Knowing When to Pull the Trigger

Knowing When to Pull the Trigger

| 21 | Amazing Games

David Wagle writes- “This year I returned to the game (after a 10 year hiatus) and competition I love, with the hope of at least not embarrassing myself. And while I’ve played a few games where I did just that, this isn’t one of them. My rating is in free fall as I’ve lost nearly every game I’ve played while trying to relearn what I once knew, but I think I’m showing some signs of recognizing good moves again.

“The game is, I think, mildly interesting and shows that even in tactical lines of an opening positional ideas can help keep a lower rated player ‘in the fight.’ Many decisions I made were based on general ideas I’ve gleaned from various books and articles and not on long calculations (though of course I did calculate as far as I could and tried to make sure I wasn’t immediately losing).”

David Wagle (1300) – Kevin Lu (1800), Club Tournament 2011

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 

Since you don’t want to play main line lines against the Sicilian (which demand an enormous amount of preparation), may I suggest you consider 2.c3  (Alapin’s Variation) intending to build a strong pawn center with d2-d4? It’s easy to learn, and it carries some serious pop. The two main anti-c3 systems (designed to prevent White from getting his hoped for pawn center) are 2…d5 3.exd5 Qxd5, and 2…Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 cxd4 and now 5.Nf3 is the most testing try, but for those that want to avoid heavy theory 5.Qxd4 is a serious choice: 5…e6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Qe4 d6 8.Bb5 Bd7 9.c4, which has scored well for White. Here’s a nice example:

1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 e6 5.Nf3 cxd4 6.Qxd4 Nc6 7.Qe4 d6 8.Bb5 Bd7 9.c4 Nc7 10.exd6 Bxd6 11.0-0 Nxb5 12.cxb5 Ne7 13.Nc3 Qb8 14.Rd1 Bc7 15.Qd4 Qc8 16.Qxg7 Rg8 17.Qxh7 e5 18.Ne4 Rg6 19.Nh4 Bf5 20.Nxg6 Nxg6 21.Qg8+ Nf8 22.Bh6 Ke7 23.Qg5+, 1-0, Mamedyarov (2719) – Judit Polgar, (2680) [B22], World Blitz Ch. G/3 +2 2009.

2…Nc6 3.Nc3

David Wagle – “Faced with a Sicilian from a young player rated much higher than me, I made the practical decision to play the KIA. I know that this probably limits my theoretical advantage, but this was entirely a practical decision on my part, as I don’t know the Sicilian lines very well and the KIA offers easy development with not a lot of move order nuances.”

First off, this isn’t a King’s Indian Attack (KIA), but I’ll discuss that in my note to black’s 7th move.

After 2…Nc6 I highly recommend 3.Bb5 which avoids all sorts of complex theory for smooth development and powerful ideas you can use again and again. Here’s a sample:

R. Mamedov (2660) – J.Alvarez Marquez (2414) [B31], 39th Olympiad 2010

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6 4.c3 Nf6 5.Qe2 Bg7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Rd1 Qc7 8.d4 cxd4 9.cxd4 d5 10.e5 Ne4 11.Nc3 Nxc3 12.bxc3 Bf5 13.Nh4 Bd7 14.Ba3 Rfe8 15.Rab1 Rac8 16.f4 Na5 17.Bxd7 Qxd7 18.f5 Rc6 19.e6 fxe6 20.fxg6 h6 21.Rf1 e5 22.Rf7 Nc4 23.Rbf1 Rf6 24.R1xf6 Bxf6 25.Qh5 Rf8 26.Nf5 Bg5 27.Nxh6+ Bxh6 28.Rxf8+, 1-0.

