Emotions vs. Cold Reason
Tin Phan (1635) – Tae Kim (1860), National High School Championship 2011
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 d6 6.f3 Nbd7
The most natural move in the world – black’s developing a piece toward the center, he’s preparing moves like …e6-e5 or …c7-c5, and life just seems good after the obvious 6…Nbd7. YET … the move is actually weak and shows that Black doesn’t understand the position. How can this be? Clearly, Silman has once again gone to his absinthe cabinet (where my beautiful antique absinthe spoon owned by Toulouse Lautrec calls to me) and, once again, the poor chess fans are the ones that pay the price for his excesses.
But no, there’s logic behind my wild assertion! Really! Let’s put that silly Knight back on b8. Okay, how about 6…Nfd7! MUCH better! Now we’ve brought a different Knight to that “bad” square only this time we’ve used an already developed horse, which we brilliantly moved backward. Thus, we lose some of our central control, block our c8-Bishop, and fall behind in development. Cool!
Many of you must think I’m joking, but I’m not. I will say that this amazing Knight retreat has been played only 7 times (in my database), but look who is playing it: World Championship contender Taimanov (twice), International Master Ligterink, Grandmaster Yemelin, and Grandmaster Sasikiran. And how did Black score in those 7 games? Would you believe 4 wins for Black, 3 draws, zero losses!
So, I suppose I have to explain why 6…Nfd7 is infinitely better than 6…Nbd7. But first … let’s step back a few moves.
After 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 why isn’t White just better? After all, he’s going to build a huge pawn center, he’ll have more space, and he has the two Bishops. So why in the world would Black go into this line? What does Black have?
And HERE is the whole point of my rant: you can’t play an opening if you don’t know the usual imbalances that result – and, of course, that includes fully understanding what the pawn structure will demand from you. I already listed white’s plusses, but do you see black’s? Hopefully, you’ll realize that Black went out of his way to double white’s pawns, and (as is always the case with such things), the more advanced doubled pawn is the weakness (since it's closer to the enemy forces).
Many amateurs think the idea of the opening is to develop your pieces and then look around and figure out what to do. But that’s 100% wrong. You don’t develop and then ponder! Instead, you ponder and then develop. Thus, knowing that black’s main target is c4, you need to develop your pieces so they can smack down that weakness!
The fact is, after 5.bxc3 I’m not a fan of 5…d6 (which is playable, as is the extremely popular 5…c5). Instead, I prefer 5…b6 6.f3 Nc6. And, hopefully, you’re now beginning to see some method to my madness: 5…b6 prepares …Ba6, HITTING c4. And 6…Nc6 prepares to work with the Bishop in hitting c4 via …Na5.
V. Simagin – T. Petrosian [E24], Moscow 1950
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 Nc6 6.f3 b6 7.e4 Ba6 8.Bg5 (8.Bd3 Na5 9.e5 Ng8 10.Qa4 Qc8 11.Be4 c6 12.c5 f5 13.exf6 Nxf6 14.cxb6 axb6 15.Qc2 0-0 16.Ne2 Bc4 17.0-0 Qa6 18.Re1 d5 19.Bxh7+ Nxh7 20.Nf4 Nb3 21.Nxe6 Nxa1 22.Qg6 Qb7 23.Bh6 Rf6 24.Qxg7+ Qxg7 25.Bxg7 Rxe6 26.Rxe6 Kxg7, 0-1, G. Rudelis – J. Donaldson, North American op 2002; 8.Nh3 Na5 9.Qa4 0-0 10.Bg5 d6 11.e5 Qd7 12.Qc2 Ne8 13.Qe4 Bb7 14.Qh4 f6 15.exf6 Nxf6 16.Bd3 Ba6 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.0-0 Bxc4 19.Bxc4 Nxc4 20.Nf4 e5 21.dxe5 Nxe5 22.Rad1 Qf7, ½, J. Timman – Y. Seirawan, Tilburg 1983) 8…Na5! (Black knows the setup he wants, and he won’t let a fake threat deter him from going about his business.) 9.e5 h6 10.Bh4 g5 11.Bf2 Nh5 12.h4 f5 13.exf6 Qxf6 14.c5 Bxf1 15.Kxf1 g4 16.Qd3 0-0 17.Re1 Nf4 18.Qc2 Nc4 19.g3 Qf5 20.Rc1 Qd3+ 21.Qxd3 Nxd3 22.Rd1 Ndb2 23.Ra1 gxf3 24.Nh3 bxc5 25.Kg1 Nd3 26.Kh2 Rab8 27.Ra2 Rb3 28.dxc5 e5 29.g4 e4 30.g5 e3 31.gxh6 exf2 32.Nxf2 Nxf2 33.Rxf2 Kh7 34.Rd1 Rf7 35.c6 d6 36.Rd3 Rb2 37.Kg3 Rxf2 38.Kxf2 Ne5 39.Rd4 Nxc6 40.Ra4 Kxh6, 0-1.
