Confession #3: Good Enough for Tournament Work

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Brilliance is defined as: (1) “intense brightness of light”, or (2) “exceptional talent or intelligence.” Holiday nights in San Antonio, TX bring to light displays of brilliance by many—eventually boiling down to competitions involving a few overachievers. Fireworks over the chess board can be just as crowd-intriguing.

Depending on the stage, the outcomes can be quite significant. Michael Jordan scored his own Gatorade commercial from a single Finals game played with the flu. Consider, however, if the Bulls went on to lose that series to the Jazz, would that commercial exist? Family, friends, coaches and fans want to see you win. Rely on applying bits of brilliance built up over time from your training, i.e., “Win from within.”

Many chess players possess the ability, often innately, to dig deep into the grains of a chess board for hours. But the thoroughness of the searching and contemplation is not an assurance to success—you must be able to materialize that mental labor into winning habits. The purists and perfectionists balk at this lesson’s experiential delivery.

GM Fabiano Caruana will be the first American to compete for the World Championship since Bobby Fischer’s 1972 fairytale dominance 42 years ago (and 3rd ever). It’s without doubt question he is the strongest player in the western hemisphere and one man—current World Champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway—stands between him and chess legendry. No question it’s shaping up to be quite the show in November. Another American will have a shotgun seat along the ascension.

A year ago, Caruana was not considered (widely, at least) to be the favorite to fill the challenger’s seat. But he racked the tournament victories when it counted. About a month after his final clench, he was edged out a half point by GM Sam Shankland in the 2018 U.S. Championship. The round robin invitational tournament includes the year’s 12 most eligible American chess stars. Shankland and Caruana drew their encounter in relatively low-key fashion. An 11th (final) round win was necessary to secure Shankland a clear title and a modest $50,000 for his efforts. Sitting across from his “weaker” opponent (who turned 15 only days earlier), steadiness and practicality were his in-hand extinguishers for any special fireworks the prodigy may have smuggled into the tournament hall.

**After 36…Nxg5 [diagrammed], Shankland could have taken pawn on f4 to go a massive 3 pawns up. But trading Queens gets him there faster, with least complication. Queens off the board means spells diminished counterplay chances for the already sinking opponent. Just wise, situation-appropriate execution.

I expect much more to be filled in below all three pictures in the history books. Whose legacy do you think will land highest on the page?

The Verdict
Be brilliant on your own time; win at game time. It’s the road that pays.

You can always annotate your games afterward, justifying your decisions.