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bucklehead 315 ( +1 | -1 )
A Momentous Decision [Perhaps that title should read, "A Questionable Decision," but I guess we'll see.]

I have decided, at the age of 36, to participate in my first OTB* chess tournament. While it's not completely a done deal (scheduling around the lives of three small children is always a bit tricky), I plan to register for the 2007 Northeast Open in Stamford, CT ( -> www.chesstour.com ). **

So why is my decision "questionable"? Several reasons spring to mind:

--I have not played a serious OTB game in years. Literally, I think the last time I played a competitive game with a board and pieces was in college.
--I have not played a game with a clock and scoresheet since high school; and even then, we wasted most of our time on bughouse.
--I have *never* played a game of chess at a long (sub-CC) time control. Sure, I've played a bunch of games that have taken an hour or two in total, but the control in this tournament is G/150...and a potentially five-hour game is entirely outside my experience.***
--Finally, I have a sneaking suspicion that, unless I enroll in the "Open" section and get vaporized by the serious players, I will be stuck with a bunch of 10 year olds.

So you can imagine I'm a little anxious at the prospect of going...but I'm going to suck it up and go anyway, because I feel a very strong, very primal need to reconnect with the physical act of chess.

I have about 60 days to prepare, and I'm trying to take it seriously. I'm spending a lot of time on tactical exercises, and I plan to do a fair amount of endgame work as well. But other than plugging a few holes and polishing up a few commonly met lines, I'm staying away from openings work altogether.****

But I clearly need help in a few key areas. Any advice on how to prepare for long time control tournament games when I don't have the time for long time control training games? Am I likely to make a fool of myself by continually failing to hit my clock? Will I be the only non-adolescent, non-titled player there? In short, what advice can you offer for an old fool stupid enough to step into the arena armed only with a love of the game?

=====================================
Endnotes:

*: I was at a party a while back, on the afternoon of the Kentucky Derby. A relative heard that a 45-1 horse had a similar name to my son's, and started asking for directions to the nearest OTB. Despite the abundance of context clues, it took me several minutes before I could figure out what she was talking about. Perhaps I need to get out more.

**: If any GKers are interested in or planning to go, drop me a note and we can meet up for some pre-tourney food at the Darien Duchess.

***: You might say, "Hey, you can play some long games on FICS or ICC or somewhere else." But this is not likely: as the father of the aforementioned three small children, I'm lucky if I can spare five uninterrupted minutes. In the composition of this post, I have already been interrupted five times.

****: I've found that if I drop a pawn (or, often enough, a piece) in the opening, it's not because I fell into my opponent's trappy opening prep, but because I was tactically blind at the time. "Headslappers" is probably the best word.
misato 79 ( +1 | -1 )
Don't take it too serious and don't play under self-pressure - those are the main advices.

I don't think the clock-thing will be a problem, a fair opponent will remind you (especially if you tell him before that you are not used to it).

Play your game at your speed and don't follow your opponent's speed. I saw your rating, so you know how to play chess. The main problem might be that you aren't familiar with the OTB-athmosphere, this will change after the first rounds.

Don't try to make "perfect" moves (like in CC), I don't spend too much time in moves that seem okay in a position which is calm - in the end I am always happy to have some time left. I saw a lot of players losing their advantage in time trouble.

Just enjoy it, good luck!
ganstaman 39 ( +1 | -1 )
"I don't think the clock-thing will be a problem, a fair opponent will remind you (especially if you tell him before that you are not used to it)."

If only there were enough of those. Only thing I can think of is to play some games live (even blitz maybe) so you get into the habit of write, move, hit clock. Play yourself if you have to.

