How much “chess knowledge” did I lose over three months? I decided to answer that question by going back to the club as my part time teaching gig winds down ( in addition to full time demanding job and other life distractions that younger players may not necessarily relate to).
Let me set the stage first. I spent last summer building up some opening tabias by way of understanding White’s perspective to pawn structures forming from d4. What this meant was, not necessarily studying the opening by memorizing lines and move order but trying to get a “big picture” perspective and understand what the themes are like. My White pieces were not doing so well as I liked 1.d4 but felt overwhelmed at the many replies Black would reply. I needed to break away from rote memorization habits and replace it with more of a pattern recognition and assimilate the correct strategy based on pawn structure. Pure memorization of move orders taxes my already feeble short term memory. I’m better off relying on long term memory recall of schemas and themes and derive move orders based on understanding and experience…in theory.
So how did I hold out? My first game out of the gate was actually at a one day event the weekend of Thanksgiving at the Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial. I was playing a strong Class A player from Maine, who I’ve played YEARS ago when I actually lived in Maine. The rating disparage was roughly 250 points and I had Black. The best laid plans for my pawn structure understanding had a BIG GAPING HOLE because I always meant to do the same cogitation for the black pieces but, life got in the way.
We begin a discussion in the Advanced Caro-Kann and I stutter out a 3…c5 turning it into a slow French minus a tempo, except I’m not that fluent in French. Let me digress for a moment, for me, learning an opening is a lot like learning a language. I’ve always struggled with languages as the nuances and conjugations always tripped me up. Add to that, a requirement for full immersion into the culture is really needed to practive. Likewise, an Opening requires both the Theory and Practice. At best I get sporadic chances to play typical lines but here with the Caro-Kann turned French, I am having trouble finding familiar words per se.
I invert my basic tabia understanding of d4 pawn structures and attempt to look at this from Black’s perspectives. By Move 7 I am behind development and cramped and already faced with a critical position. Do I develop or can I take better advantage of the open d8-a5 diagonal? To make a long story short ( and the Game is below), I didn’t know how to defend my Q-side and allowed him to walk all over me… he dominated the conversation in the opening. In the middle game he has a powerful knight outpost on my d6. I try to counter with a king side pawn push. I get a lucky break as my opponent decides to exchange his other knight for the marauding pawns. But I blow it in the end as I missed a mating threat.
Overall, I managed to withstand an inferior opening mistake by recalling some principles of positional play based on the pawn structures. I am alarmed at how I tend to under estimate my opponent’s ability to come in my Q-side and tend to get into trouble as black whether I play the C-K or Slav. Is it a Blind spot or am I missing the right “conjugation”.
Tactically, I am weak as evident in the game when I missed White’s mating threat. I realize that its not necessarily that I missed the pattern, rather, I didn’t bother to look because I felt I had a better attack blinded by material and what could HE POSSIBLY DO? Well, it starts with a check and soon my material gain is unraveling . With my material gain, I lost tempo which my well experienced opponent utilized by previously lifting a rook and going after two weaknesses on my part, the center and an exposed king.
Given my 3 month short sabbatical from chess playing, its encouraging to know that doing an examination of the various d-pawn structures stayed with me much better than remembering the actual variations to the 10th or more move because once I recognize a basic pawn theme, I can come up with some of the right moves. Where I am weak most is on the Black side and in particular understanding the nuances on the Q-side enough to recognize a threat. This has plagued me my entire career as the pendulum swings. I’ve been through periods where I was overly cautious and played too timidly. Other times, I would completely ignore a b4 attack and not respect the threat. There’s a balance in there and I need to find it. Here, doing a serious deliberation on the Black pawn structures in my game will help register the correct subtleties associated with the various positional ideas of a Slavic pawn structure with pawns on d6 and e6.
Good tidings to all.