Playing on Tilt: Defending My State Title

On Tilt – To gamble recklessly and aggressively after a bad or improbable beat or series of bad or improbable beats. Usually results in losing all of your money and then some. Good gamblers avoid this at all costs, even if it means going home earlier than expected. (Urban Dictionary)

The PA State Championship returned to Pittsburgh for the second year in a row, the first time in the tournament’s history and a great stroke of luck that afforded me convenience in my attempt to defend my 2015 state title. Thus, before the tournament even started I was lucky that I didn’t have to travel 5 hours to Philadelphia for the weekend. I entered the tournament as the top seed, with fellow masters Petesch, Minear, and Eidemiller close behind.

I took a half-point bye in round one on Saturday (it worked so well last time!) to grill meat (last year I did so to make an interview, so maybe the necessity was slightly questionable this time). I was quite rusty and probably had played at most a couple blitz games in the past month due to time commitments. Arriving late to round two, I played Isaac with the white pieces, which he has already mentioned in a previous blog post. Not wanting to deal with normal chess, I played a questionable line in the Vienna that somehow afforded me a slight edge. I quickly allowed Isaac back to equality in a rash endgame decision around move 20, and I thought my chances to repeat were going to end right then and there. Unfortunately for Isaac (and fortunately for me), he wasn’t able to find the route to secure the clear equality and actually self-destructed soon after. I was relieved that I hadn’t allowed a draw with the white pieces against an opponent 300 points lower rated than me, but it was clear I was not playing anywhere close to good chess, and that I would have to seriously step up.

After taking a nap, I arrived at round three and received as easy a pairing as possible against 2100-rated Joe Mucerino. Little did I know that I would go on to play one of my worst games in recent memory, committing blunder after disastrous blunder and continually not being punished for them. Possibly still dissatisfied with my previous round performance, I was clearly on tilt, playing feckless moves that failed to consider simple possible replies from my opponent. Time after time, I stared at what I had done in disbelief, and thought my tournament was going to end right there. Even if I avoided losing, a draw was still a terrible result and would make winning the tournament quite difficult. To give you a sense, here’s a sampling of what I did:


I played 21…0-0?? here, forgetting the simple reply of 22. Qg3 after which I am certainly lost. I struggled to find lines in which I wasn’t getting mated or losing large amounts of material. An imprecise move order allowed me to escape, but not for long:


While I have to tread carefully here, I should be perfectly fine after a move like 32…Ne5, but instead I played 32…Nf6 which was met by 33. Raf1! and left me shaking my head. White achieves powerful pressure. The most grotesque mistake followed soon after:


Here I quickly moved 36…Bc8???????? Which should have run into 37. Nc6, game over, I resign. Instead, I survived even this mistake, and went on to win a horribly imperfect and nerve-wracking game after four and a half hours, with both of us reaching around a minute left on the clock. Clearly, I wasn’t prepared in a psychological or chess sense, and my dumb play was barely squeaking by thanks to large amounts of luck.

Thankfully, I returned Sunday refreshed and hopeful of actually playing chess in the last two rounds. I delivered a smooth victory over Franklin Chen in Round 4, allowing me extra rest time (I won round 4 quickly last year too) while Minear and Petesch dueled it out on Board 2 to determine who would play me in the final round. Their game came down to the wire, with Petesch coming out on top but probably more fatigued than I was going into the last game. I had the Black pieces and decided to not press too much, as a draw would still clinch a tie for first. Again, a stroke of luck came my way when Petesch began to burn insane amounts of time on the clock, falling behind by almost an hour. This allowed me to slowly grind him down in a relatively equal position with natural moves, as he had to move almost instantly towards the end of the game.

Thus, I was able to retain my state title for another year, but it was clear I had to have a lot of things go right for me on the first day. I’m fortunate that my opponents didn’t take full advantage when I was on full tilt and I had to forget those things quickly for the second day, in which I calmed down and played less heart attack-inducing chess.







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