02 January 2012

Annotated Game #25: English (Irregular); playing on while down material

This second-round game followed Annotated Game #24 and was against a Class D player.  The opening started off in an irregular fashion on move 4 with ..Bd6, although White cannot usually immediately punish these types of positional errors in the English.  In this case it led to a loss of tempo by Black, which White could have exploited better on move 8 with more active play; this was one of the useful points found in analysis that will help inform my future play.  White also could have played more actively on move 10, seizing the outpost on d5 for his knight, which is a key theme in the English.

My opponent goes astray with moves 10 and 11, where he evidently thought he could get in the central break ..d5.  A tactical point instead allows White to win a piece and then work on consolidating his advantage.  In Class-level games, however, a piece advantage in and of itself is not an automatic win, especially if there is no glaring weakness in the position of the player who is down material.  This point was made in Dan Heisman's ChessCafe article "When You're Winning, It's a Whole Different Game".  By coincidence, I happened to read this just before analyzing the game, which illustrates the point nicely - I missed at least one neat way to wrap up the game (see move 31) and on move 32 missed a pinning tactic that gave back the piece.  Luckily when the dust cleared I was still up two pawns in a winning endgame and went on to convert the point with careful play.

The overall lesson here is to not put the brain on automatic in the opening (instead look for more active play and to exploit opportunities, even in familiar setups), nor when winning and up material where there is still play left in the position.


  1. Thanks for the link to the Heisman article, it was good to be reminded of this, though I have gotten pretty good at winning the won game--through hard experience of not winning them!

    I do disagree a little with something he seems to be saying--when ahead in material by a piece or more it's often best to use the extra force to just win more and more material. Of course every position is different, but often finding a target and winning it is actually "safer" than just sitting on your hands, because going too defensive can actually let him maximize his piece activity. Overall, though, Heisman's idea of taking your time and not trying to win in the fewest moves through complications is a very sound one.

  2. There is a little bit of apparent contradiction in the article, where he advises both to play actively and think "safety first." They're actually not mutually contradictory if someone is playing correctly, although our emotional minds may have trouble reconciling the two. I think his main point is that his target audience is much more likely to get excited about winning and then drop their extra material (or worse), rather than be able to convert without active focus on safety.

    On a related note, this reminds me of the practical fact that once you've found an ironclad winning strategy, it's not necessary or most often desirable to look for another way to play, although of course one shouldn't pass up easy mates.