Apocalypse In the Caro-Kann

Apocalypse In the Caro-Kann

| 26 | Amazing Games

Baumgartner – “As a little background, this was the highest-rated opponent I had played OTB to this point. I had been rated 1400 just a few months ago, but recently had been going to many tournaments and beating quite a few 1600-1700 players, so I was confident enough to play U1900 in Louisville.”

Todd (1876) - Blake Baumgartner (1560), Louisville open (U1900 section) 2011

Time Control: G/2, SD 1

1.e4 c6!

Baumgartner – “I’ve been playing the Caro for months now, and not just as a drawing weapon as its reputation sometimes is. I intend, as always, to play for a win.”

A good attitude. The fact that no less a player than Topalov (who always plays to win) has adopted the Caro-Kann has to give Mr. Baumgartner and every other Caro-Kann player a lot of confidence.

2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5

This Classical Variation is a great, extremely sound system that I took up at the end of my career. However, my first love was always 4…Nf6 5.Nxf6+ when I did well with both 5…gxf6 (complex and fun) and 5…exf6 (though I gave away a bit of my masculinity every time I played this, I found it to be a fairly interesting and safe alternative to its more aggressive twin [5…gxf6]. Ulf Andersson, Korchnoi, and Larry Christiansen were other fans of 5…exf6). For those looking for some exciting new ideas in the 4…Nf6 line, check out DANGEROUS WEAPONS: THE CARO-KANN by Emms, Palliser, and Houska (Everyman Chess, 2010).

5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.Nf3 Nd7 8.h5 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 e6 11.Bf4

Ah, I love the smell of Caro-Kann theory in the morning! 11.Bd2 Qc7 often transposes into positions with 11.Bf4 (11.Bf4 Qa5+ 12.Bd2 Qc7), though Black has, in recent years, embraced kingside castling with 11.Bd2 Ngf6 12.0-0-0 Be7.















Baumgartner – “I do more preparation against 12.Bd2. Here (after 12.c3) White can keep the Bishop on a good diagonal, but it’s a bit hard for him to play 0-0-0.”

After 11…Qa5+ White can play 12.c3 (as in this game) and 12.Bd2 (when Black can reply with the old 12…Qc7 or, if he’s a modern castle-kingside kind of guy, 12…Bb4!). I should add that the Swedish grandmaster Jonny Hector (an attacking genius) has successfully played 12.Nd2 on several occasions. Lars Schandorff, in his wonderful book GRANDMASTER REPERTOIRE THE CARO-KANN, gives the following: 12.Nd2 Ngf6 13.c4 Be7 14.Qe2 0-0 15.0-0 Rfe8 16.a3 Qb6 17.Nf3 a5 (recommended by grandmaster Lukacs) 18.Rad1 c5 19.dxc5 Qxc5 (also given by Lukacs back in 2005) when both Lukacs and Schandorff consider the position to be completely equal. The game C. Balogh – R. Dautov, Warsaw 2005 instead saw 19…Bxc5 20.Ne5 Nxe5 21.Bxe5 Be7 22.Ne4 Nxe4 23.Qxe4 and now, instead of black’s dubious 23…Red8, Dautov recommends 23…Rad8 24.Qg4 Bf8 25.Bc3 Qb3 26.Rfe1 a4 27.Rxd8 Rxd8 28.Rxe6 fxe6 29.Qxe6+ with a draw.

12...Ngf6 13.b4 Qb6

Baumgartner – “I’ve seen this line before online! I played 13...Qb5 in this position, where I can play against the backwards c-pawn after the queen trade, but I remembered I didn’t do too well. This time I decided to keep the Queens on the board.”

Here you break one of the biggest rules of opening preparation: Your losses will help you hone your opening until it’s unbreakable. Thus, if you have done badly with a move that’s supposed to be good, keep playing it until you understand everything about WHY the move is good. It sounds like you appreciated the ideas behind 13…Qb5, but you let one bad experience make you abandon a great move! And, by doing so, you tried a worse one (in 13…Qb6). You wrote that you would “…keep the Queens on the board”, but that doesn’t tell me anything about why 13…Qb6 is good (retaining Queens isn’t a good or bad thing by itself).

