Thursday, November 3, 2011

Goals -

Goals -


Submitted by IM dpruess

From grandmasters, down to beginners, all chess players would do well to enter each tournament they play with a goal. That goal could simply be to play your first tournament, and learn what the experience is like, or that goal could be to improve a very specific aspect of your game, for example: don't miss any knight forks. They are not the most useful, but a competitive goal can also be applied: to score 6-0, or to not lose any games with black.

Usually I go to a tournament with two goals; occasionally with one or three goals. I think if you have too many goals you will lose your focus, as there is too much to think about. You want to identify something that is very important for you to improve, and then by holding it up as one of two or three goals, you imbue it with the weight of importance.

When you succeed at your goal, you may move on to another goal, but depending on the specific goal, I will usually bring that same goal to the next tournament, to be more certain that I have indeed cleared that hurdle. If I do not succeed at a goal, I will usually continue to aim for it at future events. There is no shame in this, and it is important to be able to admit when you have not succeeded, because the point of improving is not to lie to yourself that you have and move on, leaving the weaknesses in place. Particularly if it's a psychological weakness, you absolutely must root it out or it will sabotage you endlessly. I had one goal that took me over a year of tournaments to succeed at (not letting losses detract from the enjoyment of playing), and I had to be very honest with myself that I was failing at this again and again, even though it was embarassing, and keep at it. The result, when I finally was satisfied that I had achieved this goal three events in a row, was invaluable: since then, I have been so much happier at chess tournaments than I had been for years.

I have a few things I am working on right now, but at the end of the Biel International it became clear that one important goal to keep my eye on for the next few events would be my performance in first and last rounds. Despite performing over 2600 from rounds 2-10, indicating that I was in as good form as could be, in rounds 1 and 11 I had poor showings:

Not my worst game ever, but not a good result either. And:

Miezis, Normunds (2520) vs. Pruess, David (2363)
Biel Intl | Biel | Round 11| 2011 | ECO: A22 | 1-0
1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. g3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. Bg2 Nb6 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. a3 a5 8. d3 Be7 9. O-O Be6 10. Be3 Nd5 11. Bd2 O-O 12. Rc1 f6 13. Ne4 Qd7 14. Nc5 Bxc5 15. Rxc5 b6 16. Rc4 Rac8 17. Re1 ( 17. b4 Ndxb4 18. axb4 Bxc4 19. dxc4 Rfd8 ( 19... e4 20. Ne1 Rfd8 21. Bxe4 Nxb4 22. Nf3 ) 20. Ne1 Nxb4 ) 17... Rfd8 ( 17... Nce7 18. b4 Nxb4 19. axb4 Bxc4 20. dxc4 Rfd8 ) 18. Qa4 Na7 19. Qxd7 Rxd7 20. Rec1 ( 20. b4 a4 ( 20... Nxb4 21. axb4 Bxc4 22. dxc4 e4 23. Bh3 Rcd8 24. Bxd7 Rxd7 25. bxa5 exf3 26. axb6 cxb6 27. Be3 fxe2 28. Rxe2 ) ) 20... Ne7 21. R4c2 a4 22. Be3 c5 23. Nd2 Nb5 24. Nc4 Rb8 25. Re1 Nd5 26. Rcc1 Kf7 27. f4 Nxe3 28. Nxe3 exf4 29. gxf4 Nd4 30. Kf2 h6 31. h4 g5 32. hxg5 hxg5 33. fxg5 fxg5 34. Rh1 Kg7 35. Rcg1 Rf7 36. Ke1 Rh8 37. Rxh8 Kxh8 38. Bd5 Re7 ( 38... Bxd5 39. Nxd5 ) 39. Be4 Rg7 40. Rf1 Rf7 41. Rg1 Rg7 42. Rh1 Kg8 43. Nd5 ( 43. Rh6 ) 43... Bxd5 ( 43... b5 44. Rh6 ) 44. Bxd5 Kf8 45. Rh8 Ke7 46. Rb8 b5 47. Be4 ( 47. e3 Nf5 48. Kd2 Nd6 ) 47... b4 48. axb4 ( 48. Ra8 bxa3 49. bxa3 Nc2+ 50. Kd2 Nxa3 51. Rxa4 Nb5 52. Ra5 Nd4 ) 48... cxb4 49. Kd2 ( 49. Rxb4 Nc2+ ) 49... a3 50. bxa3 bxa3 51. Ra8 g4 ( 51... Nb5 52. Ra5 Nd6 53. Bg2 ) 52. Rxa3 g3 53. Ra7 Kf6 54. Rxg7 Kxg7 55. Ke3 Nc2 56. Kf4 Nd4 57. e3 ( 57. Kxg3 Nxe2+ ) 57... Nc2 58. d4 Kf6 59. Bg2 ( 59. Bxc2 g2 ) 59... Ke7 60. Kf3 Ke6 61. Ke2 Kd6 ( 61... Kf5 ) 62. Be4 Na1 63. Kf3 Nb3 64. Kxg3 Nd2 65. Kf4 Nc4 66. Bd3 Na5 67. e4 Ke6 68. Bb1 Kd6 69. Ba2 Nc6 70. e5 Ke7 71. Ke4 Kd7 72. Bc4 Ke7 73. d5 Na7 74. Ba6 Kf7 75. Kd4 Ke7 76. Kc5 Kd7 77. Kb6