Good luck.
tag1153 176 ( +1 | -1 )
hey bucklehead....... .....you are now where I was about this time last year. When I decided to get active OTB I had the same reservations. While you are probably rated a good class (or even two) higher than me, I can offer you one piece of OTB advice - do NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, let the age of your opponent enter your mind when you sit down at the board! There are so many little monsters out there who achieve class 'A' (or better) rating by the time they hit puberty. They play and study chess all day. Every day. They have no regard whatsoever for your age. They cannot be intimidated. DO NOT TAKE THEM LIGHTLY! Don't worry about bruising their "tender little egos". CRUSH THEM! Believe me, they will not hesitate a moment in taking you down. For the majority of these little monsters, you are just another adult opponent. They are used to playing older opponents (it's how they got so strong!). One thing I have noticed - the younger players are well versed in opening theory and excel at blitz style tactics. They will blow you away if you play at their tempo. Take your time.....the longer a game lasts the more their focus deteriorates (especially in the later rounds). Now, having said all of that, let me say this - if you stick with OTB, sooner or later one of these little monsters is going to eventually beat you. Sorry, but it's a fact. When it happens, DO NOT let it affect you to much - try to go have a beer, sort out your emotions, have another beer, and get over it quick. It sucks losing to a 10 year old, but it's gonna happen. Don't feel too bad about it. Good luck at your first tourney, and please let us know how you do:)


tag1153
More: Chess
ionadowman 76 ( +1 | -1 )
tag1153... ...has some very good advice concerning playing smallfolk. I recall having to play someone everyone was calling "Superkid" in an Easter tournament back in the '70s - very strong at a young age. Of course I got a ribbing from friends and acquaintances about my likely fate! I was glad to escape with a draw an exchange down in the ending - but it was he who offered it, however alacritous my acceptance.
In another weekend tournament I had been doing badly, and was in rather a foul mood come the final round, when I sat down behind the black pieces in front of a "10-year-old" opponent (he might in fact have been 12... or 8). That didn't stop me playing a Schliemann and tearing the kid limb from limb in 20 moves or so...
No more Mr Nice Guy, eh?
Cheers,
Ion
kewms 17 ( +1 | -1 )
In my first game in my first tournament, I stumbled into a Najdorf Poisoned Pawn against a kid who had to sit on a phone book to see the board.

At least it was over quickly...

Katherine
cascadejames 57 ( +1 | -1 )
Similar decision I made a similar decision this winter. Though I am considerably older than you and my GK rating is considerably lower than yours, I had the same concerns. Check out the posts in Novice Nook #52 thread below for some advice and my particular foul-up with the clock.
-> gameknot.com
You might also want to read Heisman's Novice Nook column that talks about what to expect in your your first OTB tournament.
ganstaman 29 ( +1 | -1 )
Out of curiosity, how many of you read the profiles (namely the age) of your opponents here, and how many of you actually play differently based on what you read?

Personally, I think I am only influenced by the rating and number of games played, though I'm sure subconsciously a lot more could be going on.
cjjpeterson 62 ( +1 | -1 )
Be Calm I play a lot of OTB for my high school. The best advice I can give is stay in your tempo and keep your cool. Look for a move, Write down your move, Think again before you move, Move, and hit the clock. Never get out of this process! Like tag1153 said, don't consider the age of the opponent or if they have a title or not, just treat every game equally and play your best. Never give up and never surrender.

cjjpeterson
jstack 188 ( +1 | -1 )
You seem nervous Don't take it so seriously. Just go out there and have some fun. Play hard...but don't worry too much about the result. Worrying too much will make you play worse. Try to be relaxed yet focused. You will be surprised at who you can beat if you are relaxed yet focused. Take every opponent seriously. Like others have said kids need to be taken very seriously. I would like to add players of all ratings need to be taken seriously. Many players with low ratings are capable of playin chess at a level several hundred points higher than their published rating.
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I would also like to tell you about an experience I had at the Chicago open. It was not my first OTB tournament. However, it was my first tournament of that size and I did not have a lot of experience with tournaments that had 2 time controls. 40 moves in 2 hours and then sudden death in 1 hour. In order to improve my concentration I played training games against chessmaster 5500 with a time control of 2 hours each side. Of course the computer always beat me but my concentration greatly improved. At the time my rating was around 1200. I decided to play up a section in the under 1600 section. I finished with a very respectable 3.5 out of 7.
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a further note about kids. As was noted Kids know opening theory very well. So what you can do is don't play the critical lines. Don't play for a serious opening advantage. Play for positions that are equal yet you are comfortable in. Try to create unusual situations where your opponent has trouble coming up with a plan. As white with 1. e4 c5 2.Nc3 ...closed sicilian. If 1. e4 e6 2. Qe2 (study Chigorin). If e4 e5 then maybe aim for an exchange lopez. ect.. Just steer the game towards positions that have not been overanalysed. Well Good Luck! Be sure to post some games when you get back.
-
Regards
ionadowman 23 ( +1 | -1 )
Best of luck, Jeff! ... and please let us know how you got on.
(You've got me thinking about keeping a lookout for a local tournament in this here berg. I haven't played serious OTB for nearly 20 years, now... The retired warhorse responding to the bugle call... Geez...)
Cheers,
Ion
bucklehead 206 ( +1 | -1 )
Thanks all! Thanks to everyone for the advice and good wishes. I am a bit nervous, but I'm also excited...I hope these two will cancel each other out and let me just play some solid chess.

