SmithyQ – Themis_Neo, Feb 2017: How to Force a Blunder

Here’s a fundamental truth about chess: most games are decided by blunders.  This is very obvious when you watch beginners.  They miss simple threats every few moves.  What people don’t realize, though, is how even intermediate and advanced players blunder frequently.

A 1700-player is better than a 1200-player, obviously, and so won’t make the same type of blunders.  Mr.1700 likely won’t just hang a piece.  If you put pressure on him, though, if you make him uncomfortable, then the blunders happen first and furious.  If you want to force blunders, then you need to learn how to apply this pressure.

Bobby Fischer said, “Tactics flow from a superior position.”  The inverse is true with blunders.  If you have a really good position, it’s really hard to blunder; if your position is terrible, then blunders are almost inevitable.  In this game, I set up a dangerous-looking attacking position, and my opponent then blundered almost immediately.  Let’s take a look.

[Event “2- Chess is for fun – Round 4”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2017.01.27”]
[Round “?”]
[White “SmithyQ”]
[Black “themis_neo”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “D61”]
[WhiteElo “2161”]
[BlackElo “1778”]
[PlyCount “45”]
[EventDate “2017.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{The mere threat of a kingside attack is enough to make my opponent wildly
overreact.} 1. d4 {First off, yes, I’m normally a 1.e4 player, but I’m willing
to play virtually any system as White. It’s somewhat funny, because 1.d4 is
generally considered the safer, more positional first move, but most of my
games with it are far more tactical than my 1.e4 offerings.} d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3
Nf6 4. Nf3 e6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 Nbd7 {So far, so normal. When I first
discovered this opening, at approximately 1500 elo, I thought it was the best
thing ever. Look at it: all of White’s pieces are either at their best squares
or will soon reach them, whereas Black is cramped and passive. That’s not the
whole story, of course, but I’d never play this opening as Black.} 7. Qc2 (7.
Bd3 dxc4 8. Bxc4 O-O 9. O-O {This is the safe, solid and sound way to play,
and I normally do this. White logically develops and gets a small plus, and
Black never has any real winning chances. Sometimes, though, I feel the need
to unleash my inner lion.}) 7… O-O 8. O-O-O {See? I CAN play exciting chess!
The idea is pretty simple: attack the Black King. We’ve castled opposite sides,
and so the faster attack will win. Black is cramped, and so his attack will
always be a little slower.} a6 {This may be the perfect example: Black needs
to start his counterplay with the rather timid a6…} 9. h4 {… while I get
to jump straight in my h4.} b5 10. c5 $1 {[%csl Rb6,Gc5][%cal Re7b4,Rd7b6,
Rd8b6,Re7a3] This is clearly the best decision: it keeps the lines near my
King closed. The c5-pawn also stops the Bishop on e7 from pressuring b4 or a3,
and it stops a Black piece from landing on b6.} h6 11. Bxf6 {This was the
single longest think I had this game. I made the decision to trade for a
number of reasons. Blacks Knight is a good defender, so get rid of it. My
Bishop doesn’t have a good square to retreat. All my pawns are on dark-squares,
so why keep the Bishop? Fundamentally, though, it came down to TIME. If I
retreat, it gives Black time to launch his own counter-attack. By exchanging,
Black is forced to recaptured, and then I get to move again. I get to make the
next threat.} ({The Bishop is actually immune, so I could have played this
instead, giving Black a chance to blunder.} 11. Kb1 Bb7 (11… hxg5 $2 {
This leads to immediate destruction: the open h-file is too strong.} 12. hxg5
Ne4 ({On any other Knight move} 12… Ng4 13. Qh7#) 13. Nxe4 dxe4 14. Qxe4 g6 (
14… f5 15. Qxe6+ Rf7 16. g6 $18) 15. Qh4 Bxg5 16. Qh8#) 12. Bxf6 {would be
similar to the main line.}) 11… Nxf6 ({Taking with the Knight is logical,
but I spent some time looking at the other recapture. I want to share some of
these variations, because they lead to amazing positions (frankly, better than
the game!).} 11… Bxf6 12. g4 {I continue with the exact same attack, ready
to sacrifice for open lines.} e5 {I dismissed this move, because it looked to
walk into White’s attack. The computer, though, offers a fascinating variation.
I’ll also share a few other lines I looked at.} (12… g6 {This seems to make
the most sense with the Bishop recapture, as it puts it on g7.} 13. g5 hxg5 14.
hxg5 Bg7 15. Bd3 $14 {Black is well defended, but his own play is quite far
off. White can easily keep increasing the pressure. Black is passive but far
from losing.}) (12… Bb7 {If Black just keeps developing normally, then
White’s attack comes swift.} 13. g5 Be7 (13… hxg5 $2 14. hxg5 Bxg5 15. Qh7#)
14. gxh6 gxh6 15. Ng5 $1 {[%cal Gg5h7,Gc2h7] and White has a devastating
attack.} Bxg5 (15… Nf6 16. Nxe6 $1 fxe6 17. Qg6+ Kh8 18. Rg1 $18) (15… f5
16. Nxe6 $18) (15… hxg5 {This leads to forced mate in a few.} 16. hxg5 f5 17.
gxf6 {[%cal Gc2h7]} Rxf6 18. Qh7+ Kf8 19. Qh8+ Kf7 20. Rh7+ Kg6 21. Bd3+ Kg5
22. Rg1#)) 13. g5 exd4 $1 {The only move! The computer confirms my hunch:
other moves are near losing, for instance:} (13… Be7 14. gxh6 e4 15. hxg7
Kxg7 16. Rg1+ Kh8 17. Nxe4 $1 dxe4 18. Qxe4 {White has three pawns for the
piece and a killer attack.}) 14. Ne2 dxe3 15. gxf6 Qxf6 16. Ned4 exf2 17. Kb1 {
This is the computer line, where White has a piece for four (!) pawns. White
