March 2016 Chess Game of the Month: Winning a Won Game

Most chess games are decided by blunders.  That is, one side makes a silly move or completely overlooks a threat and then loses a pawn or piece, and the rest is just ‘a matter of technique.’  No problem, right?

Ha!  It sounds so easy, but every chess player knows that there’s nothing harder to win than a won game.  For this game, I will show how I simplified the game after a blunder into an easily winning position.  This game isn’t as exciting as some of my other ones, but winning won games is a skill in itself.

Some background: my opponent blundered a piece out of the Bogo-Indian as White.  That’s pretty much it.  That said, my opponent was rated nearly 2100 at the time, and he is the highest-rated player I have ever beaten.  It also shows that even good players blunder, so don’t think they don’t!

Tikom – SmithyQ

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4+

This is the Bogo-Indian.  Combined with the NimzoIndian, it is a complete defence against 1.d4 and 2.c4, though not 2.Nf3.  That’s slightly unfortunate, as more and more players seem to prefer 2.Nf3.  Someday, I’ll learn the King’s Indian and punish White that way.

Anyway, most White players know far more about the Queen’s Indian here, 3… b6, than the Bogo.  My opponent played the ‘best’ move according to theory, but he didn’t know how to follow up and soon became passive.

4.Bd2 Qe7 5.a3 Bxd2+ 6.Nbxd2 0-0 7.e3!?

This is an interesting decision.  Normally, White plays e4 in these positions, trying to dominate in the centre.  The downside to e4 is that it puts the pawn on the same colour as White’s remaining Bishop, restricting it.  7.e3 avoids that, which is a point in its favour, but it doesn’t cause any problems for Black.

7…d6 8.Be2?! e5

Here we can see the basic strategic idea of the Bogo.  First we exchanged the dark-square Bishops, and now we place all our pawns on dark-squares.  Our light-square Bishop has an easy diagonal and we also challenge the centre.

I didn’t like White’s 8.Be2, as the whole purpose of 7.e3 was to keep a diagonal open for it on d3.  True, on d3 White would need to watch for potential forks coming from e-pawn, but Qc2 or e4 would stop that.  Really, I think this shows that White’s strategy was flawed.  Black is already at least equal.

9.dxe5 dxe5 10.0-0 Nc6 11.Qc2 Bg4 12.h3 Bh5

In this position, the engines already favour Black slightly.  White is passive, whereas Black can think of e4 or Bg6, trying for the initiative.  Black has no weaknesses, not that White has many, though if he plays g4 he will.  It’s not much, but Black is for choice.

With all that said, White blundered in this very position.  He overlooked Black’s threat.  Can you see it?  If Black were to play, what would he do?  Okay, so it’s not that hard, as Black only has one attacking move…

13.b4?? e5 14.Nd4 Nxd4 15.exd4 Bxe2 16.Rfe1

Opps.  Black won a piece, for nothing.  I half expected my opponent to resign on the spot, but he was nearly 100 rating points higher than me, and perhaps he thought he could outplay me even down a piece.  In this position, for instance, he has a trap, as the aggressive looking 17…Bd3 falls to 18.Qxd3!, exploiting the pin.

White will win the e4-pawn in all likelihood, and his Rook is lined up with my Queen.  Perhaps he can pull some tricks out of his sleeve if I’m not careful.  If I am careful, though, then I will beat my highest rated player ever.  That sounds like a good plan.

I now have one goal: trade as many pieces as possible.  If I can trade all of his pieces, my extra piece will win pawns and those pawns will Queen and it’s easy.

16… Bh5 17.Nxe4 Bg6!

Yes, I know I just said I wanted to trade pieces, but there’s something else as well: stay active.  If I play Nxe4 Rxe4, my Queen is attacked and White has control of the e-file.  Maybe he can swing that Rook over to h4 and try something that way.  I’m still winning, but it increases my chances of making a mistake.

Bg6 instead threatens to win the Knight, so he must exchange it, and afterwards he will have to move his Queen instead of making an attacking move.  I’m thus staying in control.

