Good start in Western States 2012

by admin on October 19, 2012

One round down, and the Western States Open started on a positive note for me. I drew against a 2400 player named Alexander Kretchetov in only 20 moves. Before you say “grandmaster draw,” take a look at the final position.

Position after 19. ... Kc7. White to move.

FEN: r1bq4/ppk1bR2/2n1p2p/2p4Q/2B1N3/2PP4/PP4PP/6K1 w – – 0 20

I’ve sacrificed a piece for a pawn (soon to be two) and a dangerous attack. Kretchetov played his previous move, 19. … Kc7, and then after I had already spent about two minutes thinking about my response, he said as if it was an afterthought: “Draw?”

My immediate reaction was that my position must be pretty good if a 2400 player is offering a draw against me. But I didn’t see anything resembling a clear win. The main moves I looked at were 20. Nxc5, 20. Qxh6 and 20. Bb5. What would you do here? Agree to a draw or play on? If you’d play on, what move would you choose?

I probably thought another five minutes and then accepted. I felt really craven to do so, because I felt sure that a Tal or a Topalov would have played on here, regardless of whether they saw a win.

My decision was mostly an emotional one, not based on the position. I had played a previous game against Kretchetov (in fact, in the first round of this same tournament last year!) that was quite similar to this one, where I sacrificed two pawns and got what should have been a winning position, but I went astray and eventually lost. I wrote about it in my post, Negative two pawns are better than negative one. I didn’t want something like that to happen again. I wanted to have something to show for my efforts, so I agreed to a draw.

When we looked at the game quickly, it looked as if White is indeed winning after 20. Nxc5 Kb8 21. Nxe6 Bxe6 22. Bxe6 Qxd3 23. Rxe7. A key point that I missed at the board was that if Black takes the rook, he simply gets mated: 23. … Nxe7?? 24. Qe5+ and mate next move. Oy veh!

But when I put this position on the computer, I was surprised to see that Rybka says Black is better! The point is that Black can play a long series of checks designed to wrest control over the e5 square, beginning with 22. … Qb1+ 23. Kf2 Qxb2+. I won’t give the whole line here, but the upshot is that Black eventually gets his queen to f4 with check and then takes the rook. White still gets Qe8+, but this leads to an endgame that is slightly better for Black.

There is no other variation that leads to an advantage for White, either, so at least from Rybka’s point of view I did the right thing. Of course, in a game between humans absolutely anything could have happened in this position. Psychologically it would have been very difficult for Black. Even if I play the simple 20. Qxh6, he’s still got a lot of problems organizing his pieces, and the connected passed pawns on the kingside will be very dangerous. The computer may say Black is OK, but I think the onus is on Black to prove it. That’s how people like Tal and Topalov won (and win) their games.

Not being in their category yet, I guess I’ll settle for the half point and vow to fight a little harder next time.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashish October 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Presumably you’re playing chess not to make a living but because you enjoy the experience, the challenge, and the feeling of learning and intellectual growth.

How does taking a draw – in ANY game, but particularly in a game with so much life left in it – maximize those three factors? (This has nothing to do with the post hoc computer analysis.)

I enjoy your games and your analysis – I’m disappointed at missing out on this one.


Praveen October 19, 2012 at 7:49 pm

I am sure most of us would want to play on here, based on general principles – h6, c5 likely falling, and black ‘might’ have trouble developing his pieces and defending e6. But then again, assessing a position based on general principles has its issues, especially when you’re sitting on a rocking chair with nothing else to do other than to make inconsequential comments in complicated game played by two really strong players :).

Good luck in the tourney, Dana.


admin October 20, 2012 at 8:11 am

Hi Ashish, I will use your comments as motivation next time! Well, of course there are times to agree to a draw. If I am losing (!) then of course I will agree to a draw, or if the position is dead equal with no possibilities to win for either side, or of course if best play for both sides naturally leads to a draw by repetition. However, you are right that there was no objective reason to agree to a draw in this position. It was due entirely to my internal mental state.

The computer analysis was reassuring in the sense that it tells me I didn’t miss some clear winning line. However, it can’t be used as a justification for accepting the draw. In the opening position the computer also shows the position as roughly equal, and yet we would rightly criticize a person who agrees to a draw on move one.


Ashish October 20, 2012 at 9:04 am

> If I am losing (!) then of course I will agree to a draw

Well, that is again a short-term decision. (I’m not saying it is wrong.) If you are motivated by the three criteria above, and assuming the position is at all “interesting,” you’d play on to the loss and get more memories and learning out of it. Playing out an interesting loss could bring further chess learning that can be applied to subsequent games. (Of course, you’d also learn from post-game analysis with a willing opponent, if you always do that.)

I especially hate it when I see kids take draws in interesting positions. What are they learning (about chess and about life)? Why are they playing chess at all – just for rating points?


Willy October 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I am a way lower rated player than you, so I can not say that I could do any better…or even draw against such a great opponent. However, I think you should go for it next time. You probably had him nervous with such a sharp position (probably why he wanted a draw). Also, great players and teams in any sort of competition tend to get nervous against an underdog who decides to go for it. For example, a football team that decides to start throwing long passes in hope that they will catch a break. You asked what move we would choose. I thought the moves you considered would have kept the tempo going. Thanks for sharing this game! It is always an act of humility when a teacher shows their losses and draws…and not just wins.


Jay October 20, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Do they post live results/standings anywhere? How many people showed up this year?

Thanks and best of luck tomorrow!


Brian Wall October 20, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Draw seems reasonable to me – higher rated player, lost to him before, you found no win.


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