Game 7: SmithyQ-Shreyas_Reddy: Me at my Worst

Up until now, you might accuse me of being a show-off, as my blog has only featured my best games of chess.  Sure, I have posted a few losses, but they have been ‘good’ loses, where I play well but my opponent plays better.  In no games have I been flatly outplayed.

That all changes today.  Watch me make about eighteen thousand mistakes and get thoroughly manhandled … by a 1300 player.  It was a miracle I didn’t lose.

There were many reasons for my poor performance.  This was only my seventh game since getting back into chess, so I was rusty.  It was a French defence, perhaps my least favourite and least studied opening.  Simply put, though, I wasn’t a 2000-level player back in 2015, and on my worse days I was well below that.

Though it’s only 25 moves, this will be a long analysis, simply because of the huge amount of mistakes.  Buckle up and witness me at my worst.

[Event “2- Chess is for fun – Round 1”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.04.03”]
[Round “?”]
[White “SmithyQ”]
[Black “Shreyas_Reddy”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “C14”]
[WhiteElo “1562”]
[BlackElo “1313”]
[PlyCount “50”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{I play terribly, to the point a 1300-player outplays me.} 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3.
Nc3 {Let me start by saying the French defence is a silly opening. It leads to
terribly boring games, nothing ever happens and I hate it. French players are
the worst.} ({Seriously, the following is a legitimate line in the French
defence.} 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Qb6 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. a3 c4 {Everyone always talks about
Black’s bad Bishop, but White’s aren’t doing anything either. Both players
will shuffle their pieces around for 40 moves, not doing anything, and then
call it a draw. What a silly opening.}) 3… Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bxe7
Qxe7 {So far, so theory. White has a space advantage and has managed to trade
Bishops. In theory, this should be great for White, as it’s White’s ‘bad’
Bishop for Black’s ‘good’ one. Practice, though, shows that Black does very
well. It’s about an position.} 7. f4 f6 {This thematic move, though, is
premature. Black should finish development and castle before trying to crack
open the centre.} 8. Nf3 {Luckily for Black, though, I play the most passive
move possible, letting Black justify his idea. I had two interesting ideas
instead.} ({First there’s the obvious way to take advantage of an f-pawn push,
the Queen check.} 8. Qh5+ g6 9. Qh6 {and now it’s hard for Black to castle.
Also, the g6 move weakens some squares, and now most of Black’s pawns are on
light-squares. His dark squares could prove very weak in the coming middlegame.
}) (8. Nb5 {is another way to take advantage, hoping to play Qh5+ next, with
the Knight on a more active square (threatening Nxc7+, of course). Both of
these options are more trying than my passive Nf3.}) 8… O-O 9. Qd2 c5 {
[%csl Gd4,Ge5][%cal Gd4c5,Ge5f6] The game has now transposed back into a
theory line. White’s plan is to exchange both central pawns, freeing up those
squares for pieces. If Black’s pawns are forever stuck on d5 and e6, then he
will suffer greatly in the middle- and endgame.} 10. dxc5 $6 {I start the plan,
but I don’t even bother calculating. Yuck.} Nxc5 {Black plays the obivious
move, but he had a better one.} (10… fxe5 $1 11. fxe5 (11. Nxe5 Nxe5 12. fxe5
Qxc5 13. O-O-O Nc6 {[%cal Gf8f2] is similar to the mainline, but now Black has
potential invasion squares for his Rook.}) 11… Qxc5 12. O-O-O Nc6 {[%csl Ge5]
and we see that White is forced to have a pawn on e5 rather than a piece.
Worse, the pawn is quite weak, and Black is ready to bring everything to
attack it.}) 11. exf6 Rxf6 12. O-O-O {It took a bit, but we have the basic
position. Black has two central pawns, which may be strengths, but if I can
get two Knights on the two dark squares, Black would be strategically lost.} ({
I’ll play a fantasy variation to show the worst-case scenario for Black.} 12.
O-O-O Nc6 13. Bb5 Bd7 14. Bxc6 Bxc6 15. Ne5 a6 16. Ne2 Rc8 17. Nd4 {[%csl Gd4,
Rd5,Ge5,Re6] This is generally what White is aiming for. The Knights are
monsters, Black’s Bishop is terrible, and White can play wherever he wants.
Note that here Black has Ne4, so this is clearly not best play for either side,
but it’s the idea that I’m after.}) 12… Nc6 13. g3 {A surprisingly good move,
as it protects f4 and gives my Bishop options of devloping to g2 or h3.} a5 14.
Bd3 {I thought for a long time on this move. On the one hand, I really didn’t
want to exchange my Bishop for his Knight, as the King’s Bishop is my
favourite piece. On the other hand, I couldn’t think of anything else, so just
finish development, right?} (14. Kb1 Qf8 15. Qe3 {is the computer’s suggestion,
which I admit I don’t fully understand. I’m not sure how the Queen is much
