Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Last round loss from the Wisconsin Memorial

This is my last round loss against Erik Santarius (2177) from the Wisconsin Memorial.

Comments from Alex Betaneli (2287)
"Erik and I looked at it for a long time last night and found fascinating things, many turning points. In particular I suggest to Ivan to identify moments when he went from clearly better to slightly better to even to slightly worse to much worse to hopelessly lost"

Click here for games replay

The first few moves of a chess game is usually a dance where each player is trying to provoke the other to move the game along in a direction that is more familiar to himself.

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6 I have never encountered this move. The Chigorin Defense is 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6. So I could get into it by playing c4 here, but I decided to play 3.Bf4 since I figured my opponent knew the main lines better than I did.

3.Bf4 e6 4.e3 Bd6 5.Bxd6Since my remaining bishop was better than his, I decided to exchange. I also considered:

Bg3 with ideas of opening the h-file if the Bishop was taken, Or


Or simply allowing ...Bxf4
5... cxd6

Black gets another pawn to the center, protects the e5 square and hopes to find counter-play on the c-file

6.c4 Nf6 7.Nc3 dxc4 8.Bxc4 0-0 9.0-0 a6

Black tries to expand on the q-side.

10.a4I put a stop to q-side expansion ideas by Black, but create a hole on b4, but I did not consider this a major issue since a4 is a very common move in QG games. I considered 10 d5. It was probably a better move.

10.a4 e5 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.Qxd8 Rxd8 13.Ng5

** White is Better

Better bishop, ahead in development, able to use the d-file first, the Black e-pawn is a target. The only advantage I see for Black is that he has a pawn on the 5th rank and mine is on the 3rd.

I was very happy with my position, and was sure that White could not lose. I thought that I could exchange as many pieces as possible and get an easy draw. It is never a good idea to play for a draw and in fact that is a sure way to lose.

I should have:

1.Controlled the d-file

2.Centralized my king

13...Rf8 14.Nd5
I offered a draw here

A better way to exchange the Knight was to play 14.Nge4, then Black does not get a tempo by attacking the Bishop, and if Black takes the Knight my Knight remains actively placed.

14...Nxd5 15.Bxd5 Nb4 16.Bc4

I didn't want to part with the Bishop, as it was on a good diagonal, but simply 16.Rfd1 might have been better, why lose a tempo?

16...Bd7 17.Nf3I lost way too much time with this Knight and let Black get all his pieces out while it moved aimlessly around. The idea was to put pressure on the e-pawn.

***White is slightly Better

17...Rfe8 18.Ng5 Re7

I have given Black 2 free moves

19.Ne4I thought that d3 might be good square for the Knight.

19...Bc6 20.Nc3

Decided to come back to c3 as I now saw that Black could easily double rooks on the d-file, and I had to challenge him.

***Equal 20.... Rd8 21.Rfd1 Red7 22.b3

After exchanges a4 needs to be protected, 22.a5 might have been better

***Black is slightly better

22...Kf8 23.Rxd7 Rxd7 24.Rd1 Rxd1+ 25.Nxd1 Ke7

I was afraid of 25...b5

26.Nc3 f6
27.h4.Kd6 28.e4
I didn't think that the Black King could do anything on the q-side, but I was wrong. Actually in some variations I may have been correct, if the White knight enters the Black k-side. 27.h4 was wrong, the idea was to move the pawns to black squares 28.e4 was a mistake. I was afraid of Black's king getting into the q-side after exchanging twice on d5, but I didn't have to exchange off both minors. This move obstructs my own bishop. 28.Bg8 was much better.

*** Black is better

Kc5 29.f3 Nc2 30.Na2?? (Black wins a pawn and the game 30.Bg8 is much better)

My first big mistake and it is decisive. With the Black pieces so active I t may not have made much difference. Since all three black pieces are attacking on the q-side and I am defending with 2, (With the knight running short of squares) it may have been too late to save the game.

