When Things Don’t Go Well

Everyone has bad tournaments. It’s part of playing chess. And I shouldn’t only be writing about my successes; my failures are equally important, though much less pleasant.

As I mentioned in my article on the Philadelphia Open, I got my last IM Norm, and the only requirement that I was missing for the IM title was the FIDE rating. My May FIDE rating was 2380 which is not far from 2400, especially considering that my K-factor is 20…

Earlier this month, I played in the Maryland Open. I won my first two games, and in the third game, I had my shot to cross 2400 if I had beaten IM Levan Bregadze with the white pieces. The nerves killed me, and I lost. Still, I finished well, and I gained 8 FIDE points. Creeping closer…

2388 is not quite close enough to make it by winning a game against a significantly lower rated player, but it is close enough that winning two games against master-level opponents would do the job. Sounds easy, right? I thought so too…

I played the Cherry Blossom Classic over Memorial Day weekend. It had a strong field, especially considering that it was at the same time like the Chicago Open. The ideal plan would be to win the first game against a lower rated player and then win the second game against someone of about the same rating. That would under all reasonable circumstances put me over 2400. I didn’t even have to do it in the first two rounds. I had seven rounds to do it.

Cherry Blossom

A picture of the tournament hall from the tournament’s Facebook page.

Things went wrong in the first round when I drew FM Trung Nguyen (2267 USCF, 2065 FIDE) with black. I played for 4.5 hours until 12:30 a.m. to try to win a drawn rook endgame. It was no use. It appears I didn’t have a win anywhere.

The end of my tournament? Absolutely not! Just an unfortunate setback. It did, however, cost me 7.2 FIDE rating points, which was almost the amount I had gained at the Maryland Open.

In round 2, fortune favored me in my game against Mike Fellman (2201 USCF, 2027 FIDE). I had an edge, most of which I blew, until I managed to bamboozle him in a position where the realistic best-case scenario for me looked like rook + bishop vs. rook. It was a long game lasting nearly 5.5 hours. Even though I won, I wasn’t playing my best chess.

Round 3 was actually an objectively decent game against GM Michael Rohde (2472 USCF, 2407 FIDE). I got a little edge with black and turned down a draw offer. However, I didn’t have a concrete plan to get through, and things soon turned around. However, I managed to sneak out with a perpetual check and make a draw.

It was decent and it was “only” 45 moves long, as opposed to my 82 and 77 move games in the first two rounds. I was losing a little rating, but still, I was due white the next game. The next game could be the turning point in the tournament if I won. My rating would probably be a little bit in the plus, and I’d most likely get to play a strong enough opponent, that a win would propel me over 2400

Instead, disaster struck in my round 4 game against FM Sahil Sinha (2305 USCF, 2249 FIDE). I managed to lose the game in a disgusting style with the white pieces.

Now, to drag myself out of the dump…

OK, it is inevitable that you will have a bad tournament. They just happen. They are frustrating, they suck, but they will happen.

Try to forget what happened in the previous rounds? Easier said than done. However, there are ways…

Winning a game can really help your confidence, even if it is a very low-quality game or it is against a significantly lower rated opponent you should nearly always beat. Or at least stopping the bleeding by drawing.

A draw is better than a loss. That statement is common sense, but when things aren’t going well, people sometimes do crazy things. Let me rephrase that. Committing suicide on the board will not help your tournament.

Enjoy chess! I know I sound like a partial lunatic, but yes, just enjoy the games. Don’t worry so much about how much rating you are losing, how this game will affect it, just enjoy playing chess.

To withdraw or not to withdraw?

Withdrawing is essentially limiting the damage. Everything is going wrong, you feel like you can barely play chess…

Lots of people withdraw, some less, some more, some very often. I hardly ever do so. For non-traveling, non-emergency, but purely chess reasons, I’ve only withdrawn from two tournaments in my career (Philadelphia Open 2013, Washington International 2016). They were that bad, and I just couldn’t face the chessboard anymore.

My honest opinion on withdrawing is that withdrawing is OK as long as you don’t do it too often. Don’t withdraw every time something goes wrong in a tournament. Being able to pull off comebacks is an important skill. It will come in especially handy in round robin tournaments, where you don’t have the option of withdrawing. If you withdraw, there is no such a thing as leaving on a good note. You leave with a bad feeling no matter how much you believe it was the right decision. After all, the tournament did go wrong. If you keep playing, there is a chance that at least the last few days will make you feel better.

Withdraw if things are going badly, and you either don’t feel like it’s worth finishing the tournament or you feel like finishing the tournament will only make things worse.

How did my tournament end? I know I’ve kept you waiting…

In round 5, I made a stupid decision in the opening and went for a fairly drawish line with black against Justin Paul (2239 USCF, 2191 FIDE). I got some winning chances, but they weren’t enough to win.

That made things worse. Not a motivation boost, but at least I didn’t lose. At this point, it was practically impossible for my rating to break even. Still, I felt optimistic since I was due to have the white pieces in the next round. Not that it would guarantee that I’d win, but it’s better than being black.

And I turned out to be right. In round 6, I won a powerful game with white against Andrew Zheng (2310 USCF, 2261 FIDE). Things just went great for me out of the opening, and I was completely winning by move 30.

That win did give me that boost I was talking about. Still, there was one more round to go.

In round 7, I was fortunate to get a double white against Andrew Samuelson (2369 USCF, 2277 FIDE). However, my play was pretty terrible. I wonder if someone spiked my food…

After getting an excellent position out of the opening, I made an unexplainably bad decision, and the position was probably around equal. A couple more bad decisions after the time control led to me getting into big trouble. It’s not unlikely that I was losing there. However, Samuelson blundered, and the position settled back to equality, though with him pressing. Then, instead of taking a draw, he went overboard, and I won soon after.

I guess I did get my fair share of luck during this tournament (rounds 2 and 7).

In the end, I scored 4.5/7 and ended up only losing 8.8 FIDE rating points, losing only one more point than I had gained at the Maryland Open. I felt justified that I kept on playing. I did limit the damage, gained back a few now very important FIDE points, and left on a good note.

After the tournament:

Find what went wrong. If there are similar mistakes you made in multiple games, try to work on that. Look for patterns, both objective and psychological.

In my case, I’m not quite sure what went wrong. It’s not always easy to identify. I can pinpoint that I wasn’t able to create enough chances with black (rounds 1 and 5), but what accounts for the other rounds? Playing bad moves? Not exactly helpful…

Anyway, I’m quite relieved that my rating loss this tournament was a single digit on both USCF and FIDE. I didn’t botch it up as badly as it looked after round 5. If this tournament had “only” been played backwards, I would have gotten my 2 strong wins and I’d have crossed 2400 after the second round. If, if, if…

This rating hunt is not helping my nervous system. I don’t want to obsess about every single rating point, but not thinking about the rating when I’m this close is well… impossible. I never had to play this rating game before, and I’m not good at it. I refused to participate even when it came to the NM title. I didn’t withdraw when I crossed 2200, and yes, I did lose the following game and didn’t make NM in that tournament, but I succeeded in the next one. No regrets there.

Still, my FIDE is not miles away from 2400, and I’ll have plenty of chances this summer.

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2 thoughts on “When Things Don’t Go Well

  1. Pingback: Endgame Swindles – chess^summit

  2. Pingback: 2400.4 – chess^summit

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