I’ve seen many amateur players take up an opening, lose several games with it, and then completely abandon it due to those losses. The fact that they simply misplayed it didn’t matter – in their mind, if they lost with it, then it’s bad (Why take any personal responsibility, or try to fix the things you’re doing wrong?). Simply put, the best way to learn an opening is to leap right in, lose, lose, and lose some more, but fix the things that made you lose in each case until you’re a lean, mean, winning opening machine.

Schandorff likes both 13…Qb5 and 13…Qa3, though I have to admit that I couldn’t ask more from an opening than what I’d get with 13…Qb5! Here’s an example: 

Comp Mephisto Amsterdam – Jorge Gomez Baillo (2455) [B19], Ciudad de Ushuaia 1986

13…Qb5 14.Qxb5 cxb5 15.Ne5 (perhaps 15.a4 is best, but Black still has a very nice position after 15…bxa4 16.Rxa4 Nb6 17.Ra1 a6 18.Be5 Nfd5) 15...Nd5 16.Ne2 Rc8 (A real dream for Black! He has incredible squares on d5 and c4, and pressure against c3.) 17.Nxd7 Kxd7 18.Bd2 Nb6 19.0-0 Bd6 20.Rfc1 Rhg8 21.Bf4 Rc4 22.Bxd6 Kxd6 23.Rab1 Nd5 24.Rb3 a6 25.Rd1 Ke7 26.Rd3 Rd8 27.Rh3 Kf8 28.a3 Nf6 29.Rh2 Rd5 30.Rb1 Nxh5 31.Rh3 Nf6 32.Rd1 h5 33.Rdd3 g6 34.Rhf3 Ke7 35.Nf4 Rf5 36.Rde3 g5 37.Ne2 Rxf3 38.Rxf3 Nd5 39.g3 Rc8 40.Rd3 Rh8 41.Kg2 h4 42.gxh4 Rxh4 43.Rg3 Kf6 44.Rf3+ Kg6 45.Rg3 f5 46.Nc1 g4 47.Nd3 f4 48.Ne5+ Kf5 49.Rd3 f3+ 50.Kg1 Nf4 51.Nxf3 Rh3 52.Nh4+ Rxh4, 0-1.

14.0-0 Be7 15.Rfe1?!

White places a Rook on the half open file – looks great, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s a tad on the “soft” side. Of course, it’s not bad by any means, but it fails to address some of the position’s key features. Instead, I would prefer 15.Rab1!, defending b4 and preparing the space-gaining c3-c4 when black’s Queen isn’t very happy on b6. If Black meets 15.Rab1 with 15…a5?, then 16.bxa5 Qxa5 17.Rxb7 Qxa2? (17…0-0) 18.Ne5 is extremely unpleasant for the second player.

Let’s compare the two Rook moves in another way: White thinks, “I’m going to move my Rook to e1 when it’s doing a good job on the e-file.”

As I said, this isn’t bad, but it doesn’t offer anything specific. Or, when playing 15.Rab1 White thinks, “By defending my b-pawn, I intend to push my c-pawn (followed perhaps by a2-a4 too), gaining space and depriving his Knight of the d5-square. I also feel that my wave of queenside pawns rushing at his Queen will make him wish he never moved there in the first place!” See the difference?

To be fair, white’s no more than slightly better after 15.Rab1.


Baumgartner – “Improving the Knight.”

Another “soft move.” Yes, the Knight is taking up a strong position with gain of tempo, but ownership of that square is only temporary. Instead, a far more penetrating move (into the position’s secrets, not the position itself) is 15…a5! when 16.a3 Qa6 once again offers a Queen trade (which would end all of white’s kingside attacking possibilities). Since 17.Qxa6 Rxa6 solves all of black’s problems, and since a move like 17.Qd2 allows 17…axb4 18.axb4 Qxa1, White would have to eat crow with 17.Qb1 when, after 17…0-0, Black has activated his Queen along the f1-a6 diagonal and enjoys a very comfortable position.

