Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Beauty, Wonder, Mystery and Horror of Chess, Part II

In The Beauty, Wonder, Mystery and Horror of Chess, I cited several examples of top level players making ghastly blunders, underscoring just how challenging and heartbreaking this sport can be. One more game can be added to that list; in round one of the ongoing Dortmund Sparkassen tournament, a world-class player overlooked a simple tactic.

Wang Hao, whose 2752 rating places him 15th in the world, had Black in this position against former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik (2784, fourth in the world):

Kramnik's extra pawn is not that meaningful because Hao's major pieces are so active. However, Hao played ...Ra2??, enabling Kramnik to pick off the wayward Rook with Qb8+ followed by Qb1+. This is a classic example of what Grandmaster John Nunn meant when he coined the phrase "Loose Pieces Drop Off." Strong players typically "overprotect" their pieces to prevent such "accidents" from happening.

This is not the first time that Hao lost a game because he overlooked a two move tactic; in the 2012 London Grand Prix he calmly defended a pawn down position, won back the lost pawn and was about to force a draw when he moved his King straight into a helpmate. After that loss, a stunned Hao said, "I can say nothing. It was a simple blunder. Something should have happened with my brain."

Chess can be brutal sometimes, requiring tremendous concentration during a game and often also requiring great resiliency after a game to overcome the psychological devastation resulting from one brief lapse that ruined several hours' worth of hard fought work.

Kramnik, who blundered into mate in one against Deep Fritz nearly seven years ago, can certainly empathize with Hao--as can anyone who has played serious tournament chess.

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