Domination in chess: a miniature
I put this post in the “psychology” category, although it deals with a game of chess, for an important reason. Chess is a game, an art, a sport – you can classify it in different ways. However, what characterizes chess the most, in my opinion (a scholar, as I am an amateur with a long history of chess tournaments), is the possibility it gives players to confuse each other others.
A lot has been written on this topic, so I won’t make a dent. However, it’s worth restating the matter here, at a time when chess seems to be on everyone’s radar due to the recent Golden Globe award given to “The Queen’s Gambit”, a very successful (and very well done). I hear, in fact, that chess magazine subscriptions and board sales are at an all time high these days.
For me, chess is fascinating because everything is in plain sight, although it takes trained eyes to see things. If you do, you can have complete control over what happens and also control the future. But it’s risky business, because anything you can see, your opponent can too – if he or she shares your skill level. It is perhaps precisely because of this quest for total control that a defeat in chess can be so devastating for a player.
Countless examples can be given of the psychological injuries suffered by the losers of chess matches: this sometimes even becomes physically handicapping. Take Anatoly Karpov in his famous 1984 match with young rising star Garry Kasparov: objectively, at the time, Karpov was the best player, and he won several wins first, and is about to win his sixth, which would grant him the preservation of his title of world champion. After 27 games, the score was 5-0 (draws didn’t count), and Kasparov was then well advised to undertake a waiting tactic, involving taking zero risks, even when there were interesting opportunities. on the board.
From there, Karpov’s nerves began to fail him. Game after game – all ending in inconclusive draws – he lost weight and sleep, and began to falter. The much younger and fitter Kasparov could thus exploit his opponent’s struggle and win victories over the occasional error. The score went up to 5-3, when finally the match was suspended – it had lasted too long, and a new one was scheduled. As the score was objectively still in Karpov’s advantage, despite all the protests and outrage from Kasparov’s camp, there was no way to reverse FIDE’s decision.
Months later, the rematch was an entirely different story. Kasparov had grown and learned a lot from the previous long match, and he won convincingly. Later he turned out to be one of the best chess players of all time – if not the best at all.
So failures can be nerve-wracking in the long run. But all tournament players know that even a single match gone wrong can do huge damage. The worst happens when you fall into a position that your opponent can totally dominate. It’s the chess equivalent of being held at gunpoint and forced to do whatever your enemy demands.
Of course, the player who dominates a game of chess has entirely different feelings: a feeling of dominance, of control, of power. You decide the future of the game and your opponent. It is not common to reach this situation, but when you do, you feel that you have achieved something important, in the sense of failures.
That feeling was mine yesterday, when I was able to exploit some opening inaccuracy from my opponent in a line blitz. It is rare in blitz games (where you and your opponent have only 5 minutes each to perform all the moves for fear of losing in time) to reach a position of dominance, because with so little time to think , mistakes abound and the advantage can easily switch back and forth several times during a game. It happened in this case:
Dragonve (2337) Tommaso Dorigo (2342)
I had black and played Alechin’s defense – a double-edged opening that gives white more space but a slightly too wide cross:
The position after 8 moves is typical of a variant of the Alechin Defense, but white is playing an unusual move here – the queen can only go to c2 usually after white has prevented the annoying jumps to b4 from black’s knights. For now, however, things seem to be in good order.
The last two moves, of course played almost instantly, were both errors, as the white queen’s unusual position allowed her to take the lead by a mere 10.Qe4+, hitting the black bishop. Black would be forced to play 10….Be6, followed by 11.d5, winning a piece. This, however, doesn’t take away from the beauty of this game, given the time control and what happens next.
This move is very dangerous – again White can retaliate with 11.Qe4+. This time, however, Black would cover the check with 11….Qe7, and if 12.Qxg4, he could get revenge with 12….Nc2+ 13.Kf1 Nxa1. The resulting complications cannot be assessed with a time-limited check.
This move is a key to black’s strategy. It is usually impossible in an Alechin setup to play against the d4 pawn with this pawn push, as the black knight sits on c6. Here the push allows black to take complete control of black’s long diagonal, looking at the b2-pawn and the rook behind him.
This already shows that black is in control. White cannot avoid losing the b2-pawn, or more material. The misplacement of his pieces is the prelude to total black domination.
Already a rook is offered for a knight (the advantage called “exchange” in chess). But other alternatives were even worse – returning to a1 with the rook would allow Bxb2 to hit both the queen and the rook.
Another sign of dominance: Black is not interested in gaining material, but rather seeks to maximize his control over the board. This move forces the exchange of the white bishop and allows black to land his on d3, from where it will prevent white from castling forever. The white king is already doomed.
White has no useful moves. Domination is already almost total.
Black’s minor pieces continue to hit sensitive targets – now the b1 rook is threatened twice – and white has to respond to the threats. Here we also see how, in chess, a threat is stronger than its execution: if black cashed in and took the rook, he would let his opponent breathe, because he wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.
Black continues to threaten – this time the queen – and while strengthening his position for the final attack against the king. Now Qd1 would lose an entire rook, so white is forced to do something he absolutely hates to do – he pins the queen behind his rook!
In truth, Black’s last move is an inaccuracy. In a totally dominant position, you must pay attention to your opponent’s means of breaking free. In this case, h5 was wrong – 19….h6 was called for, to prevent 20.Bg5 which would force things a bit. The position would still be winning for Black after 20…Bxb2, however. But in a blitzkrieg, those opportunities are easily missed.
Preparing for knockouts. Now 21.Bg5 can no longer be played, as it would be followed by 22.Nc3+.
How would you finish your opponent in this position? The d4 square, secured by the previous c7-c5 thrust, becomes the pivot to coordinate the action of the participating black pieces…
The final position is remarkable – only 25 moves were needed to achieve this complete rout. In chess jargon, this is called a “miniature”. White resigns, because not only is he getting checkmated, but he’s already almost completely out of time, while Black threatens to finish with the aesthetic 25….Qe1+! 26.Fxe1 Txe1 mate.