My 60 Memorable Losses: IM ALEX MATROS
I'm putting together a book, "My 60 Memorable Losses - the most important chess book you will ever read".
The title is a play on the most classic chess book ever written: Bobby Fischer's "My 60 Memorable Games".
The big difference between this and other books that are like "here is my analysis of some games" is :
A) I am not analyzing from some godlike view. In fact, in some cases I don't care about the absolute correct "computer" move.
I am analyzing what are the faults in my thinking that led to this loss.
I know how to correct calculation (so I avoid blunders, etc). Just practice puzzles.
But the key is to avoid mistakes in strategic thinking, to correct bad strategic thinking, and to hone better strategic thinking skills.
So each game will have one or two key positions where I made a key strategic error and how I can think about these sorts of positions in the future.
It helps nobody to say, "XYZ was a bad move and the computer suggests this amazing move ABC because of the sequence PQR". That is just entertainment but will not help anyone get better.
The lessons I am learning from these games will help ANY chess improver from beginner to strong master. I can say strong master because in many of these games, it is a strong master or even grandmaster who is making errors I need to exploit.
B) Analyzing losses from a meta point of view (meaning not, "what is best move" but "what is flaw in thinking") is how you LEARN ANYTHING.
If you are an investor, let's say you bet, "AAPL is going to have GREAT earnings so I am going to BET EVERYTHING!". It doesn't matter whether or not you were right about AAPL. IT IS A BAD STRATEGIC MISTAKE TO BET EVERYTHING!.
So learnings how to think better strategically in ANY endeavor will make you a better thinker.
Hence, this book, "My 60 Memorable Losses", will be unlike any other chess book and will even be a guide to strategic thinking.
Also, the process of doing this book is part of the journey of my comeback as I return to tournament play after a 25 year break.
1. THE CRITICAL POSITION
This is James Altucher (W) vs International Master Alex Matos, Round One, Irwin Tournament of Senior Champions.
This is in the Irwin Senior Championship.
Each state sent one representative to represent them in a "tournament of champions". I was the representative from Georgia.
What was exciting to me was how many players I knew from the 80s and 90s. Big names that I had only read about it and now I was playing on equal playing field as them. Also in the tournament was Grandmaster John Fedorowicz, who was representing New York. He was my coach in the mid 90s and with John I went from a rating around 2040 to 2240 in just a few months and that's how I achieved the National Master title.
A "senior" was defined for this as someone over 50. I am 54.
My opponent is IM Alex Matos, who represented South Carolina. An International Master is two rankings higher than "National Master", which is what I am. There is NM, then "Fide Master" (FIDE is the international organization of chess). And then International Master.
There there is Grandmaster. And informally there are "Super Grandmasters", Candidates (i.e. someone playing in the Candidates Tournament to see who the Challenge would be for World Champion), World Champion.
Typically here are the ratings for each title:
Super GM: 2700
World Champion (Magnus Carlsen has been consistently above 2850).
To be an IM you have to play consistently above the 2400 level to be awarded the title.
3. THE OPENING: SICILIAN DEFENSE GRAND PRIX, early F5
By coincidence I had been very nervous about the opening. I don't want to go on too much about the opening but it describes a little what was going on in my head when getting ready for this tournament.
Here are the first few moves:
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bc4 e6
The moves I had been working on with GM Jesse Kraai was to do F5 here and get a "fighting position".
The problem is the computer hates it. That matters and it doesn't. If I understand the nuances and my opponent doesn't then that is the key.
Nevertheless I had already lost a few games with f5 and was debating a completely different opening (even though there are 100s of other lines in this opening).
After f5 the critical move is gf and then d3 and it's a brutal fight.
The idea is: F5 opens up the dark squared bishop for white and the F file.
So White's idea is to do: Qe1-h4, Bc1-h6, Ng5, and then sacrifice the rook and try to checkmate.
But it seldom works out that way and I had been getting into trouble. So Jesse and I sparred a bunch of positions.
We sparred gf, but also sparred ..Nge7 and then White does fe and if ...fe back there is a piece sacrifice by white and if de there is a great attack.
I was most nervous about the early gf. I was a little nervous about fe. Fortunately my opponent didn't seem familiar with these lines and did de.
