Monday, June 22, 2009

Sham chess

Often when I win or draw against players much higher rated than me, in the postmortems it is striking how much more deeply they thought things through, the moves and lines they saw that I didn't even consider. This is a little depressing, makes me feel like a sham. For instance, in the game against Loomis it was clear he had a much better command of the game, and in particular, of some of the potential tactics I had against him which I didn't even think about (note I lost that game, but the general point still holds).

In the final game of the Blue Devil Open, I was lucky enough to draw a much higher-rated player (rated 700 points higher than me) because of this. In the postmortem it was clear that he was taking lots of time to think about potential responses from me that weren't even on my radar. Because of that, he got into time trouble and had to offer a draw from a winning position. Frankly I felt very guilty about this, like the draw was undeserved. I'm not going to post it because I'm lazy, but I played the Slav.

On the positive side, I haven't flat-out dropped a piece in six tournament games in a row. I don't want to jinx it. Knock on wood, burn a goat to the gods, supplicate myself to Caissa, and all that. That has become my new measure of success in tournament play: If I didn't give away a piece for free, or miss that my opponent was offering me a piece for free, then it was a good game.

Hence, while I may not see everything these chess ninjas see, I have started to see safety a lot better for some reason. I am not sure why, but perhaps one reason is all of the games were G75 or longer so I have time to savor the position.

My next goal is to not give away pawns for free (I have given away a couple in those six games), and to go a game without overlooking checks (either me checking, or me moving and not noticing that it allows him to put me in check allowing him to take the initiative).

These are coarse goals, but I'm a coarse player.


Blogger Vincent said...

Your post speaks directly to an experience I had a few weeks ago. Like many, I have been bitten by the 5-minute bug, and I can't seem to stop playing them. As a 1400ish rated player, I was once paired with a guy with 2080 rating. I played the opening reasonably well considering the differential, got afraid of the tactics, but spotted an opportunity to lure him into a position into which I could force repetition.

Initially, I was quite proud of myself: a draw against a MUCH higher rated player. But then it occurred to me that this was a really crappy win after all. In any case, the first few minutes of happiness this draw brought me were still worth it. Ignorance is bliss sometimes.

6/22/2009 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Wahrheit said...

Sounds to me like you're doing great--not dropping pieces is pretty close to "Real Chess." You can probably make it to 1600 USCF just by keeping it up!

It's funny about postmortems with the higher-rated players, I've won and drawn a lot of games with people 2-300 points higher and they always "win" the postmortem! But it's only the moves you MAKE that count. Postmortem vision is really of academic interest only.

6/22/2009 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Zweiblumen said...

A few things:

Don't feel bad about this! Points are points. The result is based on the moves actually played, not the analysis that lead up to them. Finally: the clock is a part of the game, however artificial it might seem. If I think for three times as long as you, I should get a better board position, but game position includes clock time, and if I'm out of time, my board position means nothing.

I played a few casual games with a friend over the weekend. It was a bit depressing because he doesn't study chess, but gave me some terrible fights. Definitely hammers home the fact that I need to spend my time working on tactics, not strategy. I "know" way more about chess than he does, and probably made a much more complicated analysis of the situations than he did, but he played stronger moves.

Just remember, the game is won by strong moves, not strong analysis. Congrats on the half point, and it's always amazing how much better one's play becomes when you don't simply give material away.

6/22/2009 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Zweiblumen and Wahrheit: Good points. I feel like my postmortem results are much worse than my actual game results. :)

The point that moves, not analysis, determine results, is right on. I know it's obvious, but easy to forget. It's intimidating talking to these people so much better, but it is also really cool and I learn from them.

Vincent: I know people who get very angry at the opponent for forcing a draw. However, if that person wanted the full point, then they blundered by allowing the person to draw!

6/22/2009 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger Banatt said...

You always do better on hindsight. I remember once spending nearly 30 minutes looking at a move at last year's nationals and thinking "I probably did this, since its the only real move" on postmortem.

And considering your experience, you probably have a MUCH higher "Postmortem rating".

And in other news, I really remember only two instances of winning fairly against higher rated players for me. One was a 1700 I played in blitz (Hence the win), and the other was a 1600 I played in a quad. The rest were either marginally higher rated or losses.

In any case, postmortems just expose what you need to review in the future. At the end of the day, on paper, a win is a win, a loss is a loss.

6/22/2009 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

I notice that you are quick to give your opponents credit and slow to pour praise upon yourself. This news could have been relayed in a very boastful tone but you chose a more modest voice.

"The inability of an experienced master to deal with the clock should be considered as grave a fault as a miscalculation."

It's great that you are getting out there to play rated games. I hope each OTB experience is an enjoyable outing.

6/22/2009 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Hank said...

I agree with the previous commenters in feeling you should be encouraged by getting good results in slow games against strong opposition, and not feel undermined by the postmortem discussions. Through some combination of explicit thought process and intuition you played strong enough moves to give your opponent some kind of trouble, and avoided making the kinds of mistakes that lose the game - even if you didn't see every possible line. And while you may not have thought about certain lines that could have come up if he'd played less than optimal moves (that he used up a lot of clock making sure to avoid), who's to say that if he *had* played some of those sub-optimal moves that you wouldn't, then - when confronted with the actual position over the board - have realized how you could exploit them?