An interesting response to 15…a5 is 16.Nf5!? exf5 17.Bd6 Ne4 18.Bxe7 Kxe7 19.Nh4 Kf8 20.Nxf5 Nef6 when Black is up a piece but his h8-Rook is entombed and won’t hit the light of day for a long time.















One possible variation is: 21.Qg3 Rh7 (21…Rg8?? 22.Qd6 mate) 22.Qd6+ (More patient and possibly better is 22.Rab1!?) 22…Kg8 23.Ne7+ Kh8 24.Ng6+ fxg6 25.hxg6 axb4 26.cxb4 Nf8 27.gxh7 Kxh7 when black’s two Knights are worth more than white’s Rook and pawn.


Baumgartner – “If 16.Be3 I had 16…Nxc3 followed by …Bxb4, winning material.”















Say what? Hold on now! First off, two minor pieces tend to be stronger than a Rook and two pawns in a middlegame (which means that position after 16.Be3 Nxc3?? 17.Qxc3 Bxb4 18.Qc2 Bxe1 19.Rxe1 is good for White). But the fact that black’s King is in the center and that white’s Bishop is X-Raying through to black’s Queen means that tactics might well be lurking. And, sure enough, 16.Be3 Nxc3?? 17.Qxc3 Bxb4 18.Qc2 Bxe1 would run headlong into 19.d5!! when Black is going to get mugged: 19…c5 20.dxe6 Qxe6 21.Bxc5!! (21.Rxe1 is also good for White, but 21.Bxc5 is crushing) 21…Ba5 22.Nf5 Rg8 23.N3d4 Qd5 (23…Qe5 24.Bd6) 24.Qe2+ Kd8 (24…Ne5 25.Nd6+ Ke7 [25…Kd7 26.Qb5+] 26.Nxb7+ Kf6 27.f4 and it’s all over) 25.Be7+ Kc8 26.Rc1+ Bc7 27.Bd6, 1-0.
















It’s hard to argue with such a sensible move, but if I was Black I would want to soften up his queenside structure a bit by 16…a5 when 17.a3 axb4 18.axb4 0-0 is equal. The position after 16…a5 17.bxa5 Qxa5 18.c4 Qa6 also looks fine for Black, BUT something is lurking behind the scenes.
















Baumgartner – “Presumably preparing c4.”

For a guy that just left the 1400 level a few months ago, Mr. Baumgartner did something that many other players forget to do: he wanted to know what his opponent’s move was all about. Such a simple thing, but so critical since, if you don’t know what you’re opponent is up to, you won’t be able to stop it. Remember: chess isn’t just about pushing your agenda, it’s also about stopping your opponent’s (or making an educated decision to ignore the enemy agenda since you’ve determined that your plans are the stronger of the two).


Baumgartner – “I don’t like this move anymore. My idea was to follow with …Qc7 and possibly …Nf4. 17…Qc7 first was perhaps better, but I didn’t like lines where c4 and then d5 is played, and my e6-pawn is pinned to the Bishop on e7.”

You have every right to dislike your 17…Bd6. In fact, it loses by force! And you’re also right about 17…Qc7 (showing that your Queen was never happy on b6), which was the best move in the position. A word of advice: If you don’t defend the move you want to play, then who will? If you see a move you like but begin to worry about some specific point (like your Bishop being vulnerable to a d4-d5 push due to the pin along the e-file), don’t give up on your move! Instead, try and prove to yourself whether your fear is or isn’t justified. In other words, only stop a threat if it’s a real threat – stopping non-threats that are nothing more than phantasms will lead to many, many unnecessary defeats.

After 17…Qc7! 18.c4 N5f6 (18…Nf4 19.Qe3 favors White) and now the imaginary d4-d5 threat just doesn’t work, while the other imaginary bomb (19.Nf5 – a lot of people would be terrified of it) is also nothing to fear: 19.Nf5 Rfe8! 20.Nxe7+ Rxe7 and white’s h5-pawn is about to be snipped off the board.
















Baumgartner – “I missed this, but still felt like I had a playable position.” 

White could have grabbed an enormous advantage by making use of the ideas in the problem above.


