Saturday, June 27, 2009

Chessaholics Anonymous

ME: Hi. My name is Ernie and I'm a chessaholic.
ALL: Hi, Ernie.
ME: It's been forty-four days since my last pawn push.

I wish to start out saying that I don't do drugs. I hardly even drink since I dislike the bitter taste of alcohol and it wreaks havoc on my digestive tract.

In considering my dysfunctional relationship with Caissa, I concluded that my relationship with chess is less like a codependency with a sadistic girlfriend and more like a drug habit. I've heard that the hallucinogen LSD was popular because of its mind-expanding effects, but I've also heard that "bad trips" discouraged its use. Chess is like a drug where your wins are good trips and your losses are bad trips.

Polly calls her addiction to time scramble chess "cracktion".

In my ninth game of the Reno Club Championship Qualifier, I won against strong A player Mark Rand. Going into it, I really had a defeatist attitude. "I'm facing the three highest rated competitors in my section. I just came off a loss. I'm out of form. I can't calculate any more." I made some opening choices that further hurt my confidence. I decided to play into the main lines of the Najdorf even though I've never played a tournament game against it. I hardly ever castle queenside because I think my king is a sitting duck on c1 as opposed to g1. But I grimly set myself to the task and memorized a few lines. Of course I was out of my book in seven moves. I even gave up my beloved bishop pair to double his f-pawns. The game was good on some levels, disappointing on others. My opponent said he kept checking for the thematic Nd5, but just when he forgot, I played it and ended a tactical exchange one pawn up. Both sides had some pawn weaknesses, but the black pawns seemed worse especially since they blocked his bishops. I had some good ideas restricting his play like a boa constrictor, but missed some of the best ideas. Basically, I just exchanged all the pieces except for my good knight against his bad bishop and ground him down with the extra pawn. Although I knew I had the advantage, the endgame wasn't very clear to me until the h-pawn dash at the end. When he played f5 and broke up my pawns, I thought, "Uh-oh. There goes the win." At one point, seated at the board, I lifted a cup of water to my lips, but halfway there, I noticed that I was shaking like a junkie. I don't know if my opponent or the couple of spectators noticed, but I quickly grabbed my left hand with my right, just to get it to stop shaking. This was my sixth longest tournament game ever.

My knowledge of the Najdorf was limited to the thematic Nd5 move, e5 and f5 pushes, and play against weaknesses on e6 and f7. Fifteen years ago I had a similar pawn formation playing Black and survived a missed mating attack to win my first three-figure prize. In this game I think I was basically lucky that my opponent walked into positions that I knew how to milk in a general fashion without actually knowing specific variations of the terrifically booked Najdorf.

After the game, you'd think that I could sleep better than after my previous round loss, but I actually slept worse, about three hours. However, this time all the bad variations were in my nightmares and when I awoke, the win was still mine. Still, I wonder if I'll have to completely kick this habit some day because of the weird things it does to my mind and body.

The wins send me into a euphoric mania while the losses send me into a wallowing obsession. Both paths lead to insomnia. The day after is a hangover of sleep deprivation and guilt that I let a stupid game mess me up. Here's my pale imitation of the inimitable Chessloser.

ME: Um, Caissa? I think our relationship has taken an unhealthy turn. Maybe we need to take a break.
CAISSA: You're breaking up with me? YOU'RE breaking up with ME? I'm a goddess! You're a lowly expert and a weak one at that.
ME: See, you're cutting me down again. I need someone who will be a positive influence on my life. Someone like...Scrabble.
CAISSA: You're choosing that skank with the shapeless tiles over this statuesque beauty? Don't think that I didn't know you've been two-timing. You're gonna regret this. You'll come crawling back. Best of all, I won't even miss you. Drop dead, you patzer!

Maybe I'm just trading one crazy girlfriend for another, but I'm participating in a Scrabble tournament here in town next week. My wife will not only be there to keep me grounded, but she'll be playing, too. I predict that Scrabble won't be able to inspire the same depth of passion as chess, but maybe a little less insomnia is healthier for now.


ChargingKing said...


Nice win! I like your free-spirited approach to tackle the Najdorf. 6.Bg5 no less!!

Unknown said...

Hi Ernie, well I liked the short Play, especially the part where Caissa says, "You chose that skank with the shapeless tiles over me, this statuesque beauty!"

Maybe you should adopt my approach. I play only the lines that I like, some old, some new and I don't give a damn what "Fritz" says.

Then I study the Middlegame and Endgame with equal zeal. And when I get home, I go to sleep or read, or write. Study the game later, if you're even interested in that game. If it doesn't have theoretical value, I would not worry about it, just yet.

Ratings, of course, fluctuate 100 points one way or the other. I know at times, I play like an Expert and other times, I probably play like an 1800.

This 'guaging' your game at every turn is too strenuous and time consuming. Unless you see a marked improvement or decline in your game, you are normally what your rating says you are.

For instance, if I went back to 1800 or shot up to 2050, then I'm going to scrutinize my game to see what I have been doing different. But if I remain between 1850 and 1900+ (usual for me), then I'm not going to worry about it too much. I could spend my time much better by delving into the scores of chess books in my chess library.

By now, you should have realized that "Fritz" can poke a hole in just about any piece of analysis and since we can't play like Fritz, it doesn't matter. The only thing I like Fritz for is when I'm either looking for a new move in a line well known or an interesting continuation. I think this is where some of your stress is coming from.

As for the Rand Game, I thought you played well that game. Although your opponent had some interesting tactical ideas, his positional game was full of holes. There was nothing to recommend it. Rand is a tactician, not a positional player. The more I watched his games, the more it was noticeable.

Yeah, maybe you did miss earlier wins in that game, but does it matter? World Champion Tigran Petrosian was once accused of that, and he said in reply, "My way wins too."

Get back to fundamentals and fun, and I think you will give up this insane idea of Scrabble over chess, or the plain looking woman over the one who is simply stunning!