I got or let myself get outplayed in this game. Mike is a strong tactician with a provisional rating, and he is much stronger than this rating, but either way I can’t let that be my excuse.
Obviously, I had no business hanging around in this game, per se, and could have resigned but sometimes it pays to know your endgames as well.
I spent half an hour on move 5…Ne5. I was ready to blitz this out the moment he played 5.Ng5, and oddly I ended up playing this game much as if it were merely a blitz game.
It’s not until I fire the computer up that I realize that my thoughts at the board were completely valid, as I was looking at lots of lines which did exist under the two principle first moves 5…Ne5, and 5…d5. I considered all of the moves here listed in the database.
It’s true that this stuff should be thought out at home, but it’s just as fascinating the conclusions these lines lead to. Of course, once he played 6.Qxd4, which I figured he might, all of my half hour spent went out the window at that point. I’d been playing so much blitz the past couple days that time actually seemed to have slowed down OTB, and the clock wasn’t moving as fast. Eventually, I got down to a minute and 27 seconds when he had an hour and 7 minutes, that was was sort of funny to look at. The bigger issue than time was that this half an hour spent sapped my energy for the rest of the game. I need to get into physical shape as I haven’t had a physical workout in about two weeks. If I played more energetically, I think I would have had a decent shot at playing for a win. It probably wasn’t even the half hour spent so much as I went in there with low energy to start with.
Here was one of the epiphanys that I suffered through OTB, and at first it seems …Ne5 and …d5 will transpose anyway. Okay, so his line seems objectively best in retrospect, but OTB I was worried about 5…Ne5, 6.Bb3 (with the idea of 7.f4), so 6…d5, 7.exd (I also had to look at 7.Bxd, of course) Bb4+, 8.c3 dxc (jettisoning this pawn before he wins it with his queen), 9.bxc Bd6. Here, Black is okay on material because he has traded his d-pawn for White’s b-pawn, but I overlooked this part when counting material. I was seeing the #1 way to play this for Black , but didn’t realize the eval here is =+, in Black’s favor.
The other part of this equation/line that I was contending with was 7.Qxd4, in which case the scary part OTB was that White is simply up a pawn after 7…Bd6, 8.e4xd5 0-0. However, Black has a bit of an attack, and is actually a little better here. So, although down a pawn, the Black position is the more desireable one to have!
Okay, that may be well and good in that line above, but how about capturing with the bishop 8.Bxd5(?), which I was also looking at OTB. Now, mind you I could have blitzed out 5…Ne5 OTB, and only analyzed after 6.Bb3, but I had been putting the analysis of this line OTB off for years (despite having played tens of Scotch Gambits), and felt it was time to figure it out now. Besides, at the board I didn’t know and couldn’t “remember” why it worked, but that’s because I never understood it for one thing.
Okay, so here goes, 5…Ne5, 6.Bb3 d5, 7.Qxd4 Bd6, 8.Bxd5 0-0, 9.f4 (Ne5 is hanging, and 10.e5 would fork Black’s Nf6 and Bd6) Nf6xBd5, 10.QxNd5 (if taking with the e-pawn, then White’s pawns are broken up and the e5 fork doesn’t exist) 10…Ng6! (the critical move because Black is trying to get the lost pawn back in this line) 11.0-0 (to protect f4) h6, 12.Nh3 c6!, 13.Qb3 BxNh3!, 14.QxBh3 Qb6+, 15.Kh1, and looking at this with Houdini the thought crossed me “Oh, no, Black can take on f4 here!” 15…Bxf4!, 16.BxBf4 NxBf4. Black has gotten his pawn back at long last as 17.RxNf4?? loses to 17…Qxb2 eyeing both Qc1+ and QxRa1, can’t stop both threats. White is now the one with the isolated pawn; one look tells you that Black is better here. This is exactly what I love about chess, these sorts of lines; in fact, it’s what drove my love for chess before I ever had a rating!
Now, back to 8.exd5, which is a surprisingly critical line for White. Houdini shows 8…0-0, 9.0-0 h6, and now the obvious 10.Ng5-e4 is better for Black, as after …Nf6xNe4, 11. QxN Qf6 (or Re8) Black’s attack is rolling. Best for Black is to give up the pawn with the shocking 10.Bf4 Re8, 11.Ng5e6! fxNe6, 12.BxNe5 BxB, 13.QxB e6xd5, 14.Qd4.
This is analysis which you can actually use to win games as Black (OTB, White will be hard pressed to play so exact). In the game, he played what I figured was the objectively best, and equal line, which has the advantage is being clear and simple for White to play. He probably knew that he would play this line all along.
10…Bg4 (47% success rate). After I played it, I thought that perhaps I should have played instead 10…h6, 11.Nc3 Qd8, (45% success rate) which is incidentally the #1 continuation chosen int he DB.
11…Be6 OTB, I felt this was a “give up” move, but I was already feeling exhausted. I wanted to make 11…Bf5, but felt I couldn’t find the justification at that (low) moment. Ironically, it works because of a tactic I had seen OTB, but just didn’t have the energy here to put it all together since 11…Bf5, 12.Re1 0-0!, 13.QxNe7?? Re8. Since I had seen this OTB before this point, I can hardly explain why I didn’t see it now.
17…Kb8. This is Houdini’s #1 move, and seems rather obvious, but in retrospect simple equality after 17….b6 would have made life easier for Black (that however, is another subject).
20…Ne3 After the game, I said that I should have taken on c2, after all, taking one pawn not directly in front of one’s king is not all that dangerous.
21.Rfe1?! I felt this was a mistake due to 21…Nxc2, but it’s too bad that I didn’t chance it, and here I began noticing the clock as well. I knew that I was throwing away my advantage with 21…Ne3-f5, and I sorely wish I hadn’t made this decision. After all, after 21…Nc2, 22.Rac1?? (22.Rec1?? fails to 22…NxRa1 which I figured out as soon as I saw the computer’s eval, which tells me that I must have simply been out of gas OTB.) fails to 22…NxRe1. Again, as soon as I saw the eval I figured this must be the line and saw the whole neat line. So, a little more will and gas and I see this line OTB as well. It’s almost inexplicable that I could be this lazy OTB, but I seem to do it in every game. The funny thing is that even if I don’t see these tactics I could follow up with …Rd5, as I saw in the game, since the pin on the c-file is not so important here. This occurred to me as soon as I reached this position in analysis, seeing the game again.
24…Nd6 Here, I wanted to play 24…e5, and can only say that time-pressure factored into my decision not to.
25…Nc4? (…e5). In time-pressure, I am drifting. After passing up my chances to be better earlier, I am now on my way to losing this position.
26.Qh4! A bolt-from-the-blue for me.
26…Nc4-d2? 26…Nd6, 27.Nxe6 Rd7 is best. Also there is 26…Qd5 (I had seen this idea, but it seems mind-boggling to calculate out 27.Nxe6 Rd7, 28.Nf4 Qf7, 29.RxRe8 QxR mostly because there are so many alternative, cheeky tries for Black which fail. Ironically, a lower-rated player may defend better and find this line more easily because they don’t have the skill-level to try to pull off all the crazy-sh*t that a higher rated player can often pull off. IOW, a higher-rated player has more lines to eliminate to get to the only move.
26…Nb2 I felt like this was a strong, important move to consider as well, but I didn’t know why. It seems amazing that after 27.Reb1 b6 (what else?), 28.RxN bxN, 29.bxc+ that Black still has a holdable position, which is something you wouldn’t think so much ahead of time.
27…Nxf3?? Now, I was simply in full coffee-house mode, as it’s so much easier to see an attack than it is to figure out an accurate defense to a position. Also, you have to have the will to look for some long forced line which is a pawn down and leads to your only drawing chances. Here, 27…Qd5, 28.Rae1 RxR, 29.NxR Rc8, 30.Qd4 QxQ, 31.NxQ is that line. Instead, I played my move, left for the restroom, and when I came back I said to him “I was hoping you’d take my knight!” which of course would have given the advantage to Black, as I figured he had some loose rooks, which he does. I looked at other lines such as 27…g5, and noticed that even the simple 28.RxQc6 gxQ, 29.Rc6-h6 appeared winning, and it’s +2. That shouldn’t mean that I don’t look for a defensive line, but when a couple of sharp moves are unexpectedly thrown at you like this in time-pressure your eval of the position doesn’t have a chance to catch up with what’s going on in the position either.
29…Nd4?! I should have taken his rook, but then his Nc6 becomes a monster, and my back rank and queenside pawnside structure looks hopelessly weak. Plus, since I’m dead lost, I also wanted to keep more pieces on the board.
46.g6?? 46.Rc5! wins, as it drives the knight away so that the pawns can no longer advance, plus it sets up 47.Rb5+ winning the b-pawn. I often say that missing one simple endgame tactical idea like this is the most common culprit for holding an 1800 player from achieving a 1900 rating.
51…Kd5 And here it is my turn to miss that little tactic that holds the balance, 51…Ng8! Of course, this king move looked so pretty that I wanted to play it and not calculate at all. He never considered that allowing me to take his knight would lose for me, so 52.h6 would thus win after all because now it will be the g-pawn that promotes, not the h-pawn, and so it is with check! Again, I should have lost this game so late, as I have done so frequently to Experts and Masters because the game all comes down to finding such a simple tactical device in the endgame. All the preceded can come to naught all due to missing one tactical idea, one endgame slip-up!
I hope it goes without saying that Michael (provisionally rated) is also under-rated. He beat Dean (1500) with a nice tactic just last week. He said he was once high-rated a long time ago (but apparently picked up a new USCF id when he started playing again recently(?)).