Pretty Blunders - Jon Speelman's Agony Column #34

by Jonathan Speelman
12/28/2016 – In his last Agony Column of 2016 Jon Speelman looks into the past where he discovered examples of won positions that were mishandled pretty badly. After this trip down memory lane Jon Speelman looks at crucial errors that occured in high-class events of 2016.

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Jon Speelman's Agony Column #34


Black to play offered a draw. What do you think happened next?
The diagram is interactive. You can enter moves and
afterwards navigate with the arrows.

For the last column of the year, I'm going, as is traditional, to summarise a few of the main moments of drama (Agony and Ecstasy) which made up 2016. This will be on the wider stage but first a thought as to our main concern.

Chess is a highly emotional game in which two human beings do battle in real time (which is one reason, apart from their terrific core strength that it's so difficult – or rather almost impossible – to play against engines). The emotions can be almost overwhelming, positive and negative, and on the dark side it's worth considering the worst thing that can happen in a chess game.

This is normally a blunder that turns a won position at a single stroke into a loss. It can be on the board or perhaps even worse in one’s head when one resigns a won game and we had an instance of this a fortnight ago when an Indian amateur Bharat Singh Rawat resigned when he was totally winning. The most famous instance from chess literature is this one:

[Event "Monte Carlo"] [Site "Monte Carlo"] [Date "1902.??.??"] [Round "1"] [White "Von Popiel, Ignatz"] [Black "Marco, Georg"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C41"] [Annotator "Jonathan Speelman"] [PlyCount "71"] [EventDate "1902.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "19"] [EventCountry "MNC"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2001.11.25"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bc4 c6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. d4 Nd7 6. Be3 Ngf6 7. Qe2 Qc7 8. Ng5 O-O 9. f4 b5 10. Bd3 a6 11. O-O Bb7 12. Rae1 h6 13. Nf3 Ng4 14. Nd1 c5 15. c3 exd4 16. cxd4 Nxe3 17. Nxe3 cxd4 18. Nxd4 Nc5 19. Nef5 Bf6 20. Bb1 Rfe8 21. Qf3 Ne6 22. Nxe6 fxe6 23. Qb3 Kh8 24. Ng3 Bd4+ 25. Kh1 Qc4 26. Qd1 Bxb2 27. Qxd6 Rad8 28. Qb6 Rd7 29. Qf2 Bd4 30. Qf3 Rf8 31. Rc1 Qb4 32. Qd3 e5 33. fxe5 Rxf1+ 34. Rxf1 Qe7 35. Nf5 Qxe5 36. Rd1 {[#] Here Black resigned missing} (36. Rd1 Bg1 $1 37. Kxg1 Rxd3 38. Bxd3 Bxe4 {when he's winning easily.}) 1-0

Of course “You can't win a game by resigning” and there are many other instances including the magnificent example at the top

This comes from “Not the British Chess Magazine” a one off that Murray Chandler produced in 1984. I'm just looking at a copy now and it starts with an article by myself “How weird is your chess?” with a game by the brilliantly eccentric Michael Basman. There is a centrefold of Jan Timman on crutches after hurting a foot, and a splendidly politically incorrect lampooning of “Vegetarian Chess” by myself and others including the famous “Anaemic Parsnip Attack”.


The Anaemic Parsnip Attack

“Not the BCM” also included a “Blunder of the Year”, judged by a panel including myself. And the diagram at the top was the winner.

After Black offered a draw, White, not unreasonably, asked for a move. Black had a think and then played 28...Qxb2+! which forces mate in three more moves: 29.Kxb2 Rb3+ 30.Ka1 Ra8+ 31.Ba6 Rxa6. So stunned was White that forgetting the draw offer, he resigned!

On the wider stage, the main events have to be the world championship and the Olympiad. I'm going to concentrate on the former with just three diagrams starting with the moment that Sergey Karjakin qualified to play Magnus Carlsen.


S. Karjakin - F. Caruana, Candidates Tournament 2016, Position after 36.Qd2.
The diagram is interactive. You can enter moves
and afterwards navigate with the arrows.

This was in the last round of the Moscow Candidates where Fabiano Caruana had to beat Karjakin as Black to qualify (though had they drawn and Viswanathan Anand beaten Peter Svidler as Black then Caruana would have qualified ahead of Karjakin).

Caruana made a pretty good fist of it but got into time trouble and the decisive action occurred in the diagram where after

36...Re4? Karjakin kept his nerve and played the devastating sacrifice 37.Rxd5! exd5 38.Qxd5 This is horrible for Black and in time trouble more or less indefensible and after Qc7 39.Qf5 Rf7 40.Bxf7 Qe5 41.Rd7+ Kf8 42.Rd8+ Caruana resigned and Karjakin had qualified.

Just two moments from the world championship.

