Round robin bliss, part 3

by admin on November 19, 2007

I don’t know why it is, but somehow I lead a charmed life in these Santa Cruz Cup tournaments. I do not consider myself a particularly lucky player most of the time, but in my local championship I somehow keep pulling off these amazing escapes.

Here’s my latest Houdini trick, which happened in round three yesterday against Jim Parker, who is the lowest-rated player in the field. I’m always a little apprehensive about games where I am paired against someone whose rating is a lot lower than mine (here the difference was 600 points). Jim and I have played many times and we know each other’s openings and styles, which makes him even harder to beat.

I played a King’s Gambit but didn’t get a lot out of it, and eventually (after a few mistakes for both sides, which I don’t particularly want to discuss 😎 ) we reached the following completely drawn endgame:

I played 48. Ne7 and seriously considered offering a draw, but there was one more trap in the position, and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to wait and see Jim’s reply. Sure enough, Jim was too focused on winning my queenside pawns and played 48. … Kb4??, allowing 49. Nc6+! with an easy win for White. All he had to do was play one bishop move, say 48. …. Bf6, and I have no way to stop his king incursion.

Jim saw his mistake right away, even before he pressed his clock. I saw him flinch visibly. It’s a strange psychological phenomenon — you look at a move for 5 minutes and don’t see anything wrong with it, but the instant you actually move the piece, it becomes totally obvious. In Think Like a Grandmaster, Alexander Kotov recommends writing down your move first before playing it, in order to overcome this exact problem. I tried that system for one game and hated it. Nevertheless, I do sometimes (if time permits) visualize having made the move. If I were Black I would say, “Okay, I’ve just moved my king to b4. Is there anything different about the position? Anything I will immediately regret?”

Some lessons:

  • The knight is a tricky piece!
  • Just as we’ve been discussing in some previous posts, most games below master level are decided by tactical mistakes. Jim completely deserved to draw this game, but he had a mental lapse.

After three rounds of the Santa Cruz Cup, the standings are:

  1. Dana Mackenzie (2128) 3/3
  2. Ilan Benjamin (2006) 3/3
  3. Juan Diego Perea (2142) 2/3
  4. Daniel Burkhard (2063) 1/2 *
  5. Yves Tan (1852) 1/3
  6. Ken Seehart (1716) 0/1 *
  7. Jeff Mallett (2045) 0/2 *
  8. Jim Parker (1532) 0/3

* The games Mallett-Seehart and Seehart-Burkhard have not been played yet and will be made up at a later date.

Out of 10 games played so far, we haven’t had a single draw!

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy Hortillosa November 19, 2007 at 11:52 am


Below mater level, most games are decided in either direction by a tactical oversight (usually by a fork on the road). Like you said the oversight is seen by the player making it either before the piece is let go or just before the clock is pressed.

My own theory of this phenomenon argues the following. The one who sees it before the piece is let go possesses a much better trained tactical eye than the one who sees it after the piece is dropped on the square.

The former is closer to totally preventing it. The fact that he is able to see the oversight before it is played means he actually has the ability to visualize the move and check it for error just before playing it.

What can be done here can be as simple as taking a second or two to visualize the move as played and taking another second or two to check if the move played fits a blunder event.

A blunder event is a move that can be taken advantage of by your opponent tactically which has the force of shifting the result of the game from drawn to a loss or from a won game to a draw. With the example in your game, my system of preventing this error is to quickly scan the landing square of the piece I am about to move, in this case, the king if it occupies the same color as the bishop or other pieces in the vicinity of the king. Forks carried out by knights only happen when enemy pieces are on the same color.

This rule is particularly effective during time scrambles. By the way, knight forks are notoriously the ones hard to see by the mind eye. But this simple system will make this type of blunder a non-occurrence in one’s game. Skewers are easier to see as well, but a modified system to combat skewers is to simply avoid placing pieces on the same file or the same diagonal.

Some double attacks other than knight forks are a little harder to see because pieces do not have to be on the same file or diagonal. Even harder to see is the type of a double attack by the king. The human brain in its effort to reduce waste and create efficiencies ignores king moves that in normal circumstances are harmful to its being. But some king moves are effective double attacks on pieces.

Double attacks involving the queen are the easiest to see because these are expected moves known by the brain to occur easily (frequently) and are considered safe moves by the brain for the queen as they are normally carried about at a distance. If you rank these patterns in our brain stores, you will probably find queen double attacks together with pawn forks occupying the first rank because they are seen in our experience a lot which makes the brain so much alert to them.

