Travail Pursuit #63: Son of ‘Lucky Sweatshirt’

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

The smell of concentration! If this website had built in 'smelly vision' then right now you'd be able to smell concentration!

The smell of concentration!
If this website had built in ‘smelly vision’ then right now you’d be able to smell concentration!

A little over five years ago on website far, far away (well actually it was just up the Calder Valley on the Hebden Bridge chess club website) I wrote an article called ‘The sweatshirt of victory!’ in which I suggested that an old grey sweatshirt I had been wearing for chess matches had acquired magical properties. I even conducted some serious statistical analysis to demonstrate the efficacy of my argument.

A few months later I followed up the first article with a second which described an incident that has henceforth become known in my household only as ‘The Miracle of Alwoodley’, one of the greatest chess escapes of my career. Of course I attributed my good fortune to the lucky sweatshirt which I was wearing for that game.

Since those days in 2010-11, I have given little thought to my magical garment. Occasionally I’ve come across it lying forlornly at the bottom of my ‘old clothes’ draw and, feeling the fond memories come flooding back, have  felt an urge to put  it on for my next game. I don’t think it has provided me with any kind of advantage since the aforementioned mystical occurrence however.

Now that this season is drawing to a close however I must say that I’ve had a growing sense that I have, once again, enjoyed more than my fair share of the rub of the green at the chess board (an inappropriate metaphor I know but I’m sticking to it!) During the pre-Christmas chess hiatus as I tried to put my finger on the reasons for an Autumn spate of quick wins and outrageous swindles I suddenly realised that I had been wearing another, newer sweatshirt on pretty much every occasion where I had felt blessed by Caissa. Let me now present some of the evidence to you.

Exhibit ‘A’
The first match of the season is always both an anxious and a happy moment. Happy because one hasn’t really touched a chess piece in anger for a few months. Anxious because one never really knows what form one is in until the game is over. Has rustiness set in over the summer? For my first match of the season I instinctively felt like I was in decent shape. I hadn’t played much over the summer, but when I had I’d played close to my optimum capabilities without making terrible blunders and that is pretty much all one can ask.

This first game of the season went well for me out of the opening. Even though I didn’t successfully predict my opponent I did find myself up against the same player I had duelled with in the corresponding fixture the previous season and I successfully foresaw his choice of variation. I did well from the opening, made a sound decision to give up the exchange for two pawns and a positional bind, and then, slowly but surely… the game began to go wrong. As I searched for the best way to drive home my advantage I made a succession of slightly inaccurate moves and also got into time trouble. Just before time control I made a bigger mistake and lost enough material to justify having a very gloomy outlook once the dust had settled.

By move 43 (see the game viewer below) I was a whole rook down and had no real compensation. The only reason I was playing on was that I’d spotted a couple of cheapos and was irritated enough with myself to carry on playing out of sheer inertia and obstinacy.

This is the point at which I got the feeling I was being given a helping hand by some unseen ‘force’.

A pretty outrageous swindle I’m sure readers will agree. Still, these things do happen from time to time. Occasionally one just gets a bit lucky yes? Maybe, but now look at what happened in the very next game I played.

Exhibit ‘B’
My second game of the season was also in Calderdale. This time I had the Black pieces. Arriving at the venue I realised who I would be playing and immediately expected a tough struggle. I was therefore delighted when I was able to find a nice idea early on in the game that created a bit of mayhem in the position and allowed me to seize the initiative. I succeeded in gathering some good momentum when suddenly on only move 18, this happened…

So, one swindle and another victory courtesy of a freak aberration. I was already beginning to feel like some higher power, Caïssa herself perhaps, was smiling on me. It was after this second game that I realised I had worn the same sweatshirt for both of my first two fixtures. I resolved immediately to wear it again for my next game. Witness now Exhibit ‘C’…

Exhibit ‘C’
My third game of the season followed a similar pattern to the first. Up against a weaker opponent I gained a dominant position from the opening – a winning one in fact! Then I overlooked a fairly prosaic winning line, let my opponent off the hook and went on to play so poorly that it was he who had victory in his hands by move 35 when I was three pawns down.

