Two Mirror Games
I recently played in the Bosna 2012 tournament, which took place in Sarajevo. This was yet another bleak tournament for me, the ninth in a row. In the sixth and seventh rounds I played two games which had an odd symmetry, which I thought would be interesting to examine here.
In rounds four and five I had lost two games in a row. First as black against GM Bojan Kurajica I had made a careless miscalculation, failing to have the patience at the crucial moment to even bother calculating all the variations. Then in the fifth round I managed to build up a winning position against IM Jasmin Bejtovic, but then blundered in comical fashion by overlooking his one – and totally obvious – threat.
The first of the mirror games took place that afternoon (it was the day with two games). As you can imagine, I was not in the best of moods. At the start of the game I had the same feeling as in many other games in the last nine months – complete apathy. A further loss would only make my collapse more spectacular, and in some way I wanted that to happen – the well-known “castling queenside” maneuver, e.g. “0-0-0”.
Actually, ‘complete apathy’ is not the perfect description. In some way I still cared about the result, although in general I wanted to get the game over as quickly as possible. In this case I did however manage to get into the game and start playing seriously, perhaps because my opponent did not play the opening so well, so my reasons for absolute wretchedness became less immediate.
I got a very good position, but now I made a move which is hard to explain.
Black has a strong majority of pawns on the queenside and active pieces, while the white pieces are very tied up and pinned. White has the passed d-pawn, but this kind of passed pawn can be easily blockaded. Indeed, the thematic 21…Ne8 followed by 22…Nd6 was the first thing that occurred to me, and most masters would play this immediately. The knight on d6 not only blockades the d-pawn, but it liberates the f-pawn and supports the move …f5, while also putting pressure on e4, and covering the important c4 square. But did I play 21…Ne8? No!
I calculated 21…Ne8 22.f3 (White must unravel his pieces) 22…Nd6 23.Rf2 f5, and decided that this position was not enough for me. Somehow, there was no direct win for Black!
Of course there is no reason why Black should have a direct win, but this position would be incredibly difficult for White to play. The knight on e2 has no prospects. White has to continually guard e4, since playing exf5 will liberate the bishop on g7. Meanwhile Black can push the queenside majority. But for some reason this was not good enough for me. I looked for a way to prevent White from his plan of f3 and Rf2. My eyes fell on the move 21…Nh5, which does prevent 22.f3, while preparing …f5.
Of course, moving the knight to the side of the board, where it is vulnerable and does not coordinate with the other pieces, does not look very logical. Nevertheless, if White did not have the strong reply 22.Bf3, it could work out. It would be easy to explain that I made this otherwise terrible move because I overlooked 22.Bf3. But that is not the case. I saw 22.Bf3, but played 21…Nh5 anyway. In my mind, the solid advantage after …Ne8-d6 was not enough, and I needed to further unbalance the position by getting him to take on h5. In the meantime I forgot that he might not have to take on h5. Another factor was somehow hoping that he would not see 22.Bf3. So basically after looking at 21…Ne8 (and a few other moves) for some time, I made the move 21…Nh5? with very little thought. A combination of illogic, lazy thinking, and apathy contributed to this move, which I regretted immediately after making.
Nevertheless, this move doesn’t lose any material and my position was pretty good to begin with, so it could absorb the kind of damage I had inflicted on it. Perhaps I still had some slight advantage after this move. Anyway, a tough struggle began where maybe my opponent missed some chances and also slipped into time pressure.
By move 35 I once again had the advantage, and my opponent had only a couple of minutes on the clock. I now made up for the idiotic 21…Nh5 move.
The endgame after 35…Bxc5 does not lead anywhere, and meanwhile White is getting ready to unravel with 36.Nb3 or 36.Nb7. In my opponent’s time pressure I found a spectacular and unexpected blow – 35…Bh6!!
By no means did I think that this move was winning for Black. However, I understood that it was by far my best chance, and that it was extremely unlikely he could deal with the shock with no time on the clock.
It turns out that the bishop on e3 is holding White’s position together. By 35…Bh6 Black creates a threat of 36…Nd4+ (because of the rook hanging on c1). 36.Bxh6 is also met by 36…Nd4+, and in the end the knight on c5 hangs.
