Winning a Dead Won Game
“I read Winning Chess Strategies and RAYC 4th Ed. this year and then decided to enter my first OTB tournament in 20 years: the 2011 U.S. Class Championship.
“GM Timur Gareev, at over 2700, was heading up the master section, while I was settling into Class D (playing up a section!) with a 4-game provisional rating of 1012 from part of a tournament I played in and dropped out of in early 1990.
“Sadly, I was 1.0/3 the first day. I had lost games 2 and 3 to elementary oversights and had spent the night before rounds 4 and 5 going back over your books, particularly the part about ‘hope chess’. My goal for game 4 and 5 was to ask myself the hard questions on the necessary moves (checks, threats, captures now, and which will exist after my candidate moves) and was prepared to repeat the mantra ‘just do the work!’ whenever I felt the urge to just move a piece because thinking was getting too hard.
“I won Game 4 to bring my score to 2.0/4 and was hoping for a win in Game 5, which is the game I have attached with my analysis. If I had worked a little harder at the end, it could have been a win. But I took my foot off the gas!”
Russell Gardner (1275) – Joseph Boyle (1012) [D05], U.S. Class Championship 2011
This was the final round of the U.S. Class Championship - my first OTB tournament in 20 years - and a win would put me at 3.0/5.
1.d4 d5 2.e3
Mr. Boyle: “The Colle system.”
Not a Colle yet! Could be a reversed Dutch Stonewall (if White plays f2-f4), or White could reenter more basic Queen’s Gambit type positions with c2-c4.
Mr. Boyle: “An unambitious response. I plan to use a Tartakower set-up with …Nf6, …Be7, fianchetto the Queen’s bishop and defend.”
It’s good to stick with what you know, but Black has a huge range of good choices, most of them offering easy equality. Here’s an example:
Liang Chong (2505) - Shen Yang (2452) [D00], 4th All China Games Rapid 2010
1.d4 d5 2.e3 Bf5 3.c4 c6 4.cxd5 cxd5 5.Nc3 (5.Qb3 Qc8 6.Bd2 e6 7.Nf3 Bd6 8.Bb5+ Nc6 9.Bb4 Bxb4+ 10.Qxb4 Nge7, 1/2-1/2, Y. Norowitz – S. Shankland, World Open 2010) 5…e6 6.Qb3 Qd7 7.Nf3 Nc6 8.Bb5 Bd6 9.Bd2 Nge7 10.Na4 0-0 11.Rc1 Rfc8 12.0-0 Qd8 13.Nc5 Rab8 14.Qa4 a6 15.Be2 Bg4 16.h3 Bxf3 17.Bxf3 Ne5 18.Be2 Nc4 19.Bc3 b5 20.Qd1 b4 21.b3 bxc3 22.bxc4 dxc4 23.Rxc3 Bxc5 24.dxc5 Rxc5 25.Rxc4 Rd5 26.Qc1 g6 27.Rd1 a5 28.Rxd5 Nxd5 29.Rc5 Nb4 30.a4 Nd3 31.Bxd3, 1/2-1/2.
Aside from 2…e6 and 2…Bf5, black’s also done fine with 2…Nf6, 2…c5, 2…c6, and 2…g6.
This would make one believe that White is heading for a Colle after all, but it turns out that he doesn’t know what’s going on and is just getting his stuff out without any real plan/setup in mind.
More popular moves (both going for the reversed Stonewall Dutch) are 4.f4 or 4.Nbd2 with a later f2-f4 to follow.
Mr. Boyle: “I decided to change the move order so that I could take on e5 if he made an early jump.”
Most popular is 4…c5 when White usually replies with 5.c3 (a pure Colle) and 5.b3. Of course, your 4…Nbd7 is also a very good choice.
Playable, and you’re still sticking to a setup that you’re comfortable with (which is wise).
Wow! Yes, I know … why two question marks? 6.Bd2 doesn’t give anything away, and it develops a piece. So why all the hate? The answer to such queries is that chess isn’t about randomly developing one’s pieces, but rather it’s about developing one’s pieces to squares where they have a future and, ideally, are working in harmony with the other bits. If you look at the Bishop on d2, one is left wondering what it’s doing there. And once you notice that they key squares in this position are e5 and e4, we would be within our rights to ask how 6.Bd2 is fighting for either of those points.
