Hou Yifan's five-move loss in the last round of Gibraltar was a protest, not a real game, but it got me curious about very short games lost by elite GMs (I'm arbitrarily defining that as GMs rated at or over 2600) at a classical time control. Some of my surprising (and entertaining and instructive) findings can be found here.
Entries in blunders (14)
Easy come, easy go. Peter Svidler got a free half point in game two after Sergey Karjakin's 37.Rb5?? (compounded by 38.Rd5??), and today Svidler returned the favor with interest, losing a winning position and then a drawn position after his own back-to-back blunders. As with Karjakin's errors yesterday the mistakes were unforced and occurred with the victim having plenty of time left on the clock. Fatigue has set in, and nerves are apparently getting the best of the players as well.
In the game, Svidler chose an unusual approach for a situation where a draw would be good enough to finish the match. If he wanted to go for a solid sideline against the Sicilian, 3.Bb5+ would have sufficed. If he wanted principled chess, then 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 would have made sense, especially since Black would have had to avoid many, many lines where Black's only way to avoid a loss or a seriously worse position is to allow a forced draw. Instead, Svidler chose option #3, 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4, a line that promises White neither an advantage nor an especially safe position.
That's not to say that Svidler was worse after the move either. Both sides played very well, and Karjakin's efforts to create complications didn't extract any errors from Svidler. Karjakin then had to overpress, as normal moves would result in an easy draw for his opponent, but after overpressing he was lost. The critical moment started after Karjakin's 27...exd5, which was objectively bad but the only way to keep any drama in the position. Svidler had 13 minutes left on the clock, and after just 30 seconds or so played the terrible 28.Rxf2?? Instead, 28.Qd2 would have forced Black to sac a piece and hope to scramble for a draw after 28...Nxh3+ 29.gxh3, whlie 28.Qc3 would have won the game with ease.
After 28.Rxf2 Svidler sprung up from the board, then rushed back to see 28...Qh4! He turned red, buried his face in his hands, and shook his head repeatedly. In short, he did everything...except take his time and regain his composure. Instead, after less than a minute and a half in total he played 29.Qd2??, losing almost trivially. Had he managed to regain his bearings he would have played the obvious 29.Qxe8, when after 29...Qxf2+ 30.Kh2 Qxb6 (or 30...Rxb6) Black has practical chances but a draw is the likeliest (and objectively correct) result.
But he instead played 29.Qd2?? and again shot up like a jackrabbit. After a few seconds, probably spent quadruple checking to make sure that it really was his lucky day and he wasn't missing anything, Karjakin played 29...Rxf2. Svidler hopped back on stage and rushed to the board, played 30.Qc3+, and hopped back up and away. A few seconds later Karjakin responded with the blindingly obvious 30...d4, and Svidler looked up at the projected demo board on the screen in absolute horror, came back to the board and resigned after a few seconds. Svidler's bouncing up and down - his "ants in his pants", as the old-timers would say - looked fairly ridiculous under the circumstances, and it's hard to believe that he would have blown the game the way he did had he just stayed at the board and worked his way through the initial shock of seeing 28...Qh4.
But let's be fair: who among us hasn't blown a critical game at some point in his life, or lost a game from a winning position? Been there, done that, and so has pretty much everyone else. And before we feel too bad for Svidler, we should remember that he's still in good shape, only needing a draw in game 4 tomorrow to win the match and the World Cup title. And no matter what, he (and Karjakin) are headed for the Candidates' tournament next year, and that's the big prize.
Here is today's game, with my notes.
We've been examining a variety of chess blunders lately, and will continue to do so in this post. The primary focus has been on blunders that transcend the purely chess aspect, and reflecting on my experience in the game I've thought of three more examples of quite different sorts.
Let's start with the most painful example, from a local g/10 I lost in 2011. The following is an approximation of the position:
I'm White and on move, and while winning would be difficult with less than a minute on my clock (likewise for my opponent) and without an increment, it's clear that I shouldn't lose it. This came at the end of a forcing sequence, and my intention a few moves back was to play either 1.Bd6 or 1.Bb6 - I can't remember now - and it still was upon reaching the position. So I reached out, grasped the bishop, and played...1.Bd4?? My opponent was understandably stunned and suspicious, but after a few seconds of checking and double-checking he took the rook and managed to win before running out of time. I've had some painful losses in my life, but this one, in an otherwise mostly meaningless game, was the only one that literally gave me nightmares!