Despite all this, I won the game from the position below in just four more moves!

After these three wins I did go on to lose my next game in the Calderdale League against a far stronger opponent who I did at least manage to give considerable fright to. “Perhaps”, I thought, “this whole lucky sweatshirt thing is hockum after all. Phew!”

Despite this, I wore the top again for my next two games first picking up a reasonably stylish ransacking on the Black side of an Albin Counter Gambit and then bailing myself out of some more hot water in the game below.

Exhibit ‘D’
The truth was that I didn’t expect a great deal from this game before-hand. I had lost once and drawn a further four times to my opponent who was rated about 20 points higher than me. When he cunningly dodged my opening preparation by playing the interesting that6.Bd3 against my Sicilian Dragon set up I really did think that any magic my lucky sweatshirt might have possessed was finally rubbing off. I found myself playing against a Pseudo-Maroczy Bind and ended up in a pretty awful tangle – it’s one of the few occasions this season when I’ve come out of the opening with a clearly poor position.

Eventually, at move 21 (see game below) I decided that my position was so passive it was worth taking a bit of a risk in order to try and at least go down fighting. I realised that my move choice invited some complex play that I couldn’t completely fathom out but I decided that the risk was worth it.

This was an outstanding result for me but I recognised that I had been slightly fortunate that the complications had been so favourable. Certainly I couldn’t claim that I knew I was going to be better all along. What explanation could there be for this turn of events? Naturally I attributed it to the sweatshirt.

I could now go on to show you how, in my next game, I was once again winning, let my advantage slip and only escaped with a draw because my opponent was unwell, completely exhausted at the end of the evening and was so desperate for the game to finish that he couldn’t bring himself to play out a winning end game. But I won’t do that because I believe I’ve built up a compelling case for the powers of my talismanic garment.

There is just one more piece of evidence that I must give and it is this.

Exhibit ‘E’
As I got myself ready for work for work on the morning this game was played I realised to my horror that the sweatshirt was in the laundry. If it had been lying in the linen basket unwashed I swear I would have pulled it out and put it on. Unfortunately, it was still wet and on the clothes horse and so I was forced to don the old grey sweatshirt. Maybe there was still some magic in the old thing. I felt confident that there might be. As you’ll see below, there most definitely was not.

This game followed the same course as pretty much all my games with White up to that point in the season. I gained an advantage through some decent play. I overlooked an excellent opportunity to seal victory early in the middle game. My opponent was allowed to wriggle off the hook.

At this point, in my games wearing the black sweatshirt, I would have benefitted from a blunder or some other stroke of fortune and snatched the game away. This time, in the grey sweatshirt. It all went wrong. Bear witness to the testimony provided by this game.

All that this leaves me to say is that, at the halfway point in the season, the evidence in favour of this item of clothing possessing magical properties seemed compelling. I had a lost and drawn a game in the lucky sweatshirt but the draw was an outrageous steal and the defeat against a player rated over thirty points stronger than me who was nevertheless given a very stern run for his money.

As I reflected on the first half of my season it was clear that I needed to learn the harsh lessons from the game above – ‘Exhibit E’. These were not chess lessons but sartorial ones. I decided that I would be wearing the sweatshirt for every game I played until my fortunes changed and the mojo ran dry.

In my next post I am sure that readers will be excited to find out whether or not ‘Lucky Sweatshirt’ stayed lucky for me in 2016.

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One Response to “Travail Pursuit #63: Son of ‘Lucky Sweatshirt’”

  1. Chris Bak

    May 07. 2016

    Excellent article, Dave! I can’t say I’m convinced that your second ‘lucky sweatshirt’ is indeed lucky, but perhaps your 2016 games will change my mind!

    Regarding Exhibit E, I always find those Paulsen lines with an early Nf6 and Bb4 tricky to handle. I think you did a fine job handling it yourself even if the game did go downhill much later on.

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