David vs Goliath: My first win against a 2600 GM

by Sagar Shah
6/13/2017 – It happened eight years ago: in the third round of the Mayor's Cup 2009, 19-year-old Sagar Shah was pitted against the strong Russian grandmaster Vladimir Belov. A product of the Russian chess school, Belov was stronger than the Mumbai boy by nearly 400 Elo points. Sagar's confidence had reached rock bottom. He left for the round from his home with a mentality of already having lost the game. On the way to the playing hall, a miracle occurred! Check out the article to see what transpired.

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I get up at six in the morning. I am playing the Mayor's Cup international chess tournament 2009, which is being held in my hometown, Mumbai. The game is to begin at 10 a.m. but I am not able to sleep.

The reason: my third round opponent is the extremely strong Russian GM Vladimir Belov, rated 2628. While preparing for him on the previous day I saw that he hardly had lost a game to players rated lower than him. After all, to reach a rating of 2628 you have to be consistent. With my paltry rating of 2268 I had mentally given up hope of beating this formidable opponent. And when I heard that he was a second of the super famous Alexander Grischuk, that was the last nail in my coffin!

How can a player who is just another bloke in the sun (i.e. myself) challenge a product of the mighty Russian chess school? More importantly, what quality did I possess that would be superior to his? His opening knowledge would definitely be world class, as he had worked for Grischuk. He must surely have seen more middlegame patterns, and well, even a 12-year-old Russian boy would play better endgames than me! I left my home with this “I give up” attitude. It was definitely a David vs Goliath encounter!

David and Goliath — how terribly unfair! But maybe not exactly the way you think.

I reached the railway station on my way to the tournament hall. And while I was on the bridge I saw the train approaching the platform. I made a dash to catch it! My eyes were fixed on the carriages entering the station. Thoughts like, “I will be late for the game if I don’t catch the train, a ten-minute deficit against Belov will be like rubbing salt into a wound, etc., etc.!” started to bombard my mind.

BAMMM! In my haste I hadn’t seen a stone that was lying in my path, and I fell. It wasn’t a bad fall, and I got up instantly, but I had lost enough time to no longer be able to catch the train! I waited for the next one to come. While I was waiting, I tried to think about what had just happened.

There were two forces interacting in the situation: the train and myself.

I had absolutely no control on how the train would behave, but I had full control over my body, my legs and my speed. I should have been focussed on how I could maximize my running speed, on how to dodge the obstacles in my path, and devoted my attention to that. Instead, what I did was to watch the train, as if my gaze were powerful enough to slow it down!

Add to that my mind, which was producing negative emotions. How in the universe was I to focus on the job at hand? As I reached the tournament hall, I had formulated an important hypothesis: In many situations in life there two forces interacting with each other.

1. Forces that are in our control.

2. Forces that are out of our control.

In such a scenario it is important to completely block out the forces which are not in our control and focus with all the energy on what is in our hands. Because if you give your best and still can’t achieve the job, you need not be upset, as there was nothing more that you could have done. But what we definitely should not be doing is to waste our precious energy on things that we cannot influence (like the train).

Thus the moral is: train your mind to always focus and give 100% on the things that you can influence. If you do that you will never feel guilty, that you didn’t give it your best!


As for my game with Vladimir Belov, I reached the board a few minutes late, but I was calm. My mind was focused on the work at hand: to make the best moves! It was as if I didn’t even care who was sitting opposite me. We played a hard-fought game, and believe it or not, after four hours I managed to beat him! Since that day David has grown and with that so has my confidence and self-belief!

Vladimir Belov - Sagar Shah (annotated by Sagar Shah)

[Event "2nd Mumbai Mayor's Cup"] [Site "?"] [Date "2009.05.03"] [Round "3"] [White "Vladmir, Belov"] [Black "Sagar, Shah"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E12"] [WhiteElo "2623"] [BlackElo "2271"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "82"] [EventDate "2009.05.03"] [SourceDate "2009.03.06"] [SourceVersionDate "2009.03.06"] {This game is an example of how not to get intimidated by a really strong opposition and at the same time how we should always try to improve our position bit by bit. When all the small advantages unite we get a big advantage.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. c4 b6 4. Nc3 Bb7 5. a3 d5 6. cxd5 Nxd5 7. e3 {This has proved to be quite a toothless line after Black replies g6, but that is where my knowledge ended.} g6 8. Bb5+ c6 9. Bd3 Bg7 10. O-O O-O 11. Nxd5 $6 exd5 {If he wanted to take on d5 then he should have played Bd3 directly, without Bb5+. Why give a check and force me to play c6 when that is the move I have to make anyway! !} 12. b4 a5 $1 13. Bb2 Nd7 14. Qc2 Qe7 15. Bc3 axb4 16. axb4 Rfc8 17. Qb2 Qf8 18. Nd2 Rxa1 19. Rxa1 Ra8 20. Rc1 $6 {Surrendering the a-file to me. Here I was very much tempted by the idea to go f5-f4, but later decided it would be too exposing and just simply doubled on the a-file.} Ra4 21. Bc2 Ra7 22. Bb1 Qa8 23. h3 Ba6 $1 {Improving my bishop. Throughout the game I tried to improve my pieces, and it finally led to a big advantage.} 24. Bc2 Bb5 25. e4 Nf6 $1 26. e5 Nh5 27. g3 Bh6 28. Re1 Ra2 29. Qb1 Qa3 30. Nb3 { Now Ng7 followed by Ne6 would have given me a nice position where he would have no counterplay, but I went in for Bc4, not seeing my opponent's excellent counterstroke.} Bc4 31. e6 $1 Ng7 (31... fxe6 32. Bxg6 hxg6 (32... Qxb3 33. Bxh7+) 33. Qxg6+ Ng7 34. Rxe6 Qa8 35. Qxh6 Bxb3 36. Rxc6 {and the position is unclear.}) 32. e7 Ne8 33. Bd2 $2 (33. Bd1 {and White should have a small advantage. But I think my opponent touched the wrong B.}) 33... Bxb3 34. Bxg6 hxg6 (34... Bxd2 {would have won even more quickly.}) 35. Bxh6 Bc2 36. Qc1 Qxc1 37. Bxc1 Bd3 38. Be3 f6 39. g4 Rb2 40. Kg2 Rb1 41. Bc1 Kf7 {and he resigned. My first win against 2600+ GM.} 0-1

This was first published on ChessBase India under a series called "Philosophical side of chess". Here are the three articles of the series:

Part I of the Philosophical side of chess: Leave your comfort zone 
Part II of the Philosophical side of chess: Knights and Bishops 
Part III of the Philosophical side of chess: David vs Goliath

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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