The above is part of the system I claim to be effective in preventing tactical oversights. Your Implode + K system is good in choosing positional play or in making plans. But any player is best served if at every turn (change in position) subtle or obvious, a tactical check is undertaken. In my own practice, I try to recon for tactical opportunities before using a system like Implode + K. Some gains brought about by tactics are more important than positional gains as we all know it.

When I publish my material, I will ask for permission to use your Implode + K system and of course, with due attributions.

Andy Hortillosa


Matt Hayes November 19, 2007 at 12:40 pm

I remember Jim Parker! Glad he’s still pushing wood. One or two other names on the standings list are familiar too.

I agree with Andy’s comments about preventing tactical oversights and how our brains tend to unconsiously prioritise certains moves, threats and patterns. Sometimes this is a good thing because we don’t want to waste time considering unlikely moves or irrelevent scenarios.

However, it can occasionally be a very bad thing! I remember one rather embarassing game that I played in England many years ago. I had totally outplayed my opponent and was up a rook and 3 pawns. I was sitting there getting rather irritated by my opponent’s refusal to resign and started playing too quickly, without thinking everything through. I saw that my opponent was creating some mating threats but figured I had everything covered. When he did eventually threaten mate in one I moved my queen to stop the mate… or so I thought. I completely missed that he could also mate with his bishop.

Of course, in the build up to all this I had many ways to repel his attack and maintain my advantage. But I got so caught up in how big my material advantage was that I allowed it to become a distraction. I remember after the aforementioned mate, my opponent even apologized for winning! That made it even more embarassing in some ways because it was apparent I had thrown away a game I would ordinarily win 99.9% of the time.

But I did learn two valuable lessons that day. Firstly, always take some time to assess the position and consider ALL the possibilities. Secondly, always assume that your opponent is going to try to find ways to swindle a win or a draw when he is losing. I learned those lessons the hard way that day!


Andy Hortillosa November 19, 2007 at 1:55 pm


Send me samples of errors (yours or your opponents) if you wish to be immortalized in a book. No guarantee that I will use your game but if it fits the point I am emphasizing I will be so happy to use it with your permission.



Matt Hayes November 19, 2007 at 2:46 pm

I don’t have that specific game to hand but I’m sure I can dig some up. I have a couple of games where I was dead in the water and swindled either a draw or a win (actually, three games spring to mind immediately), and I KNOW I must have a few games where I was completely winning and blew it. I’ll see what I can find for you!

Since this blog gets indexed by search engines I guess we shouldn’t give out our email addresses here. If you click on my name here it goes to my website. You can email me at matt@pale…. etc. You’ll get the idea when you go to the site.


admin November 20, 2007 at 10:04 am

Andy, good luck with your book! I think it’s exciting that you are writing a book. It’s easy to say, “I can’t do this,” and in fact I had a little bit of that feeling before I started doing the ChessLectures. But then you just start writing (or lecturing, or whatever), and you find out that you *can* do it!

Of course, you are welcome to mention “IMPLODeS + K” in your book. As I explained in the lecture, I can’t take full credit for the idea because it was inspired by Jeremy Silman. My only contribution is the mnemonic device, plus adding “King safety,” which is so obvious that I don’t understand why he left it out.

I also have notebooks with probably about 300 or 400 of my tournament games over the years, and I’m sure that I could dig up plenty of examples of instructive or dreadful tactical oversights. 😎

Also, since I’ve babbled so much about the Santa Cruz Cup, I think it’s only fair to mention that Matt will be playing in the American Open this weekend in Los Angeles. Good luck, Matt! I hope you manage to put some of your ChessLecture learning into practice!


Matt Hayes November 20, 2007 at 12:37 pm

Thanks Dana, I’ll try my best! One lesson I learned a few years ago before a tournament is to ALWAYS get plenty of sleep. I’ve made that mistake once or twice in the past, not getting enough sleep before the first day’ s play. It really does affect one’s performance quite dramatically. If you have the choice between staying up a few extra hours to study some opening or using those hours to sleep, the sleep should win out every time.

