The tournament took place in my city of Skopje from 6-9 December and I was eagerly waiting for it. I did some preparation for it and was curious to see how things will work out.
In short, they didn’t. I was forced to leave the tournament (the second day of the rapid) due to a bad stomach bug.
However, I won’t dwell here on my health issues. I think there were other, more serious ones, that were at play and led to me having an unimaginably horrible tournament.
Looking at the statistics, I lost only 2 matches in the blitz section. Not bad, at first sight. But from the total of 11 I also won the same number. Not good at all.
There was another thing that was bothering me more and that was the fact that I was constantly playing players below my rating. I have written about this before, being stuck “in the mud” of lower-rated players who you cannot beat and you keep being paired against them. To make it worse, I was “lucky” enough to continuously be paired with players whose classical ratings were several hundred points above their blitz or rapid ratings.
So what was my problem then? Why I couldn’t peform on at least a satisfactory level? The following may read a bit like a stream of consciousness prose, but since these things are still fresh in my mind I write them as they come.
I always prefer to concentrate on my own play. External factors are important, but if anything they would mean that I couldn’t adapt to them in an optimal manner, hence again making myself responsible for what affected me.
The strangest thing was that in fact I was quite happy with how I was playing and feeling (until the last day, when I simply couldn’t get out of bed and didn’t go to the playing hall). My head was working fine, my time management was good and I was regularly getting winning positions.
Only that I wasn’t winning them. Something was missing in the last step, I couldn’t wrap things up. (I will explore an aspect of this “missing link” in a bit more detail in my Saturday newsletter, so if you’re intrigued use the yellow box on the right to sign up for it.) Coupled with my opponents’ resilience this led to a lot of missed points.
The missed points only piled up the frustration. With each round I was growing more frustrated and this feeling is not one you want to be feeling when needing to win. In fact, you need patience and frustration is very closely related to the opposite trait, impatience.
Usually I manage to keep myself under control and this time it wasn’t different. This was the case because I felt the reason was a mix of chess-related and psychological aspects.
From a chess aspect I was lacking the ability to clearly see the final blow with little time on the clock. Usually when in good form (and this is a good indicator of good form) the correct move suggests itself and you manage to calculate it properly. Then everything goes smoothly.
Apparently I wasn’t in good form, and it was a revelation for me to realise that I can feel good, my brain can work well, I can have all the desire to play and enjoy myself and yet the good form can pass me by.
So I was getting stuck in the winning positions. Not at all an uncommon problem of chess players of all strengths. I have noticed it happens to me when not in optimal condition, but as I wrote, I thought I was in optimal condition!
The psychological aspect was a tricky one to pinpoint. I had a few ideas, but the main problem was actually doing something while the tournament was in progress to change the tendency for the better. I have very rarely been successful at this, changing the bad tendency while it’s happening, and this time I failed again.
In fact, I never quite learned how to effectively do that. And I have tried what not. There never seems to be a one-size-fits-all solution that would work every time and in-between rounds there isn’t much time for experimenting.
In short, I bombed.
There was another very important aspect that a simple look at the results shows. I finished 7 matches in a draw. Of these 2 were comprised of two draws while the others were win/loss.
This tendency shows a clear lack of consistency. I would either win the first game and then play the next one badly, or I would lose the first one and then spring back and win in order to save the match.
There are two opposing psychological moments here: inability to hold a lead and the ability to motivate myself to come back from behind.
While the latter is commendable, the former is far from it. I have never played matches in my life (these being the first ones in probably more than a couple of decades) so I never thought about these aspects. I still haven’t, after all the tournament for me finished yesterday, but I will, as this introspection can unearth additional characteristics of my internal “set-up.”
As you can see, this is all still very raw. I wanted to get it out “on paper” while it is still fresh so I can start thinking about it without forgetting the important things. Let’s see now if I manage to come up with something constructive.