With e4 and e5 in mind, it should be apparent that far more logical moves are 6.Nbd2 (eyeing e4) and 6.b3 followed by Bb2, when white’s dark-squared Bishop is working with the d4-pawn and f3-Knight to create a grip on e5. Either of those moves make sense, but 6.Bd2 makes no sense at all.
Arrggh! It burns! This awful move suffers from the same problems as 6.Bd2 – it brings out a piece, but doesn’t take into account any of the position’s needs. An experienced player would understand that the position is closed (which brings up the conundrum, how do I get my Rooks into the game?), and that the Knight on c3 isn’t putting any real pressure on d5, and isn’t intending to leap to b5 (it could be chased back by …a6). Worst of all, it’s blocking the c-pawn – note that if the c-pawn was brought to c4 first, the Knight would, only then, go to c3 where it joins with the c-pawn into pressuring d5. On top of that, Rc1 at some point places the Rook on a half open file.
Mr. Boyle: “This …c5 break may be premature; I am told constantly to develop my pieces and castle before making a break. My concern, though, was being able to move the pawn to c4 if he continued: 7...Be7 8.Bb5 0-0 9.Ne5. I was fearful of being cramped by his pieces, so I moved now.”
Of course, a move like 7…Be7 followed by …0-0 would have been fine, but there’s nothing wrong with your desire to gain space with the aggressive 7…c5. It’s impossible to argue with a move if it strives to make gains (be it development, space, etc.).
On the other hand, your desire to play …c5-c4 isn’t so clear-cut. Though that push does gain even more space on the queenside, it also takes all the pressure off of d4. Sometimes …c5-c4 is good, but never think the …c5-c4 push is always a wise thing to do!
Mr. Boyle: “Dislodging the bishop.”
Okay, is this good or bad or something in between? The simple way to play was 8…Be7 9.f4 0-0 with an excellent position for Black since a well-timed …Ne4 will snuff out all potential White play on the kingside. For example: 8…Be7 9.f4 0-0 10.Qf3 cxd4 11.exd4 Ne4! when Black threatens to eat the d2-Bishop, but he also intends to cement his Knight on e4 by …f5. Taking on d4 doesn’t work due to 12.Nxe4?? dxe4 13.Bxe4 Nxe5 and White loses a piece and the game. This line was made possible by black’s pressure against d4, which existed when black’s c-pawn stood on c5. However, d4 is a rock now that the c-pawn is on c4.
The trouble with this move is that you’re forcing him to play f4, which he intended anyway. After 10.f4 you can’t chop on e5 with your Knight anymore since the recapture will fork your pieces (in other words, your 9…Bd6 actually takes away some of your own options). I would have preferred either 9…Be7 (which gives you the option of …Nxe5 whenever you want it), or the immediate 9…Nxe5 10.dxe5 Nd7 11.f4 Be7 with equality.
Mr. Boyle: “This stonewall formation keeps a solid grip on e5, while creating a hole on e4. The f4 advance also allows a rook lift by Rf1-Rf3-Rh3 and easy transfer of white’s pieces to the kingside. My pieces can’t get to the kingside easily at all, the bishop on b7 is a spectator and relocating …Nd7-Nf8-Ng6 looks very slow.”
White’s kingside chances here are overblown since his light-squared Bishop is no longer staring at the black King and his dark-squared Bishop is a tall-pawn.
Mr. Boyle: “Preventing an intrusion on b5.”
This is a good move, but its point isn’t to stop Nb5, but rather to prepare …b6-b5 steamrolling the queenside and preparing to give c4 some support.
Mr. Boyle: “I suppose he was preparing to push the b-pawn, but I felt that this move gave me back a very useful tempo.”
Much too slow. He should have tried 11.b3 b5 12.bxc4 bxc4 13.Rb1.
Mr. Boyle: “I plan to relocate my knight to e4 so …Rc8 is necessary to prepare it, otherwise …Ne4 now loses a pawn to 12.Nxe4 dxe4 13.Bxc4.”
