Countdown to Mate

Countdown to Mate

IM Silman
Jan 4, 2012, 12:00 AM |
15 | Amazing Games

MB said: “I have a game for your consideration. Lately I have been “playing up” in chess tournaments, trying to raise my own rating or at least learn from the better competition. I often find myself with a small advantage, but one that I’ve paid for too heavily with my time. When there’s just enough time, I am decent at grinding it out and winning an endgame. But time trouble does me in a lot. I’ve tried changing my style to something more aggressive and have found so far that it’s just a way to lose faster.”

B.G. (1670) – MB (1339), [Game in 90] Columbia Open 2011 [B01]

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nf3















This is already an important moment! Instead of the usual (mainline) 3.Nc3 (which blocks the c-pawn), White develops his other Knight to it’s usual (and good) square, and retains the option of trying to get his pawns to d4 AND c4 (something that 3.Nc3 can’t achieve). How should Black deal with this? Black’s most aggressive challenge to white’s setup is 3…Bg4 4.Be2 Nc6 5.d4 (5.h3 Bxf3 6.Bxf3 Qe6+ 7.Qe2 Qxe2+ 8.Bxe2 Nd4 9.Bd1 has been tried by some strong players who seek to hold on to the two Bishops and try and outplay their opponent’s in a long, tiring battle, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the chances are more or less equal.) 5…0-0-0. Here are some examples of what can occur:

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Be2 Nc6 5.d4 0-0-0 6.Be3 e5 7.c4 Qa5+ 8.Bd2 Bb4 9.d5 Bxf3 10.Bxf3 Nd4 (10...Bxd2+ 11.Nxd2 Nd4 12.0-0 Qb4 13.Re1 Nf6 14.Qc1 Rhe8 15.a3 Qd6 16.b4 Nxf3+ 17.Nxf3 e4 18.Nd4 Ng4 and “Black has seized the initiative” - STARTING OUT: THE SCANDINAVIAN by Jovanka Houska – a must own if you play this opening for either color) 11.Nc3 Qa6! 12.b3 (12.Be2 Nf6 13.0-0 [13.Bd3 e4] 13...Bxc3 14.Bxc3 and now: 1) 14…Nxe2+ 15.Qxe2 Rxd5 and Black was okay in F. Cheverry - D. Berges, French League 2001; 2) 14...Rxd5!? 15.cxd5 [15.Bg4+ Nxg4 16.Qxg4+ [[16.cxd5 Ne2+ 17.Kh1 Nxh2! is winning for Black]] 16...Rd7 17.Qxg7 Re8 18.Bxd4 exd4 19.Qxh7 Qxc4] 15...Nxe2+ 16.Kh1 Rd8 17.Re1 Nxc3 18.bxc3 Rxd5 “Black has two pawns for the Exchange so he shouldn’t stand worse.” - Jovanka Houska) 12...Qa5 13.Nb1? (13.Rc1 is a better move, but 13...f5 14.0-0 Nf6 is clearly very comfortable for Black) 13...f5 14.a3 Bxd2+ 15.Nxd2 Qc3 16.0-0 Nf6 17.Rc1 Qb2 18.Re1 Rhe8 19.b4 Qxa3 20.Ra1 Qxb4 21.Rxa7 e4 22.Be2 e3 23.Nf3 exf2+ 24.Kxf2 Ng4+ 25.Kg1 Nxf3+ 26.gxf3 Qc5+ 27.Kh1 Nf2+, 0-1, Fernandez Borrego (2298) – Ch. Bauer (2590) [B01], Galicia Festival Blitz G/3 +2, 2009. A brutal slaughter! 

