I don’t see this discussed a lot, but it would be interesting to see what chess players describe as their favorite chess moments, and the resulting insights into their chess mentality. Admittedly, it’s a little difficult for me to truly appreciate my games because I spend too much time fretting over the mistakes caught by Stockfish. But I’ve always liked to scroll through past games when I’m bored, and have caught some exceptions over time.
More than anything else, my attention shifts to my hardest-fought draws. Does that sound boring? Over the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling with an uncharacteristic lack of proper focus in my games. It’s always inspiring to remember that I was able to slog through long games against strong players where I was a move or two from getting clobbered throughout.
Of course, I could have also chosen some of my wins under similar circumstances. I’m not ashamed to say I love those as well; however, eking out a win after spending the entire game on the run likely involves a little more luck than usual, and does detract a little from the whole “tenacity” thing.
My favorite example is actually my fourth game from the 2015 Cleveland Open against, whose 40/100, SD/30 d10 time control was the longest I’d played at the time. Nevertheless, I was stretched to the limit in my last two games, notably barely making both time controls in both games.
Vasto (2096) – Li (1974)
2015 Cleveland Open U2100, Round 4
After an early inaccuracy that left me on the run for a while, I had managed to trade off most of the minor pieces and began to think the coast was clear. White soon showed quite clearly that this wasn’t the case.
24. Bb1 Nd7?
Trying to trade more pieces, but missing the real purpose of 24. Bb1.
25. Nxc6 Qxc6 26. Rg3!
Suddenly, this is very awkward for Black. Castling is obviously impossible due to Qg4; oddly enough, 26…Kf8 was the best chance, due to 27. Qg4 Rg8. Instead, I played 26…g6?
Fortunately, the immediate 27. Bxg6 doesn’t quite work, but White has many potential kingside intrusions. Even if most of them don’t work at a particular time, they will under some circumstances and Black at least has to be extremely careful evaluating each one.
27. Be4 Qb6 28. Qf3 Nc5 29. Qf6 Rg8 30. Bf3 a5
This was a bit of a gamble, since White has no immediate threats, I opted to temporarily postpone …Rd8, possibly until Rd1. For the future, Black prevents b4, which could knock proper defense off e6 if Black gets careless at the same time.
31. Rd1 Rd8 32. Rxd8+ Qxd8 33. Qe5 b6 34. Qe3 Rh8 35. h3 Ke7 36. Rg4 Qd3?!
After meticulously checking for possible ways to get clobbered for a few moves, Black gets sucked into desperately trying to trade queens and pulls the game back into dangerous territory. 36…Qc7 defends everything surprisingly well: the d-file via …Rd8 and f7 if necessary (notably, …g5 is an option despite its weakening appearance).
37. Qe5 Rc8 38. Rd4 Qb1+ 39. Rd1
I anticipated White’s 40. Qd6+, so in some ways this was the true “move 40” decision, at with of course, barely a few minutes. Interestingly, after so many moves of surviving White’s potential threats, I was enticed by the weak pawns on the queenside. This pulled us, yet again, into another sketchy-looking position. The game move is a better version of 39. Kh2 (not allowing 40. Qd4+ as in the game), which after 39…Qxa2 is objectively about equal, though it may prove difficult for White to prove compensation.
39…Qxa2 40. Qd6+ Kf6 41. Qd4+
So far, I’ve been critical of my less safe decisions, but honestly, there’s nothing really wrong with bold decisions if you check them thoroughly. After the influx of 30 minutes for the 2nd time control, I began to be more confident in my chances to hold the kingside while snapping up the queenside. 41…Ke7 could have just led to a draw after 42. Qd6+, but I had also considered 42. Qh4+, after which 42…Kf8 43. Qxh6+ should be okay as Black has …Rc7 defending f7, but not 42…Ke8?? 43. Qf6 threatening Bc6+.
Instead, I went with 41…e5?! 42. Qd6+ Kg7 43. Qxe5+ Kg8 44. Rd6 Qxb3! 45. Bd5!
To my credit, I had checked 45. Rxg6+ since move 40. White does have a perpetual after 45…fxg6 46. Bd5+ but with only a queen and bishop, White has no mating attack so I was confident I hadn’t missed anything. However, after 45. Bd5 I was forced to go into a worse ending with 45…Qb1+ 46. Kh2 Qf5 47. Qxf5 gxf5, although Black’s passed a-pawn does give good chances of holding.
Nevertheless, even though White has yet to regain his pawn, Black must be careful; for example, after White’s 48. Rg6+, 48…Kh7 was not a happy choice but 48…Kf8? runs into 49. Rxh6 threatening Rh8+ and Rxb6.
48. Rg6+ Kh7 49. Rxb6 Kg7 50. Rb5 a4 51. Ra5 f4!
The immediate 51…Kf6 faces difficulties after 52. f4 or 52. Kg3.
52. Ra7 Rf8 53. Kg1 Kg6 54. Rc7 Nb3 55. c5.
55…Kf6 56. c6 Ke5 57. Bxb3 axb3 58. Rb7 Rc8 59. c7 b2 60. Rxb2 Rxc7
Far from a perfect game, but no one has to expect to be perfect. In this case, calculating to the best of my ability worked, and underscored why I’ve been proud about my mentality.