What was the cause? Maybe the importance of centralization and the aesthetics of putting a bishop on a great square like d4 worked like a sort of muscle memory? Beats me, but it's a horrible feeling when you don't understand why you did something.
The second case is one that faithful comment-readers may have wondered about. Neal Bonrud regularly comments to this blog, but back in 1999 we played in a small tournament in Las Vegas. Things were going well for me on the white side of a French, and this was the position after 29 moves; the first time control was at move 30, and I had plenty of time to make a decision - something like seven minutes.
What should I do? I recall considering 30.Rce3, 30.a4, 30.h5 and probably other moves as well. Can White break through (e.g. with h5 or maybe at some point c4 or even f5)? If not, should he aim to keep squeezing? Open a second front? Find some generic improving move? Finding the perfect move isn't so important here, but I wanted to find the best plan, find the right idea. I kept looking, trying this and then that; always comfortable with my position but unsure of how to convert the advantage into a win. Of course I was keeping an eye on the clock, but there was still enough time left such that I didn't need to make a "practical" decision yet; genuine thought was still possible. So I looked (3 minutes left), looked (2 minutes left), looked (a minute or so left)...and kept looking. At some point I came to a moment of internal resolution and made a decision. I calmly made my move and pressed the clock, and then saw with a mixture of horror and relief that I had done so with one second left. Somehow my focus had grown so deep that I forgot about the clock, and it was just good fortune, sheer dumb luck, that I happened to make the move in time. I'm pretty sure the blood drained from my face for a few seconds after seeing the clock!
The third instance is just amusing, to be filed under "just deserts". I was a piece up in some meaningless, probably unrated online blitz game around 15 years ago, and with two bishops vs. one with no pawn weaknesses and plenty of time on the clock I was a little annoyed that my opponent was playing on. (This is an attitude I've by and large overcome - one simply must in order to play online without going crazy!) The position was something like this:
Here, I uncorked the ridiculous 1.Ke3??, allowing 1...c5 regaining the piece. Argh! Shame on me for switching off mentally, but wait! The game continued 2.Bxc5 bxc5 3.Bd1 Be5 4.Bb3 (something like this - I'm just reconstructing the idea)
and now my opponent played the incredible 4...Kd6?? Of course I responded with 5.f4! and laughed myself silly as he disconnected. Most people learn better from their own mistakes than those of others, but this is carrying things a bit too far!
In the next post, we'll look at another interesting error that likewise transcends the realm of pure chess, but is it a blunder or other sort of mental malfunction? Or is it just the cost of doing business? Stay tuned...
In the e-periodical Chess Today, GM Alex Baburin occasionally devotes an issue to showing recent blunders. Sometimes the blunders are instructive, but on other occasions I suspect the purpose is humor, identification and even a bit of schadenfreude. The following instance, from issue 4640, seems to belong in a category of its own:
Zakhartsov (2560) - Westerberg (2410), Czech Open (rapid) 2013, position after 26.Nc3-a4.
As you might guess from the pawn structure, the position arose from a Benko Gambit. Black is a pawn in arrears, but maintains enough control of the queenside that it's not yet merely a matter of technique. At any rate, Black has two good options here. The conventional option is 26...Qxd2 27.Rxd2 Bxb2 28.Rxd2, and the second is truly fantastic: 26...Qxa4 (this isn't so amazing in and of itself, as 27.bxa4 Rxb2 is obviously winning for Black) 27.Bxf6 and now the spectacular 27...Nc4. There's practically no chance of Black finding the second option, let alone considering it seriously, especially in a rapid game, so let's focus on the first. This was almost surely Black's intention, and then he played 26...Bxb2??
A remarkable blunder, but Baburin offers a plausible explanation. He thinks that Black intended to trade queens first and then take on b2, but somehow skipped a step in the translation from intention to action. (My words, not his.) Interestingly, Baburin claims that this is a common phenomenon.
I believe this has happened to me once or twice, but only in blitz games, and I think it almost happened to me on several other occasions - maybe even in a tournament setting. I also have a somewhat dim recollection of having been a recipient of such errors too. So the experience is a familiar one, but "common" may be overly generous if taken to mean something like "relatively frequent". What about you? Have you experienced this sort of error yourself, either as donor or recipient?
An odd world championship match just grew odder still. After 19 years without a win in classical chess against Viswanathan Anand, Boris Gelfand's patient, solid strategy paid off in game 7. He won and took the lead over the champion, 4-3, with just five games to go. At this point he could expect Anand to play more aggressively and to start throwing the kitchen sink at him, so it would have made sense to keep solid, weather the storm and maybe even give Anand the chance to overextend.
So what happened? Just the opposite. Perhaps dizzy from success, Gelfand played uncharacteristically risky chess, like a man who had completely lost his sense of danger. The game grew wild in a hurry, and then Gelfand badly miscalculated a short sequence and lost immediately. What's especially odd is that if Gelfand's normal sense of danger had been present, he would have been more suspicious - surely Anand wouldn't overlook something so simple, would he? He didn't.
The game was thus a disaster, but objectively Gelfand is still in reasonable shape in the match. It's tied at 4-4, with four games to go, and he can head into the rest day with the encouraging awareness that he can beat Anand. For Anand, today's game was an obvious positive, so if he can neutralize Gelfand's opening in game 9 he can look forward to the rest of the match with confidence.
My back allowing, subscribers can look forward to my annotations and video and later this evening.
Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush were tied at the end of the U.S. Women's Championship round-robin, so today they played a tiebreaker. It would go to an Armageddon game if necessary, but first they played a pair of G/25 (plus 5 second increments per move) rapid games. In the first, Zatonskih got nothing with White, pressed anyway, and lost. In the rematch, however, she played very well and obtained a winning attack. To break the attack, Krush offered an exchange, but Zatonskih went for more. Krush's reply was a blunder, and with a simple two-mover her opponent would win a rook, equalize the scores, and go on to the Armageddon game.
Instead, after thinking for three minutes, Zatonskih missed it. By this point Krush had seen it and could be seen exhaling in relief, though even after this her position was awful. Zatonskih didn't handle the technical task to perfection, but was slowly but surely getting the job done. And then...she simply hung a rook. Maybe it was the sort of OTB equivalent of "pre-move": she expected that Krush was going to do something else, and simply carried out her intended move anyway, not noticing before reflexively executing what was now a blunder.
A horrific reminder, in case anyone needed it, that errare humanum est.
With the exception of a single draw between two closely rated opponents, the higher-rated player won every game in the first round of the 2012 U.S. Championship.
Top seed Hikaru Nakamura blew the dust off his opening books, trotting out the hoary Evans Gambit against Robert Hess. In return, Hess sent the game even further into obscurity by employing the Stone-Ware Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bd6!?). It looks disgusting, but has been tried by some elite players including Alexander Grischuk. Further, the ...Bd6 concept is known from other openings as well, including the Spanish Four Knights.
Anyway, Nakamura had enough for the pawn, which Hess soon returned, and had been gradually increasing his advantage when he played 26.Bd5. Hess was a pawn down but maybe not yet lost when he came up with the tactically flawed plan of 26...Qb6, aiming to regain the pawn with ...Qb1+ and ...Qxa2. The good news is that Hess did regain the pawn, the bad news is that it got him mated.
I have to admit that I find Gata Kamsky's chess inscrutable. Now, in saying that I'm not immodestly claiming to understand everything that goes on in the games of other top players; of course not. But generally speaking, I've got a pretty good sense of what they're doing - not an infallible sense, and understanding x doesn't mean that one can successfully do x, either. Maybe I can't hit their high notes and my voice isn't as rich and powerful, but I can carry the melody. With Kamsky's chess, I'm often tone-deaf!
That isn't meant as an insult in any way; it's just a confession. I remember a match I played some years ago with a player roughly my rating. After the match, I admitted to my opponent that I couldn't guess any of his moves (at least it seemed that way); to my surprise, he told me the reverse: he guessed all (or at least almost all) of mine! The oddity of the story is that I won the match by a convincing margin and dominated most of the games. (Overall though, we were very close in strength; if I was better, it wasn't by much.) So to sum up: generally understanding what a player is up to doesn't mean that one can play as well as that person, and not generally understanding that player doesn't automatically indicate that the one lacking understanding is weaker.