So we come back to the game’s 6…Nbd7. What does that move have to do with attacking c4? Nothing. Thus, it sucks. And why is 6…Nfd7 better? Because it allows Black to continue the position’s thematic plan: …b6, …Nc6, …Ba6, …Na5 with serious heat against c4!
V. Kozlov (2327) – Y. Yemelin (2550), Moscow 1999
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 d6 6.f3 Nfd7 7.e4 Nc6 8.f4 b6 9.Nf3 Ba6 10.Ra2 Na5 11.Rf2 (11.Qa4, =) 11...Bxc4 12.Bxc4 Nxc4 13.0-0 0-0 14.Ng5 h6 15.Qh5 Qe8 16.Qe2 b5 17.Nf3 f5 18.e5 dxe5 (18...Ndb6 is probably even better) 19.fxe5 Ndb6 20.Nh4 Nd5 21.g4 f4 22.Qd3 g5 23.Ng6 Rf7 24.h4 Rg7 25.h5 a5 26.a4 Qc6 27.axb5 Qxb5 28.Qe4 Rb8 29.Bxf4 gxf4 30.Nxf4 Nce3 31.Nxe6 Qxf1+ 32.Rxf1 Rxg4+ 33.Qxg4+ Nxg4 34.Rf3 Nde3, 0-1.
As you can see, knowing the kind of pawn structure you’ll get in your openings, and also being well aware of the structures’ ramifications, makes life a whole lot easier. But if you do find yourself in a strange opening land, don’t just mindlessly develop. Instead, get on top of all the imbalances (for both sides) and then figure out where your pieces should be to maximize the positive things you have, and where they should be to make full use of the negatives your opponent’s position suffers from.
7.e4 e5 8.Bd3 b6 9.Bg5 a5?
Tin Phan: “Weakening the queenside and I really don’t see the point of this move.”
Yes, it’s horrible. I can only guess that Black wanted to play …Ba6 but didn’t like the look of Qa4 when the Bishop is vulnerable. However, due to the misplaced Knight on d7, Black won’t be able to generate real pressure against c4 anyway, so both …a5 and …Ba6 will prove useless. On the other hand, Black gets credit for finally noticing the potential weakness of c4, but it’s a bit late – he needed to be aware of it by move 5.
Tin Phan: “My idea, though a bad one. It looks like I want to trade white’s bad bishop for blacks good one at the cost of one pawn. But my idea was a little deeper – with that extra pawn, black will have to be passive to protect it.”
This gives you some compensation for the sacrificed pawn (though I would prefer to have the black pieces), but why do this when you could have locked in a clear advantage by simple moves? 11.0-0 0-0 12.Ng3 h6 13.Be3 leaves White with a dream position since white’s center (and the extra space it gives) is unassailable, and moves like Nf5 and/or f3-f4 will create a powerful attack against black’s King. I should add that your light-squared Bishop will often help with a kingside attack, so exchanging it usually makes Black very happy.
Though you failed to appreciate your position’s potential, you are thinking in a deep manner – sacrificing a pawn to leave your opponent with a passive stance is very advanced. Unfortunately, it turned a huge plus into a slight disadvantage. But in other circumstances, that kind of idea might well prove effective.
11...bxc5 12.Bxa6 Rxa6 13.Qa4 0-0 14.0-0 Qa8
Not bad. Also possible is 14...cxd4 15.cxd4 Qb8 16.Rab1 Rb6 17.Nc3 exd4 18.Qxd4 h6 19.Be3 c5 20.Qa4 Rxb1 21.Rxb1 Qc7 22.Rb5 Ra8 and White has a little pressure for the pawn, though the most he can hope for is equality.
This Bishop was a major player, and losing it for one of black’s two Knights (in general, two Knights don’t work together very well) is a big help to your opponent. Instead, you can leave Black with doubled c-pawns and also retain your bishop with 15.dxe5 dxe5 16.Rab1 with some compensation.