Yes I intend to put some of the lessons to good use. This morning I watched Jesse Kraai’s lecture on the Cochrane variation in the Petroff. I was so impressed that I might incorporate it into my own repetoire. It’s a line that I always assumed was dubious for white but GM Kraai is confident that white can get a decent game and that there are many ways for black to go astray, leading to a quick defeat if he isn’t careful. So, if anyone is reading this and will be playing in the American Open… watch out! The Cochrane might getcha’.


Matt Hayes November 26, 2007 at 11:22 am

Well, I have returned from the American Open where I didn’t fare so well. I only scored 3/8 but I learned a lot about my game, so it was a valuable experience.

In rounds one and two I got into terrible time trouble and blew two totally winning positions. The first one I had less than 4 minutes to make a dozen moves and I SAW the winning move. I almost played it and then I quickly checked it and thought that my opponent had a defense. Because I was so low on time I wasn’t able to check it more than once yet his defense was an illusion. I then blundered and let him trade queens into a winning endgame.

The second game I had my opponent crushed and he had very few useful moves he could make. Again in time trouble, I created some tactical complications which was unwise because, of course, I didn’t have enough time to see everything. I should have simply consolidated, reached the time control, and then I could have initiated some tactics if needs be.

The third game I lost a double edged position in the Scotch Gambit where I had excellent pressure against black’s position by way of compensation for the pawn. When I eventually re-captured the pawn I think I was again getting low on time and the capture was not sound. I had several better moves to choose from but I rushed things.

The fourth game I finally ran into somebody who was playing worse than me and he made a completely unsound sac and was just down a piece.

The fifth game was a draw in the French. I had white and played the exchange, even though it’s drawish. I obtained excellent play but my opponent found a trick to force most of the pieces off.

The sixth game was a draw against somebody we’ll probably hear more about in the future. His name is Danil Fedunov and he is the third highest rated 9-year-old in the country. Actually, I think on Dec 1 he will be the SECOND highest rated 9-year-old in the country because his rating is already 1933 in the next supplement (at 9 years of age! it blows my mind). I missed a win in this game… I played great and I gave him a tempo that allowed him to save the draw. It was an exciting game, though.

The seventh game I completely equalised as black in the Nimzo-Indian and then went in for a dubious “sac” – giving up both knights for a rook where I thought I could just starting pushing my queenside pawn majority with my two rooks sitting behind the pawns. But I always needed an extra move to get things going and my opponent created enough counterplay. I then dubiously gave up one of the pawns and my position gradually fell apart.

The final game was a complete crush where I obtained a dream position as black out of the Accelerated Dragon. I was even able to throw in a nice psuedo rook sac that white could not accept yet he couldn’t just leave it either. I submitted this game as a contender for the best game prize. I doubt it will win because my opponent castled queenside which I thought was suicidal but the rook move I was quite proud of, so who knows!

I haven’t gone through any of my games yet but I already learned that:

1) I need to quickly get out of the habit of being in time trouble.

2) To do that, my openings need more work.

3) However, in EVERY game I played I obtained a great position out of the opening. Therefore, I believe I am PLAYING the openings okay but because I don’t know them well enough it is taking me too long to find the right moves.

4) When I do get into time trouble, do NOT intiate tactics!! Unless there is something obvious that just wins immediately, I guess that’s an obvious exception.

I’m sure there will be many more items to add to this list! I did get to meet some new friends, as well as some old ones. I also got to watch lectures by GM Yermolinsky and IM Silman, both of which were very interesting. So it was a good experience and right now I am trying not to worry about my (rapidly sliding!) rating. I am going through some sort of transitional learning phase and I’m confident that the results will come eventually.


Andy Hortillosa November 27, 2007 at 8:53 pm

Anyone playing in the North American Open next month in Vegas?

Matt, I play the Accelerated Dragon too.


Matt Hayes November 28, 2007 at 11:38 am

I’d love to play in the North American Open but sadly I can’t afford it. Well, it’s not so much the entry fee that’s the problem but the hotel costs and gas etc. I think it would run close to $1000 when all is said and done. It’s unfortunate because Vegas isn’t even THAT far from me… less than 5 hours drive.

Maybe next year I’ll play in it because I think it would be a terrific experience.


Andy Hortillosa November 29, 2007 at 10:48 am

If you want to play in this big tournaments, let me know. We can share the hotel cost and save us both some money.

My two sisters will be joining me in Vegas this December otherwise I will be happy to share the room with you.

I will be playing in the Chicago Open in May.



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