07 October 2016

Converting the Advantage

The most difficult part of chess is to win a won game.
Wilhelm Steinitz*
I might have won my last round game in the Eastern Washington Open on Sunday, which would have given me an even score for the event. My game had been comfortable throughout and my position was never worse. My confidence was also strong.

Courtney,Caleb (1466) -- Stripes,James (1794) [C02]
Eastern Washington Open (5), 02.10.2016

Black to move
After 39.f4
I was certain that I was winning at this point in the game.


Thinking the a-pawn would be easy to stop without a serious concessions, I chose to force the rooks off the board immediately.

39...Rb2 wins more easily. One possible line might be 40.Rf1 Rxa2 41.Rf2 Ra1+ 42.Rf1 Rxf1+ 43.Kxf1 d4 44.Ke2 Ke6 45.Kd2 Be4.

40.Rxb1 Bxb1 41.a4 Ke6 42.Kf2 Be4?

I also considered 42...Bf5 and  42...d4. Bf5 is no better than Be4, but 42...d4 is best, according to Stockfish. I imagined my bishop and pawn standing side-by-side on e4 and d4, barring entry of the White king into action. I did not look at the two pieces accomplishing the same standing on d3 and d4.

Earlier in the game, I felt that I had pushed my c-pawn too soon, rendering the win more difficult. Now, I was reluctant to push the d-pawn before preparation. Unfortunately, White's drawing chances are now very good.


My opponent thought this move was forced, but as long as the king remains on f2, it can be delayed. First, White needs to reduce the bishop's mobility by forcing it to remain on the long diagonal,

43.a5! d4 44.a6 h5 45.a7 Kf5 46.g3 g5=


Again, I considered 43...d4, which had been the only winning move.

44.Ke3 Bf5 45.Kd4 Bh3 46.a5 Bf1 47.h3

47.f5+ Kxf5 48.Kxd5 g5 49.e6 Kf6 50.Kd6 Bb5!

47...g6 48.g4?

48.Kc5 Bc4 49.Kb4 Be2=

Black to move

Now, thinking that I could very easily lose, I spend ten minutes on this position. I worked out pretty much the line that the game followed where both players promote on the same move, but also thought that I might still have some winning chances.

48...h4! 49.f5+

49.g5 creates problems for Black, but Ke7 leaves White practically in zugzwang.

49...gxf5 50.gxf5+ Kxf5 51.Kxd5 Bxh3 52.Kd6 

Black to move


I played this move almost without hesitation. I felt that I had solved my problems and could secure the draw. Alas, I was still winning and could have easily invested half of my remaining sixteen minutes discovering how. White's problem in the race between his e-pawn and my h-pawn is that his king must also move.

After the game, we looked at 52...Bg2 53.e6 Kf6 54.Kd7 h3 55.e7

Analysis diagram after 55.e7
55...Bc6+! 56.Kxc6 Kxe7 57.a6 h2 58.a7 h1Q+ and Black wins.

Even better is 52...Bf1 53.e6 h3 54.e7 Bb5 55.a6 h2 56.a7 h1Q with an easy win.

Before playing 48...h4, I had examined 52...Kg6, and worked out that it was losing, missing that after 53.a6, 53...Bg2 kept the win in hand.

53.a6 Bg2 54.e6 h3 55.e7 h2 56.e8Q h1Q 57.Qe5+

My opponent offered a draw here, stating that he had a perpetual. I said that I did not disbelieve him, but wanted to see the proof.

57...Kg4 58.Qg7+ Kf3 59.Qf6+ Kg3 60.Qg5+ Kf2 61.Qd2+ Kg1 62.Qe1+ Bf1 63.Qg3+ ½–½

Even at the end, I thought I might play on 63...Qg2 64.Qxg2+ Bxg2 and let the game end when my bishop captures his last queen.

It was a disappointing tournament, as were all my others in 2016. Nonetheless, I enjoy learning from my errors in this game. Perhaps next time I play chess in a weekend Swiss, I will play with determination and creativity, finding every win that presents itself even after making depressing errors.

One more tournament like those that I played this year and I will be at my rating floor, down almost 300 from my peak in 2012.

*This quote and others that are similar have been attributed to several chess masters, most often Emanuel Lasker or Frank Marshall. Electronic searches of Lasker's Common Sense in Chess and Lasker's Manual of Chess fail to turn it up, however. Edward Winter, who continually labors to source such expressions, offered in A Chess Omnibus (2003) Adolph Albin, Schach-Aphorismen und Reminiscenzen (1899). Albin lists it among a sequence of chess aphorisms.

Then, in Chess Note 5349 (26 December 2007), Winter notes that the saying appears in Chess Player's Chronicle (13 December 1890), where it is attributed to Wilhelm Steinitz. Winter requests earlier attributions.


  1. There are a lot of lessons in this game.

    First I want to share a very cool new line that I saw when I calculated whether 48...h4 worked:

    48...h4 49.f5+ gxf5 50.gxf5+ Kxf5 51.Kxd5 h3

    Here instead of your opponent's 52.Kd6 I thought White would try 52.a6. Then 52...Bg2+ 53.Kd6 h3 54.e6 h2 55.e7 h1=Q 58.e8=Q is a draw even though you queened first.

    So instead you must play 54...Kf6 55.e7 Kf7 56.Kd7 Bc6+ 57.Kxc6 Kxe7 58.a7 h2 and again Black will queen first, but your skewer saves the day.

    So in this position, White might try 59.Kb7!? hoping to reach a drawn Queen vs a-pawn ending. But you have the nice finish 59...h1=Q+ 60.Kb8 Qb1+ 61.Ka8 Qe4+ 62.Kb8 Qb4+ 63.Ka8 Qc4 64.Kb8 Qb5+ 65.Ka8 Qc6+ 66.Kb8 Kd7 65.a8=Q Qc7#

    I think that several of your key errors in this game boil down to an incorrect thought process/intuition. I have some thoughts on this which I hope to put together soon.

  2. And another quick thought: the blocked pawn in the middle of the board is a dangerous roadblock for your bishop, which is why you should have been desperate to play ...d4, potentially even sacking the pawn. The pawn structure reminded me of this study by Heuacker 1930 from Dvoretsky's endgame manual:

    http://szachydzieciom.pl/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/stagram419.png (White to play and win)