I’ve noticed that amateurs often miss simple replies from their opponents. Missing a tricky reply is one thing, but missing an obvious move that’s well within your range to see, while acceptable on occasion, is completely unacceptable if done with regularity. In my view, this kind of mistake is usually due to a break in concentration. Here Black was grooving on his own ideas and didn’t even look at what White would do (He missed both 18.Ne4 and the stronger 18.c4).

His reaction to white’s 18.Ne4 seems a bit panicky to me. Instead, I would sneer at my opponent and play 18…Qc7, trying to show him that I was fully expecting his reply, and didn’t think much of it (yes, chess psychology is a skill-set!).

19.Ne5 Nxe5?

Baumgartner – “I wasn’t particularly worried about a pawn moving to e5. I could perhaps play on the d-file or break with …c5 now. I didn’t want to avoid exchanges; I’m already down in space.”

That White pawn on e5 is actually quite strong (hits d6 and f6), and adds a lot to white’s kingside attack. Calmly bringing a new piece into play by 19…Rad8 kept you in the game.

20.dxe5 Qc7

Baumgartner – “The immediate c5 might have been better. I think I got scared of him meeting …c5 with Be3, pinning the pawn to the queen on b6, but this seems silly now; I think I’m fine after just trading the Bishop off in this line.”

Actually I think you had every right to fear that Be3 pin after 20…c5 – black’s pieces trip all over each other and, when White mixes that fact with a leap into d6 and kingside tactics, things won’t go well for Black: 20…c5 21.c4 Nc7 22.Qg3 Kh8 (22…Kh7 23.Be3 Na6 24.Nd6! Bxd6 25.exd6 Rad8 26.bxc5 Nxc5 27.Bd4 Rg8 [27…f6 28.Rxe6] 28.Qe3 Rc8 29.d7 Rc7 30.Rad1 Rd8 31.Qg3 f6 32.Qg6+ Kh8 33.Qe8+, 1-0.) 23.Be3 Na6 24.Nd6 Qc7 (24…Bxd6 25.exd6 Rad8 26.bxc5 Nxc5 27.Bd4 f6 28.Qe3 Rc8 29.d7 Rc7 30.Rad1 Rd8 31.Bxf6 Rcxd7 32.Qxh6+ Kg8 33.Qg6 wins) 25.b5 Nb8 26.Qf3 (threatening to get a winning endgame by 27.Qxb7) 26…Bxd6 27.exd6 Qc8 (27…Qxd6 28.Qxb7 Nd7 29.Rad1) 28.Bd2 (28.Bxc5 Qxc5 29.Qxb7 is also strong) 28…Nd7 29.Bc3 Nb6 30.a4 f6 (30…Nxg4?? 31.Qg4) 31.Qe4 e5 32.a5 Nd7 33.a6 b6 34.Qf5 Qe8 35.Rad1 and Black is bound hand and foot.

21.Qg3 Kh8















This horror, which weakens his own King, blocks his own Bishop, and also blocks his Queen’s X-Ray to d6 along the h2-b8 diagonal, lets you right back in the game. Instead, 22.c4 Nb6 23.c5 Nd5 24.Nd6 is clearly better for White. Yes, Black does have the wonderful Knight on d5 (the highlight of his position), but the rest of his army is tied down, his kingside is vulnerable, and his severe lack of space will come back to haunt him. Black can play, but it’s a miserable position.


Baumgartner – “Re-routing the Knight. I don’t want to go into defense-mode on the kingside; I’m still looking for active play.

Not bad, but the Knight on d5 is very well placed (in this case, better than a Knight on c4). You could have allowed it to stay there by 22…b5 (stopping c3-c4), while a more active way to deprive White of c3-c4 is 22…Qb6+! 23.Kh2 Qa6! followed by …Rad8 with an excellent game for Black.

23.Be3 Nc4 24.Bd4

Baumgartner – “In my opinion, a good idea by him. By playing Be3 before …Nc4, he can avoid a passive Bishop retreat.”


Baumgartner – “I want to play ...c5.”


Baumgartner – “The start of another good idea by my opponent.”


Baumgartner – “I don’t want to play b5, losing control of c5.”

I don’t want to pay taxes, but guess what? Sometimes you just have to accept the cards that are dealt to you. Thus 25…b5 was the way to go, with a playable position.
















