Thursday, October 13, 2016

Comebacks part 2

Bad advertising is also advertising but I have my doubts when it is about chess. If you don't hear anything else about chess then as a parent you would not allow your children to play chess. Chess is of course much more than these incidents. In the previous olympiad we had more tension and drama than in any top-sport see e.g. tiebrake-system decides the olympiad. However nothing about this was mentioned in the media. Even in US nothing was reported while their team won gold. Well almost nothing as the New York Times had a very sad article about it. Instead of congratulations we were able to read how the journalist ridiculed the magnificent performance of the team by insinuating that US bought gold by importing foreign top-players.

It is a missed opportunity to show to the American public that chess can still be exciting and beautiful today. It really isn't very hard for a big newspaper to have a good and easy to understand annotation of a few of their best games. There exists definitely enough stuff to write a good story. Besides there wasn't any lack of drama either. I already mentioned the nerve-racking conclusion of the tie-brake but not less entertaining was the comeback in the game of the strong American grandmaster Samuel Shankland against the strong Indian grandmaster Sethuraman. 11 moves (from 23 till 34) white is completely busted. Some engines even show winning-evaluations for black of 18 points at some point of time but finally white still wins.
[Event "42nd Olympiad"] [Date "2016.09.09"] [White "Shankland, Samuel L"] [Black "Sethuraman, S P."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D12"] [WhiteElo "2679"] [BlackElo "2640"] [PlyCount "149"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bg4 5. cxd5 cxd5 6. Nc3 e6 7. Qa4 Nbd7 8. Ne5 a6 9. f3 Bf5 10. g4 Bg6 11. h4 b5 12. Qd1 b4 13. h5 Bxh5 14. Nxd7 Nxd7 15. Rxh5 bxc3 16. bxc3 Qc7 17. Bd2 Bd6 18. Bd3 Nb6 19. Ke2 h6 20. g5 Kd7 21. gxh6 gxh6 22. Rb1 Rag8 23. Bxa6 $4 {(After taking this poisoned pawn white is lost.)} Rg2 24. Kd3 Ra8 25. Bb5 Kd8 26. Rxh6 Rxa2 27. Rh8 Ke7 28. Re8 Kf6 29. Be1 Kg7 30. f4 f5 31. Qb3 Qf7 {(This wins but after Rh2 some engines demonstrate a monster-score of 18 points of advantage for black.)} (31... Rh2 32. Rxe6 {(Ra8 is the best move if you believe the engines but nobody will play such move of course.)} Ra3 33. Rb2 (33. Qd1 Qc4 34. Bxc4 dxc4#) 33... Rxb3 34. Rxh2 { (If the black rook was still at g2 then this was check.)} (34. Rxb3 Qc4 35. Bxc4 dxc4# ) 34... Rxb5 35. Rg2 Kf7 36. Rgg6 Qc4 37. Kd2 Nd7 38. Rxd6 Rb2 39. Kc1 Qe2 40. Rxd7 Kxg6 41. Rd6 Kh5 42. Rh6 Kxh6 43. Bd2 Qxd2#) 32. Qd1 Nc4 33. Rd8 Be7 34. Rd7 Rab2 $4 {(Qf8 was still winning. Now it is again equal and in the next moves black loses the thread of the game.)} 35. Bxc4 dxc4 36. Kxc4 Qe8 37. Rxb2 Rxb2 38. Qa1 Rb8 39. Qa7 Kf8 40. Kd3 Ra8 41. Qb7 Rb8 42. Qh1 Qxd7 43. Qh8 Kf7 44. Qxb8 Qc6 45. Qb2 Qe4 46. Kd2 Qg2 47. Kc1 Qf1 48. Kd1 Qd3 49. Qd2 Qc4 50. Qe2 Qa4 51. Qc2 Qc4 52. Kd2 Qf1 53. Qd3 Qh1 54. Qe2 Qe4 55. Qh2 Qb7 56. Ke2 Qb2 57. Bd2 Qb5 58. Kf2 Kg6 59. Qg2 Kf7 60. Qf3 Bh4 61. Kg2 Qd3 62. Qh5 Kf8 63. Qd1 Kg7 64. Qg1 Qxd2 65. Kh3 Kf8 66. Kxh4 Qxc3 67. Kh5 Qc6 68. Kh6 Qf3 69. Qg7 Ke8 70. Qe5 Kd7 71. Kg7 Qg4 72. Kf8 Qh4 73. Qg7 Kd6 74. Ke8 Qh5 75. Qf7 1-0
A loss instead of the win would've given 16 tie-brake-points less for US if the other results are kept identical. In other words this luck helped US to grab the gold as they only had 9 tie-brake-points more than Ukraine at the end.

