Last week, when we discussed the way to avoid time trouble, one of the suggestions was "Prepare your openings! Besides an obvious benefit of playing good moves in a theoretical position, you'll also save some time on your clock in the opening!" Now imagine that you did your home work, spent a fair amount of time on the opening you play, followed the theoretical recommendations and as a result... you lost the game almost instantly. Impossible, right? And yet, this is exactly what happened in the games we are going to analyze today in this category of blunders.
The next funny story from GM Eduard Gufeld's book describes this kind of blunders very well. It happened a long time ago, in the 1950-ies when Gufeld played in junior competitions. At that point the main source of opening knowledge was a book by Alexey Sokolsky " Modern Chess Opening". It was a true chess Bible for any competitive chess player and therefore most of the top Soviet juniors knew it by heart. Gufeld found a 'hole' in one of Sokolsky's recommendations and decided to catch his next opponent (a future Master Yuri Nikolaevsky) in the trap. In order to do it, Gufeld played the Philidor Defense for the first time in his life! The game quickly reached the next position:
Here Nikolaevsky played 9. Nf3 and left the board for a walk. Immediately a bunch of other participants circled him and yelled at him: "How could you play such a lemon?" "Don't you read chess books?" "Sokolsky showed a forced win for White there", etc. So in a minute or so Nikolaevsky already knew about the missed opportunity. He was very upset, came back to the board and said: "You are such a lucky guy, Eduard!" Gufeld pretended that he didn't know what was going on and Nikolaevsky explained that he could've just won the game by force. "No way!", Gufeld said. "If you allow me to take my move back, I'll show you", proposed Nikolaevsky. And after a gentleman's agreement of no complaints and no tears after Gufeld's inevitable defeat, Nikolaevsky played Sokolsky's 'winning' combination. Unfortunately for him, when the game reached the position where Sokolsky claimed that White was winning, Gufeld showed the fruit of his analysis. Try to find this simple refutation.
After the game Gufeld showed his opponent another good move which would've also refuted White's combo ( 14...Qd5!).
If you think that something like this can happen only in kid's tournaments, check out the next famous game.
This painful defeat is by far the shortest one in the illustrious career of the current World Champion Anand. How could he possibly lose like this? The answer is very simple. The most recent issue of Chess Informant at that time (one of the most respectable World chess publications) quoted the game Miles-Christiansen, San Francisco 1987 where Black played 5...Bf5??, equalized easily, and drew the game. So, if one of the leading chess periodicals publishes a game of two very strong GMs and recommends a move as the easiest way to equalize the game, what can be possibly wrong there? Of course Anand couldn't know that, as the rumor goes, the draw in the above mentioned game was prearranged before the game even started. So when GM Larry Christiansen carelessly played 5...Bf5?? Miles even tapped with his finger on the e2 square, showing that he saw the winning move, but again, the result of the game was already prearranged...
Unfortunately, chess books, magazines and videos are full of land mines similar to the ones we just saw. They are just waiting for the next innocent victim. Here is a good example (see the next diagram). You can find this position on page 47 of "Winning with the Scandinavian" by Ron Harman and Shaun Taulbut published in 1993 where the authors analyze only 9.Qd2 with an evaluation "White's advantage is small". But if a poor soul decides to follow this recommendation for Black, she is due for a nasty surprise because ... instead of 9.Qd2 White can win by force! Try to find the way White achieves a decisive advantage here.
How can you avoid this kind of embarrassing blunder? I found an answer for this question after a similar defeat. About a quarter century ago I played Vassily Ivanchuk in one of the Soviet tournaments (we both were just young masters at that point). I followed one of the recommendations from the latest issue of Chess Informant and then, after a new move by Ivanchuk my position immediately became hopeless. I was really upset. And the most disappointing part was not the defeat itself since all true chess players know that a loss is just a part of the game. You just learn something from your loss and move forward. But here to add insult to injury, not only did I lose the game very quickly, but also I didn't learn anything from my defeat, since I was just repeating somebody else's moves.
So, I decided to never blindly follow any analysis or recommendation regardless of the source. So even if I lose terribly in 10 moves, I alone would be responsible for my mistakes and could hopefully learn something from them. Also this simple approach helped me to avoid many potential opening disasters. Just think about it for a moment. If Anand looked at the position from his game vs. Zapata before he played the horrible 5...Bf5??, how much time would it take for him to discover that the move was losing? My guess is not more than 10 seconds. (I played Anand a year before in the World Junior Championship where he won the title, so believe me I know what I am talking about). But that's the whole problem with that short embarrassing loss: Anand was not thinking, he was just playing according to somebody else's recommendation and he paid the price.
I hope by now you already got the point. As the Russian saying goes: "Trust but verify". No matter how good the source of the opening recommendation you are about to follow, analyze the position on your own before you decide to give it a try in your tournament game. Not only would it give you an extra protection against embarrassing blunders but you'll also improve your chess skills in the process!