Sunday, May 4, 2014


I recently went back and watched the original Rocky movie and found it quite good. Rocky's relationships with his girlfriend Adrian, his friend Paulie, and his trainer Mickey, all say a lot about what his life is like. A whiff of desperation. Seeing Philadelphia's unadorned streets is also a gritty touch. Sylvester Stallone's life in a way parallels Rocky's as he struggled before he sold the story. My favorite part is when Rocky wakes up early with pre-match jitters. He walks around, visits the boxing venue, and then goes back to his apartment to express self-doubt:

Rocky: I can't do it.
Adrian: What?
Rocky: I can't beat him.
Adrian: Apollo?
Rocky: Yeah. I been out there walkin' around, thinkin'. I mean, who am I kiddin'? I ain't even in the guy's league.
Adrian: What are we gonna do?
Rocky: I don't know.
Adrian: You worked so hard.
Rocky: Yeah, that don't matter. 'Cause I was nobody before.
Adrian: Don't say that.
Rocky: Ah come on, Adrian, it's true. I was nobody. But that don't matter either, you know? 'Cause I was thinkin', it really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.

I have had a long crisis of self-doubt that perhaps became self-fulfilling prophecy. From 2010 to 2013 inclusive, I played 8 games against fellow experts, winning 0, drawing 4, and losing 4. That's a point percentage of 25%. My point percentages against experts were 40% from 2004-2009, and as high as 43% before 2004. Mostly because I've put myself in position to compete again with a better attitude, I have had more success this year. The following game is not one of those successes, but like Rocky, I learned I can trade blows with a master. Unfortunately, my local blogosphere already had a boxing themed post, but I swear I was thinking about this theme on my own.

My fourth round game of the 2014 Larry Evans Memorial was against Mike Zaloznyy. I recognized his name not only for the unusual initial Z and double -yy at the end, but also for the fact that he won clear first in the expert section of the 2012 Western States Open. He was now rated 2242. If he'll forgive my impertinence, I thought his physique was better suited for physical combat than mental one or possibly the hybrid of chess boxing. To a nerdy guy like me, he looked like Dolph Lundgren of Rocky IV.

He showed up about 20 minutes late for the game and we quickly transposed through a Pirc to a Philidor Defense. Unfortunately, I didn't know anything about the Philidor except that a specific move order leads to disaster. In the same 2012 Western States Open that Mike won the Expert section, Ray Kaufman produced this nice miniature against Edward Formanek:

The variation was noted on page 69 of the paperback The Chess Advantage in Black and White written by none other than Ray's father Larry Kaufman. Ray was mentioned as a proofreader in the Acknowledgements.

Chess Position Trainer classified my game with Zaloznyy as C41, the Improved Hanham Variation.

After the game my opponent was very nice and "showed me the ropes" for the Philidor Defense. He told me that his Philidor had gotten smashed in a sacrificial mating attack by IM John Bryant in an earlier round such that he wanted to quit chess. I was reminded of Simon and Garfunkel's The Boxer:

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving"
But the fighter still remains

We also discussed all the crucial middlegame and endgame decisions. He pointed out to me that he was amazed that I had spent almost the whole 5-hour game sitting down looking at the board. He even asked if I had trained to sit so long. I've never gotten a comment about my sitzfleisch before. I usually try to move around a bit to avoid circulatory problems, so I was surprised that I had been so motionless during this game. After the next round, my opponent said he figured out he would play White against an IM Ricardo De Guzman, so he and his coach spent 5 hours preparing and he managed a draw. The fighter still remains.

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