There Is No Fury Like Chess Scorned …

We chess players, have all had bad games — especially mere mortal and non-titled players such as myself. We’ve lost pawns, dropped pieces, got swindled, and fallen for tactics we really shouldn’t. Some of us may even have comitted the ultimate sins and lost a queen here and there, or even worse, walked in to mate.

But, you know, it’s not only the mere mortals who are having bad times at the board. In the 2014 World Rapid Championship, World Champion Magnus Carlsen grabbed a pawn and got a piece skewered against Anand; and, even more recently, (within the last week or so actually), Veselin Topalov had a real bad game against Fabiano Caruana, at the 2nd Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, USA.

As well as making us feel slightly better about our mistakes, dear reader, such blunders by the top players are also something of a mystery, arent’t they? How can such masters of the game make such errors?

Well, I have thought long and hard about this, and I think it very often boils down to the fact that the top players are pushing the boundaries of chess further and further all the time in order to find novelties and nuances to gain an edge. It’s rather like a racing driver, who drives their car to its absolute limit — arguably to within a hair’s width of suicidal. When it goes right, it is exciting, entertaining, dramatic, and gives witnesses a thril. On the other hand, when it goes wrong things can (and do) get ugly.

There is also the fact that top players tend to sometimes take ridiculous liberties, not castling for example, throwing pawns forward willy-nilly, behaving like the tried and tested fundamentals of chess (which we do our best to drum in to the beginner) do not apply to them. This can be even more so, in openings in which the players feel at home. They can sometimes be guilty of treating the game too casually, bordering even on the contemptuous.

I have to say, that looking over the Topalov-Caruana game mentioned above, I’d have to plump for the latter option. Topalov certainly did not play ambitiously as White in allowing the Symmetrical English. Mind you, it has to be said that even though this opening is often seen as dull and rather tame, it does not have to be. That being said, however, one has to spice it up in the right way. Topalov certainly didn’t, and seemed to lunge for sharp play with his 17.g4? Actually, his position had started to wane even before this move, and perhaps he was feeling a little vexed.

Unfortunately for the Bulgarian, though, when one does not show our beautiful game enough respect, the consequences tend to be very painful.

John Lee Shaw