Almost My First Win Over a GM

by admin on October 19, 2014

What a finish to the Western States Open! In the last round, I almost

  • Beat my first grandmaster (a bucket list item)
  • Tied for first in an open tournament, for the first time in 20 years
  • Scored another historic victory with the Bryntse Gambit
  • Got my rating back over 2200.

But I didn’t. Instead, I agreed to a draw with grandmaster Sergey Kudrin. Hint: If a grandmaster offers a draw to a player rated below 2200, it’s pretty certain that the grandmaster has a lost game. Especially when a draw will give him no prize money.

But you can judge for yourself. Here is the final position, where we agreed to a draw. I’m White, Kudrin is Black.

kudrin finalFEN: 8/2r3p1/5q1p/1kp4P/5P2/1P1P1BP1/2P1R1K1/4B3 w – – 0 48

Position after 47. … Qf6. White to move.

I’ve listed above all the reasons why I shouldn’t have agreed to a draw. Now let me tell you why I did.

  • Although I knew I stood better here, I was under the impression that it would be a long, tedious endgame. In a sudden-death time control (where we both had about 34 minutes left), there might be some possibility of a screw-up, and I didn’t under any circumstances want that.
  • The prize money would most likely be about the same for me, win or draw.
  • Although it would have been cool to get my first win ever against a GM, let’s not forget that getting my third draw ever against a GM is pretty cool too. (My previous draws were against Walter Browne and Gregory Serper. My losses have been too numerous to count.)
  • And the main thing is, as my wife told me afterwards, “I went with my gut.” When he offered me the draw, I had such a strong sense of relief that I would not have to go through another long, drawn-out endgame that I honestly did not do any serious analysis.

However, if I had done some serious analysis, I would have realized that 48. c4+! (a move I had actually been setting up) is a killer. 48. … Kb6 is forced, and now the followup is 49. b4! If 49. … cb White doesn’t take the pawn back, instead I play 50. Bf2+! Rc5 (forced, because of 50. … Ka6 or 50. … Ka5 51. Ra2 mate) 51. Re5! Although the passed b-pawn might cause some momentary concern, it’s easy to see the White can stop it. The rook and two bishops should easily overwhelm the queen.

Alternatively, after 49. b4+ if 49. … Re7, then White simply plays 50. Rxe7 Qxe7 51. Bf2, winning the c-pawn. There’s no question that with two bishops plus four pawns (!) against the queen, plus the fact that my king is totally secure, plus the fact that three of the pawns are connected and passed, this would not be a long, drawn-out endgame. It would be easy.

So that’s what might have been. But what’s done is done. Next time, if there is a next time, I will try to control my emotions better. I have had an unfortunate tendency lately to accept draws when I could have had wins (see my game with Ladia Jirasek a couple months ago, and even my round one game with Samir Alazawi in this tournament). I need to work on that.

But regrets? No. Not this time. Every game against a grandmaster is like a free lesson, and this time I’m glad that I did some of the teaching!

In other games, there was a six-way tie for first place between IM Andrey Gorovets, GM Alexander Ivanov, GM Enrico Sevillano, GM Alex Yermolinsky, GM Melikset Khachiyan, and GM Walter Browne. The first four all went into the last round with 4 points and drew their games on the top two boards. The last two went into the round with 3½ points and won to join the crowd at 4½.

I am in a crowd with 4 points, and we’ll have to see how the prize money gets sorted out, but I think I am tied for top under 2200. I have to give a shout out to Mike Zaloznyy, because he’s a reader of this blog and he had a great tournament too. In fact, our round-by-round scores were exactly the same: draw in round 1, loss in round 2, wins in rounds 3-5, and draw in round 6. He probably won’t get as big a prize, though, because he’s not under 2200.

P.S. Yes, of course I will do a ChessLecture on my game with Kudrin. If you want to see the whole game, you’ll have to watch it at!

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt October 20, 2014 at 5:11 am

Congratulations on a great tournament, Dana! And what a terrific result to draw against Kudrin. Yeah, you do look like you a at least close to being totally winning in the position you showed but taking the draw was understandable. Psychologically, it’s hard to resist a draw offer by a much higher rated player for a couple of reasons:

1) You start to doubt yourself and become concerned that you will be outplayed in the rest of the game (which really isn’t too logical when YOU have been the one doing the outplaying up to that point!);

2) You rationalize accepting the draw with yourself by saying you would have taken a draw before the game started.

