A Little Mystery

A Little Mystery

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Let’s take a quick look (no notes) at the following game.

We will be looking at a few games by the member RevolNoom, a young man (born 2001) from Hanoi, Vietnam (I was there a few years ago and had a very good time).


Black played very well, never panicked, and won a dominating, very smooth game. I especially liked Black’s 20th move. Most people would move the attacked c5-bishop to safety (20...Bb6, which also gives Black a winning position), but Black found a better move, finishing his development and posing White insurmountable problems.

This left me wondering why RevolNoom’s rating is only 1521. So, I looked at a game that he lost in only 11 moves:


Why Does Black Have a Comfortable Position?

  • White’s dark-squared bishop isn’t a happy piece since White’s central and queenside pawn structure is blocking it.
  • Black’s bishop is aiming at White’s king.
  • After castling kingside, Black will play ...Ne4 when leaving Black’s knight there can’t make White happy, but taking it allows ...fxe4 with more central and kingside space for Black.
  • Note Black’s desire to double his f-pawns. By doing so the f5-pawn creates an iron lock on the e4-square and in some cases can hit the centre/kingside with ...f5-f4. Since the f5-pawn can easily be protected with ...g7-g6, the f5-pawn is actually a very valuable commodity.

So far, it seemed to me that RevolNoom was far stronger than his rating. His tactics were good, he kept cool and calm, and he had a good feel for various pawn structures. However, the next game surprised me:


What happened? Black was unrecognizable. In his first two games, everything RevolNoom did had a purpose.

Everything he did was aimed at improving his position in some manner. In his third game his moves didn’t have purpose, and they failed to improve his position in any way. In the first two games he had a sharp eye regarding pawn structure and piece activity. In the last game he ignored the pawn structure and there was no effort to create piece activity at all.

Okay, RevolNoom was brutalized in that game, but we all have loses like this (even grandmasters). So how did he do in his other games? Let's take a look:

White lost on time. Of course, 31.Bxg5 leads to a very easy win, but 31.Rb7 forces mate in several moves.

Here's another game:


White lost on time. It doesn’t take a genius to see that 27.hxg3 leaves White with an extra knight and two pawns.

Here's one more:

These losses on time from easily won positions left me wondering what was going on. One answer actually makes sense: RevolNoom isn’t playing to win. Instead, he’s playing to learn and get better. Once you are two pieces up and the opponent continues to play, there really is no reason to spend time finishing him off (unless the game is being played in a serious tournament). Thus, he loses interest in the game, lets his time run out, and plays another game where his time is better spent.

Of course, most players play for blood and ego. They want to win and they are quite happy in their rating group. No problem with that. It’s fun and exciting. But some players want to be good and aren’t interested in playing through easily won positions where the opponents refuse to stop the pain. In those cases, tossing that game away so you can start a new one is far more interesting and far more instructive.

Naturally all this is conjecture. But whatever the truth is, it’s clear to me that RevolNoom should have a higher rating. As for his KID nightmare, let’s chalk it up to a bad night (we all have them).

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