(Colorado Chess Informant – April 1999)
By NM Todd Bardwick
This column is written to help you improve your study efficiency and better understand the positional aspects of the game.
Although positional analysis will be my focus here, it is important to identify tactics as an equally important skill to master.
Positional play and tactics are the building blocks of chess in all three phases of the game: openings, middlegame, and endgame. Positional evaluation is the understanding of what is happening, then tactics is the vehicle you use to calculate and carry out your plan.
More games are typically won and lost because of good or bad tactics play. Combinations and tactics exist in almost every position in chess and although the basics are simple concepts (pins, forks, etc.), putting them all together is the key. Tactics create the beauty in chess.
A study plan for tactics is simple. Sit down at the board and set a goal to solve some predetermined number of positions each day and stick to it! Don’t just cruise through the positions….when you are finished with each one, take the time to study the author’s solution so that you fully understand what is going on. Combination Challenge! by Lou Hays and John Hall is an excellent book for this with over a thousand positions. What’s the Best Move? by Larry Evans is also a good book. Chess Life also features several “white to play and win” type articles every month. Stay away from books that focus on “White to move and mate in X” because these problems don’t come up too much in practice and nobody can tell you in a tournament that you have a mate in two or three moves.
I only comment on openings since this is by far where most amateur’s misallocate the bulk of their study time for a variety of reasons. Booking up and memorizing openings for pretty much anyone rated under 2000 will give you the least value for the time invested.
First of all, most opening books or chess opening databases (where you “book up” on openings) are a collection of GM and IM games where these “real chess players” spend hundreds of hours, trying to solve opening positions in this infinite game that we all love. Without a strong understanding positional evaluation and tactics, reciting the memorized opening lines that you have seen in a chess book is fairly pointless. Senior Master Micheal Mulyar, in his column on page 5 of the July 1995 Colorado Chess Informant entitled, “From Beginner to Expert”, says, “The opening repertoire of a student ought to include openings as diverse as possible, to make sure that the student plays a variety of different positions”. There comes a time in every chess game when you are out of your book and then your GM buddy isn’t around to help you anymore…you are on your own!
Senior master, David Gliksman has the same advice about openings, the best way to learn chess is to “venture into positions that you do not understand and are unfamiliar to you. Soon they will become familiar and you will understand them also!” Broadening your opening repertoire will accomplish this. Is gaining a few rating points today by trying to specialize too early in your openings more important than learning the game more efficiently in the long run? Even if you do learn an opening well, you won’t get too far into grandmaster “book” analysis until you start playing against masters on a regular basis.
As you experiment with different openings, you can check them against lines in Modern Chess Openings. This will give some ideas that will mean more to you since you have seen similar positions in your own games. GM Nick de Firmian is finishing a two-year project on the 14th Edition of Modern Chess Openings that will be available sometime in 1999. He told me that most of the lines are revised and updated from the 13th Edition. This book should serve as a good, and inexpensive guide, for the class player to use as his opening bible.
Good positional play is the measure of how well you understand the position, can break it down into it’s elements, and develop and pursue the proper plan.
First, one quick mention on the use of computers, which in this day and age is becoming more and more popular. Computers are great for sorting through opening databases, checking the tactics in your games, and entertainment. A good program rarely to never misses a tactic. However, as far a positional play is concerned, computers make lots of mistakes since they cannot develop a long-range plan. Because of this they play very differently than humans (look at how Kasparov altered his play in his matches against Deep Blue!). Using computers as a tool to teach you how to understand chess positions is a common mistake.
I believe that learning to understand the position is the greatest weakness that most players have and that by studying this aspect of the game (of course the student should also be working on tactics problems on his own) will yield far and away the best results and fastest increases in playing strength. I have seen my students benefit from this teaching immensely and have hit higher levels at incredible speeds.
How do we figure out what is going on?
Break the position into its basic elements as a detective looks for clues in solving a mystery, put all the clues together, analyze the outcomes of variations with tactics, and presto. How simple!
· What are the key squares?
· What is each side’s relative strengths and weaknesses?
· Who has better piece play? (compare all like pieces to their counterpart…king position vs. king position, queen position vs. queen position, etc. Knights and bishops can be paired up together when they are imbalanced).
· What are the strengths and weakness of each side’s pawn structure (include an observation of static and dynamic pawns and who has which)?
