Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lessons learned

Many chessplayers find losing a game to be a painful experience. All too often the scoresheet ends up falling behind a bureau where it is eventually swept up with some dustballs and thrown out, never to be reexamined or even seen again. This is an unfortunate outcome because a lost game is an opportunity to find out what sorts of errors we are making – provided we are brutally honest with ourselves. This information can then be used to design a plan of study aimed at reducing or eliminating those errors. This will definitely improve our play and may lead to dramatic rating gains. It might be said that there is no shame in losing a game of chess; if there is any shame it consists in not learning anything from the experience.

The first diagram shows a position from the famous game Bernstein-Capablanca, Moscow 1914. It is Black to play, and both sides have aimed for this position. For his part, Bernstein has won a pawn in apparent security. He sees that Capablanca cannot do any harm with 1...Qb1+ 2.Qf1 Rd1 because of the reply 3.Rc8+. Capablanca, on the other hand, has seen a winning shot based on White's weak back rank and undefended pieces: 1...Qb2!! This threatens both 2...Qxe2 and 2...Qxc3, so the only real defensive try is 2.Rc2. But on c2 the rook is now vulnerable to a double attack and Black wins with 2...Qb1+ 3.Qf1 Qxc2.

Every serious chessplayer is familiar with Capablanca's wonderful combination. His opponent Ossip Bernstein was probably unhappy to lose this game, but it must have been a great learning experience for him. I say this for two reasons. For one thing, he went on to become a very strong grandmaster and even drew a match with Alexander Alekhine while the latter was at the peak of his powers. But he obviously learned some more specific things as well.

Take a look at the second diagram, which shows a position from the game Kahn-Bernstein, Paris 1926. The lesson given by Capablanca on loose pieces, weak back ranks and deflection sacrifices has obviously had its effect, because Black found the very strong move 1...Rxf2! After the reply 2.Rxe6?! he finished the game with 2...Qe2!! There are two threats: 3...Qxe1+ and 3...Rf1+, and White cannot defend with 3.Bxf2 because of 3...Qxf2+ followed by mate. Instead of 2.Rxe6?! White can play 2.Qe4 but Black is still winning after 2...Bf5 3.Qd5 Qxd5 5.Rxd5 Rxg2+!

White in turn must have learned something from this loss, for he went on to co-author a classic book entitled The Art of the Checkmate.

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About Me

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Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.