3…d6 4.g3 g6 5.d3 Bg7 6.Bg2 Nf6 7.O-O O-O

What you have here is a Closed Sicilian, not a King’s Indian Attack (more on that in my notes to white’s 9th move). However, having the Knight on f3 (where it blocks the f-pawn) is a fairly toothless form of the Closed Sicilian. Thus (if you wish to avoid main lines) you really have to decide on move two how you intend to play. For example, I mentioned 2.c3 and 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 as good ways to avoid main theory. But if you do want to play a Closed Sicilian, then 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 is the way to go, just getting on with it and leaving the other Knight at home (this is far more flexible since the Knight can go to f3, h3, or e2, and the f-pawn is still free to move to f4). The two most popular lines in the Closed Sicilian go like this: 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d3 d6 and now either 6.f4 (popularized by Spassky) and 6.Be3 followed by 7.Qd2.

Here’s one of the most important Closed Sicilian games ever played:

Spassky - Geller [B25], Candidates 1968

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.g3 Nc6 4.Bg2 g6 5.d3 Bg7 6.f4 Nf6 (6...e6, 6…e5, and even 6…Rb8 are major alternatives.) 7.Nf3 0-0 8.0-0 Rb8 9.h3 b5 10.a3 a5 11.Be3 b4 12.axb4 axb4 13.Ne2 Bb7 14.b3 Ra8 15.Rc1! Ra2 16.g4















(A typical Closed Sicilian situation: Black is killing White on the queenside and White is trying to kill Black on the kingside.) 16...Qa8 17.Qe1 Qa6 18.Qf2 Na7 19.f5 Nb5 20.fxg6 hxg6 21.Ng5 Na3 22.Qh4 Rc8

















23.Rxf6! exf6 24.Qh7+ Kf8 25.Nxf7!! Rxc2 (25…Kxf7 26.Bh6 Rg8 27.Nf4) 26.Bh6! Rxc1+ 27.Nxc1 Kxf7 (27…Bxh6 28.Nxh6 Ke8 29.Ng8!) 28.Qxg7+ Ke8 29.g5! (29.e5!! is even stronger) 29…f5 30.Qxg6+ Kd7 31.Qf7+ Kc6 32.exf5+, 1-0. After 32…Kb6 33.Bxb7 Qxb7 34.Qxb7+ Kxb7 35.f6 the pawn infestation will lead to huge material losses for Black and a new Queen for White.

8.h3 Rb8 9.Re1?! 

David Wagle – “There are 48 games in my database with this position, and by far the most common 9th move is 9.a4. 9.Re1 is not in the opening book, but I do not believe it is objectively bad. Still, I need to figure out why it’s not played by top GMs over the other options in the book.”

Mr. Wagle, I have about 400 games in my database with the position after 8…Rb8. The most popular move is 9.a4 (though it doesn’t hold back black’s thematic …b7-b5-b4 idea for long). Before explaining why your 9.Re1 is a nonentity on the list of white’s favorites, let’s take a look at the following game:

L.Kritz (2544) – E.Alekseev (2625), Biel 2005

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.g3 Nc6 5.Bg2 g6 6.d3 Bg7 7.0-0 0-0 8.h3 Rb8 9.a4 a6 10.Be3 b5 11.axb5 axb5 12.Qd2 b4 13.Ne2 Bb7 14.Nh4 Qc7 15.Bh6 Ra8 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Qg5 Rxa1 18.Rxa1 e6 19.Qe3 Ra8 20.Rxa8 Bxa8 21.e5 dxe5 22.Qxc5 Nd7 23.Qb5 Na7 24.Qa4 Bxg2 25.Nxg2 Qb7 26.Ne3 Nc6 27.b3 Qb6 28.Nc4 Qc5 29.Qa1 Nf6 30.Qc1 Nd5 31.Qg5 h6 32.Qd2 g5 33.Qc1 f6 34.Qa1 Nc7 35.Kg2 Qd5+ 36.Kg1 Nb5 37.Qa6 Ncd4 38.Nxd4 Nxd4 39.Qa7+ Kg6 40.Qb8 Qd7, ½.

