Disappointing Finale

by admin on July 21, 2018

Before I started playing in the Tuesday Night Marathon, I told myself that I wouldn’t care too much about my result. The goal was simply to get back into form after two years of no tournament chess, and I didn’t really know how I would do.

For the first seven weeks, I felt as if I was playing better every week. Going into the final round I had a record of 5-2 and a shot at a prize, however small. Suddenly my attitude changed, and I really wanted a win in the final round!

Unfortunately, I fell into one of the oldest mistakes in the book: My opponent got into time trouble (I had 34 minutes left for the game, and he had 14) but I let it affect my play. I started rushing my moves, and within a few moves my position went from promising to totally lost. No prize, and a bunch of rating points down the toilet.

Why did I do such a stupid thing? In part, because it’s so rare for me to be ahead on the clock. I was so pleased with being 20 minutes ahead that I wanted to stay 20 minutes ahead, and I forgot all about playing good chess! Actually, playing good moves and giving your opponent hard problems is the best way to stay ahead on time.

Well, I hate blog posts that wallow in misery, so let me tell you the good news. The winner of the tournament, with a spectacular 8-0 score, was Ezra Paul Chambers, a FIDE master who was the third seed. I don’t know a single other thing about him, but anytime somebody pulls a Fischer in a tournament like this (eight rounds, eight wins!) it’s pretty darned impressive.

Second place, far behind him, was IM Elliott Winslow at 6½-1½. The other big story of the tournament was how well the class-A players did. Three class-A players tied for third place at 6-2 (along with two experts and a master). Two of those class-A players were opponents of mine: James Wonsever, with whom I drew in round 6, and David Askin, who beat me in round 8. Wonsever picked up 80 rating points and Askin 60. Wonsever impressed me a lot; he started playing rated chess only two years ago, as an adult, and he has already gotten his rating up to 1933. Amusingly, seven of the eight tournaments he has played in his life are Tuesday Night Marathons. Askin raised his rating back over 2000 (where he has been before). Both of them won $158, which could have been mine if only I had beaten Askin… but there I go, back into misery mode again.

Here are the crucial moments of my game against Askin.

Position after 26. … Qxf7. White to move.

FEN: 2k1rb1r/1p3qp1/p3p3/2Pp2Bp/1PnN3P/2P2P2/P3Q3/2KR3R w – – 0 27

Here I was White. The position was much more complex than I realized during the game. For some strange reason, I felt absolutely sure that I was going to win this position. Maybe it was my 20-minute time advantage; maybe it was the sight of Black’s backward pawn on an open file and his undeveloped pieces on the kingside. But it was my first error here — a complete misevaluation of the position. In fact, there are just as many things working in Black’s favor. His knight is beautifully posted on c4. His “weak” e-pawn is threatening to advance next move and create a pawn duo, which would chase my best piece, the knight on d4, away from its square. Chances are balanced at best; White is not winning, not even close.

Here my initial intention was to play 27. f4, in order to discourage Black’s e6-e5 break. I was all set to play this, when suddenly it hit me: if I play f4, my bishop on g5 could become just a tall pawn. If he plays 27. … g6, what do I do next? My instinct was to play 28. Nf3 Bg7 29. Ne5, but I didn’t trust it after either 29. … Nxe5 30. fe Qf5, when Black gets pressure on my weak e5 pawn, or 29. … Bxe5 30. fe, planning to play with a good knight against my bad bishop. So on the spur of the moment, with maybe five seconds of thought (remember, I was rushing my moves) I played 27. Rhe1, which I thought would be a more flexible approach.

This is a weird move to try to evaluate, because the computer (Rybka) says that I played the best move for White! Nevertheless, the thought process was all wrong, and it was based on a wrong conception. Of course the main question is what happens if Black plays the move that I had wanted to prevent. And that is what Askin played: 27. … e5.

Position after 27. … e5. White to move.

FEN: 2k1rb1r/1p3qp1/p7/2Ppp1Bp/1PnN3P/2P2P2/P3Q3/2KRR3 w – – 0 28

This is the position where I really had to calm down and take my time. Instead I rushed my move, taking less than ten seconds on it: 28. f4??

Here is my thought process, after making the move. “Of course, he can’t take the pawn because of the pin on the e-file. Although, you know, if he just moved his bishop it wouldn’t be a pin any more, and I would be in a heap of trouble. But he doesn’t have any dangerous bishop moves, right? He only has 28. … Be7, but that’s no problem. Oh, wait, he could pull out a desperado move: 28. … Bxc5! Oh no, I’m just flat-out losing a pawn here! Jeez, I hope he doesn’t see that!”

Well, of course he did see that. And this is a thought process I should have gone through before playing 28. f4, not after. Ordinarily I would have, but I was so caught up in trying to play the clock.