Actually your intended …Ne4 only works if White moves his light-squared Bishop away from its stare-down at c4 (which White did on the very next move). Instead, 11…b5 gains more queenside space and makes the c4-pawn untouchable. After 11…b5 White’s 12.b2-b3 idea no longer has any teeth due to 12…b4 (12…Qc7!? 13.bxc4 dxc4 is interesting) 13.Na4 c3 14.Be1 0-0 when the a4-Knight doesn’t have much of a future.
White’s meandering about without any clear plan, but he really needs to find a way to get something going (Amateurs often have a real problem injecting energy into a position. It’s quite advanced, so don’t feel bad if you find yourself in a boring, passive quagmire in many of your games.). One of his biggest problems is his rancid dark-squared Bishop. In an effort to fix this problem, White should have tried 12.e4! Bxe5 (12…Nxe4 13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Nxc4 gives White play that he didn’t have a moment ago. This position offers chances for both sides.) 13.fxe5 Nxe4 14.Nxe4 dxe4 15.Bh5! g6 (15…0-0 16.Bb4 picks up the Exchange) 16.Be2 when white’s a pawn down, but his dark-squared Bishop (due in part to the absence of black’s) has gone from zero to hero due to the weak dark-squares on the a3-f8 diagonal, and on the g5, f6, and h6 squares.
There was no hurry to do this. I would still have gone for the tightening 12…b5.
Still not grabbing his chance to add some zip to the proceedings. Instead, 13.Bxe4 is much more fun: 13…dxe4 14.Qe2 b5 15.a4 when war has broken out! Things get really complicated after 15…b4 16.Nxc4 Rxc4 17.Qxc4 bxc3 18.bxc3.
13…dxe4 14.Be2 b5 15.c3?
Mr. Boyle: “I just read Winning Chess Strategies and RAYC 4th Ed. and the thought streaming through my head at this point in the game was: Knights on the first and second rank are defenders, Knights need outposts to become world beaters! I saw e3 and (potentially) c3 as weaknesses that a knight on d5 could attack so I set about a short-term plan to make this happen.”
Mr. Boyle sees a lot of ideas that someone of his rating isn’t supposed to see! In the meantime, White is doing his very best to turn his dark-squared Bishop into a dead lump. Instead, he should have noticed the problem that his Bishop poses and gone out of his way to exchange it for black’s far superior guy on d6: 15.Qe1! (intending 16.Bb4, trading a bad piece for a good one) 15…Qe7 16.Nxd7 Qxd7 17.Bb4, =, mission accomplished!
I’m happy Black finally castled (and really happy that black’s intending to swing his Knight around to d5!), but it might have been more accurate to play 15…f6 16.Nxd7 Qxd7 17.b3 Bd5 with the better game for Black.
Still no energy. Better was 16.b3 when 16…Nb6 17.bxc4 Bxe5 (17…bxc4 18.Nxc4!) runs afoul of 18.c5! when white’s suddenly better!
Mr. Boyle: “Locking up the kingside and providing a means to relocate my pieces to that side if needed.”
There wasn’t any need for this (in fact, it takes away the potentially annoying …f7-f6 kick). Instead, 16…Nb6! continued black’s plan (getting a Knight to d5) and avoided any counterplay: 17.b3 f6 18.bxc4 fxe5 19.c5 Nd5! and the threat of …Nxe3 refutes white’s play.
White is still playing to the tune of a funeral dirge – ponderous, dull, lacking in any energy or ideas whatsoever, depressing. However, please keep in mind that this is quite normal for 1200 players. We all go through this stage (I certainly did), and only liven things up due to painful experience. Instead, 17.b3 was still the way to go.
Mr. Boyle: “Making c3 the big weakness I had hoped for when I began my plan.”
A serious mistake after which Black begins to roll over his planless opponent.
Mr. Boyle: "A happy square for my knights. Next he would like to find a way to d3 but I didn’t see a way to make that happen in the near term. Instead, I decided to play where my pieces were which is the Queenside.”
An excellent move that you’ve been preparing for quite some time. The immediate 18…cxb3 was also very strong.
19.Qd2 cxb3 20.Rxb3 Qa5
Mr. Boyle: “I thought for 20 minutes on this move, which precipitated the ensuing arms build up on the c3-square.”
Mr. Boyle: “I spent a long time calculating this as well. I was initially concerned that Be1 would take the teeth out of my attack, but I figured at a minimum I could move the pawn to b4 and keep b4 covered by my dark squared bishop. Unfortunately, this would open up the c4-square for white’s knight, hitting my queen and dark squared bishop.”
