Sunday, 21 December 2008

Lies, damned lies, and gradings

The other day I found myself messing around with grading calculations for my games from the last few years. You can massage the figures to draw pretty much whatever conclusion you like - especially if, like me, you don't play all that many games. When the law of large numbers hasn't had a chance to assert itself, it's just a question of picking out whatever randomness appeals to you.

For instance, since taking up chess again (after about ten years out) my grades have gone: 139, 153, 160. (And, albeit after very few games, my performance this season is a touch over 170). What a marvellous story of continuous improvement - at this rate I should be giving young Carlsen one hell of a beating by 2020 or so. Well maybe, but I notice that if rather than considering the grading season you instead start the year at January 1st then you get a completely different story. Then my annual performances have gone: 125, 170, 155, 165. Perhaps Magnus shouldn't be too worried after all.

(For what it's worth, I think that the second view is probably truer: it took me a while to get back in the swing of things and since then I've been playing at more or less the same standard as ever, which is to say 160ish. However, I also think that that's just me imposing my narrative on a set of figures that don't really provide much evidence at all.)

This week's game - though actually I'm still working through November's backlog - was played against an opponent rated about 20 points lower than me. 20 points is a horrible gap: you feel as though only a win would be acceptable, though in fact you should only be due to score 70% and therefore probably only expecting to win about 5 or 6 out of 10. So you're going to be disappointed almost half the time; and even when you win you'll likely feel more relieved than anything else.

Happy to report, this was one of the wins. Black was clearly doing well when white played 15. Rc1, but miscalculated somewhere in the complications. I guess he probably missed 20. Nc5 after which, perhaps struggling to adjust to the sudden change of momentum, he gave up more material than necessary and promptly resigned.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

You don't know what you're doing...

... but, with any luck, neither does your opponent. And that can be a lot of fun!

So it proved in this game, where I stumbled my way into some typically wild Najdorf theory and blundered around like the amateur that I am.

At the end of the evening the strong players in the room gathered round and convinced us that black probably should have lost several times over. In this position, they all wanted to play 11. Nd5

and things do indeed get rather hairy here. But on checking the database afterwards, it seems that a few brave grandmasters are still occasionally willing to enter into this line; so it should surely be playable at my level.

After that there were rather a lot of errors. 15. ... Kf8 is a clear mistake, and white misses a nice shot at move 19:

Here 19. Bg6! seems to win on the spot: after 19. ... fxg6 20. Qxg6 black can't cover both e6 and g7 and goes down quickly; while either 19 ... Raf8 or 19. ... Rhf8 loses to 20. Qh4+.

After that the computers consider roughly every other move in this game to be a serious mistake, but we somehow managed to get to the time control with the position approximately level. And here, with the match tied at 2-2 and only this game remaining, we adjourned.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Four out of four

Continuing through my backlog of un-blogged games, we reach November and Hemel Hempstead. I'm afraid that it was probably this game that triggered five weeks of silence - I've noticed that I'm often rather slower to post my losses than my wins; and this one really didn't go well.

The critical moment comes at move 15:

Can I retrieve that far-flung knight? I decided that 15. Bf4? was the only way to do it, but after 15. ... cxb2 black's pawn becomes deeply unpleasant. I was nowhere near seeing the computer's 15. Kg2! Bc5 16. b4!, after which the game remains in the balance.

I finished the game off with a blunder, but things were almost certainly too far gone by then anyway. All in all, not one of my better efforts.

Happily for Barnet, the rest of the team did rather better, and we scored a fourth win. As a Hull City fan I know better than to get overexcited by a promising start - but you can't really argue with four out of four.