It Ain't Over Till It's Over!

  • GM Gserper
  • | Mar 25, 2012

If I ever create a list of things I tell my students most frequently, then the title of today's article would be at the very top. We all make mistakes ( read my series of articles on the subject here: ), but the probability of a mistake goes up exponentially when we lose our concentration. There are many reasons why chess players lose concentration ( I discussed it here: ), but the most common case is due to a premature relaxation caused by the favorable situation on the board.

The strange thing is no matter how many times we hear the famous saying that it is the most difficult thing in chess to win a winning position, we still make the same mistake.  The thinking process goes like this: "Yes, I had my share of winning positions that I screwed up, but it is different here.  It is impossible not to win this position!"  Of course, as a wise stock-market saying goes, this time it's different” are the four most expensive words in the English language! Believe me, it is always possible to ruin your winning position!

To prove my point I want to show you some games where masters and Grandmasters were unable to win a position with a huge material advantage. And when I say "a huge material advantage" I really mean it! So today we are not going to look at games where one of the opponents had a bunch of extra pawns or a piece.  "A huge material advantage" today will mean at least an extra Rook! Of course you may have seen countless games where a chess player makes a huge blunder and his material advantage disappears instantly.  But today I want to show you only games where the winning side lost his advantage gradually, without making clear, visible mistakes.  But of course if you start to seriously analyze those games, you'll find dozens of little and not-so-little mistakes.  But that's the problem! In most cases a player who has an extra Rook doesn't take the game seriously thinking that it will be won automatically, and all you need to do is just avoid simple blunders!

Here is Exhibit A: a Grandmaster blunders a whole Rook as early as move 7! Then the game continues as if nothing happened and slowly White's advantage just disappears and 50 moves later a draw was agreed.  I am sure that the Master who played White would have won the game if he hadn't expected a resignation "any move now."

Please don't think that I am making fun of the poor guy who played White.  It can happen to anybody!  The next game was very important for GM Beliavsky since in case of winning he would assure his qualification to the Candidate's Matches. He prepared his opening line very well and won a Rook, but then things went wrong...
But probably the most famous game where a strong chess player failed to win a game with an extra Rook happened in the World Championship match of 1951. The World Champion Michail Botvinnik didn't win a game having an extra Rook for nothing! By the time the game was adjourned the advantage was gone and both players realized that the dangerous Black pawns more than compensated for his material loss.  In his book David Bronstein said that the most difficult part of the game was not resigning immediately after he lost the Rook!
Some of you might think that maybe an extra Rook is not such a huge material advantage after all, but if I have an extra Queen, than the game is indeed over.
Well, look at the next game:
According to the "Chess Life" magazine, when Christiansen blundered his Queen, he started blitzing moves and his opponent (USCF rating 2194 at the moment the game was played) started blitzing too, probably thinking that you don't need to spend time on your moves when you have an extra Queen. Or maybe he was just too excited to beat GM Larry Christiansen!?  I truly feel sorry for him, because it is a real tragedy for any chess player to lose such a position especially when you had a real chance to beat one of the strongest US Grandmasters...
You actually don't need to analyze today's games too deeply to understand what happened there.  The goal of this article is simple: I want it to be engraved into your mind: It ain't over till it's over!


  • 5 years ago


    TQ SIR...

  • 5 years ago


    There is something amazing when a player keeps fighting in this situations, looking for solution and deploying pieces using sharp resourses. It's fantastic!

  • 5 years ago


    @SeaOrchins Words of a genius indeed, although he did pull off some tactical crushers as well. A great player can do anything.

  • 5 years ago


    Great article

  • 5 years ago


    Wikipedia: (Karpov's "boa constrictor" playing style is solidly positional,[15] taking no risks but reacting mercilessly to any tiny errors made by his opponents. As a result, he is often compared to his idol, the famous José Raúl Capablanca, the third World Champion. Karpov himself describes his style as follows:

    Let us say the game may be continued in two ways: one of them is a beautiful tactical blow that gives rise to variations that don't yield to precise calculation; the other is clear positional pressure that leads to an endgame with microscopic chances of victory.... I would choose the latter without thinking twice. If the opponent offers keen play I don't object; but in such cases I get less satisfaction, even if I win, than from a game conducted according to all the rules of strategy with its ruthless logic.)Undecided

  • 5 years ago


    @simon4 Where is the like button? :)

  • 5 years ago


    This article is responsible for this draw. :)

  • 5 years ago


    @GM Gserper- It's not big secret for "Boby Fischer"-weak players always plays in DEEP TRANCE (sometimes ,of course,weak player can " to wake up")Sealed.Just look at the game Tal -Semenkin (Riga 1954)-and You will see really good example of HYPNOSIS.And now ,listen what said about chess (players)-Steinitz-chess is not for weak spirit....Yell

  • 5 years ago


    I think sometimes it is a case of a better overall player making a careless blunder which then incites him to pay twice as much attention to what he is doing for the rest of the game...I get nervous in blitz when time is winding down and I know that if I rush I can lose my advantage very quickly with a bad move

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    I totally agree on that title. On blitz, it is already well known idea but the title can be easily forgotten on a standard game or a game like "one move per 3 days". I recently started those kind of long term games and I did the same mistake and offered a draw two times against to my opponent and I thought the game was a draw even though he was one pawn ahead. As he did not accept the offers the game continued and the big picture completly changed after 10 or 15 moves. This game was a really good lesson for me:

  • 5 years ago


    It isn't over until black lady sings :)

  • 5 years ago


    I find it hard to comprehend that this can happen to GrandMasters but I guess they are human too.

    I am no chess expert! Barely a beginner at best.

    I played a live game in the recent past and after a series of inaccuracies , mistakes and blunders by both of us (comedy of errors) I ended up with a huge material advantage. By huge I mean 6 pawns, Rook and Queen against my opponents King.

    To his credit he would'nt resign, willing to fight it out to the bitter end :). By this point I had already missed several mating opportunities (including Mate in 1).

    The only thought going through my head was dont let it be a Stalemate. And lo and behold, It was a stalemate!!!

  • 5 years ago


    That's Yogi Berra!

  • 5 years ago


    I think that the problem is a mental one. When you are so much ahead in material, you seem to forget to 'finish' the game, with play meandering on auto-pilot

  • 5 years ago


    I just played one of these games.  Blundered away a rook...came back for the win.  

    Granted, I am not a strong player, but it was still satisfying to do against a stronger opponent.  

    Then I nearly blew my lead at the last second.  

    Chess really is about psychology.  

  • 5 years ago


    Splendor Article !!

  • 5 years ago


    I hate when that happens..

  • 5 years ago


    love'd that last game!

Back to Top

Post your reply: