It’s been a downward slide for most of 2017 for me, as after reaching a peak at the end of 2016, my rating has fallen to almost exactly where it was at this time last year. Often when this happens, I attribute it to just the ups and downs that every player inevitably goes through playing this game. But recently, my performances have been downright puzzling headscratchers. Based on some of the moves I’ve played, it even looks like I am straight up throwing games, or that I simply cheated my way here. I’m dreading the day when everyone finds out that it was the Russians who have helped me get to where I am (particularly in late 2016).
Below is a sampling of the crazy things I have done, and a guide to how to play like a master:
- Assume everything wins
Position after 38…b3
I had slowly outplayed my opponent and am on the verge of delivering checkmate with Rh3. My opponent threw out the desperation move b3, and if I just take the pawn (or ANY OTHER REASONABLE MOVE besides the one I played) his position is resignable on the spot, as he either loses a bunch of material or gets mated. Having an enormous time advantage and having written off the game as over several moves ago, I just assumed every single move won, and played 39. Cxd5???
After 39…dxc2 40. Rh3, time control was reached and I was preparing for my trip home for the night. The forced 40…f6 41. gxf6 occurred, and I still thought I was clearly winning. Then my opponent verified time control was reached and got up from the board. Puzzled, I noticed in horror that the c2 pawn was a step away from promotion, and Black can simply recapture with Rxf6. Unable to recalibrate myself, I refused to force a draw several times, and even ended up losing the game. A master class on how to throw away a winning position!
Ya that was pretty bad, right? Wait for the next one…
- Drop mate in two and lose in 16 moves
Position after 15. Neg5
A 500 rated player with 2 seconds on the clock and drunk out of their mind would notice what White’s threat is. Bxh7+ Kh8 Nxf7 is mate in two. I saw this instantly, and proceeded to plunge into a 10 minute long think about the move g6. I saw the possibility of g6 Nxf7 Kxf7 Ng5+, and was calculating several variations. The positions seemed fine for me but highly messy, and I was concerned about too much complications. Therefore, I thought in my head, “Screw all that, I’ll just avoid those lines” and made the genius decision to play h6 (triple exclam)!!!
My opponent looked at me like I was out of my mind (like he rightfully should have thought) and plopped the bishop on h7 while I reflected on whether I should just quit chess for the rest of my life.
The only upside to this? I got easier pairings for the rest of the tournament and became the luckiest PA state championship winner ever, my third in a row.
- Miss a one-move fork
Position after Qh8
Playing Black here, I knew the position was drawn but figured I could press for a little bit given how White’s pawns are separated, and I had connected central passers. Again plunging into thought (why do I even bother doing that?), I tried to figure out if I could march my king deep into enemy territory to shield from the checks, calculating some pretty lengthy variations. I thought I saw a way in, and continued my habit of missing one-move threats, playing Kg6 (this one only deserves a double exclam)!! My opponent played Qg8+ instantly, which won the d5 pawn, and subsequently the game after I allowed an easy queen trade.
Qg8 was literally the only safe check White could have played after Kg6, yet I failed to even register it in my calculations. Maybe I have a concussion or some kind of severe brain damage; can anyone recommend a good specialist to check me out?
- Play a theoretical opening you have never played before, and be out of book on move 1
^Ya long story short, don’t do that. At least try to know something about what you are playing. Preferably the ideas of the opening, or what moves to play. Or you risk being blown off the board. Feels bad man. And it feels worse if your opponent didn’t know exactly what they were doing either, yet still beat you.
Bonus: do any of the above in consecutive games
Super Bonus: do any of the above to players rated 200-300 points below you
This was the killer. With the exception of #1, all of these things happened to opponents rated around 200-300 points lower rated than me, which allowed me to really give away those rating points efficiently! This is a disturbing trend, considering I hadn’t suffered upsets of that magnitude since I was probably an A player 7 or 8 years ago.
Super super bonus: do it all in consecutive tournaments. Big win!
To top it all off, all of this is only since March. I had talked about my other failures in my last post, so this isn’t even all of it. To have a string of concentrated embarrassing oversights like this definitely is making me think about what I need to do going forward. The core issue clearly isn’t understanding of the game, but rather maintaining concentration and focus for every single move. Chess is cruel in that one slip, no matter how well you had played up to that point, can decide the game instantly. Improvement is all about consistency, and that starts with being consistent from move to move.
Basically, don’t be me.