LEARNING LESSONS IN PHILADELPHIA
by Theo Slade
Initially I was looking forward to writing an article about my experiences in Philadelphia, the first time since my arrival in the US that I was playing chess outside of Florida. There I played in both the World Open, which was a huge tournament, with the participation of 221 players, including 33 GMs, 24 IMs, and 47 FMs, and also the Philadelphia International, both of which were extremely difficult tournaments for me. If you exclude a default win in the final round of the World Open, I scored 2½/8 in the World Open and 3/9 in the Philadelphia International. This run of games was not without its highlights, as I achieved what I would say was my best ever result when I drew as Black against an International Master. It is true that I have drawn as Black against a Grandmaster before, but that was a short draw, whereas my draw against the IM lasted over five hours and finished past midnight. However, for the most part I was playing very bad chess in Philly. What was going wrong? There seemed to be three main reasons:
1. Openings Normally openings are my strength, but I felt that Philly almost came too soon, as I did not have sufficient time before the tournament to look at all my openings, so as to
be comfortable with them. I had recently changed my repertoire with Black, while with White I decided to play various sidelines which I had studied closely. Nevertheless, when playing strong opposition it is very rare to gain an objective advantage from offbeat lines. Also I could have prepared more thoroughly before Philadelphia, but sometimes it is difficult to motivate yourself to work hard!
2. Time management In Philadelphia the time control was 2 hours for the first 40 moves, followed by 30 minutes to completion, with a 10 second delay. This is obviously a very lengthy time control, so naturally I tried to use this to my advantage by spending a good deal of time on my moves in search of perfection.
During the Philadelphia International, the Tournament Director asked me if I would like to use a MonRoi to record my moves, rather than a scoresheet. I had not used one before and was a bit dubious about it, but actually it proved to be really useful since my games could then be downloaded directly into my database. The Monroi also showed exactly how long I was spending on each move. What was interesting was that my mistakes were made on moves on which I spent a lot of time and, nine times out of ten, these were unnatural moves that were made on the basis of detailed calculation. But calculation tends to tire you out rather quickly, which can hurt you in back-to-back tournaments that require playing decided to do something about these problems.
3. Confidence When playing badly, inconsistently, getting into time trouble, and being under-prepared, it is very difficult to maintain confidence. When someone has a lot of confidence, it is difficult to stop them. Just think back to 2014 when Fabiano Caruana ran away with the Sinquefield Cup on 7/7! So when I arrived home, I decided to do something about these problems.
Initially, it did not seem a very good idea for me to enter the Southern Open because it took place only two weeks after Philadelphia and I needed time to work on the games I had played there. However, in the end I decided to take part because I love playing, but moreover because I wanted to gain confidence. That explains why I opted for the U2100 section rather than the Open which I normally enter. I decided to play the three-day schedule as usual, because I have only had one previous experience with the two-day schedule and that did not go very well. However, because I had only a very short break in between, I found it difficult to mentally adjust between my games and to the different time control.
Next, I told myself that I would play more quickly in the Southern Open. As it happens, the time control in this tournament was identical to Philly, except that you had twenty minutes less at the start of the game. When you play faster, you doubt yourself less, play more natural moves and do not tire yourself out so much.
However, these are only decisions that relate to the tournament itself. What should I spend my time on at home? It is clear to me that long-term I need to play the main lines with both colours. As Black, that is not a problem as I am already playing the main lines, but as White this was clearly not the case. Ever since I started playing 1 d4 I avoided the King’s Indian by playing the Trompowsky. In fact I also learned the Barry Attack (which I have never played and never will, so all that work was for nothing!), but my coach GM Lars Bo Hansen made it clear to me that I should stop ducking challenges (also generally, in life, perhaps), and instead put in some effort and meet them! So I proceeded to do a great deal of work on the King’s Indian, watching Robin van Kampen’s excellent video series on chess24 entitled Cutting Edge KID and playing a lot of training games. I also watched Grandmaster repertoire: 4.Qc2 against the Nimzo by Jan Gustafsson, which was equally instructive, and compared it to Learn the Nimzo-Indian Defence by Niclas Huschenbeth. Finally, I spent some time on the Grunfeld, although I had previously worked on that opening when I was younger,so already felt comfortable there. I find that I learn best by watching chess videos because you do not have to do anything – you just watch an expert tell you what you need to know in any given topic.
Going into the last round at the Southern Open, I was in the joint lead with my opponent, with two players on 3½/4 paired against each other on board two. As it turned out, if I won, then I would pocket $1,500, draw $1,150, and lose $280. So the “normal” thing to do would either be to prearrange a draw (which is illegal and in my opinion morally wrong), or offer a draw at the beginning of the game to guarantee (assuming he accepts!) myself a decent prize, rather than risk losing a lot more than I would stand to win. As I learned from reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, we weight losses twice as heavily as gains, so according to Kahneman virtually any person would offer or accept a draw in my situation, especially with Black (as usual I had three Blacks in this 5-round tournament!). However, I have written about this subject before for BCM and my view is that you should always fight – the only exception being when a draw guarantees outright first and a win would not increase your standing or prize money. Anyway, before the game I did not do any calculations or even think about any factors that were not directly related to the game itself, because I have choked in enough last round games to know that you should just play chess!
So finally(!) I have broken my duck and won a tournament in the US, after nine months of hard work and disappointment. It shows that persistence and dedication does eventually pay off!