Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Game Plans and Resolutions

Statistically speaking, New Year resolutions have less than a 10% success rate. Of all the resolutions I've made throughout my life, only two came to fruition. As you can see, I am one of those statistics. I think I'm in good shape to plow my way through the statistical barrier this year.

I have a personal resolution and a goal to meet for the upcoming year. The resolution, which shouldn't be too difficult, is to remain physically active and fit.

My goal for this year is, of course, to improve my chess game. In an earlier posting, I stated that I wanted to improve my rating 150 to 200 points by early mid-summer of this coming year. At the time of that posting I had a rating of 1405; but I'm going to push the bar here, if I may be so bold, and set my sights on achieving a rating high enough to classify me as a "B" rated player by end of summer 2009.

On a different note, here is a listing of the upcoming 2009 events I plan to compete in:

* 69th New England Open
* 76th Greater Boston Open
* 78th Massachusetts Open
* 2009 Eastern Class Championship
* 11th Annual Foxwoods Open
* 14th Bradley Open
* 2009 Continental Open

EOY Rating: 1471

Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's a Boy!

I am hear to write that as of 9:10am on September 27th, my beautiful wife delivered us a baby boy! He came into our world healthy and strong, weighing in at 7lbs 2 ounces.

We have named him Ronan Warner Smith. My wife Anastasia is doing great! I am so truly proud of her, the strength and the determination she displayed during her labor was phenomenal. She is an extraordinary woman, I love her so much.

Not many parents can honestly say that they literally had a hand in the delivery of their own child. This experience was a very profound one indeed and one I would never trade for -- ever!

So, how does this effect my current chess play? Well, I won't be active until the beginning of the New Year! So, give me three months to adjust to this new found fatherhood business and I'll be back playing at the MCC in January and the onslaught of 2009 regional tournaments to blog about right here at Smitty's Chess Corner!

See ya soon!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

13th Bradley Open

This event is organized by the Continental Chess Association (CCA) and is annually hosted at the Bradley International Airport in Connecticut.

It is another popular tournament with solid turnouts; albeit not as strong as say the Continental Open or Foxwoods Open. However, this tournament is my second favorite competition to play; Foxwoods deserving my top spot. This will be my fourth time attending this particular tournament.

What attracts me to this tournament, in addition to its energetic and competitive nature, is the ambiance and comforts offered by the hosting hotel. Clean, efficient and courteous staff and amenities that you can use without questioning the hygienic state of these facilities. The rooms are cozy and offer great room service! The function rooms are spacious enough to provide comfort and quiet for this competitive tournament. Right outside the function rooms are clean rest rooms, a bar, restaurant and a coffee stand!

The CCA deserves its due here too; they provided an efficient running tournament with top quality TD's to ensure a fair and fun competition. My hat is off to those folks everytime they put these events to together. Such volunteer work requires a lot of love for the game in general; and they have it!

This was a successful tournament for me. I scored 4.0/5 in the U1600 section to share a second place finish and prize money. However, as for the quality of play from my opponents, well, not to take anything away from them, but with the exception of the final round, they played up to the level of their D ratings. Yes, that's right, I was in the U1600 section and I did not see a "C" rated player until round 5. Needless to say, the games from this tournament were not of very high quality and what I mean by this; the games didn't generate anything exciting enough for me to blog about.

The exception was in round 2, where I suffered my only loss of the tournament. And by exception, I mean the level of play offered by my opponent. I played a young man from New York with a provisional rating of 1299 - Chandler Natarajan. He played a solid game as White and took advantage of my inability to come up with any strategies throughout the game. In this game he played like a "C" rated player and I played like a tangerine monkey looking to find a tree to climb in.

The line in this game was an ill fated King's Indian Defense. Usually, I have a solid game plan and formulate all sorts of strategies in this line of play, but not this round. I was moving pieces without any thought to position and then moving some of them back to the sqaure they just came from. I don't know why, but I just couldn't think in this game...it was a wierd experience. The only thing I could think of that would attribute to such a strange quandery was the fact that I just gulped down a venti quad latte and I was wired to the point where I couldn't settle down to think.

Lesson here, don't drink a quad latte before a calming game of chess!

Rating Watch: 1492

Monday, July 28, 2008

2008 Continental Open

This event is organized by the Continental Chess Association (CCA) and was hosted in Sturbridge Massachusetts.

This is a popular and strong tournament, generating a good attendance of chess talent from all over the north east corridor of the United States. For me, this was my first time as an attendee, and I was both excited and anxious to play. I had just come off of two consecutive tournament wins and felt confident going into this one. It would be a good test to help me correctly gauge my true playing strength and uncover weaknesses in my game.

However, before I get into the actual tournament, I need to say that the Sturbridge Host Hotel for this event was not all that spectacular. I know that writers for Chess Life and MACA praise this place; probably more so because of convenience and the "amenities" that the hotel offers, and of course to help maintain a good rapport for future events.

Personally, I found the rooms disgusting! Damp and moldy carpets in desperate need of replacement, spiders in two of four ceiling corners, a half cleaned shower and an odor that lends itself to a damp environment. I did try to get a different room, but, with such a popular event, there were no other available rooms. I will not be staying at this hotel in future events.

The tournament itself is a good one and the facilities that accommodate the event are excellent; plenty of well ventilated space for the games and chess vendors to set up shop, rest rooms easily available, food vendors and quick access to the exit doors for a breath of fresh air.

So, lets talk about the tournament. Right from day one, there was plenty of excitement and energy permeating throughout the hall space as chess players gathered and mingled with one another, anxiously awaiting for pairings to post.

I was playing in the U1500 section and my first opponent gave me a game that foreshadowed the coming temperaments of games to play in this event. Once again, I begin the tournament playing White against an older gentleman, Brian Clark, from New York; a provisional player playing in his second tournament.

The game played into a Ruy Lopez Exchange with 5. ...f6. A common line of play and one I face often with great success on my part. My opponent played a strong game and it was an even game throughout. But at the beginning of move 22, I liked my position better than Black's.

Position after Black plays 21. ...Rh5. My thinking at this juncture was not of the right mind set. I placed too much emphasis on protecting the weak h-pawn and not enough on taking advantage of White's king position and the open d-file; not to mention that White's pieces are better coordinated to gain some significant space on both wings of the board.

Here I ended up playing 22. Rg2. It's an OK move and the position remains even, but it allows black an opportunity to strengthen and evaluate his current strategy with the possibility of gaining tempo. Better was Rd8+ or Rd2 freeing up the g-file rook to put pressure elsewhere, rather than serve as a protector. Needless to say this game was a slug-fest to the end where White eventually blunders and Black takes advantage for the win.

After the first day of tournament play, I was down 0-2. The following day, I regain some focus and pull off a draw and two straight wins. After five rounds, I had enough and did not play the 6th round to finish the tournament at 2 1/2 points.

I learned a lot at this tournament and discovered a lot of weaknesses in my game. In that respect it was a good tournament for me and I realized that forcing something to happen in chess is an ill-fated attempt to rush the game to a hopeful finality that only serves notice to eventual failure. Patience and understanding positional play is paramount at this stage of my chess ability, if I'm going to become a better player.

Rating Watch: 1428

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Follies of a "C" Rated Player

Round 2 of the MCC Independence Day Swiss was a great game that I happen to lose because of time on the clock. I didn't lose on time, I lost because of my interpretation of the time display.

Let me explain. I recently made a new purchase; The Game Time Chess Clock manufactured by Excalibur, you know the sleek black looking game clock with two bozo big-top hand stompers...er ah plungers. When I received my new clock, I faithfully read the directions that came with its purchase. Bam...enough said.

Lets go to the game I'm eluding to in the opening paragraph and I'll explain further as we go through some critical moments in the game.

White: Warren Newland
Black: Smith

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Nf3 O-O 5.Bg5 d6 6.e4 h6 7.Bh4 Nc6 8.Be2 e5 9.d5 Ne7

The opening line is a Classic Kings Indian Defense with 6...h6. I push an early Nc6 move followed by e5 to entice White into closing off the a2-g8 light diagonal, a common theme in the Kings Indian Defense. White obliges.

Moves 10 through 34 brought about some interesting play. Warren was steadfast in his deliberation of chess moves and brought about a certain edge to the game that made it very enjoyable. For a couple of C rated players, I believe we both played quite strong in our match. Of course, I felt comfortable with my play throughout the game and believed that my position was better than White's after 34. ...b6

**Note: Chess diagrams are viewed from the perspective of Black

At this point, White was using up some time on his clock; giving the position at hand a real good study. As my opponent continued to analyze the position, I looked over to my clock and saw that I had 17 seconds left to play out my next six moves!! Suddenly confusion flooded the senses. How did I suddenly have 17 seconds left on the clock? I could have sworn I had more time to play with than my opponent. His clock showed 5 minutes and some odd seconds as they ticked downward. Quickly, I began to analyze the position some more and hurried to find a combination of moves to keep a favorable position until I can settle in on move 40.

35. Re2 g4 36. hxg4 hxg4 37. Qg3

Damn it! I have a winning position here! I know I do...but I only have 16 seconds left! I hurried off the last two moves in about 6 seconds; the five second delay is helping me preserve a little time. In retrospect, I have to laugh at the faces Warren made while I slammed the plunger with each passing move. Obviously he was irritated and probably felt that I was a poseur of some sort, but hey, I only got seconds to play with here...so tough luck.

Anyway, back to this position. Given even a little time, you can see that Black wins material here and eventually should garner a win with the passed pawn along the d-file. But, I didn't even have that. I had to maintain the position and quickly before time runs out, so the obvious queen exchange was the quickest and most safe without using any time.

The correct play is of course, 37. ...Rxe6!

BAM! Plunger down and I still have 16 seconds. Man I'm good! Warren once again looks at me with that, "What the hell is wrong with you look?"

37. ...Qxg3+ 38. Kxg3 Re7 39. Kxg4 Rg7+ 40. Kh5 Kf7 41. bxc5 bxc5 42. e5 dxe5 43.Rxe5 Kf6 44. Re1 Kxf5 45. Kh6 Rg6+ 46. Kh7

So, interestingly enough, I discover that at the completion of move 40, my time control displays 46 minutes on the clock. Huh? You mean to tell me that I had 16 minutes left to play?! Damn...I had the game won at move 37 and because I didn't know how to read the time on my own stupid clock, I played in haste, overlooking the solid rook move to capture the pawn along the e-file.

Ah well...I'm still looking pretty good here and I have a passed pawn. Yes, so does White, but my king is placed well to defend. All I need to do is exchange the rooks and I'm golden. My thought process here was; keep my rook posted along the 6th rank to prevent White's pawn push and find a way to entice White into exchanging rooks.

Hmmm...that e file is looking good, I'll play 46. ...Re6?! Good move if you're sitting on White's side of the board.

Yup, my eyes betrayed me in that game for sure...so are the follies of a C rated player I guess. Good game Warren. Since that game, I've adjusted my clock to always display seconds when there is less than an hour left on the clock.

Monday, July 14, 2008

19th Vermont Resort Open

This event is organized by the Continental Chess Association (CCA) and is hosted annually at Mount Snow in Vermont.

It was a poor turn out at this years event with only twelve players in my section; it was not tended by any strong play on any one's part. Of course, the World Open may have had something to do with the low turn out; that tournament having been played just the week prior to this event.

That being said, I ended up winning my section outright after round 4 with four straight victories. By the time round 5 arrived, I was full of piss and vinegar, arrogant, tired and well, just wanting to get round 5 over with. Let me just say this, playing with a heir of arrogance will never get you a win. Needless, to say I lost round 5, knowing that I had a winning position too. Ah yes...the arrogance of it all.

Of a side note, round 5 of the Vermont Resort Open was also my first loss of the year. Lets look at this game shrouded in arrogance by white:

White: Smith
Black: William Montross
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nd4

I was hoping for a quick game and desperately hoping to play into a Ruy Lopez Exchange variation, but no..., my opponent opts to play into the "Bird Defense". I've only seen this once before in game play, but because I wanted a quick game, exchanging a piece here and there was the game plan. So taking the knight on d4 and hoping to take advantage of his exposed pawn along the d-file should prove a worthy strategy going forward.

4. Nxd4 exd4 5.d3 c6 6. Bc4 b5 7. Bb3 Bb4+

There are a couple moves that could be made here, c3 being the more conservative of the possibilities, but the theme is arrogance and exchange, so I play 8. Bd2!. Not that this is a bad move, but you can see where I'm going here, you know, "bug off mister", exchange bishops so that I can continue forward with my development. Black obliges and continues to "push" White's buttons, striving for that tempo.

8. Bd2 Bxd2+ 9. Nxd2 a5 10. a4 Ba6 11. O-O d5 12.Re1 Ne7 13. Qg4 O-O 14. exd5 Nxd5 15. Qxd4 Nb4 16. Qxd8 Raxd8 17. axb5 Bxb5 18.Rxa5 Ra8

We come to this critical position in the game where white should be feeling really good about himself. After all, he has position, tempo and material. If I were playing this game earlier in the tournament, I would have exercised judicial judgement and properly surveyed the position to play the outright and very strong move 19. Rea8! But, once again, arrogance has its price and I truly felt that my opponent did not have the critical foresight to win this game. So with total disregard to control the open a-file, I exchange rooks straight away and forfeit the file over to my opponent.