This game, though dull, is a good illustration of the position’s basics: Black gains queenside space and seeks targets and/or penetration points on that side of the board, White tries to generate some kingside action (by pieces or by an f2-f4-f5 pawn rush), Black often gloms onto the d4-square and makes it a home for a Knight (he didn’t manage that here), and central breaks are also possible at the right time. 

This leads to a simple question: what does the move Re1 have to do with any of these ideas? It takes the Rook off of f1, thereby making an eventual f2-f4 plan silly, and it really doesn’t have much to do with anything else other than an e4-e5 central break (which can easily be stopped cold).

Compare that with white’s usual choices:

* 9.a4 tries to stop black’s queenside expansion and, once Black actually plays …a7-a6 and …b7-b5, White will take and lay claim to the a-file himself. In general, he follows up (after 9…a6) with 10.Be3.

* 9.Be3, the 2nd most popular move, eyes d4 and prepares Qd2 followed by Bh6, getting rid of black’s powerful dark-squared Bishop (this can be followed by a kingside attack). 

* Moves like 9.Ne1 and 9.Nh4 prepare the f2-f4 idea.















As you can see, your 9.Re1 just doesn’t belong in white’s scheme of things. Just because it’s been played in somewhat similar positions, and just because it looks like it should be useful, doesn’t make it logical or desirable on any level. In a nutshell: You can’t properly develop pieces until you understand what the ideas are for both sides in any given position.

Here’s an example of 9.Be3, which shows that White doesn’t get anything here either:

A.Reinhard – Robert Fischer [B25], Western Open Championship 1963 

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.0-0 0-0 5.d3 d6 6.e4 c5 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.h3 Rb8 9.Be3 b5 (9…e5 10.a3 Nd4 11.b4 b6 12.Rb1 Qc7 and Black had an excellent position in Larry Christiansen - Zilberstein, Tallin 1979) 10.e5 (10.Qd2 b4 11.Nd1 Ba6 12.Bh6 c4 13.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.dxc4 Bxc4 15.Re1 Qa5 16.Ne3 Be6 17.Ng5 Qe5 18.f4 Qc5 19.Qf2 Rb5 20.Rac1 Bd7 21.Nd1 Rc8 22.Nf3 e5 23.c4 Ra5 24.Qxc5 dxc5 25.fxe5 Nh5 26.Nf2 Nxg3 27.Nd3 Rd8 28.Kf2 Nh5 29.Ke3 Be6 30.Rc2, Morozevich (2743) – McShane (2643) Biel 2004, and now: 30...Rxd3+! 31.Kxd3 Rxa2 32.Bf1 Ng3 33.Bg2 a5 would have favored Black.) 10…dxe5 11.Bxc5 b4 12.Ne4 Nxe4 13.dxe4 Qa5 14.Be3 Ba6 15.Re1 Rfd8 16.Qc1 Nd4 17.Kh2 Rdc8 18.Nxd4 exd4 19.Bg5 d3 20.a3 Rxc2 21.axb4 Qb6 22.Qe3 Bd4 23.Qf3 Rxf2 24.Qg4 d2, 0-1.

Finally, the KIA (King’s Indian Attack) is basically a reversed King’s Indian Defense, though most players usually refer to it in conjunction with a specific, and highly effective, setup. The following two examples show you what a true KIA is all about:

First up, placing the Rook on e1 is a good idea if you can get your pawn to e5 (where it literally slashes the board in half). A typical idea in that case is to overprotect the pawn (sorry, a serious discussion of overprotection would warrant a whole article). The following diagram paints a powerful picture – White overprotects e5 with almost everything he has.
















