In this game I am playing Isaac as Black, our seventh encounter OTB.
On move 17, I suddenly found the Bxh2+ shot and immediately wished I had seen it a move or two earlier. Prior to this move I had 30 minutes left. I spent close to 14 minutes on this move and least 10 of those on the Bxh2+ shot.
So there I sat, Isaac obviously knew that I was also looking at h2+ and seemed caught off-guard, but then was smart enough to give me that hard look at one point. So now I am trying to calculate this thing and wondering if I am totally off my rocker and killing myself on the clock to keep looking at it.
The combination is simple enough to begin with 17…Bxh2+ 18. Kf1 Nd2+ 19.Ke2 (this is where it starts to get kind of scary) bxB 20.QxN and for some reason, all I see here is that my Bh2 is trappable with an h3, and my Bf5 is hanging. I completely miss …Bd3+, removing a target with tempo! Which would give me time to retreat my bishop with even material (yet still crushing), had I thought that worrying about the Bh2 was important (it isn’t).
It was right around there that I decided it was still unclear and that I could be wasting critical time on a foolish endeavor. In fact, after the game I was kicking myself for gambling with the clock on that combination, little did I realize that I wasn’t simply imagining a winning attack after all. In hindsight, I wish I had spent another five minutes on it to reach a winning position.
After this, curiously enough, my heart left the game, I was merely playing with my head after that point. Somehow it looked obvious and safe that I should play NxNc3, or queen trade, but I let him exchange knights on e4 and after Qg4 I noticed that the e6 pawn was en prise and that he was going to have a winning attack on my king.
At the very end, the game score is not quite accurate as it looks just like that but somehow he mated me instead, but still obviously losing in any event.
Anyway, I was sickened to look off the combination and played Bxe6 at that point without further ado. Anyone who says that chess isn’t about deep combinations is lying. Had this been in a book with the flashing green light of c-o-m-b-i-n-a-t-i-o-n, I would have found it. But what really happens if you have not gained confidence in finding them OTB, well for me is that I spent around half my time and energy doubting myself, questioning whether or not it is sheer folly and perhaps even slightly insulting to my opponent that I consider his position to have such a gaping hole in it or not. But, it’s a lot better to do that than to simply work chess as if there were no “soul” to the game, which I have a feeling that some who are stuck in the lower class levels are content to do.
I missed yet another combo as well. I knew that his queen was better but didn’t want to trade it being a pawn down. Actually, I had seen part of an equalizing combo, and not the whole thing which is again agonizing because it made me not want to trade queens but not know how to make something of my chances. Looking at the continuation 18…QxQ, 19.Bxf7+ RxB, 20.Re1xQ Nxf2, 21.KxNf2 Ng4+, 22. Kh1 at this point I saw that I have sacked a knight for two pawns, but am only up a pawn, would like to take the pawn on e3 but my Bh2 would be hanging. Really, I just thought this was part of my ‘desperado’ search. What I completely missed is that 22…Bg3 removes my bishop as a target and attacks his loose Nh4, which gives me time to play 23…Nf2+ winning an exchange and instantly equalizing – rook and pawn for two knights. This indecision to part with these knights also partly explains why I blundered by letting him capture my knight first on e4 instead of play NxNc3 there – I sort of knew it was a blunder, but now I know not to let him get the initiative as he has no trouble winning it from there, as I simply developed his queen for him.
What’s really strange is that I did see that my bishop could rest on g3 once the f and h pawns were gone, but didn’t get the “with tempo” thing. The part I kept missing in all of these attacks, including his was the “with tempo” aspect to the attack. Actually, I had seen that line _without_ trading queens first, so after Bg3 I was still wondering what to do about my queen (“How can I get my queen involved in the attack?”), not suspecting that I should simply trade it to keep initiative. In hindsight, I guess I was simply trying to win back the pawn on e6 first instead of playing this possible attack straight away, a form of hope-chess.
Another tactic I missed, I felt that 14…exd5 might be winning that pawn, but couldn’t see how after 14. Bxd5 NxBd5, 15.QxN attacking my Bf5 and Bd6, not seeing that Bxh2+ wins the queen there, so my suspicions were correct, simply kept missing that Bxh2+ tactic.
This game is so rich in post-game material, the richest I have ever seen by far. There are tactical advantages to be had at every turn. This is what you get when you don’t play it “safe”, tons of opportunities, definitely following the Bent Larsen credo of “a little bad can do ya a lotta good”, of course he didn’t say it in those words. “Who dares wins” – Roman saying – would be the safer way to phrase that.
Before, I thought I needed to be more welcoming of complications, now I realize that’s only the tip of the iceberg, it’s valuing initiative as worth a couple points, even when material is equal, that is more to the point of where I learned that my weakness has been. Sure, it would be nice if I could have simply calculated one of those combinations all the way through as well. Often something “looks” adequately defended, but that is where deeper calculation is required.
Having said all this, I hope I don’t play my next game and simply drop a pawn in a closed position, or something morbid like that. I think Larsen would agree that these are not bad losses, they are part of “training”. People often study tactics, then find they lose even more games, and their rating goes down, but that is because the risk threshold goes up. If one can reach the point where they can calculate some of these opportunities all the way through, then playing strength (assuming consistency) becomes more undeniable.