· Should I trade pieces? Should my opponent trade pieces? If so which ones?
· Where are the ideal squares for my pieces? How about my opponent’s pieces?
· What are the short and long range objectives for each side?
· What are each side’s permanent and temporary advantages?
A couple other questions that should be considered are more tournament situation questions that have a somewhat lesser impact than the position on the board.
· What is the relative strength of you and your opponent? If you are much stronger, a draw may be undesirable and you are playing for a win. If you are weaker, a draw may be acceptable.
· What about the tournament situation? Do you need a win to finish in the money? What is your opponents tournament position? What is he playing for?
In tournament situations where all you need is a draw or a draw is acceptable, it is important to approach the game psychologically as if you are playing for a win. Avoid taking any risky chances is always good advice in this situation, but stay away from the natural tendency to play passively.
I will give examples of positions to break down from some of my games, but first here are some excellent books on this subject (there are, of course, other good books too). The Amatuer’s Mind and How to Reassess Your Chess both by IM Jeremy Silman are excellent books on this subject. I believe that two of the best authors on positional play (as well as other chess topics) are GM Yasser Seirawan and IM Jeremy Silman because they use a lot words to explain the position. A couple of all time classics are My System by Nimzovich and Think Like a Grandmaster by Kotov.
In the first two examples, I am playing weaker opponents where I expect to win. Draws, although they will occur from time to time against weaker opponents, should be looked at as unacceptable on a game by game basis.
This first position is from a Lenningrad Dutch in the 1994 Denver Open against up and comer, Yuval Laor.
Let’s find the clues in this position. First note that material is even. Black’s king is a little more exposed than white’s (although it is tough to get to at the moment). Queen position is about equal; rook position favors white as he has the d-file to double the rooks on with active play against the backward d6 pawn (black’s pawn structure weakness helps white’s rook play in this case) and black’s rook on e6 is on a potentially vulnerable square and his rooks are not connected; both side’s minor pieces are in the center of the board…ready for action. Black has a backward pawn on d6, but black threatens to give white a backward pawn on b3. Plan: White wishes to lock up the queenside and attack the backward d-pawn and Black wants the queenside open so he can counterattack there. Most critical square on the board: d5 (the square in front of the backward pawn). Knowing all this, what should white do?
White played 21.Bf6! (not only getting out of the pawn fork, but gaining more control of d5 by eliminating the knight that attacks it! Even though black’s bishop has total control of the a1-h8 diagonal, it is all dressed up with nowhere to go. In this case, the knight is stronger than the bishop. Black is actually positionally busted at this point…the d5 square belongs to white forever and black will always be tied down to defending the d6 pawn.) 21…Bf6 22.Nd5 Qb7 23.a4 (Now black’s queenside counter play is stopped forever.) 23…Rbe8 24.e3 Ne7 25.Kg1 Nd5 26.Rd5 (White wants the d-file open.) 26…Rd8 27.Rfd1 Kf7 (Yuval played this move quickly and seemed pretty happy. He must have thought that he could batten down the hatches and that I wouldn’t be able to make any progress and be forced to take a draw. Now lets stop and evaluate the position again. Black really can’t do anything but shuffle his pieces back and forth; there is no queenside counter play, his defenses are tied to the d-pawn, and he definitely wants to keep the kingside closed. White’s rooks are well placed on the open file and the queen can join them in a move.
The only white piece whose position can be improved is the knight. White eventually wants to open the kingside and expose the black king. But what is the hurry? Black can’t do anything to improve his position, so lets put the pieces on the optimum squares before opening the position. Hence…) 28.Ne1 Qc7 29.Nd3 Be5? (This loses quickly tactically. Without the blunder, White will win soon with some sequence of Nf4, Qd3 …tying black’s major pieces to the d-pawn…then comes the pawn break on the kingside with some combination of h4-h5, e4 and/or g4 depending on where the black pieces are placed at the time. Black’s kingside position explodes and the white’s active pieces will swiftly mate his king or win big material.) 30.Nc5 Ree8 31.Nd3 Ke7 32.Nb4 Resigns
The second position is an interesting endgame from the final round of the 1996 Denver Open against Craig Wilcox. At first glance it may appear to be roughly equal…material is equal and pawn structure is symmetrical. Lets uncover the clues and see if this is true. Try it yourself first.