***Black is winning

30...Bxa4 31.Bg8 Be8 32.Kf2 Kd4 33.Bd5 b6 34.Bc4 b5 35.Bd5 Kd3 36.b4 Nd4 37.Bg8 Kc2 38.Ke3 Bd7 39.Bd5 Be6 0-1

The position below is from a possible unplayed variation. What is interesting about is that White is actually better. Although the Black king is very aggressively placed it is also too far away to protect the k-side pawns and the White knight starts to munch on them. My h4 move actually makes sense in this variation!


  1. Ivan,

    Wanted to appreciate your efforts in reporting all major events in Wisconsin. I check your blog as frequently as

    In this game, I liked your honesty in reporting the feelings. I think you wereplaying for draw. You should have played for win and let black draw the game. You have beaten equally strong players in the past and could have done the same here also...who knows.

    I feel it was the psychological factor that cost you the game.

  2. Ivan,

    I agree with Souvik on the critical point: offering a draw to a higher rated person, even in a slightly better position, is psychologically wrong. When I moved from expert to master class (a long time ago at this point), the main thing that changed was the attitude: I stopped being afraid of higher rated folks. It's VERY important NOT to assume the attitude: "oh, I am going to learn from this even if I lose." Higher rated people are there to beat you, not to teach you (during the game that is). Erik did precisely that. When higher rated players play, we (I am usually THE player in WI) will tell you when we want a draw. Until we do though, one is better off shuffling his/her pieces while staying focused; when we press too hard, you have to be mentally ready to win the game!

    Chesswise, Erik will email you with his thoughts. Briefly, you have to look DEEPER into Nge4 instead of Nd5: you pinpoint the problem, but don't dig in.... Erik and I felt white's advantage was quite substantial after Nge4; I encourage you to support this with variations. And h4 deserves a "??" in our opinion; there is no time for such a move (dictated by highly abstact thinking) in the position where centralization of the King is a matter of life or death (concrete thinking). I know it is a challenge to decide what factor (of the many!) is the key one to address DURING the game. However, during the analysis, it's essential; so much so that if you don't do it, you might as well not analyze at all. And it's not enough to say that "perhaps moving the king to the center was a better idea," one has to provide variations to support this statement.

    Chess itself is complicated. One can argue what it is (sport, science, art, game, religion, waste of time, etc.). However, PLAYING chess is definitely a SKILL. As with any skill polishing, one has to work at the EDGE OF HIS COMFORT ZONE, constantly pushing himself. If you do it, you will get your 2000 and start shooting for another goal. No reason why you cannot become a master. Best of luck man!

    Alex Betaneli

    PS Improving is hard, I of all people know it too well. My knowledge now is infinitely greater than 10 years ago, yet my rating is the same as in 1994. The only reason I know I am actually improving is that my wins vs GMs came only in recent few years! Of course, winning WI events is of no help at all. That's why my best students play in WI sparingly. :-)

  3. Alex,

    I just read your comments on the role of changing one's attitude as a part of getting better. Your words are helpful and offer insight into the mind of a Master to us class level players. You must be a great teacher to your students. Thank you !!

  4. Hmm... Who are you refering to when you say play in WI SPARINGLY, maaaaaaan!


    Fan Wu
    D.B.A Badger

  5. Ivan,

    In our game I thought you played the opening fairly well. I was left with a crooked bishop on c8 that had little to do. Thus I tried ...e5, but it was a mistake - I had calculated to the position after Ng5 but didn't realize how bad it was. After that, though, you played very passively. It is critical to control the d-file in this sort of position, and to put pieces on active squares - the knight on d6, for instance. The weakness of the e5 pawn you mention can only be taken advantage of through calculation - it is not enough to merely note that it is vulnerable. In general, positional understanding alone does not make you play good moves. Calculation, looking ahead at least a couple moves all the time, combined with positional ideas, leads to finding good moves.

    Moves like Ng5-f3 and then Nf3-g5, or h2-h4 later on, wasted time - time is extremely important in chess. That is the reason you were better after we traded queens - you had all the pieces out and ready for action, but I had to spend time developing my rook on f8 and bishop on c8. Time is the reason that I got a great position in the endgame: I simply moved f6 to guard the pawn, and rushed my king as fast as possible to the queenside, going after the pawns, and I made it there first.

