February 10, 2011

Grandmasters are humans too

Two days ago I was asking you if the famous queen "sacrifice" looks familiar...of course, we also have our "highlights", but somehow, we expect that such kind of terrible blackouts don't occur in the games of strong Grandmasters. 
But, as you will see in a few following samples, blunders and bad days don't avoid the top players. We should maybe stop blaming ourselves and our brains when these kind of mistakes appear on our boards as well...it happens!
I remember what my father told me once, after a terrible blunder of mine. It was not a very important game, but I suppose that for every player, no matter how strong he is, every loss brings the same type of emotions: not very pleasant ones. In his attempt to make me feel better he told me:
"Alina, I was sitting in a car, next to my friend who was driving. At some point we were waiting for the traffic light to turn on green. It was in the middle of the day, my friend was not tired, he was completely awake and aware of the fact that he is waiting behind some other cars. Suddenly, he told me:"You know, I think we should turn right, we will avoid all these annoying cars and unnecessary waiting!" So...he started the engine and...went straight into the car in front of him! You can imagine that, if sometimes you might overlook a big, real car, a chess move or a chess threat is much easier to be neglected:)"

Let's see what kind of "small" moves were overlooked by the famous chess players and the consequences their mistakes had.

Many of you remembered the position I published before and gave the correct answer:

The memorable move Ng5??, was played by none other than Tigran Petrosian himself, World Champion from 1963 until 1969. In the candidates tournament from 1956, played in Amsterdam, he was facing Bronstein, who was in a huge time trouble. With the last move, Black attacked the White queen, threat which was..."forgotten" by Petrosian. After his memorable Ng5, Bronstein quickly took the unexpected present and won the game. Coincidence or not, Petrosian was recently married and his wife entered the playing hall, walked a bit around...just before his blunder:) If it has something to do with it, we'll never know. But for sure, if he would have won that game, or even better, the tournament, we would have all said that his wife inspired him:)
Both players, Petrosian and Bronstein, ended the tournament with 9.5 out of 18 games, two points less than the winner: Smyslov. Thus, he was already declared the future opponent of Botvinnik, in the fight for the World Title. 
We can more or less say that Petrosian's blunder had no dramatic consequences, although we all know how painful such a loss can be.

Unfortunately, we cannot say the same thing about the unexplainable move which was played in the following game (suggested by GM Ivan Sokolov):

Small exercise: can you guess Black's next move?!

The above diagram is taken from the game: Garcia - Ivkov, 1965, Havana, Capablanca Memorial. The tournament was a very strong one, with many famous players: Fischer, Geller, Pachman, Robatsch, Donner, Bilek and so on.

Storyline: In this tournament Ivkov, one of the strongest players of Yugoslavia at that time, was dominating from the beginning until the end. In the round number 20, he was facing Garcia, one of the weakest in the tournament, a local Cuban chess player, who finished last with only 4 points out of 21. It is normal that everyone was expecting a crushing 1-0...

Donner wrote about it as well in his book "De king", a collection of his newspapers columns, published only after his death. It is a really fantastic collection, where you can also find the article written in the same unmistakable satirical humorous style:"The Ivkov drama", which I will briefly present you underneath, with my "great" translating skills:) I have only the Dutch version; if someone has the English one, I will be happy to publish the correct translation of his words.

Donner: "Ivkov had the big chance to be first in the 20th round. This never happened before in the Capablanca Memorial: someone to be on the first place already, with still one more round to go!
To do so, he had to beat the number last Garcia. Indeed, a very weak player. After 12 moves, Black was already clearly better and some 10 moves later he was totally winning.
But ok, Garcia made a few more moves and Ivkov even got in time trouble. On move 36 they arrived in the following diagram: (see above). It hurts me, having to publish this repulsive position. With three pawns more plus an exchange, Black can be very happy! White doesn't have a serious threat and even if he would be allowed to make 2 moves in a row, as chess players like to say, the position would still be completely hopeless. But Ivkov was in time trouble and his hand was moving over the board, he hesitated and than...grabbed this one horrible possibility, which immediately leaded to a loss. All the good spirits left him and he played the horrific move 36...d3??. He had to resign immediately after Bc3.
So, we went into the last round, Ivkov was still ahead. Smyslov and Geller were half a point behind, Bobby Fischer was also behind with one point.
In the last round, Ivkov played with White against GM Robatsch. This player from Vienna is really strong, he played very well in Havana and received an honorable place 8. Ivkov was pushing a bit to hard, and as it usually happens when you play with fire, it can turn against you. At some point he offered a draw, but when Robatsch declined, people understood that one of the biggest tragedy in the history of the game was for about to happen. Black resigned on move 59."

