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Greg Shahade: the Second Step to Comeback Print E-mail
By IM Greg Shahade   
October 14, 2011
GregS.jpgThe Continental Class Championship (Arlington, VA October 7-10) was the second tournament of my comeback to competitive chess as I hadn't played a single rated event in about 6-7 years. My first event, the Manhattan Open was decent on paper, but my play was anything but smooth. I didn't play a single clean game throughout that tournament and was lucky to have won a single game. This time things went much better, and it feels like the hard work is paying off.

The tone was set when in the first round I knew lots of theory in a random line in the Kan, and won the game barely having to think. There is no way in a million years I would know so much theory in a line like that back when as a young lazier chessplayer, so it was a nice feeling. 

Despite my solid result, I demonstrated key mistakes. It's clear that I play a bit better when I'm underconfident, as opposed to overconfident. In Round 6 against Alex Shabalov, I got this endgame in the black side of the Maroczy that I know pretty well. Once we got the position I was pretty scared because I thought to myself "Ok, if I study this endgame all day, and know so much about it, how can I ever be a good chess player if I end up losing?"

"Shabba" put some pressure on me too, and so I was really nervous, because I kept having these annoying feelings that I'm a complete joke as a chessplayer if I lost the game. Fortunately I didn't lose, but still these thoughts are completely absurd (although they make me hyper-aware of my opponent's threats which helped me defend pretty well against Shabba, while the opposite often occurs against lesser opponents - see the game with Enkhbat). I am aware that I am not currently so great at chess, and am studying hard to get better. Sometimes I am going to get outplayed by strong players, even if I get an opening that I am well prepared in. Constantly throughout my games I'm having this running dialogue with myself:

-          " Greg I can't believe you might mess this up...you had such a good/totally fine position...what's wrong with you?"

-          "Stop it Greg! You know very well that no matter how much it hurts to lose, that it will make you much stronger if you take the right lessons out of it, so it's nothing to be afraid of. Just try your best!"

I'm not joking, I'm thinking about these types of things during my games, constantly reminding myself that it's okay to lose, and even to lose horribly and mess up a really good position. I see so many people beat themselves up after losses, and to me it doesn't make sense if you are an actively working chess player. If you aren't 2600 FIDE, you should be expecting to make serious mistakes all of the time, and your best chance to get better is to actually experience these mistakes, internalize them, think about and obsess over fixing them in future tournaments.

It shouldn't be a surprise when you mess up horribly. I consider myself lucky to have made mistakes in my first two events, because if I'm smart they will help me get better. I lost only one game in Arlington, but still made plenty of bad moves. Here are a few interesting moments:

1. De Fotis,Gary (2029) - Shahade,Greg (2449) [A00]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 b6 5.Nge2 c5 6.a3 Ba5 7.Bd2 Bb7 8.Nf4 0-0 9.Bd3 Nc6 10.dxc5 bxc5 11.0-0 Ne5 12.Be2 d5?! 

While the computer doesn't think this is such a bad move, I believe it's a bad practical choice. At this point I thought, "My opponent is much lower rated than me, 10.dxc5 was kind of silly, he has no idea what he's doing and I'm going to crush him off the board by making natural direct moves that push my pieces forward." 

The reason I don't like ...d5....It makes white's play way too easy. The plan he used is very obvious and if I built up before breaking with simple moves like ...Qe7, Rfd8 and Rac8, it's much more difficult for White to play.
13.cxd5 exd5 14.Na4 Bxd2 15.Qxd2 Ne4?!

Another poor choice and another aggressive/forward move. I think for most players, when you face stronger players your mistakes will usually be passive moves, while against weaker players it's more likely to be a move that's overly active/aggressive.  In any case this move is just silly, White plays Qc2, at some point he then threatens f3 with winning the c5-pawn.

A much better choice would be something simple like Qe7 followed by bringing my rooks to the center. If you turn on your engines it won't recognize that any of these moves are so bad, and will find some cool resources for Black, but in my opinion they show bad judgment, and hold important lessons for me to focus on in the future. Fortunately I was able to win this game anyway after a terrible blunder by my opponent in the late stages.

16.Qc2 Rc8 17.Rad1 Qd7 18.f3 Nf6 19.Nxc5 Qe7 20.b4 Ned7 21.Qb3 Nxc5 22.bxc5 Rxc5 23.Rc1 Rfc8 24.Rxc5 Rxc5 25.Rb1 Bc8 26.Kf2 h6 27.Nd3 Rc7 28.Qb4 Qe6 29.Qb8 Re7 30.Qf4 Nd7 31.g3 Nb6 32.Nc5 Qc6 33.Qd4 Rc7 34.Na6 Bxa6 35.Bxa6 Qc2+

2. Ramirez,Alejandro (2592) - Shahade,Greg (2449)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Bd2 Qe7 5.g3 Nc6 6.Nc3 Bxc3 7.Bxc3 Ne4 8.Rc1 0-0 9.Bg2 d6 10.d5 Nxc3 11.Rxc3 Nb8 12.dxe6 fxe6 13.Nd4 c6 14.0-0 Nd7 15.e4 Nf6 16.e5 dxe5 17.Nf3 e4 18.Ng5 e5 19.Nxe4 Bf5?!

Maybe the move itself isn't bad, but this time my opening preparation was not perfect. I have devoted a lot of time to opening prep in the few months. I almost never use opening books because and I will explain further in the future. But I wanted to kind of have some small guideline in this variation and I happened to own Roman's opening book on this--he just gives 19...Bf5 20. Qd6. Usually I will check a little closer with Houdini but 15. e4 is not such a popular move and there are so many openings to learn, so I figured it's no big deal. 

