My last two tournaments have not been great. I’ve managed to lose three games to improving juniors.
This has had the effect of dropping my rating around 40 points. While I’m not that upset about the rating since ratings fluctuate, I am incredibly annoyed with the way I have played as I have thrown away promising positions quite often during this streak.
Yesterday I played a game which I hope is the start of a turnaround, although I still missed a huge opportunity and was lucky to get a second chance.
Here is a position from my game Thursday night. I am White and it’s my move.
So here I see this tactical idea and I calculate 10.Bxf6 Qxf6 11.Nxd5 cxd5 12.Qxd5 and now the rook on c8 is lost unless Black gives up the knight with 12…Nc6. I now realize that after 13.Qxc6 my queen and Black’s queen are both on the sixth rank and – oh no – 13…Bb4+ unleashes a discovered attack on my queen would cost me the game.
So I make a different move then I realize that I missed a key aspect of the position, which is that my thirteenth move is not 13.Qxc6, but 13.Qxc6+
Since this would also pick off the rook this tells me at the time that clearly this was the way to play and that I missed something major.
So I spend the next few moves of the game annoyed for missing something “obvious” in the position. Fast forward to today. I start looking at the position again and something just doesn’t look quite right.
I start moving pieces around and something just isn’t adding up, but I can’t quite find it. As I had just read a piece by Jacob Aagaard explaining that if you’re going to use an engine you need to use it in such a manner as to let yourself discover the reason certain moves are good or bad rather than just the fact that they are good or bad I turn on the engine after Black’s ninth move …b6, which gives us the position we first looked at:
The engine is insisting that this position is equal. “Well, OK” I think…”10…Qxf6 isn’t forced. After all, Black can play 10…gxf6.”
Nope, that position the engine shows as much better for White. So I follow the line closely until we get to this position:
Here Black has an amazing trap in the position. First he plays 12…0-0, then after 13.Qxa8 Nc6 14.Qb7 Rb8 the engine is screaming that 15.Qxc6 is the least bad of the options although Black will pick up the Queen after 15…Bb4+ 16.Qc3 Bxc3+ 17.bxc3:
Here White is up the equivalent of a pawn, but Black’s position is so much better than the computer shows the position to be about -1.2 in Black’s favor.
“Yeah, but why is 15.Qxc6 considered best?” I ask myself. After all, White can save the queen with 15.Qa6. Now we reach the most critical part of the position, this:
Black now slams shut the jaws of their trap with 15…Nb4. Not only does this threaten the queen on a6, but at the same time it also threatens the fork 16…Nc2+
So all in all an amazing position which teaches the analyst to always keep looking for resources.
Friday I was hanging around the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of St. Louis with my friend Glenn Panner when the opportunity to schedule a game against one of the local kids came up.
One of the Junior SPICE members, Ben, was sitting at a rating of 1995. His mother was trying to find a game for him in hopes that he could get over 2000 and get that pressure off of him.
I agreed to play him Saturday night at the club when nothing else was going on. The conditions were perfect since the club has amazing lighting and we were playing with an elegant wood set on one of the beautiful chess tables the club has. (Side note – I once looked up those tables and they cost almost $5000 each…though I’m sure if you buy them in bulk as the club does you probably get a discount!)
The agreed time control was G/90+30 and Ben and I wound up having the entire second floor of the club to ourselves. The only spectators were a friend of Ben who came to look at the game and WGM Anna Sharevich who took a look at the position and then went back downstairs to give her evaluation to Ben’s mother who was curious. Anna’s eval…totally even.
The only other interruption was equal parts amusing and annoying. The closing ceremony for the Sinquefield Cup was taking place across the street at the same time and one of the guys from the tech crew came upstairs at one point to lower a needed cable to someone below. He opened the window and then got into a relatively loud discussion with whomever he was lowering the cable to. I don’t know what an “S loop” is, but it was something he clearly didn’t think was a good idea to have!
Luckily this only went on for a minute or two and didn’t seem to disturb Ben too much. It happened pretty much equally on my time vs. his.
As for the game itself, it was a hard fought battle until I blundered the exchange although the reason I did so is instructive in and of itself.
Here is the game in it’s entirety. Thanks to Ben and his mother Stephanie for the opportunity to play this exciting game! Also, congratulations to Ben who it looks like will be an expert once this is rated!
Here is the game that I played Thursday. I felt like the game was slightly better for me, but then I fell into a perpetual trap by my opponent.
The question when you fall into these sorts of things is “why?” Answering that question is where improvement comes from.
With the exception of a handful of times, “you should have seen that” just doesn’t hold water. There is a reason people don’t see things.
It’s easy to say “you study tactics, therefore you have no excuse” but the truth goes so much deeper than that. Especially as all tactics are not created equally.
In this case I think it’s quite interesting and the answer seems to be that I still assume that all re-captures are just automatic.
Interestingly this is related to an issue I was having around five years ago when I was 1600 or so and had a tendency to miss in between moves all the time. I was able to fix that with careful work, so now it would seem that I need to do that with this problem as well.
My friend FM Alex Betaneli just held the 1st Wisconsin International Chess Festival.
I had offered to take a half day at work the day the tournament began so I could go help set up. Alex also asked if I would like to be a house player if needed, which I agreed to do.
As it turned out there were an odd number of players, so I did get the chance to play a game.
I was paired with Merissa Wongso, rated 1489. During this game I made two horrible decisions; one psychological, one strategic.
Here is the first position. I am White.
I have decent knowledge of the 9.Ne1 KID. I also have working knowledge of the 7…exd4 KID since I used to play it. I don’t know much about the Grunfeld since no one seems to play that against me, but I at least know a little.
So what do I do? Do I play 3.d4 and head right down the road to a nice mainline opening? Nope, I bail out with 3.g3. Now there’s nothing wrong with the move in and of itself, and had the move order been 1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 g6 you’d expect 3.Nc3 and this position arises anyways. But I don’t play 2.g3 for a variety of reasons and so easily could have avoided this.
The problem is that I sit there and convince myself that playing something that my opponent is less familiar with should work to my advantage. That’s ridiculous. I should play the more dynamic mainlines and not duck and cover.
So that’s the psychologically incorrect decision.
Here is the strategically incorrect one:
Here my opponent has just played 13…Nd4. I instantly saw that the pawn on b7 hangs. So after 14.Nxf6 Bxf6 15.Bxf6 Qxf6 16.Bxb7 Rab8 17.Bg2 I’m up material.
However, compare the two positions. In the second position two pairs of minors are off the board, all possibility for pressure on the king side is gone, and Black’s knight on d4 is strong.
Imagine instead I had played 14.Nd5 which forces 14…Bxe4 15.dxe4
In this position White is not up any material, but has a better position with more possibilities.
Here is the entire game. My opponent played the rook ending extremely well.
This past Thursday the first round of the Southwest Chess Club Joe Crothers’ Memorial Championship took place.
I am relatively pleased with my first round game. Other than one opening inaccuracy (11…c5 instead of 11…Bb7) and one ridiculous waste of time (17…Rc8, only to have to move right back to a8 on my next move) I think my play was fairly good.
Yesterday I played a game which I thought was a fairly good game by myself, only to realize that I missed the simple win of a pawn on move 10.
I did realize that William could have simply gone down the exchange instead of a rook after 25…Ke7 instead of 25…Kf8, but even here I missed the intermezzo 27…Bxe4 which leaves White with a smaller advantage than I had thought I’d have.
So while I’ll take the win, the bottom line is that there is still a lot of work to do.