Let’s start with the minor pieces. One imbalance is a knight vs. bishop. The bishop is a bad bishop hemmed in by it’s own center pawns. Black’s best chance to free the bishop is the h6 pawn advance. Both sides must continue to keep this in mind. Black would like to find a way to penetrate the queenside and take advantage of his far advanced pawns.
His problem is that he can’t force entry and also the knight on b6 is tied to the defense of the weak a-pawn. Even though the black’s knight is stuck on b6, it does serve the useful purpose of helping to keep the white king out of the queenside. Black’s king must keep an eye on f7 so the white rook can’t invade. Observing all of this, black has no realistic chance to win.
So how about white’s chances. White’s only chance to force penetration on the kingside would be the advance h4-h5 and trying to somehow invade on the h-file with his rook. White must be careful to try to avoid his kingside pawns from being fixed on dark squares, which may down the road give the inactive bishop something to shoot at. If white tries this plan, black could play Ke7 and Rh8 to hold the position.
I have purposely gone through all the positional features but one. The relative king position especially in relation to black’s far advanced pawns. We haven’t determined yet whether black’s a and b pawns are strong or weak. Since black can’t force his way into the queenside, it is logical to conclude that they are not an asset. Since white’s king is nearby, they have the potential to be weak. So how should white proceed? Now the plan is simple, trade off a few more pieces, and gobble up the pawns!
See how easily this plan falls out once we break down what is really going on? I had actually been planning this type of position for the last ten moves or so before trading the other major pieces. White has the luxury of not having to win in the middlegame because as each piece gets traded off his advantage increases. Black’s long term problem of how to defend the pawns on a4 and b3 is bound to surface sooner or later. (By the way, I used Fritz 4 to spot check a few positions while proof reading this column. I have a Pentium 90 computer, which isn’t the fastest around, but not the slowest either. Fritz analyzed this position for 30 minutes and didn’t even have white’s 42nd move in it’s top five choices. Fritz also seemed obsessed with white playing h4 on the next several series of moves. This would fix the kingside pawns on the dark squares, giving the bishop something to attack. This shows how badly a computer can assess positions since it lacks the ability to evaluate subtle positional nuances correctly.)
The game continued 42.Rc1! (preparing to force the rooks off or gain the c-file and invade with Rc7 or Rc6) 42…Kd7 43.Nb5 Rc1 (43…Rc5 puts up more resistance by keeping the white king out longer. After 44.Rc5 Rc5, the c5 pawn may become a target and the d5 pawn is a protected passer. Endgames are often won by accumulating lots of little advantages.) 44.Nc1 h6 45.gh6 (Another decision for white, 45.h4? leaves white vulnerable on the kingside after 45…hg5 hg5 followed by Bf8-e7 and life is breathed into the bishop for the first time in the game. Leaving the h3 pawn on a white square means that only the king or knight can capture it.) Bh6 46.Ne2 Bg5 47.Kc3 Be3 48.Kb4 Bd2+? (This is losing. 48…Bc5+ 49.Ka5 Nc4+ 50.Ka5 Nb2+ 51.Kb3 is the only way to keep any of black’s drawing hopes alive.) 49.Nbc3! (preparing b5 for the king) 49…Kc7 50.Kb5 Nd7 51.Na4 (This is better than 51.Ka4 as it keeps the black knight off c5) Nf6 52.Nac3 Nh5 53.Kc4 (Trying to advance the queenside pawns too quickly is dangerous as the white king should stay at home to keep black from winning a pawn thus creating his own passed pawn. Don’t take unnecessary chances when you are winning; restrict your opponent’s play.) Nf4 54.Nf4 ef4 55.Kb3 f3 56.Nd1 Be1 57.Kc2 Kb6 58.Kd3 Kc5 59.Ke3 Kc4 60.Kf3 Bd2 61.Ne3+ Kb3 62.e5 de5 63.d6 Ba5 64.Ke4 Kb2 65.Nc4+ Resigns
One more observation that I didn’t touch on directly with respect to whether or not the correct plan is to trade pieces. The general rule as far as trading is, if you are ahead in material, trade pieces not pawns. The converse also holds. Each position is, however, unique and must be evaluated on it’s own merits. One way to get an idea of whether or not it is a good idea to trade is to mentally take the position on the board and magically whisk away all the pieces (leaving only the king and pawns). Who is then winning the king and pawn ending? I call this dreaming up of imaginary positions, “fantasy chess,” since, of course, you can’t just vaporize the pieces like this and it is a fantasy position in your mind.