The game that follows is a very famous one, and convinced countless players worldwide to take up the KIA (note that the KIA works best vs. the French Defense or against 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6, and almost always has white’s Q-Knight developing to d2):

Robert James Fischer - Myagmarsuren [A08], Sousse 1967

1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.g3 c5 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.Ngf3 Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8.e5 Nd7 9.Re1 (overprotecting e5 – a kingside attack will eventually follow) 9…b5 10.Nf1 b4 11.h4 a5 12.Bf4 (developing and overprotecting) 12…a4 13.a3 bxa3 14.bxa3 Na5 15.Ne3 Ba6 16.Bh3 (this stops Black from breaking with …f7-f6) 16…d4 17.Nf1 Nb6 18.Ng5 Nd5 19.Bd2 Bxg5 20.Bxg5 Qd7 21.Qh5 Rfc8 22.Nd2 Nc3 23.Bf6 Qe8 24.Ne4 g6 25.Qg5 Nxe4 26.Rxe4 c4

Please check out the quiz below! 

















David Wagle – “Again, not an objectively bad move, however this move is usually played in reaction to White playing e4-e5; Black is arguably wasting a tempo here that could be used for something better. Though what isn’t exactly clear to me.”  

Mr. Wagle, hopefully you now understand why your 9.Re1 isn’t played by anyone in the know? The explanations that I gave earlier should have helped in this regard, but if you want something more concrete, how about 9…e5! when your Rook is suddenly useless on e1. With 9…e5 Black stops e4-e5 forever and clamps down on d4 (the Christiansen – Zilberstein given earlier shows just how strong …e5 can be for Black).


David Wagle – “10.a3 is thematic and should have been on my radar. 10.Bg5 is a computer favorite, but I think this is an example of Stockfish (a strong chess engine) not understanding the opening correctly.”

I’m not sure how thematic 10.a3 is, but the idea behind 10.Bg5 goes something like this: White can play 10.Be3 (which is far superior to your 10.Bd2) followed by Qd2, though Black could ignore it and continue with whatever he’s doing. On the other hand, 10.Bg5 hits e7 (somewhat tying down the c6-Knight and Queen). After Black kicks it away with 10…h6 White retreats via 11.Be3 when the computer is trying to make a case that black’s …h7-h6 move not only loosens black’s kingside structure a bit, but also grants White a free tempo since when White plays Qd2 he does so with a threat against h6.

Ultimately I feel that 10.Bg5 and 10.Be3 are white’s best moves – They won’t make White scream in ecstasy, but he gave up any hopes for an advantage when he played this rather useless system (with your 9.Re1 devaluing an opening that was already insipid). On the other hand, your 10.Bd2 creates a very bad impression. All your pieces are either on pedestrian squares or are poorly placed (the dark-squared Bishop and your e1-Rook) and it’s hard to see a unified plan for White.

10...b5 11.a3 b4?

Black rushes things, but why? It’s clear that White isn’t ready to do anything active, so Black can take his time and power his way through your queenside in a correct manner. Thus 11…a5 followed by 12…b4 is correct – axb4 will be met by …axb4 when Black’s c5-pawn will retain control over the important d4-square.















After the dubious 11…b4, we’ll soon see this loss of d4-control coming back to haunt Black.

12.axb4 cxb4 13.Na4 a5?! 

Is this necessary? It looks nice, but b4 wasn’t in any danger and other, more critical moves had to be available. Clearly, Black played this so he could follow with …Ba6, but it turns out that this Bishop move (the main reason for 13…a5) isn’t so great either (it just forces White to expand in the center).

The obvious 13…Qc7 is fine here, as is the (at first glance) odd-looking 13…Nde5 – the idea behind this Knight move is to exchange the d7-Knight (which has nothing to do with the battle for d4) for the f3-Knight (which has everything to do with that d4-battle). One line: 14.Nxe5 (14.Nh2? b3) 14…Nxe5 15.Be3 Bd7 16.f4 Nc6 17.d4 Na5 18.b3 Qc7 19.Qd3 Rfc8. White has a large pawn center in this line, but Black will have pressure against that center and against c2. Chances are about equal.
















White should rectify his mistake on move ten with 14.Be3. 


I would prefer 14…Nde5 (taking aim at d3 and c4) 15.Nxe5 Nxe5 16.Be3 Be6 17.f4 bxc3 18.bxc3 (18.fxe5? cxb2 19.Rb1 Bb3) 18…Nd7 19.Ra3 Qc7 20.g4 Nc5 21.Nxc5 dxc5 22.d4 cxd4 23.cxd4 Rfc8 24.d5 Bd7 25.e5 a4 when the battles rages on (white’s center vs. black’s active pieces and passed a-pawn).

15.d4 Nb6?!

And here Black should just snap off the pawn by 15…bxc3 16.bxc3 Qc7 with chances for both sides.

16.d5 bxc3?

This turns the “dead” Bishop on d2 into a very active participant. In general, you don’t want to play moves that make the opponent’s pieces more active. 16…Ne5 was still more or less equal.


David Wagle – “After the game my opponent said he was worried about 17.bxc3, but that is clearly the wrong capture. He felt it would fix my pawn structure, but the issue is that Black has a stranglehold on c4 so the pawn would be hopelessly backward on c3, and the dark-squared Bishop would be out of the fight. This recapture challenges his dark-squared Bishop and gives White activity for his Knight as well.”

Quite right!















17...Nb4 18.Bf1?

David Wagle – “Better is 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.Re3.”

Stockfish is wise! The idea is to meet 19…Nc4 with 20.Rc3. I have to admit that after 19.Re3 black’s game isn’t easy to play.

18...Bxf1 19.Kxf1 Qc8?

David Wagle – “Better is 19...Nxa4 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.Qxa4, =.”

I’ll add that 20.Bxg7 is important since the immediate 20.Qxa4 allows 20…Qc8! 21.Kg2 Nd3 22.Re2 Nxb2 when White has less than nothing.


David Wagle – “And White has regained the upper hand due to the forking tactic with the Queen checking on d4.”  


Of course, 20…Qxh3+?? loses to 21.Kg1 Kxg7 22.Nxb6 Rxb6 23.Qd4+ (the “forking tactic” that Mr. Wagle alluded to) followed by 24.Qxb6.

21.Nxb6 Qa6+ 22.Kg2 Rxb6 23.Re3 Rc8 24.Nd4 Qa8?

Black’s under serious pressure, but this just makes things worse. He needed to batten down the hatches with 24…Rb7, which gets the Rook off the potential Qd4+ forking square, while also giving e7 some support.


White’s not tempted by 25.Nf5+? gxf5 26.Qd4+ f6 27.Qxb6 due to 27…Nc2. I have to admit that, since black’s blunder on move 19 (19…Qc8), Mr. Wagle has played a series of perfect moves. Did he sniff some powered unicorn horn, or is his real talent shining through? 















25…e5 26.dxe6 Qxe4+ 27.Kh2??

David Wagle – “Throwing it all away! By not considering the right move because it didn’t ‘look right’, I managed to turn a winning position into a losing one. Perhaps the real lesson to take from this game is a better understanding of when it’s okay to rely on positional generalities and when buckling down and calculating is the necessary course.”

A real pity. The odd thing is that, aside from the best move (see quiz), White would also have retained a large and very safe plus with 27.Qf3 (and I think this move looks “right”, as Mr. Wagle put it). On the other hand, the best move (which wins by force) does look a bit loose. So how does a person make such a decision? The answer is simple: Positional concepts guide your way, but you must always safety-check everything you do by looking for tactical pitfalls or opportunities. Thus, tactics without positional acumen can only take you so far, and the same can be said for positional mastery without tactical skills. A serious player needs BOTH.

Checking for tactics doesn’t mean analysis or that nagging “I go there and he goes there” dialogue. It means you’re aware of all the tactical basics, which sends up a flare whenever a fork or back rank mate or whatnot is staring you in the face. A player must also be aware that almost all combinations and tactics are based on undefended or inadequately guarded pieces (double attacks in particular).