Here we enter a typical amateur mini-dialogue: “I take, he takes back...” But what if he doesn’t behave in a robotic way and instead ignores your “... he takes back.” dictate? 16.dxe5 was correct, which transposes back into the actual game after 16...dxe5.
Alas, just about everyone DOES obey these subliminal “You will recapture” dictates. Instead, 16...Qa7 leaves White a solid pawn down for zero compensation since 17.Qc4 is met by 17...Rc6 or 17...Nd7 with a winning advantage for Black.
17.Rab1 makes sense, but this advance of your c-pawn doesn’t IF its sole purpose is to get the Knight to c3. I don’t understand why your Knight wants to be on c3. Yes, if black’s c7-pawn was “healthy” on b6 or d6, then c3-c4 followed by Nc3 would be a great idea since the b5- and d5-squares would be calling. But that “weak” pawn on c7 makes any talk of holes on b5 and d5 problematic since …c7-c6 turns both b5 and d5 into landmines. Another problem with c3-c4 is that White actually weakens the d4-square, which might prove to be a nice home for a Black Rook. Nevertheless, the idea of c3-c4 isn’t a bad one if its to freeze the c5-pawn with the intention of Ne2-c3-a4 (hitting c5) or Ne2-c1-d3/b3 hitting a couple of black’s weak pawns at the same time.
A very poor move that justifies white’s c3-c4. 17...Rd8! was the way to go, intending to get his Rooks into the battle. 18.Nc3 Rad6 19.Nb5 (19.Nd5 Nxd5 20.cxd5 c6) 19...R6d7 with ...c7-c6 to follow with a clear advantage for Black.
Now ...Qxa4 brings the white Knight to a4 where it hits c5, and leaving the Queen on c6 stops ...c7-c6, which means the Knight can now jump into b5 or d5.
Wow, he played THAT? Black gives up on the queenside battle (why?) and goes for some fantasy on the other wing. However, ...g5 doesn’t give any kind of attack, and merely weakens his own King and creates a gaping wound on f5. Instead of this folly, he should have tried tightening moves like 18...g6 (stopping back rank mates) followed by an eventual ...Kg7 with Black having the nicer side of approximate equality.
This is fine, but after seeing ...g5, I would be inclined to retain the Queens by 19.Qc2. By keeping the “hammer of death” (cause the Queens have knockout power), Black will suddenly realize that his ...g5 push wasn’t so bright after all.
A couple moves ago, Black was the one who had all the chances. Then he crucified the f5-square and opened up his King with the horrific ...g5, and now he follows with the passive ...Nd7. This “I have no plan” play (he’s not basing his moves on the realities of the position) can only take Black in one direction: the gutter.
Not bad, but White doesn’t seem interested in punishing black’s kingside self-immolation. 20.Qc2 retaining the Queens with an eye to putting some heat on the enemy King was a serious option, but also very strong was 20.Rfd1 (threatening to chop on d7) when white’s whole army is primed and ready for glory.
Black’s first good move in a while.
21.Rb5 Nb6 22.Nd5 Re8 23.Rc1?!
Tin Phan: “I saw the tactic Nxc7 but I thought regaining the pawn wasn’t enough, and that it couldn’t hurt to let black’s pieces sit passively for a while.”
More advanced thinking since most people would rush to regain the pawn – showing this kind of (“let him sit passively”) patience is very impressive. However, you didn’t need to relegate your Rook to the status of a babysitter.
White should have played 23.Rd1! when 23…Nxc4 is powerfully met by 24.Rc1 Nd6 (and not 24…Nxa3?? 25.Rxa5 winning the Knight!) 25.Rxa5 Kg7 26.Raxc5 Rxc5 27.Rxc5 Ra8 28.Nxc7 Rxa3 29.Rxe5 and White can torture Black forever in a nice pawn up endgame. After 23.Rd1! black’s best is 23…Kf8 though 24.Nxc7 is stronger than ever since now white’s Rooks will control both open files: 24…Rxc7 25.Rxb6 and black is lost.
One can see the difference between Nxc7 after 23.Rd1 (which allows White to claim the d-file), and Nxc7 here: 24.Nxc7 Rxc7 25.Rxb6 Rd8! and Black will get tons of counterplay down the open d-file.
Tin Phan: “King moves to d3 so the Rook on c1 can be active.”
