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Greg Shahade on a Manhattan Comeback Print E-mail
By IM Greg Shahade   
August 29, 2011
Greg200.jpgAfter approximately eight and a half years of relative inactivity (I played one slow time control tournament in 2005), I decided to make my chess comeback. I have always loved chess, but I never really enjoyed playing in tournaments when I was younger. When I used to play, what I enjoyed most about chess was winning, popularity, the ego boost and the status it gave me. I didn't actually enjoy the act of sitting down in front of a chessboard and focusing for 4-5 hours in a row. This was a necessary evil in order to get all of the fringe benefits that came out of it.

After many years of playing poker, playing chess on the Internet, and becoming a more mature, more logical and more organized/studious person, I felt inspired to come back, start playing again, and make a push to be the best chess player that I can be. 

When a chessplayer takes a great deal of time off and then comes back, many expect their results to suffer. I actually don't expect this at all for a few reasons:

1.        I've been keeping pretty active in the last year or two by playing very seriously on ICC. You can watch almost a thousand of my videos from my blitz games at chess.tv

2.        Despite being a pretty good chess player as a young man, I did so many harmful things when I played. I sometimes didn't get enough sleep. I didn't work that hard at home with my opening preparation. I would occasionally take a game not seriously at all. For instance in one International tournament, against someone who is now a Grandmaster, I decided I had to make all of my moves in under 30 minutes so that I could make it back to my room for the start of the Eagles playoff game. This gives a good indication of how irresponsible I could be, and I could come up with many more examples. This time around I intend to be a machine who attempts to do everything the right way, every single game, and to always fight with 100% of my energy.

3.        I have been studying like a maniac for the past month or so, and intend to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.

4.        I am still young and have tons of energy.

I also intend to approach chess in a completely different way. No longer will I care so much about winning or losing, but more about the process of playing, the process of learning and just enjoying the experience of trying to play good chess moves. I sometimes study 10 hours a day these days, and I enjoy every minute of it. As a kid it was annoying to have to study so much, but now I actually love it!

The Manhattan Open was interesting and I was pretty lucky to even win a single game. In my three victories, I was only winning for a combined total of 7-8 moves. Overall I fought really hard, defended some bad positions quite resiliently, and lost some interesting games that help me to identify my weaknesses. For instance I'd always thought of myself as a good calculator, but in my final round game against Parker Zhao, I calculated very poorly. Take a look at the following position:

Zhao,Parker (2382) - Shahade,Greg (2446)
Black to Move

In this position I exhibited two weaknesses:
1. Unobjective overvaluation of my position
2. Poor calculating abilities

For whatever reason I decided I was going to beat Parker before this game. He had lost two games in a row (to the eventual tournament winner, IM Vladimir Romanenko and GM Tamaz Gelashvili) and was thinking a lot in the opening. Obviously he was reeling after coming back to earth from such a great start (he defeated GMs Ashley and Kachieshvili in back to back rounds).

Naturally if I just sat down and thought hard I was going to win. If all of my chess decisions are based on the fact that I'm going to win somehow, everything I calculate should somehow work for me if I really want it to, leading to all kinds of hallucinations that lead to better positions for me.  For example in this position I played the move 13....e5 with the idea that after 14. Be3 Bf5 15. Qd5 I had Nb4 and my b7 pawn was defended by my bishop, which I forgot had moved to f5! I checked this variation multiple times and still never noticed this issue. So when I played the line, I suddenly realized that my planned response was no longer there. I made about ten more calculating errors before I got brutally checkmated. A more normal move would have been 13...exd6 although I have yet to turn on the engines in this position, so I will know the truth soon when I finish my big post tourney study (didn't make it to round 9 yet!)

But it's hard not to expect a huge advantage out of the opening with Black when your opponent simply develops all of his pieces and castles kingside by move 12. It's amazing he could somehow survive..