18.Nxf6+ Qxf6 19.Qd2 Rfe8 20.d5

Again, we have two guiding ideas: trade pieces and stay active.  Cool.  Trading Rooks does one of those things but completely gives the e-file to White.  He then plays Qe3 or something and I have hard time trading more pieces.

A simple move like Rad8 doesn’t really do anything.  The Rook hits a protected pawn.  Playing something like c6?! would be a mistake, as White gets in d6 and then c5 and has a protected-passed pawn.  The engines think my position instantly goes down 0.5 of a pawn.  Still winning, but White is starting to claw back.  Things aren’t so easy.

How can I trade pieces while staying active?  Trading the Rooks would help a lot.  How can I force the exchange while staying active?  I need to somehow keep control of the backrank.  Something like Qf5 and f6, allowing the Bishop to control e8, could work.  I found something simpler.

20…Kf8!

At first, the computer doesn’t like this move, but the more it thinks the more it increases my score.  The idea is simple: I can now trade both Rooks without hassle, and my King is closer to the centre for the eventual endgame.  Also, it stops any potential backrank ideas.

21.Rad1 b6!

This is the final idea for winning won games: protect weaknesses in advance.  I want to trade Rooks, but doing that right now would lead to 21…Rxe1 22.Rxe1 Re8 23.Rxe8 Kxe8 24.Qe3+ and he picks up my a-pawn.  He would then have two pawns for a piece, which isn’t nothing.

Many won games are lost by leaving weaknesses and then, in a moment of carelessness, our opponent pounces.  Here, the a3-pawn is really the only thing White can attack, so by protecting it now, I stop all of White’s attempts.

22.Re3 Rxe3 23.Qxe3 Re8 24.Qg3

I’ve traded pieces, I’ve remained active, I have no weaknesses, so here comes the final part of winning the won game.  I just go forward, constantly threatening to trade more pieces.  In particular, I need to use my extra piece.  First move is easy enough.

24…Qe5 25.Qb3 Qe2 (threatening Bc2) 26.Rc1 Qd2

My Queen has wormed her way inside, and now the Rook threatens to follow suit.

27.Rf1 Bd3 28.Rd1 Bc2 29.Rxd2 Bxb3 30.c5

I managed to get the Queens off the board, which is a huge plus, and now we are nearly at the end.  The most natural moves are perhaps Rd8 or Ke7, something like that, but White can play Rd3, kicking my Bishop around, and d6 making it hard for my King to do anything.

No doubt, I’m still winning, but the longer the game goes on the harder it is to win.  I mean, it’s very easy to make mistakes.  Even if I don’t make a mistake, I imagine if all the Queen-side pawns disappear.  I’ve won a pawn, but everything is on the King-side.  How do I win?

It’s tricker than it looks.  If you don’t believe me, plug the above position into an engine, minus all the Queenside pawns, and try to beat the computer.  It puts up good resistance.  I don’t want resistance, I want to win my won game.

30… Re1+! 31.Kh2 Rd1 0-1

Trading Rooks seals the deal.  Avoiding the exchange costs a pawn and any chance left of trading all the Q-side pawns.  With his resignation, I beat my highest-rated player ever!  I wish it were with a brilliant tactical assault instead, but I’m not complaining.

Conclusion

The wasn’t my most brilliant game by any stretch.  I played a solid opening and my opponent then blundered a piece.  I played, what, maybe two slightly hard to find moves?  And even then, my position was still completely winning.

It’s the overall method that is important to remember.  Nothing is harder to win than a won game, so when you’re up material and your opponent is refusing to just politely resign but keeps making threats, that bugger, than I just the following:

  1. Trade pieces, as it makes your extra material count
  2. Stay active, as it prevents him from taking over the initiative
  3. Protect weaknesses in advance, so he can’t make any cheapo threats

Do those three things and you’re going to take home a lot more points.  In my case, my rating has now surged to 2088, which makes me very happy indeed!

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