08 September 2020

The perils of disrespecting the opponent

The apex chess tournament in Sri Lanka, the ‘National A’ will commence in a few days. Some of the players who have qualified from the ‘National B’ and of course the defending champion, International Master Harshana Thilakaratne are seasoned campaigners, having made it to this level more than once and even to the national team. There are also first-timers.

Now it is possible for the ‘more experienced’ to see these newbies as ‘easy meat.’ They could be tempted to concentrate on preparing for the higher rated, ‘more experienced’ competitors. Tthis could be dangerous.

There’s something happening at the other end of the world in a very different sport from which some lessons could be learnt.  The Milwaukee Bucks, having had the best regular season record, earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Of course Covid-19 wrecked all that and now the playoffs are being played in ‘The Bubble’ in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. No home-crowds. No crowds, period.

Nevertheless, the Bucks were expected to have easy passage to the Eastern Conference Finals. They had a relatively easy first round, defeating the Orlando Magic 4-1. Next up was Miami Heat (ranked 5th in the East), who had swept the Indiana Pacers (ranked 4th). A few days later, the Bucks found themselves in a 0-3 hole. They would have to win 4 on the trot to advance. No team in NBA history has won a series after being down 0-3. The Bucks won Game 4 in overtime but there’s a long way to go.

The Los Angeles Lakers, for example, ranked first in the West, lost their first game of the series against the Portland Trailblazers. They won the next four to proceed to the second round where they lost the first game of the series to the Houston Rockets. The Lakers came back hard to even the series at 1-1.

The Los Angeles Clippers, led by Kawhi Leonard, also among the favorites to win it all, survived a spirited challenge from the Dallas Mavericks led by Luka Doncic to take the series 4-2, but they’ve got their work cut out for them, tied as they are at 1-1 in the Western Conference Semi-Final against the Denver Nuggets.

In the East, the Boston Celtics took a commanding 2-0 lead over defending champs Toronto Raptors. Easy passage? Well, the Raptors have made it 2-2.

Now did Giannis Antetokounmpo's team take the ‘lowly’ Heat lightly? Did the Celtics get overconfident against the Raptors? Did the Lakers and Clippers believe that a conference final match-up was inevitable and all they had to do was go through the paces?

There’s danger in treating opponents as push-overs. The moment you do that you are essentially taking the foot off the pedal. An energetic, determined team willing and able to fight above their weight can scent blood and move in for the kill. Has happened. Will happen.

The point is that in high level competitions no one come to play with the intention of rolling over and dying. Playoff are high intensity affairs. It’s where individuals and teams do whatever it takes to raise their playing level a notch or two higher. No one gives walkovers. You have to play hard and get the W.

Back to the ‘National A.’ Many reputed players didn’t make it beyond the National B. Why? Were they out of form? Were they careless? Did they underestimate the younger, lower-ranked relatively inexperienced players? Perhaps. On the other hand it is quite possible that the less favored had worked really hard and/or improved beyond expectation.

They’ve made it to the National A. They cannot be rabbits. They can and will compete. A more experienced player can take it easy against such players but at their peril. There’s nothing to gain from disrespecting an opponent. There’s a lot to lose if one were to focus on factors such as reputation, rating, experience etc. You simply take eyes and mind (even marginally) off the 64 squares, so to speak, or off the ball, if it was cricket.  That’s where the battle takes place. That’s where you have to prove mettle. 


Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']

Do you have a plan? Strengths and weaknesses It's all about partnerships