Today's article features a fun topic of opening blunders! It feels great to catch an opponent in an opening trap, but not so great when we end up being caught by some tricky line. There's a variety of opening blunders and most of them have occurred at the World Cup, which is currently underway in Tromsø, Norway. In this and in the next installment I will show some of the games from this tournament and we will try to figure out the nature of the blunder. I think the faster the time-control, and the higher the stakes, and no free days for some of the players all contribute to tense games with unavoidable errors.
The first position is from Leitao-Inarkiev where one of the theoretical Semi-Slav lines was played. I don't know too much about it but browsing the games there is this recent Zhao Jun-Ni Hua game where Black equalized without much problems. Probably, when preparing, Leitao noticed an improvement over that game, which starts with 12.Ne5.
For a speed game it looks dangerous enough; the knight is aiming at the f7-pawn and is well positioned in the center. Taking the knight is one option and another one is Nf6, which looks quite reasonable as well. In either case Black will play c5 attacking the d4-pawn and activating the b7-bishop.
Black is a bit behind in development. If the bishop was already on e7, then his position would be okay if not better for Black. However, the proximity of the white pieces to the king and Black's underdevelopment are signs that Black should have tried to be more careful.
The blow that Inarkiev missed is not one you see often in tournament practice. The queen, bishop and knight are perfectly coordinated and it is hard to believe that Black's position is close to losing after the blow.
There was a chess player in the chess club in Ukraine where I came to play during different summers, and she was about 2200 rated but a really fierce attacker. Our blitz games followed the same course over and over again. When I had black we would play the Sicilian and she would sacrifice her knight on d5 or e6 every game, regardless of its correctness.
At a shorter time control defending is especially unpleasant. I would either spend my time finding the "only" moves and then lose on time in a winning position or get checkmated. These games were extremely frustrating but they taught me the importance of being extra careful in an opening where the center is open and where White's pieces are really active. The following game, which was played at a faster time control, reminded me my blitz matches with Vira.
If you look at the position before ...Qc7 White has five pieces in the center aiming at the black king. One has to have some sense of danger to recognize that things will get messy and you must exchange the queens. Nxe6 is rather an obvious threat and my only explanation for the ...Qc7 blunder is the short time control and the high stakes with this game, when it is hard to keep the nerves under control.
Playing an opening one has to keep in mind the middlegames resulting from the opening. One gets worse middlegames because one was not able to solve opening problems. And as the game progresses these unsolved positional issues accumulate and at some point the position becomes close to losing.
In the following game, Svidler-Ushenina, Black had a solid position out of opening and the evaluation was very close to equality for a long time. There is no one-move blunder that can clearly show where Black went wrong and where she lost.
The game has more of a strategic character. First, Black fixed the pawn structure in the center when her pieces were not quite ready for it. It seems that ...d4 instead of ...dxe4 gives Black better chances. Then there was a fight for the c4- and c5-squares, which Black eventually lost due to poorly placed knight on e7. It was crucial for Black to transfer the knight via c8 to b6 or d6 to make it an active participant in the fight for the c4-square.
Strategic blunders are blunders too - they are just harder to identify and categorize.
Opening knowledge is a generally a good thing. Our opponents don't always let us play the opening where we know all the ideas and all the current theory. Sometimes either a rare move order or some obscure line can lead to a position that one has never specifically studied before. However, nothing new is under the sun. Typical positions are typical because, regardless of move orders, one can always have some clues about the position. For example, positions with an isolated pawn, doubled pawns, a closed center, a fixed center, and so on.
In the following game Black played the Nimzo-Indian and White ended up in what was almost a very popular position, but not quite the same. The Nimzo position I am talking about is this:
White will play h3 on the next move to prevent Bg4 and Ng4 jumps. This position is highly complex and is being played at the highest level. Black usually closes the center with ...e4, plays Bf5-g6 and tries to create an attack on the white king with a Rd8-d5 lift. White will prevent this rook lift with Bc4-b5xc6 followed by c4, after which the position remains roughly balanced. It is crucial to play h3 because otherwise Black's threats of Bg4 and e4 can be very dangerous, as the game below from the World Cup shows.
Next week we will continue with the topic of opening blunders at the World Cup!
Photos by Paul Truong