At Samuel explained that he has saved such bad positions before in his career but never against the caliber of Sethuraman. At some moment you just stop calculating and play a move which doesn't lose on the spot.

In a previous article the sadistic exam I wrote that competitive chess can be emotionally very tough. A well played game can be destroyed by just one stupid move without any chance to recover. However at least as dramatic is not winning a won position because you can't finish off your opponent. Emanuel Lasker told us that the most difficult is to win a won game. Nevertheless it is incomprehensible what happened in my game against Vermaat. 27 moves (from 22 till 49) I have a completely won position but for some reason I can't find the k.o.
[Event "Open Gent 8ste ronde"] [Date "2016"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Vermaat, M."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B85"] [WhiteElo "2314"] [BlackElo "2190"] [PlyCount "149"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 {(In our previous mutual game of 2011 Marcel chose e6.)} 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 {(I could not find any older games of Marcel in the database with this move. Anyway there are not many games altogether of him in the database.)} 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Nc6 8. Be3 Be7 9. f4 Qc7 10. Qe1 O-O 11. Qg3 Nxd4 12. Bxd4 b5 13. a3 Bb7 14. Kh1 Rac8 {(In 2013 I met the more popular Rad8 by Johan Goormachtigh also played in Gent.)} 15. Bd3 {(More accurate is first Rae1 as I played in my game against Johan Goormachtigh as now it is not yet clear if d3 or f3 is the best square for the bishop. Another interesting alternative is Rad1.)} Bc6 16. Rae1 Rfd8 $6 {(E5 is the familiar theoretical move which equalizes. Maybe Rcd8 is also still playable.)} (16... Rcd8 $5 17. Qh3 $5 e5 18. fxe5 dxe5 19. Nd5 Bxd5 20. exd5 exd4 21. Rxf6 g6 22. Rc6 $5 $13) 17. e5 $6 {(Thematic but first Re2 as I played in my game against Johan looks a bit stronger.)} dxe5 18. Bxe5 Qb7 19. f5 exf5 $2 { (Only after Nh5 it is not evident if white can maintain an advantage on the condition of course that black plays some very strong moves.)} 20. Rxf5 $2 {(Much better was Bxf5 but I was needless scared about Rd2 as I had missed the winning response Ne4.)} Ne8 21. Ne4 f6 $2 {(The different lines are impossible to calculate at the board but g6 is a much better defense here.)} (21... g6 $1 22. h4 $5 Ng7 23. Bxg7 Kxg7 24. Qe5 Kg8 25. Rxf7 Kxf7 26. Rf1 Ke8 27. Nf6 $13 { (Stockfish evaluates this as very good for white. However Komodo still does not see any danger for black.)}) 22. Bc3 Nd6 $6 {(This allows whites advantage to grow. More stubborn is again g6 regarding my engines.)} 23. Nxf6 Bxf6 (23... Kh8 24. Qxg7 {(In the game I had noticed this cute queen-sacrifice although I have to admit immediately that other wins are easier.)} Kxg7 25. Ng4 Bf6 (25... Kg8 26. Nh6#) 26. Bxf6 Kf7 27. Rf4 $18) 24. Rxf6 Ne4 25. Bxe4 Bxe4 26. Re6 Bg6 27. h4 Rd7 28. Qg5 Rf8 29. h5 Bxc2 (29... Rf5 30. hxg6 {(Much stronger than Re8. I wonder if my opponent saw this idea as he played very quickly.)} Rxg5 31. Re8#) 30. h6 {(A direct win exists with Re7 if you also detect the winning bishop-sacrifice at move 33 leading to mate in 4.)} (30. Re7 Rf7 31. Re8 Rf8 32. Rxf8 Kxf8 33. Bxg7 Rxg7 34. Qf6 Qf7 (34... Rf7 35. Qh8#) (34... Kg8 35. Re8# ) 35. Qd8 Qe8 36. Qxe8#) 30... Bg6 31. hxg7 Rfd8 32. Qe5 {(A bit later I realized that a sacrifice at g6 is often very strong.)} (32. Qxg6 {(A shame that I missed this not so very hard move. Mate in 8 is shown by my computer.) } hxg6 33. Re8 Rxe8 34. Rxe8 Kh7 (34... Kf7 35. g8=Q#) 35. Rh8#) 32... Rd1 33. Rxd1 Rxd1 34. Kh2 Qd7 35. Qf6 (35. Rf6 {(Another mate in 8 but now including a sacrifice of the exchange. After the game the Indian IM Kumar Praveen rushed to my board to tell me I had missed a win. I replied that I missed thousand wins in the game. Obviously I was not pleased at all to hear his remark after I just experienced a terrible disappointment.)} Bf7 36. Rxf7 Kxf7 37. Qf6 Kg8 38. Qf8#) 35... Bf7 36. Rxa6 Qd5 37. Qe5 (37. Qf5 {(This move is maybe not so difficult to find but what follows next is pure computer-magic.)