This is an absolutely brilliant combination! Even a strong master would be extremely proud of it. However, if you made an error in your calculations, you might turn a strategically winning game into something else. Thus, those that didn’t have that kind of tactical genius should stick to the positional script via 21...Nb6 22.Rbb1 Bd5 23.Bh4 Rc7 24.Rc2 Rfc8 25.Be1 Bxe5 26.dxe5 Bc4 27.Qd6 Rd7 28.Qb4 Qxb4 29.cxb4 Bxe2 30.Rxe2 Rd3 31.Kf2 Kf7 and White won’t survive.
Black’s Rooks own both the c- and d-files, his Knight will rule the universe on d5, white’s bishop is a horrible, white’s Rooks are passive, and White has no targets to attack and no plan other than to hold on for dear life and hope for a miracle.
I should add that even grandmasters can overlook simple things, so it’s by no means trivial to enter a tactical situation if you have him over a spit by safe positional moves. Here’s a case in point:
From the game Radjabov - Navara, Wijk aan Zee 2012. Black’s in terrible trouble, and 1…Rd2 would be the normal way to resist (if White chops on a5, Black would move his Knight and then starting shoving his d-pawn down the board, followed by crossing his fingers and hoping for the best). However, Navara saw a cool tactical solution that would solve most of his problems. So …
1…Nc7 2.Rxc7 d5 (now the Bishop can’t move due to the pin along the c-file) 3.Rd1! (Creating another pin theme along the d-file! Naturally, White wanted more than 3.Re2 Rc1+ 4.Kf2 a4 5.bxa4 dxc4) 3…Re8 (Black’s point! Now 4.Rxd5?? allows 4…Re1+ 5.Bf1 Rxc7 when the worm has turned. Has Black managed to save himself after 3…Re8?) 4.Bb5! Arrgghh! A double attack that turns the c-file pin against Black. Now 4…Rxc7 5.Bxe8 leaves White a piece up, so Black was forced to resign on the spot!
Mr. Boyle: Here he must have been concerned about …Nxe2+, where recapturing with his Queen leaves Rc1 hanging. But Kf1 was not the way to go.
Total supplication. White needed to test his opponent by 22.Rcxc3 Bb4 23.Rxb4 Qxb4 24.Be1 (24.Rc2 Qb1+ 25.Bd1 Rxc2 26.Qxc2 Qxc2 27.Bxc2 Rc8 28.Bb3 Rc1+ 29.Kf2 Bd5 and white’s pieces are spectators while black’s lone Rook will wreck havoc on the queenside.) 24...Qxc3 25.Qxc3 Rxc3 26.Bxc3 Rc8 27.Be1 Rc2 28.Kf1 Rxa2 and the Rook and two queenside pawns beat white’s two minor pieces.
The fact that black’s point was that he’d end up with a winning endgame is stunning. Bravo!
A move like 22.Kf1 should make you look for more. Simply 22…Qxa2 was the way to go, when 23.Rb2 Qa3 is an easy win.
Both players missed a miracle:
23...Nxe2 24.Rxc8 Nxg3+
Mr. Boyle: “Taking the bishop with check before recapturing Rc8.”
25.hxg3 Rxc8 26.Kg1
Mr. Boyle: “Blunder on my part. 26.Kg1 Qe1+ 27.Kh2 Rc1 is winning because anything other than 28.Qxc1 allows a mate on h1.”
The game would have ended quickly after 26...Qe1+ 27.Kh2 Rc1 28.g4 Qh4 mate, or 26...Bxe5 27.fxe5 Bxb3 28.Qxb3 Qe1+ 29.Kh2 Kf7. There’s actually a profound lesson to be had in this kind of overwhelming position: when you feel that there has to be a death blow, and if you have plenty of time on your clock, don’t move until you find the very best way to milk the position for everything it’s worth. Often you’ll find an instant win (26…Qe1+ 27.Kh2 Rc1), while on other occasions you’ll settle for the complete elimination of any counterplay (26…Bxe5).
