Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Lessons from Kecskemet / Book Review: The Chess Manual of Avoidable Mistakes by Romain Edouard - PART 1

I am finally home after a 3 week stint in Kecskemet and I thought that since I'm obviously still suffering from severe jet lag, I might as well write something about my games and my general thoughts about the 2 tournaments. Concurrently, I am gonna take a slightly unusual approach to this article and also give a brief review of the "The Chess Manual of Avoidable Mistakes" ("TCMAM") by the French Grandmaster Romain Edouard, Thinkers Publishing, 2014.  I had bought this, and the accompanying test volume on the last day of the event. How I wish I had read this little gem of a book before the tournaments and not on the plane home! But more on this in a while....

Kecskemet may not be the most widely known city on a global scale but the Chess in Kecskemet (organised by Tamas Erdelyi) and First Saturday (organised by Nagy Laszlo) tournaments are pretty well known in the chess community. I believe there are no other tournaments in the world that are quite like these series, tournaments that give ambitious chess players the chance to make IM or GM norms in back to back events on a monthly basis. As such, it is quite possible for an ambitious player to stay in Hungary for a 6 month period and compete in 10-12 IM or GM norm tournaments. I myself have successfully played in both First Saturday and Kecskemet, making my final IM norm in the former (2007) and my first GM norm (2011) in the latter.

However, at the risk of appearing defensive, this does not in anyway mean that these events are "norm factories" or the quality of play is any lower than open tournaments. While the rostered GMs may not be the most motivated ones in the world, they are experienced and solid and defeating them to make the requisite score is anything but easy. Those that were successful, especially in making Grandmaster norms, typically displayed a combination of exceptional form and some luck. In my case, it was more to do with luck than anything else but that's another story.....

Those interested in the round by round results and the general outcome of my tournaments can access them here and here but rather than going through the events round by round, I would be showing the 2 most instructive games that I felt I've learnt a lot from in this post. Funnily enough, these examples would have been perfect in TCMAM and I felt I could totally relate to the advice that the French GM had wrote.

The first chapter of the book was titled "Objectivity throughout a chess game". Some of the problems that Edouard wrote are that "A problem that we have to face is that we very often miss simple defensive moves when we are under pressure....." and that "sometimes we do not believe that we'll be able to calculate everything until the end and do not even give it a try." He went on to give several examples of his own games and the thought processes behind the moves he played, cleverly linking the errors he made with the concepts and rules that he was explaining.

The second chapter was titled "General reasons for blundering" and the writer discusses 5 situations where blunders occur the most. The writer wrote that "one of the biggest cause for blundering is psychological reaction after a shock" and that he had observed that many chess players were not able to play correctly or objectively anymore after something abnormal happened during a game. After giving a few examples of such scenarios, he then wrote that "after missing something important or after blundering, it is very human to get fatalist or angry with yourself. This is childish and not the right time for it. If you make a mistake, it is not a reason to make one or several more...." and that as a rule, "the general philosophy to follow during a game is that you should never look behind and that you should always force the opponent to be as precise as possible." Perhaps, the following critical game is a perfect illustration of what the author was trying to say:

