16 May 2015

On a Losing Streak

In recent months I've lost five important chess960 games. In most of those games I'm not even sure why I lost, so I'm going to spend a few posts looking at them in more depth. Perhaps I can uncover a general pattern of weakness in my play.

The first game I lost was in round three of the 2014 SchemingMind Chess960 Dropout Tournament. The last time I discussed a game from this type of tournament was for the 2013 event in The Initial Positional Considerations. I had played my opponent in three previous games, all of them draws. I told him, 'I see we're +0-0=3 in past games. Time for a tiebreaker?', and he answered, 'I think so!' He was White in SP218 NQRKBBNR and played 1.c4, giving the position shown in the top diagram.

I don't know what came over me in this position; perhaps it was an unconscious urge to take a risk. I normally would have played something like 1...c5, maintaining symmetry. Instead I saw the possibility of playing a gambit and after some analysis decided to roll the dice. I played 1...O-O-O.

My opponent played 2.d4, the move that I was expecting. I answered with a Pawn sacrifice, 2...e5, reaching the position in the bottom diagram. After 3.dxe5 f6 4.exf6 Nxf6, my gambit idea was achieved.

What does Black have for the Pawn? I thought the moves ...d5 and ...Bg6 would give me active play, especially since it's not clear where the White King will eventually castle to find safety. White played 5.e4, meeting both of my 'active' ideas and challenging me to find a new idea.

Now the idea 5...d5 6.exd5, doesn't work. The game continued 5...c6 6.Nb3 Bg6 7.Bd3, where another 'active' idea 7...Ng4, is met with 8.Nh3. After the further moves 7...Nb6 8.Ne2 Ng4 9.O-O-O, White's King is perfectly safe and Black has nothing for the Pawn. My position went from bad to worse to lost, and I resigned on the 33rd move, my King in the center, subject to a vicious attack.

In retrospect I would give my moves 1...O-O-O a '!?' and 2...e5 a '?!'. I can't think of a first move for Black in traditional chess that deserves a '!?'. After the game, my opponent said, 'I have found from past personal experience, castling on the first move makes for a very difficult game!' I could hardly disagree with him, especially when it is followed by a dubious gambit.

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