Not best. The problem above (make sure you check out the variations too!) show how White should have played. 

26...Nc4 27.Qe2

Baumgartner – “Annoying! …b5 is forced. Now I can’t break with …c5.”

You weren’t honest with yourself. After white’s 25.Qd3 it was already clear that you had to play …b5, but you got emotional. A cold, hard look at the position would have convinced you of the truth, but when you push the honesty of harsh clarity aside for the flowers and butterflies of Oprah-consciousness (which may be fine for some areas of life, but not for chess), then expect bad things to happen.

27…b5 28.Qg4 a5

Baumgartner – “I’m not sure about this move, but I was lacking much else active to do.”

You desperately need some form of counterplay, and one can’t fault you for trying to get some.


Baumgartner – “What? I still don’t get the point of him playing here.”

White is much better, but he has to commit to some concrete action or his advantage will dissipate. This “non-move” with the King is clearly not the way to go. Best was 29.Nd6. Now both 29…Nxd6?? loses instantly to 30.exd6 which wins the house due to the double threat of dxc7 and Qxg7 mate. No better is 29…Bxd6?? 30.exd6 f5 (only move) 31.Qg3 (other moves also win) 31…Nxd6 (31…Qf7 32.Rxe6) 32.Rxe6 and the threats of 33.Rxh6+ (32…Kh7? 33.Rxh6+! and any capture of the Rook allows Qg6 mate.) and 33.Rxd6 are impossible to deal with.

After 29.Nd6 a move like 29…Qd7 (29…Qd8 30.Rad1 Nxa3 31.Re3) seems better, but White still rules by continuing to push his initiative: 30.f5! Bxd6 31.f6!! gxf6 32.exd6 Qd8 33.Qf3 e5 34.Bc5 and black’s in a bad way. White’s lesson here: Use it or lose it!
















Things have become very difficult, and I would expect even masters to make all sorts of mistake here. Your move looks very natural, but there’s a problem with it. Your best move was probably 29…Qd7 (this bolsters the f5-square and also allows you to chop on d6 without having your Queen attacked after exd6) when 30.Nd6 Bxd6 (30…Kg8 31.f5 is strong) 31.exd6 Rg8 32.Bc5 Rad8 33.Red1 a4 is okay for Black due to the problem with a3 (33…a5-a4 fixed the weakness and gave Black a very important long-term target!). The idea of creating a long-term target, whether you’re defending or attacking, is critical if you want to move up that rating ladder. Please ponder this point and it will really help your game.

Now let’s compare this with 29…axb4 30.axb4 (first off, you can’t create a long-term weakness on a3 anymore since there’s no longer a weakness on a3!) 30…Qd7 31.Nd6 and now 31…Bxd6 no longer works due to 32.exd6 Rg8 33.Rxa8, gin.

30.axb4 Qb7?

Baumgartner – “Protecting the a8-square, possibly planning to grab the file”

To your credit, you are still trying to get something going for yourself, but you’re underestimating white’s threats. Nevertheless, I don’t think you had a fully satisfactory move. For example: 30…Qd8 (Perhaps 30…Qd7 31.Nd6 Kg8 is the best defense, but things still look bad for Black) 31.Nd6 Rxa1 32.Rxa1 Bxd6 33.exd6 Rg8 34.Bc5 (white’s passed pawn is very strong) 34…Qf6 (34…Nxd6?? 35.Rd1) 35.d7! Qxc3 36.Rd1 Qf6 37.g3! (threatening to end the game with 38.Qh4 Qxh4 39.gxh4 Rd8 40.Be7) 37…Qd8 38.Qh4 f6 39.Qg4 and black’s losing.


Baumgartner – “Conceding the a-file, but planning to attack my King.”

White continues to shuffle about instead of looking for a killing blow. Of course, 31.Nd6 (hitting your Queen) is white’s best move. One attractive line is 31…Bxd6 32.exd6 Rg8 33.Rxa8 Qxa8
















Perhaps best is 31…Rad8 32.Nd6 (now 32.f5 doesn’t work due to 32…exf5 33.Qxf5 Rd5 and black’s fine) 32…Bxd6 33.exd6 Rg8 34.Bc5, though white’s monster passed pawn gives him a clear advantage. 