13...e5 14.Be3 Qxd6 15.Rad1 Qe6
This is one of those positions where I kept checking one queen move after another, calculating a reason why one was wrong, then coming back to it and forgetting all the reasons. I had already seen what he did to me like 10 minutes earlier (17.Nd5), but completely forgot when I resumed analysis of 15...Qe6
16.Bc5 Rd8 17.Nd5 Qg4 18.Ne7+ Kh8
Now white gets about 85 pieces for the queen and checkmate. 
19...bxc6 20.Rxd8+ Bf8 21.Rxf8+ Kg7 22.Rxf7+ Kh8 23.Bd6 1-0
Congratulations to Parker, who earned his final IM norm with this victory.

To see another error based on my optimism, let's look at my 8th round game against IM Mikhail Zlotnikov.

Zlotnikov,Mikhail (2305) - Shahade,Greg (2446) [A00]
Mikhail is a pretty solid player, but in my delusional mind I was convinced that he would be delighted to draw me, and if I played any line that would allow him to steer the game into some dry/boring position that would be hard to win, there was a decent chance he would go for it. Of course while something like this is in the realm of possibility, my fear of it was completely irrational and caused me to play a different opening than usual, and to play the game with a completely unhealthy mindset....for example let's observe...

1...d5 2.b4 Nf6 3.Bb2 Bf5 4.e3 e6 5.a3 Be7 6.Be2 h6 7.0-0 0-0 8.d3 Nbd7 9.c4
haha he's already made a mistake! now after I take on c4 and play a5, when he goes b5 I own the c5 square for my knight, giving me a slight edge, which I will use to grind him down after about 40 moves.
9...dxc4 10.dxc4 a5 11.Qb3

Oh I didn't see that....but ok that's a pretty difficult move for an International Master to see two moves in advance, so it was just a fluke...now I'll find some way to attack him in the next two moves and justice shall prevail.
11...c6 12.c5
ha! another mistake! now after I play ...b6, I'm smashing open his queenside and it looks like I win a pawn somehow, or at least get really big pressure. Wow it's so easy to beat an IM with black! He makes no discernable mistakes yet already I have such huge pressure!
12...b6 13.Nd4 Be4
I planned all of this and knew that after 14. Nc3 I would just play 14...bc5 15. Nxe4 cxd4 and the position seemed pretty cool for me. (although even this looks fine for white!). Of course as I made the move Be4 it suddenly dawned on me that after 14. Nc3 bxc5 he had 15. Ne6 and suddenly I'm in serious trouble. No problem, whatever I missed a move...I'm sure I'll find something good against it.
after thinking for 30 minutes later I had found nothing good and would have graciously thanked my opponent if ever dreamed to offer me a draw. Instead I get some kind of horrendous position which I certainly should have lost, but won due to a cheapo since my opponent was moving too fast in my time trouble (tip to kids - if you have lots of time and a great position, and your opponent is low on time....NEVER EVER EVER play for time). Despite winning this game it's obvious how insane some of my thought process can be when I feel that I'm "supposed" to win.
14...bxc5 15.Nxe4 cxd4
15.Qd1 bxc5 16.Nxe4 cxd4 17.Nxf6+ Bxf6 18.Bxd4 e5
18...c5 19.Bxf6 gxf6 20.Bb5
19.Bc3 Qc7
19...c5 20.Bb5
20.Rc1 Rfd8 21.Qc2 c5 22.Bb2
22...Qb6 23.b5 Be7 24.Rfd1 Bd6 25.Qf5
At this point I had like four minutes to 55 and miraculously won. No reason to show that, let's just focus on how bad my position is instead :) Houdini finds one line where it's only +1.3 for white!! It always sucks when the computer thinks you are down over a pawn when material is even. 0-1

In the end it was a pretty successful tournament. The main thing I did well was fight really really hard. I had so few good positions, but still scored with 5/9, mainly due to perseverance and never giving up. I even drew against GM Alex Shabalov down a clear pawn for nothing!
I'm down a pawn for nothing....I'm not supposed to draw this, but I never gave up, made things as difficult as possible for him, and I did. Even if I somehow lost though it would have been okay, because I kept fighting and fighting and that's all you can really do once you sit down to play a chess game. Now the trick is to start learning how to get good positions.

It was a lot of fun to play again, and I look forward to my next event, which will almost certainly be the Continental Class Championships in Arlington, Virginia.

May - Chess Life Online 2011

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