Saturday, December 20, 2008

My First Year Playing Chess

To be clear I have known how to play chess since I was about 10. However, there is a stark difference in playing real chess and playing the awe inspiring 1. a4! which is typically the favorite opening of novices. My first tournament game over the board was scarcely 365 days ago. It was a game of complete and total domination. Unfortunately I was the recipient of said domination. I was playing black and was on the business end of a nasty queen attack courtesy of a mishandled Scotch game. The game went as follows:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 Nxd4?

We can pretty much cease analysis here. 3... Nxd4 amounts to what is essentially a positional blunder by black which gives white an angry queen on d4 with no pieces readily available to chase her off of a very strong square. But I digress.

Two and a half years prior to joining the chess club I was honing my skills playing approximately 2,500 15-20 minute Internet games. When I came to chess club I brought all of the bad habits, lack of discipline and false beliefs about good chess with me. The contrast between Internet chess and over-the-board chess is about as sharp as the contrast between a1 and a2. About the only thing I've gained from all that effort is a quick rating about 200 points higher than my standard rating. I would have been much better served joining chess club a year earlier than spending time playing 13-year-olds on in my underwear. There's a nice visual for you. Boxers in case you were wondering.

One thing I did learn is every time I sit down to play a game, I am battling myself just as much or more so than my opponent. The urge to move pieces hapharzardly wells up in me and has cost me several wins. I've learned many other things too (seeing as how your losses teach you the most about your game). Therefore I have decided to take time from my busy schedule to share with you the ten most poignant lessons I learned in my first year playing chess.

Top 10 Things I Learned Playing Over-the-Board in 2008.

1. In a 90-minute game it's ok to use more than 11 minutes of clock.
2. When you find a great move that is sure to seal the win, it is ok to take a minute and double check your move before proudly slamming the piece onto its square before resigning in anguish 30 seconds later.
3. Unlike the Internet, talking trash to your opponent during a game is generally frowned upon.
4. Beating someone rated 400 points higher than you will put you on top of the world.
5. Getting checkmated in 9 moves by a 10-year-old will bring you right back down.
6. Unlike the Internet, it's difficult to get away with getting help from Chessmaster without your opponent knowing about it during the game (so I've heard).
7. A good middlegame strategy does not generally consist of becoming bored and sacrificing a knight for two pawns and a speculative attack when your opponent has the audacity to take several minutes of clock to figure out how to refute it.
8. In a game of chess my computer is usually superior. However, in a game of kickboxing I am superior. Not so easy to beat me when your brain is smashed into little bits now is it Fritz?
9. It's easy to spot a winning move when you are watching the game but almost impossible to find it when you are playing the game... in the state finals... for money... with 12 people standing around watching you... and you have to pee.
10.Playing someone rated lower than you does not mean taking them lightly. If anything it means taking them more seriously.

All in all it's been a great year though. I've enjoyed some good wins and learned a lot from some tough losses, I've met a silly number of people and certainly made some good friends. When I sat down and played human punching bag to a superior opponent a year ago I was playing chess at around a 900 level. Now closing out 2008, my January published rating will be 1314. So, you know, progress.

I'll close this article by leaving you with my favorite game from this past year that I played. I lost this game but it illustrated some very important points and I think I learned more from this game than any other game I played all year. I played black and found myself with a pretty remarkable endgame advantage and then threw away the win. Incidentally this game yielded point number 9 in my top 10 list.

Game from SCCA Championship

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. O-O d6 6. d3 Na5 7. Bb3 Nxb3 8. axb3 Bg4 9. Be3 Bxe3 ( It's not best for black to take here. It gives white a dangerous open file for attack on F. Bb6 is probably better for black.)
10.fxe3 c6 11. Qe1 O-O 12. Qf2 Qe7 13. Nh4 Be6 14. h3 d5 15. Nf5 Bxf5 16. exf5 e4 17. dxe4 Nxe4 18. Nxe4 Qxe4 19. Ra4 Qe5 20. Rg4 f6 21. c3 Rfe8 22. Re1 Re7 23.Qf4 Qxf4 24. Rxf4 Rae8 25. Kf2 a5 26. g4 Re4 27. Rxe4 Rxe4 28. Kf3 Kf7 29. Rd1 Re5 30. Kf4 Ke7 31. Rd4 Kd6 32. c4 c5 33. Rd1 Re4+ 34. Kf3 Re5 35. Kf4 Re4+ 36.Kf3 Re5 37. e4 d4 38. h4 b6 39. Kf4 h6 40. Rg1 Re7 41. g5 hxg5+ 42. hxg5 Kc7 43. gxf6 gxf6 44. Rg6 Rf7 45. e5 fxe5+ 46. Kxe5 Rd7 47. f6 d3 48. Rg1 Kd8 49. Ke6 d2 50. Rd1 Ke8 51. f7+ Rxf7 52. Rxd2 Re7+ 53. Kf5 Rd7? (Holy cow. Can you spot the better move? How about Re3. What happened here was I was thinking "ok, my King is so much closer to his pawns if I can trade off rooks I can escort my pawns up to his, create a passed pawn and win." That was my idea and I became so married to that plan I missed the obvious winning move! If I were looking in that position in a book or online, Re3 seems like such an easy answer. However sometimes yourself gets in the way of yourself and that certainly happened to me here.)
54. Rd5! Kd8? Still trying to trade Rooks. Lesson 3: If I make a bad move, I usually follow it up with a worse move. A chimp can just about play white and win from here.
55. Ke6 Rxd5 56. cxd5 b5 57. Kd6 c4 58. Kc5 cxb3 59. Kxb5 Kd7 60. Kxa5 Kd6 61. Kb4 Kxd5 62. Kxb3 Kc5 63. Ka4 1-0

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