Let’s look at this fantasy chess method in the light of the first two examples. In the diagrammed position against Yuval, if we vaporized the pieces, it looks like black would likely draw the position. Therefore, I was not interested in trading since white’s advantage exists in the middlegame, not the endgame. In the second example with Craig, the opposite is true. The king and pawn ending is an easy win for white if the pieces vaporized, so the correct plan is to trade them and proceed to the endgame. I think you will find this method is a useful way to assess the merits of trading when you reach the middlegame/endgame transition phase and enter into the endgame phase of your games.
Now here are some examples against strong masters where the psychology shifts a bit; now I am the underdog, where although I am still playing to win, draws are now acceptable.
First, lets look at another endgame example. This position occurred in the 1994 Colorado Closed with Randy Canney. The complete game score can be found on page 13 of the July 1994 CCI. In this game, the player’s tournament status is critical….this is the last round game and Randy and SM Micheal Mulyar have run away from the field and are both tied with 5-1 scores. A win here guarantees Randy at least a tie for first place. In the middlegame, Randy sacked his a-pawn for a big attack on my king. I survived the assault and this position arose:
Try picking up the clues in this position.
First, black is up a pawn on a4. The other pawns on the kingside are all blockaded (both players have static kingside pawns). Relative king position may be a slight edge to black…but, for now, both kings better stay close their pawn chain anchors (g3 & e6). Relative rook positions are probably equal as all four rooks have their attention focused on the a4 pawn…if black’s rooks wander off, the pawn dies….if white’s wander off the pawn advances. Now the minor piece imbalace…who is better? The bishop or the knight? Well the bishop is safe from attack on d6 the color of his pawns, eyes the a3 square, and supports a rook invasion on c7. The knight has a safe outpost on d5, protected by the e6 pawn. Can black find a way to advance the a-pawn? He would have to attack the a3 square somehow with the knight…but moving the knight is risky due to Rc7+, Re7, Re6 leaving white with a protected passed pawn on e5. So what else can black try? …we already discovered that if the rooks move away his pawn dies, the knight is kind of frozen on d5, his king has nowhere important to go, and the kingside pawns are frozen.
I have collected all the clues for you in this position, except one…do you see it?
Look closer at the bishop vs. knight conflict and use the fantasy chess idea to look for the answer. It is a good knight vs. bad bishop ending. Fantasize that the rooks and the a-pawn vaporize. Now, in order for either side to win the game, he must start by winning the opponent’s pawn chain anchor. Black’s anchor is on e6, a white square, and can never be threatened by the dark-squared bishop. Therefore, it’s only potential enemy is the white king. White’s pawn anchor is the little fellow on g3. He could be potentially be attacked by the knight and the black king and defended by both the bishop and the white king. The black knight is two moves from attacking the g3 pawn by Nc3-e4, landing on a white square where he is impervious to attack from the bishop. White can defend him with the king…but this leaves white’s strongest piece saddled to the pawns defense. If the bishop headed back to defend it from say f2, not only does the bishop have a limited number of squares to defend the pawn from, but black has the option of perhaps trading the knight for the bishop once his king has advanced close enough to outflank the white king in the K & P ending.
This looks good for black, but it is only a fantasy position. We assumed that black could sacrifice the a-pawn to vaporize all the rooks.
Come back to reality. Can black make this fantasy come true? The answer is yes, as you will see in a minute.
Do you see how this method of breaking the position down into it’s elements and using a little fantasy chess can make a complex looking position look simple? In this discussion, I haven’t just done anything that a class player can’t do! …if he is patient and methodical in his analysis.
The game continued…47…Rb6! 48.Rca4 Ra4 49.Ra4 Rb3 50.Ra3 Ra3 51.Ba3 Nc3 52.Kf2 Ne4+ 53.Kg2 Kc6 54.Be7 Kd5 55.Bd8 Kc4 56.Bc7 Kd3 57.Bb6 Ke2 58.Ba7 Nc3 59.Bb6 Nd1 60.Bd8 Ne3+ 61.Kg1 Kf3 62.Bh4 Ng2 63.Kf1 Nh4 64.gh4 and White Resigned (64…Kf4 and 65…Ke5 keeps the king in the square of the h-pawn.)
