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

A wild game from the major cup quarters

No doubt this one goes down in Downend’s Hall of Fame – Michael ‘Tal’ Meadows pulls off an enterprising win in the cup

Sitting in a cricket club in December staring at zero winning opportunities whilst your team slowly get outplayed on all boards is no fun for a captain looking for his club’s only chance of sliverware. But sadly that’s where I was.

But the stresses of amateur captaincy melted away when, peeking to my left, I witnessed some wild and mysterious chess on the board next to me. It was none other than Meadows vs. Nendick – and is surely a contender for game of the season:

The Magician from Riga, Mikhail Tal, had a knack of landing in an endgame just one point of material ahead after a mind-boggling middlegame with several sacrifices. That’s what Mike achieved here, and the queen was simply dominant over the two rooks.

Here are some of Phil’s thoughts as it happened:

phil1
After 12. Bg5

Phil (black): “This got me out of book (!) so I spent quite a while trying to refute it. As it happens Fischer has played it so it’s probably not too bad.

After a6 and Ba4: The knight can now be embarrassed in some lines with Bd7 as it is now pinned to the bishop but I couldn’t make the tactics work. I decided instead for active defense.”

phil2
After 14. Bxf6

Phil: “I had initially planned 14…o-o the point being that White now has 2 pieces en prise so I’ll get one of them and I’ve got my king relatively safe. The problem is he can open it up with Bxg7.”

BCT: Phil played hxg3 instead

phil3
After 17…Qxf6

“This time 0-0 works well and maintains a healthy advantage”

BCT: Alas Phil grabbed the bishop and got his king in no-mans land (of course White’s king is in such a traditional place!)

phil4
After 20… Qxf7

Phil: “I thought this was pretty much forced as Qxe4 is coming with my king stuck in the middle but Qd6 again seems to hold the balance (if you’re a computer)”

phil5
After 24…Kxf6

Phil: “I thought I would try and make something of my kingside majority but hanging on to the queenside and hoping for a draw would probably have been more prudent”

BCT: It was very tough to defend after this because the rooks had no active plans, any attempt to move them up the board falls to nasty queen-checks. It was all lost at this point and I could tell Mike was much more comfortable. A great win and an overwhelming performance from the Downend team.

Why not send us your games? We’ll edit them how you want and show them off to the world!


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess 

Game of the Month – October 2018

We check in on the league and get started for a brand new season of Game of the Month.

The league is in full swing!

Division One proving as tough as ever and a little surprising; Downend B are on top thanks to a youthful and in-form team. Bath A are lurking with a match in hand and look very strong, for example only losing 2.5 points to all 3 Horfield teams put together!

Conversely to division 1, the ‘A’ teams are in charge of the other three divisions: North Bristol, Cabot, and Harambee with a much improved start compared to last season in division 4 (they have a game in hand over Clevedon C, level on points).

Game of the Month

Rob Attar vs. Max Walker

Horfield B vs Clevedon A (division 1)

I was playing in this match, and would have shown my own loss on board 1, succumbing to some nice tactics from my opponent, but there was a sharper game on board 4 from Max:

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bf4 b6 4. e3 Nc6 5. Bd3 Be7 6. O-O Nb4

pos1
With Nb4, Max removes the ‘London Bishop’

7. c4 Nxd3 8. Qxd3 Bb7 9. Nbd2 O-O 10. e4 d5 11. cxd5 exd5 12. e5 Ne4 13. Rac1 c5 14. b3

pos2
Here Max goes for cramping the other bishop with g5!

14… g5 15. Bg3 g4 16. Ne1 cxd4 17. Qxd4 Bc5 18. Qd3 Ba6

pos3
Ba6! A nice tactical idea with the plan of Nxd2, trapping the rook on f1.

The engines prefer Qg5, which is always hanging in the air – but perhaps this is more a computer favourite because it shuts out a few perpetual possibilities for White. But if one thing is certain, Rob wasn’t looking for chances to bail out! With the g-pawn gone, this is still a very double-edged position.

Rob accepts the exchange loss and sets about creating counter-chances against the open king, but Max finds a cool defence:

19. Qxa6 Nxd2 20. Qe2 Nxf1 21. Qxg4+ Kh8 22. Kxf1 Rg8 23. Qf3 Qd7 24. Bh4 Be7

pos4
Be7(!) defends f6 but leaves a tempting Qxf7

And Rob takes the bait with Qxf7! This is a piece sacrifice, with the idea being that after Black escapes the pin with Qb5+ and then Bxh4, White has the nasty Rc7! Threatening h7 mate with no obvious escape.