Once again, White refuses to pull the trigger. 32.f5! exf5 33.Qxf5 threatening things like Qxf7, e6, and Nd6 would have been very strong. 















Baumgartner – “ I couldn’t come up with anything active on the queenside; a Rook lift seemed pointless. I then came up with the idea to open the g-file, followed by lifting the Rook to a2 in some lines, and threatening g2. At the very least I’ll get some activity, and though my King looks a bit weak I couldn’t find anything particularly scary he could do.”

Your constant desire to find some sort of activity is a very good trait (and it explains why you’re moving up in the ranks so quickly)! Of course, sometimes the thought will be noble while the timing (or whole concept) will just be wrong. Here you’re creating serious new weaknesses to your kingside and, as a result, dooming yourself to a violent end.

Again, I don’t have time to find a definitive defense, but I can give you some samples of the dangers/ideas that are lucking behind the scenes: 32…Rad8 (one of black’s best tries) 33.f5 (White probably intended 33.Rg3, but black’s hanging in there after 33…Qd7 [stopping f4-f5] since 34.Nd6 no longer has punch: 34…Bxd6 35.exd6 Nxd6 36.Bxg7+ Kh7 and Black wins!) 33…Nxe5? (So tempting, but not good. Instead, Black holds with 33…exf5! 34.Qxf5 Rd5 35.Qxf7 Nxe5 36.Qe6 Qc8) 34.Bxe5 Rxd3 35.f6 gxf6 36.Qf4 Kh7 37.Bxf6 c5 38.Bxe7 Qxe7 39.Nf6+ Kg7 40.Qxh6+! Kxh6 41.Nxg8+ Kg7 42.Nxe7 Rxc3 43.Nc6 cxb4 44.Nxb4 Rc4 45.Rb1 Rh4+ 46.Kg1 Rxh5 and though white’s a piece for a pawn ahead (he will eventually win b5), White will still need to show some great technique to win.


Another “slow motion move” by White. Again, the position called for straightforward, no-nonsense, forcing play: 33.hxg6 Rxg6 34.Qh3 Kh7 35.f5 and black’s going to lose. Fortunately for White, black’s kingside is so badly compromised that 33.Rf3 will also lead to victory.
















Baumgartner – “A terrible move, in my opinion. I think this move might have been strong a few moves ago, but now it’s bad. Much better for him was trading dark-square Bishops and using weak dark squares like f6 for his Knight, where I honestly think he’s quite a bit better.”

As before, you don’t fully appreciate the true plight of your King (on the other hand, I’m happy to hear you discuss some heady positional ideas, even as heavy fire heads your way). White has a couple ways to rip open your kingside cocoon:

* 34.hxg6 (this move, which plays right into black’s hands, looks idiotic, but it’s still good for White) 34…Rxg6 35.Qh3 Raxg2 (35…Bf8 36.f5; 35…Kh7 36.f5 Rgxg2 is the subject of our chess problem below)















36.f5 exf5 37.e6+ f6 38.Nxf6 and White should win.

* 34.Qh3 and I’ll let the reader analyze this – it’s fun to find all of white’s attacking ideas, which will ultimately finish Black off.

Unfortunately for Black, 34.Nd6 also proves to be very strong!

34...Bxd6 35.exd6+ Kh7

Baumgartner – “I’m now threatening to recapture the pawn, and also to open the g-file and take g2. I’m very happy with my position.”

Your very positive outlook is wonderful (often the opponent will look at you, see your bubbling confidence, and begin to doubt himself). However, black’s just busted. My first idea was 36.Rxe6 but this only gives White a clear advantage, and not the outright win that I wanted: 36.Rxe6 fxe6 37.Qxe6 Ra1+ 38.Kh2 Nxd6 39.Rg3 Qf7 40.Qxd6 Raa8 41.Qxc6 and black’s alive but suffering.

