Saturday, February 9, 2013

Never say die! redux

Last Christmas I published Latino-Dumas, a game in which White on move 3 hung an entire piece to a queen check. Rather than resigning (as some others had done in the same position), Latino played on and went on to win the game! Here's a similar example: White blunders a piece on move 5, also to ...Qa5+, yet goes on to win. White's 6.Nc3 is an improvement on GM Ivan Farago's "Resigns," as in Farago-Bliumberg, 1994. To be precise, 6.Nc3! had been seen before, in Kunte (2536!)-Varga (2494!), 2008. That game ended in a draw!

How strong was the loser of our subject game, who won a whole piece on move 5, but went on to lose? She is Anna Ushenina, who at the time of this game was rated 2458. Later in the year, she went on to win the Women's World Championship, thereby automatically becoming a grandmaster.

It's fascinating to analyze this game with an engine. How could a strong player go from being a clear piece up to losing the game? She didn't play a terrible blunder, but rather a number of second-best moves: 11...b5 (11...Qb4! 12.Qe2 Bxd4-+), the weakening 14...gxf5?! (14...O-O), 20...Bb7?! (20...Qb5), the decentralizing 21...Nh5?!, 23...a5? (23...Nhf6!), and 24...Bg7? (24...Nhf6!). Her final mistake was 25...Ndf6? According to Houdini 3, she would still have kept a large advantage with 25...a4!, driving the bishop off the a2-g8 diagonal, e.g. 26.Bd1 Ndf6 27.Be2 (27.e5 c5! 28.exf6 Nxf6!) Kf8 28.Nd6 exd6! 29.Bxb5 cxb5 30.d5 Re8. Of course, all of this is much easier to see with Houdini, rather than a ticking clock, next to you.

The moral(s) of the story? Don't expect a "won game" to win itself. Stay alert and try to play the most accurate and incisive moves. Don't be afraid to give back some material to simplify the position into one that you can win more easily and/or gives the opponent fewer counterchances.

On the other side of the board: if you have a losing position, don't mentally give up the game. Keep the position complicated, and keep setting problems for your opponent. Be alert to tactical chances. Don't resign unless you have no realistic chance of winning or drawing the game. (This will vary depending not only on the position, but also on your strength, your opponent's strength, and the clock situation. Ushenina would probably have won this game if at had been played at a standard time control rather than rapid.)

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