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.d4 Nc6 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.Be2 0-0-0 6.c4 Qf5 7.Be3 e5!? (A critical move. Also fully playable is 7…Bxf3 8.Bxf3 Nxd4 9.Bxd4 [9.Bg4? Nc2+] 9…Qe6+ 10.Be2 Qe4 11.0-0 Qxd4 and Black stands well) 8.d5 Nf6 9.0-0 e4 10.Nd4 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bd6 12.Bxf6 (12.Nc3 Rhe8 13.c5 Bxh2+ 14.Kxh2 Qh5+ 15.Kg1 Bxe2 16.Nxe2 Ng4 17.Re1 Qh2+ 18.Kf1 Qh1+ 19.Ng1 Nh2+ 20.Ke2 Qxg2 21.Qb3 e3 22.Bxe3 Ng4 23.c6 Rxe3+, 0-1, Manuel Bueno Abalo – A. Stefanova, Aceimar 1999) 12…Bxe2 13.Qxe2 Qxf6 14.Nc3 Qe5 15.g3 f5 16.Rad1 h5 17.f4 Bc5+ 18.Kg2 Qf6 19.h4 Rh6 20.a3 Rg6 21.Rh1 Rg4 22.Qf1 Be3 23.Rh3 Bxf4 24.Qf2 e3 25.Qf3 Re8 26.Kf1 Bd6 27.Re1 f4 28.Re2 fxg3 29.Qxf6 gxf6 30.Kg2 f5 31.Nd1 Rxc4 32.Rxe3 Rce4 33.Rxe4 Rxe4 34.Nc3 Re3 35.Rh1 a6 36.Rf1 f4 37.Rf3 Re1 38.Rf1 Rxf1 39.Kxf1 f3 40.Ne4 g2+ 41.Kg1 Be5 42.b3 Bd4+ 43.Nf2 Kd7, 0-1, I. Gaponenko (2469) – A. Kosteniuk (2524), Women’s World Blitz Ch. 2010.


A solid but pedestrian move that doesn’t try to dictate the direction of the play (3…Bg4, on the other hand, does dictate the game’s direction).


Usually White plays 4.d4, 4.Nc3, or 4.Be2.
















MB said: “I regretted this move quickly. He gets to develop a piece, and I’m blocking the light-squared bishop and the e-pawn. Oops.”

You can’t play a move like this without some serious thought/reasons backing it up. The “I see a check, I’ll give a check” syndrome should be excised from your psyche immediately (in fact, your moves after this show me that you’re far too strong a player to try rubbish like 4…Qe6 on a regular basis – clearly, it’s just a random blip that won’t be repeated).

Correct was 4…Qa5, preventing White from following up with d2-d4, and also placing your Queen on a fairly safe square.

5.Nc3 (5.Be2 e5 is easy for Black) and now 5…Nc6!? is an old suggestion by Tsesarsky (6.d4 Bg4 7.d5 0-0-0), 5…c5!? was given a shot in the game Manor – A. Kaspi, Dov Porath Memorial 1998, and 5…e5!? also deserves some serious consideration: 6.Qa4+? (6.d4 exd4 7.Nxd4 Nc6 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Be2 Bd6 10.Bf3 0-0 11.Bxc6 Rb8 leaves Black with obvious compensation for the sacrificed pawn) 6...Qxa4 7.Nxa4 Nc6 8.a3 e4 9.Ng1 Nd4 10.Ra2 Nb3 11.Kd1 Bf5 12.Kc2 Nd4+ 13.Kc3 0-0-0 14.Ne2 c5 15.h3 b5 16.cxb5 Nd5+ 17.Kc4 Be6, 0-1, J. Kropik (2045) – S. Saljova (2180), Ceske Budejovice 1999.

5.Be2 c5 

MB said: “This was to discourage Nd4 or d4. It doesn’t really work without more pieces.”


Pretty bad! White sticks his Knight on the rim for reasons that are hard to fully understand. Simply 6.Nc3 was correct, with a clear advantage for White.


MB said: “Here I really need to develop something but he keeps me defensive, so I pushed this pawn to keep Nb5 away.”

Ah, Mr. MB. By now everyone should know that you must challenge each and every threat, since you would much prefer to push your own agenda than cower before his! And even if you do have to deal with a threat, your first impressions should be to spit on it. In other words, I don’t mind you playing 6…a6, but I would have preferred to see some prose where you railed against the injustice of it all before finally bowing before your opponent’s might.

Oddly, my Fritz 9000+50-core insists on the ugly 6…Qb6. Its logic (yes, Fritz 9000+50-core actually uses logic mixed with brute force calculation and a fortune cookie or two) is hard to argue with. Here’s the printout: “Foolish human! Fritz 9000+50-core only stops threats if it can do other things at the same time. While your very flesh-like …a6 quivers in terror, Fritz 9000+50-core’s …Qb6 defends c7 (thereby making Nb5 useless), frees the light-squared Bishop’s c8-h8 diagonal, and prepares …e7-e6 followed by …Be7 and …0-0 too. After 6…Qb6 Black has a forced mate in 272 moves! Beep!”

