Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I pride myself on being humble and self-deprecating. I may be self-centered, but I don't think I'm proud. If only Dana Mackenzie weren’t busy trying to qualify for the U.S. Championship, he could read all the oxymorons I’ve been tossing around (proud humility, antagonistic collaboration). Pride goeth before the fall. Pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Like Polly, my belief in karmic feedback loops tends to overshadow and dampen the celebration of my successes. If I ever score an IM norm, somewhere along the line I’ll probably have to put out my eyes. Luke 1:52 reads “He brought down the mighty from thrones, And He exalted the lowly.” Blessed are the meek Class E Players for they shall inherit the demo boards.

Reading ChargingKing’s disappointment at his performance reminds me of my own story early in my chess career. The year was 1991. The World Wide Web was just a glint in Al Gore’s eye. Back in those days, the poor Tournament Directors used pairing cards and reams of supplements to pair tournaments. If they were really fancy, they used a DOS computer program. There was no Member Services Area to get last week’s tournament results. Short of calling the USCF, you knew your rating changed when you got Chess Life in the mail. After a tournament, ratings seemed to take at least three months to catch up.

I had been playing tournament chess for about eight months and my official rating that November 1991 was 1549. But I was fresh off my 2150 performance in the 5-round Evanston Fall Open in which I had scored wins against players in Class B, A, and X, giving up a draw to an A and a loss to another Expert. My post-tournament rating was actually 1705. I was pretty cocky and sure I was massively underrated. As my published rating allowed, I entered Class C of the Illinois Class Championships with full intention of demolishing the competition and winning the top money prize.

My first round opponent was Steve Emery (1444). Right out of the opening I thought I was going to win a bishop in this position (I'm White):

I played Qa4+, intending on the next move to capture Qxc4. My opponent calmly played b5. Duh. First I lost time as my queen got kicked around. Then I proceeded to lose all kinds of material with my king in the center. Finally I walked my king into a mating net.

In round 4, I had to bitterly keep my mouth shut in this position (I'm Black):

while Gerard Novy (1502) contemplated aloud my draw offer and whether his knight, bishop, and pawn could beat my bishop and pawn. He mistakenly took the draw, partly because he was tired and I finished with 2.5/4. Like ChargingKing, I had scored above 50%, but I was sorely disappointed.

I don’t mean to imply that I saw ChargingKing’s disappointment coming and that I knew he was so cocky that he’d be blind to his deficiencies. In that sense, perhaps “hubris” is not completely apropos. Sometimes, even when we’re prepared and confident, it’s not enough. Experience, consistency, stamina, will, mental toughness, and yes, luck all factor in. Sometimes, you have to patiently let success come to you.

“The player who plays best in a tournament never wins first. He finishes second behind the guy with the most luck.” - Savielly Tartakover

P.S. If you want a long endgame exercise, take the second diagram and play White against Fritz while following this general plan: Protect the f-pawn with the bishop. Surround c5 with your knight and king and capture it. Push the f-pawn until it queens and Black has to sac his bishop for it. Mate with bishop and knight against bare king. It might also be possible to queen the pawn without losing the queen, but I doubt it.


ChargingKing said...

Nice post. I set my goal to win the section. I would have been happy with being in the top five. A silly game on day three took me out of any chance and I tanked to a draw in the last game.

I can only hope that I can climb up in levels the way you have Ernie. But I'm still green, I guess.

I think in the end having high expectations is the best way to go...if I ever lose the will to set the bar high I will consider that another failure!

Wahrheit said...

Hey Ernie, M. Aigner has made you famous (well, in the US anyway).

drunknknite said...

Good post.

I have a funny game related to this post, I'll post it sometime.

Also as you've seen many times, I fall to such simple continuations. I never fail to amaze myself in the ways I find to lose games.

I think it's probably pretty easy to promote the pawn, I have to look at it. This is what I would definitely play for though. He is already defending at that point and you can just keep the play alive for a long time until you can transition into a quick mate by sacrificing the pawn. I wouldn't be surprised if the pawn just promotes though, all you have to do is block the diagonal with the knight.