Let’s look at one more endgame position…this one from the 1995 Colorado Open. For a complete game score with annotations for this game, see the column entitled, “A Long Day’s Journey into Knight (& A Long Knight’s Journey into Day)” in the January 1996 CCI.
First let me set the stage as tournament standing is important in this example. Several weeks prior to this game, David took second place in the U.S. Open finishing with a 2600+ performance rating and an IM norm. He is clearly playing for a win in this game as he is the stronger master, playing white, and was nicked for a draw earlier in the tournament. David and Michael Mulyar are the clear pre-tournament favorites and David can’t afford to let Michael increase his lead by another half a point. So far in this game, I made a couple of weak moves in the middlegame and my position has been on the brink of collapse for some time now.
You know the drill by now! Dissect the elements of the position. Warning: this position and those that follow in this game are complicated.
Start out with the material count…white is up a pawn and has two very dangerous protected passed pawns on the kingside. Black’s passed pawn on e6 isn’t much trouble for white and both sides have a queenside pawn. Both knights are actively placed.
White’s rook on the 7th…both rooks are in front of the passed pawns…in general, rooks belong behind passed pawns…but with all the wild stuff already played in this game, this is where they ended up! The only thing that black has going for him is a much better centralized king.
White’s plan is obvious, score a touchdown with one of those kingside pawns! Black’s plan is, of course, to stop him. Looking at potential piece exchanges, white is up in material in this position and, therefore, would like to trade pieces…if the rooks and knights vaporized, the K&P ending is simple for white. Black on the other hand, would love to trade his two pawns for any of two of white’s pawns, where with his superior king position, he should draw.
Although black is hanging on for dear life, there is one chance for him in the position that I haven’t yet revealed.
Clue: Use fantasy chess to dream up a position that black might be able to hold.
All of the white pawns are dangerous…the b-pawn because it could be the winning queen for white if the battle on the kingside nets out a material gain for white…in other words, there are good chances that the black knight will have to be sacrificed for the one or both of white’s kingside pawns. Therefore, I felt that it was crucial that I somehow eliminate the b-pawn in order to have any chances at all to draw. On the optimistic side…maybe I could win the b-pawn outright and then have an outside passed pawn which would win the game? Probably not, but I can dream!
Remember that you have much better chances to draw if you are on the losing end of a game and all your opponent’s pawns are on the same side of the board.
The game continued, 53…Rb8 54.Nf3+ Kf4 55.Nd2 Rd8 56.Nc4 Rd3+ 57.Kh2 Rb3 (Well, I got the b-pawn. Now with the superior king position, all black has to do is stop the g & h pawn in order to draw.) 58.Rf7 (If 58.Na5, Rg3 should draw.) Kg5 59.g7 Nh6 60.Rf8 a4 (end of second time control) 61.Rh8 Rb7 62.Rh6 Rg7 63.Rh8 Rc7 64.Ne5 a3 65.Kg3
65…a2?! (65…Ra7 is a much quicker draw which could have given us both a lot more sleep this night as the knight must be sacrificed for the a-pawn after the 66.Nf3+ and making a dash for the queenside. I debated for a while about which move to play and picked the wrong path! 65…a2 really deserves a ?, because 65…Ra7 will let us go home about midnight.) 66.Nf3+ Kf6 67.Ra8 Rc5 68.h6 Kg6 69.Ra2 Kh6 (Now the smoke has cleared. The e-pawn has a limited life span we are left with a rook + knight vs. rook endgame. This is the first time I ever considered this endgame and way back when I started our discussion on move 53, I saw this endgame as a possibility and was wondering if this was a draw or a loss. I figured the odds were better that it was a draw…but I didn’t know. David was more familiar with it as he drew the weak side against GM Larry Christiansen in the American Open about ten years prior. It turns out that it is a drawn ending, according to GM’s Nunn and Christiansen…but the weak side must play extremely accurately and it is no easy task. Kasparov had a win against Judith Polgar and GM Walter Browne defeated SM Wolski with the same basic endgame. So David tortured me until 5:00 am (a 12 hour game!) at which point I claimed the 50 move draw. In this case, after I broke down the position’s relative strengths and weaknesses, used fantasy chess to aim for a particular ending, managed to reach it, and got a little lucky that it was a position that I could hold.
