First, a recap of what happened the first six rounds:
|Was simply outplayed|
|After vastly inferior play by opponent, complete misjudgment of which pieces to trade and which to keep on the board cost half the point.|
|Opponent was simply outplayed|
|Passive play with the Bishop when the advantage was his, playing more in fear of White's pawn advances rather than continuing my own attack, and lastly time trouble at the end.|
|Passive play by Black gave me the advantage, and passive play is what threw a good chunk of the advantage away, but the ultimate straw that broke the Camel's back was a horrific endgame blunder in time trouble in what should be a routine win.|
|Failure to take full advantage of White's passive opening play followed by late middle game errors lead to a winning endgame for White, and low and behold, passive play and fear of my inside passer rather than focusing on his own outside passer cost him half the point.|
So why am I recapping this? When you have a bad tournament, you need to analyze the root cause. Sometimes, the issue is a one time occurrence. Other times, the issue is what is called a TREND! When you reach the expert level, good and bad tournaments are not judged by score. I finished with a .500 record, but how I finished with that .500 record was horrible. Five games out of the seven ended up draws, and none of them should have. Now had these been lost positions that I converted to draws, particularly against higher rated opposition, I'd feel really good about that .500 score. But when you are blowing advantages left and right, it turns into a really bad ".500 performance".
Looking at the table above, we see one instance of misjudgment of what to trade and what to keep on the board. A one time problem is not a trend. But take a look at what is mentioned repeatedly. Fear! Passive! Time Trouble! This is called a trend, and when you have a trend that is negative, this is something that needs to be fixed.
What we are about to see in the seventh and final round is a continuation of that TREND!
Charlotte Open, Round 7
W: Patrick McCartney (2061)
B: Venkata Pullabholta (1901)
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 d5 4.Nbd2 Be7 5.e3 b6
Once again, we see that word again. Passive! Black's last two moves fit that category here as well. Black should be striking at White's center at once with the move ...c5, probably best done back on move 4. The lack of anything active allows White free reign to smooth development.
6.Bd3 Bb7 7.O-O Nbd7 8.Qe2 Ne4 9.Bxe7 Qxe7
White should be expanding on the Queenside here as that's where his pieces point, and the Rook on f1 has easy access to that side. A move like 10.a4, or possibly 10.c3, was better here.
Black misses his opportunity to open up the Bishop. 10...Nxe5 11.dxe5 might even give Black a slight edge.
11.Nxd7 Qxd7 12.Rad1 Rfd8 13.f3 Nxd2 14.Rxd2 c5 15.c3 Qa4 16.Rdd1 Rac8
So now, after a trade of all the Knights and some maneuvering of the pieces, we see that with Black's piece arrangement and throwing of the Queen out into la-la-land, the situation has changed, and White's play is now on the Kingside, and White correctly recognizes it as the following moves will show.
17.f4 f5 18.g4 g6 19.Kh1 Rc7 20.Rg1 Rg7 21.Rg3 Bc8 22.Rdg1 Kf7 23.h4 Rh8 24.Qg2
The position is slightly better for White. The Black Queen is out of play and White's space advantage allowed him to easily triple on the g-file while Black's pieces are scattered. Black has to be very careful here not to reach a completely lost position.
This move should lose outright! The pawn grab is Black's best hope: 24...Qxa2 25.h5 Rgg8 26.gxf5 exf5 27.c4 Be6 28.dxc5 bxc5 29.Be2 Qxb2 30.cxd5 Bc8 31.Rd1 Rd8 32.Qf1 and White's advantage is minimal.
After the move played, White should win.
And instead of pulling the trigger, White plays a passive move. White wins immediately with 25.gxf5 exf5 26.Rg5 and due to the unfortunate location of the Black Queen combined with the inability to both move the Queen and have it protect the Black Rook on g7, White will play 27.Bxf5 pretty much no matter what Black does. For example, 26...Qd8 27.Bxf5 Bxf5 28.Rxf5+, winning.
The rest of the game is basically equal except one spot where White decides to blunder, but Black misses the minor detail.
25...Rgg8 26.gxf5 exf5 27.Kh2 Qe6 28.b3 Qf6 29.c4 cxd4 30.cxd5 dxe3 31.Rxe3 Re8 32.Rge1 Rxe3 33.Qxe3 Bd7 34.Kg3 Re8
And now it is White's turn to find the only drawing move.
And that is not it! 35.Qc1 is the only move here.
Black has a significant advantage in the endgame after 35...Qd4 36.Rxe8 Bxe8 37.Qe2 Kf8 38.Bc4 Qg1+ 39.Qg2 Qxg2+ 40.Kxg2 b5. The game is now a draw.
36.Qxe1 Qe7 37.Qf2 h6 1/2-1/2
So once again, passive play did both sides in, and yet another draw that should never have happened.
This concludes what was clearly a bad tournament for me, and since then, I have paid very close attention to the main issues that repeated themselves in this tournament. Passitivity and fear. Since then, I have paid very close attention to those issues, and have played 21 tournament games in that stretch, going 9, 10, and 2. Clearly not the greatest start, but when you try to alter your game and put emphasis on a specific weakness, it will often start off bad before the problem is totally fixed and results start getting better.
I would highly recommend the same exercise be done by all of those that have read these seven articles pertaining to the Charlotte Open (including The French Connection, Volume 17). Think about the last time that you had a bad tournament. This doesn't mean a bad score, necessarily. Just one of those tournaments where almost every round, you had a real bad taste in your mouth. Go through each game, and assess what you did wrong, and I would wager that you will also see a consistent trend. It may not be passive play or signs of fear and an overly defensive mentality, it might be tactical blunders or pawn play or piece coordination or one of many other possibilities. Once it is identified, look for books that cover the topic and put your time toward studying that. Many say study endgames, study middle games, study openings, study this, study that, etc. The real truth is, take a look back at your own games and assess what your own weakness is, and that's what you should be putting your emphasis on. It may not be the same answer for everyone, and so those blanket statements you hear about studying tactics or studying endgames are useless. The answer is taking serious time to look back at yourself and your own games and do a through and honest assessment. Don't knee-jerk based on a single game (i.e. My round 2, which was an isolated incident), or think that you can assess your problem in 5 minutes. Taking your time and being honest with yourself are crucial as otherwise you will get nowhere with it.
This concludes the coverage of the Charlotte Open. Starting next week, we will be looking at various topics along with games from 2019. Until then, good luck in all of your games.