19 March 2017

Playing Tired

Who thinks well when they are sleep deprived? I certainly do not.

This past week was the first of a two week event at the Spokane Chess Club. We are calling it Game 61, a dull name that has the merits of accurate description. The United States Chess Federation has several rating pools based on different time controls. I have a USCF standard rating--the important one--and also a correspondence rating, a quick rating, blitz, and even online blitz. If a game is less than fifteen minutes, it is blitz. Fifteen minutes to one hour per player is rapid. Longer than an hour is standard.

That seems simple enough, but the USCF complicates matters. Games longer than thirty minutes per player are also standard rated. Thus, games between thirty and sixty minutes are dual rated.

Some players refuse to play dual rated. I am one of these. There are exceptions. When I have been the highest rated player at the Spokane Chess Club, or nearly so, I have felt an obligation to play in certain events even when I did not like the time control. When I have played in dual rated events in the past ten years, I have done well. I played in four such events 2008-2010 and placed first in three of them. 2010 was the last time I played in a dual rated event.

My problem with dual rated is that I have several playing styles. My blitz and rapid style is often reckless. FM Jim Maki has called it "swashbuckling". In standard tournament games, however, I prefer a methodical, positional style that seeks the truth of the position. In a dual rated event, which one of my chess personalities needs to show up? It confuses me.

Using a time control of Game 61, we manage to avoid the dual rating, but at the same time the pace is fast enough that we can play two games in one night. Thus we can have a four round event that lasts only two weeks.

Unfortunately, this week was the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. That means sleep-deprivation for those of us whose bodies awake early without need of an alarm clock. Add to that my choice over the past few weeks to finish my first Kindle book, Essential Tactics (2017). The extra time in front of my computer, attending to the details of editing a book manuscript, gave me a stiff neck. The stiff neck left me with a serious headache on Wednesday afternoon, and I went to bed early. Thursday morning, I was wide awake at 3:15 am, instead of my usual 4:45 am.

Thursday night was rounds one and two of the Game 61. I opted to enter the event, play round one, take a round two bye, and hope that I would be better rested for the second week.

I was paired against Ted Baker in the first round. My rating is always substantially higher than Ted's, but he has beaten me a significant number of times. He is never an easy opponent. This time, however, I took care of business, and he never had a clear advantage. Rather, I won a pawn early in the game. He gained a slight initiative for the pawn, but not enough to cause me real trouble. Nonetheless, as the game neared the end, my ability to focus was declining.

Here is the end of the game.

Ted Baker (1437) -- James Stripes (1853) [E24]
Game 61 Gonzaga University (1), 16.03.2017

Black to move
After 21.f5

Aftre 21...f6 Black's kingside pawn structure is the sort that Magnus Carlsen thought he could exploit in the game that proved to be one of Karjakin's best defensive efforts in the recent World Championship (see "Karjakin -- Carlsen 2016: Critical Positions"). In that game, however, the structure was White's queenside. Using the queen as a blockading piece provokes the voices in my head to begin speaking. I am being scolded by Aron Nimzovitch, who tells me that minor pieces blockade pawns better than queens.

22.Kh1 Rac8?

According to Stockfish, I had a one pawn advantage, but now it is gone.

I had several better choices:

22...Rfe8 seize the open file!


Ted had 23.Qa2 fork 23...a6 24.Qxd5 Bc6 25.Qb3.


I knew that I was inviting further loss of tempi and the exchange of bishops. But, oblivious to White's manner of winning back the pawn, I was relatively unconcerned with White's threats on the queenside. This portion of the game reveals that I still have much work to do understanding my opponent's resources. Forced to defend against a pawn assault, I was insufficiently attentive to the greater mobility of the White pieces due to a space advantage. Although my position was not worse, as it had been in so many other recent games, I have squandered a clear advantage.


Ted still had 24.Qa2!

a) 24...a6 25.Qxd5 Rc7
b) 24...Rd6 25.Qxa7
c) 24...Rc7 25.Qxa7 Rfc8

24...Rc7 25.Bxd7 Rxd7 

White to move

White's pieces are more mobile, but also his king might prove to be the more vulnerable.

26.Qg2 Re8 27.Rf3 Qg5

I would like to exchange some pieces because I am a pawn ahead.

27...a5 seemed to me a decoy effort without a clear purpose in the center.

28.Rcf1 Re3 29.f6!

Black to move


29...Rxf3 30.Qxf3 Qxf6 31.Qxf6 gxf6 32.Rxf6 Kg7


30.Qg3 makes Black work harder 30...Rxf3 31.Rxf3 Rd8 (31...Qc1+ 32.Kg2 Qc2+ does not seem to offer much for me).

30...Rxf3 31.Qxf3 Rd6

I was satisfied that now my a-pawn might become a useful decoy for allowing me to eliminate White's f-pawn, and then my king would be secure on g7.

32.Kg2 Re6 33.h4

"I miscalculated, missing that the queen could go back." Ted Baker, after the game.

33...Qxh4 34.Qxd5

White planned 34.Rh1 missing 34...Qg5.

34...Qxg4+ 35.Kh1

Black to move


My mate is one threat can be stopped, but not without significant loss of material.

I considered 35...Re2 but for some reason the elementary checkmate sequence was eluding me. I knew that I was tired before the game began, which is why I arranged for a round two bye before entering the event. With enough sleep, I would have found the quickest and most precise win in this position.

36.Rf3 Qxf3+

After thirty seconds looking for the checkmate that I suspected was there, I decided that I didn't need to think about chess any more. When I'm tired, I become lazy.

After the game, we looked at 36...Re1+ 37.Kh2 Qg1+ (but we overlooked 37...Re2+ 38.Rf2 Rxf2+ 39.Kh1 Qd1#) 38.Kh3 Qh1+ 39.Kg4 Rg1+ 40.Kf4 Qh2+ 41.Ke4 Re1+ 42.Re3 (42.Kd3 Qe2#) 42...Qg2+ 43.Kd3 Rxe3+.

37.Qxf3 Rxf3 0–1

I squandered the advantage that I had earned in the early middlegame, but was helped by my opponent, who failed to find the route back to equality. When exhaustion gave way to laziness, my advantage was strong enough that it no longer mattered.


  1. Dang dude, you get up at 4:45 every day? No wonder you manage so much content on this blog.

    I think the reason both players missed Qa2 is actually an intuition problem. After ...Rac8, White has three loose pawns. This should just look wrong, and prompt you to look for tactics on the queenside.

    Also, Black's plan in that position is to jam the a-pawn down the board, in order to gain space and distract White's pieces. So we should never move that a8 rook in the first place. I feel from your notes that you didn't consider this plan too seriously.

    I wouldn't be too concerned about playing 35...Re3 instead of 35...Re2. It clearly wins on the spot, seems fine to just play it.

    1. Thanks Todd! You are my most devoted reader and your comments are always helpful.

      I wake up at 4:45; I don't get up that early most mornings. For several months, my wife's alarm was set for 5:00, so I got up then. It's set for 6:00 now, but a barking dog or two forces us out of bed by 5:30 most mornings. Then the routine--make coffee, feed the dogs, check the day's FB posts for Wigglin' Home Boxer Rescue, and solve some chess problems.

      I did think about keeping the rook on a8 and shoving the passed pawn forward, but did not want to allow my opponent to be able to do the same with his 2:1 majority on the center files.

      FM Jim Maki also applauded the practical 35...Re3. I have mixed feelings, swayed one way by pragmatic simple chess and the other by a quest for perfection in technical endings.