It seems much more important not to overlook opportunities (for yourself) that do come up on the board than to be aware of all the possible opportunities that the opponent may or may not allow to appear on the board. (Though ideally one would love to be able to visualize all of it.) Of course, "fantasizing" about positions and tactics you'd like to see on the board can be a good way to steer your thought process towards possible combinations and so on, but overlooking some possibilities for yourself that have not yet materialized is certainly not as bad as overlooking potential threats by your opponent that require immediate action to prevent!

I'm not sure I'm managing to be articulate about what I was thinking when I started this post, but the gist of it is don't be too hard on yourself when you do well! It's one thing if your high-rated opponent hangs their queen for no reason late in the game, and I can see in that case feeling like you didn't 'earn' your result, but a different matter when they get in time trouble because they respect the danger they see in your moves too much! It's a sign that you're playing better moves, and your ability to articulate and decipher all the ramifications of those moves will continue to improve over time, so it's all progress in a good direction.


6/22/2009 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Bazooby said...

Looking back at postmortems I've done with my opponents over the years, including many higher rated players, I have to say a lot of them were talking complete BS. Yes, they saw a lot of things I didn't, BUT I also saw things they didn't, and a lot of these "things" were just as dead wrong as the moves actually played (compared to computer or titled-player analysis occurring later). So in other words, no need for the "sham" feeling. Your opponents are more or less equally clueless.

6/22/2009 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Katar: Thanks a lot. It has been fun. One nice thing about being the lowest-rated player in a tournament is that I am very relaxed, and not scared to lose. I think this helped my play.

Hank: Thanks I understand your point, especially that often people make decent moves without fully understanding them. My hunch is that over the last four years I have built up a little bit of a chess intuition, so I am making moves that are subtly better.

That, plus luck (e.g., making moves that I saw reason X to play, but in reality there are reasons X, Y, and Z, and my stronger opponents see Y and Z and have to deal with it).

Bazooby: LOL. You are probably right, nobody is that good at postmortems.

6/22/2009 11:54:00 PM  
Blogger Lauri said...

This discussion reminds me of some games where my move looks dubious on after analysis but in the actual game it works out completely right. This has to do with energies that both players give, you get weird intuitions that happen to be accurate (you never know if this is just happen to be true by chance or what is the reason)about your opponent, his psychology, his ideas.

I think one key word here is "consciousness", if you happen to be there right on the spot when your opponents when opponents consciousness goes out of present to something that was before or doesn't take on account what just happened you might take advantage of this and win, avoid loss, draw or whatever.

6/23/2009 03:20:00 AM  
Blogger chesstiger said...

Oh you modest guy! Feeling sorry for your opponent have to take a draw because his clock is running out. I wonder if you would lend your shoulder if your opponent would burst out in tears. :-)

Like others said, time is part of the game. I believe Dan Heisman has written an article about it in his Novice Nook series.

6/23/2009 05:34:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Yes, the clock is definitely part of the game. Rowson even has it as one of his evaluation criteria.

My guess there is a translation of the form: for every five percent or whatever more clock time you have, your rating effectively goes up 25 points.

6/23/2009 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Polly said...

Clock management is part of the game. I've won games where I was losing because my opponent messed up in time pressure, and I've lost "won" games because I was short on time. Having a big edge on the clock in the waning minutes of game is like being up material.

In a post mortem we often find moves that weren't seen while playing under the gun. It's similar to when a spectator says afterward "You could have done x and won his queen." The spectator isn't under the same pressure so his mind is clearer, and it's easier to see things that the players are missing.

There are times I see how an opponent can win the game in a simple manner, but since they're under the pressure of trying to win the game, they miss the easy move and take the harder route. They still may win, but it took them longer then necessary.

6/23/2009 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Vincent said...

BDK: Wow, honestly I didn't even know that. Guess I have to brush up on my chess etiquette. I don't get to play in real life enough...

Thanks for the hint.

6/23/2009 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Vincent: my point was that the people getting angry are being stupid. There is absolutely nothing wrong with forcing a draw by perpetual! It's part of the game. It would be poor etiquette to get angry about it toward the other person rather than oneself.

6/23/2009 04:54:00 PM  
OpenID liquideggproduct said...

Here's how to think of winning a game on time. The opponent had to take that length of time to get that superior/even position. If they had taken less time, they would have played worse.

So the result is not a sham.

6/23/2009 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger takchess said...

Not related to this but I know that you would find it interesting.

Levon Helm of the Band, at the height of their success,attended a semester at Berkeley School of Music. He did that to further master druming.

6/24/2009 06:26:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Takchess!!! Great to see you. Please, please post an update on your chess etc. I will be sure to link to it on Friday in my blog roundup.

6/24/2009 11:36:00 PM  

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