The missed combination of a lifetime

by Akshat Chandra
11/14/2014 – We’ve all had games where we have overlooked a dazzling combination, and in fact went on to lose. It’s an extremely painful feeling when you find out that you missed out on winning the game with a beautiful finish. Akshat Chandra spotted a particularly dramatic example from the Asian Continental in 2012, and discussed it with the player involved. It's a jewel of a combination.

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Liem: “It would have been my best game ever …”

By Akshat Chandra

A month ago, I came across a game which had an extremely exciting and complicated position. It took place during the Asian Continental Chess Championship 2012 held in the city of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The game was between...

... Chinese GM Ni Hua, currently rated 2677 and ranked number 67 in the world, and...

Vietnamese GM Liem Le Quang, rated 2678, number 63 in the world.

Ni,Hua (2673) - Le Quang,Liem (2703) [B84]
Asian Continental op Ho Chi Minh City (8), 12.05.2012

What is going on here? The board is on fire, everything seems to be hanging, and both kings look relatively unsafe. White has just thrusted forward with 29.g6, and it seems his attack has broken through first, as there seems to be no satisfactory way to deal with the threat of 30.Qxh7. Liem played 29...h5??, after which White won with 30.Qxh5 Ba3+ 31.Kxb3 1-0.

Sadly for Liem he was unable to find an extraordinary, albeit difficult, tactical refutation to White’s g6 move, and missed out on a glorious win. I connected with him a few days ago to get his perspective, and insights. Reminiscing about the game he told me, “It would have been my best game ever if I had not missed that combination.” He was very polite and gracious to answer some of my questions about the game.

Akshat: What was the time situation at that point (move 29) – specifically how much time did you have?

Liem: I think both Ni Hua and I had around ten minutes at that point, with 30 seconds increment per move – but that doesn't help much in this situation.

Akshat: Did you realize you missed the tactic during the game, or did you find out afterwards?

Liem: I did not realize it during the game, neither did my opponent. After I finished, someone told me that I missed a brilliant combination. I checked with a computer and could not believe my eyes!

Akshat: Was your intuition telling you that there was a win for you, or did you feel like the position was already beyond saving? Of course, time control could have been a big factor...

Liem: I felt that I should be winning indeed. But after looking for a while, I saw nothing, panicked and played the horrible h5. To be honest, I also had a win on move 28, which was far easier to calculate than the one on move 29. After I missed that I became upset and collapsed under time pressure.

Indeed, Liem did miss a win on the prior move, as he points out. It wouldn’t have been as spectacular and epic as the combination arising on move 29, but in the end you don’t get style points for how you win. All that matters is that you got the win. The first missed opportunity Liem is referencing:

[Event "Asian Continental 2012"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.05.12"] [Round "8"] [White "Hua, Ni"] [Black "Quang Le, Liem"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2673"] [BlackElo "2703"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1r3k1/1q3pPp/1N2n3/4p1P1/pbP1b3/1P2BB2/pK5Q/3R3R b - - 0 28"] [PlyCount "15"] {While 28...axb3 may not be a bad move, Liem missed a chance to finish the game off immediately had he played} 28... Nxg5 $1 {the move Liem had referred to when I spoke with him. The point is that if} (28... axb3 $2 29. g6 h5 30. Qxh5 Ba3+ 31. Kxb3 {1-0 (31) Ni,H (2673)-Le Quang,L (2703) Ho Chi Minh City 2012}) 29. Bxg5 {the simple} Qxb6 {gives Black a crushing attack. If} 30. Bxe4 {then} Bc3+ 31. Kxc3 (31. Kc2 axb3+ 32. Kxc3 (32. Kd3 Qd4+ 33. Ke2 Qxe4+ 34. Be3 a1=Q $19) 32... a1=Q+ 33. Rxa1 Qd4+ 34. Kxb3 Qxc4+ 35. Kb2 Qb4#) 31... a1=Q+ $1 (31... Qxb3+ $4 {would be hasty, and now it is White who wins after} 32. Kd2 {and Black will run out of checks.}) 32. Kd2 (32. Rxa1 Qd4+ 33. Kc2 axb3+ 34. Kxb3 Qxc4+ 35. Kb2 Qb4# {A transposition to the 32.Kd3 line.}) 32... Qbd4+ 33. Bd3 (33. Ke2 Qxe4+ $19) 33... Qab2+ 34. Ke1 Qxh2 35. Rxh2 Qg1+ $19 { [%csl Rh2][%cal Rg1h2]} 1-0

Going back to the position in our diagram above, instead of 29...h5 your mission is to find the spectacular winning combination for Black. Take your time, because it’s quite difficult; probably an eight on a scale of ten.

Ni,Hua (2673) - Le Quang,Liem (2703) [B84]
Asian Continental op Ho Chi Minh City (8), 12.05.2012

Black to move. Good Luck!

The solution to the above position is just one click away, but we urge you not to succumb and actually spend some time – fifteen minutes, half an hour – trying to work it out yourself. If you don't you will miss the opportunity to experience the wonderful feeling of discovery, the joy of finding a jewel of a combination yourself. And even if you don't succeed, you will definitely understand and appreciate what follows more profoundly. We will even provide a proper 3D Fritz board for you to mull over:

[Event "Asian Continental op"] [Site "Ho Chi Minh City"] [Date "2012.05.12"] [Round "8"] [White "Ni, Hua"] [Black "Le Quang, Liem"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B84"] [WhiteElo "2673"] [BlackElo "2703"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1r3k1/1q3pPp/1N2n3/4p1P1/1bP1b3/1p2BB2/pK5Q/3R3R w - - 0 29"] [PlyCount "14"] [EventDate "2012.05.05"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "VIE"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2012.06.22"] 29. g6 Ba3+ {Black needs to keep giving forced moves, and so each of his moves has to be a check.} 30. Kxb3 (30. Ka1 b2+ 31. Kxa2 Bc5+ 32. Kxb2 Qxb6+ 33. Kc3 Qb4#) ({Liem: I calculated} 30. Kc3 a1=Q+ 31. Rxa1 {and saw nothing there. Of course I did not realize the idea of Nd4+, Rxc4+, etc.}) 30... a1=N+ $1 ({Liem: "As I remember, some ideas like} 30... Qxb6+ {crossed my mind, but I thought it would not work."}) 31. Rxa1 (31. Kc3 Rxc4+ $1 32. Kd2 (32. Kxc4 Qc6+ 33. Bc5 Qxc5#) (32. Nxc4 Qb4#) 32... Rc2+ 33. Ke1 Rxh2 $19 {picks up the Queen.}) 31... Qxb6+ $3 32. Bxb6 Nd4+ 33. Kc3 (33. Bxd4 Rcb8+ 34. Bb6 Rxb6+ 35. Kc3 Bb4+ 36. Kb2 Bd2#) 33... Rxc4+ $3 34. Kd2 (34. Kxc4 Rc8+ 35. Bc5 Rxc5#) 34... Nxf3+ { One of the finer points of this combination is revealed. It was essential the queen be on h2, to make this fork possible. That's why this combination wouldn't work after Liem's 29.h5, as the queen would be on h5 instead.} 35. Ke3 Nxh2 $19 {Black is up two pieces and will easily win this game.} 1-0

About the author: Akshat Chandra

I'm 15-years-old and in grade eleven. I learnt chess when my family relocated to India, for a few years. I started playing in 2009, and received a FIDE rating of 1548 in January 2010. When I competitively got involved in chess, I realized that at around 9 ½ years of age I’d started very late, compared to peers in US and India. The leading players in and around my age-group had started playing chess at five or six years of age, and were hundreds of Elo points above me. Whoa!

I’m on a Quest to the GM title. It's not going to be easy to reach this coveted title, and it requires a lot of support and training. But like others before me who have walked the difficult road, I'll continue putting in the hard work that has got me so far in less than five years, from a 1548 to a 2490 IM. As famous American Football quarterback Joe Namath once said: "If you're not going all the way, then why go at all." More can be learnt about me and my quest to the GM title on my blog QuestToGM.

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Born in 1999 Akshat is currently on a quest for the GM title. He started playing chess at the comparatively late age of nine, but made rapid progress and at the age of 15, has an IM title, a GM norm, and a 2490 FIDE rating. He is also a budding author who has attended the online advanced writing program of John Hopkins University. More about him on his blog QuestToGM..
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genem genem 11/14/2014 07:34
I wish this game viewer would show the type of piece taken on each capture. I frequently have to retract the move just to see what piece type was captured; is a hassle.
Kevin Seow Kevin Seow 11/14/2014 06:04
Chess is now a YOUNG man's game~!