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How to Learn from a Loss

  • #1

    The great thing about being an amateur chess player is that you are never in short supply of losses to learn from.  We are all told to go over these losses and learn from them.  But what is the best way to do this?  In my humble amateur opinion, these losses should be gone over like a large roast in a smoker oven – slow and steady until you’ve steamed out all the flaws.  In short, you don’t know what you don’t know, so, short of having a chess coach to point out these flaws, you must look at each position and try to tease out the imperfections.  Where possible, you should break down these positions to a fundamental level to make them easier to digest.

    Here's a fresh loss from this week’s chess games.Having gone over this game, I know that there are flaws in every phase of the game.

    Opening Play:

    Black is the first to go astray with 4…..Nxd4.  I knew at the time that this was an advantage for white but my handling of it was very clumsy as the next series of moves will show.


    When black lunges forward with e5 and forces the white Queen to move, the correct placement of the Queen is on d2 where it can guard the vulnerable f2 square and keep an eye on the center.  It discourages a knight invasion and keeps the white kingside pawns cued up for a pawn storm and space advantage.

    So let’s devise a better plan for white to take advantage of the weak black move Nxd4.


    This line takes immediate advantage of the hole on d5 and freezes the weak d6 pawn which is backwards.  Note that white delays castling to get the perfect central setup.He removed the f6 Knight, the best defender of the d5 square before he occupies it.

    Let’s review some positional basics.  The reason that the d5 square has developed into a hole is that there are no pawns to protect this square.  The black e-pawn has advanced and the c-pawn was KIA.  If black takes on d5 with say Bxd5, white can reload the position with another piece.  What you don’t want to play is exd5 when you cured all of black’s ills: white can no longer place a piece on d5 and you’ve eliminated the backward pawn on d6.  The pawn on d6 is backward because there are no pawns to protect it (a pawn on c7 is the perfect protection for d6 but it was slain in the opening) AND the pawn is on a half open file.  Minor pieces in the hole on d5 are very strong both because they are advanced, well protected and have great scope on that square.  When and if the minor pieces are traded off, you can reload the piece with a major piece and torture the weak d6 pawn by loaded up on it.  It is a good plan to have at least one other piece to reload the position, starting with your cheapest piece.

    OK, let’s return to the original game where white has been distracted from his goals and has lost the initiative.  Note how scattered my play has become.  Am I pursuing my central play or a kingside attack?


    Let's pause here, sum up the game and talk about strategies for both sides.  Weak tactical play by white has left his position in tatters. Short of a cheap tactical shot, winning is out the question for white. He must play for the draw. To do this, he must activate his rook, relieve his king from the 1st rank jail and keep the material advantages to a minimum. Black should use his 7th rank Rook to torture the loose pawns and pick them up where he can and then drive his extra pawn(s) forward to Queen them.

    Black advantages:

    • much stronger pawn structure
    • 1 pawn material advantage
    • 7th rank Rook which both tortures the loose pawns and restrains the white king to the 1st rank.
    • white's rook is passively placed
    • white's king is passively placed.

    White advantage (yes, he has them!)

    • black has a weak back rank
    • white's pawn structure is so scattered that it will take several moves for black to capture. Cool
    • black's 7th rank is also vulnerable to attack
    • black's extra pawn is doubled

    Here's the rest of the game. Can white draw this game?


    So let's end this analysis with the proper way to draw this position starting with the last good white move.



















    If black exchanges the rooks, the white king can move in front of the black pawn and that position is also drawn.

    To sum up:

    • when you suffer a loss, try to analyze the game slowly, sometimes over several days.
    • try to analyze the game down to the basics.
    • try to learn something from each phase of the game.

    Good luck and see you on the chess board!

  • #2

    I didn't analize all the boards, in that last puzzle I think Black win if 6... Kg3

  • #3

    Paul, you're a saint for taking the time to go over this.  Really appreciate it.  These are really easy tactics and I missed them twice - once in the game and once in analysis!  Wow!  I think the reason that I missed them is because I simply wasn't looking hard enough for them.  Your advice to go over games and look for tactics is spot on.  Please stay in touch.  You've got the knack for teaching lower rated players. 

  • #4
    paulgottlieb wrote:

    I think you missed a simple way to get the advantage with 7.Qxd6. Now the fork on f2 is no threat at all, and after 7...Qxd6 8.Rxd6 Nxf2 9.Rf1 White is way ahead in development and has more active pieces. As a bonus, there's a cheap shot! the natural looking 9...Ng4 runs into 10.Rxf7 and Black can't play 10...Rxf7 11.Rd8# It's important to go over your games from a strategic point of view, but it's also a good idea to review your tactics. Once you see a move like 10.Rxf7 you'll see it faster the next time

    Black  also let himself get distracted. There is no target more valuable than White's King, so 21...Qd2 seems more to the point. 

    Your position at the end is very unpleasant. On the other hand, you're not playing Akiba Rubinstein, so maybe you should have made him demonstrate the win. There's a lot to be learned defending a terrible position, but only if you're really willing work at it. I don't really blame you for tossing in the towel.

    Your observations about strategy seem right on, but you should also go back and take a look at the position that would have arisen after 9.Rf1 Ng4? and the position that did arise after 23...Rb6 when your b-pawn was pinned. These are both tactical patterns worth remembering

    You're close, but that tactic isn't quite true. After 7.Qxd6, Black has 7...Qg5+ which allows solidification of black's position. While there is no way to win back the pawn after 8.Qd2 (Any other move allows the Knight fork, which after analysis stops all threats of back rank mate.) Black will have a reasonable position into the middlegame, while no master could hold it, at this level, it can easily turn on white.

  • #5

    htdavidht is correct!!  The puzzle was flawed and 6....Kg6 would have won that puzzle.  I've corrected the puzzle (computer checked this time) and resubmitted.


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