Training your brain to check for this stuff in autopilot mode is more than useful, but your real question seems to be about critical, do-or-die positions. And that makes it even easier! When you face certain death, look for tactics and tricks. When you feel you’re on the verge of a glorious victory, once again the brain should click into super-concentration mode and work everything out as far as you can go. Look for moves that give you the world, be greedy, and don’t discount even the strangest possibility if it seems to address the position’s needs.

In the position after 26…Qe4+ (diagrammed quiz position) you have to get out of check. Putting this aside for a moment, there are some tasty things going on: if you could do anything you wanted to do, then Rxc8 picks up a Rook. And that e6-pawn is quite impressive. It can chop on f7 or even talk a walk forward by e6-e7. Finally, black’s b6-Rook isn’t defended. If white’s Knight wasn’t on d4 and if black’s Queen was far afield (a8, for example), then Qd4+ creates a double attack that wins a clean Rook. As you can see, black’s Rooks are both loose, and his King is vulnerable to a check on d4. If these tactical prompts don’t set off alarm bells, nothing will. In the position after 26…Qe4+, moving the King hands the move to Black (he’s free to do anything he wants) – can’t you find something more forcing? After all, if you want to win this sharp position, you have to TAKE the point!

When I reach positions like this, I literally see blood pouring from the ceiling. I create an inner chant calling for my opponent’s death, and look for a knockout blow. 27.Qf3 Qxf3+ 28.Rxf3 fxe6 29.Nxe6+ Kg8 30.Rxa5 leaves White a pawn up and, if allowed, a possible doubling on the 7th rank looms (Ra7 followed by Rff7). White’s either going to win or draw, so it’s a tempting possibility. Yet … doesn’t White deserve even more? Clearly, a King move has nothing to do with this position’s mood. Look for something forcing so that Black remains off balance! And ... once you leap into that kind of mentality, you’ll easily find the killing blow.

But all of this starts with two things: 1) A non-stop awareness of the presence of basic tactical themes (if none are there, then there won’t be any tricks to worry about or use); 2) A powerful desire to milk the most from a winning position. And if it’s a sharp winning position, look for a move with a sharp blade.

Your move, 27.Kh2??, is unthinkable in such a dynamic position. You will only play such a move after you’ve deeply explored and rejected all the dynamic possibilities. Missing the best move would be somewhat acceptable if you analyzed 27.Qf3 and the other sharp possibilities. But your note leads me to believe that you didn’t analyze these “kill him now” moves at all. Clearly, this is a huge weakness in your game, but it’s all psychological (the calculations are within your scope, but your mental stance is off-kilter). Ponder the things I’ve said here and, over time, you’ll completely change the way you handle such positions.

Finally, we are all carrying around a myriad of bad habits and miscomprehensions. Many retain them and walk around with that baggage for life (in fact, they trumpet their disease as wisdom and beg others to follow their lead). But others – once they realize the problem – work hard to burn it out of their system. If you’re willing to work on it, you can easily fix this, Mr. Wagle!















27...Rxc3 28.bxc3 Nd3














Okay, things have changed and now you’re faced with some serious threats. It’s easy to collapse in such a situation, but if you had some time on the clock, there’s a simple formula you should follow: 1) Get up and leave the board for a few minutes (go outside if possible and breath in some fresh air); 2) Calm down and, when you return to the board, look at it with new eyes and say, “Okay, what’s going on now? I need to master this position!” Notice the lack of hysteria. No “I’m doomed!” or “I screwed it up, arrrggghhh!” Such things will ensure your defeat. Instead, turn into a chess scientist and ask, “What’s the truth about this position? What are his threats?” Once you do that, you’ll quickly realize that allowing Black to play …Rb2 could easily be suicide. And that simple fact will make the right move easy to find.


What does this have to do with black’s …Rb2? Nothing. Even in sharp positions, you need to know what your opponent intends and then, if it’s serious, deal with it. But the key is the knowledge of what he intends! Notice your 9.Re1 (which had nothing to do with the position’s needs) and your 29.e7, which also ignores all the things that make this position tick. In the end, the things that let you down were the wrong mindset, and an inability to read the position. 

