Lessons From My 3rd Tournament Game: The Nature Of Endgames

I have now shown the first two tournament games of my life, from 1980: I lost the first game and won the second game. My third game, discussed here was a draw.

It was an instructive experience for me in my first tournament to experience all three possible results in the first three rounds! I believe it might have been devastating if, for example, I had lost too many games in my very first tournament. Instead, I was involved in some very long and interesting games from the start.

My opponent was rated around USCF 1500, and this shows in his play.

Common errors in 1500-level chess

Opening

In the opening, I had no idea how to play the Black side of a Ruy Lopez. Nobody had taught me the plans for White or Black. I was just winging it. I gave up the center at move 10; my opponent returned the favor by playing apparently mechanical moves that would have applied in a “standard” line, instead of more principled developing moves fitting the situation.

The first thing someone at a 1500 level can do, after mastering basic tactics, is to understand the basic principles of what to try to achieve in the middlegame after the first several opening moves. Many games at this level are decided, unfortunately, by “unorthodox” opening continuations that lead immediately to not knowing how to cope, being outside of one’s memorization. Pointlessly giving up the center for Black should have led to trouble for me, but by accident, actually kept working well for me, against 1500-level opponents, even after this game, because they did not understand what to do any more than I did, and it became almost random who would enter the middlegame with an advantage.

Middlegame

One thing I noticed while looking at my first tournament games, including this third one, was that at the level of play of myself and my opponent, we shuffled a lot of pieces around, either

  • “attacking” without enough backup, or
  • playing passive-looking retreating moves without a clear plan of reactivation.

In particular, I did not understand the importance of looking for Pawn breaks. Here, for example, c5 was crying out to be played, repeatedly. However, I did use a g4 Pawn break to achieve a lasting advantage, so I get some credit for that.

Also, I got into tactical trouble, hanging a piece in an elementary way. Luckily, my opponent got bamboozled and missed an elementary “capture Pawn with check and double attack” that would have left me completely lost, and instead allowed me a recapture with check that led to a Queen trade into an endgame favorable to me!

1500-level chess is still largely decided by big swings in evaluation resulting from missed tactics.

Endgame

The endgame was an unbalanced one, with Black having a Rook and two Pawns for two minor pieces. It favored Black because of the noticeable lead in development. My opponent as White made the elementary mistake of trading pieces in a bad endgame, rather than keeping them to maximize defensive possibilities. Trading the single remaining Rook led to a terrible Rook and two Pawns versus two Knights endgame.

However, again I did not know yet to aggressively use my Pawns, especially here the Queen side Pawn majority. There was a lot of random shuffling around of pieces, then an insidious swindle by my part when I finally realized I should attack on the Queen side. I succeeded in achieving a tactically won position against the pair of Knights, but never saw the win. After too much simplification, the result was a dead draw.

My observation about 1500-level endgame play is that players trade pieces and Pawns too readily, not realizing that there are times when a trade helps and there are times when a trade harms. As a result, many quick draws happen in actually interesting and unbalanced endgames. The 1500-level player who understands endgames can often survive terrible openings and middlegames and win in the endgame. I wish I had learned this lesson earlier in life. I now think that “working backwards”, by knowing what to aim for in the endgame, and then approaching the middlegame with a goal of reaching a good endgame, and approaching the opening with a goal of reaching a good middlegame, should be addressed by students of chess who have reached a 1500-level and are no longer just making extreme tactical blunders constantly.

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.