Instead I should have played 28. Nc2. If, in fact, I had played 27. Rhe1 with this move in mind, it would have been an interesting concept. White is allowing Black to set up a big center pawn duo with the thought that the “hanging pawns” will prove difficult for him to hold. That would have been an interesting game strategically, and it might be the sort of cat-and-mouse game that would be difficult for Black to handle well in time pressure. But I have to say, it’s a style of chess that is pretty foreign to me, so it would have taken unusual presence of mind for me to decide on that approach.

After 28. f4 Bxc5! my game went rapidly downhill: 29. fe Rxe5 30. Qh2? …  This was my last chance to stay somewhat in the game; I had to play 30. Qf1. Again a somewhat non-intuitive, retreating move, but the point is that both Black’s bishop and queen are hanging and he is forced to play 30. … Qxf1 31. Rxf1. Now White will at least have an active square for his rook on f7 and will have a little compensation, though not enough, for his pawn. After the game continuation Black is able to simplify easily and reach a position where he is not only a pawn up but also has a far better position.

The game continued 30. … Bxd4 31. cd Rxe1 32. Rxe1 Re8 33. Qh3+ Kb8 34. Rxe8+ Qxe8 35. Bf4+ Ka7 and finally one more blunder, 36. Be5? My game was already lost, but this move was yet another rushed mistake. My thinking was that after 36. … Nxe5 I would pin the knight with 37. Qe3 and win it back next move. But then I realized that wouldn’t work because of the elementary unpinning move 37. … Qc6+. For the second time in ten moves, I missed a simple in-between move that turned a pin into a non-pin. These are easy tactics that I missed.

I did actually see this a move too late, and so after 36. … Nxe5 I sadly recaptured with 37. de Qxe5. But here I decided to end the suffering and resign. I’m two pawns down, Black has no weak pawns and I have lots of them. No point playing out a position like this.

My apologies to everyone, because that is ten moves of some of the worst chess you will ever see. But I hope it will teach me a lesson. My opponent’s clock is my opponent’s business; I should only worry about my clock, and make sure to use my time wisely.

A small compensation for this debacle was the fact that I had a chance to present a book reading/ lecture at the University of California at Berkeley the following day. If any of you are interested, the lecture was video-recorded and is available at YouTube. It’s 56 minutes long, and my one word of advice is that you should skip the first 4½ minutes, because my actual lecture starts around 4:30. Also, be prepared for cute puppy pictures. One of the people in the audience told me that the puppy photo at 14:39 was so cute that she couldn’t pay attention to what I was saying!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Splane July 22, 2018 at 1:09 pm

Hi Dana,

I think the position before you played 27 Rhe1 was indeed better for you (White) . I’d like to suggest that his king is vulnerable, and that his central pawn duo would be weaknesses in any endgame with the queens off the board. My suggestion is to combine both these observations by playing 27. Qc2.

Now if 27 … e5 28. Qf5+ Qf5 29. Nf5 his center looks very fragile and seems to be collapsing right away. . After 29 … g6 30. Ne3 Ne3 31. Be3 Rd8 32. Bg5 Rd7 33. Bf6 you can’t possibly lose this. So he will likely have to play 27 …. g6 to prepare 28 … e5.

After 27 … g6 you can start your queenside attack with 28. Qa4!

You’re already threatening to play 29. c6. Let’s assume he continues with his plan and plays 28… e5 This actually kicks your knight onto a better square. You simply play 29
Nb3 The knight will later return to c5 or a5 to help mate the king. and in the meantime the d5 pawn is now a weakness. White is threatening to take it right away.

Note he can’t take on f3 with his queen because the rook hangs on e8 with check. And it is very hard to add a defender to the rook or to the d5 pawn. He almost has to move the bishop. After he does, you are ready to break through with 30. c6.

The complete line is
27. Qc2 g6 28. Qa4 e5 29. Nb3 Bg7 30. c6
when I think you are very clearly winning.


admin July 24, 2018 at 7:36 am

Hi Mike, I like the idea of 27. Qc2. During the game I was convinced that c5-c6 was going to be a crushing move (the answer to the Mike Splane question!) but then he got his knight to c4 and my threats just seemed to disappear. So it would be nice to reinstate that idea with Qc2-a4.

However, I have one problem with 27. Qc2, which is that it takes the pressure of e6 and allows Black to play 27. … Be7. Suddenly it transpires that White’s king and queen are in awful positions. The worst line is 28. Rdg1 Bxg5+ 29. Rxg5 Qf4+ and it turns out that wherever the king goes, White loses his queen to a knight fork! Also 28. Bxe7 Ne3 looks doubtful to me. The most principled continuation is of course 27. Qc2 Be7 28. Qa4, but now I think Black can accept the pawn sac with 28. … Bxg5+ 29. hg Qf4+ 30. Kb1 Qxg5. After 31. c6 Qe7 defends everything. And after 32. b5 Qa3! still defends everything. White’s king keeps being in the most awkward possible location.


Todd Bryant July 23, 2018 at 8:55 am

This is a drag, but some horrible loss is just standard after any long time away from tournament chess. I had one of my own recently, hanging m3 in a winning position against a lower rated player.

On to the next one!


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