The points on kids did add a bit to my angst. My original fear was I'd enroll in a low section, get paired up with novice young players, then get yelled at by parents for beating up on their helpless children. But you're quite right to note that there are many 4th graders out there who are capable of delivering a serious beatdown; so I'll be sure to try to play the board, not the youngster.

I think I might make the most of jstack 's advice. I can't really duck the problem that, in order to prepare for an OTB tournament, I must really play some OTB games. While I don't have a lot of time, I've gotten in a couple of G/45 games against the computer over the weekend, and I think it's been helpful (though all the mechanics of moving the pieces, hitting my old wooden clock, writing down the move, AND working with the computer make things a little crazy).

Late last night I "adjourned" against the computer with the following position (white--me--to move):



I sac'd my Spanish Bishop for a couple of pawns and a speculative attack that drove the black king clear across the board...but after some clever forced exchanges my prospects for the win are very dim; and since even the hazily theoretical draw would require a good lot of work, I called it a night and went to bed. But I take some solace from the fact that I believe myself to be *capable* of setting my opponent some challenges, and *capable* of going a good long way in a longer time-control game without blundering a piece.

At the end of the day, I'm just going to try to enjoy myself. Plus, I get to use the tournament as an excuse to make some chess-related purchases. I'm all a-twitter waiting for the new digital clock to arrive on my doorstep :)
wschmidt 206 ( +1 | -1 )
I recently played a few OTB tourneys for the first time in years. Lots of good advice above. My two bits....

1. Eat light.

2. If you're playing the 2-day schedule and you're at all concerned about endurance, consider taking a 1/2 point bye in the 3rd game on Saturday. That game is always a killer for me if I play it. You're much younger than I am, so it may not be an issue (but it could get you home in time to help put the kids to bed which might get you some wifely good will if you want to do some more tournaments). If you decide to do this, tell the director you want to do so when you sign up and then BE SURE to tell him before you leave after the second game.

3. Turn off your cell phone or, better yet, don't take it into the hall. Some directors are very unforgiving about phones going off.

4. Notwithstanding the advice given in a couple of messages in this thread, be aware that a January 1, 2007 USCF rule change (Rule 15a) disallows writing down a move prior to playing it first. This has been very controversial and some tournament directors maynot enforce it, but you may want to avoid getting into a habit that will cause you a problem with some directors later.

5. As to forgetting the clock, I've worked out a pretty successful physical pattern to overcome that problem. When my opponent moves, I pick up my pen, write down the move and set the pen down again. Then, when I'm ready to move, I pick up my pen, make my move, hit the clock, write down my move and put down my pen. After doing the pattern a few times, the physical sensation of it becomes engrained and if for some reason I vary from it, it feels wrong and I'll quickly check the clock to see if I missed it.

6. If you're easily distracted by noise, wear earplugs. Most directors are now prohibiting mp3-players and the like, but old fashioned earplugs are still OK.

7. Do a some tactical exercises in the morning while waiting for the 1st game to start. Just like basketball players do some layups and soccer players take shots on goal before the whistle, it'll warm up your brain.

Do please let us know how it goes! ws



os5213 114 ( +1 | -1 )
You and I have played three games in the past and you obviously have a good grasp of the game. You have received good advice above and I would only add this one point. The biggest difference when you sit down and start making moves is that there's a real person across the board from you. What you need to resist is the temptation to concentrate on this person, big or small, and thereby get distracted by his/her mannerisms, body language, etc. Sounds easy enough,but you really have to force yourself on concentrate on the board only. If most of your chess experience involves playing moves on a computer monitor, then beware of the distracting effect an actual opponent, sitting directly across from you, can have it you allow it. Just keep telling yourself, "the board is where the real action is." Pieces and pawns are your opponent.....not whoever happens to be sitting across from you.