It turns out that the best defense was probably 36.Nb3, after which Black has 36…Ng1+!, leading to a position where Black has an extra pawn but the ending is not clear. In time pressure my opponent tried to refute my move tactically by 36.Nxe4?, which I had also calculated. The game ended as follows:
After the game my opponent happily analyzed with me along with a Bulgarian friend who was playing in the B- tournament. Later in the tournament he even gave me bar of chocolate as a present “as a thanks for such a lesson”. You don't see such good sportsmanship often!
In the next game I played against a player rated 2359 named Sead Rasidovic. Yet again I got a very nice position from the opening, which was then followed by a clownish blunder:
After 20 moves this position was reached:
In principle, Black’s position, facing the “nail” on h6 (see my recent article, “Hammering the Nail”) is dubious. Not only is h7 a fixed weakness and h6 a permanent, standing threat, but also the rook on h8 and knight on f8 are locked out of the game, while various pieces are tied down to defending e6. While perhaps the move 16.0-0-0 was a little questionable (giving Black some counterplay), and 17.Qa4 was also a little shaky, I cannot believe that such a position could be playable for Black.
Now I wanted to bring my knight from d2 to e5, which would further increase the pressure on Black’s position, while allowing my king to move to d2 if necessary (which was my intention back when I played 16.0-0-0). However, after 21.Ndf3 there is the obvious tactical blow 21…Rxf4 to be considered, since the bishop on g4 is unguarded.
I did not miss this move, which had been in the air for several moves. However, since last August my concentration has been extremely poor and my thinking chaotic. In almost every game since then, absurd blunders and miscalculations have intruded, and this was no different. Despite the obvious dangers, I played 21.Ndf3? anyway, planning to meet 21…Rxf4 with 22.Bxe6.
A position with various pieces under attack and barely guarding each other should send danger signals. However, I made the move without carefully calculating the variations, and immediately afterwards realized that after 22.Bxe6 would be met by 22…Rxf3!, exploiting the overworked pieces. So basically I hung the f4 pawn for nothing, when instead I could have comfortably played 21.g3, with Ndf3 following later. Sure enough, my opponent played 21…Rxf4. Nevertheless, my position was so good before that it was still playable with a pawn less, and the game continued.
After the blunder I had been almost unable to think at all, even though the position was still reasonable. I had allowed my opponent some dangerous attacking possibilities. I was sure that my position was extremely dangerous, and it seemed that there should be a way for Black to develop a decisive attack, which was true. However, at the crucial moment he took the superficial path of grabbing some material. Now the following position arose:
Surely Black expected the obvious 33.Rxd1 Nxe6 34.Bxe6 Rd8, when Black has an extra pawn in the endgame. I did not think it was very likely I would lose that, since there are opposite-colored bishops and his d5 and h7 pawns are weak – but who knows? I had no desire to allow him to activate the rook on h8. To keep my old positional advantage, established long ago in the opening, I found a study-like idea of sacrificing a piece, but leaving his bishop amazingly trapped in the middle of the board. Thus I played 33.Nc7+!! Kb7 34.Nxd5.
Now Black is up a piece, but I am attacking both of his bishops. It looks like he can keep an extra piece by playing 34…Bxf3. However, this would be met by 35.Nxf6, leading to an unusual position:
The bishop is trapped in the middle of the board. 35…Bh5 would be met by 36.g4. Note that Black can keep an extra pawn with such moves as 35…Bxg2, but this position would be completely hopeless, since there is no way for him to free either the knight on f8 or the rook on h8.
I was mostly calculating the answers 35…bxc3 and 35…Bxd4, both of which were very good for White. Instead my opponent desperately tried to free his pieces, which required him to shed some pawns and I won the endgame.
Both of these two games followed the same kind of graph. First I achieved a good position in the opening, but then made a very poor move. The game continued unclearly for a while (in the second one I really floundered for several moves) and finally an endgame was reached, where a spectacular idea emerged. Basically I hope there has been some instructional value in seeing real games, where there are both nice ideas and extreme ugliness.