A Sleepless Night

I know this is Gawain’s website and being a professional player most of our readers will probably just want to hear the insights to a life as a professional but I, as his wife most of the updates and now I’m on a mission to improve myself as a player. I started playing chess when I was 11, which is fairly late by chess standards but after something like 6 months of playing (my memory is a bit hazy) I was selected to play for New Zealand at the Chess Olympiad, after someone pulled out of the team. It was a fantastic experience for me which ignited my passion for travel and combined with my good but selective memory skills I can still remember (parts of) Bled with extreme clarity. I recall walking around the lake and even rowing to the island in the middle where I lost my teammate’s belt. One thing I will never forget was the Krema Rezina: puff pastry, a layer of vanilla and custard, another layer of puff pastry and a dusting of icing sugar. Absolutely delicious! There was also an incident with Garry Kasparov as one of my teammate at the time was originally from Russia and could not believe it was Garry we saw in the streets, I decided to trust our teammates in their assumption but she decided to go up to poor Kaspy surrounded by his bodyguards/minders/friends asking in Russian “Are you Kasparov?” much to his surprise and probably dismay. She didn’t live that down even now 11 years later.

Now, I’m 2055 (February list) and I’ve got an ECF grade of 195. I’m not sure how many of our readers understand the ECF Grade system but there is some strange conversion of ECF x 8 + 650 = FIDE which would make me 2210 which would be great but isn’t where I’m at on the ELO scale right now. Last year, I decided I would make an effort with my chess, join a chess club (Hammersmith) and become a generally more active player. Being around so many chess tournaments visiting Ga, I didn’t realize how many tournaments I just visited rather than played until I had to fill out an application for the NZ Olympiad team and counted just (for 2011-2012) 1 9 round tournament, 3 weekenders and 2 leagues.

Why have I suddenly had the urge to improve? For one, I realize I am not getting any younger 🙂 and I felt I now have the time and motivation to want to improve my chess so I might as well try and of course with a professional chess playing husband I’ve got the support .Strange things started happening around the start of last year. I was becoming more interested in chess. A vivid memory was watching Mickey (Adams) crushing Nigel (Short) during the Blitz playoff for Bunratty. It was a kings gambit where Mickey marched his king (safely) up the board and there was nothing Nigel could do causing him to resign. It was quite cool to watch such a positionally dominating game. Also, this time last year Gib happened and watching Hou Yifan left a lasting impression. I was glued to the computer and was late to work a couple of time thanks to her games.

Two inspiration players!

Two inspiration players!

So why am I telling you all of this. Well this goes back to the reason for this post, 2 weeks ago I lost a game. Nothing strange so far except I lost it in quite a horrible fashion after a fantastic opening and after a good Hastings tournament (gained 18 points)and my best 4ncl weekend when I drew with a 2232 and beating a 2295 I was on a bit of a high. I was quite dissapointed in myself with my play which is in no way meant to be offensive to my opponent. That night after arriving home, I had to show Gawain, who said I was winning which was a fair assessment But after reading Game of Thrones (he’s on book 4, I’m on book5) he duly fell asleep whereas I tossed and turned. I stayed up until 5am that night for the first time ever . Thinking and thinking and going over the mistakes I had made, it was a really strange feeling and something I assume has happened to most players at some point in their chess career. .To normally fall asleep, I count to 10 in mandarin which failed so this time I thought about the days of the week xīngqí yī, xīngqí èr e.t.c pretty easy, so then I started thinking about the days in French and got stuck on Friday (Vendredi) and I spent the rest of the night on the iPad which probably did not help. I did sleep very peacefully the night after thank goodness . I annotated my game without the aid of an engine and it was very cleansing for my chess brain with your own thoughts about your game. After that you can of course look at it with an engine and see whether your evaluations are correct. In this day and age, it’s very easy to get a computer assessment but what is the point . I found myself over relying on the engine during Gibraltar, see the position below. Here Ga played 49…Kd7
very quickly but my computer showed Bb3 to be winning only to play out the top moves to reach a draw!




10 Responses to “A Sleepless Night”

  1. Barone
    February 1, 2013 at 11:26 pm #

    I’m much more experienced in biology than in Chess, so I want to give you an advice, even if you might already know it: sleeping a fair number of hours, possibly going to bed everyday around the same time, is very important for aiding your brain in transferring your experiences from the short term memory management to the long term one (sleeping well is important for your nervous system to work properly in general…).
    A very effective way to help your body to sleep is muscle relaxation: making your brain dizzy by heavy concentration or repetition of boring notion (or sheeps’ counting etc.) is not really an effective method if your muscles are tense, when even IF you can fall asleep you still will not feel rested in the morning.
    A good and simple way to relax your muscles, at least for my personal experience, is to lay in bed in the darkness and concentrate your attention to your muscles, one by one, starting from your ankles/calves and going up (following with the arms, then the abdomen, then the back and for last the shoulders and the neck), and make those muscles you’re concentrating on relaxed, conciously releasing the tension of each muscle: it doesn’t have to be anything fast and rushed, and while you’re doing it you should feel your body becoming somewhat heavier on the bed, like it was sinking a little deeper in the mattress. After you’ve done the whole body once or twice, if you’re still awake, you can go back to the thinking methods you’re usually employing, and this time they should work much better.