All of the great players of the past decade have been in this position on both sides. But, again, the computer doesn't like it.
(image: after f5)
4. WHERE HE MADE A MISTAKE
Again, not getting too much into the opening but educational to perhaps see where he made a mistake.
The moves so far are: 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bc4 e6 6. f5 Nge7 7. fxe6 dxe6 8. O-O O-O 9. d3 Na5 10. Qe1 Nxc4 11. dxc4 Nc6 12. Bg5 f6 13. Rd1 Qb6
Qb6 is the real mistake he made. The Question is: Why?
A) He removes the Queen from the Defense of his King. The whole idea for white is to attack the King.
B) He's attacking my pawn on B2, but do I really need it? Answer is NO!
C) I do Be3, keeping my bishop active.
The question is, other than taking on B2 and letting me unleash my attack, what can he do now?
A) his white-squared bishop is stuck. It has no squares and his Queen blocks b6-Bb7
B) his R on A8 is dead.
C) his Queen is "offsides".
D) I am ahead in "tempo". All of my pieces are developed and he now requires several moves (or more) to develop his pieces. These are like free moves for me. Hence I did Be3 here and let him take my pawn on B2.
Then after Bxc5, I'm attacking his Rook, his pieces are undeveloped, and his Queen actually has zero squares to move to so he is technically lost at that point. He had to give up his Rook for my Bishop, reaching the critical position, where I am winning.
Again, there were lots of choices for him and my goal is not to go over the opening or his alternatives but to figure out where I started to drift strategically.
I was winning, then I started to drift strategically and, of course, I lost.
5. The MOVES that takes us to the critical position
From the beginning:
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bc4 e6 6. f5 Nge7 7. fxe6 dxe6 8. O-O O-O 9. d3 Na5 10. Qe1 Nxc4 11. dxc4 Nc6 12. Bg5 f6 13. Rd1 Qb6 14. Be3 Qxb2 15. Bxc5 b6 16. Bxf8 Bxf8
After he took on B2 with his queen, when Jesse was looking at the position he commented: "my sense is that sacking the exchange (Rook for Bishop) is a good practical attempt given the circumstances" .
(the critical position once again)
6. WHY AM I WINNING AT THIS POINT?
A) I am up an exchange.
B) His bishop is the only piece protecting his king.
C) his queen can take my pawns but is in the middle of nowhere.
D) NOTE: sometimes winning positions are decided by material. Some by activating pieces. This one is an activating pieces situation because:
E) His queen nowhere. His bishop and rook inactive. His bishop is onlu piece protecting king.
F) I have control of the open D file with my rook.
G) I have a semi-open F file
One problem I have:
My Knight on C3 doesn't have many squares to go to. Just like his bishop and rook on the queenside.
Think of it this way: If I can start an attack on his King, it's almost as if he is down a Queen, a Rook, and a Bishop, since they can't quickly make it to that side of the board.
So I am winning. But I need to figure out a strategic plan.
7. WHAT SHOULD MY STRATEGIC PLAN BE
I was thinking this in the game:
A) Try not to lose all my pawns on the queenside.
B) Attack his king, particularly with my queen.
THIS IS THE WRONG WAY TO THINK.
I am ahead in material. I am also ahead in tempo (his pieces are undeveloped and out of play).
So I have TWO STRATEGIC POSSIBILITIES. One of them is correct and the other incorrect:
A) CONSOLIDATE MATERIAL, exchange pieces, win.
B) ACTIVATE MY PIECES EVEN MORE AND ONLY THEN ATTACK KING
"B" is the clear choice since I am ahead in material but my pawns are so weak. So I might not hold onto material.
8. ACTIVATE ACTIVATE ACTIVATE
This is where I start to drift.
I moved my R to B1, he did Qxc2, and then I moved my R to C1, protecting my knight.
This is not a losing move but it's a losing way of thinking.
What is wrong with these moves:
- I was worried about my pawns. See above. ACTIVATE MY PIECES
- I moved my Rook from the D file which was wide open and filled with possibilities to the C file, which is passive. Another way to think about it is: My Rook had 7 squares it was controlling on the D file and I moved it to protecting only 2 squares. I DE-ACTIVATED IT.