Magnus Carlsen, after getting a winning position against Aronian, had this to say after the game: “I was completely winning of course and I tried to find the most accurate and a great way to win and evidently I didn’t.” All good players stop the presses and look for the most crushing win when they feel it’s there. They won’t always find it, but they still put in the effort (Carlsen went on to win anyway).
Mr. Boyle’s 26…Bxb3 was hardly a blunder since the position is a dead win in any case. However, the longer you let a badly wounded opponent live, the chances grow that he’ll eventually find a way to bite you.
Mr. Boyle: “Threatening to fork my rook and my king.”
Black’s a whole Rook up so this should be over. But … the unimaginable soon occurs.
27...Re8 28.Qc2 Bxe5
Mr. Boyle: “The thought going through my head was ‘stop your opponent's counterplay,’ so I took the knight.”
Nothing wrong with that, but I would have preferred 28...Qc7 29.Qb3 Bxe5 30.fxe5 Qc4 when White really should resign.
Mr. Boyle: “I saw this as an opportunity to grab the pawn on e3, when maybe I should have listening to the part of me saying ‘Regroup your pieces after gaining a material advantage.’”
Yes, you should have heeded that rule! One super-safe win was 29…Qb6 followed by …h6, …Kh7, …Qb7, …Rc8, etc. White wouldn’t have had any answer to this “tidying up” plan.
Your Queen has abandoned her Rook and King for the trifling reward of a pawn. It’s like being a billionaire and abandoning your family for five bucks. Of course, it’s still completely hopeless for White.
Mr. Boyle: “Threatening mate in 1! He’s still dangerous.”
31...Kf7 32.d5 Qh6+ 33.Kg1 exd5
Mr. Boyle: “Hoping to exchange Queens of course.”
Mr. Boyle: “Oh no. …Kg6 drops the rook with check, …Kg8 loses. But I didn’t realize that …Kf8 is winning. 34.Qd7+ Kf8 35.Qxf5+ Kg8! when there are no more checks.”
Chess is all about solving one little (or big) problem after another. Here you’re in check, and you want to end the checks (after which your opponent will resign). To make sure you do this in the right manner, take as much time as you need to solve the position. For example, if you have an hour here, use up 55 minutes or whatever is necessary to master everything about this position.
It’s mind-blowing, but the game’s now a draw! Black had two ways to win (one silly and one obvious and easy):
* 34...Kg6 (ridiculously giving up the Rook with check, but it gets the job done) 35.Qxe8+ Kg5 36.Qe7+ (36.e6 Kg4 37.e7 Qe3+ 38.Kh2 Qxg3+ 39.Kh1 Qe5 40.Qc6 Kg3 41.Qc1 Qxe7 and, with 5 extra pawns for Black, the win is rather easy.) 36...Kg4 37.Qh4+ Qxh4 38.gxh4 Kh5 39.e6 Kg6.
* 34...Kf8 (if you had refused to move until you found the way to win, you would have played 34…Kf8) 35.Qxf5+ and now both 35...Kg8 and 35...Ke7 force resignation.
35.Qxf5+, 1/2-1/2. Amazing. Mr. Boyle, you had all the positional ideas (and many of your ideas were hundreds of points above your rating), and you even came up with a brilliant tactical concept. If you were low on time at the end, I can understand the drawing gift to your opponent (though if you were low on time, you should keep your pieces united and avoid any nonsense). But if you had plenty of time, why didn’t you use it? The final lesson: You can’t take any extra time home with you, so you might as well use your time so that you can ice the game. As you yourself said at the beginning of this article: “Just do the work!”
~ Lessons From This Game ~
* When you think you have a dead win, spend lots of time to find it.
* If no immediate win can be found (in a clearly winning position), go out of your way to avoid any possible counterplay.
* If a simple positional sequence should give you a huge advantage, entering a complex tactical minefield is risky since you can go from win to loss if you made the slightest miscalculation.
* Chess is all about solving one little (or big) problem after another. If you have the time, don’t move until you solve it!
* Chess isn’t about randomly developing one’s pieces, but rather it’s about developing one’s pieces to squares where they have a future and, ideally, are working in harmony with the other bits.
* Amateurs often have a real problem injecting energy into a position. Remember, it’s your responsibility to inject all of your pieces with energy. If you’re just shuffling them about, wake up and do your best to add some zip to the game.