[Event "2016 World Championship"] [Site "New York"] [Date "2016.11.21"] [Round "8"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D05"] [WhiteElo "2853"] [BlackElo "2772"] [Annotator "Jonathan Speelman"] [PlyCount "104"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d5 3. e3 e6 4. Bd3 c5 5. b3 Be7 6. O-O O-O 7. Bb2 b6 8. dxc5 Bxc5 9. Nbd2 Bb7 10. Qe2 Nbd7 11. c4 dxc4 12. Nxc4 Qe7 13. a3 a5 14. Nd4 Rfd8 15. Rfd1 Rac8 16. Rac1 Nf8 17. Qe1 Ng6 18. Bf1 Ng4 19. Nb5 Bc6 20. a4 Bd5 21. Bd4 Bxc4 22. Rxc4 Bxd4 23. Rdxd4 Rxc4 24. bxc4 Nf6 25. Qd2 Rb8 26. g3 Ne5 27. Bg2 h6 28. f4 Ned7 29. Na7 Qa3 30. Nc6 Rf8 31. h3 Nc5 32. Kh2 Nxa4 33. Rd8 g6 34. Qd4 Kg7 35. c5 Rxd8 36. Nxd8 Nxc5 37. Qd6 Qd3 38. Nxe6+ fxe6 39. Qe7+ Kg8 40. Qxf6 a4 41. e4 Qd7 42. Qxg6+ Qg7 43. Qe8+ Qf8 {[#]} 44. Qc6 {As far as I know, Carlsen hasn't said publically whether this was a winning attempt or because if 44.Qg6+ he feared that Karjakin would play on rather than accede to the perpetual check. At the time I thought it was the former – having flown close to the flame twice and survived you should risk it again.} ({In any case, } 44. Qg6+ {should be fine after either} Qg7 ({or} 44... Kh8 45. e5) 45. Qe8+ Kh7 46. e5 {but Qc6 was really pushing it and Carlsen famously lost a few moves later:}) 44... Qd8 45. f5 a3 46. fxe6 Kg7 47. e7 Qxe7 48. Qxb6 Nd3 49. Qa5 Qc5 50. Qa6 Ne5 51. Qe6 h5 52. h4 a2 0-1

Of course, Carlsen actually won the match in the rapid play-off but the most critical moment had come several days earlier in the regular game he won:

[Event "2016 World Championship"] [Site "New York"] [Date "2016.11.24"] [Round "10"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C65"] [WhiteElo "2853"] [BlackElo "2772"] [Annotator "Jonathan Speelman"] [PlyCount "149"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 O-O 6. Bg5 h6 7. Bh4 Be7 8. O-O d6 9. Nbd2 Nh5 10. Bxe7 Qxe7 11. Nc4 Nf4 12. Ne3 Qf6 13. g3 Nh3+ 14. Kh1 Ne7 15. Bc4 c6 16. Bb3 Ng6 17. Qe2 a5 18. a4 Be6 19. Bxe6 fxe6 20. Nd2 d5 21. Qh5 { [#] Here Black should consider Nxf2+ and under normal circumstances Karjakin would most likely have realised that it forces a draw: But under the overwhelming strain of being close to becoming world championm he faltered. Carlsen got exactly the type of position he loves to play and did so superbly.} Ng5 (21... Nxf2+ 22. Kg2 (22. Kg1 $2 Qg5) 22... Qf7 23. Qe2 (23. Kg1 Qf6 { threatening Qg5} 24. Kg2 Qf7) 23... Nh4+ $1 24. Kg1 Nh3+ 25. Kh1 Nf2+) 22. h4 Nf3 23. Nxf3 Qxf3+ 24. Qxf3 Rxf3 25. Kg2 Rf7 26. Rfe1 h5 27. Nf1 Kf8 28. Nd2 Ke7 29. Re2 Kd6 30. Nf3 Raf8 31. Ng5 Re7 32. Rae1 Rfe8 33. Nf3 Nh8 34. d4 exd4 35. Nxd4 g6 36. Re3 Nf7 37. e5+ Kd7 38. Rf3 Nh6 39. Rf6 Rg7 40. b4 axb4 41. cxb4 Ng8 42. Rf3 Nh6 43. a5 Nf5 44. Nb3 Kc7 45. Nc5 Kb8 46. Rb1 Ka7 47. Rd3 Rc7 48. Ra3 Nd4 49. Rd1 Nf5 50. Kh3 Nh6 51. f3 Rf7 52. Rd4 Nf5 53. Rd2 Rh7 54. Rb3 Ree7 55. Rdd3 Rh8 56. Rb1 Rhh7 57. b5 cxb5 58. Rxb5 d4 59. Rb6 Rc7 60. Nxe6 Rc3 61. Nf4 Rhc7 62. Nd5 Rxd3 63. Nxc7 Kb8 64. Nb5 Kc8 65. Rxg6 Rxf3 66. Kg2 Rb3 67. Nd6+ Nxd6 68. Rxd6 Re3 69. e6 Kc7 70. Rxd4 Rxe6 71. Rd5 Rh6 72. Kf3 Kb8 73. Kf4 Ka7 74. Kg5 Rh8 75. Kf6 1-0

With these three examples of Agony and Ecstacy at the highest level, we close 2016. Next week it'll be back to normal business. Please do keep sending in your games. You'd be surprised at how bashful the readership has been and will have excellent chances of being published here.

A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

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Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.
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Malcom Malcom 12/30/2016 12:04
Happy Holidays to you maestro and a great 2017 in chess and all life's endeavor. Your articles are very interesting and refreshing.