Washington Senior Open, Round 2
In round one of the Washington Senior Open, I lost to a FIDE master. There is no shame in that — but the way I lost bothered me. For round two I was paired against a 1500. Despite he was 300 points below my rating, I wanted to compose myself and focus more on his ideas rather than just my own. This is a recurring problem I have had for decades – I never give my opponent the credit they deserve. It’s all about my ideas and my plans. My opponent couldn’t possibly be have ideas of his own. It is this myopic view of chess that has kept me at the 1800 level.
Shaking off the rust
Despite my lack of form in game one, the opening went my way. I made a handful of inaccuracies, but managed to get a small, but measured advantage. My opponent gave himself a backward a-pawn early on. I put my pieces on good squares with the idea of increasing the pressure on the weakling pawn. In a few moves I would capture it and dominate the a-file. Sounds like a good plan, right? Let’s see what happened.
Stay with one plan. At move eighteen, I played the strange. The idea was to grab some space on the kingside but chess is about efficiency. Wasting moves that are not purposeful will erode an advantage and lead to chaos. In a recent podcast, FM Roger LaFlair explained the need to be consistent – that means playing a series of solid throughout a game. It was the move h4, and later h5, where my advantage started to dissipate. These moves were not consistent with my plan to dominate the a-file and it is where my troubles began.
Additionally, once I played h4-h5, I didn’t play the thematic h6, which would be consistent with opening the h-file. So, I had multiple attacks on two different fronts which led to a complex middlegame.
Quelling your opponent’s counterplay. Some of you have send me e-mails asking why I emphasize slow chess over blitz. There are many reasons, but the biggest is that playing slow chess allows you to calculate your opponent’s plans and marshal a defense against them. Additionally, failing to calculate your opponent’s plan is more noticeable in slow games because you can’t blame oversights on time pressure.
Re-think obvious recaptures. Chess is a game of subtleties. Even the most obvious moves should be challenged before they are made. In this game, playing 31. f3(??) was a perfect example of this. While the move reinforces e4, it allows for f4 which reactivates his buried dark-squared bishop. Your opponent is never out of a game until your force him to resign. Sometimes the most “obvious” move may not the best one.
I learned a lot from this game. By letting my opponent back in the game, I saw the consequences of my passive, often random play. There is a difference between getting an advantage and keeping one. The two are not mutually exclusive. Once you see a weakness, move your pieces to capitalize on it, but remember — your opponent will try to disrupt things for you. Put yourself in your opponent’s shoes. “If I were my opponent, what would I play?” It’s an obvious question that I do not ask enough.
Round two was a shaky win won by a tactic. I would need to settle down for the next round and implement the principles I just mentioned. Overcoming bad habits is difficult for an adult player. That’s because we have years (or in my case, decades) of learned mistakes that require enormous commitment to overcome. Hopefully, I will play better in round three! The Washington Senior Open has been educational so far.