Short Circuit

I guess a Short Circuit might be what happens when Nigel S gives a simul. But it’s also the reason for many of my losses. My brain short circuits: it stops working before it gets to consider the correct move, either for me or for my opponent.

Watch what happened in this recent game against Martin Smith, who blogs elsewhere on chess art, literature and history.

1. e4 c5
2. c3 d6
3. d4 Nf6
4. Bd3 Nc6
5. Nf3 e5
6. dxc5 d5
7. exd5 Qxd5
8. Qe2 e4

Martin has chosen an unusual variation, but one which scores well for Black. Bg4 now is equal but this move loses a pawn.

9. Bc4 Qxc5
10. Ng5 Ne5
11. Bb5+ Nc6
12. Nxe4 Nxe4
13. Qxe4+ Be6
14. Bxc6+

Gaining a tempo and splitting his pawns, but probably not enough reason to trade bishop for knight.

14… bxc6
15. Be3

Nothing very much wrong with this but it would have been simpler to castle. I thought it didn’t matter much whether I played this before or after castling. I got as far as noticing that he had to move his queen to maintain defence of c6. I assumed he wouldn’t want to exchange queens after Qd5 so assumed he’d play Qd6. I failed to be thorough in considering every possibility, though, and the idea of Qb5 didn’t occur to me at all. If I’d seen it I’d have castled without further thought. I guess b5 is an unusual square for a black queen early in the game.

15… Qb5
16. a4

I could have played Nd2 followed by c4 and O-O but again it hadn’t occurred to me that he could play Qa6. I thought Qb7 was his only move.

16… Qa6
17. b4 Rd8
18. f3

A slightly dangerous plan. I mistakenly thought my king would be safe on f2. The right idea was 18. Na3 followed by b5 and eventually O-O, but to play that I had to notice that 18… Qxa4 would have been well met by 19. O-O followed by Nc2.

18… Be7
19. Nd2 O-O
20. Kf2 Rfe8
21. Qc2 f5
22. Rhb1

Continuing to pursue a faulty plan. I was planning to open up the queen side and win his a-pawn but was still unaware that my king would be in danger because his pieces seemed so far away. Moving my rooks into the centre would have led to a position where Black probably has enough for the pawn but no more.

22… Bd6
23. b5 Qc8
24. Kg1 cxb5
25. axb5 f4

This is where things get interesting. We were playing 35 moves in 75 minutes (with a choice of adjournment or adjudication if the game was unfinished when time was called) and at this point we both had round about 10 minutes to reach the time control – a minute a move.

I was very surprised by this move, having expected Bc5 instead. It turns out, though, that neither of those was the best move.

The move Martin should have preferred was 25… Bf7 (not easy to find with the time control approaching) when best play is 26. Bg5 Re2 27. Qd1 (not 27. Bxd8 Qc5+ 28. Kh1 Qe5) 27… Rde8. Black will pick up the c-pawn with advantage but no clear win.

I don’t think I’d decided what to do if he’d played 25… Bc5. 26. Nf1, according to the computer, is equal with best play, but 26. Bxc5 Qxc5+ is winning for Black.

26. Bxa7

I couldn’t see any reason not to take the pawn and indeed Stockfish gives this as its first choice (although in 10 moves time it will change its mind). Instead I could have played Bd4 (which we looked at briefly after the game), or, better still Bf2 when White has an extra pawn in a stable position.

26… Bc5+
27. Bxc5??

A fatal short circuit. For some reason I played this at once, not considering moving my king at all. Perhaps I thought I had to take because otherwise he’d take my bishop but I really can’t explain it.

27. Kf1 loses at once to 27… Rxd2! 28. Qxd2 Bc4+ with mate to follow.

27. Kh1 is an adequate defence, though. The extra tempo compared with the game makes a big difference There’s a long forced variation: 27… Bxa7 28. Rxa7 Qc5 29. Ra4 (Ra2 giving up the exchange might also hold) 29… Qf2 30. Rd4 (the point) 30… Rxd4 31. cxd4 Bf5 threatening mate, the queen and indirectly the rook. So White has to check. 32. Qb3+ loses because White has no back rank checks. 32. Qa2+ draws as the black king has access to f8. The winning try is 32. Qc4+ Kh8 33. Ne4 (meeting all the threats in one go) 33… Bxe4 34. fxe4 f3 35. Qf1 (after 35. Rg1 Black has a perpetual) 35… fxg2+ 36. Qxg2 Qxd4. At this point White has several tries but Black appears to be holding in all variations.

27… Qxc5+
28. Kh1

28. Kf1 again gets mated after 28… Rxd2!

28… Qf2

I’d seen this but thought I had a defence.

29. Rb2

29. Rf1, for instance, avoids the mate at the cost of the knight and, eventually, the game.

29… Bh3!

This was the reason why Martin played f4 on move 25.

30. Rg1 Bxg2+

On one level I lost because I blundered on move 27, caused by a short circuit. If I’d defended correctly I could have at least drawn the game. But Black could have played better himself at move 25. At a higher level, though, I lost because I failed to realise that my king was in danger once the dark squared bishops had been exchanged. If I’d castled on move 15 instead of short circuiting and overlooking that he could temporarily prevent O-O, this wouldn’t have happened. I could also have avoided the attack by centralising my rooks instead of playing on the queen side.

So (no pun intended) how can I stop myself short circuiting in this way in future? I suppose I could make some motivational notes on my scoresheet, or even on some other piece of paper. But then again, maybe not.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy ( or and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities ( as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.