Well, I couldn’t verify the forced mate (Fritz 9000+50-core has been known to lie), but I had to admit that it was hard to find anything but a small plus for White after 6…Qb6 7.Qb3 (7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 Qxd4 9.Nxd4 e5 10.Ndb5 Na6 doesn’t give White anything) 7…Qxb3 8.axb3 Bd7 9.Ne5 (9.d4 gives White a little something) 9…e6 10.0-0 Bd6 11.f4 Ke7 12.Bf3 Nc6 13.Nb5 Nxe5 14.fxe5 Bxe5 15.Bxb7 Rad8 (=) and now the impressive looking 16.Rxa7 fails to garner any advantage after 16…Bxb5 17.Bc6+? (17.cxb5 Rd7 18.Ra8 Rxa8 19.Bxa8 Ra7) 17…Rd7! 18.Rxd7+ (18.Bxd7 Bxd7 is a dead win for Black) 18…Nxd7 19.Bxb5 Bd4+ 20.Kh1 Ne5 and though white’s a pawn up, his pieces are dominated by black’s (thus Black has a clear advantage).

7.d4 cxd4 8.Nxd4?















White decides to leave his poor horse on a3, where it’s doing nothing. Instead, White should bring that Knight back into the game by 8.Nc2 followed by Ncxd4 (that way one Knight stands tall on d4, while the other keeps a close eye on the important e5-square).

8…Qd6 9.O-O e5

MB said: “I’m really dragging here... I’ve already used up 30 minutes... one-hour left on my clock. I want to get rid of queens and simplify.” 

Black’s come back from a poor start to equalize the chances. 

10.Nf3 Qxd1 11.Rxd1 Nc6 12.Be3 Be7 13.Rac1 O-O 14.c5 Ng4!















MB said: “I either wanted the bishop or to make him block the rook with the bishop.”


MB said: “I got my wish, then realized my knight on g4 isn’t well placed.”

Actually, your Knight is doing a good job on g4 – that Knight scared White so much that he played the very poor 15.Bd2. Instead, White could have maintained the balance by 15.Nc4 Be6 (15…Nxe3 16.Nxe3).

Note that Black got into some trouble when he played the purely defensive 6…a6, and now White’s going to get into trouble by doing the same thing (15.Bd2).


MB said: “31 minutes left.”

16.Ne1 Nge5

I’m still waiting to see why MB thought his Knight on g4 was poorly placed. It went to g4 and sent White into a state of hysteria, and now it has jumped to e5 where it will eye the key points on c4 and d3. 

17.b4 Be6 18.Nc4 Nxc4?!

MB said: “I used up 11 minutes on this move. Now just 16 minutes left. I thought I had something with …Nd4, but it seems to fail to Bf1: 18...Nd4 19.Bf1 (19.Nxe5?? Nxe2+ 20.Kf1 Nxc1) 19…Nxc4 20.Bxc4 Bxc4 21.Rxc4 Rad8.”

Of course, you DID have something with 18…Nd4. We’ll follow your line: 19.Bf1 Nxc4 20.Bxc4 and now, instead of meekly trading Bishops (why do that?), you should stick him with 20…Bg4 when Black wins material.

Be that as it may, your 18…Nxc4 still maintains a solid advantage.

19.Bxc4 Bxc4 20.Rxc4 f5 21.Bf4?!

MB said: “He anticipated my wanting to play …Ne5.”

This doesn’t help White. Better was 21.Bc3 Rad8 22.Rb1 Bf6 23.Bxf6 Rxf6 24.a4 when (though Black’s still for choice) White is kicking his queenside majority of pawns into gear (you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t make use of your positive imbalances).


MB said: “14 minutes left. Initially I figured he had to capture the rook, but then it occurred to me that he could try Bd6. I studied that while I awaited the move. It didn’t seem to work, but I wasn’t certain of a response when it was actually played.”

22.Bd6? Rf6!

MB said: “The bishop is pinned and attacked three times. I’m making decent moves but my clock is getting low.” 

23.a4 Bxd6 24.cxd6 Rdxd6 25.Rxd6 Rxd6 26.b5 Rd4 27.Rc5 axb5 28.axb5 Rd1 29.Kf1 Nd4 30.b6 Rb1

MB said: “In retrospect I think I should have played …Nc6 immediately to limit his rook’s range.”

