There may be hundreds of ways to partition the body of chess players in two parts. One differentiator that I find very relevant to this time of year is, well, time. Not the time on your watch, but the time on your chess clock. There are typically two schools of thought for time management in chess – those who play relatively quickly, and those who play relatively slowly. It’s not rocket science, the two sides are easy to divide into. Other more difficult partitions would be positional vs tactical players or maybe casual vs serious, but I digress.
I, for sure, am part of the latter school. Over the years I have been cultured to play slowly and not to rush my moves, almost to point of “too slowly.” In the end, it might have been the cause of my undoing this past weekend at the VA State Championships. The tournament was six rounds held over two days, and since it was a scholastic tournament (i.e. K-12 & Collegiate), short time controls were given. In addition, since the tournament requires people to sometimes to travel across all of Virginia, they had to wrap up relatively early on Sunday. Thus, four rounds (!) were played on Saturday itself. They were played around the clock from 9 in the morning to 9 at night; the first three games of the day were played at a lightning-fast (for me) 60 minutes for each player with a 5-second delay. The last round on Saturday and the two rounds on Sunday were played at 90 minutes for each player with a 5-second delay. The 60/90 split has been traditional for this tournament, so it’s nothing new. However, with all the work I have from school, I didn’t have much of a chance to prepare this year. As a result, I was going in without having played a G/60 game since last year’s rendition of the same tourney, and the shortest time control I had played since the K-12 Nationals in December of 2016. Having not been able to practice with many blitz or quick games either, you could say I came into this tournament underprepared, especially for being the third seed. Most things have stayed constant for this tournament over the years, but one aspect that has changed is the pairing format for the first few rounds. I remember the tournament organizers choosing to do accelerated pairings (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss-system_tournament#Accelerated_pairings) in order to mix things up early for some years in the past, but they have also gone with the basic Swiss-system for some years as well. This year, the normal Swiss-system was used, so I was fortunate to play much lower rated players in the first couple rounds.
In the first round, I was paired against a 1200. Unlike the boards around me, my opponent took his time for his moves, despite being severely outmatched. I do applaud him for his resilience and refusal to accept defeat early, but I did win nevertheless. Some of the boards around me finished in 20 or 30 minutes into the round; with rating discrepancies like this, results like that are bound to occur. In the second round, I was paired against a 1656. Although I probably brought this game too close for comfort, I won in the late stages as the clock was ticking down for both of us. In the third round, I faced my first truly “competitive” opponent at 1906, and the game was nothing short of crazy. Early in the middlegame, I secured myself the initiative and eventually a piece for two pawns thanks to some tactics. At one point, the evaluation reached as high as +3.5. However, due to some careless moves that I played quickly, that advantage disintegrated in a few moves. At one point, there was a string of 3 or 4 moves where the engine evaluation flipped between + and – for every move, partly because there was an idea that my opponent could have played that would have effectively ended the game (both of us happened to miss it, however). When I had mere seconds on the clock, my opponent could have played a move that would have required me to bail out of my kingside operation and go for a perpetual check on the queenside where his king was castled. But then, out of the blue, my opponent hung his queen! Although I came out of there with a win, it was one of the weirdest games I had played to date.
So, I had navigated my way through the first three rounds undefeated and with a perfect 3-0 score. The last game of the day was against a high 2000 rated player. The game began with an opening I was unfamiliar with, so I wasn’t quite sure what my middlegame plans were. As a result, I never got much going in my favor, and the game ended in a draw. My fifth round game was quite the spectacle. I was able to play one of the opening lines I know best, but my opponent (2050), one who I had played numerous times in the past with the same color, had prepared a forced drawing line that I couldn’t avoid. In the sixth and final round, I was paired against another 2050. In this game, I had some dynamic play early in the game, but by the time I was finally able to get a material advantage (a pawn), I was already playing quickly because of time trouble, and the game was reduced to an opposite-colored bishop endgame where my opponent was able to hold easily.
This tournament proved to not be my best, and although there were some instances where I just had to play better moves over the board, it all came down to the short time controls. After winning the first three, I only managed to draw the last three games. Finishing with 4.5/6, it was half a point lower than what I was hoping for at the least for this tournament. The results from this tournament were bittersweet, though. Although my rating did drop a few points, it is practice for the many scholastic tournaments approaching around this time of year. In fact, 2017 is the year of the SuperNationals, which are being held during the second weekend of May (12 – 14) at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee. During other years, however, tournaments such as the Junior High Championships and the Elementary Championships are also being held. In a few weeks, the All-Girls Nationals are being held in Chicago, and that happens to be an annual event.
With the string of scholastic events already started, it is around this time that the portion of chess players that play slowly have to practice playing faster, especially if they wish to do well in these grueling competitions. If not, your time might just be up.