In last week’s article about insane, surprising, or beautiful finishes, I showed a horror story of a game by Irina Krush where she overlooked a mate in one (while three pawns ahead in an endgame), which cost her the World Championship for girls under 10. Seeing something like that one time in 10 years would be a fair try at odds. What I failed to mention was that at this same event, in the girls under 14 section, Jennie Frenklakh (the other American player) was two bishops ahead in an endgame and wondering why her opponent was playing on.
Yep, White’s down two full bishops (you might have thought that I was making it up!). She doesn’t even have an extra pawn. Playing on when you’re hopelessly placed is one thing, but when you’re two bishops down in an endgame... well, that’s just rude. Benko and I, who were the coaches for the American team, stopped looking at this travesty. 36...Be3 followed by 37...d4 and ...Bb7+, 36...e5, or any number of other moves would end the joke right away.
Instead, she played... 36...a5 which also wins hands down. There followed 37.g4 and now 37...g5, 37...e5, or 37...fxg4 force resignation. But poor Jennie, who was no longer paying attention to this silly game, tossed out 37...Ba6??? and experienced one of those, “I just got a lobotomy” moments when White played 38.g5 and proudly announced, “MATE!”
Irina’s and Jennie’s games were both played in the final round, and both walked into mates. Amazing... when it rains, it pours.
The lesson from both these games is clear: never stop concentrating until the opponent resigns! Of course, the way one learns this lesson is by repeatedly walking into things like this until you become so scarred by shock and pain that you look for checks and other nasty surprises before making any move, especially if the game is a “lock” win.
One of my students was on the happy end of this kind of thing a few weeks ago. The first game he showed me was completely resignable, but when I tried to stop so I could look at something more interesting and instructive he refused, saying, “Keep watching! Keep watching! It will blow your mind!”
The initial position in the board below looks grim (and indeed, many players would resign here), but White kept on going.
As painful as this stuff is, everyone does it from time to time. One of my many moments of idiocy occurred against grandmaster John Fedorowicz.
I played the opening well and Fed never had anything. When we reached this position I had intended to play 29...Rd6 when I anticipated a quick draw. However, I suddenly saw someone that I hadn’t seen in quite some time and I wanted to say hello. As I looked at this person, I reached out, grabbed my rook, stuck it on the d-file, and then realized that I had grabbed the wrong rook!!!
After Fed made this move, he looked me in the eye and said, “You gotta pay attention!” I didn’t mind the jab. We were on very good terms, and I suspect he wanted a bit of revenge for the humiliation I put him through in the great beer caper in Wijk aan Zee, several months earlier.
30...Kxd8 31.Rd1+ Kc7 32.Rd5 and I went on to lose.
Anyway, if you don’t trust me, DO trust a grandmaster when he says, “You gotta pay attention!” It just takes one blink to spoil virtually any position.
Of course, telling someone to pay attention is easily said, but how does one follow that advice? I find that attention lags when one thinks the game is coming to an end (an easy win or a dead draw), and it’s during those moments that you need to train yourself to sit on your hands and look around for tricks, treats, or other potential surprises. Take your time, enjoy the position and soak up every tasty bit of it before you make a move.
From Gloom to Glam
Skipping away from this depressing subject (it’s depressing for Irina, Jennie, and me!), we’ll cast away the gloom with a string of puzzles that all won tournament brilliancy prizes.
The next puzzle features a game where Black makes use of an old favorite opening of mine: