Among Improvers, It’s Rarely Just One Error

I want to thank Nigel for offering me a opportunity to share the point of view of a chess improver. I’m not a titled player. I’m not a chess teacher. I’m not qualified to teach. I’m a fish. A fish with aspirations to be a stronger player.

I approached Nigel by e-mail a couple of weeks ago, and then a bit of writer’s block set in. I wanted to start with a recent game and I wanted the game to illustrate some point that’s hopefully relevant to my fellow chess improvers.

I played a couple of 45m + 45s Internet games tonight. My opponents were 150-200 rating points below me. After all, when you sit and wait for a while on a 45m + 45s game, you don’t usually get the luxury of even matching. Still, at my level, the difference of 150-200 points is not all that significant. I’m quite capable of snatching defeat from the grasp of victory with an ill-timed blunder. So are my opponents, even if they are rated 100-150 points above me. I’ve removed the name of my Internet opponent. No point causing anyone embarrassment.

My opponent started out well enough. It seemed obvious to me that my opponent had at least some experience with the French Defense. I’ve been watching bits and pieces of Sergei Tiviakov’s new ChessBase video on the Tarrasch variation (just released at the end of last week) and so, of course, I wanted to practice it a bit.

I didn’t really show a mastery of the Tarrasch. I didn’t even outplay my opponent. What happened was my opponent committed a series of venial sins.

Let’s start with a discussion of time. Like most players at my level, time management is not my strongest chess skill. However . . . if you’re going to play a game with a time control of 45m + 45s, then you can/should take a reasonable time to look over the board, consider your opponents threats, formulate a plan, consider candidate moves, etc. When the game ended, my opponent had more than 45 minutes remaining. That means, my opponent’s play was faster than 45 seconds per move. True, we did not get far out of the opening, but if you step through the game, you’ll see that my threats towards the end were far from subtle. (OK, they were downright obvious, which means my opponent needed to slow WAY down.)

At move 18, when I played Nf5, I asked my opponent if we were going to exchange minor pieces. That’s what I expected. exf5 followed by Rxe7. My opponent replied, they would also win a pawn (b2) and then after a few moments replied “No” to which I replied, they might find the b2 pawn a bit hard to swallow. Instead, they played Bb4.

My opponent was intent on threatening my rook on e1 and apparently missed my rather serious kingside threats. My queen, bishops, and knight were all poised for a strong attack. Plus, a rook lift was possible. At that point, I was prepared to surrender the rook on e1! My opponent thought about his own move and realized that the b2 pawn was no free prize but clearly did not consider all of my threats.

Once committed to a plan, my opponent followed through and grabbed the rook. As I double-checked the sacrifice on g7, my opponent replied that taking the b2 pawn would give me a stronger attack. I respectfully replied that taking the rook gave me the stronger attack in my opinion. Then I added one word. “Tactics!”

I’ve tried to follow the advice of my chess coaches and the chess literature. Advice you’ll read from the teachers here and in books aimed at intermediate players. Work on tactics continuously. My opponent missed the positional threats on the kingside from playing too quickly, playing on just one part of the board, and focusing too much on their own plans. Those positional threats set up a game winning sacrifice. A forced mate in four after the greedy grab of the rook.

I say greedy, because that shows me more respect as an unknown opponent than assuming I was careless enough to just leave a rook on e1 and lose the exchange. If the pawn on b2 wasn’t free for the taking, alarm bells should have been sounding. Am I capable of such a blunder? You bet! But my opponent had more time on the clock than at the start of the game. They needed to ask themselves, what is the white player up to? Why would they sacrifice the exchange? What am I missing? What are my opponent’s threats?

This game is a cautionary tale to me. I see a combination of mistakes in judgment here that I’ve made myself. Made more than once (or twice). I’ll try not, but I’ll very likely make them again. (Maybe even this week. LOL.)

I often hear my opponents say, they made just one mistake. I’ve said it, too. Said it many times. It’s my continuing experience that my sound thrashings at the chessboard are not the result of just one bad move. That would imply my games are otherwise flawless, which they are not. As with the example below, my stinging defeats usually come from several judgment errors.


Glenn Mitchell

Glenn also has his own blog, Improving Chess Player.