And by all means, have fun. Like most sports competition, chess is only a game, and you shouldn't take it all that seriously until you get to the point where you're playing for the big money and world recognition.
ccmcacollister 343 ( +1 | -1 )
Practicallities . . . 1) Never answer a FAST/Hard move with your own Fast move, if you have clock time. They are probably trying to rattle (psych) you , but if not then they are trying to get you to respond fast because there is something they want you to overlook.

2) Do NOT believe nor rely upon the CLOCK move-counter to keep track of how many moves were made. Keep your scoresheet accurate. And if your opponent does not keep theirs updated (they can only have three missing moves to claim time forfeit for EG)
then asks to see yours, or is copying off it, in order to claim a time win vs you ... you do
Not have to let them see it. I will not do so until AFTER any time control has clearly been met. Only then would I let them use mine to update theirs.
[I have had someone ask for my scoresheet too, just moves before the TC ... which is not improper but a bit tacky IMO. Like asking for a rope to hang you with. I said NO and put it in my lap till after TC. It's not your fault they chose to try gaining time advantage by neglecting their score keeping, after all. ]
***
3) Watch their eyes, especially if entering time trouble. Preferable to do so unobtrusively. That just works best, and I dont do it to unnerve or bother the opponent ... tho Tal is not shy about it at all. The thing is .... it will tell you 4 times out of 5 exactly what they are thinking about, and where upon the board ... and often may clue you in if you have missed something.
***
4) If you can read other body language, it can be helpful. Tho eyes are the best "Tell";
**
5) What happens if you stand or walk away from the board? Many opponents will make a rapid move if you get up. Others will then sit and take much longer to study the position instead.
***
6) Have two openings ready for use vs each opening move before getting to the board. Start thinking about what you will open with as soon as you see who your opponent will be. Don't blitz out your moves tho. Better to play them out at a steady pace, when you know what you are going to do. It keeps your head in the game ... and also, if you blitz them out your opp probably will too. Whereas if you are pacing, they generally use more of their time too. ... which also gives you more time for planning strategy.
***
7) Speaking of which ... one common method of time utilization is to calculate analysis on your clock ... but plan strategy on the opponents time. Also his time should be used for determining how you will recapture for all his possible captures of that move. Saves a lot of time~! (...so I dont tend to do it often :( but SHOULD!)
***
8) Remember you can stop your clock to summon a TD. And if you have any Rules Questions or about procedures for Claiming, etc, dont be afraid to ask the TD to explain something ... because they probably will not / & Should Not be volunteering such info unless you ask.
***
7) Remember BL gets choice of equipment to use ... IF it is Standard. IF your opp has BL but a really far-out set, like George Jetson WT pieces vs Black Ninja Turtles then you can object and ask to use yours tho you are WT ... or that they find Staunton equip anyway. Or a wavy vinyl board. Don't get into a game on equip that will start to bother you around move 25 or entering time trouble, etc. It's not worth it to try being That sporting. Tournament players know what is expected for equipment.
***
All for now ... Kate and I gotta do Lunch with the Chess-buds now...
GOOD-SKILL
ccmcacollister 6 ( +1 | -1 )
PS// Be sure to mention being decended from The Great "Buckle"
bucklehead 304 ( +1 | -1 )
It is done. My long-delayed return to OTB play climaxed in my participation of the 2007 Northeast Open this past weekend. And while I must in all honesty note that my performance was, well, lackluster, it's been quite an interesting ride. I'd like to thank everyone here for their kind words of encouragement and reams of practical advice. Both were very helpful during this process.

I was also helped by the fact that I found a semi-local chess club a couple of months back, and playing with them (mostly blitz, admittedly) scraped off a good amount of the rust that's accumulated through the years--banging the clock once again feels natural. It was also good to see some friendly faces at the tournament, to have people to answer my stupid questions and commiserate with following my losses. This also innoculated me against the ego bruising associated with losing to children. I got pasted by a couple of kids during the blitz sessions, so any fears or charitable impulses were long since washed away before I sat down at the tournament table.