The reason for that story, aside from a desire to express some thoughts, was to say that I found the first part of Kamsky's win over Alejandro Ramirez baffling. It looked like he met Ramirez's Kan Sicilian in a very routine and accommodating way, not doing anything to make Black's life difficult. He built up slowly, allowed Black to achieve ...b5, retreated pieces to the back rank, and took time out for prophylactic moves like 17.b3 and 20.h3. And yet after 22.Nxf4 he was comfortably better, and after 22...Qh4?! 23.Nd5 his advantage was serious. Ramirez sacrificed the exchange for a pawn, but it wasn't enough. Kamsky was grinding him down and was well on the way to victory when Ramirez blundered a piece with 38...Bf5??
In other games, Varuzhan Akobian ground down Yasser Seirawan on the white side of a Queen's Gambit Declined, Alex Lenderman won a long and complicated Russian System Gruenfeld against Ray Robson (again with White), Yuri Shulman drew a long Bogo-Indian with Gregory Kaidanov, and then there was this:
Alexander Stripunsky - Alex Onischuk:
1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6 6.g3 Nd7 7.Qe2 d4N 8.Nb1 h5 9.h4 g5 10.hxg5 Qxg5
11.d3?? and White resigned without waiting to see what would happen next.
Round 2 Pairings:
Seirawan (0) - Hess (0)
Ramirez (0) - Nakamura (1)
Robson (0) - Kamsky (1)
Onischuk (1) - Lenderman (1)
Kaidanov (1/2) - Stripunsky (0)
Akobian (1) - Shulman (1/2)
With most of the favorites through, the matches are going to be more closely contested from here on out. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of draws today, and some were quite short - apparently some players have decided to save energy and make their big push in the rapid playoffs in a couple of days.
That's not at all to say that no one tried; far from it, and the ultimate fighter today was Vassily Ivanchuk, who with Black squeezed Evgeny Alekseev for 97 moves until a blunder finally popped out and he won. Other big guns collecting the full point were Vugar Gashimov (I annotate this game), Teimour Radjabov and Alexander Morozevich. Some 2700s lost, too, including Alexei Shirov (to Vladimir Potkin - I've annotated that game), Etienne Bacrot (to Anton Filippov), and - in unbelievable fashion - Francisco Vallejo Pons, to Lazaro Bruzon. That one almost has to be seen to be believed, so that game also appears in the annotated game link.
All the Americans (and all the "honorary Americans" as well) drew their games.
Links: Official site (with excellent live video coverage) here, Wikipedia brackets here (scroll down), and the three games I annotate are here. (Real annotations, too, at one point verging on the Hübnerian. You're welcome.)
The European Rapid Championship took place in Warsaw this past weekend, and with tons of strong players there were many fine games and exciting moments. Not all the games were so impressive, however - witness this:
Tomasz Markowski (2625) - Radoslaw Wojtaszek (2726) (Round 8):
1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 c6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Qb3 dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bg4 6.Nc3 Nbd7 7.e4 Bxf3 8.gxf3 e5 9.Be3 Bd6 10.0-0-0
This line has fared pretty well for White, but Black's position is certainly playable.
This has only been played once before, by Boris Gelfand against Ruslan Ponomariov in the finals of the 2009 World Cup. Ponomariov recaptured with the bishop and eventually won a hard battle (though he lost the war, as Gelfand eventually won the match and the tournament), but Black was not in trouble at this point.
And now Wojtaszek, all 2726 rating points' worth of him, played 11...Qc7?? and resigned after 12.Qxd6. There's hope for us all...or is it that we're all hopeless, at least sometimes?
Here's another one:
(Position after 23...Bg7-h6 in Alexander Moiseenko (2670) - Artur Jussupow (2589), round 13)
White sees the threat of 24...Be3, evaluates it as no big deal, and plays 24.Rxc7. Or rather, 24.Rxc7?? White is only half right: ...Be3 isn't a big deal right now or immediately after a rook trade, but it is in fact a VERY big deal! It just needs a little setting up, that's all:
Oops. White resigned after 25.Rxf2 Rb1+, because after 26.Rf1 Be3+ - now! - drives the king into the corner and forces mate in two more moves.