse profanity.
- Round One: playing Black against the highest-rated player in the section (whose brother happens to be a grandmaster!) was tough. That said, I played very solidly and managed to survive long enough to make a decent effort. I miscalculated a lengthy tactical sequence which led to him having two bishops against a rook in the endgame, which was a formality for him to win. Shame to have Lost the first game, but I wasn’t too unhappy about my play here and my opponent was very complimentary. He went on to win the tournament, so no need to feel too ashamed about losing.
- Round Two: my opponent arrived 20 minutes late for this game (“Terribly sorry, I was watching Man City in the pub…”) but then proceeded to bash out the first 11 moves almost instantly. I was playing White against similarly-rated opposition and got a reasonably decent position out of the opening. I couldn’t find any way to break through and spent far too much time looking for a win in what was really an equal position. An outright blunder in time trouble meant that I Lost this one too. I’d never lost two consecutive games at this tournament before, so I was rather disappointed. Much worse was to come, however…
- Round Three: the Saturday evening game drew me as Black against Darrell Watson, who I’ve played here twice before (also both as Black) and I’ve beaten him both times. I felt confident I could make amends and get my first points on the board. I gave up bishop for knight early on and then aimed to close the position to take advantage of the material imbalance: this worked very well and by move 30 I broke through, winning a pawn giving me connected passed pawns. Tragically, I immediately missed a simple tactic and lost queen for two minor pieces and it was effectively Lost from that moment. I was so angry with myself and I’m sure my opponent heard what I muttered under my breath at that instant! I played on for a short while, just giving my opponent a chance to go wrong, but it wasn’t to be. Finishing the first day without any points and having just misplayed so horribly was very difficult. Before heading home I stayed at the venue for a while mulling over whether to just give up and withdraw from the tournament. With a score of zero out of 3, there was a very real chance that if there were an odd number of players left in the tournament for Round Four I’d be without a game anyway. My thought processes were rather muddled, but I was evaluating “You’ve got 0 out of 3, you might get 2 out of 5.” against “You’ve got 0 out of 3, you might get 0 out of 5” and so on. I decided not to withdraw and headed home for some sleep, although I didn’t sleep very well.
- Round Four: as the player with the lowest score in the tournament, I was pleased to see that I was not given a bye for this round and actually had an opponent. I played White against a chap who had lost his first two games too, but had taken a half-point bye for Round Three. I misplayed the opening (Hyper-accelerated Dragon) and got a very passive and poor position almost immediately. So there I was, 20 minutes after the game started, with 0 out of 3 and facing another lost position. My thoughts returned to withdrawing from the tournament, writing up the “one-line profanity” version of this blog post and so on. The game just didn’t seem to run in my favour and, despite thinking for a long time on several moves, I couldn’t find any way to get activity. I felt very demoralised at this moment. Eventually I couldn’t avoid losing a pawn. My opponent had strong central pawns, one of them a passed pawn, in a double bishop endgame. A stroke of luck in my favour was my opponent missing the strongest move and, although I was still losing, it gave me a glimmer of hope. I helped provoke a miscalculation on his part and he lost his extra pawn. The game looked drawn, but I only had three minutes (plus 15 second increment) on the clock. He played a move, then offered a draw: I had the suspicion he’d just noticed he’d made a mistake. This was indeed the case and the game simplified into a winning King and pawn endgame for me. It was a great relief to Win this game, after having spent around three hours believing I was lost. Points on the board at last!
- Round Five: the last game was against slightly lower-rated opposition and as Black I played an open version of the Caro-Kann Defence which I’d not tried before, but proved quite successful. He played a little inaccurately and I got the opportunity to play a spectacular exchange sacrifice, although once he’d recovered from the quite visible shock, he was able to come out of the situation just down one pawn by returning the material. Convinced I had a winning position, I thought for possibly rather too long looking for the key moves. He offered a Draw after I’d repeated the position once and I accepted. It turned out there was a way to make progress, but it would have been very difficult: even with two extra pawns in an opposite-colour bishop endgame would not have been a certain win. I was partly relieved to have avoided defeat, to be honest and having played both Sunday games without a loss was psychologically very positive.
My final score of 1.5 out of 5 was of course not very impressive and my grade will drop for next year as a result: I’ve decided that even if it drops low enough to make me eligible for the Under-145 section, I’ll still play my ‘usual’ Under-180 section anyway. Better next year? Let’s hope so!
UPDATE: Games and analysis available here.