I did not do as well as I'd hoped. Some of this was misplaced tournament prep (as I suspected, calculation was my weakest suit), and some was related to the strange and unfamiliar environment. For example, though I lost my Friday evening game (round 1 of 5), I fought it out for nearly five hours, leaving for home well after midnight. I couldn't sleep that night, pieces dancing in my head, and got up with the baby after having slept only about 3 hours. I got hammered in my Saturday-morning game (a near-miniature where I'd calculated and dismissed my opponent's potential N sac on e5, only to ignore the much stronger bishop sac on the same square!) and it simply broke my will. I took a bye for the third round and went home to have a nap.

Turns out it was a good move. I was stronger on Sunday and in much better spirits, and I scored a win and a draw against solid opposition. My final game in the fifth round was the oddest of all--I fell into my opponent's opening prep, losing a pawn in the first twelve moves. But I was unprepared to accept this, and I worked to make sure it was poison. Over the next twelve moves I won the exchange, and my opponent soon seized an opportunity to force a draw by repetition.

I've annotated my Round 1 game, which I think is fairly representative of my play at the tournament--some good moves, some squandered opportunities, and a reasonable guide of where I need to improve. It also has the advantage of having an instructive pawn endgame. Take a look at -> gameknot.com and let me know what you think.

Thanks again for all the help! And to anyone thinking of crossing that line back into face-to-face play, I say go for it. It's been a whole lot of fun.

PS: Since I'm sure Craig will ask, I went +1 -1 =0 with my Petrov, both times in the cowardly 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 line.
tag1153 12 ( +1 | -1 )
So.......... .....what is your provisional rating?

tag1153
bucklehead 18 ( +1 | -1 )
Suffice it to say... ...that it is embarrassingly below my GK rating, that I am determined to get it moving in a positive direction, and that, in the end, I hope to be less moved by a simple number than by love for the game.
ionadowman 82 ( +1 | -1 )
Had a look at that Round 1 game... ... and I think if you had exchanged just one pair of rooks instead of both you would have had a fairly comfortable draw. I can certainly understand why you went in for the pawn ending (especially in the circumstances - late in the game, the first for a considerable while, when one's judgement can be a little off - I've been there too...). I did for a while think that if White could maintain some pawn mobility the game might be salvageable, but a considerable amount of wood shifting indicates the pawn ending was probably from the outset a losing proposition.
I guess the encouraging aspect of the game (depending on your respective ratings) would be to indicate that you were competitive, and with a different decision at the crucial point might have secured a safe half-point.
When's your next OTB tournament?
Cheers,
Ion
bucklehead 87 ( +1 | -1 )
Thanks for the review, Ion Indeed I did consider swapping only one rook, though I dismissed it without an adequate amount of thought. At that point, we'd already been playing for close to four hours; while I thought I could probably fight out a draw in a R+P v R endgame, I was *convinced* (wrongly, of course!!) that I had a certain draw in the pure pawn endgame.

In short, I put my faith in my ability to calculate correctly (which, of course, we've already determined was fairly faulty) rather than apply general principles as the situation evolved. Given my old and out-of-shape brain, I should clearly have opted for the latter. A difficult, but important, lesson to learn.

Next tournament? I need a good long while to recover (and rebuild goodwill with the wife and kids after abandoning them over a summer weekend). Check with me again in six months.
ionadowman 30 ( +1 | -1 )
I'll drink to that! Of course, in my last posting I forgot to mention that with the rook fork you had winning chances earlier on! I suspect ...Rg5 was a surprise!?
It is possible that trusting your calculating ability will pay dividends in the long run, as this ability will improve with practice.
Cheers,
Ion
ccmcacollister 34 ( +1 | -1 )
Jeff ... I take the blame. Forgot to tell you about the triple arabesque move ... coming from your opponent, when such a great flourish will always mean he thinks you are toast, then! ....and usually you are toast, then. So its time for a Hard, Fast move! }8-))
***
Hope you had a good time~!
And get back to do it again.