The Failed Attack (Or, The Heroic Defense)

| 27 | Middlegame

As you know, there are all kinds of chess games. When you sit down to play, you don’t know what kind of game it will be. It could be a long endgame where one side is slightly better. It could be a fast defeat for a player who is too optimistic. It could be a beautiful attack; or it could be a failed attack – where one player goes “all in”, perhaps with every justification for doing so, but founders against the defender’s strong resistance. That is what we will discuss here.

I will show a crazy game I played in June, in the Forni di Sopra Open in Italy, against the champion of Mexico, GM Manuel Leon Hoyos. At this point I was doing quite well, with 4.5 points out of six. It looked like if I won this game I would need something like one draw out of two games to make my last GM norm and become a GM. Thus, there was additional pressure on me.

Basically the attack I played was correct, but it failed because I was unable to navigate the narrow path under time pressure. If I had found the win (or rather – trusted the winning line, since I had seen it) the game would have been very nice. This knowledge, and the knowledge that I would most likely become a GM if I won, put additional pressure and caused me to have an excess of perfectionism, which is what led to time pressure.

The technique of the defender was a huge factor as well – my opponent had iron nerves, despite being in as severe a time pressure as I. The “defensive state of mind” is crucial for success in these situations. You cannot always get a great position out of the opening. Leon Hoyos had the black pieces, and it looks like the novelty I played on move thirteen was a strong one. Nevertheless, refuting your opponents’ incorrect attacks (and sometimes the correct ones) is part of being a successful player.

The most striking element of Leon Hoyos' play was his refusal to back down from a challenge. What would happen if I played in such a way against a weaker player? Most likely they would play some less critical moves between move seventeen and nineteen. The attack would nevertheless proceed smoothly and I would have less chance to go wrong. Also I would not get into time pressure. Basically Leon Hoyos made things as difficult as possible for me by forcing me to walk the narrowest path.

I was happy with the opening. My move 13.h4 was a novelty which I found over the board. Normally you think of the Maroczy bind as a way to put solid positional pressure on your opponent. Here I managed to change it somehow into a crazy attacking game. Black owns the queenside, but his pieces are cut off from his king. So I need to go all-in, a decision I had already made several moves before.

Let's pause here at a moment of extreme tension. Each side has about a minute left for thirteen moves. True, we each get thirty seconds added on each move, but this time is not sufficient to play such a complicated position. The result will come down to who is able to control their nerves.

Nagging doubts were in my mind about whether I had already missed a win - perhaps with 23.Qh4, or perhaps with 25.Bg7? It is hard to play when you are thinking about the past, but it is also hard not to do so.

I saw that I could force a draw with 27.Bg7, but I could not make myself do it. Instead I made a terrible blunder.

What advice can we draw from this? After this game I had one big regret. Not so much that I missed the lines leading to a big advantage, but rather that I avoided forcing a draw on move 27. To play such a position with one minute on the clock was the height of recklessness. Of course, it would be reasonable to play 27.Bg4?? if I did not see the 28...Qh5 move, since otherwise 27.Bg4 would win. But the point was that I did not see that totally obvious move because I played Bg4 without really calculating it carefully.

In this game I had too much perfectionism. I got into time pressure mostly because I spent too much time evaluating positions (particularly the one which would occur after 18...Bxc3) which I should have been able to accept or reject much more quickly.

For the defender in such a position, it was crucial to have iron nerves. You cannot always avoid having an unfavorable opening. The key to chess skill is making the most of your chances, and this is what Leon Hoyos did in this game. Perhaps at one or two points his decisions were rather risky, but they had the effect in a practical game of forcing me to walk a narrow path. Thus, you could see this game as a tragically failed attack, or as a heroic defensive masterpiece!

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