For the third of our current trilogy of instructive junior games we look at an encounter between two slightly stronger players. Both combatants demonstrate good attacking skills but still make errors when forced to calculate.
Now I don’t want to be too critical. Most of us make lots of errors when faced with a complex tactical situation in a rapidplay game, but by improving our thinking skills we can cut down the mistakes and improve our results.
As I tell my pupils, if you ask yourself the right questions you might get the right answers. If you don’t ask yourself the right questions you are very unlikely to get the right answers.
We’ll start here. Black has reached an inferior position after choosing a time-wasting plan. Now White can win a pawn very simply by capturing on c6 and then on d6. If you’re looking for all capturing sequences you’ll find this. Instead White played 16.Rf4, creating a threat, but failing to ask the vital question “If I do that, what will he do next?”.
At this point Black needs to see the threat of Rxf6. He also needs to see two tactical possibilities: Nxh5 with a knight fork, and Nxd4 followed by e5, with a pawn fork. Perhaps he saw them both and made the wrong decision, or perhaps he went for the first one he saw. Moral: if you see a good move, look for a better one.
Anyway, instead of Nxh5, safely netting the exchange and a pawn, he tried for more with 16.. Nxd4. Now White made the obvious recapture: 17. Rxd4, when he should have preferred Rxf6, with equal chances in a complex position. Moral: an obvious recapture may not be the best move. It’s very tempting, especially with not much time available, to short-cut in this way.
Now Black again had a choice. Nxh5 still nets the exchange and a pawn, but instead he played e5, hoping to win a rook but forgetting about White’s threat of Rxf6. So: 18. Rxf6 exd4 and White has another decision to make. Again, the automatic reaction when seeing a piece en prise is to move it, So he played 19. Ne2, to threaten d4. As it happens, Nd5 is much better, but White might also have stopped to look for an EBF (Equal or Bigger Threat) and found Rxd6, giving him two pawns for the exchange. Moral: don’t automatically respond to an enemy threat. Sometimes it’s better to create an EBF – but you’ll probably need to calculate it accurately.
Now Black had the chance to start a counter-attack, perhaps with a move like Qa4, with an immediate threat to a2 and a potential threat to c2, but instead he unpinned with Kh8, giving White the chance to take on d6 and acquire two pawns for the exchange.
We now jump forward to the position after Black’s 25th move. White should play 26. g4 here to defend h5, but instead decided to unpin with Qe3, creating a threat which neither player noticed. The game continued 26.. a5 27. f4 and for the second time in the game a knight fork went begging. Moral: look at the whole board, not just the last piece to move. Threats can be created indirectly as well as directly.
So the game continued, with both players now intent on attacking the enemy king. White defended inaccurately, though, and here Black had the chance to land the decisive blow.
At this point he had the idée fixe that he could win easily by pushing his a-pawn. Indeed he can, but he has to be a bit careful. Instead, looking at the board with a CCTV (Checks, Captures, Threats and Violent moves in that order) would have identified the immediate and simple win with Rd8+. Moral: Use a CCTV to look at the chessboard. Every move, every game.
So instead Black played 35.. a4 36. gxh6 (Qd4 is trickier, when Black’s easiest defence is Qb8), and again Black spurned the chance for Rd8+, pushing again with 36.. a3. Now 37. Qd4 would force Black onto the defensive with Rg8. Computer analysis suggests that Black can come out on top by following an accurate sequence of moves. Instead he played the natural 37. hxg7.
Perhaps Black hadn’t seen the idea before, but it’s a common theme in this sort of position to use the enemy pawn on the 7th rank as a shelter for your king. Here, Kg8 is winning easily for Black as long as he finds 38. h6 Rd8+ (the same idea again). But instead he grabbed the pawn: 37.. Kxg7. After 38. Qd4+ he had a final choice to make. 38.. Kh7 leads to a draw by repetition after 39. Qf6 Rc7 40. Qf5+ Kg8 41. Qg5+ Kh7. Instead, he went for the fatal 38.. Kg8, when after 39. h6 he had no convenient way to stop the mate threat. He might have tried 39.. f6, when 40. h7+! allows White to set up a sequence of checks which will eventually fork the black king and rook, but instead he carried on pushing the a-pawn, allowing a simple checkmate.
Earlier on in the game, both players missed tactical opportunities, which, at their level, might have been spotted. At the end, Black’s obsession with queening his a-pawn (perhaps he was short of time) caused him to convert a win into a draw, and then a loss. At this level (about 1500 or so) players can improve their results dramatically by sharpening their calculation process. Look for every check, capture and threat, for your opponent as well as for yourself. Look for indirect as well as direct threats. Look beyond the obvious.