Analyze This: Rational and Irrational Chess

“I won a pawn, but I misplayed the position and was totally eliminated. Then he missed a knight fork and I had won the game before hanging my queen. So we agreed to ‘a draw. — Every chess player at least once

It’s a dirty little secret we’re not supposed to discuss, but the games you tend to see in instruction manuals, glossy anthologies and newspaper articles (ahem) don’t always accurately reflect chess because they are actually played by the vast majority of us. . Like a TV sitcom that sums up a major life crisis in 22 tidy minutes, your typical chess annotator seeks games with an intelligible opening, logical development, satisfying ending, and (at most) an unlikely change of fortune.

But for many of us, chess on the chessboard can be a dizzying rollercoaster of fates, with advantage often swinging wildly between players like a badminton shuttlecock as errors and misjudgments pile up. . Play your games with today’s super powerful engines, and you’ll appreciate even more how often fortunes can turn on a dime in over-the-board gaming.

To illustrate this point, consider the two games offered today, both from recent tournaments.

Polish star GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s victory over Dutch GM Anish Giri in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour final that just ended last week is the delight of columnists: White throws a speculative piece sacrifice, Black can’t handle the pressure and Duda finishes things off with a brilliant and decisive second sacrifice leading to a matting attack. Winner and commentator can look like geniuses explaining the perfectly explainable course of events.

Duda had actually played piece sacrifice in this QGD Ragozin line before (13. c4!? h4 14. Be5 f5 15. cxd5) in a quick game last year against GM Yu Yangyi, but the Chinese star found 17 … Qxd5! (instead of Giri’s 17…Kg7?) 18. Ng6+ Kg7 19. Nxh8 Qxb3 20. Rxc7+ Kxh8 21. axb3 Nd5! and held the draw. Here the queens remain on the board and after 19. 0-0! (with black’s king so exposed, white is in no hurry to recover his lost material, coldly ending his development) g4?! (Rf8 was harder) 20. f4! Kf8 21. e4 and the mobilized white pawn center will sweep everything in front of it.

Black’s desperate search for counterplay only leaves him more exposed to a devastating strike: 24. Bb1 Qd2 25. Qf3 Bxf5 26. exf5 Qxd4+ 27. Kh1 Rc8 (see diagram; 27…Qxe5 28. Qg4+ Kh8 29. Qxh4+ Kg8 30. Qh7 mate ) 28. Rg7+!! Kxg7 (Kh8 29. f6 Qxe5 30. Kh7+ Kg8 31. Qg4+ and checkmate next) 29. f6+, leading to a brilliant king hunt. Then 29…Kh6 (Kh6 loses to 30. Bh7+! Kxh7 31. Qh5+ Kg8 32. Qg6+) 30. Ng4+ Kg5 31. Qf5+ !! (a tactic White needed to see before embarking on the rook sacrifice) Nxf5 32. Rxf5+ Kg6 (Kxg4 33. h3 is a very satisfying mate) 33. Re5+, and Black resigned, not needing de voir 33…Kf7 34. Ke7+ Kg8 35 Nh6+ Kh8 36. Kh7 mate.

Just the qualities your annotator wants in a game – simple, straightforward, principled, inspired but not too messy, with a deserving winner.


Now consider the savage battle between Filipino GM Mark Paragua and 12-year-old Nigerian American prodigy Tani Adewumi at the New York GM/IM Fall Invitational earlier this month. Adewumi won her third IM standard in the GMB section of the event, while dealing Paragua – which finished first – its only loss. But their fateful game is an analyst’s nightmare, exemplifying Tartakover’s famous saying that the winner in chess can be defined as the one who makes “the penultimate mistake”.

If Duda-Giri were a sitcom, this Sicilian Scheveningen feels like one of those “Rocky” movies where the two fighters land on the canvas three or four times before a righteous haymaker ultimately decides the fight.

The game quickly becomes totally irrational and players don’t have the luxury of time and powerful chess engines to guide them. A brief summary of the start of the game: Adewumi gets a nearly won game after 18. Qe2? (h6 g6 19. Rh3 is good for Paragua) Rxb2! (Kxb2?? Bxa3+ leads to mate), only to fumble with 20…Bxa3? (Rb6! 21. Qxd5 Qxa3+ 22. Kd2 Rd6 23. Qc4 Nb6 is very strong), only for White to return fumble with 22. Qxd5?? (Re3 holds the balance), only to commit another turnover with 23. Qc4 Qd6? (Nb6! 24. Bxb6 Qxb6 25. Bd3 Kf8! 26. Rhe1 Rd7, with the advantage) 24. g6!, and suddenly White wins again.

