Jumping The Hurdles: Learning From My Loss

Hello, everyone!

I was hoping that this article would be more productive… but it’s not. I’m going through an interesting phase of my life, and part of that constituted me buying a new computer. All that to say, I hope that you can expect better articles from me in the upcoming weeks.

Last post, I told you guys about how my rating plummeted since going over 1800. My situation has not gotten better since. I lost a Thursday night rated game to a 1334 local player, and my rating is down to 1710. 😦

What happened? I feel that for my strength, I need to be sitting down and calculating variations over the board. I’ve always been an intuitive player, so calculation is sometimes an easy step for me to skip. And when you do calculate, it is important to evaluate the position after your calculations. If you realize that the path you plan to go down is not favorable for you, then it may cost you a good position. That’s exactly what happened here.

Let’s go over this game and see what we can learn from it. Again, I would encourage the reader to set this on a board to get the most out of the analysis and moves. I do add diagrams for the reader to enjoy, and in case they want to jump to the critical moments of the game. 🙂 I was Black against John DeVries (1334 USCF). I played the French Defense, 1. e4, e6 2. d4, d5 3. e5, c5, and John played the unusual 4. Be3(?!).

One of my tendencies as a chess player is that if I feel like my opponent played an inaccurate opening, I need to “refute it”. That’s simply a wrong mindset. For one, my opponent’s move is by no means “bad”, it’s just not nearly as common as 4. c3. When your opponent plays an inaccurate opening move, it is important to stick with the basic opening principles, and only break the rules if you have a concrete reason to do so (material, outpost, etc). As early as move 4, there is no variation where I can claim to have any sort of advantage.

The game continued. I don’t feel that my play for the next few moves was bad, though my mindset was definitely wrong. I played 4… cxd4, 5. Bxd4, Nc6 (natural moves so far) 6. Bb5, Qa5+ (probably unnecessary). 7. Nc3, and I played 7… Bb4. Again, my mindset was completely off. The pin looks very good, though if my opponent finds good moves, he’s completely fine. My opponent played 8. Bxc6, bxc6, and after 9. Nge2, we reached the first critical moment.

Before I go on, I’d like you to take a look at the position. What would you play as Black here and why? After you’ve made that decision, find out whether the move is good or not, and if it is not good, find out why, and come up with an alternative.

You see, I found a move, but failed to follow the next 2-3 steps. The move that looks attractive (and spoiler, I played it!) is 9… c5(?).

9… c5 is a move that certainly looks good. It appears that his Bishop only has one retreat square, which allows a fork on d4. The problem is that he does not have to retreat his Bishop. 10. a3(!) saves his position. In fact, he has a pretty good position after 10. a3. My problem is that I did “see” that he had 10. a3 as a response, though I failed to evaluate the resulting position. Had I actually done that, I would never go for 9… c5 in the first place. A move like 9… Nh6 should be 100% fine for me.

After 10. a3, cxd4 11. axb4, Qxb4 12. Nxd4 (12. Qxd4 is also good for him), Bd7 (to keep the Knights off b5) 13. Ra2, Ne7 14. O-O, O-O 15. Re1, Rfc8, my opponent started to build up his great position.

My Kingside is very naked. My only piece who can really defend, the Knight on e7 to g6, would likely get kicked away with a potential h4-h5, and the Knight on g6 would be misplaced anyway. It also dawned on me (something I should have noticed when calculating 9… c5) that my Bishop is horrible compared to his dream Knight. While I have no way to comfortably defend my Kingside, White has a clear path to the promised land with 16. Re3(!!). The move in itself may not be “double-exclam” brilliant, though the idea that he is innovating, a Rook lift, is very instructive for us to see. Stockfish may evaluate this position as roughly equal, though in human reality, I’m on my knees the whole game.

I struggled on after 16… Rc4 17. Nce2(!), Nc6 18. Nxc6, Rxc6 (possibly 18… Bxc6 is slightly more accurate) 19. Nd4, Rc4 20. c3, Qb7 21. Rg3, Qb6 22. b3, Rc5 23. Qg4

My opponent reaps the fruits of his position, and I’m forced to weaken my King with 23… g6. I don’t know why Stockfish gives White “only” +0.87 advantage. I’m already struggling to survive!

My opponent handles the game well from here. He played 24. Rf3, Be8 25. Qf4, Ra5. This is what the computer would call a blunder (it’s calling equality after 25… a5! edit: Stockfish 10 gives +2.32 after sitting for awhile at 34-move depth. Still low in my opinion.), though my position was very bad to begin with. This game is certainly a good lesson that the computer evaluation is not to be trusted at all times. Computers can find only moves, resources to defend, etc, though when analyzing a game, it’s vital to give your “human” evaluation before consulting with the computer. My human evaluation says “just about losing”.

My opponent played 26. Rxa5, Qxa5, 27. h4(!!), Qa1+ 28. Kh2, Rc8 29. Qf6(!!)

Wow. My opponent can immediately shut the game out with 29. Nxe6+, and yet, he choses to make life as hard for me as possible.

I am desperate and losing at this point. Not a good combination! The game was over in short order after 29… Qa6 30. h5, gxh5 31. Rg3+, Kf8 32. Rh3 (32. Rg7 is mate in 4), Qa5, he forced resignation after 33. Nxe6!

What an end to an accurately-played game!

I learned a lot for sure from that game. 1334s are not to be underestimated! Also, for my future tournaments, I need to make an effort to calculate every move I want to play over the board and (importantly) evaluate the resulting position! Had I evaluated the position after 9… c5, I would never go for that move!

