The game I will show you today is – as you could guess from the title of the article – a comedy of errors. And the source of those errors is a surprising misjudgment of the “speed” of play (for more on this subject, check out "The Tempo of the Attack." It was played in the Croatian Team Championship, back in early October. This was the last tournament I have played, since I clearly needed to take a vacation from chess.
Prior to this tournament I had played three tournaments in a row which were disasters. First was a tournament in Romania, the Arad Open, which I was leading after five rounds but then became very ill, lost two games in a row, and had to withdraw. This was followed by two disastrous tournaments in Italy, which were the two worst tournaments in my life, back to back! I had one remaining tournament in Europe before my trip back to the U.S. – this was the Croatian Team Championship, where I played this game in the second round.
I hoped to have a good result in this tournament, but with my confidence completely destroyed, I would be satisfied with a reasonable result where I did not let down my team. Fortunately, unlike some other experiences I have had with team competitions, there was no pressure from my teammates, who were very nice and had a relaxed attitude towards the competition. I think this is the best way to be in a team tournament – to get the best possible result, the captain should not be telling a player, “you let down the team…”
The tournament took place in a beautiful seaside resort in Sibenik, in Croatia. My first round result gave me some hope – a solid draw as black against the strong GM Dusan Popovic. In the second round I played against GM Vladimir Georgiev of Macedonia, who is rated a little under 2600. Here is the game:
A sharp and interesting draw, right? Attack and defense balanced, leading to perpetual check – a logical result? Yeah right.
After the game we wanted to analyze the game, but we couldn’t find a chess set. We searched high and low, but amazingly at a chess tournament there was no set available. We asked at the hotel front desk, we asked other chess players – nothing. Neither of us wanted to look on a computer, but with no other options available, Georgiev decided to go get his computer so we could at least have a digital chess board. Ironically, this was what led us to discover the first layer of blunders…Although undoubtedly we would have found it on our own, it took the engine a millisecond to say that White is completely winning in the following position:
Instead of 20.Rxg6+, which I played pretty much instantly (assuming that there was nothing more than perpetual – after all, there doesn’t seem to be enough pieces), White can win immediately with 20.Rh7! It looks slow, but in fact there is no defense whatsoever to the threat of 21.Qh6 and 22.Qg7#. If Black plays 20…Qe6 then there is 21.Qh6 Qf6 22.Rf1, winning the queen and checkmating shortly thereafter.
What was the reason for both of us missing mate in a few moves? There was not any real time pressure. My nervousness due to my recent terrible tournaments was surely a factor. But a big part of overlooking the win was due to the fact that I thought I had already blundered a couple moves ago. Let’s go back and look at what I thought about the game after analyzing it a bit that evening, starting from move seventeen:
That evening I made some notes indicating that his 18…b4 was simply a blunder, giving me a lucky chance to win which I missed. I thought that 18…Ng6 would be a draw. Thus, while I could have won instantly, it was an undeserved opportunity. Meanwhile, I thought that 17.Qh5 was the real mistake, leading only to a draw rather than 17.Nf5, which was definitely better for White.
If I would see the position after Black’s nineteenth move in a puzzle book, I would find 20.Rh7 in a few seconds. This made such an error more disturbing than the error of choosing 17.Qh5 - since missing it was due to psychological reasons, carelessness, and so on; rather than lack of chess strength. The fact that the opportunity for 20.Rh7 was undeserved ameliorated the situation.
Only today did I discover the second layer of blunders. While annotating the game for the Chess Informant I began to wonder about something…
This was very interesting for me to discover. After the game, when we found 20.Rh7, it was obvious that I overestimated the “speed” of the position. In my not-particularly-calm mental state, I did not realize that Black had so little counterplay, that I could afford the time to set up a mate threat two moves later. However, I now realize that even for several months later I overestimated the speed of the earlier position! Despite being a piece down, White could afford the time to make the maneuver Ra1-f1-f5-h5.
I see this as a failure in the area of prophylactic thinking (thinking from the opponent's point of view). One of the big parts of thinking about the opponent's plans is to realize when he actually can't do anything! So often chess players hurry unnecessarily, when some thinking from the opponent's viewpoint would allow them to realize that there is no counterplay, and thus they don't need to hurry.
We are used to look at mistakes in chess as mistakes of direction. But don’t forget that there is another dimension – speed. And just like driving a car, you can crash by running off the road, or by driving too fast and hitting the car in front of you.