Greg on King's Island: In the Game of Chess, the Draw is the Rake
By IM Greg Shahade   
December 4, 2011
IM Greg Shahade
The third event slated on my comeback trail was a relatively relaxed event. My first two tournaments were nine rounders. This one was the King's Island Open (Nov 11-13), a five-round tournament in Ohio. GM Gregory Kaidanov invited me to stay at his house for a few days before the event. He figured it would be convenient, as I could stay there and then we could travel to King's Island together.  I imagined that there would be a few GM's at King's Island, but I was really shocked when it turned out there was eight (In fact, the grand total later turned out to be ten--Ed.), making it an incredibly strong tournament.

Once again I had a pretty decent result on paper. This is the third tournament in a row that I've done relatively well in, but I know for sure that I'm not very good right now. Obviously I understand that I'm a better than average chessplayer, but the mistakes I make and the huge gaps in understanding that I have seem gigantic to me. I feel like it's only a matter of time before I have a really horrible tournament.

A few obvious flaws marred my play in King's Island but one of them was surprising since it's not a normal problem for me: I was having big time management issues. Let's look at some examples of poor clock handling:

Shahade,Greg (2459) - Bath,John (2107)
King's Island Open (1), 11.11.2011

13. Rfe1 Re8 14.h3

Guess how much time I spent on the last two moves?

Show Solution

It's completely ridiculous of course, and you figure out how silly it is when you put the position in Houdini and every move gets pretty much the same evaluation. It's good to recognize positions where it doesn't really matter that much which move you make. Maybe I thought I could get away with it because I thought even a small edge against someone much lower than me would be enough, even with a time deficit. However this is just rationalization. I could have made these moves in about 5-10 minutes. I went on to win the game....but put myself at risk by getting into such deep time pressure.

Shabalov,Alex (2523) - Shahade,Greg (2459)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 d6 7.Nc2 Bg7 8.Be2 0-0 9.0-0 Nd7 10.Bd2 a5 11.Kh1 Nc5 12.f3 f5 13.exf5 Bxf5

I've spent about ten minutes to get to this position, so thus far my time management has been quite good and I have 1:50 remaining on my clock.

14.Be3 a4
This took 22 minutes for some insane reason.
15.Na3 Qa5
This took me four minutes.
16.Qd2 Rf7
Eight minutes for this swashbuckling move.
17.Rad1 Rc8

Four minutes. Now you may think four minutes isn't that big a deal, but at the start of the time control you get three mintues per move. Meanwhile Rc8 is such a completely obvious move, and I have no clue what other move I was considering at the time (I don't think I was considering anything). Generally you can improve on your three minutes per move ratio by making your opening moves quickly, and usually you get it up to four minutes per move. However if you spend 3-4 minutes on every move after the opening, even on the relatively obvious ones, then when you spend 15-20 minutes on a few moves (which is tough to avoid from time to time), you are going to find yourself in time trouble again. 

18.Nab5 Qb4
13 minutes for this one
19.Qc1 Be6
Nine minutes for this, even though this was my plan before the move....again not sure why I spent so long.
20.a3 Qb3

I spent 19 minutes on this, although admittedly it is quite brave to intrude with my queen on it's very close to being trapped. However I was pretty sure I was going to play this move after about 5 minutes, so probably could have sped up the process. Just kept getting concerned about random tricks of his like Nxd6, Rxd6, Rd2 idea Bd1 and Re1 idea Bd1. Qa5 was a safe choice and I thought that it also gave me a comfortable game while playing, but I thought this one was stronger.

