I’ve been playing less chess the last few weeks, for a variety of reasons. I planned on doing NaNoWriMo, so I didn’t start many games … and then I stopped doing NaNoWriMo, so opps. I’ve also had other changes in my life, and this caused me to budget my time and chess is the area that suffered.
All in all, I only completed two games in November. One was a rather uninteresting draw in the Open Spanish. I’ve linked it but offer no real comment. I had slight winning chances in the endgame but pushed my pawn too early, and it would have taken lots of grinding for any chance of winning. The other game was more interesting but worse: I lost.
Yes, I lost. This is my second loss of the year, making my record on the year 29/2/7, against an average rating of 1841. I’m not going to complain, as my 1900-rated opponent deserved it, and, frankly, I was due. It just happened in the worst way possible. I’ll give you a hint: in the following position, White to play and lose. How do you think I threw the game away?
If you can’t figure it out, don’t worry, as it took real inspiration to fall on my sword. I’ll save the answer for the end. First, let’s look at the game. It was in the Accelerated Dragon, and the positions were quite interesting before the game ended prematurely. Click on the link below if you want to see the full chess.com interactive chessboard. There’s also a dynamic chessboard at the very end of this post with the full game.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6
This is a fairly standard Accelerated Dragon position. Normally in the Sicilian, Black plays d6 to prevent White from playing e5. By not playing it, he hopes to save time and play …d5 in one move. At the same time, he is basically daring White to play e5, which is what I did (after the appropriate exchange, of course!)
7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5
This puts Black in a tough spot. Nh5 is impossible because it is trapped there, and g4 would simply win it. Retreating with Ng8 is safe but very passive, not the type of position Dragon players want to get. That leaves the last possibility, Nd5, which is playable but costs a pawn. That is what my opponent chose.
8… Nd5 9.Nxd5 cxd5 10.Qxd5 Rb8 11.Bc4! 0-0 12.0-0-0
Let’s look at this position. White is up a pawn, but it’s in a position with opposite-side castling. In exchange for that pawn, Black has open lines and attacking chances against White’s King. Certainly Black has pressure, but I don’t think White has anything to worry about.
That said, I lost this game, so take what I say with a grain of salt!
12… d6 13.Bxa7
With his last move, Black is trying to open the position up for his Dragon Bishop. I respond by taking another pawn, which I believe is the theory move. This leads to a forced sequence.
13… Be6! 14. Qd3 Bxc4 15.Qxc4 Rc8 16.Qb3 Qa5
We reach an interesting position. White’s e5-pawn is not long for this world, but I am up two pawns, so even if I lose it I still have a pawn in the bank. In addition, I have connected passed pawns on the Queenside. The endgame is obviously winning, but I need to reach it first.
In this position, I made my first inaccuracy. I played 17.Bd4?!, which looks obvious but misses Black’s reply. Can you see it?
How Would You Play As Black?
Remember the context: Black is temporarily down two pawns. He’ll likely get one back, but a pawn is still a pawn. He sacrificed it for open lines on the Queenside, and if he doesn’t use them he’s basically down a pawn for nothing.
The correct move is 17…Rb8! My Queen needs to cover the a2-pawn, and so only 18.Qa3 is available. Black of course exchanges Queens then, ruins my pawn structure and likely wins both weak a-pawns in the not-to-distant future.
Fortunately for me, Black missed this possibility and played 17…Bxe5 instead. There followed 18.Bxe5 Qxe5 19.Rhe1 Qg5+
How to respond to this check? I wavered between Qe3 and Kb1 for a long time. Calculating variations didn’t make sense, because so much could happen. I ultimately looked at in general. Kb1 strengthens the a-pawn but weakens the backrank. For example, if 20.Kb1 Qxg2 21.Rxe7 Qxf2, I cannot here play 22.Rxd6 because of backrank problems.
For this reason, I decided to block with the Queen, 20.Qe3. I don’t know if this was the right choice. My computer suggests that both moves are virtually identical, and the more I let it think the more it flip flops between them, the difference between them a hundredth of a pawn.
Black replied 20…Qf5, not taking the g-pawn like I thought. He is still trying for his attack, though I think taking the material was smarter. Most likely situation then would be mass trading of pawns, where both sides have distant connected passed pawns, and the better endgame player would win.
First I have to defend the not-so-subtle mate threat on c2 with 21.Re2, and then 21… Qb5 22.Rd3!
This move does several things. It physically blocks the diagonal, thus covering the e2-Rook. White’s Queen can now go off. More importantly, the Rook can now go anywhere on the open rank. It can go the Queenside and defend against any possible Black battery attack, and it can go to the Kingside to play for an attack.
Indeed, Black has precious few defenders on the Kingside. If White can get int Qh6 and Rh3, then Black will have to play Qh5 to block it, which trades his Queen into a losing endgame. Black needs fast counterplay to stay in the game, but it doesn’t look good. Black has a long defence ahead of him.
Only one small problem … because after 22… Re8, we reach the original diagram I shared from the very beginning, with White to play and lose. Can you see my mistake now?
I played the terrible 23.Qh6??, which loses in one move. Can you see it?
I clearly didn’t, though now it sticks out like a sore ankle. White is threatening Rh3 next move, with a mate threat, and I figured Black either needed to start his own attack with Rb8 or trade Queens immediately with Qh5. Unfortunately, Black has a much better move. 23…Qxd3!
Because of the pin on the c-file the Queen is immune from capture. I went from thinking I had the game in the bag to losing in one move. What a terrible way to go out. I let him checkmate me after 24.Rxe7 Qxc2# 0-1.
Why Did I Lose?
The easy answer, of course, is that I overlooked a move. I made a tactical oversight. These things happen. Oh well, better luck next time.
What do you think? Is that how you would react? If so, then you will never get better, or at least never eliminate such oversights.
I lost because I saw a good attacking move, 23.Qh6, and played it with almost no thought. The move came to me instantly and I played it instantly … and that’s a terrible recipe for chess success. As GM Igor Smirnov preaches, before you make any move, always ask what attacking moves the other side can play!
I ignored this advice. I ignored my thinking system. I saw a good move and played it, only it wasn’t a good move, it was a losing move. I lost because I forget to ask, what is my opponent’s threat? If I had taken the few seconds to do this, I would have found 23…Qxd3 quickly and not lost the game.
I lost because of a tactical oversight, yes, but that happened because I was cocky. I didn’t ask my normal question, what is the threat? That won’t happen again. I suggest you follow that in your own games as well.