If I ever create a list of things I tell my students most frequently, then the title of today's article would be at the very top. We all make mistakes ( read my series of articles on the subject here: http://www.chess.com/article/view/to-err-is-human ), but the probability of a mistake goes up exponentially when we lose our concentration. There are many reasons why chess players lose concentration ( I discussed it here: http://www.chess.com/article/view/how-to-avoid-blunders ), but the most common case is due to a premature relaxation caused by the favorable situation on the board.
The strange thing is no matter how many times we hear the famous saying that it is the most difficult thing in chess to win a winning position, we still make the same mistake. The thinking process goes like this: "Yes, I had my share of winning positions that I screwed up, but it is different here. It is impossible not to win this position!" Of course, as a wise stock-market saying goes, “this time it's different” are the four most expensive words in the English language! Believe me, it is always possible to ruin your winning position!
To prove my point I want to show you some games where masters and Grandmasters were unable to win a position with a huge material advantage. And when I say "a huge material advantage" I really mean it! So today we are not going to look at games where one of the opponents had a bunch of extra pawns or a piece. "A huge material advantage" today will mean at least an extra Rook! Of course you may have seen countless games where a chess player makes a huge blunder and his material advantage disappears instantly. But today I want to show you only games where the winning side lost his advantage gradually, without making clear, visible mistakes. But of course if you start to seriously analyze those games, you'll find dozens of little and not-so-little mistakes. But that's the problem! In most cases a player who has an extra Rook doesn't take the game seriously thinking that it will be won automatically, and all you need to do is just avoid simple blunders!
Here is Exhibit A: a Grandmaster blunders a whole Rook as early as move 7! Then the game continues as if nothing happened and slowly White's advantage just disappears and 50 moves later a draw was agreed. I am sure that the Master who played White would have won the game if he hadn't expected a resignation "any move now."
Please don't think that I am making fun of the poor guy who played White. It can happen to anybody! The next game was very important for GM Beliavsky since in case of winning he would assure his qualification to the Candidate's Matches. He prepared his opening line very well and won a Rook, but then things went wrong...
But probably the most famous game where a strong chess player failed to win a game with an extra Rook happened in the World Championship match of 1951. The World Champion Michail Botvinnik didn't win a game having an extra Rook for nothing! By the time the game was adjourned the advantage was gone and both players realized that the dangerous Black pawns more than compensated for his material loss. In his book David Bronstein said that the most difficult part of the game was not resigning immediately after he lost the Rook!
Some of you might think that maybe an extra Rook is not such a huge material advantage after all, but if I have an extra Queen, than the game is indeed over.
Well, look at the next game:
According to the "Chess Life" magazine, when Christiansen blundered his Queen, he started blitzing moves and his opponent (USCF rating 2194 at the moment the game was played) started blitzing too, probably thinking that you don't need to spend time on your moves when you have an extra Queen. Or maybe he was just too excited to beat GM Larry Christiansen!? I truly feel sorry for him, because it is a real tragedy for any chess player to lose such a position especially when you had a real chance to beat one of the strongest US Grandmasters...
You actually don't need to analyze today's games too deeply to understand what happened there. The goal of this article is simple: I want it to be engraved into your mind: It ain't over till it's over!