Game 19: ThorniMarv-SmithyQ: How to Throw a Game

I’m not going to lie, this game was painful.

For 25 moves, I played near perfect.  I had a good position, then a better position, and then the tactics worked and I had a winning position.  Then I had a less winning position, then merely a drawn position … and then I managed to lose a King and Pawn endgame despite being up a pawn.  It’s pretty incredible, really.  Seriously, how do you lose this?

Well, let’s take a look.

[Event “Open Challenge CANADA. – Board 27”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.05.03”]
[Round “?”]
[White “ThoniMarv”]
[Black “SmithyQ”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “A18”]
[WhiteElo “1741”]
[BlackElo “1737”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “109”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{The Russians have a saying: Westererns play the opening like masters, the
middlegame like experts and the endgame like beginners. That’s basically how I
played here.} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. e4 {The Nimzo-Indian is perhaps the
perfect opening … except White can avoid it in many different ways,
including this.} d5 4. e5 d4 {This is the mainline, which leads to an
interesting middlegame.} 5. exf6 dxc3 6. fxg7 cxd2+ {This check maintains
material balance.} 7. Bxd2 Bxg7 8. Qc2 Nc6 {Let’s look at this position. White
has a good pawn structure, three connected pawns on each side. Black’s pawn
structure is slightly worse, as he has the isolated h-pawn, which could be a
weakness. That said, his e- and f-pawns are a potential strength. If we
imagine a position with those pawns on e5 and f5, then White would have
virtually no good squares for his pieces. That is Black’s strategic goal, to
use his centre pawns.} 9. Nf3 Bd7 {Before advancing those pawns, though, it
makes sense to complete development and castle. That is, the central files are
wide open, and so Black advancing pawns now would just make the game even more
open, not a good thing when your King is in the centre.} 10. Be2 $2 {This is a
mistake. Why not Bd3? It’s more active and even attacks the h-pawn.} Qe7 11.
O-O-O O-O-O 12. h3 {I said earlier that Black’s strategic goal is to get in e5
and f5. If he can, Black is better. White, then, needs to prevent this.
Neither Be2 nor h3 do anything to hinder Black’s plan. Playing Bd3 and Re1
would be natural, exerting pressure on the centre.} f5 {[%cal Gg7b2] That’s
why I immeditately advance in the centre, and I also open the diagonal for my
Bishop.} 13. Bg5 Bf6 14. Bxf6 Qxf6 15. h4 {I’m not sure what White’s plan is.
Maybe he wants to play Ng5 … but I’m not sure what that does or why it helps.
} e5 {By contrast, I now have my strategic goal, and Black is better.} 16. Qc3
Rhf8 {Played to protect the Queen, as otherwise the e-pawn was pinned.} (16…
Rhg8 {The computer prefers this move, as it forces White to do something with
his g-pawn.}) 17. Kb1 h6 {I’m playing with very little risk, taking away the
g5-square from the Knight. White has no play, so why allow counterplay? Such
were my thoughts.} ({The computer prefers immediate action.} 17… f4 18. Bd3
Bf5 19. Bxf5+ Qxf5+ 20. Qc2 Qxc2+ 21. Kxc2 Rde8 {This is an unbalanced endgame,
though Black has the initiative. Rg8-g4 and White is tied down to defending
his pawns. If White’s Nf3 ever moves, then Nd4 is coming with devastation.})
18. Rd5 {White seems to have a plan now, ganging up on e5 and maybe doubling
on the d-file. It’s too slow, though. That makes sense, because Black has the
(slightly) better position, and slow play should favour him.} Be6 19. Rxd8+
Rxd8 20. Rd1 Nd4 $1 {Every Black piece is better than the White counterpart.
White has no good squares for any of his pieces, and it’s all because of
Black’s strong centre.} 21. Qe3 $2 {White then immediately blunders, though to
be fair, the refutation isn’t the most obvious.} (21. Nxd4 exd4 {This was
relatively best, but Black will play c5 and have a protected passed pawn for
the endgame. Things are grim for White, but not losing.}) 21… f4 $1 {The
start of a nice combination.} 22. Qd2 Bf5+ 23. Kc1 Nb3+ $1 24. axb3 Rxd2 {
I have won the Queen with a winning position.} 25. Rxd2 e4 $6 {Unfortunately,
I have now used up all my good moves and start playing poorly. Here, I fell in
love with the idea of playing e5-e4-e3, and I didn’t even consider any other
moves.} (25… Qa6 {[%cal Ga6a1] Which is a shame, because this wins on the
spot. The threat is mate.} 26. Rd1 (26. Bd3 e4) 26… Qa1+ 27. Kd2 Qxb2+ 28.
Ke1 Qxb3 {White is losing all his pawns, and now Black can just push his
a-pawn. Note that Nxe4 is met with Qc3+ with a fork.}) 26. Nd4 e3 27. fxe3 fxe3
28. Rd1 Be4 {To be fair, my posiiton is still good, still likely winning, but
White has more options.} 29. g3 Qg6 (29… Qa6 $2 {To prove it, observe how
White now has a refutation to this same idea.} 30. Bg4+ Kb8 31. Nc6+ $3 bxc6
32. Rd8+ Kb7 33. Bc8+ Kb6 34. Bxa6 {An incredible variation, and it all
happened because playing 26…e3 allowed White to improve his pieces, get a
little more activity and suddenly tactics may favour him.}) 30. g4 Qf6 {
Also, I’m no longer playing with any real plan here. My Queen just moves
around. What am I trying to do? Where is my middlegame plan?} 31. g5 $1 hxg5
32. hxg5 Qxg5 33. Ne6 {Suddenly Rd8+ is the threatm and I have no way to stop
it.} Qf6 34. Rd8+ Qxd8 35. Nxd8 Kxd8 {Now, to be fair, this position is still
objectively winning for Black. It’ll just take more work. White has played
well to get here.} 36. Kd1 a5 $6 {This normally great move may have thrown the
win away. I’ve tried to play this position against the computer, but I can’t
force a win. At the time, I thought this was the best move, as it forces
White’s pawns to be fixed, but the opposite occurs.} (36… Ke7 {I’ve analyzed
this endgame quite deeply, and I believe Black is now winning with this move.
That said, White has an insane amount of drawing chances, and Black has a
number of ‘only moves’. I’ll show most of my analysis here in the comments.
You can skip if you just want to see how I manage to lose this position.} 37.
Bg4 {Keeping pieces seems best for White.} (37. Bf1 {If White plays similar to
the main game, Black wins similar to the next variation.} Kd6 38. Ke2 (38. b4 {
It makes sense trying to control c5, but now Black gets access to d4, which is
even worse.} Ke5 39. Ke2 Kd4 40. Bh3 Bd3+ 41. Kf3 Bxc4 {Black can now hang
onto e3, or he can give it up to get White’s two Queenside pawns.}) 38… Kc5
39. Kxe3 Bb1 {[%cal Gb1a2,Gc5b4]}) 37… Kd6 38. b4 {White cannot allow Black
to play Kc5.} (38. Ke2 Kc5 39. Kxe3 Bb1 40. Bf3 b6 {Easiest to put all the
pawns on dark-squares. Now White can’t attack any of them with the Bishop.} 41.
Kd2 Kb4 42. Bd1 Ba2 {The pawns fall and White can resign.}) 38… c5 $1 {
The only move! Note that a5 would lead to something similar to game.} 39. Ke2 (
39. bxc5+ {Though exchanging pawns is right in principle, allowing Black to
get to c5 is disasterous.} Kxc5 40. Ke2 Kd4 41. c5 a5 $1 {Black ignores the
pawn (Kxc5 allows Kxe3) and keeps b4 under control} 42. Be6 Bd3+ 43. Kf3 e2 {
White’s King must now stay near e1, allowing Black to win c5 and b2 in