No, your 30…Rb1 is excellent! In fact, since move 7, you’ve played master chess. Whether you’re demonstrating some serious talent, or whether you’ve just proven the Hundred Monkey Theory, isn’t clear to me. But whatever the case may be, you are playing very, very well!

31.Rc4 Nc6

MB said: “I got a chance to play it anyway.”

32.Ke2 Rxb6 

MB said: “2 minutes left. I’m up two pawns but I’m going to pay for that clock.”

33.Nc2 Kf7 34.Kd2 g6

No need for this, but okay … no harm, no foul!

35.Kc3 Rb1 36.Kd2 Kf6 37.h4 g5

MB said: “1:37 remains.”















Arrrggghh! This is like watching a horror movie. You know the killer (in this case, the evil clock) is coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it! Unfortunately you’re playing a sudden death game (no added time when you make a certain amount of moves). If you’re not in a sudden death situation, then you should follow this formula: tighten everything up, don’t make any risky decisions, and make safe, small gains until you get that extra time. To be honest, your 37…g5 is not “formula approved.” By pushing your g-pawn, you are trading off a potential target on h4 and also weakening your own pawn structure. 

Here are two no risk plans that would have brought you the full point (a point you fully deserved!):

* Bring your King to d6 so that your Knight is given extra protection, and then shove your passed b-pawn down his throat – 37…Ke6 38.Rc5 Kd6 39.Rc4 Rf1 (the immediate 39…b5 also looked “promising”: 40.Na3 Rf1 41.Nxb5+ Kd5 42.Rc1 Rxf2+ 43.Ke3 Rxg2) 40.Ke2 Rg1 41.g3 b5 43.Rc3 b4 44.Rc4 b3 45.Ne3 b2, 0-1.

* Go after his h4-pawn, force g2-g3, attack his f2-pawn from h2, and when he defends it with his King, use the combined might of your Knight (toss it onto e5!) and Rook to stomp him into the dirt: 37…Rh1 38.g3 Rh2 39.Ke2 (39.Ke1 Ne5 40.Rc7 Nd3+) 39…Ne5 40.Rc7 Ng4 41.Rxh7 Nxf2 43.Rxb7 Nh1+ 43.Kd1 Nxg3.

38.hxg5+ Kxg5 39.g3 h5 40.Rc5 Kg4??

You just walked into a Knight check. Now the game should be a draw.


Before looking at the end of your game, allow me to soothe the psychological scarring by pointing out that you’re not the only one who allowed this kind of thing. In fact, some very famous grandmasters have already experienced what you experienced here! Here’s a great example:

This is the game Nigel Short – A. Beliavsky, Linares 1992. White’s winning easily since his passed b-pawn is much too strong. Just 1.Nxf6 would do the trick, but instead White decided that taking a pawn at this stage wasn’t that important, but super-King position was. Thus 1.Ke6??? appeared on the board. Imagine Mr. Short’s mental state when his opponent played 1…Bc8 mate.

Okay, now it's time to look at the end of Mr. MB's game!















41…Kf3?? 42.Rxf5 mate! Mr. MB, I feel your pain.

Mr. MB, you played incredibly well (your hideous 4…Qe6+ was the only obvious error you made until time pressure dragged you down). So what to do? First off, continue using lots of time to find good moves! Who cares if you have 4 hours left at the end of a game if your position is a seething wreck? No, the key to your later development is to get used to seeking, finding, and playing strong moves. You did that in this game.

As you gain experience, you’ll know when/where to spend your time, and when a move is obvious (and thus can be made rather quickly). Your openings will be tighter, your eyes will be quicker, and you’ll be so cool and calm that a bit of time pressure won’t bother you in the least.

Yes, you can also avoid sudden death games, but overall your main goal should be to play good moves, and if you need time to do so, then take that time.

Lessons From This Game

* You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t make use of your positive imbalances. 

* By now everyone should know that you must challenge each and every threat, since you would much prefer to push your own agenda than cower before his.

* The “I see a check, I’ll give a check” syndrome should be excised from your psyche immediately!

* Bow before the omnipotent might of Fritz 9000+50-core!

* Don’t leave your pieces on dead squares! Bring them back into play at the first opportunity!

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