better on e3, or why this is the best of all options.}) ({You have to be
careful with the computer, because it doesn’t always understand the long-term
implications of exchanges. Consider} 14. Bb5 Bd7 15. Kb1 Nb4 16. Bxd7 Qxd7 {
The computer really likes this line, almost as much as 14.Kb1 above, but it’s
clearly much better for Black. He gets to exchange his weakest piece, the
dreaded French Bishop, without effort. Within ten moves, the computer will
suddenly realize White doesn’t have a big advantage, and soon it will be dead
equal.}) 14… a4 15. Rhe1 {To my credit, I now have a near perfect central
set-up … and I do everything in my power to destroy it.} a3 16. b3 $2 {
I played this near instantly, without even bothering to calculate. If I had, I
could have won instantly.} (16. Nxd5 $1 {This, of course, was the point behind
Rhe1 last move, so why not play it?} Nxd3+ (16… axb2+ 17. Kb1 Qf8 18. Nxf6+
gxf6 {is similar.}) 17. Qxd3 axb2+ 18. Kxb2 Qc5 19. Nxf6+ gxf6 {White is up an
exchange and a pawn with a winning position.}) 16… Qc7 {My opponent
sidesteps the Nxd5 threat, so now what?} 17. Nb5 $6 {This weak move does
almost nothing. I’ve been so focused on the central squares, on getting a
Knight to e5 and d4, that I thought of nothing else. Bring the c3 Knight to d4
via b5 makes some sense, but I had much better ideas.} (17. Ng5 {I didn’t even
consider this move because it moves the Knight away from the central e5 square.
Here, though, it attacks h7, and it has some poison to it if Black responds
carelessly.} h6 $2 18. Nxd5 $1 exd5 19. Re8+ Rf8 20. Bh7+ Kh8 21. Rxf8#) (17.
Bxh7+ $5 {even this speculative sacrifice is possible. It makes sense, because
Black only has a single defender near it, and Rooks are hardly the best
defenders. Play might continue.} Kxh7 18. Ng5+ Kg8 19. Nxd5 exd5 20. Re8+ Rf8
21. Qxd5+ Be6 22. Nxe6 Nxe6 23. Qxe6+ Qf7 24. Qxf7+ Kxf7 25. Rxa8 Rxa8 26. Rd7+
Ke6 27. Rxb7 {White has four pawns for the piece, with the a3-pawn being very
weak. The Knight struggles badly against pawns on both sides, and though the
position is equal, White likely has more winning chances.}) 17… Qe7 18. Kb1
Rh6 19. Nbd4 {I finally complete my plan, getting a Knight to a central square.
} Nxd4 20. Nxd4 {Awesome. Look at my beautiful Knight. Isn’t it beautiful?} Qf6
{And here I suddenly realize I could be in trouble. The Queen attacks my
Knight, and if it moves, then Qb2 is mate. I don’t want to play c3, as that’s
a weakening pawn move, and Black can easily bring a Rook to the c-file and
attack it. Remember that b3 move I played without thinking? Now it’s really
coming back to haunt me.} 21. Bf1 $2 {Not knowing what else to do, I retreat
my Bishop to its initial square so my Queen defends the Knight. My plan
afterwards is … I don’t know.} (21. Re5 {A much stronger move, and one I’d
see near instantly today, is this, using the Rook to block the diagonal and
occupy the central square. Black can’t play Nd7 to push it away because} Nd7
22. Rxe6 Qxd4 23. Bxh7+ Kf7 24. Qxd4 Kxe6 25. Qxd5+ {and White has a decisive
attack to go along with his Queen.}) ({Alternatively, the computer points out
I can just ignore the threat.} 21. h4 Qxd4 22. Bxh7+ Kxh7 23. Qxd4 {I thus
completely overreacted to my opponent’s threats, something I usually notice my
opponents do to my threats. Hey, I’m not perfect.}) 21… Ne4 $1 {Black reacts
perfectly, jumping into the square my Bishop used to guard. The Knight
threatens to jump to c3 or f2 with potential forks, and my Queen can’t cover
everything.} 22. Rxe4 {Not knowing what else to do, I sacrifice my Rook for
the Knight. At first the computer thinks this is terrible, but after a bit it
concludes that this is the second best move for White … which I think mostly
shows how atrocious my position has become.} (22. Qb4 {is the best move, and
though it gives up a pawn (or two), it gives counter chances.} Rxh2 23. Bd3 {
Putting the Bishop back where it used to be!} Nxg3 24. f5 e5 25. Qb5 Bxf5 26.
Bxf5 Nxf5 27. Qxd5+ Kh8 28. Nf3 {The computer declares this position as dead
equal.}) 22… dxe4 23. g4 $2 {I panic, worrying that I’m about to lose to a
1300 player for this first time in a decade, and so I make this erratic pawn
advance.} Rh4 24. h3 {This was my idea, trying to cage Black’s Rook with my
pawns. It has no squares, and if I can keep it trapped there, then I’m almost
a piece up! Well, it was worth a shot, but it’s completely losing.} Ra5 $4 {
Then, out of nowhere, my opponent plays this doozy.} (24… h5 $1 {was the
only move he needed to find, freeing his Rook and securing a large advantage.}
25. Be2 (25. g5 Qxf4) 25… hxg4 26. hxg4 e5 27. fxe5 Qxe5 $17) 25. Qxa5 Qf8 {
My opponent, likely disgusted that he’s down a piece, resigns before I can
unleash the finishing combination. Though I’m credited with a win in this one,
I played about as bad as a former 1800-player could play.} ({Here’s how the
game could have ended.} 25… Qf8 26. Nxe6 Bxe6 27. Rd8 {Pinning the Queen.})
1-0