This doesn’t lead to any advantage for White, but the logic is so good that I have to applaud Mr. Phan – he’s one of the most patient amateurs I’ve ever seen, and his desire to get every piece working is highly praiseworthy.
I like 26.Ra5 which places the Rook so it eyes both a4 and c5 while also stepping away from eventual …c7-c6 forks.
Not the end of the world, but Black really should seek active counterplay. Better was 26...Red6 27.Kc3 (27.Ra5 Rd7 28.Kc3 f5 29.Rf1 h5 30.h3 Nxd5+ 31.cxd5 Rf6! gives Black sufficient counterplay to equalize: 32.Rc1 fxe4 33.fxe4 Rf4 34.Kd3 c6 35.Rcxc5 cxd5 36.exd5 Rd4+ 37.Ke3 g4, =) 27...Rd7 (27...Nxd5+? 28.cxd5 Rb6 29.Kc4 is just what White was dreaming of.) 28.Rd1 Rh6 29.Rh1 (29.h3 c6 30.Rxb6 cxd5 31.Rxh6 d4+) 29…Nxd5+ 30.cxd5 c6 31.Rxc5 cxd5 32.Rxd5 Rxd5 33.exd5 Rb6 34.Kc4 (34.Rd1 Kf8 and the King will stop the d-pawn) 34…Rb2 35.Rd1 Kf8 36.d6 Ke8 37.Kd5 Rxg2 38.Rb1 Rd2+ 39.Kxe5 Re2+ 40.Kf6 Rxh2, =.
Trying to make use of the hole that Black kindly created with his ...g7-g5 abomination.
Tin Phan: “The Black Rooks are too passive and the white Knight is a killer monster – yeah! I started to feel overconfident, which led to a blunder on my next move.”
Tin, don’t be afraid to show your feelings! But you’re right about one thing: when you get too excited and start to fall in love with your position, blunders do raise their ugly head and cut you down to size. It’s happened to me many, many times.
Tin Phan: “Throwing away my whole advantage. I made this move immediately since I thought he had to reply with 29…Nd6.”
Tin, I hate to break it to you, but the fact is you didn’t have any advantage after black’s excellent 28…Nc8. Your best move might have been 29.Ra5 but Black would be quite comfortable after 29…Ne7 30.Nxe7+ Rxe7 31.Rxa4 Rd7+ 32.Kc3 Rcd6.
When I was 19, a friend of mine (he was rated around 2400) pointed out that all my blunders were a result of me moving quickly. After going over my games, I realized he was right and I made a concerted effort to eradicate this affliction from my play. Even if you think you see a winning move, calm down and make sure it’s actually as good as you think it is!
Tin Phan: “Now it’s over.”
Mr. Phan was hoping for 29...Nd6 30.Rg8+ Kh7 31.Rg7+ Kh8 32.Rxg5. Sadly, after 29…Ne7 (which he didn’t expect) he seems to have fallen into a shock-induced depression. In general, if you are faced with a strong looking move that you didn’t expect, and if you have time on the clock, don’t sit there and allow emotion to take over your through processes. Instead, get up and step outside. Walk about, calm down, and then return to the game with a simple question in mind: “What’s going on now?” Note that you don’t return to the board with a negative voice in your head – no “I’m doomed” or “How could I have missed that? I’m an idiot!” No, simply look at this new situation as something interesting, mysterious, and challenging. If you can do all this, then you won’t make “despair moves”. Instead you’ll quickly get on top of the position staring you in the face, and then make a move that caters to that position’s demands.
Why rush to exchange Knights? I think this was an emotional decision. 30.Ne3 seems to draw fairly easily: 30…Rcd6+ (30...Rb6 31.Rb1) 31.Kc3 Rb6 (31...g4!?) 32.Rb1 Kf6!? 33.Rb5 Rxb8 34.Rxb8 Rb6 35.Rxb6+ cxb6 36.Nd1 when 37.Nb2 will win the a4-pawn.
30...Rxe7 31.Ra8 Rd7+ 32.Kc3 Rcd6 33.Rc2
The immediate 33.Rxa4 was probably better.
33…Rd3+ 34.Kb2 Rb3+ 35.Ka2 Rdd3 36.Rxa4 g4 37.fxg4 hxg4 38.Ra8 f5 39.exf5+ Kxf5 40.Re2 Re3 41.Rf8+ Ke4 42.Rxe3+ Rxe3 43.Rf2 g3?!
