Yeah, it's official at this point: I have entered the strange nexus of free-falling. I have now lost 4 games against lower-rated opposition, the most recent against a player over two hundred points lower rated, and this after going some 70 games with only one loss down over the course of last year... Some kind of cosmic justice for the underdogs? Maybe it's just all of the rust of having taken off 6 months finally catching up to me, but I have found some very weird ways to bungle chess games.
Saturday at the BCC Quads I had two draws and a loss. In both of the draws I had fairly clear wins on the board (one that was at the point where I was almost waiting for my opponent to resign and then I let slip a repetition.) The loss was just a role over stick a fork in me type event that I can only put down to demoralization and stress with the time control. That and my most recent game (another loss of course) seem to indicate that lack of confidence is showing up in a propensity for moving slower that is now beginning to take a toll on my clock management, something that has never been a problem before in my entire chess career.
Amazingly, I could not find my score sheet after last night's encounter, further evidence that I really wasn't all there somehow, just very befuddled and confused with myself as I stumbled away from the board. Luckily, I remember the game essentially in its entirety, though I'm a little unsure of the opening move-order.
My opponent was a 1600 player who had just recently won the U1700 section at the club and I had the white pieces.
This position came about as a result of some rather eccentric play by my opponent from a Sicilian. It looks kind of like a very odd Benoni sort of thing, except that my knight is on a3 instead of c3. I put the steed over there to cut out any b6-b5 nonsense, but I wonder now if that was really just silliness on my part, because the knight remained very cut off for most of the game.
12 Bc2 This was a pretty commital decision. I wanted to be able to exchange off the dark-squared bishops, and I figured that once I had pushed f4, I would have a far superior position in terms of space and flexibility. I think I was misevaluating though, as my opponent remains amazingly resilient in his cramped position, and as soon as I tried to leverage my space, I became worse.
13 Nxe5 Nxe5
14 Bh6 Qd7
15 Bxg7 Kxg7
16 f4 Ng4
17 h3 Nf6
Alright, so far so good, so I have built my big impressive center. The trouble now is that I became somewhat obsessed with the idea of stifling him with c3-c4 to avoid letting him get counterplay against d5. I was thinking and thinking about trying to arrange e4-e5, and was really just kind of ignoring my inferior piece-placement on the queenside. This is elementary stuff, right? I don't know what I was on about. I think logical at this point would have been 18.Nc4 with something like 18...Qc7 19.Ne3 and he may get the b5 push afterall, but at least I'm much better placed to try to take advantage of my space.
18 c4?! Rae8
19 e5 Nh5
20 Qc3 This was kind of a lazy move. I was thinking, alright, maybe my opponent can be induced to simply blunder. I guess that g4 was netting the knight after some adventures, but it looked really hairy. Yeah, laziness.
21 f5 dxe5
22 Qxe5 Qd6
At this point I think the tide has turned. My central space advantage has spent itself for naught, and all of a sudden I am looking at uncomfortable endgames where my awkward piece placement and poor coordination will really tell. But it was such a big space advantage, I was thinking...
23 Rae1 Bc8
24 fxg6 hxg6
25 Qg5 e5
Now I'm really getting into trouble. My opponent's central pawn is a nasty creature, and he even has ideas of f5 in some lines. Fritz now suggests that I just say to heck with what I'm doing and play Nb1 to reroute, and actually, I'm inclined to agree. That troublesome steed's misplacement is the difference between a playable position and unplayable one.
26 Re3 Nf4
27 Rfe1 Kg7
As I was recently discussing with blunderprone, one of the biggest obstacles to successful and consistent chessplaying is a player's own psychology, and that was certainly the case here. Having felt that I was better for part of the game, and believing that I really had no business doing anything but winning, I now began to despair in the face of the monster knight on f4 when in truth, the position is not really that far from equal. Again, Nb1 was in order to regroup, and I should have just played on with some patience. However, with the time controls approaching and feeling very nervous, I forgot for a moment that the knight was covering g6, and I went ahead and snatched the pawn, shedding an exchange by accident!
28 Rxe5 f6
29 Qxf4 fxe5
30 Qg3 Bf5
31 Bxf5 Rxf5
32 Nb1 Qf6
Here I am distinctly struggling, though amusingly, Fritz thinks the position remains about equal. But, most importantly, I finally got it into my head to redirect the knight!
33 Nc3 e4
Finding myself somehow, ridiculously, still in the game, I finally made a very serious error with 34.b3 when I really needed to play Qe3 to stifle his play. Now he should have just pressed on with 34...e3 and really shoved that pawn down my throat. I was running out of mental resources though, feeling pretty foggy-brained, and I soon followed up my first error with a real howler of a blunder.
35 Re3?? That's it, adios. All he needs to do now is find 35... Rf3 and I am absolutely finished.
Unbelievable, I thought, and now I'm better again out of the blue! Would I have the mental reserves to blitz out the next few moves accurately and make the time control though? I was down to a few minutes.
36 Ne2 Qa1+
37 Kh2 R5e7?
He's certainly not finding his way in the time scramble. He had to defend g6 somehow, maybe with 37...Rf8 38.Nc3 Ref5 39.Re1 Qb2 40.Nxe4 when I have two pawns for the exchange and am beginning to amass threats. Instead, my opponent's move goes much of the distance toward losing by force.
38 Nf4! Qe5
Note that he can't play 38...Qf6 because of 39.Nh5+
39 Qxg6+ Kf8
Here I was looking intently at 40.g3 trying to figure out precisely how the followup was going to go. Somehow, in the complexity of the moment, I got lost in the variations: 40.g3 Rg7 41.Qxb6 Qd4 42.Re2 and what was the best way to win? And all of a sudden, I looked up and he was pointing at my expired flag. I had had about a minute and ten to come up with my fortieth move and I had totally blacked out. Afterwards, I could say to my credit that the tactical vision that egged me on to keep searching was correct, as 40.Rg3 was incontestably stronger than 40.g3, and even the remarkable 40.d6 was probably better. It was really sad for it to end that way, though I certainly made enough errors earlier to deserve to lose... but to have time expire on a won position...
Oh well, there'll be another game.