21.Rd2 Na5
I spent ten more minutes here. To be fair, the last few moves have been relatively sharp but let's take stock. From move 13-22, I went from 1:50 to :22. So in 1/4th of the first time control, I spent 3/4ths of my time. Not a good idea Greg! Obviously some complicated stuff could happen in the next few moves, which I will be much less likely to figure out successfully if I'm very low on time. In fact I achieved a good position and almost blew it due to a time-related oversight...
22.Re1 Nxc4 23.Bxc5 Nxd2 24.Bd4 Bh6 25.Bd3 Nxf3 26.Qxh6 Nxe1 27.Bxg6 Rf1+ 28.Bg1 hxg6 29.Qxg6+

I calculated this a few moves before and thought it was just over, although I had just 9 minutes left at that point, so the calculation was a bit rushed. I also felt that 25...Bf5 was safe and pretty winning for me, but I felt this one was a complete knockout blow. I almost had a heart attack when I saw that after ...Kf8 he can go Nd4. I totally missed it! I was very lucky to have ...Rf6 (and to have found it with only 5 minutes or so left), and my lack of time could have easily caused me to miss a few tricks like this.

This is the thing...I won the game, but that doesn't mean that my time expenditure was acceptable. It's tempting that when you win you can just say "oh well, it worked out this time". But even when you do stupid things, you are going to win sometimes, just like in poker. However in the long run you are going to win less.

29...Kf8 30.Nd4 Rf6 31.Qh5 Qc4 32.Ne4 Qd5 0-1

Shahade,Greg (2459) - Perelshteyn,Eugene (2516)

Position after 36.Rfd1

I've been outplayed this entire game, had absolutely no idea what was going on at any time (this was upheld in the post mortem) and I had one minute left after making this move. The sad thing is that I'm actually not even worse anymore. Somehow no matter how bad you are outplayed,  it's hard for your opponent not to make a few inaccuracies, and his king is now pretty weak and there is a deadly trap that he has to avoid. If he plays the natural 36....Ra1 37. Rd7 is nearly winning! He almost fell for it, but in the end found 36...Bf8. Because I had just one minute left due to my irresponsibility, I immediately played a huge and obvious blunder 37.Qf6, while 37. Qd7! would have left the result of the game completely in doubt. For instance 37....Bc5 38. Bxc5 Qxc5 39. Kf1 Qxe5 was his plan he mentioned after the game, but I simply go 40. Re1 and it's unlikely I will lose. If 37...Ra1 I can simply play 38. Rxb2 because my rook on d1 is defended now.

I felt like it was ok to get into time trouble, because the whole game I had an unpleasant position, and was desperately trying to make it more pleasant, but never know when things are going to turn around. You never know when that big opportunity is going to show up and if you give yourself no time to properly take advantage of it, it doesn't really matter if it does come up. Well it does sometimes because even then you may find the right move, but your likelihood of doing so goes way down, as evidenced by my ridiculous 37.Qf6, which loses in many different ways.

37...R2a6 38.Qg5 Ra1 39.Kf2 Rxb1 40.Rxb1 Qc2+


So anyway, I'm sure I will still get in time trouble from time to time, but hopefully it won't be with the frequency as it was in this tournament, and hopefully I won't find myself constantly spending 20-30 minutes on a natural move for no apparent reason. My problems with time pressure may have been due to some slight intimidation. It's been a long time since I've been used to playing tournament chess, and they keep pairing me with strong players.

It's important to recognize it when you have this problem, and I suspect that the entire issue (and my relatively harsh views on players who routinely get into ridiculous time trouble their entire life) will be the focus of a future piece.  

Kaidanov_ Gregory 2 .jpg
GM Kaidanov, Photo CCSCSL
In closing, the tournament champion GM Gregory Kaidanov had a few things that he wanted me to add. Gregory scored 5-0, to go undefeated in a field of ten grandmasters. First of all, since I stayed at his home the week before the event, he would like to attribute his incredible 5-0 score to my moral support and coaching. Secondly he pointed out that he never remembers having a tournament like this in his entire life. Obviously he's had great tournaments before, but he never remembers going undefeated in a tournament while beating three Grandmasters in the process.

Finally, Kaidanov got philosophical on the ride home and started discussing the similarities between poker and chess. He pointed out that chess is very similar to poker, because in both games you have to overcome the rake. What is the rake in chess you might ask? According to Gregory it's the "drawish nature of the game", and therefore, just like in poker, in order to win you need your opponents to make mistakes. 

Greg's most recent CLO editorial was on Norms while his most recent tournament was the GM Norm Invitational at the Saint Louis Chess Club.