Tough loss for me, though I hope that this was instructive to my readers. Thanks for sticking with me to the end! Feel free to leave a comment, or message me on Chess.com (my handle is EOGuel). I have a blog over there you are welcome to read.

I’ll see you soon. Have a good day! 🙂

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Jumping The Hurdles: 100% Focus

Hello, everyone!

Many of you may know who I am. I maintain a blog on Chess.com where I have posted my personal chess journey, master games I found of interest, puzzles, random stuff, etc. I’m also active generally with the Chess.com community.

Who am I? I’m just an ordinary seventeen-year-old chess player rated 1737 USCF residing in the middle of Texas living life. What is this series about? Ever since I started taking chess seriously, I had a few goals in mind: reach Class-A (1800 USCF), Expert (2000 USCF), and National Master (2200 USCF). Seems simple right? Back in March, I had a huge performance at the Texas State High School Championships, where I tied for 6th place at 5/7, including a win against the top seed of the event. My rating went from 1704 to 1817 (100-point jumps in a single tournament get very rare at this level), and I thought NO ONE would stop me from eclipsing the Expert rating and ultimately the Master title!

Not quite…

You see, I peaked out at 1828 USCF, and my rating has seriously plummeted since. I would go through this phase of having a bad tournament, good tournament, bad tournament, and so on. It’s not a very stable way of competing. It was in December when I was on the brink of breaking 1800 USCF, I was having a bad event at a local tournament, and in the final round, I collapsed and lost to my own student! Merry Christmas!

See that amazing rating boost down there on the bottom? How about my rating performance since?

[sighs]. All this to say, I will tell you about something that my former coach had warned me about, and I wish I understood when my rating was dropping. It’s very dangerous to pay close attention to ratings. It simply is. What happens is that when you play chess games by rating instead of the best moves, it will damage your true chess games, and your decisions will be made purely by raw emotion rather than how a real game should be decided: calculation and good moves.

All this to say, while I am still openly vying for the Expert and ultimately Master title, I feel that I am only endangering myself when I talk about my chess career in terms of rating rather than good moves and learning from my mistakes.

This past weekend, I participated in another local tournament. My rating stayed the same. It was slightly disappointing not to win rating back, though I felt like I learned a lot from the event (even though I am still analyzing the games!), and I would like to share some of my key moments with you from each game.

For warm up, how about a puzzle? This was my first game against Robert Morgan (1217). Look at the diagram below:

Black just played 19… Nc6(?), which is a mistake. How does White refute it? I’d encourage the reader to calculate this out in their head.

My second game was against Christopher Cook (1535). He played a Tarrasch French against me (1. e4, e6 2. d4, d5 3. Nd2), and we got a very interesting fight. After some struggling, we got the position below: (I would encourage the reader to set this up on a board, as this is a relatively deep series of moves, and the position is very interesting to study anyway!)

In the position above, Black has a lot of pressure against the e5-square. I snap with 22… Bxe5, 23. dxe5, and I sidestepped my Queen with 23… Qb8. I assumed that I was winning a pawn, as both of my Knights and Queen are attacking the e5-pawn, and White does not have a good way to defend both! White played 24. Rb1 and surrendered the pawn, though, during analysis, it turns out that White has a legitimate shot thanks to his strong Bishops! White’s only move is 24. Qa4(!), when if I take the pawn with 24… Ndxe5(?) (I should defend with a move like Rf7 or something), White will sacrifice the exchange with 25. Rxe5(!), and after 25… Nxe5, White plays 26. Qd4.

Black’s e5-Knight is “pinned” to the checkmate square on g7! And I have no good way to defend the e5-Knight. Had Chris tried 24. Qa4, I likely would have fallen for this variation.

My round three game was a loss to Jason Howell (2036). And… I guess I’ve got to show something from the game? 🙂

The position above is hard to assess, as I slipped up earlier in the endgame. I probably have a better chance of surviving taking on d4 rather than what I did during the game. Let’s just say that I stopped paying attention, playing 10… h6, and crumbling from there. Not much to say honestly. On to the last game, which was another case of losing my focus when it mattered:

In the final round against Raghav Aggarwal (1648), my opponent and I traded all of our heavy pieces and seemed to be headed for equality. I played an autopilot move which hurt me with 26. Kf2(?). My opponent quickly played 26… Nd3+, and I realized that I was in trouble. After 27. Kf1, Nxb2, obviously angry with myself, I played the reactionary 28. Nc6(?), which allowed him to take another pawn on a3! Fortunately for me, he missed that and played 28… Bf8. After 29. Nb4, a5 30. Nc2, we got the position below:

My opponent allowed me great drawing chances after 30… Nc4(?!), and after 31. Bxc4, bxc4, I was able to hold a draw given his two weaknesses on a5 and c4 will be hard to defend for victory.

I ended the tournament on 2.5/4, tied with several people for 3rd place in the local event, and broke even with my rating. If you stayed with me to the end, I must personally congratulate you for this accomplishment!

The whole purpose of this “Jumping The Hurdles” series is going to be for me to document my chess studies, games, etc. in writing so that I may be kept accountable. I’m not sure exactly what the structure of my future posts are going to be. I have another tournament this coming Saturday as well as this one-game-per-week tournament I am doing on Thursday nights, so my next post might be just like this one. Who knows. To close off, let me show you this cool puzzle I got earlier this week. 🙂

White to play, and how to proceed.

I would love to hear feedback from you guys. You can email me at danieljguel@gmail.com, I assume you can drop a comment down below, or contact me on Chess.com at EOGuel. I hope you all have a great day!