Back in May, I had just gotten back from a family vacation in Cancun and had a few days before I was to start at a new job. As I pondered the situation, I realized it was too late in the season to go skiing and too early to take a trip to the beach.
What could I do with my spare time?
Naturally, my thoughts turned to the idea of taking a trip into the city to visit the Marshall Chess Club. It’s fun to plan a trip to the city and get a chance to play some new people in a tournament setting. It was also a chance to play in a Thursday night tournament as opposed to a weekend event. What follows is a short chronicle of my day …
3:00 p.m. Get my game face on, check directions.
Too late to do any more studying. Time to think about my strategy in a short time-control event. Four rounds of “Game 30” chess in one evening. I can’t change my style from positional to attacking chess, but I need to get out of the opening quickly to allow time to think about the middle game.
5:00 p.m. Drive to the city. Pray for light traffic. Look for parking.
No way to know what rush hour may bring, but I’m hoping it won’t be a big deal to park in the city on a Thursday afternoon in the village. Luckily traffic is light, but my GPS device doesn’t work well in the Village. Narrow streets tend to confuse the device, luckily I’ve been to the Marshall before. Then a new challenge appears, few spaces and lots of Muni Meters!
6:00 p.m. Register for the Event. Take some tourist photos.
Find a spot by the meter. Throw some quarters in to buy some time so I can register for the event. After arriving at the familiar front door, ring the bell, enter the club and feel the history. If you’re a chess fan, there’s no greater feeling than walking into the Marshall. It’s a piece of living history. The walls are covered with pictures from the past. At the top of the stairs there’s a plaque showing all of the past champions, dating back to the 1920’s. Next to that is a list of the current members, check out all of the Grandmasters on the list.
After registering, I went for a walk to grab a slice and throw a few more quarters in the meter. While crossing the street, I could see the impressive silhouette of the new Freedom Tower. I wait until the time is right and stop for a moment in the middle of the street to take a cell phone picture. Nice shot. Makes a great screen saver on my phone.
7:00 p.m. Round 1 (vs. the Young-Gun)
Since my rating is 1740, I know I’ll be playing up. At the Marshall, you never know who you’ll get. I draw Justus Williams, who has a rating of 2333. Don’t get intimidated, just play your game and see what happens. To my surprise, my plans go well and I made it through the opening without any problems.
I keep my head down and try to make the best move without worrying about my opponent’s rating. By move 13 I have a five-minute edge on the clock. Suddenly, after move 18, I have 17 minutes on my clock, and he has only 6 minutes left. Maybe I could find a way to draw or perhaps I might even win if his clock continues to run …
Not a chance. I blunder a few moves later and he cuts me into little pieces!
(A couple of months later, I watch the movie Brooklyn Castle and realize that Justus is one of the young, talented chess players highlighted in the movie!)
8:15 p.m. Round 2 (Even it Up)
In the second round, I face an unrated player. Should be an easy match … maybe not. As the game progresses I realize that you can’t take anybody for granted. I try to keep making the best move and hope that the rating system means something. Sooner or later he’s bound to slip up. Eventually, he makes a mistake and I have the advantage, but then it’s my turn to make an error and we’re even again. In the end, my experience and an edge on the clock allow me to pull out a victory as the clocks tick down.
9:30 p.m. Round 3 (Another Master!)
The reward for having an even score is another tough opponent. Oliver Chernin is rated 2200 and is a regular at quick rated events. No time to worry, just play the best moves. Easier said than done. After a slow start, I manage to drop a pawn, but then something funny happens. I decide to stop worrying about who my opponent is and try to find something positive in my position.
Suddenly, I’ve ganged up on the king with three pieces (see below) and forced him to move the monarch to f8. At this point I had about 15 minutes left and my opponent had 10 minutes on his clock. Suddenly, I saw the surprise tactic Qe4?! After the recapture Qe4, the sneaky Knight delivers check on d7 and evens things up by capturing the queen!
Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to keep it going. Eventually, I made another blunder in the endgame and everything fell apart.
10:45 p.m. Round 4 (a Chance for Redemption)
Final round. Time to focus. Shake off the last defeat. Try to be mentally tough. After four hours, mental and physical fatigue start to set in.
Joseph Lux is rated 2015. Another strong player for sure, but at least he’s not a master!
I decide to play out of character and adopt a different plan to his initial Nf3 than I normally would. The game follows a familiar pattern. Twists and turns and an even middle game. A quick mental lapse causes the loss of a wing pawn. Things fall apart and I have to resign.
12:00 a.m. Find the Car. The Long Ride Home.
It’s been a long day. During the drive home, I replay each of the games in my mind. Though it’s not pleasant to lose, I know that I played well in the opening and fought hard in the middle game. A few more good moves and who knows … I might have toppled a master (at least it’s nice to think so). Even so, it was a fun day and I can look forward to entering the games into Fritz and doing a thorough post-mortem.
In the end, it’s always about trying to improve. Looking at the games after the fact, I can take away the emotion from the heat of the battle and understand how each of the participants could have played better. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find the right plan the next time around.