Now let’s take a look at how this method works in the opening. Nothing changes in the procedure, just a different phase of the game. This is the final round of the 1993 Colorado Open for the state title. Micheal Mulyar was 5-0 which included victories over Ponomarev, Canney, and Karnisky and I was 4.5-0.5 recovering from an upset draw in the first round to beat McCarty and Canney in Rounds 4 and 5. Ginat and Ponomarev were 4-1 tied for third place going into the final round (a game won by Ginat). Although Michael is the higher rated player, his goal in this game is to not lose as it only takes a draw to make him the state champ. I have to win to take the title.
Round 6: Bardwick (2184) – Mulyar (2430)
1.c4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 d6 4.d4 g6 (I had never seen Michael play a Lennigrad Dutch. I was hoping for a Kings Indian Defense in which Michael and I had analyzed some lines together about 6-9 months prior to this game. In the lines that we were looking at, white seemed to have a comfortable edge and I am guessing that for that reason and that Michael knew that I was quite booked in these lines he decided to go into an opening where I was less familiar. To bring you back to my initial comments on how to spend your time preparing for the opening, Michael is a firm believer that players should learn to play lots of different openings in order to learn the different types of positions as one develops as a player. The mistake of playing only a few different openings, although well, is a mistake that I have made that has been exposed by Michael over the years at the master level. We have played over a dozen games and Michael varies the opening on me every time. In over half of Michael’s victories against me (of course, he also has a plus score), he had won positions in the opening.) 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Nc3 Qe8 8.d5 Na6 9.Nd4 Bd7 10.e4 c5 (In the post- mortem, Michael said that 10…c6 was correct here.) 11.Ne6 Be6 12.de6 Ne4 13.Ne4 fe4 14.Be4 Rb8
Here is good position to evaluate. First, material is even. White has the advanced pawn on e6, which would likely be an asset in the middlegame if it can be protected. It is, however, vulnerable to attack and looking long-term, will become weaker as the game progresses…in a fantasy king and pawn ending, it is overextended and will be gobbled up by the black king. White also has a bishop pair in a somewhat open position. Black on the other hand, has a lead in development, a very strong bishop on g7, and b5 is coming soon where white may have trouble developing his queenside.
Objectively, in this position, we determined black stands much better. Rather than play defensively on the queenside in a game where I needed to win, I chose the aggressive attack on the other wing. Visions of h4-h5, hg6, Qg4 and maybe Qh4, Kg2, and Rh1 in some fashion and winning in the middlegame popped into my head. Key squares in this position are b2, b5, c4, e6, and f3. As it turns out, this kingside attack takes too much time and maybe developing my queenside (always a good plan in the opening!) is the proper plan. My next move could get one of three punctuation marks…the last one is probably most accurate, but given the fact that I was in a must-win situation, and Michael overestimated it, maybe the first one may be correct!
15.h4! or !? or ?! (White’s threats on the kingside are mostly done with smoke and mirrors.) b5 16.h5 gh5 17.a3 Nc7 18.Qc2 Kh8 Draw offered (I didn’t expect Michael to offer a draw. At first, I was excited, thinking that he was scared and validating my thoughts that I was winning (my brain is still locked up in fantasy land!) I went into a deep think, looking for the kill…and couldn’t find it. White has more problems than just lack of development…primarily the e6 pawn, which if captured, along with black maybe trading his b-pawn for my c4 pawn, he could start pushing me back with his center pawns. Also, now the idea of Kg2, after defending the e-pawn with something like Bf5, runs into a possible Qc6+ forcing the king to block the Rh1 idea. I suppose the idea of Kh2, Rh1, Kg1 may also get this done at a huge cost of time, which I will not have. In some of these lines, after the …Qc6+ idea, the black queen may take up residency on f3, threatening f2 and defending on the kingside. The knight isn’t far from f3 either, Ne6-d4-f3. If 19.Bd5, then both 19…Qg6 or 19.bc4 look like pleasant choices for black. The longer I looked the more I realized that I was in deep trouble…which was confirmed in the post-mortem. Michael had also overestimated my chances when he offered the draw. After spending 34 minutes determining that in a several moves, my position would be exposed…) Draw agreed.