As a result of this near miss, I turned my attention to 36.Rg3 and suddenly the alarm bells went off as black’s position began to melt. Here are a few variations:

36…Nxd6 takes us to the following problem:















36…Qd7 37.hxg6+ Rxg6 38.Qh4 (the only thing that’s not over is white’s fun) 38…Rxg3 (38…Rd2, hoping to chop off the monster on d4, completely fails: 39.Rxg6 fxg6 40.Qf6 Rxd4 41.cxd4 Nxd6 42.Rxe6 forces Black to resign) 39.Qxg3 e5 (39…f5 40.Rxe6) 40.fxe5 Qe6 and we come upon yet another problem (as usual, make sure you check out the variations after you try solving it):















36…Qc8 (takes us to another problem!)
















Horrible. Though on the verge of death a moment ago, Black suddenly can turn things around and grab the advantage!






























Baumgartner – “At this point, we had about 20 minutes each until move 40. I considered simply winning the d6-pawn and re-routing the knight to f5 with a very nice position, but convinced myself I had something even better. The …c5 clearance sacrifice prepares to unleash the Queen to attack g2, along with both Rooks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out.”

PONDER THIS: You have to choose between a hard-to-work-out tactical sequence that, if you missed anything at all, might prove to be fatal for you, or a material advantage (giving you endgame odds) with a promising middlegame and relative safety. Which would you go for? An experienced player will always go for the security and bliss of the sure thing – he knows this because he’s picked the wrong way on many occasions as he worked his way up the rating ladder, and he’s just sick and tired of tossing winning positions away.

Mr. Baumgartner, don’t be too upset. One learns from making these wrong decisions over and over, until you just run out of tears. Then, by moves like 36…Nxd6, you learn to grab the win without risk or fanfare.

37.bxc5 gxh5 38.Qf3

Baumgartner – “Wups. There’s no x-ray because my Queen is hanging. White’s winning thanks to the connected passed pawns I gave him.”

38...Qd7 39.Qxh5 Rg6 40.f5 exf5 41.Re7, 1-0.

Baumgartner – “On one hand, I was very pleased to have played a decent game against someone 1850+ (300 points higher rated than me!). I was also a bit disappointed that I made such a blunder (36…c5) that ruined my advantage. In my opinion, I can easily compete with anyone under 1900; I’m happy with my positional skills, opening theory (I still out-book most players U1900), and endgames. The big reason I’m still 1560 is that I seem to miss things like this all the time. I very frequently spend 3 hours getting a great position and then find one move to blow it! It’s not that I don’t know the tactics or that I can’t calculate 3 move variations, I just seem to miss them! I ended up finishing 2-2 in the tournament against an average opponent rating of ~1800, increasing my rating from 1560 to 1622.”

Mr. Baumgartner, I agree that you’re on your way to serious rating gains. You do a lot of things right, but you clearly lack experience (as I explained in the notes when you made the final blunder). Thanks for the very entertaining – in fact exciting – game! Some things that everyone can learn from this contest:

* If you lose with a sound move in the opening, don’t give up that move! Figure out what you did wrong, mend those fences, and try it again.

* All through this game White made “soft” (lazy) moves. Quite often in chess, a chance will present itself that won’t be there if you blink. Learning to recognize those moments and then learning to leap on them is an important skill-set.

* Don’t fear trading Queens. Nobody can claim to be a good player if they fear exchanging Queens when the situation calls for it.

* Don’t get so caught up in your own ideas that you fail to grasp the opponent’s!

* Too much emotion during a game can be a killer. Intense (but calm) concentration makes you a winner, but unchecked emotion clouds everything and often turns iron control into a hope and a prayer.

* Two minor pieces are usually superior to a Rook and two pawns.

* The ability to create a long term target, whether you’re defending or attacking, is critical if you want to move up that rating ladder.

* A game show offers you a cool 10 million bucks for free, or a 100 million if you can guess what number between 1 and 20 he’s thinking of. Take the 10 million. Same for chess – if you can get a crazy position that may or may not be good for you (the swing is a nice win or a crushing loss), or a calm position that’s really good for you (the swing is a nice win or a draw), which should you take?

* Experience is a huge factor in chess! The more you play, and the more you come to terms with your chess failings, the stronger you’ll end up being.

* Nobody likes to lose, but losses are the things that, ultimately, make you better.

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