Friday, June 27, 2008

After a Looooong Break

Apologies to my steady readership. It's been a long winter/spring of non-chess life. I've been writing a book over the past year, and during the heavy writing season (when I'm not focusing on funding the project) it's really hard to find any time for chess. Of late though I've been following the chess world a bit more, and I've been considering how to make a comeback.

When last I was blogging, as some of you may remember, I had been going through a rough stretch in my play. Slumps have been very rare creatures (Thankfully) in my praxis, but last year's was an unpleasant one, and it seems to me that the first thing to do as I consider how to reapproach the tournament scene is to reflect on what went wrong last year and to try to learn from it. I envision a series of postings analyzing some of the uglier experiences.

I started 2007 with a rating of 1880 USCF. I reached a peak for the year of 1904, and finished on the boomerang low note of 1842, though this was something of a rebound from my nadir at 1806. I won 18 games, including a scalp of a master, drew 20 games, and lost 17, for close to a 50 percent performance. Kind of mediocre.

I think I'll start with a couple of examples of blunderitis which seemed to creap into my play last year after a several year absence.

Here's a position that I think typifies some of my less successful play from 2007. I was white, playing in a position where I was under some pressure and rather uncomfortable. Something that I thnk came up a number of times in 2007 that was interesting was a tendency in my play to seek "advantages" based on principles, rather than assessing positions concretely. Here, for example, I think that I sought this structure, with my opponent having split q-side pawns, and myself with hanging pawns, because I thought that the isolated c-pawn would be weak. I hadn't thought about the fact that my opponent could simply push c7-c5 at an auspicious moment to clear away the weakness—hadn't thought about it until I got to the structure, that is.

Here now, I was struggling with the problem of how to relieve the pressure on the Nf3. Now I think that Ncd2 was probably the easiest way, though I'm still uncomfortable with the consequences of a c5 push by black. Basically, I think that white is struggling a little all around, but I played the ridiculous 21.Qf1??, thinking that I would move the knight and welcome an exchange of bishops - perhaps also fantasizing that my opponent would not play c5. This seems to me to be the kind of a blunder that happens when you're so caught up in trying to solve a problem on the board that you begin to lose sight of the position. Even so, though, it's kind of an amazing blunder for me.

Here's another example of a position in which I blundered. I had the black pieces, and was playing an uptempo game in 30. At the time, I remember thinking that my opponent had gone wrong in the opening and that I would be better, when in fact, I now think that the position is rather unclear. In any case, white has just played Nxd5, capturing my knight, and I need to respond. I had calculated 9...Nxd4 10.Qd1 Nxf3+ 11.Bxf3 Bxd2+ 12.Qxd2 exd5, and had somehow overlooked the simple fact that white can now recapture on d5, threatening b7 as well as c4. The pressure is kind of irritating in that position, but the game is certainly fully playable. After some thought, however, realizing that I was using too much time given the control, I reached out and played 9...exd5?? 10.Bxb4 when, of course, black is in a lot of trouble, down a piece for pawns. I think this blunder was sort of an inversion of moves problem, but still, a pretty significant disaster.

So, what can I learn from these two examples? I think that I was lacking a certain fluidity with my tactics. I wasn't necessarily seeing the board badly all the time, but I was not sufficiently comfortable with my visualizing of the relationships between the pieces to ensure that I would not occasionally blunder terribly. Obviously, blundering like this is a series cause of fast losses...


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