This was a pretty unnecessary game to lose! Actually, the quality of that game is quite a bit higher than a lot of other last round games I have played-- as I said, I was generally playing at a high level at this event-- but it was still not satisfactory, and it helped me recognize a pattern that I had been somewhat aware of for a while: relatively poor performance in a lot of first and last round games. There is a wrinkle which is this: if I am playing for a norm, or a qualification, or a prize, or a tournament victory in the last round, then I perform very well. I am focused, not nervous, and play at my best. If one discounts those games, and only looks at last round games where there is nothing important on the line, then my last round results are quite poor.

I realize that this combination of slow starts and lackluster last rounds has been a constant drag on my rating, costing me about 5 points per tournament. Obviously I am not particularly concerned with ratings, but it seemed like an interesting project to deal with this issue. So when I set out for last week's Western States Open, this was the primary goal.

The first round went well, as you can see here.

Entering the last round, I was on board 2, playing an opponent half a point ahead of me who had a chance to earn shared first place. If I beat him, I could finish as high as second. So it is true that there was something on the line. Nevertheless, my goal was to do well in first and last round games, and this was the only last round game I would get to play, so I considered this to be "goal time."

Before the game I had to make a difficult decision: to study some openings or to go for a walk along the Truckee River. It is so hard in these situations to make the right decision, and in fact, I through a couple online databases for a few minutes to see which of my games were available, before tearing myself away and making the right decision:

Then it was time for battle, and I had to decide right away what first move to play. I was afraid of my opponent having prepared something for my sharp e4 openings, but another goal of mine was to conquer that fear, so after about a minute or two of hesitation, I played e4, and when he answered with e5, I did not hesitate to bang out my king's gambit!

Thus I won the first and last round games at my first tournament where I carried this goal with me. Now, if you were me, how would you evaluate my success here, and would you keep this goal at the next tournament? Here's my answer:

I was successful at this tournament. In particular, in the first round game, where I played a very interesting game, treated my lower-rated opponent as if she were an experienced master, and took risks as you have to when facing a strong opponent. But the last round game, I did have something at stake: I was doing well in the tournament, and up on a high board. A win would get me money and the satisfaction of having a "good event." So this game does not count over-much. I need to play well in the last round of at least one, maybe two, tournaments where I am not doing great up to the last round. And even then, I will not completely relegate this goal. I will downgrade it from "primary goal" to "secondary goal" but probably keep it in mind for my next 6-12 months of events.

If you would like to see my other games from this event (they were all interesting!) check my blog; they are all there, with notes.

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