Sunday, April 13, 2008

Don't Give Up

I’m a sucker for some of those 80s and 90s sappy songs including Lionel Richie’s “Hello”. I’ve hardly even listened to the lyrics of "Don't Give Up" by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush before I wrote this, but they seem relevant to my chess struggle.

In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail

No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I’ve changed my face, I’ve changed my name
But no one wants you when you lose

Don’t give up
‘Cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not beaten yet
Don’t give up
I know you can make it good

‘Cause somewhere there’s a place
Where we belong

All through Far West Open, various songs played in my head, unaided by any kind of MP3 player. Songs have a tendency to lodge in my head for no reason and the volume and incessancy really grows during a chess tournament. I suspect that my brain’s chess area is right next door my brain’s music area and the general increased activity from competitive chess causes the whole block to join in on the party. Sometimes the music kept me up at night. What is really annoying is that I only have partial control over the music selection. Sometimes my kids' television themes were in my mind:

It's the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Come inside. It's fun inside.
We're going on a trip in our favorite rocket ship, zooming through the sky, Little Einsteins.
Mix it all together and try to take the best of both worlds.
I tried to drown them out with “Drops of Jupiter”, but the kids' shows prevailed on day one.

During my sixth round game of the Far West Open, the refrain “Don’t Give Up” kept playing in my head. It wasn’t really intended to be a mantra, but in a way it ended up being one anyway for this game. In my pre-blog days, I wrote an essay for our club website regarding my marathon 110-move game in Western States Open 2003 surrounding the “Never give up, never surrender” motto from Galaxy Quest.

On move 16, I made my move Rfd1.

My opponent started a bit, almost as if jolted by electricity. I think both our eyes focused in on my weak f2 point and I began to analyze what I should have looked at before I made my move. I imagined the following variation: 16...Bxf2+ 17.Kxf2 Ng4+ 18.Kg1 Qc5+ 19.Kh1 Nf2+ 20.Kg1 Nh3++ 21.Kh1 Qg1+ 22.Rxg1 Nf2#. Then I got up from the board and walked to where my friend Grant was working the demo boards for board 5. I shook my head and whispered, “I’m going to get mated in about five more moves.” Grant smiled sympathetically. Luckily, I was wrong.

Being the underrated player, I felt insolent offering a draw to the master. But I was relieved when he immediately endorsed my suggestion, bolstering my confidence that I wasn’t completely off in my evaluation of the position. He could probably see that I had the perpetual in hand. With his king dancing about in the middle while heavy pieces were still on the board, he was probably worse as things stood.

Viktor Pupols had a white beard without a mustache and looked like Santa Claus in the offseason. He spoke with a sonorous voice tinged slightly by a Latvian accent. When he talked during analysis, it always seemed to be in an orderly, almost stilted manner, but his diction was pleasing to my frazzled and disorganized brain. Many of his sentences would start like, "So, in this position, the plan is to..." Even at this level, I need to be reminded that chess should not degenerate into gut-level emotional move selection. There must be a reason behind each move. In the postmortem, he was like my Vulcan mentor. "Logic dictates that we..." We went over all the critical lines that weren’t ventured and it seemed my position held up to the scrutiny. Even Fritz had little to say about my game except perhaps I held the advantage in a possible queens endgame. So despite the early scares, I played a decent game. I probably proposed the draw in a slightly better position, but it was a relief to get out of the game and the tournament with an even score. The game exposes some defects in the accuracy of my calculating engine that I always suspected, but preferred to limp along in denial that it was good enough to maintain my level. If I want to get to the next level, I’m going to have to change a few things.

After hearing how my game turned out, my friend Grant relayed a story attributed to IM Eugene Meyer who described a game with none other than World Champion Mikhail Tal. At various points of their game Meyer felt very bad about his position while Tal was on move, lost in prolonged calculation. Meyer could see many sacrificial variations with which Tal would crush him. But after each opportunity, Tal would just make a quiet move and seemingly grant a reprieve for the self-condemned player. Surprisingly, the game finally ended in a draw. In the postmortem, Meyer asked Tal why he didn’t just win with the sacrificial variations. Tal responded not only by acknowledging that he knew all those sacrifices existed, but he proceeded to refute each and every one of them as he apparently had during his long thinks during the game.

Pupols has a book written about him by Larry Parr entitled Viktors Pupols: American Master. He even has a mini-biography in Wikipedia. How cool is that? I learned from the USCF blog that Viktors Pupols competed in the U.S. Championship Qualifier in Tulsa which took place just a week after the Far West Open. I also learned that he is 73 years old going on 74 at the end of July. I can only hope to be playing such decent chess when I turn that age. Let his example serve as a rebuke to my wimpy Gen-X mentality that despite the creeping infirmities of advancing age, I should never give up.


Chessaholic said...

Nice game! I think you have a typo in Pupol's rating though, I believe it is 2201, not 2001.

Anonymous said...

Oops, of course you're right. Pupols likely has been a master longer than I've been alive. Thanks for the comment on the game.

oddodddodo said...

Very good post! I played "Unkle Vik" once and lost, so I'm impressed with how you kept your cool in this game.

You're right that Pupols' diction and the way he says things are unusual. It's as if he decided, "Okay, my accent is never going to be perfect, so I'm going to compensate by saying everything much more elegantly than a native speaker ever would." I imagine it must have been similar to hear Vladimir Nabokov, the writer whose native language was Russian but went on to write such incredible novels in English as "Lolita."

One point about Pupols not playing ... Bxf2: it's always easier for you to sacrifice your opponent's pieces than for him to!

Polly said...

Don't complain about the music. Try playing a serious game with "John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt" running through your brain.

BlunderProne said...

I enjoyed this post. I aspire to play like these old masters some day ...instead of the middle aged patzer that i am.