Improvements: learning from losses

It was my last match of the season last night, so I thought I would show a loss of mine from earlier this season to demonstrate how to learn from your losses. It was generously written up in Downend’s match report as both players ‘taking risks’ but really it was me getting thrown in the opening and subsequently trodden down – lots of lessons learnt from my imaginary GM coach…

Why look at losses? Why not chuck the score-sheet in the bin?

Well – you can chuck them away if you want. I’m pretty sure we all play this game for fun – even if it is slightly masochistic fun at times. But I guess the point of looking back through painful losses depends on whether you see fun and improvement as dependent on each other (or at least natural co-habitors), or you see improvement as an optional thing which doesn’t impact on fun. Either is okay, but if you fit the former right now, critiquing your own play is among the best ways to improve. So do it.

The GM coach on your shoulder

I am going to analyse this game using this technique – imagining a GM peering at your moves and telling you what they think – honestly – about your moves. Clearly I don’t need my coach to be as good as a GM, but I find it easier to imagine a GM being ruthlessly honest about each move – Gordon Ramsey style if need be. So, here we go.

Mike Harris vs Chirag Hosdurga (Horfield B vs. Downend B – 23/10/18)

Full game re-playable here: https://www.downendchess.com/game/1106

Opening: A Sicilian with an early Qb6 – and White trying to play like Karpov with Be2 and Nf3-d4-b3… but Black equalises easily.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Qb6 5. Nb3 Nf6 6. Nc3 e6 7. Be3 Qc7 8. Be2 a6 9. a4 Bb4 10. f3 d5

pos1

So Black gets in that key Sicilian move d5 with no issues. Something clearly went wrong – I ‘learnt’ this Nb3 idea from a book about Karpov called ‘Slay the Sicilian’, with some beautiful games by the world champ. Over to the coach:

GM coach: “Mike, you are not Karpov. He won a lot of games with Nb3 which you admire, but here’s the thing – he is a better chess player and more importantly he is a very different player to you. He wins games dictating positional subtleties from a distance – whereas you win most games with a sledgehammer. D5 is the key move for Black – and preventing it is an art, you do it sometimes with tactics and sometimes with strategy. But you don’t just let it happen and hope for the best… Yes, you may have won a few decent games which included the move Nb3, but it’s more of a coincidence – this system is not for you. Stop playing it.”

Me: Harsh. But true. And I will. Promise. Okay, on with the game:

Early middlegame: White’s h-pawn is under fire and the kingside lacks pieces. White tries to hold the pawn by threatening a bishop-trap – which fails.

11. O-O Bd6 12. exd5 Nxd5 13. Nxd5 exd5

pos2

GM coach: “Hmm.. I thought the point of Nb3 was to direct attention to the queenside, where you can make use of your control of it from the two bishops and your a4 prod. Now look at it! The knight and the pawn on a4 look quite useless – and the attention is all on the kingside. Again, this is why you prevent d5 – the centre stays closed then.

Okay, so we’re in a mess, let’s try to get out. First off, watch out for your h-pawn. You know the one protecting your king – it’s important… No, the opposing bishop will not be trapped on h2. It’s about the least trapped bishop ever. Just defend it or move it and move on – chess is a long game, you will get some chances again.”

Me: Yup. Sound advice. But that seems like too much effort, maybe I’ll just spend three moves not defending my h-pawn:

14. Kh1 O-O 15. Qd2 Re8 16. c3 Bxh2

pos6

GM coach: “(sigh) Ok, that’s bad. c3 was a waste – I know you were worried about the move d4, but trust me, you have bigger things to worry about. The h-file is now open for the queen or a rook.

But not to worry – try something else and then complicate things. Try to stay positive and look for your strengths in the position, there is still that isolated d-pawn… its not much but its something. Just don’t panic and play anything totally anti-positional like f4.”

17. f4

GM coach: “(winces) Oh dear oh dear. What was that? Do you still think you are trapping that bishop? You are now completely lost and you should resign.”

Me: Yeah… I’ll take my chances.

Mid-Middlegame: Black builds up more of an attack with the strong bishop on g3 while White has to deal awkwardly with a few attacks such as Qh6, threatening Qh2 – very difficult to stop.

17… Bg3 18. Kg1 Bf5 19. Nd4 Nxd4 20. Bxd4 Qd6

pos4

GM coach: “It’s still over – resign.”

Me: Okay, I’ll just try some random moves first.

21. Rf3 Qg6 22. Raf1 Be4 23. Re3 Bxf4

pos5

GM coach: “…”

24. Rxe4 Bxd2 25. Rg4 Rxe2 0-1

Me: Okay I resign.

Footnote

Very well played to my opponent in this game – who took advantage of the above mistakes with great efficiency.

Silver lining

So, what’s the point of analysing losses? Well, fairly serendipitously I played another game about a month later – and won by snapping up an a-pawn with a bishop, recognising that trapping the bishop was harder than it looked, and in fact it because a nuisance for my opponent and I ended up with an ending of 5 pawns vs. a lone bishop.

The rewards for studying losses will not always come this quickly – but we should recognise that there are many lessons from one game – like me and my attachment to the Nb3 move in the Sicilian. If you blundered in a game then it’s unlikely that was the only lesson there, or that the blunder came about all of a sudden. Look at the lead up to the blunder – what were your thinking patterns? What didn’t you understand about the position?

Sharing games on BCT and elsewhere

I am publishing this game for two related reasons:

  • To encourage others to analyse their losses
  • To encourage others to share their games to help others learn.

We have always asserted that in amateur chess we should all be sharing games (yes – including those cherished opening secrets) if we want to improve. After all, we are not grandmasters preparing novelties on move 27 for the upcoming world champs. We are all chess players on the same path – and looking honestly at our own mistakes must be the truest way to improve.

So share your games. It could be with a friend or clubmate, with your whole team (at Horfield there are frequently email threads going round discussing the match gone by) or on the internet for all to see.

As far as BCT goes, we will not continue just with our own games – that might get a bit repetitive. So without more contributions, we will eventually stop. If you want to see a friendly culture of improvement, then be the change that you want to see!

If you would like to take up the challenge of finding your worst game of the season – or any game you can learn from – email us at bristolchesstimes@gmail.com


mikecircle

Mike is a regular league player and co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times

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