relative easy.}) (39. b5 {Keeping the position blocked makes sense, similar to
the main game, but Black can still get to b4.} Ke5 40. Ke2 Kd4 41. b3 (41. Be6
Bd3+ 42. Kf3 Bxc4 43. Bxc4 Kxc4 44. Kxe3 Kxb5) 41… Bc2 42. Bc8 b6 {White’s
pawns will drop quickly.}) 39… cxb4 40. Kxe3 Ke5 41. Bd7 a5 42. Ba4 Bc6 43.
Bc2 a4 {White doesn’t have enough mobility to stop the a-pawn advance. If he
moves his King then Black’s King will advance.} 44. Bd3 a3 45. bxa3 bxa3 46.
Bb1 {White must guard a2 or the pawn will Queen.} Be4 $1 47. Ba2 (47. Bxe4 a2
48. Bxb7 a1=Q) 47… b6 {Black is in Zugzwang.} 48. Kd2 (48. Bb3 Bb1 {[%cal
Ga3a2]}) 48… Kd4 49. Kc1 Bd3 50. Kd2 Bxc4 51. Bb1 a2 52. Bxa2 Bxa2 {Black
has a pawn left and will Queen without issue.}) 37. Bf1 Bf3+ 38. Be2 Bxe2+ {
I assumed this King and Pawn endgame was winning … and to be fair to me,
White needs to find a great move to alter that judgement.} 39. Kxe2 Ke7 40.
Kxe3 Kd6 41. Kd4 Kc6 {If White moves his King, Black will get to c5 and win,
similar to variations shown above. Therefore, White can’t move his King!} 42.
b4 $1 axb4 43. b3 {The problem is the b4-pawn rather gets in the way, and
there’s no way to get to a3 to attack the b3-pawn. White now has a draw.
Unbelievable.} Kb6 44. Kd5 c6+ 45. Kd6 Ka5 {I’m trying to find a way forward,
but I can’t.} 46. Kc5 b5 47. Kd4 Kb6 $4 {All this time I was still playing for
a win. I looked at the two other moves, but both ‘only’ drawed, so I played
this move automatically. Note: that’s not a good thought process!} ({Capturing
leads to a draw.} 47… bxc4 48. Kxc4 Kb6 49. Kxb4 {and this is a textbook
draw.}) ({Heck, even advancing this pawn leads to a draw.} 47… c5+ 48. Kxc5
bxc4 49. Kxc4 Ka6 50. Kxb4 Kb6 {Black has the opposition and draws.}) 48. c5+
Kc7 49. Ke5 Kd7 50. Kf6 {Oh goddess…} Kd8 (50… Ke8 51. Ke6 Kd8 52. Kd6 Kc8
53. Kxc6) 51. Ke6 Kc8 52. Kd6 Kb7 53. Kd7 {Oh my goodness …} Ka6 54. Kxc6 Ka5
{Hey, if Kb7 then I escape with stalemate!} 55. Kd6 {Instead White plays
literally any other move and wins. Wow. Just wow. I think I found the only
possible way to lose this King and Pawn endgame. Not my greatest performance ..
. but hats off to my opponent.} 1-0

Conclusions

I have a few themes on this blog.  First, openings don’t matter at amateur level.  I’m not sure when theory ended, but Black was fine out of the opening, better in the middlegame … and lost.  Second, endgames are the great equalizer.  Most amateurs play endgames several hundred rating points lower than their rating, so a 2000-player will play endgames like an 1800, and a 1800-player like a 1600, etc etc.

I’m no exception, and it shows.  My opponent mentioned in chat after the game, while I was congratulating him, that he loves studying the endgame.  It clearly works, and he beat me with it.  If you can good at playing without Queens, your rating can’t help but soar.

Also, I’d like to clarify my main mistake.  Chiefly, I was playing for a win.  I felt I should have won, that I deserved to win, and I wouldn’t accept a draw.  It’s true, up until about move 30, I did deserve to win, clearly.  Then I deserved to win a bit less, and then the game was equal.  I needed to accept that fact, but I clung to winning chances.  I rejected the obvious drawing moves … and thus lost.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve improved to 2000 rating is that you can’t always play for a win.  Some positions aren’t winnable, and if you press too hard you will self-destruct.  That’s what happened here.  If I can be objective enough to say there’s no win here, I don’t lose.  I didn’t, and I did.

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