    About offering people draws - one of the best ways to improve is to play chess - thus, you shouldn't offer draws in any position because you don't get practice when a game is drawn quickly. I personally play out all positions to the bitter end, unless I am toast (e.g. down pawns for nothing) and I receive a draw offer, or the position is a dead draw (e.g. triple repetition or R + P vs R + P on one side), or in the extremely rare case that I don't want to play more chess.

    I wish you good luck on reaching 2000+. I would suggest working on calculation by solving hard tactics or playing blindfold games.


  6. Erik alludes to a very important point of "dimensions" of chess. Ivan, you focus too much on what is known as "quality" (Rowson's term I think). Loosely speaking,this dimension involves pawn structure/ bad bishops/ outposts/etc. Namely, positional elements. Yet, chess is not just that; it's more like four dimensions (according to many, including GM Kasparov):
    2.opportunity/initiative (some call it "time" meaning tempos)
    4.time on the clock

    Beginners have a hard time with (1): good luck explaining to a 5 year old kid that Rooks ARE move valuable than Knights! It's almost hopeless if the kid thinks Knights are the nicer looking! One begins to understand (2) rather quickly at first: gambit play is a great example of a triumph of initiative over material, even if it is a simplistic example. Many never come to appreciate (3), even advanced players of "A" class! Many never appreciate (4) or rather they say it's not as important as "pure chess" whatever that term means. You give them 8 hours and they are still in time trouble!

    Players below "A" class blunder too often, but can (more or less easily, depending on life circumstances) move up the ladder. Then they hit a wall. You seem to overvalue (1) and (3) at the expense of (2). Players like you (I used to be one for the longest time, so I recognize this problem) kind of know that initiative (and even just calculation!) is important, but tend not to concern themselves with such earthly matters. They pride themselves on "understanding": an ephemeral concept that leads one to become lazy and write off their shortcomings too easily. I was stuck with this problem until about 4 years ago as a MASTER (goes to show just slow on the uptake I am). When I realized that (2) is a huge factor, I started beating higher rated folks (even GMs on occasion!) regularly.

    Interested in more? Read GM Rowson's books. And stop reading Silman please. :-)

    Besides basic calculation (more is better), the methods of training for adults have to be highly invididualized. That's the opposite of what most books (and many "trainers") would lead you to believe! If I were to come up with a learning program for you, Parker and Coons (three adult "A" class players who CAN/WANT to improve), they would incredibly different programs.

    There is almost certainly no way to say that "A" class players need to study something specific (ESPECIALLY particular kinds of endgames!): each adult, developed "A" class player is going to possess a rather unique set of problems and thus needs highly individualized instruction! It's less true with kids, but I can assure you that with them I have individualized instruction aimed at conquering their specific weaknesses. When you get advice on your blog, do understand that 99% of time it's just that: free advice! Most folks wish you well, but either don't have the chess knowledge or the teaching ability to do more than cheer for you and take pride in your success story! I humbly suggest taking what I say with a grain of salt too.

    Above all, realism and disciplined self-analysis is crucial. Consider that good four out of five chess players believe at least one of the statements below:
    a."I am somewhat underrated"
    b."I am less lucky that most players"
    c."my understanding of chess is so much better than my rating shows"
    d."if I really pushed through with my hobby, I could have been a GM"

    Honestly, I was afflicted with all of them at some point. Now I only claim that "d" is true and even that I do with good friends after a few glasses of good wine!

    Alex Betaneli

    PS Yuck! Who would have the freaking patience to finish reading such a long blog in one sitting?

  7. Alex and Erik, thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts, it is really appreciated.


  8. Thanks for sharing the game Ivan. I'll be using it with my students as its good for players around the 2000 rating bracket.

    Thanks to Alex and Erik for their input.

    Keep up the good work.

    Best wishes