The Ones That Get Away

This week’s article will feature a game from the weekly Wednesday MCA Arena, which was played by Sebastian. Sebastian is a strong player who has been playing well in recent club tournaments. This week he had a good chance at winning it all, but his nerves in completely winning positions let him down twice against the eventual winner, Zachary. We’ll take a look at one of those games and explore exactly why that happened.

Previous articles have emphasized that learning from your mistakes is  incredibly important. It is next to impossible to improve at chess without going through this process.  All the top players have lost thousands of games just like everyone else, but what separates them is that they embrace these losses and try to learn from them instead of shunning them in their analyses.

Hopefully Sebastian can do the same, and maybe next week, he’ll be at the top of the standings. One practical suggestion for Sebastian is  to spend a bit more time on the tactical issues. Especially in blitz, this can be very important, as players tend to make blunders when they don’t think long enough, either as a result of time trouble, or as a result of simply playing too quickly. It’s important to balance the two.

The Opening and Middlegame

In this game, Sebastian had the black pieces against tournament leader Zachary who essayed a delayed Alapin. This opening can be a little tricky, especially for players who are newer to the Sicilian, as it becomes difficult to determine the correct approach. Sebastian responded with a normal defense, but pushed the same pawn twice, bringing out his queen in the process, and losing quite a few tempi. However, after some mutual tactical blindness, Zachary wasn’t able to completely capitalize on the mistakes, and lost the thread, ending up in an endgame with a clearly worse pawn structure.

Transition to the Endgame

This is where (move 15) Sebastian’s task of converting the game began. He started off fairly well (see moves 16-37), trading off the pieces to simplify and using his king to take control of the central squares in the position. , However, Zachary’s pieces started restoring coordination, and it came time for Sebastian to try and break through. He did this very well, with only minor mistakes on the way to reaching a winning king and pawn endgame. 

The King and Pawn Endgame

As quoted famously by the great endgame specialist International Master Cecil Purdy: “Pawn endgames are to chess as putting is to golf”. This means that the most basic part of any game is the pawn endgame, but also that they can be messed up with just one mistake. Unfortunately, this is what happened in our featured game. Sebastian reached a winning king and pawn ending after the last pieces were exchanged on move 45. One overzealous move (see move 47) that turned out to be a blunder, and the game was over. To prevent blunders like this it is important to keep a cool head and calculate, even when the game seems completely won. 

Key Takeaways 

Check out how things turned out by reviewing the annotated game:


Some key takeaways from the game:

  1. No matter how completely winning a position might seem, the conversion is never easy, and by believing it is, you greatly increase your chances of blundering away the advantage. by tenfold.
  2. In previous articles, I have harped on the importance of not getting in time trouble because it is difficult to play accurately there, however, there is a balance to be struck between spending too much and too little. It doesn’t help if you’re playing like you’re in time trouble from the very first move.
  3. Relating to the above point, it’s important to spend more time on tactical positions than on positional moves. This is only because tactical mistakes are almost always more severe than positional ones, and especially in blitz, it is very difficult to take advantage of a slightly ruined pawn structure, while it isn’t too hard to make use of an extra knight won out of a skewer.
  4. Finally, it’s important not to just play rotely in the opening, even if it’s one you know really well. In this game, Zachary failed to spot a Qa4+ tactic several times, even though he was more than capable of doing so. It was because he was in an opening he’d already played many times and was essentially playing without thinking. It’s here that this can become a danger.

Test Your Knowledge 

Try to solve these positions and then check out the answers in the annotated game.

How can White take advantage of Black’s lack of development?
Hint: remember that “loose pieces drop off”.  Does Black have any loose pieces? 


What is the evaluation, and how should Black continue in this endgame?
Hint: when you have an extra pawn, you usually want to simplify into a KP ending.  Look for something that will force all the pieces to be traded off. 

About This Series

(IM) Sandeep Sethuraman
This series is written by International Master (IM) Sandeep Sethuraman and will feature analysis of tournament games played by our students.  Sandeep is a high school senior in Arizona and one of the top players in the USA for his age.  Students are encouraged to submit games for future articles by contacting our online team.  

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published