Lessons From My 2nd Tournament Game

Last week, I wrote about deciding to analyze my tournament games from over thirty years ago for my own benefit as well as for valuable teaching material. I started off with my first tournament game, from 1980, as an unrated 10-year-old boy, which I lost without much of a fight.

This week, I bring a much more interesting game, my second tournament game that took place probably an hour or two after my first one. This game, played against someone rated around USCF 1400, I ended up winning, but as is typical in games of this level, both sides made serious errors. The nature of these errors is instructive.

Themes to pay attention to

As is typical in weaker amateurs’ games, we were out of opening “book” theory at move 5 in a Petroff Defense, when my opponent played a poor and strange Queen move. I reacted not terribly, but not best either. If I were coaching my younger self now, I would emphasize that general principles apply when facing strange moves in the opening. Here, just because my opponent moved his Queen doesn’t mean that I should also move my Queen!

Quick piece trades into an ending; interesting imbalance of my having the Bishop pair

Typical of games at this level, a lot of piece trades happened, just because they could. Stronger players would evaluate whether it is advantageous to offer a particular trade or to accept one. The trade in this game at move 16 determined the course of the rest of the game: my opponent gave up a Bishop for my Knight, resulting in a permanent imbalance whose significance was not appreciated by either of us, as our endgame shows.

All the trades resulted in an endgame with two Bishops vs. Bishop and Knight, and symmetrical Petroff Pawn structures. I missed the win of a light-squared Pawn on the Queen side: a stronger player would have immediately spotted the possibility, because of Black missing a light-squared Bishop while the Knight was out of play on the other side of the board. When I finally did see the win, I inexplicably did not take the free Pawn. I don’t remember what I was thinking 34 years ago, but perhaps I missed an elementary recapture with check?

Bishop versus Knight, symmetrical Pawns

At move 30, my opponent forced the trade of his remaining Bishop, leaving us with a Bishop versus Knight endgame. This is when things got strange. Neither of us knew what we were doing. We didn’t have clear plans, clear points of attack or defense. We played somewhat randomly. I made the first terrible moves, pushing a Pawn so far, without any support of my King, that it was doomed. Miraculously, my opponent never figured out how to win that Pawn. Apparently, neither of us had been taught that an active King is the most important piece in a minor piece and Pawn ending.

At move 35, an interesting thing happened: my opponent tried to trick me into trading my Bishop for his Knight, which, because of his more active King and position, would have led to a won King and Pawn ending. Critically, in my chess education I had learned the basics of standard King and Pawn endings, so I did not fall into the trap.

At move 44, I made a horrific “active” Pawn push to attack Black’s Knight, but this should have led easily to losing a Pawn by force, if the Knight simply danced around attacking all the Pawns in sight until one fell. Everyone should know basic examples of the special power of the Knight in an ending, especially against a Bishop that can only protect Pawns of one square color!

It turns out that at move 46, I horrifically gave up a Pawn voluntarily anyway. I can deduce what must have happened. There was a Knight check fork after which I could have taken the Knight with my Bishop, leading to a drawn King and Pawn ending, but I must have still felt (from the earlier trick attempt) that any King and Pawn ending was still lost for me. I didn’t evaluate the position as it was, but only thought about a past “similar” position that was in fact critically different. I will confess that even at my much higher level of chess today, I still sometimes fall into the trap of making assumptions based on past positions.

After winning the Pawn, the ending should have been an easy win for Black, but he did not know what to do with his King and Knight, and actually ended up putting his Knight on the rim where it is dim! This enabled me to regain the lost Pawn.

At move 60, my opponent made a random Knight move that I could have punished by invading the King side with my King and mopping up Pawns and Queening. But I did not realize that the situation had changed and I was winning; I did not use my King. I had been defending for 25 moves, basically, since mistakenly advancing my b-Pawn and making it a target. I started retreating again to “defend” my Queen side, rather than win on the King side.

Winning King and Pawn ending

Just as I started retreating, my opponent made a horrific blunder at move 62, moving his Knight such that I could skewer it with a check and trade into an obviously won King and Pawn ending. Apparently, he fell into the mental trap just mentioned earlier of thinking that because at one point, King and Pawn endings were winning for him, they must always be winning for him.

The rest of the game was easy, but I am proud that I cleaned up efficiently. One important part of it was knowing how to win a Queen versus Pawn ending by forcing the defending King to block the Pawn’s Queening square, gaining time. Finally I activated my King in the game! And I won without resorting to my other passed Pawn, just using my Queen and King.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen

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About Franklin Chen

Franklin Chen is a United States Chess Federation National Master. Outside his work as a software developer, he also teaches chess and is a member of the Pittsburgh Chess Club in Pennsylvania, USA. He began playing in chess tournaments at age 10 when his father started playing in them himself but retired after five years, taking two decades off until returning to chess as an adult at age 35 in order to continue improving where he left off. He won his first adult chess tournaments including the 2006 PA State Game/29 and Action Chess Championships, and finally achieved the US National Master title at age 45. He is dedicated to the process of continual improvement, and is fascinated by the practical psychology and philosophy of human competition and personal self-mastery. Franklin has a blog about software development, The Conscientious Programmer and a personal blog where he writes about everything else, including his recent journey as an adult improver in playing music.