If you had played 29.Ra2 (defends f2 and controls the 2nd rank), your position would be completely safe.

29...Rb2 30.Qh1??















White’s in freefall and, with this move, goes down hard.

David Wagle – “While I was worse to the point of losing, I critically misevaluated the position. Much better is 30.Nc2 Nxf2 31.Qd4+ Qxd4 32.Nxd4.”

You’ll draw that position (after 30.Nc2!). But I’m confused by your “misevaluated the position.” This position is beyond subtle evaluations! Simply put, if Black gets to play …Rxf2+ you WILL get mated or, at the very least, eviscerated. Since there is no good way to prevent this deathblow OTHER than 30.Nc2, it’s a no-brainer. In fact, you don’t even have to analyze 30.Nc2 – if it works (which it does), great. If it doesn’t, then you’ve lost nothing since a nasty end waited behind all other moves too.

For those with children, I implore you to send them out of the room or cover their eyes before playing through the final moves – you don’t want to traumatize them! 

30...Rxf2+ 31.Kg1 Qe3

31…Qe5 is crushing. 31…Qxe7 forces resignation. And 31…Qe3 is the hammer of god!

32.Ne6+ fxe6 33.e8=N+

David Wagle – “An attempt to swindle the game away!”

Ah, Mr. Wagle, you made me laugh. Thank you. But in case you were serious, allow me to point out that a swindle calls for the possibility of your opponent going wrong and walking into a trap. Sadly, in this position virtually every legal move by Black forces you to resign. In other words, Black couldn’t blunder if he tried! Instead of the word “swindle”, you should have used “spite check” which all of us have employed from time to time (I certainly have).

33...Kf8 34.Qh2 Ra2+ 35.Kh1 Rxa1+ 36.Qg1 Qxg1 mate.

Mr. Wagle, you need to improve your openings (doesn’t everybody?), and you can find systems that avoid main theory and still have sting to them. You’re middlegame play was excellent, and it left us with the impression that you were the much higher rated player, rather than the other way round. But when the time came for the killing blow, you froze. And once you froze, you continued to fall through space until your position was gone.

My recommendations (other than the “improve your openings dictate”):

* You are having trouble reading the board (this hurt you at the beginning of the game and at the end). This isn’t an easy thing, but I feel that any player from 1400 on up can do a reasonable job of this if he masters the idea of imbalances (I know everyone out there was waiting for me to say that, and I didn’t want to disappoint them). As we all know, that’s what my new book, How to Reassess Your Chess 4th edition, is all about.

* You need to acquire a sense of danger. Experience will help, but the end of this game reminded me of someone in lotus land thinking everything is copacetic when the reality is that everyone around you is a brain eating zombie.

* You need to train your mind to do autopilot scans for basic tactics. If it sees such tactics lurking in the dark, an alarm will go off and you’ll leap into action.

* When you’re losing badly, you can’t play normal moves anymore. You MUST find something that will present the opponent with problems. The same goes for when you’re winning big: you need to want to slaughter him and punish the guy for not resigning. Both of these are mindsets that kick your brain into super-concentration mode. If you reach this kind of position and you’re thinking, “Peace on Earth, good will to all!” then you have a problem. Instead, try: “Peace on Earth, good will to all, to hell with that, let’s start a brawl!” In other words, get excited and look for THE way to wipe him out.

* Did you notice the last three things are psychological issues? That’s good for you, since they are very, very fixable.

A plea: I would prefer players to NOT use a chess engine to analyze the game they send to me since that often deprives me of your “while it’s happening” thoughts, analysis, and general ruminations. This in turn robs you of added instruction since computer use can easily paint over key weak points and/or misconceptions in your play that I might normally have commented on and tried to fix.

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How To Build Winning Chess Positions