} Qd8 38. Rh6 Bg6 39. Qe6 Bf7 40. Qe4 Bg6 41. Rxg6 { (White has to bring his queen first to e4 by some forced moves to avoid Qh4.)} hxg6 42. Qe6 Kh7 43. g8=Q Qxg8 44. Qh3#) 37... Qb7 38. Rd6 Rxd6 39. Qxd6 Qc8 {(Here Marcel proposed a draw which I refused by playing a move. In the remaining part of the game Marcel still proposed a draw 3 times more which I found quite disturbing.)} 40. Kg3 { (Again there are 2 much quicker wins. Bb4 I even looked at for a few seconds but as time-trouble was starting I could not calculate it properly. A similar idea is Bd2 which even is a bit directer.)} (40. Bb4 Kxg7 41. Bc3 Kg8 42. Qe5 Kf8 43. Qh8 Bg8 44. Qg7 Ke8 45. Qxg8 $18) (40. Bd2 Kxg7 41. Qe5 Kg8 (41... Kg6 42. Qg5#) 42. Bh6 Qg4 43. Qb8 $18) 40... Be6 41. Kf2 Bc4 42. Be5 Qf5 43. Ke3 Qg5 44. Kd4 Qg4 45. Kc5 Qc8 46. Kb4 Qe8 47. g3 h5 48. Qh6 Qe7 49. Bd6 $2 {(I only had 2 minutes left on my clock so I panic and blunder a crucial pawn. I only took into consideration Qxe5. I saw Kc3 is not possible and wrongly thought Ka5 leads to a perpetual as I forgot my queen could stop the checks.)} Qxg7 50. Qxg7 {(I could keep the queens on the board but a win is already technically not clear anymore. Besides when you have less than 2 minutes on the clock remaining than swapping off the queens is probably the wisest thing to do.)} Kxg7 51. a4 Bf1 $2 {(Black has almost an hour extra on the clock but keeps playing fast not to give me the chance to calculate something. However this move throws away the draw as it is here necessary to first transfer the king to the queen-side.)} 52. a5 Kf6 53. a6 $2 {(My both top-engines still are showing winning evaluations for white after my move but it is already a draw. Mandatory was the clever Kc5 to keep the black king away from c8.)} Ke6 54. a7 Bg2 55. Bb8 Bc6 56. Kc5 Kd7 57. b4 Bf3 58. Kxb5 Kc8 {(I have 2 pawns extra but it is a dead draw. I realized this already in the game but I was too disappointed to agree already to a draw.)} 59. Kb6 Be4 60. b5 Bf3 61. Bf4 Bg2 62. Be3 Bf3 63. Ka6 Bb7 64. Ka5 Bf3 65. Kb4 Kb7 66. b6 Bg2 67. Kc5 Bf3 68. Kd6 Bg2 69. Ke5 Bf3 70. Kf4 Bd1 71. Bf2 Be2 72. Ke3 Bg4 73. Ke4 Be2 74. Kd5 Bf3 75. Kd6 {(As I had only 20 seconds left I had to admit that the win was not anymore there. In this game I made a sad personal record of playing the most consecutive winning moves and still not win the game.)} 1/2-1/2
After the game the Indian IM Kumar Praveen rushed to me to explain where I missed a win. Not 1 but thousand wins I missed, was my snappy reply. I can't find any standard game in my almost 800 of my personal database where something similar happened to me. How is this possible?

Even so I had practiced tactics the last months a lot. On I achieved a tactic-rating of +2600. Next I had won  the cup in Deurne which was played just before the open tournament of Gent and at Playchess I won even a couple of blitz-games against grandmasters during the last months. I was confident that I had sufficiently trained myself to perform well in tense situations. On the other hand the best training for standard-chess is still playing standard-chess. If you don't play for more than 3 months any serious games then you get unavoidably a bit rusty. Maybe the best explanation is given on the American chess-blog of Dana Mackenzie: "If there is anything, which even grandmasters, are not able to do very well then it are mating-combinations. That sounds to me a bit too simple so I will devote my next lesson to mating-combinations together with my students.



  1. I found your blog through a comment you posted in Good posts especially this one about the difficulty you had in winning a won game. I'm a club player in the 1700 range and would be most interested in reading about your thought processes -- especially during critical moments. Thank you.

  2. How do we recognize a critical moment? At the board we are very often just guessing. This means we spend time looking for something which isn't there while we don't spent enough time at moments there is indeed something under the surface. It is something which I discussed on my Dutch blog more than 3 years ago:
    Of course the stronger you become, the better you get in detecting critical moments but in the end you still rely on intuition instead of some scientific approach.