I had something similar happen earlier this year when I got my first ever draw against an IM but it was a game where I had a significantly better position (probably virtually winning), up a clear pawn for no compensation. However, I was drifting into my usual time trouble and decided to lock the position up and offer the draw, which the IM accepted immediately. Some people might think it odd that such a high rated player wouldn’t play on but, barring some horrible blunder by me, there was no way he was going to win the game and so it was a very practical choice to accept the draw offer.

I look forward to seeing your game against Kudrin on ChessLecture! Oh, quick question: Do you intend to bring back “Learn From Your Fellow Amateurs”? I used to enjoy that greatly but reckon it has been M.I.A. for a good year or more.


admin October 20, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Hi Matt,
Yes, definitely the self-doubts were a factor for me, too. Going up against a grandmaster in a tricky endgame, with a sudden-death time control… all made me a little bit nervous. By the way, today I’m feeling completely OK about it. On the five-hour drive home I was just having a great time replaying the game in my mind and thinking about what I would say on ChessLecture. The missed opportunity to beat a GM didn’t bother me at all any more.


Ethan October 20, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Dana, I just stumbled upon this blog this evening and am very impressed with what I have read. That is really neat to have nearly beaten a Grandmaster! I recently have taken a few lessons from a GM from Macedonia, and I usually can keep up with him alright (then again, it’s a blitz game). I’m sure it is much harder to compete with a GM when they have a full 90 minutes to think how to defeat you.
I will definitely keep reading your future blog posts, you’re a great writer. Also, could you sense any fear on behalf of the GM or did he try to keep his emotions concealed?


admin October 20, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Hi Ethan, Actually it was 120 minutes, plus 60 more minutes after the time control! But actually, I like it that way. I’m a lousy blitz player, so a long time control gives me a better chance.

Kudrin always looks very calm and imperturbable at the board. However, when you’re actually playing somebody you sense some little things, just based on how they move the pieces and how long they take. I don’t think the possibility of losing crossed his mind until very late in the game. There were a couple points where I distinctly caught a vibe from him of “This is harder than I thought it would be,” and one point where I’m pretty sure he either missed or misevaluated a tactic that I had. I think that’s when he realized he was in trouble, and he offered the draw about three or four moves later.


Michael Bacon October 21, 2014 at 8:17 pm

No guts, no glory. This may have been your best (last?) chance to beat a GM. White is clearly winning after 48 c4+ Kb6 49 b4.


admin October 22, 2014 at 7:38 am

I’m glad somebody wrote this! Morally you’re right, but technically there was quite a bit of glory — a $600 prize, congratulations from the spectators, etc. So to me this was partly about temptation: the temptation to settle for a lesser glory instead of taking a shot at the greater glory (a share of first place, an item crossed off my bucket list).

If it hadn’t been the last round with money on the line, I might have decided differently. If I truly believed this would be my last shot ever at defeating a GM, I might have decided differently. But what’s done is done.


Matt October 22, 2014 at 7:51 am

I think a lot us mere mortals would accept a draw offer from a GM even in a position where we were significantly better. Whether we *should* accept a draw in such a situation is another matter entirely but the temptation is perfectly understandable, especially with money on the line in the last round of a tournament.


Mike Splane October 25, 2014 at 11:31 pm

I’ve been in your shoes not once but four times.

When Peter Biyiasis offered me a draw in only my second game ever against a grandmaster I immediately accepted. Then I looked at the move he had just played and realized it allowed mate in three.

After that game I always answer every draw offer with “Let me think about it.” and then study the position. You do not have to worry about the clock since you can always accept the draw offer if you run too short of time. If you both had 34 minutes left on the clock when he offered you should have spent at least a few minutes here thinking through your options.

But sometimes even that doesn’t help. I did think through my options when Ben Finegold offered me a draw. I was an exchange ahead but couldn’t see a good way to make progress. I suffered the same irrational fears that most of us do, “he is a better player than me” and “what if I screw this up”, and succumbed to them. After I accepted the draw offer Ben told me if I had declined the offer he would have resigned.

BTW, Peter Biyiasis offered me draws from inferior positions in our next two games I turned him down both times, was outplayed and lost. The way I look at it I got two free endgame lessons from a grandmaster and I was ok with not taking the draws.


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