In my experience, chess is defined by wins and losses, not by quality of play, especially at the scholastic level. Unfortunately, this is a grave misconception. A competitive player should let every game be a stepping stone, or a lesson. Often times I find that parents of young players react more to a result than a quality game or best effort. Typically, these parents aren’t exactly chess masters. They know what ratings are and what they mean, and they see each game as a statistic; being 100 rating points lower than the opponent is a huge disadvantage, and the higher player should always convert. This is exactly the wrong mentality, things happen and players make mistakes. For any chess parents out there reading my blog, let the coach decide if the match was well played, especially if your child is higher rated than you.
I began this post with this intro because I wanted to show that you do not have to win to play a respectable game. Today’s game is a match I played in November 2013 at the Northern Virginia Open. I was playing a 2000+ rated player, so for me, it was of the upmost importance to focus on playing the best chess I could. Even though I had just broken 1900, playing expert players was a rare opportunity. While I drew this game, it is extremely important to understand that at no point I was playing for a draw. If you play for a draw against a strong opponent, you will lose. If you play for a win against a strong opponent, anything can happen. Just make the best moves you can make and play along.
Steincamp – Lohr (Northern Virginia Open 2013)
1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. e3 e6 6. Nge2 Nge7 7. O-O d5 8. cxd5 exd5 9. d4 cxd4
10. Nxd4 A different idea for me. If you read my last post, I got the idea from the Franco–Steincamp game in which I failed to find a strong defense. By playing this move, I avoid immediately accepting isolated pawns. This is important because now if Black exchanges on d4, my bishop from g2 is not blocked by the knight from f3.
11. Nce2 Perhaps not the best way of going about things. The bishop on g7 is becoming stronger and I didn’t accomplish anything substantial with this move. In reflection, I would have considered 11. Qb3, with the idea of attacking d5. Nonetheless, the game is still very much in the balance.
12. b3?! A risky idea, but one worth trying. I have to keep an eye out for any tactics as a result of the pin. If I were a more passive player, I think I would have further delayed the development of the c1 bishop, but this position mandates rapid development.
13. Ba3 Black’s pieces are better placed, but this move is certainly more challenging to deal with than 13. Bb2. By pinning the knight, I give myself time to move my rook from a1.
13…Rfd8 14. Rc1 Qa5 15. Bc5
15…b6 Black cannot take on a2, as the queen will be trapped after Ra1, followed by Ba3. By playing b7–b6, my g2 bishop gets some more scope, and with the exception of my opponent’s isolated pawn, the pawn structures for both sides are identical. I have solved all of my opening problems, and could even be slightly better.
16. Bxe7 Nxe7 17. Rc7 Rd7 18. Qc1 Be5 19. Rxd7 Bxd7 20. f4 Rc8 21. Qb2
21…Bd6 I was fairly surprised to see this move, as the bishop was far better placed on g7. While black has the pair of bishops, it is not quite clear how his light squared bishop will join the fight.
22. a4 Qb4 23. Rc1 Rc5
24. Nc3 An important idea, as black has no entry into my position. Meanwhile, it is clear that the pawn on d5 will weigh him down.
24…a6 25. Na2 Rxc1+ 26. Qxc1 Qc5 27. Bf1
27…a5 In this position, it is very clear that the pair of bishops does not yield any advantage. This position is probably equal, but I played along to see if I could undermine his isolated pawn.
28. Qd2 Nf5 29. Nxf5 Bxf5 30. Bg2 Be6 31. Nc3 Qb4
32. Qd4 Getting out of the pin and protecting the a4 pawn in the case that b3 pawn falls. In this position, While I may finally win the d5 pawn, black will win the b3 pawn. If black trades the queen, I will have an isolated pawn, but my king and knight can protect it with ease. If 32… Qxb3 33. Nxd5 = If black takes the knight, it will be an opposite colored bishop ending, and if he refuses to trade, his b6 pawn will become a target. 1/2-1/2
I hope by showing this game I conveyed that it is perfectly possible to play a strong game of chess without getting a winning result. In this game, I challenged myself to find ways to eliminate the pressure of the g7 bishop while undermining the d5 pawn. It is extremely important to plan in chess. Find a solid plan and execute it. In this game, while I was happy with a draw, I knew that I did everything I could and a better result was not possible. Always play your best.