But Max had seen one:

25. Qxf7 Qb5+ 26. Kg1 Bxh4 27. Rc7

pos5
Black has one defence to Qxf7…

27… Bxf2+! And Black either drags the king to an unfortunate square (If Kh1, Qf1 mate; and if Kxf2, Rf8 pins and wins) or distracts the White queen away from mate so that Black can bring in the reinforcements in time. Phew!

28. Qxf2 Raf8 29. Nf3 Qd3 30. Ne1 Rxf2 31. Nxd3 Rgxg2+ 32. Kh1 Rxh2+ 33.
Kg1 Rxa2 34. e6 Rhd2 35. Ne1 Rd1 36. Kf1 Raa1 37. Kf2 Rxe1 38. e7 Kg8
0-1 (Full game below)

Well played to Max and to Clevedon A who won that match and are definitely in the running for division 1. See you next time and remember to keep sending in those games!


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of The Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess

Game of the Season 2017/18 – the winners!

It’s officially the start of a new season, so we better get the prizes for last year wrapped up.

Newsflash: BCT reaches 100 articles! Thanks to all contributors – we have had 13 authors from 7 different clubs, and lots of engagement from readers. What’s next for BCT? Well I’m sure we’ll write an article on it! Meanwhile its (digital) founder, Jon Fisher, welcomes his second son into the world earlier this very day – congrats buddy! Well, on with the chess and two other fine specimens to admire in wonder:

We gave you ten ‘Games of the Month‘ last season – you have picked your winner and so have we. Prizes will be awarded at a convenient time (i.e. when I next play against the winners’ club in a match), so without further ado…

GotS

People’s vote

The deluge of votes from the great chess public went for…

Aron Saunders! (Downend) – “Beware 3 Greeks bearing gifts”

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.O-O Nf6 5.d3 Ng4 6.h3 Nxf2

This is a common tempt in the opening – a bishop and knight for a rook and a pawn. As Aron ruthlessly demonstrates, the extra minor pieces can be immediately useful whereas the extra rook takes a while to get going, so this trade is often not advised for the offender.

7.Rxf2 Bxf2+ 8.Kxf2 O-O 9.Nc3 d6 10.Bg5 Qd7 11.Nd5 h6 12.Bf6

Bf6!! This is the first of 3 minor piece ‘offerings’ which earns this game its name. The first one can’t be taken because of the knight fork.

12..Na5 13.Qd2 Nxc4 14.dxc4 c6 15.Ne7+ Kh7 16.Nf5 g5 17.Nxg5+

Nxg5+! can’t be taken because of the impending queen invasion.

17..Kg6 18.Nh7

Nh7! An accurate finish. The knight gets out the way for the queen and doesn’t mind sacrificing itself, but elegantly defends the f6 bishop in the process.

18..Qxf5+ 19.exf5+ Kxh7 20.Be7 Rg8 21.f6 Rg5 22.Qxd6 Be6 23.b3 h5 24.Re1 Rf5+ 25.Kg1 Rg8 26.Rxe5 Rfg5 27.Rxg5 Rxg5 28.Qd3+ Bf5 29.Qd2 Rg6 30.Kh2 Be4 31.Qe2 Bxg2 32.Qxh5+ Kg8 33.Qxg6+ fxg6 34.Kxg2 1-0

The queen was given up in the hope of defence but it was all over – replay below. Nice one, Aron!

Editors pick

We agonised long and hard over a few different games; it was a close call but we went for an original game where both sides played with plenty of adventure and spirit. And the winner is…

Ethan Luc! (University) – “I’d rather be Luc(ky) than good”

Comments are from both Ethan (EL) and us (BCT):

Well done Ethan and great stuff everyone!

More games this season please!

This season (18-19) we are hoping for more games to showcase not just for Game of the Month but as educational articles like this one on the Hippo. So don’t be shy! Games will not be analysed to within an inch of their lives – just enjoyed by chess-lovers alike. Here are some ideas:

  • Send in other people’s games – (there are no rights issues here!)
  • Send fragments of games (e.g. just an endgame is fine!)
  • Send games from tournaments (often longer time-controls make for better games)
  • Send in puzzle-like variations of games
  • If you’re that way inclined – send in computer analysis (maybe you played a ‘perfect’ middlegame?)

We’ll do our best to publish all games and will be continuing Game of the Month – so always appreciate more fodder.

Have a great season everyone!


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess, sometimes underwater.