20. Nd6 is not mentioned (only 20. Qd6 Qf7 which I actually analyzed a little further than in the book). Nd6 certainly doesn't win, but it has made me even warier of doing any opening analysis that isn't double-checked. Other moves seem better such as 19...Rad8 followed by Rd4 or 19...Nxe4 followed by Bf5. 

I don't want to ever be caught off guard in the opening like this in a line that I just assumed was easy to play for Black. The good news was I spent about five minutes compared to his 30-40 after 20. Nd6, but he outplayed me nicely from here in what I'd say is a slightly better position for White, or at least slightly easier to play.  

3.Shahade,Greg (2446) - Enkhbat,Tegshsuren (2370) [D45]

1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 a6 5.Qc2 e6 6.d4 c5 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Be2 Nc6 9.Ne5 Qc7 10.Nxc6 Qxc6 11.0-0 Bd6 12.dxc5 Qxc5 13.Rd1 0-0 14.Qd3 Rd8 15.b3 Be6 16.Bb2 Bc7 17.Rac1 Qd6 18.g3 h5? 19.Na4! Ne4 20.Bxh5

Around this point I realized that I was going to win this game. I started the tournament 4-0, had a small setback in round five by losing to Ramirez. Now I'm facing a player who's a little lower rated than me, and while I know he's a solid player, I'm simply up a pawn out of the opening. 
20...Bf5 21.Qd4 f6 22.Bf3
All I was thinking about here was how to crush him as quickly and efficiently as possible. I didn't think for a second he has any counterplay, I mean look...I'm putting pressure on his d5 pawn, my rooks are on open files, I have Nb6 ideas and I even have Rxc7 followed by Nb6xd5 ideas. I figured after Bf3 I will just play something like Nc3 next move, win a second pawn somehow, and his position will collapse.

Now it suddenly dawned on me that things had gotten very annoying due to this ...Be5 threat. Of course I didn't see Qe7 at all! Something like 22. Nc5 and I have a clear extra pawn and will probably win with consummate ease. Instead of thinking about how to win as quickly as possible, I should have been focused on watching out for any hint of counterplay my opponent could generate.

As long as I stay up this pawn and I still have this isolated pawn to work on, I'm a gigantic favorite to win the game. I guarantee you if I was Black I would have found the move ...Qe7 with the annoying idea of Be5, so why is it that I cannot find this move for my opponent? It's because I need to work harder on looking out for my opponent's ideas, especially when I have such an overwhelming position. The position is still probably okay for me, but suddenly I'm presented with serious practical problems. Enkhbat did a great job of muddying the waters and earning the draw, which resulted in him eventually tying for first in the tournament.
23.Nc3 Be5 24.Qb6 Bxc3 25.Bxc3 Ng5 26.Bg2 Be4 27.h4 Nf3+ 28.Bxf3 Bxf3 29.Rd4 Rac8 30.Rf4 d4 31.Rxd4 Rxd4 32.Qxd4 Qe6

Great understanding by Enkhbat. In bishops of opposite colored positions like this, it's not the number of pawns that's the most important feature, but whose pieces are attacking. Clearly my king is under constant threat from his queen+bishop, and I couldn't come up with a way to deal with his threats.
33.Kh2 Be4 34.Bb2 Rxc1 35.Bxc1 Qf5 36.Qc4+ Kh8 37.Qe2 Bf3 38.Qc4 Bd5 39.Qe2 Bf3 40.Qc4 Bd5 ½-½

4. Shahade,Greg (2446) - Friedel,Joshua (2518) [C67]

This is a very interesting moment. I have studied basically every response to 1.e4 that makes any sense, and while I knew a few basic moves against the Berlin (just knew what the main moves were up to move 10....not very good for an IM), I decided that it was simply the type of opening that's possible to learn without some practical experience. I also felt that it's far more likely that a lower rated player will play it against me, because I got the sense that it's relatively drawish, and that maybe I'd be able to outplay them even without a great feel for the ending.

If I knew that Josh would play the Berlin I would not have played the Ruy Lopez, but once I reach the position above, I have a choice to make. I can play something like 4. d3 and have a vague understanding of where the pieces belong, or I can play into the Berlin, which I know nothing about and was pretty sure I was not going to win. So why would I do something like that? I know that I'm not anywhere near my peak strength or where I'm going to get if I continue to study nonstop. So while every game does matter, it's important to find the right balance of making sure that each game also contributes to making me a better player.

Fighting against the Berlin is what the large majority of top players do because other lines don't offer white very much. I am not playing only for this game, only for this tournament. I am playing so that in two years I will be a much better player. This is a perfect opportunity to get some real serious practical experience in the Berlin, and the only way to become great at this game is take on these challenges instead of obsessing over short term results by playing chicken openings or by taking short draws (a plague amongst our juniors).

Miraculously I was even able to draw from the White side of the Berlin, and believe it or not I was a little surprised by this. In other amazing news my game followed some top GM game up to move 17. Next time I will be ready for your Berlin. 

One day I will show you a good game I played, but I only enjoyed those when I was a kid (i.e. before my comeback). Now they are sort of useless. I'm used to the idea that every now and then I can play some good moves, and I'm going to put together games that from start to finish may contain almost no mistakes. It's nice that it happens sometimes, it shows that I'm studying well, and improving. On the other hand there's a reason that there isn't a 2700 next to my FIDE rating, and spending time thinking about some great game I played doesn't really help me much, while obsessing about and writing about bad decisions I make should be a lot more useful.  I also promise that there will be plenty more of those in future articles.

I finished with 6/9 and was a half point out of first place. Congrats to all the winners, especially IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat who had an amazing result, gaining 50+ USCF points in the process.


May - Chess Life Online 2011

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