Three consecutive moves define the crazy course of the game: 28. Rdg1?? (the winner is missing 28. Qh4 ! 44. Bxh1 29. Rxh1 Rf6 30. Qh8+ Kf7 31. Rg1) Qf6 ?? (missing the equalization 28…Ne5) 29. Rh6!, and again the computers give White a decisive advantage.

Wait, there’s more: Amid the chaos, Paragua fails to find the mortal 33. Bf6!!, who wins immediately after 33…Nxf6 34. Rxg7+ Kh8 (Kf8 35. Qxf7 mate) 35. Qh2+, and throws a second win with 35. Rd3?? (Kd1!, believe it or not, seems to be the right path, in lines such as 35…Bd3+ 36. Ke1 Qxc3+ 37. Bd2 Qe5+ 38. Qxe5 Nxe5 39. Rxg7+ Kf8 40. Bxf7). Adewumi in turn does not find the crazy equalizing line 35…Be4+! 36. Kd4 Bc5+ 37. Qxc5 Nxc5 38. Rxg7+ Kxg7 39. Bc1+ Qg2 40. Rxg2+ Bxg2 41. Bxf7 Kxf7 42. Rxc5 with a probable draw.

White wins again after 35…Nc5+? 36. Kd4!, but again missed the volley back to 38. Qc4 Qc2?? (Qxc4+ 39. Kxc4 Rc7+ 40. Kb3 Bf8 offers some chance of survival) 39. Kxg7+!! Rxg7, when the point is there again for the capture on 40. Bh6+! Kxh6 (Kf6 41. Nd5+ Bxd5 42. Qxc2) 41. Qe6+ Kh5 42. Qxf7+ Kh4 43. Qh7 mate. Instead, on 40. Bf6+?? Kf8 White’s attack suddenly disappears, this time for good. After 41. Bg5 Kd7+ 42. Ke5 Qh2+ 43. Bf4 Qxg1 44. Bh6+ Ke8, all control squares are covered and Black’s material advantage is overwhelming; Paraguay resigned.

What should we learn from a game like this? Your guess is as good as mine.

Duda-Giri, Meltwater Online Champions Chess Tour Finals, November 2022

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. cxd5 exd5 6. Bg5 Nbd7 7. Rc1 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. Bg3 Ne4 10. Qb3 Bxc3+ 11. bxc3 Nb6 12. e3 h5 13. c4 h4 14. Be5 f6 15. cxd5 fxe5 16. Bb5+ Kf8 17. Nxe5 Kg7 18. Bd3 Nd6 19. OO g4 20. f4 Rf8 21. e4 g3 22. f5 Qg5 23. Rxc7+ Kg8 24. Bb1 Qd2 25. Qf3 Bxf5 26. exf5 Qxd4+ 27. Kh1 Rac8 28. Rg7+ Kxg7 29. f6+ Kh6 30. Ng4+ Kg5 31. Qf5+ Nxf5 32. Rxf5+ Kg6 33. Re5+ Black resigns.

Paragua-Adewumi, GMB Tournament, New York GM/IM Fall Invitational, New York, November 2022

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. a3 Nf6 8. f4 d6 9. Qf3 Be7 10. OOO OO 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. g4 Kb8 13. g5 Nd7 14. h4 d5 15. h5 Qa5 16. Bf2 f5 17. exd5 cxd5 18. Qe2 Rxb2 19. Qxe6+ Rf7 20. Bd4 Bxa3 21. Kd2 Qb4 22. Qxd5 Bb7 23. Qc4 Qd6 24. g6 hxg6 25. hxg6 Qxf 26. Be3 Qd6+ 27. Bd3 Qxg6 28. Rdg1 Qf6 29. Kh6 Qe7 30. Khg6 Kf8 31. Bg5 Qb4 32. Qc7 Kg8 33. Bc4 Kxc2+ 34. Kxc2 Qb2+ 35. Kd3 Nc5+ 36. Kd4 Nb3+ 37. Bc4 Q2c Qx 39. Rxg7+ Kxg7 40. Bf6+ Kf8 41. Bg5 Rd7+ 42. Ke5 Qh2+ 43. Bf4 Qxg1 44. Bh6+ Ke8 White resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at


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