probably wins at least one back, and then it’s a question of whether White can
use his extra piece and open lines before Black can trade and win in an
endgame. A fascinating position, and I’m not sure which side I’d rather be.
[The computer slightly prefers White.]}) 12. Ne5 {[%cal Gg2g4,Gg4g5,Gf2f4,
Gf4f5,Gh1h3,Gh3g3,Gf1d3,Gd1g1,Ge5f7] I have an excellent attacking position
here. My Knight prepares the g4-g5 advance, which will crack open his Kingside
and chase away his best defender, the Nf6. I will then use those open lines to
mate him. My following moves are very easy: Bd3, Rdg1 and then push and trade
all my pawns. I might even try Nxf7 in somes lines, further destroying Black’s
Kingside cover. Black is under lots of pressure here…} Nd7 $2 {[%cal Ge5c6]
and he thus immediately blunders, overlooking that his c-pawn (seemingly
unimportant compared to the Kingside threats) was hanging.} 13. Nxc6 Qe8 14. g4
{I keep attacking, and now it’s even better, because I can safely sac a pawn
and not even be down in material.} Bb7 15. Nxe7+ Qxe7 16. g5 h5 {This seems
the correct decision, keeping the Kingside closed.} 17. f4 $5 {[%csl Ge5] This
move popped into my head after about two minutes of thought, and I knew I had
to play it. It may look like an aggressive pawn assault against the enemy King,
but it really isn’t. I simply want to control e5. By clamping down in the
centre, I completely stop Black’s counterplay in the centre. I’m up a pawn, so
if Black doesn’t get some play somewhere, I’ll win simply and easily.} (17. g6
{This was the move I really wanted to play, completely opening the Kingside.
Unfortunately, Black’s pieces get a surprising amount of activity.} fxg6 18.
Qxg6 Rxf2 19. Bd3 Nf6 {[%cal Gf6g4,Ga8f8,Gb5b4] I’d wager White is still
better here, but it’s not as clear as the mainline. Black’s pieces have good
squares and White has weaknesses. Also, I’m no longer up a pawn. I felt like
attacking this game, but this was too much risk for my liking, not when I’m up
a safe pawn.}) 17… g6 {Black stops my g6 ideas, which at the time seemed
like a sound decision, but given the variation above, maybe it was no real
threat.} 18. Bd3 {Developing my last piece and thinking about potential
sacrifices on g6 in the future.} (18. a3 {The computer instead really likes
this move, which never even crossed my mind. The idea is to stop b4 from Black.
b4 didn’t seem to scary to me, but if I’m going to stop Black’s counterplay
with f4, I might as well do it with a3 as well.}) 18… b4 19. Na4 {[%cal
Ga4b6,Gd7b6] My Knight is ready to jump to b6, a super square. Black’s Knight
must stay on d7 to prevent it, but there it interfers with the Queen’s
movement. Black is cramped.} Bc6 20. Rhe1 {With the Kingside firmly blocked, I
shift my attention to the centre.} a5 ({I think Black had an interesting try
here.} 20… b3 $5 21. Qxb3 Rfb8 22. Qc2 Rb4 23. Nc3 Rab8 {Black has
sacrificed a second pawn but now has both Rooks active, aiming right at the
White King. It’s not easy to bring the other pieces into the attack, and the
computer thinks White is easily winning, but at least here he has threats.})
21. e4 {With all my pieces perfectly placed, I open the centre. Notice the
potential risk of my Rook lined up to the Black Queen.} dxe4 ({Again here,
Black can consider the same pawn sacrifice.} 21… b3 22. axb3 Rab8 23. exd5
Bxd5 24. Bc4 Bxc4 25. bxc4 Rb4 {Black makes some threats. This might not be as
good as before, because White has} 26. c6 Nb6 27. Nxb6 Rxb6 28. d5 {which
looks pretty decisive, but at least Black is trying something. Look what
happens in the game.}) 22. Bxe4 Bxe4 23. Qxe4 {Black exchanges pieces … and
then resigns. Why? Probably because I’m up a pawn and several hundred rating
points higher. Also, if I had to guess, Black felt silly for losing a pawn and
was slightly depressed, so he gave up rather than fight on. On the surface,
this game looked very easy, and I guess it was, but I hope the variations I
posted show some interesting insights that lay just below the surface.} 1-0

Conclusion

The way I won this game is how I win most of my games.  Did I do anything special?  Were any of my moves hard to find?  Not really.  I made an aggressive thrust with h4, and my opponent then completely overreacted.  I won a pawn and then calmly guided the point home.

This game also shows how intermediate players lose games.  Yes, he blundered a pawn, but the game wasn’t over.  I showed some variations where Black gets interesting play by sacrificing a pawn.  Instead, my opponent basically rolled over and then resigned early.  In truth, he had given up well before he tipped his King.

I mean no disrespect to my opponent, because I know what he was likely thinking.  I too was in the 1700-1800 range for what felt like ages.  You make a silly mistake, your position becomes worse … and then your brain takes over.  “Here we go again,” it says.  “Another dumb blunder, another loss.”  You begin to think your opponent has everything under control, that you have no chance, and pretty soon you’re done.  If you’re against a higher-rated player, yes, you’re probably going to lose regardless, but thinking like this doesn’t help your cause.

You ALWAYS have counter-chances.  In every game I’ve lost, I had chances to turn it around.  In most games I’ve won, I had moments where I could have allowed my opponent back in the game.  If you think your opponent is invincible, though, then you’re already lost.

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