43...Kd4, activating the King and freeing up the e-pawn for its march to e1, was more to the point.
We now get a protracted, very difficult Rook endgame that would be hard for anyone to play correctly. The many mistakes that follow are par for the course in such situations. The rest of the game will be presented with minimal analysis.
44.hxg3 Rxg3 45.Kb2 Kd4 46.Rc2 e4 47.a4 e3 48.a5 Rg6
49...Rf6 50.Kd1 Rf1+ 51.Ke2 Rf2+ 52.Kd1 Kd3 would have ended the game with style.
This takes us back to fearing threats, be they real or imagined. Instead, 50...e2 (50...Kxc4 51.a6 Rf6 52.a7 Rf1+ 53.Kb2 Rf2+ 54.Kb1 Rxa2 55.Kxa2 e2 56.a8=Q e1=Q is drawn) seems stronger. However, even then things aren’t as easy as one might suppose them to be: 51.Ra3+ Kxc4 52.Kd2 Kb4 53.Ra1 Rxg2 54.Ke3 c4 (54...Kb5 55.a6 Rg6 56.a7 Ra6 57.Rb1+ Kc4 58.Rc1+ Kd5 59.Kxe2 Rxa7 oddly, this position is a win for Black if Black has the move, but a draw if White has the move.) 55.a6 Kc5 56.a7 e1=Q+ 57.Rxe1 Ra2 58.Rf1 Rxa7 59.Kd2 leads to a theoretically drawn position.
51.Kd1 Kxc4 52.Ke2 Kd4 53.g4 c4 54.g5??
White could have held with 54.Ra3 c3 55.Ra4+ Kc5 56.Kd3! (56.Kxe3?? Kb5 57.Rf4 Rc6 58.Rf1 Kc4 is winning for Black) 56…Re6 (56...e2 57.Re4 Rxa5 58.Kxc3 Ra2 59.Kd3, =) 57.Ra1 e2 (57...Kb4 58.Rb1+ Kxa5 59.Kxc3, =) 58.Re1 Kb4 59.Rxe2 Rxe2 60.Kxe2 Kb3 61.a6 draw.
54…Kc3 wins easily.
55.Ra4 Kc3 56.Kxe3 Kb3 57.Ra1 Kb2 58.Rg1 Rg6??
Tossing the victory away. The win was still there with 58...c3 59.g6 c2 60.g7 Ra8 61.a6 Rd8 62.Kf4 c4 63.Kf5 Ra8 64.Ke4 c3 65.Kd3 Rd8+ 66.Kc4 Rc8+ 67.Kd4 c1=Q.
59.Kf4 c3 60.Kf5 Ra6 61.g6 c2 62.Rg2??
62.g7 Ra8 63.Kg6 c1=Q 64.Rxc1 Kxc1 65.Kf7 c4 66.g8=Q Rxg8 67.Kxg8, draw.
Simply 62...c4 63.g7 Rxa5+ 64.Ke4 Ra8 would have won.
Also drawn was 63...Ra8 64.Rg1+ c1=Q 65.Rxc1+ Kxc1 66.Ke6 c4 67.Kf7 c3 68.g8=Q Rxg8 69.Kxg8 c2 70.a6 Kb1 71.a7 c1=Q 72.a8=Q.
64.g8=Q Qf1+ 65.Ke4 Re6+ 66.Qxe6 Qxg2+ 67.Ke5 Qb2+ 68.Kd6 Qb4 69.Qf5+ Ka2 70.Qc2+ Ka1 71.Qxc5, draw agreed.
This is a theoretical draw, but White should, of course, have played on since Black can easily lose it.
Tin Phan: “After this game my fighting spirit, which had decreased tremendously after the first game, disappeared!”
This explains why he agreed to the draw – his feeling that he somehow blew the win, and then suffered through this crazy endgame, created an emotional “enough is enough” state of mind. Nevertheless, that's no excuse. He should have battled on!
Thanks to Tin Phan for sharing this great fighting game where both sides landed blow upon blow on each other. It must have been exhausting to play.
LESSONS FROM THIS GAME
* You can’t get emotional during a game. If you do, the quality of your play will take a nosedive.
* If you feel you made a mistake, don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, spend a few minutes by walking about, get some fresh air, clear you mind, and then return to the board determined to master all the nuances of this new situation.
* You won’t be able to play your opening(s) with any skill if you don’t understand the typical pawn structures that result from it.