Funny thing was...I still didn't feel threatened by my opponent even though I severely weakened my position. This is arrogance at its best!!

I go on to lose the game...yes, that's right...lose a game that White clearly had in the bag. Playing out the rest of the game, you can still sense the arrogance of White's moves and a discontent for Black's strong play in the end.

19. Rxa8 Rxa8 20. g3 g6 21. Re4 c5 22. d4 Ra1+ 23. Nf1 Bxf1 24. Resign...

Yes indeed, arrogance in its purest form will never get you a win. Lesson learned.

Rating Watch: 1468

Thursday, July 3, 2008

First Tournament, First Place

Ok...so I only played 2 of 4 rounds.

I entered the MCC Summer Solstice Event mid way through the tournament; just so happens to be the same time I joined the club. Anyway, I was granted two 1/2 byes for the first two rounds and won rounds 3 and 4 to share a first place finish with other club members in my section.

I'd say that thus far, after a 5 year hiatus, I've done pretty good getting back on the ole "Chess Saddle". If anything, it helps the chess psyche and builds confidence going forward.

Admittedly, I'm O.K. with my current play, but I know that comparative to other players of my rating level, I'm still weak and it's only a matter of time before such weaknesses are exploited over the board. But, the coaching I'm getting along with my determination and study should help to strengthen my chess and recognize positional weaknesses during game play. In the end, its play...play...play.

Rating Watch: 1418

Sunday, June 22, 2008

First Game Of The Year

First game of the year was a success as far as a win is concerned; and that's pretty darn good after taking a five year hiatus from the game! However, the game had its share of questionable moves...but as Bill Belichick would say, "We just happen to make one more play than our opponent and come out with a win."

The game was played at my local chess club against a D rated player. I played white and fortunately for me, my opponent played into a simple Ruy Lopez Exchange variation. Fortunate, because the exchange variation doesn't really serve up a whole lot of complications and line variations. I was hoping to play into this variation, just to help break the ice and remove some rust, as it is one of several openings I'm most comfortable with; making the "Chess Saddle" a heck of a lot easier to jump back on to.

Here is the critical position that arises after black plays his 24th move ...Qe7:

White: Smith
Black: Dan Callahan

Immediately, I wanted to play Qa6+. I was up material with a better position and wanted to keep the tempo in my favor. It was the lack of competitive play over the last several years and nerves that was driving me to play impulsively. Obviously, Qa6+ does not really buy me anything here accept an extra move. Suddenly and thank the Lord, a silent bell began ringing in my head, "Slow down! You have plenty of time on the clock." So, I got up from the table on my move, got a drink of water to calm myself down and returned to the board only to play 25. Qxg5?

The idea was to eat up another pawn, try to force a queen exchange and play for the end game. Eventually, that was exactly what happened. It was not a very pretty game, but I did outplay my opponent for a win 20 moves later.

For the ego, it was good...if at least to know that I was still capable of playing competitive chess and recognized in game that I had plenty of room for improvement. With each passing move, my eyes began to focus, the pieces shown brighter and the abstract of chess began to reveal itself to me once again on the board.

Days later, I reviewed this game and saw the following variation for a stronger position: 25. d4 Rd6 26. Ra3! Rb6 27. Ra8+ Kb7 28. Rxe8 Rxb5 29. Rxe7 Rxb2 30 Nxg5!

Hey, at least I'm beginning to see the board better, and that's an improvement.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Return To Chess

Five years. That's how long I've been away from chess and now, I have the "bug", more than ever and a fervent desire to improve my game to a level I thought unattainable in prior years.

A few years ago, I left the chess scene as a Class C player and have recently returned; joining the Metrowest Chess Club to help me get back in the saddle. The club is conveniently close to home and an easy stop on the way home from work. Perfect! MCC is quite active with a wide range of chess talent and good people. I will be a regular here for sure.

In addition to joining the local club, I plan to engage regional tournaments annually. My favorites include: Massachusetts Open, Continental Open, Bradley Open, Foxwoods Open, Vermont Spring Open and the New England Open.

Moreover, I hired a chess coach to help me with my game, especially in the area of strategy and calculations. My goal is to attain a rating jump of 200 - 400 points over the next eighteen month span.

Back to the game study I love; opening theory, endgame study, calculation training, Fritz...Chessbase10. Awsome...here's wishing me well!

Rating Watch: 1405