This is what Donner tells us in his book, another great insight to make us all understand the psychological backgrounds of our losses. No wonder that the players from the Russian chess school, developed a habit and a good strategy to fight against it: a draw after a terrible loss is not a bad idea at all!

So, in the memorable Capablanca Memorial from 1965, Smyslov was the winner with 15.5 out of 21.
Second was: Borislav Ivkov, the unfortunate player who missed an incredible chance to finish first! He was shared 2nd with Geller and Fischer, they all had
15 points.
Finally, the last place on the podium: 3rd was Radmir D.Kholmov, who didn't lose a single game and made 14.5 points.

Another sample of how the human brain can send wrong signals (suggested by Ignacio Barreto):

How can White lose immediately a completely winning position?!

Chigorin found the way, in his game against Steinitz. They were playing for the world title, 1892, a match over 24 games and in the 23rd game, Chigorin was completely winning, as you can see. With a point from this game, he could have equalised: 11.5 against 11.5 and than they would have played the final decisive game...But, as we Roumanians say: the plan carefully made at home, doesn't fit the one from the city...here Chigorin "found" the move: 32.Bb4??, allowing Steinitz to give mate and two and become world champion. If Chigorin would have played 32.Rxb7, the chess history would have been differentely written...

Another painful loss that I remember, happened in Novi Sad, Serbia, 2009, in the European Team Championship. The game between Vugar Gashimov and Daniel Stellwagen was the decisive one for the final standings. With a draw, the Dutch team would have finished between the first 6 places, a fantastic result...with a loss, they dropped on the 9th place, thus for Daniel became even more difficult to bear the unfortunate outcome of his game.
I was there, watching the moves and the time on the clocks...a lot of tension, many people trying to get as much as possible from this exciting game...Daniel was having troubles from the beginning of the game, but he defended like a lyon, fighting for his team. On the other side of the board, Vugar was trying to bring the gold medal for the Azeri team. They needed a point, otherwise Russia would have been on the first place. A big stake for this game, which finally seemed to be a draw in a rook endgame. The position was as follows:

Black to move...almost any move would bring Black a well fought draw

Daniel chose: 70...Rf4?? and lost without a chance because the White king has now the opportunity to make the pawn free and attack the Black's rook in case of check. Azerbadjan became European Champion...! 

A little bit of variety now: two short games:) The first one was finished after 6 moves and the second one after no more than 11...The players who were forced to resign were not weak at all: Karpov, rated 2725 at the time, and Anand, when he was already known and strong enough, 2555.

And White is winning a piece and the game, thus Anand resigned.

Karpov cannot save his piece either...and another quick loss for a strong player.

The last two blunders for today, unfortunately not the last ones in the chess history, I am sure there are much much more out there, arised in the match: Kramnik against Deep Fritz, from 2002 and 2006 (suggested by Abhimod Kesavankutty)  . 

Kramnik is Black and the position doesn't look that great...

But is it lost so fast?! Well...with 34...Qc4?? it is. This annoying machine played without thought 35.Ne7 winning a piece. Black resigned.

Kramnik is Black and he has to stop the mate on h7...

...which he didn't! Another total blackout exactly at the same poisonous move 34! He played: 34...Qe3 allowing mate in only one move! Instead, 34...Kg8 would have secured a draw.

This is it for now. The day after tomorrow the Roumanian National Championship starts, for both women and men. I hope I won't come back home with more examples like the ones you've just seen:)
If possible, I will keep you updated from there.


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