Feb 162011
H.G.Wells, a chess miserablist

“The true sweetness of chess, if it can ever be called sweet, is to see a victory snatched, by some happy impertinence out of the shadows of apparently irrevocable disaster.” – H.G.Wells

Lucky Sweatshirt Chronicles – Chapter 2

Readers may well remember that last November I posted my theory about an old grey sweatshirt that I possess which I believe may have mysteriously acquired magical properties. On that occasion I published some statistical analysis that seemed to indicate that my thesis was more than a passing fancy. At the time I also suggested that, having made my madcap ideas public, I would surely go down in flames in my next match whilst wearing the sweatshirt. As it turned out it wasn’t the next game but it did happen shortly afterwards and I consigned my superstitions to the waste paper basket of history.

How could I have been so rash? I have surely paid the price for my lack of faith. Since this poor result in the sweatshirt back in December I have had a pretty awful run of results which, I ashamed to say, has seen me score a miserable 4 out of 9. This sequence included a series of games where I scored a mere ½ point from 5 games. Such misery has befallen me and I have surely brought it upon myself!

Within this rather glum period though, there has been one bright spot. In January I played another round of the Leeds Rapidplay League and, feeling that a change in time limits might be just the thing to bring about a change of form as well, I donned the old grey sweatshirt (with no expectations whatsoever) and sallied forth to do battle against the league leaders, Hepworth Browne. With an International Master on board 1 and two very strong players on boards 2 and 3, our opponents were clear favorites for victory and indeed they did win comfortably in the event by a score of 4-2. But, guess what? I scored the two points and with a couple of nice efforts as well.

It’s back and it smells of concentration!

In the first game I had the Black pieces and straightaway could sense that I might be about to have a good night when my opponent allowed me to play one of my pet openings, the Budapest Gambit. The game continued in a fairly thematic fashion but White allowed me to grab first his h and then his e-pawns as I got a decent advantage. This came at a cost however as I got behind on the clock with plenty of complexity still in the position. In the game viewer below we join the action in the critical position after White has played his 31st move but the whole game can be played through from the start if you wish to see how the story unfolded.

The second game began shortly afterwards and at this point I realised that our opponents had been particularly cunning because my adversary from the first game now deferred to another player who now conducted the Black pieces against me. There is nothing in the rules to prevent a team from doing this, the only question was, would this fresh player have an advantage of not having had to suffer the stress of game one, or would he come to the game a bit cold? As it turned out I got yet another opening line that I felt comfortable with (this time the White side of a Petroff’s Defence) and when my opponent played a little inaccurately in the opening I was able to build up a decent advantage which I converted much more attractively than I could have expected to had I not been in the sweatshirt. Once again the critical position is shown in the game viewer below but the whole game is also available.

The power of the lucky sweatshirt had inspired me that evening at Hepworth Browne but this was a rapidplay game and I stubbornly passed off my success in the garment as being a fluke. In my next few standard time limit league matches my poor form continued. And then, last Wednesday night, the incident that will become known only as “The Miracle of Alwoodley” happened.

On this occasion I deliberately took the sweatshirt to work with me so that I could change into it before my Leeds League match against Alwoodley A who are top of the division and very strong. I had played my board 3 opponent in the corresponding home fixture earlier in the season and he had pasted me. The likelihood was that he would do so again and so I thought “I may as well put the sweatshirt on. I’ll need all the luck I can get”. Boy oh boy, did I get some luck!

The game viewer below shows the position at time control on move 35. I had strained every sinew to withstand my opponents nagging pressure and had got into severe timetrouble. I just made the time control but by that point I had lost control of the position on the board and all looked lost. What is more, the rest of my team, having mostly been soundly thrashed, were loitering in the bar and had left me to my agonies. They probably thought I’d be dead in another 5 minutes.

How to explain this extraordinary turn around? I was even winning at the end but we both had seconds on our clocks and I didn’t want to risk losing the whole point again. Surely, the only explaination for my opponents uncharacteristic meltdown was the lucky sweatshirt. A happy impertinence indeed! Watch this space for further adventures with the dirty old sweatshirt.

Nov 282010

It’s old, it’s jaded, it’s a bit dirty, it’s certainly not fashionable and it’s not even that warm anymore. Yet my grey sweatshirt has been my lucky charm so far this season. I haven’t yet lost when wearing it and on Wednesday night I collected the latest piece of evidence to support the argument that this garment is my lucky charm. Having lost two games in a row I came back into form with a really nice win and I was wearing the sweatshirt.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not particularly superstitious and I normally laugh along with everyone else when I hear stories about sports people who believe that certain rituals performed before or during an event will help them to succeed. Sure, I’ve had the occasional “lucky pen” that has carried me through a streak of games and of which I have idly thought, “I’ve won the last four games writing with that pen” before promptly losing the fifth in horrendous fashion.

No, this is different. This run with the sweatshirt has actually started to influence my behaviour. For example, when I play for my other club in Leeds I normally go to the matches straight from the office. In seasons gone by I would have gone in my work clothes but this season I’ve started to take a change of clothes with me to the office so that I can change before I go to chess club. Ostensibly, I tell myself that this will make me feel more relaxed and comfortable at the board and that might be true but the reality is that the first item of clothing to get packed into my bag is the sweatshirt. To be totally honest, I’ve even thought twice about laundering it if I think it won’t be washed and dry in time for the next fixture. This is deep-seated behavioural change!

My current job role brings me regularly into contact with information analysts who produce performance indicators and so I’m only too aware of the potential pitfalls of seeing “trends” in data that isn’t comprehensive enough to support your thesis. Knowing this only too well then it is at this point in the season that I feel I have played enough games to start doing some statistical analysis of my performance with and without the sweatshirt.

The graph below plots my approximate rating gains and loses after each of my games so far this season. These results are all from competitive games and include a couple of rapidplay results.

I think this chart clearly shows that my performance with the sweatshirt is much better than without it. This Wednesday’s game gave me the strongest proof yet. After a mini-slump of two defeats in a row (admittedly to very strong players who I’d at least expect not to beat) I bounced back with a the very nice win below against a player rated marginally higher than me.

This is my first win with the White pieces since last season!

So, what next for the Sweatshirt of Victory? Well, I have a match tomorrow and I intend to wear the garment for that. Having made this crackpot theory public part of me hopes that I wear it and lose just so that I can free myself from the prison that I have now created for myself.