Strange Endings

by admin on March 28, 2010

The worst kind of self-induced defeat in chess is resigning in a won or drawn position. In my most recent ChessLecture, I talked about a game submitted by Matt Hayes where his opponent fell into exactly this trap. It was especially memorable for Matt because it put his rating over 2000 for the first time.

Of course, something very unusual has to happen to induce someone to resign in a won position. In this case, the unusual thing was a queen sacrifice. As Jerry Hanken wrote in Chess Life many years ago, in his article “Parting with the Lady,” queen sacs often cause such a strong emotional reaction that the opponent will not find the best defense. Resigning, of course, is an extreme version of not finding the best defense.

In Matt’s case, he had sacrificed two pawns for a strong attack, and the queen sac looked like the brilliant culmination of the attack. In reality, it had a flaw: Matt’s opponent could have played an in-between move (a check) that would have defended the mating square and made it completely safe to take the queen. However, I think his emotional reaction kept him from seeing this. According to Matt, he only looked at the board for a few seconds before throwing in the towel. Incidentally, Matt was equally clueless: he had no idea that his combination was unsound. So his body language was saying, “I’ve just played a brilliant sacrifice,” and there was nothing to cue his opponent that the “brilliant sacrifice” was actually a terrible mistake.

The lesson from this, I think, is that you should never resign in haste and you should never resign while you are in an emotional state — angry, surprised, disgusted, whatever. If your opponent plays a move you had overlooked, especially a queen sac, you first need to get over your emotions, and then you need to take a calm, objective look at the position, as if you were seeing it for the first time. Is there something your opponent overlooked? Is the position necessarily lost?

I mentioned in the lecture that something like this happened once in a game I played. As a little bonus to my blog readers, I’ll show you the position where it happened.

In 1978 I spent a semester abroad in St. Petersburg (which was then Leningrad), Russia (which was then the Soviet Union). I talked my way into playing in a quarter-final section of the city championship for university students. Open swiss-system events were at the time unheard of in Russia; all the tournaments were round robins. There was no entry fee, but I have a suspicion that I took a spot from somebody who had already qualified for it. I don’t know. The tournament director never told me, and I never asked.

I was amazingly lucky in this tournament. Out of 12 games I won 4, lost 5, and drew 3. My opponents were all category-I players and candidate masters. At the time, a category-I player in Russia was probably expert strength by American standards, and a candidate master in Russia was more like a low master in America. I was only a class A player, with a rating around 1900. So for me to score 5½ out of 12 against that kind of opposition was almost miraculous.

The biggest miracle occurred in the following position:

White to play and draw — or win?!?!

I had White in this position, and my opponent had just played 30. … Qc4, undoubtedly thinking that after 31. Ne7+ Kh7 I would have nothing better than taking the exchange with 32. Nxc8, after which he plays 32. …Qxh4 33. Rxh4 Rxc8, with an easily winning endgame. However, the move he overlooked was 32. Qxh6+!

After I played this move, he sat there shaking his head for about five minutes, and then without saying anything, he stopped the clock and reached across the board to shake hands. I was too scared to say anything. Was this the Russian way of agreeing to a draw? I didn’t know! It was only when I saw him write “Black resigns” on his scoresheet that I knew for sure that he had, in fact, resigned!

I still didn’t tell him that the final position was only a draw by perpetual check. (After 32. … gh 33. Rxh6+ Kg7 34. Nf5+ and the knight moves back and forth between f5 and e7). So it wasn’t until the following week that he came up to me and said, “Tut stoyala nichya!” (“That was a draw!”) We both marveled at the fact that somehow the shock of the queen sac had confused him enough that he thought I had a checkmate.

Against all odds, my opponent, whose name was Artak Meiroyan, actually became one of my best friends in Leningrad/ St. Petersburg, and I kept touch with him for another two or three years before we eventually stopped writing to each other. This was, of course, in the pre-Internet days when letters required paper and ink and would typically take two or three weeks to reach their destination, and you had to be careful about everything you wrote because you had to assume that a censor would read it. What a different world that was.

What is the strangest ending that you have ever had to a chess game?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Wall March 29, 2010 at 4:44 am

Svidler had 10 minutes left but didn’t realize he was OK after 25 … N:h2, …. Nh4 or … Nd4 26 Nd7!! so he resigned in a drawn position. Earlier Svidler was in a state of shock after 22… B:g2!! and Magnus missed clear wins with 24 … Nh4+
or … Qe5. The two players can see each other’s faces and bodies – Magnus believed he was winning and Svidler believed him.

[Event “Melody Amber 2010”]
[Site “Blindfold Rapid”]
[Date “2010.03.15” ]
[Round “5”]
[White “GM_Svidler( B)”]
[Black “GM_Carlsen( B)”]
[Result “0-1”]
[WhiteElo “2750”]
[BlackElo “2813”]
[Opening “Sicilian: dragon, classical, 9.Nb3”]
[ECO “B74”]
[NIC “SI.15”]
[Time “09:20:43”]
[TimeControl “1500+20”]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be2 Bg7 7. O-O O-O 8.
Be3 Nc6 9. Nb3 a6 10. f4 b5 11. Bf3 Bb7 12. e5 dxe5 13. fxe5 Nd7 14. e6 fxe6
15. Bg4 Rxf1+ 16. Qxf1 Nce5 17. Bxe6+ Kh8 18. Rd1 Qc7 19. Qf4 Rf8 20. Qg3
Nf6 21. Nc5 Nh5 22. Qe1 Bxg2 23. Kxg2 Nf3 24. Qh1 Nf4+ 25. Kf2 Nd4 {Black
wins} 0-1


sovi April 11, 2010 at 12:39 am

many people said that body language is more meaningful than words…

nice info.. thank you..


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