Conclusions

Looking back, I see so many problems, but it mostly boils down to two issues.  First, with the opening and in particular Black’s f6, I thought too much about following theory.  I generally liked the theory position (about move 12) and wanted to get there.  Instead of trying to punish Black, I just followed along, hoping to eventually get my prefered position.  Hope.  Not the best way to play chess.

My big problem, though, was tunnel vision.  I focused almost exclusively on one aim: the two central squares.  I wanted to put Knights there, and that was it.  No other thought entered my mind.  That’s why I ignored the kingside attacking ideas, that’s why I ignored the Nxd5 ideas, and that’s why, once I got my Knight there, I didn’t know what to do next.  I focused on one thing to the exclusion of all others.

Lastly, I realize now that I’ve grossly exaggerated my opponent’s play.  He didn’t outplay me, as I first thought.  He simply moved his pieces around, somewhat randomly, and then I gave him a chance by randomly moving my pieces backwards.  He didn’t outplay me; I simply gave him the opportunity to jump in, and he did.  If he doesn’t blunder, he then likely wins.

For all that, it also confirms something: blunders are so frequent and so terrible at this level.  One move, one hanging Rook, and Black went from winning to losing in a heartbeat.  If you can remove those types of one-move blunders from your game, that puts you in the 1500 range, easily.

2 thoughts on “Game 7: SmithyQ-Shreyas_Reddy: Me at my Worst

  1. Gringo

    I wanted to inquire about your choice of opponents. It seems to me that you like to play players who’re in most cases below your rating instead being higher. Is it done on purpose? Wouldn’t you get better faster by playing tougher opponents? Smirnov recommends playing stronger opposition and yet you’re doing the opposite.

  2. JP Post author

    Good question. When I started in 2015, it was my first time playing chess in years. I needed to ease myself back. I should point out that old me still lost to 1500-1600 players with some regularity, so these early games weren’t gimmies.

    It wasn’t until I actually crossed 2000 that I realized, holy cow, I might actually be this good. I then played too many games, winning most of them but burning myself out in the process. That’s why I’ve played almost nothing since fall 2016.

    Lately, I’ve been trying to study chess instead of play. The only games I’ve played were tournament games, which started automatically (and I would have refused if I knew ahead of time). My plan is to play 2000+ people again in the late spring / early summer, but until then I’ll be playing fewer if any games.

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