    • Sue
      February 2, 2013 at 8:32 am #

      Thanks for your advice! I love my sleep and I’m lucky to be able to get more than most but I think if I slept 8.5 hours it’s around perfect for me. Any longer and I feel so tired for the rest of the day. It’s a hard pattern to get into as life changes and you run out of time but yes, routine is very good. Have joined a “bootcamp” to get fitter which starts in the morning so this should regulate my routine more!


  2. rolpol
    February 2, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    A very interesting read indeed, funny how you couldn’t let go of the game until you’d put it to bed (terrible pun intended).

    One thing I rarely see acknowledged is the powerful emotions experienced when playing competitive chess. I am a very lowly player, but I still find playing league games for my club second team to be incrediibly stressful. In the last game I played I was in such a state of anxiety that I had only experienced a few times before when I had been in danger of actual physical harm. Yet within seconds of the end of the game I was badgering my captain for details of the next match, I wanted back on that scary rollercoaster. As if my job wasn’t enough stress for me…

    I can only imagine how this affects a professional player, presumably highly rated players like you learn to manage the emotional side. I was struck by how Gawain was doing the ‘hands up like horse blinkers’ to block out the world when plonkers like me were taking photos at the start of London Chess Classic rounds; perhaps he was getting into game mode, blocking out external stimuli?

    Two last things, (as it’s half an essay already), firstly this blog is a fine example especially compared to other pro players who update once or twice a year and, secondly, I’m starting to trust ECF grades rather more than FIDE ratings! Good luck with the urge to improve, I’m sure the good results will continue.

    • Sue
      February 2, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

      Hi there,
      Thanks for the positive feedback. It’s good to know it’s read by more people then just my mother-in-law and flatmate (Thank you both so much!!!). I neve really had this “passionate” feeling before, but losing makes me want to learn more, winning makes me want to learn too and I think that kind of thought process is going to help me improve my game. After that awful loss, that night I googled the ECF calendar and put in my diary all the dates of the tournaments, I could play! This weekend I’m playing at Imperial College London. I took a half point bye yesterday but scored 2/2 today so looking forward to getting one of the top seeds tomorrow.

      I think sometimes the top players can be so focus they wouldn’t notice someone taking a photo (or any player really – this kind of state of mind is fantastic for my chess and I know I’m concentrating when I don’t notice Ga hanging around my board) but I do recall a really bad incident when Ga was in time trouble and someone started using a camera with flash which was not appropriate and he complained to the arbiter.
      Updating blogs is very hard and time consuming I have to first think of the subject, type it up and lucky for me I type like I think so it all comes out but that’s not great as I don’t have a filter so I need to print it out and read it to check the mistakes and typos!! I’ll try and be better in the future, I’ve already got another post that I entered for the CHESS Magazine competition but didn’t win so that should come out in a few days and I’ll see if Ga can do an update about Gibraltar.

      Good luck with your chess endeavours and I’m sure I’ll update the website with my ups and downs.

      • Dave Grobler
        February 5, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

        good result at the weekend…and you picked up some grading points ! What tourney is next ?
        In many ways the “Exploits of a good player” are more interesting than the “Exploits of a GM”….cos the GM lives in a totally different world to the average chess player (or in my case….well below average chess player !)

        • Sue
          February 5, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

          Next up 4ncl, but I’m playing Steven Berry next week in an adjourned game! Do you really think GMs are so different? Maybe I’ll write an article next giving a scoop lol.

  3. Lee
    February 3, 2013 at 3:56 am #

    As pointed out, an active blog from an strong GM is rare. I can’t think of another off the top of my head.

    Having your own experiences posted in addition to Gawain’s not only keeps the blog active, but would prove an interesting counterpoint.

    Lastly, I find the simple “Count one breathing in and two breathing out” method usually does the trick any time I”m struggling to find the Sandman, though I might just give Barone’s method a whirl.

    • Sue
      February 3, 2013 at 8:34 am #

      Thanks Lee, will try and get the thoughts rolling. I’ll have to start writing down my ideas as soon as I think them otherwise you can just sit at the computer thinking “What am I going to write about!!”. I think not having a laptop,ipad in your bed helps! And not reaching for it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. We are so wired up hence why I have a budget nokia phone otherwise I’d be online pretty much all other time other than being asleep.


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