…until I blundered a pawn.
I met Issac again after a long break. He’s won our last three encounters and his rating has gone up, but that wasn’t what concerned me because I already knew I had no business losing to him, if he plays his normal non-aggressive “cheesecake” opening as White.
So, since he sort of let me get me setup in, and as I do have quite a bit of chess experience and knowledge of his routine, somewhat predictably I got an advantage.
But, and isn’t there always a but, I was spending too much time on my moves looking for a bigger edge somewhere. I figured something out though, Isaac spends about half a minute in the opening and early middlegame on his moves. I see my and his moves just as fast as he does, if not faster, BUT, I don’t play them right away and then never found anything better with the extra time. He, on the other hand, knew to slow down the game once my attack had amounted to something, and then also after my pawn blunder. I had 3 minutes at the end, but I also had 3 minutes when he had an hour left and 3 minutes when he was down to half an hour.
I was planning to play ..Rad8 to defend the pawn but got impatient that nothing decisive had happened yet, and made an instant “intuitive” move. I grabbed the bishop and tried to put it back, but nowhere can I put it that it will defend that pawn, so just played ..Bd4 as I was going to. For a moment, i thought I might be able to win his ..Re4, but then his queen comes over to defend.
The moral or “lesson” of this game is that I have to have it in my head that it takes 60 moves to beat these stronger players, that any blunder will come much later. I played that ending out with Crafty where if I hadn’t dropped the pawn – it starts out as -1.5 to -2 advantage but after about 55 moves it’s down to -1 and is clearly a draw. The point is that all I had earned in that game were “chances” for him to go wrong, and that really does work because the defense would have got to him on the clock or on the board very likely.
Before I blundered, I had seen the correct continuation but got frustrated that it didn’t seem to be “enough”. He may have not found it, though. I showed Anthea, I push ..e3, he goes f3, and there is pressure on White’s position. White either figures it out, say with Qg3 before the pawn pushes, or easily does lose. Just because he had been defending well, doesn’t mean that that will be the case for the next 30 moves.
There was even a tactical blunder that I didn’t catch of his, where I was blitzing, of course, and even at the end I should have been thinking about taking his c-pawn rather than his a-pawn.
Here is the blunder: 40.Ra2-b2?? (which I knew was bad, yet was only too happy to trade)..Rxf2!, 41.RxRb3 RxRc2 (discovered check), 42.Kh1 or Kf1…Rc1 pinning the queen to the king with the rook. I did spend so many seconds looking for something there, but wasn’t tactically strong enough for the amount of time spent to see something like that. Also, it’s easy to not think cooly. For example, have to see that after 40…Rxf2, 41.RxRf2 RxRb2 that something like 42.Qc3+ forking king and rook, is easily stopped by 42…Qe5, when the pin against the king, lost rook, isn’t going anywhere. Harder to be that relaxed mentally, when blitzing.
The problem with blitz is that one tends to have this foregone conclusion already in the head “Oh look, he’s trying to trade rooks, it’s an obvious draw” because you don’t really have time to calculate much out in regard to the particular moves. Plus, it’s easy in blitz to “trust your opponent” as in “He’s a good tactical player, there is probably no blunder here”. It’s a crutch because one doesn’t actually have time to ponder over the move itself.
Another thing I realized after the game, regarding the wisdom of moving quickly, if one spends an hour on 25 moves, well played, and doesn’t come up with an advantage, then it is much easier to become frustrated and impatient. Whereas, if one had spent merely half an hour on 25 moves, it would seem like “Hey, it’s early, we are just getting started, we’ve got two whole more hours to get into this game with.”
I missed that tactic, ouch. Now if I play Buck next week, dunno, then he will move quickly _and_ be accurate. Not some case where the amateur move is likely to every appear if he is on his game, not with an old hand like him. It would be more surprising if he “doesn’t” give me a chess-lesson.
One other thing that is easy to overlook with that combo I missed is that a “checking attack” often gives the attacker free tempos, so to speak – the discovered check would have let me move my rook two moves in a row, while he only moves his king. This is why calculating sacrifices to quiescent positions is more important than counting material. If there were a king check, then I would have been right not to waste my time on it.
It’s easy to see in any one of those lines that Black wins the f-pawn right away just because of the pin, before noticing that it also wins a rook. Here is another try that doesn’t work for White: 40..Rxf2, 41.QxR BxR+, 42.KxB (White could probably hold in my time-trouble, if this were all it were) Qe3+!, 43.Kf1 RxRb2, 44.RxR Qc1+ picking up the Rb2. And if 42.RxRf2, the same theme applies …RxRb2, 43.RxRb2 Qc1 check winning the Rb2 and wins.
All of these lines were short. There were a lot of these lines, but it should have been quick to see that each line was winning after only two or three moves. I think I was put off by the multitude of possibilities there (I did consider it for a couple of seconds), but for some reason it seems like when a move is bad it fails in all lines, as if part of the secret of the harmony of chess (Smyslov talked about the harmony of pieces). Next time I am in time-trouble, I have to remember that a bad move is probably bad in all lines, and also ask myself whether the mistake is of immediate nature, for example “Does it look as though it were losing a pawn, or conceding an attack right off the bat?” If so, be suspicious and err on the side of taking it, when a quick move feels necessary.
The problem with playing the opening the best way is that you will have to conclude with a tactic somewhere. It is interesting that my best chance to finish the game swiftly was after I had blundered my pawn. So, need to be always on the lookout.
Yes, Black’s position was in harmony for that sham-sacrifice on f2 to work. There is a visual oddity in time-trouble where one may look at just attacking moves or just defending moves. For example, I was thinking attack, which momentarily made me forget that the queen was also defending the e7 square. Any attack has to be in balance with both attack and defense, so it does no good to only look at one of those features. So on that note, if he had tried to push my queen out with 40..Rxf2, 41.h4 Qxg3, 42.Qe7+ then the discovered check …Re7+ once again gives me a free move whereby I can now take his queen (..Kh6 also wins, as after 43.Qg5+ QxQ, 44.hxQ Kxg Black has two connected king-side pawns to none for White). Interestingly 42.QxRf2 BxQ, 43.RxRf2 does finally leave White with rook and bishop for queen, but now there is a critical g-pawn missing which is enough material for the win. Not only that, but Black can either immediately take the h-pawn as well, or play Qg4 which will win the c-pawn – either way is good enough for an eventual victory.
It’s worth pointing out that 40..Rxf2, 41.Kh1 loses a rook to ..Rxb2 and this I had actually managed to see OTB very quickly. Also, it’s interesting to note how protected that the bishop is on c5. For example, if there were no c4 pawn, Black may have had chances to hold with RxB on c5.
I think it may have been Kotov who said “You play the way you train.” Before the game, I was actually thinking of that saying and that I hadn’t been training on systematically going through combos where I need to evaluate multiple lines. This has been on my mind for the past two months actually. The only book that really gives me that sort of practice is that Anthology of Combinations or reprinted as Encyclopedia of Middlegame (something like that). As much as I study other books, that is the one book which truly needs to be studied for me to get better. Need to have that feeling that I will be shown a combo OTB which has many different lines where I need to evaluate each one in turn (even if only briefly), in order to conclude that I should play the move (though the first move is not generally obvious, as was the case in my game).
It’s interesting that to a GM, their focus is on trying to achieve a big advantage, like I had, but then the tactical finish for them is a simple matter, hardly worth mentioning. For us class players, I feel it is the opposite. So many of us have read many world champion memoirs, openings, computer analysis of openings, that our biggest shortcoming is working through a complex tactical calculation during a single move.