I promised a few posts ago that I'd show you a couple of games in which my inability to play well when it really matters would be illustrated. So here's two, played with different colours, nearly a decade apart, in places separated by three hundred miles. In some ways they're very different as games too, but they're both disasters that particularly stick in my mind.
One, against Dauber, was from a final round game with a lot of prize money available, of which I won none - which, as I was a postgraduate student at the time, was particularly hard to take. Even as I write, in fact, two other instances of final-round failure have returned to my memory (three, in fact, though one of them was a fifteen-minute game, played last summer, of which I do not have the score). Perhaps I shall post them at a later date: but this game was probably the hardest to take, not least because while I played abjectly in at least one of the other games, in this one I played well for much of it and retained a sizeable advantage until quite near the end. But painfully and inevitably, it just slipped away at the death.
The other, against Tippleston, was from the penultimate round and wasn't played in the top section of the tournament. It was not long after I returned to chess after several years away from the board and I wasn't brave enough to take on the top players when I was still eligible for the under-170s. But had I won I would have been strong favourite for the first prize - two hundred quid, from memory - in the last round with the white pieces and a dozen or so BCF points (as they then were) over my opponent.
Presumably I'd have fouled it up - right now you'd have been reading about that game rather than this one. But this one, anyway, didn't slip away slowly. It went suddenly, just like that, one great chance missed and I was gone.
I played well in both tournaments, something not true of every competition in which I've had a chance of finishing among the prizes. To me, the word deserve doesn't mean much in sport. It usually signifies an attempt to explain why your side should have won a game that in fact they lost. But I do understand the feeling that you got nothing and deserved nothing, that I'd got away with it for too long, that I'd been riding my luck and frankly if I messed up at the end I had it coming. This wasn't true in either of these instances. Not in either tournament and not in either game. Because what the games also have in common is that in each instance I had a clear, tactical win at some stage of the proceedings.
See if you can spot both, without using a computer*. The Dauber win I knew nothing about until I read a newsletter weeks after the game in which it was pointed out: but the other win, Tippleston pointed out to me just after the game. Or rather, he was about to point it out but as soon as he said I'd missed a win I realised what it was. He had, in fact, considered resigning but thought he'd wait and see. A wise move in most circumstances and certainly in these.
It would have been a fine finish too, the best I'd ever have played - and if, playing it through on a computer now, I can also see that I had played more than a little unsoundly and that White had already missed at least one chance of victory, it doesn't lessen my sense of regret. Nor does the passage of time. Not even fifteen years. Not completely.
Nowadays of course the computer will show us the chances we missed as soon as we get home. But at home I also have my scorebooks, containing all the serious games (at least at normal time limits) that I've played since I made my competitive debut at the Hitchin Open nearly thirty years ago. Sometimes I think about playing through a few more of my big-game losses just to see if and how I could have won. And then I decide that I'd really rather not know.
[* = or reading the comments box]