- I was not focused on ACTIVATING MY WEAKEST PIECE. The Piece with the least amount of possibilities now is the Knight. I should have ONLY focused on how to either activate that Knight or trade it for an active piece (like his bishop).
THIS IS THE STRATEGIC CRUX: Activate the Knight
NOTE: I am still winning after RC1, but that is not the point. My mind is now losing. I do not have the right idea here and it doesn't even matter what weak moves I make later. I needed the right strategy RIGHT HERE. Else, I will drift and lose, which is what happened.
Yes, I could've realized my mistake and changed course later. BUT, there's a saying, "One mistake is usually followed by another".
9. With that in Mind there are several possible plans at the critical position. Plan #1
A) NB5 - activates the knight into this territory and the idea might be go to C7 (attack the rook) and then E8 (attack F6), which would work well if Queen also goes to H4 (attacking F6). This brings the Knight into the attack and in conjunction with my rooks and other Knight should easily win.
For instance, let's just blindly look at:
1. Nb5 a6 2. Nc7 Ra7 (attacking Knight) 3. Ne8 (attacking F6) Kf7 (defending f6 and attacking Knight)
and with all basic moves, it's now white to move and WIN:
Nxf6, Kxf6, Nd4+ (taking advantage of the open F file and the Rook on F1) followed by Nxc6 and I have even more material and his king is even weaker).
10. Plan #2
B) E5 (clears the E4 square for either Knight or Queen).
It seems like he can just take the E pawn but then I can activate my Knight with Ne4 (heading to f6 or g5, attacking the King and the King will not survive).
What if he does F5? Preventing the Knight from going to E4.
Well, I can go back to the plan above with NB5.
OR.....WHITE TO MOVE AND WIN.
Ne4! Do the move anyway.
And if Pawn takes Knight then Qxe4 (attacking the Knight, which is pinned against the rook), Bb7 (only move to protect the Knight), Rd7! (now the rook not only controls D file but controls the 7th rank, hence the reason to leave the rook on the D file), Rb8 (only move to protect the Bishop) and now the attack against Black king is unstoppable even though I just gave up a piece, none of his pieces can defend.
(The position after Rd7 and Rb8 described above. Now white to move and win! Answer: Rh7, KxH7, Ng5 check, and white checkmates in a few moves because there are no pieces to protect the king from the Queen, rook, knight, etc).
11. I LOSE
Here are the rest of the moves. At the last move, I could have still done Rd1 and had an equal position but I only had seconds left on the clock and I blundered.
But I had lost the strategic thread so it makes sense I start to use lots of time and made a blunder.
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bc4 e6 6. f5 Nge7 7. fxe6 dxe6 8. O-O O-O 9. d3 Na5 10. Qe1 Nxc4 11. dxc4 Nc6 12. Bg5 f6 13. Rd1 Qb6 14. Be3 Qxb2 15. Bxc5 b6 16. Bxf8 Bxf8 17. Rb1 Qxc2 18. Rc1 Qb2 19. Qh4 Be7 20. Qf4 Qb4 21. e5 f5 22. Kh1 Ba6 23. Ne2 Rc8 24. h4 Nd8 25. h5 Rxc4 26. Rxc4 Qxc4 27. hxg6 Qxf4
Note, even as late as move 22, I could still do Nb5 and have a winning position by activating that knight. Instead of pulling it back to a passive square on Ne2. But I was so far from the strategic thread that I didn't do it and I deserved to lose this winning position.
A) Activate the weakest piece. In this case the N on c3 going to b5 or, if calculated, doing e5 and then Ne4
B) Needed to not make my pieces passive for the same of saving material. His king was so weak I just needed to strengthen my pieces
C) Even giving up material to activate more my two rooks and Queen. In the e5, f5, Ne4, fe scenario described above where I give up a Knight but DOMINATE THE POSITION with the rest of my pieces.
D) When I was up material I needed to not relax and assume that anything wins. I"m not sure that is what I was thinking but I should've treated the position not like a "consolidate and win" position but an "activate and win" position.
13. CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
My opponent was smart in giving up the exchange and hoping I would not activate pieces while he focused on winning pawns.
He had a tough game for a long time but benefited by taking advantage of the fact that i did not activate my pieces.