Blunders in Modern Play, Part 3

| 5 | Middlegame

phpin1js3.jpegToday we will continue with the topic of blunders in modern, top level chess. Last week we saw a fireworks display of mistakes in the game Shimanov-Kamsky from the recent FIDE World Cup in Tromso. Today's examples are very mild compared to what we observed in last Friday's article.

Although, blunders are entertaining and fun to watch, sometimes I find it hard to extract educational value from them. Normally, one gets a decisive change of the positional evaluation after the blunder and, assuming the stronger side is successful on capitalizing his / her advantage, the game soon steers to an end.

There is normally a brutal end coming for the player who blunders, unless there are high stakes or time trouble, as the example Shimanov-Kamsky showed. On the other hand, one has more room in explanation with mistakes, or mistakes that are on the borderline of being blunders themselves.

If you haven't read this week's IM Jeremy Silman's excellent article Having Fun with Blunders, please do so! The article clarifies what blunders are and what they are not, as well as provides numerous high-quality examples for practice. Here, I will stick with the definition that IM Silman provides referencing IM John Donaldson: A blunder is “a move that causes catastrophic damage to your position.”

The following position is about equal. Black has an advantage of two bishops but has some trouble with his pawn structure. It is hard to move the  d7 and c6-pawns because they cover important squares and can become targets. White needs to develop the c1-bishop, and can bring the bishop to either to e3 or b2. After that, the rook o a1 goes to d1, targeting the d7-pawn.

Black also can create play along the b-file. Overall, it is a question of who finishes the development first and manages to create problems for the other side. If both sides play accurately the position should remain close to equality. With the next move, which one cannot "technically" call a blunder under Donaldson's definition above, but which was surely the biggest mistake of the game, White manages to solve all of Black's problems for him. The pawn on d7 is no longer there, the rook gets the d-file and the bishop on c8 can be freely developed as it is no longer tied to the d7-pawn. With open diagonals and open files, Black manages to put pressure on b2-pawn and eventually win it, after which the game is decided.

To fully appreciate this game I thought it would be worthwhile to see an example where white did not play the knight to d4, but instead chose a plan connected with the development of the bishop on c1. The next game was played in 2002 and shows all the dangers that await Black in the starting position of our analysis. Black made logical moves in the next game but failed to solve the problem of the 'bad' bishop on c8.

Meanwhile, White put all his pieces in the centre, then fixed the d7-pawn with the move c5. In the end, White worked on all Black's weaknesses with his knights. Black could not defend them because the bishop on c8 was so out of play, and rook on b8 was cut out from the kingside. White's play looks very natural and strong. The game was decided after Black's blunder on the 22nd move. This is the blunder because the evaluation of the position changed drastically from better for white +/- 0.76 to winning for white +- 4.15 according to Houdini 3.

The next game has been a mystery for me for some time. Why is it that White seems to play according to "the correct plan", yet still gets a worse position? Let us look at the position below and try to evaluate it. White has a solid advantage in the center, whereas Black has a space advantage on the queenside. However, the queenside is closed so black cannot really take advantage of this...

If you look closely at the position you will notice it is Black who has more control of the center: the d4 and e5-squares are controlled with his pawns d6 and c5. While White can attempt to cover the e5-square with f4-move, the d4-square will be an excellent place for black bishop. Moreover, the f5-square is also a key square in this position. It is under White's control for a time being but if you look closely, it takes moves like g6 and Bc8 to win it over. Surely, White can play g4 but it is a very committal move - it weakens the kingside. Nevertheless, White cannot get away without this move as his knight has no better square than g3, from where it can hop to h5 and f5. All this being said, Black is faster in accomplishing his ideal set-up. 20. f4 followed by 21. f5 is too ambitious, whereas 23. Re4 is a blunder that cost White the game.

White was simply too slow in the game above. What if White tried to place his pieces on good squares on the kingside right away? As the game below shows, in that case, White would then not have time to play c4 and to defend the b2-pawn from the 2nd-rank. The b2-pawn becomes a major annoyance that White has to deal with throughout the game. Eventually, White sacrificed the pawn for an attack and managed to put a lot of problems before Black... so many that Black eventually blundered.

It is hard to be under attack for the whole game, while being up a material. Objectively, Black was better the whole game until the terrible blunder, but White had a significant initiative. If I had to play White, it would certainly be an imitation of the last game (below) and not the previous:

Next week we will visit some of the blunders from the recent US Masters tournament, where I participated over the Labor Day weekend.  


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