A game that I liked (ChessBase 13)
[Event "Kecskemet GM Tournament"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.01.16"] [Round "6"] [White "Attila Groszpeter"] [Black "Goh Wei Ming, Kevin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C18"] [WhiteElo "2444"] [BlackElo "2430"] [Annotator "Wei Ming"] [PlyCount "59"] {Before this round, I had a score of 3.5/5 and I needed a score of 3 out of the next 4 games in order to secure my final GM norm. With 3 blacks in the next 4 games, securing such a score is easier said than done and I was forced to play the most aggressive and risky lines.} 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 { The French Winawer is one of the lines where Black can play fully for the win if White chooses the most principled variations. Fortunately, I was aware that my opponent, a solid and very experienced Grandmaster always chooses the absolute mainlines and I was therefore assured of a full blooded fight.} 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. h4 $5 {This move, one that my opponent had never played and had prepared specially for this game, came as a nasty surprise. I had checked several lines of the Winawer but had carelessly omitted the h4 lines in my preparation. Fortunately, I had played and won a very important game in the 2012 Istanbul Olympiad which I already analysed elsewhere on this blog.} Nbc6 8. h5 (8. Nf3 f6 $1 {was played in Steel - Goh, Istanbul 2012 as mentioned in the above note.}) 8... cxd4 9. cxd4 Qa5+ 10. Bd2 Qa4 11. h6 $5 { This is rare.} (11. Nf3 Nxd4 12. Bd3 Nef5 13. Kf1 {is the mainline.}) 11... Qxd4 {I was obviously on my own from this juncture as I was not able to remember any of my old preparation.} 12. Nf3 Qe4+ 13. Be2 Nxe5 14. Bc3 f6 15. Nxe5 fxe5 16. Qd2 $2 {Over-ambitious.} ({I had calculated that} 16. hxg7 $1 Rg8 17. Qd3 Qxd3 18. Bxd3 d4 19. Bb2 Rxg7 20. Rxh7 Rxh7 21. Bxh7 $11 {was White's best option and this was quickly verified with the engine.}) 16... g6 {This stablises Black's position on the kingside and asks White where the compensation for the missing 2 pawns is. Now, my opponent went for a direct approach which was easily parried} 17. Qg5 $2 (17. f3 Qf5 18. Bd3 Qf6 19. Qe2 $1 {This forces} d4 {after which} 20. Bd2 Bd7 21. O-O {gives White decent compensation in view of the bishop pair, strong light square control and Black's weak and doubled e-pawns.}) 17... Nc6 {I had seen that 18.Qf6 now is useless due to 18...Rg8! and Black covers all the critical entry points. Black has a clearly preferable position and I was just 2 moves away from consolidating my position with ..0-0 and Bd7 for instance. I started allowing myself to "drift", congratulated myself for a job well done and even started thinking about my opening choice for the next round. What I should have done is to remain focused, identify any potential threats and finish the game accurately before thinking about anything else. After a long think, my opponent went} 18. Rh3 $5 {....with the threat of 19.Re3, or so it seems. With a time advantage of 40 minutes to 3 minutes, I had more than sufficient time to check this position carefully but instead only took 4 minutes to play the horrendous} d4 $4 {, completely overlooking White's key idea in this previous move.} ({Of course, the easy} 18... O-O $19 19. Re3 (19. Bb4 Rf5) 19... Qf4 $1 (19... Qxc2 $1 20. Bxe5 Rf5 $1 {was also pretty convincing.}) 20. Qxf4 exf4 21. Rd3 b6 $19 {would have won quite easily.}) 19. Rf3 $1 {I had completely forgot this simple but terribly strong manoeuvre and it is safe to say that I had never felt as shocked and devastated after a single move. White's idea of Qg5-f6-f7 was simple and yet so effective that I had immediately rendered my position as "hopeless". I spent the next 30 minutes (in complete and utter misery) checking some lines superficially and wallowing in self pity, and kicking myself for not playing 18...0-0. I was literally in total despair and at some stage was even on the verge of tears. Of course, had I read Edouard's book before the round, I would have read one of his rules which states that " should never look behind and that you should always force your opponent to be as precise as possible. The situation had changed badly? Adapt yourself. Play according to the new position and to the new parameters... .."} b6 $4 {The second and decisive blunder.} ({I had seen that after} 19... Rf8 20. Rxf8+ Kxf8 21. Qf6+ Ke8 22. Qh8+ (22. Bd2 $1 b6 23. f3 Qf5 24. Qh8+ Qf8 25. Qxh7 Qf7 26. Qh8+ Qf8 27. Qxf8+ Kxf8 28. Bd3 Kf7 29. Kf2 {was the computer's first choice and this was rather difficult illogical to see from a human point of view.}) 22... Kd7 23. Qxh7+ (23. Bd2 b6 24. Qxh7+ Kd6 {[%cal Gc8a6]} 25. Kf1 Qxc2 {is extremely unclear.}) 23... Kd6 24. Qg8 ({An incredibly beautiful line could be seen after} 24. O-O-O Qxe2 25. Qg8 Kc7 $3 26. h7 Rb8 $3 27. h8=Q Bd7 $1 $14 {with a skewer on the last rank against 2 queens. This could quite likely be the only game in history that Black gets to skewer 2 queens on the last rank with the developing move, ...Bd7!}) 24... dxc3 25. h7 Nd4 26. Kf1 Qxe2+ 27. Kg1 {, there is no way for Black to stop White from promoting a second queen after which he would completely annihilate the Black king. Of course, had I not felt so sorry for myself, I might have seen the improbable} Nf3+ $3 {which continues the fight.} 28. Kh1 (28. gxf3 Qxf3 29. Qd8+ Bd7 30. Qxa8 Qg4+ {and White could not prevent the perpetual.}) 28... Ne1 $1 {and here, White has a choice:} 29. Qf8+ (29. Rxe1 Qxe1+ 30. Kh2 Qxf2 31. h8=Q Qf4+ 32. Kh3 Qf5+ 33. g4 Qf1+ 34. Kh4 Qf2+ 35. Kg5 Qf4+ 36. Kxg6 Qxg4+ 37. Kf7 (37. Kh6) 37... Qf5+ 38. Qf6 b6 $1 {and Black should hold this.}) 29... Kc7 (29... Kc6 30. Kg1 Qe4 31. Rxe1 Qxe1+ 32. Kh2 b6 33. Qe8+ Kb7 34. h8=Q $18) 30. Kg1 Nf3+ $3 31. gxf3 Bd7 $1 32. Qxa8 Qxf3 33. Qb8+ $3 Kxb8 34. h8=Q+ Kc7 35. Qxe5+ Kc8 $14 {and White retains some winning chances.}) 20. Qf6 Ba6 21. Qxh8+ Kd7 22. Qg7+ Kd6 23. Rd3 (23. Re3 {was more brutal but there are many ways to skin a cat.}) 23... Bxd3 24. cxd3 Qxg2 25. Bd2 e4 26. Bf4+ e5 27. Qf6+ Kd5 28. Rc1 Rc8 29. Rxc6 $1 {A nice finish with aplomb.} Qh1+ 30. Bf1 1-0

After checking the game thoroughly, I was certain that playing 19...Rf8 would have given me excellent chances of holding the game in view of my opponent's significant time trouble and this would have been possible had I been more mentally resilient and had not given up when I faced an internal crisis of some sort after 19.Rf3. Losing is always a painful experience but losing after outplaying a strong Grandmaster with the black pieces in an absolutely critical tournament was especially painful. Nevetheless, this was a meaningful lesson for me to learn and if anything, it had further strengthened my resolve more than ever to continue pursuing the GM title. Afterall, if you want an easy life, do not play chess competitively.

 Part 2 will be published in a few days and would feature an extremely interesting game against the Russian Grandmaster Alexander Fominyh.