The last game is from the final round of the strongest Colorado Closed ever (1995) between myself and Michael Mulyar. This Closed was the only one featuring eight masters with SM’s Mulyar and Gliksman at the top. Both had disappointing tournaments. Jerry Kearns emerged as the victor. A victory here would move Michael into a tie for second with Canney and Ginat. I was a “blunder looking for a place to happen” in this tournament, with my self-confidence totally shot before this game.
Mulyar (2450) – Bardwick (2239)
1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 d5 5.Nh3 c6 6.Qc2 Be7 7.Nf4 0-0 8.Nd2 Ne4 9.f3 Nd2 10.Bd2 Bf6 11.e3 g5 12.Nd3 Nd7 13.0-0 Qe8 14.Bb4 Rf7 15.Bd6 (At this point, it appears that I have no concept of what I am doing. This is correct. All of whites pieces are well placed and he has a solid position. Black on the other has tied himself all in knots: …horrible queenside development…a vulnerable kingside due to the g5 move…hole on e5…and white is aiming for Ne5 and e4 exposing all these weaknesses.)
15…dc4! (This looks like suicide (and black is desperate!), but I found some fantasy middlegame positions that I thought I might be able to hold…the alternative is to die a slow, or maybe fast, but certain, death.) 16.Qc4 e5!? (Wow! Who said that with poor development, and an open king you shouldn’t open the position?! Black is now rid of the e5 square weakness. If white pursues exchanges on e5, black will untie himself…an eventual …Be6 will tempo the queen and develop the a8 rook in a hurry.) 17.Rae1 Nb6 18.Qc5 ed4 19.ed4 Be6 (This is the position that I was shooting for…barricading on d5 in front of the isolated d-pawn. Black traded weaknesses in a sense…on the plus side, he eliminated the backward e6 pawn and gets the light-squared bishop and the queenside rook developed. On the downside, the airy black king position could be trouble.) 20.Bh3 Qd7 21.Ne5 Be5 22.de5 f4! (This does a couple things: first, it prevents 23.f4 for white, which solidifies the e5 pawn, and second, it frees up Nd5-e3 for the black knight.) 23.Bg2 Nd5 24.b4 a6 25.a4 Re8 26.Rf2 Ne3 27.Re3 (Michael played the exchange sacrifice almost immediately. Now the game goes into a manouvering phase. White can’t force his way into black’s kingside and black can do little to improve his position.) fe3 28.Qe3 Rg7 29.Qc5 Bd5 30.Bf1 Qe6 31.Bd3 Rf7 32.Qe3 h6 33.Qe2 Rg7 34.Qc2 Bb3 35.Qc3 Bd5 36.Bc2 Kh8 37.Qd3 Rd8 38.f4? (This move loses. White is trying too hard to win. This is one of the more common ways that a lower rated player wins the game. Now the black rooks spring to life…) 38…gf4 39.Rf4 Qh3 40.Qd2 Rdg8 41.Bc5 Rg3+ 42.hg3 Rg3+ 43.Kf2 Rg2+ 44.Ke1 Rd2 45.Rf8+ Kg7 46.Kd2 (The game enters it’s final phase. Lets evaluate things for the last time. Black is up material with an extra pawn and a queen vs. a rook and bishop. White’s king is exposed. White has a potentially dangerous pawn on e5 which black should keep from advancing. Black wishes to trade pieces since he is up material. If he can trade off a set of bishops, the white king has less places to hide from checks. The queen becomes very annoying.) 46…Qg2+ 47.Kc3 Qg3+ 48.Kd4 b6 49.Bd6 Qg1+ 50.Kc3 Qe3+ 51.Kb2 Qd4+ 52.Kc1 Qc3 53.Kb1 Ba2+ 54.Ka2 Qc2+ 55.Ka3 c5 56.bc5 bc5 57.Rf3 Qc1+ 58.Ka2 Qc4+ 59.Rb3 Qa4+ 60.Kb2 Qd4+ 61.Kc2 c4 and 0-1 in 11 moves
Hopefully, you can use this method of breaking down the position into it’s basic elements to help you understand what is going on. The best time to do this is during your opponent’s clock time. Focus on positional understanding and tactics to get the most from your study time. Don’t waste this precious time booking up “deep” on opening variations.