IMPORTANT: [At the end of the puzzles, you should click MOVE LIST so you can see my instructive notes and variations. If you are having trouble solving a problem, just click SOLUTION, and then MOVE LIST. Even if you solve everything, DO click MOVE LIST or you might miss an important bit of prose.]
Lubo said: “My chess.com nick is ‘lubo.’ I’m from Bulgaria. This is an old game that still bugs me. It’s one of those games where I seem to play well on every move and still have a worse to lost position. Was it possible for me to save the endgame? Or did I go astray in the opening?
“The problem for me is that I cannot point to a single losing move for black. Every move seems to add more misery to black’s game until it turns out the endgame is lost and I even cannot say when that happened.”
JS: This is a game between two strong tournament players. You’ll see a lot of question marks in my notes, but the decisions they had to make were difficult and it was very easy to go wrong. This might shock those that announce that they can play better than everyone else, but chess is a very hard game.
Sorry about the length of this article, but (if you just don't have the time or inclination to slog through everything) I highly recommend you look at the endgame analysis, which has lessons for everyone (some very advanced, and some basic stuff too)!
Jordan Nikolov (2104) - Lyubomir Stefanov (1886), 59th Bulgaria Team Championship 2009 [TC: 2h + 30 sec per move]
1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nf3 d6 5.d4 cxd4 6.Qxd4 e6 7.Nbd2 Nc6 8.Bb5 Bd7 9.Bxc6 Bxc6 10.Nc4 dxe5 11.Nfxe5
This move creates various weaknesses in black's camp. Instead, 11...Bb5 gives Black an excellent position.
12.Nxc6 bxc6 13.0-0
13…Be7 14.Qg4 Kf7 15.Re1 Qd7 16.Qh5+ g6 17.Qf3 Kg7 18.Qh3 Kf7 19.Bd2 Nb6 20.Na5
Black’s under serious pressure and he will have to defend carefully to avoid having his position slip into an abyss.
An extreme reaction that creates dark-square holes on e5, f4, and g5. Instead of adding new flaws that will have to be dealt with, he should have tried to tighten things up with 20...Rac8:
White could have gotten a lot more out of the position with both 21.Rad1 and 21.Bf4:
A very natural move (stops Rad1) but it gives White a green light to try a couple of strong continuations. Instead, 21...c5 is more productive since it gets the pawn off the vulnerable c6-square and also deprives white’s pieces of the d4-square. Another point of 21...c5 is that it opens the a4-e8 diagonal and thus allows Black to meet 22.Rad1 with 22...Qb5.
The start of a very tempting sequence. A less drastic, but perhaps better alternative, was 22.Bd4:
22...axb6 23.Nc4 Bf6 24.Nxb6 Qd2 25.Nc4?
Another natural, “easy” move to play. However, White missed a very cool continuation.
25…Qd5 26.b3 Qd3?
Black desperately tries to get his pawn back, but it doesn't have the desired effect. Instead he should try to fix what's broken and add new plusses to his position. That can be achieved by 26...e5! turning the target on e6 into a strong central pawn majority:
A pathetic move by the 2100 player! Instead, 27.Qe3! retained an enormous advantage:
27...Rxd3 28.Rad1 Rhd8 29.Rxd3 Rxd3 30.Rc1 Bxc3 31.Kf1 e5 32.Ke2 e4 33.f3
Though White threw away most of his advantage with 27.Qxd3, he still has a tiny plus: black’s e4-pawn (after white’s fxe4) and c6-pawn are both weak, the passed a-pawn can’t be ignored, and the Knight is nicely placed, meaning it’s as good as black’s speedy Bishop.
33...Ke6 34.fxe4 fxe4 35.Rf1 Be5 36.Nxe5 Kxe5 37.Rc1 Rd6
Not falling for 37...Kd5?? 38.Rd1 when black's busted because White ends up with an outside passed pawn in a King and pawn endgame. It's very instructive, and everyone should take a look at it:
38.Rc5+ Kd4 39.Rc4+ Ke5 40.Rc1 Ke6?
A lazy move that gives White a chance to turn the screws. Instead Black should have held fast and made slight improvements where and when possible. To that effect, something like 40...h6 41.Rc4 (41.Rc5+ Kd4) 41...g5 leaves everything tight and safe.
Missing his chance!
It’s clear that White has run out of ideas.
This invites complications by Rc5. Instead, 42...h6 doesn’t rock the boat: 43.Rc5+ Kd4 44.Rc4+ Ke5.
43.Rc3 Ke5 44.Rc2
As before, 44...h6 would have left White wondering how to make progress.
White wasn't going anywhere, so if Black is willing to allow a few complications, why not accept the challenge?
And Black immediately folds! With correct defense he could have drawn:
46.a4 leaves Black in serious trouble because his King is far from the queenside and can't get back. The trouble with 46.g3+ is that it allows the Black King to penetrate via ...Kg4-h3. White is still much better after 46.g3+, but this trip down the wrong road will soon lead to more mistakes.
47.a4 with the simple idea of shoving the pawn down black's throat, is probably stronger:
Horrible since it gives black's Rook a green light to its 7th rank. Instead 48.Rc4 would have won:
48...Rd2 49.a4 Rb2 50.Rc3 Rxh2 51.Rxc6 Kxg3?
Why the hurry?
52...Ra2! would have drawn.
A 2100 player can't get it right, and it's not surprising. These endgames are extremely difficult. I think 53.Kd4! wins:
53...Ra2! slows down the advance of white's pawns and draws:
54...Ra2! would, once again, draw.
Finally White pulls the trigger!
55...Ra2 56.Rxg5+ Kh4
This is completely hopeless since now black's not only down material and behind in the pawn race, but he's also passive. However, 56...Kf2 57.Rxh5 Rxa6 is also an easy (theoretical) win for White.
57.Rg6 Kh3 58.Kd5 h4 59.b4 Kh2 60.b5 h3 61.Kc6 Kh1 62.Kb7 h2 63.Rh6
63...Rb2 64.b6 Kg2 65.a7 Rb3 66.Rxh2+, 1-0.
LESSONS FROM THIS GAME
* Everyone blunders, from beginners to grandmasters. In this game, if you felt you could have played it perfectly, then you’re either a chess god or deluded.
* In many positions where you stand worse, the best thing to do is quietly tighten up as many points as possible.
* Chess is a hard game, and endings can be insanely difficult.
* Sometimes natural moves aren't the best moves. Getting the most out of every move often calls for you looking behind the scenes and insisting that what you play will give you the most bang for your buck.
* Everyone needs to learn basic endgame concepts. One of the most important occurs in a King and pawn endgame and is called the "outside passed pawn." The diagram to black's 37th move discusses this at length and is something everyone should look at.
HOW TO PRESENT A GAME FOR CONSIDERATION
If you want me to look over your game, send it to email@example.com.
I need your name (real or chess.com handle), your OPPONENT’S name (real or chess.com handle), both players’ ratings, where the game was played, and date. If you don’t give me this information, I won’t use your game! BTW: I’ve noticed that many people are reluctant to give me their opponent’s name. This is very strange! Showing the names of both players is the way chess games are presented in databases, books, magazines… everywhere! Permission from the opponent isn’t necessary. If permission was necessary, everyone who ever lost a game wouldn’t allow their name to be on it!