With this article I would like to start a new series that will span over 5-6 articles on Blunders in Modern Chess. The articles will feature games from the World Cup that's currently under way in Tromsø, Norway and concentrate on the positions where the players made big mistakes or blunders. I will divide them into different categories depending on when in the game they happened (opening or endgame) but also will categorize them by themes, such as tactical blunders or psychological, just to give an example.
The aim of the current series is to learn from the best players out there competing in the World Cup and to understand the critical moments in the game where even the best of the best did not manage to find the right solutions. We will also learn from the stronger side about how to take advantage of these blunders and convert them properly. Today's article is an overview that features examples of blunders in the opening, middlegame and endgame stage of the game.
The World Cup, under way in Tromsø, Norway
Opening blunders are of unique nature as players typically rely on their memory to play the opening stage. Therefore, a lot of opening errors are the result of mixing up a move, confusing the move order or just forgetting the preparation. Today's example features a blunder from knowing the typical plans and relying on them, where the position belongs to that 1% of exceptions to the common rule.
Let us concentrate on the position arising after Nc5. It looks fairly typical for King's Indian lines with ...exd4, but there is a subtle nuance in this position: the moves ...Re8 and f2-f3 moves have not been played yet. Usually in these lines the move ...exd4 is immediately followed by ...Re8, to attack the e4-pawn and weaken White's dark squares if the typical f3 is played. Here, due to a different move order, Black's knight is already on c5 and there is no rook on e8. It is hard to grasp the difference, especially over the board.
I would say that the f3 move in these structures where Black has d6-c6 pawns is played 90% of the time. Therefore, it is of no surprise that GM Simen Agdestein played 11. f3 in this position, which turned out to be a mistake for tactical reasons. The white queen is overloaded as it has to protect both Bg5 and Nd4, and Black finds a tactical blow that either wins a pawn or leads to superb activity for Black's pieces.
What can we say about the nature of this blunder? I am sure GM Agdestein knew about the Nxe4 blow but maybe forgot about it for a second, or got distracted. Maybe he made the f3 move without much thinking as this move is so natural. There is the pressure of the first round, too. I don't know what reason led to this opening blunder but paying attention to transpositions and move orders is crucial in the opening stage.
The World Cup game Agdestein vs. Bacrot
This is the most complex category and we will spend two articles on this topic in the future. The middlegame sees all possible errors that exist in chess, because the middlegame is usually the most complex part of the game and the most decisive too. Miscalculations, not knowing the typical ideas and plans, missing the opponent's resources, misevaluating the position - all these need to be studied as a possible cause of error in the middlegame. Today's example probably belongs to misevaluating the position and overestimating one's resources.
If we look at the position after Black's 15th move, we can see that he is doing very well in this King's Indian position. He has completed the development and is putting pressure on the e4-pawn, while White still hasn't castled and Bh4 is not really participating in the game. Here White had to evaluate this position as most likely equal and proceed with 0-0, with low expectations of getting any advantage. However, Bjelobrk went for the aggressive b4, which is an error because White's position becomes too loose.
In my opinion, White thought that he should still be better and his b4 move would prove that.The move b2-b4 can give White an advantage in conjunction with c4-c5 as a a follow-up, but White for some reason chose the weak move Bh4-g5, probably because of a piece sacrifice by Black as indicated in the comments to the 19th move. Black will have three central pawns for a piece, but the position remains close to equality.
After 19. Bg5? Alexander Grischuk's play reminded me of one of the most creative chess players of the past: Russian grandmaster Leonid Stein's games in the King's Indian, where he starts play on the kingside and then breaks through on the queenside. Grischuk's play is precise and one should pay attention to the way he converts this - at first sight small - advantage.
Endgame blunders can be similar to opening blunders due to a lack of knowledge of typical defense patterns or not knowing enough theory. Of course endgames are highly complex and it is hard to play them well, so many other types of blunders appear as well. We will consider errors due to miscalculations in later articles; today we will see an example of an endgame that is close to equal butWwhite has to be careful and know some defensive setups.
Where exactly did the blunder occur in the following endgame? It is hard to say, but at some point White had only one move to save the game and you typically don't want to be in that situation. Something must have gone terribly wrong if this endgame can only be defended with "only moves".
My first question was whether having the pawn on h4 would help the defense, as it's typically easier to defend pawns that are closer to the back rank. Checking with Mark Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, having the pawn on h4 helps white if he knows the plan discovered by GM Anatoly Vaisser. With the pawn on h3, White should keep the rook on the 8th rank to ensure that the Black king cannot get into the white camp through h4. When the king goes to h4, White will give a check from h8. This is an extra piece of knowledge one does not necessarily need to know to defend this endgame.
So Vaiser's plan is to keep the king on h3 and the rook on the g-file in front of the pawns. The rook on g1 ties the black king to the defense of the g6-pawn. If the black king steps to g7 then h5 follows with a pawn trade and a draw. If Black manages to bring the king to f5 with the pawn on f4, then a check from g5 will force Black either to give up his g6-pawn or to keep the king on the 6th rank. The beauty of this defense is that white knows what to expect and how to react; there are very few tricks that Black can use. Let us see the endgame and where GM Kaidanov could have utilized this set-up.
Next week we will be covering opening blunders in more detail.
World Cup photos by Paul Truong