Monday, 13 December 2021

073. How Could I Play Like That?!?

White: R.C. O'Neale - BCCA Championship, 1994/95

So GM Ian Nepomniachtchi failed in his bid to dethrone World Champion Magnus Carlsen, essentially collapsing after losing the 136-move marathon sixth game. As to why, GM Daniil Dubov offered the following explanation in an interview at

In my view, Ian played five and three quarters of the games brilliantly. The way he operated was fantastic, at the limits of his ability, and he was in no way inferior to Magnus. (...) [T]he main strength of Carlsen is that even on his worst days he doesn’t fall below a certain level, and that level is very high. That isn’t Ian’s strong point. On a good day he can beat anyone, but on a bad one he can lose to anyone. As has already been said, at the end Ian played in such a way that you didn’t need to be Magnus to beat him. That’s precisely what makes World Championship matches so tough. There are a lot of games. At some moment the stress will get to you and the fatigue will tell.

I think Nepomniachtchi may look back at games 8-11 in bemusement, wondering “How could I play like that?!?” At my much lower level I can certainly relate to such feelings, having had correspondence tournaments where I just played atrociously. I look back at my games now in bemusement, wondering “How could I play like that?!?”.

Notable instances are (with my dismal scores in brackets): BCCA Championship 1994/95 (2½/10), Email Olympiad 14 Final (2/11), BCCA-100 GM (3½/14). The first of those is particularly “Huh?!?”, given that I'd won the event the previous two years.

Take the game below. The coffeehouse-style 21...b5 raises the eyebrows for a start. But the follow-up "exchange sacrifice" 22...Ng4 has me completely befuddled.
Even if Black is given a free move after 23 Bxd8 Bxd8, it still looks like total rubbish.

There's more rubbish to be seen in Game 43. However, as I note in that earlier post, I later recovered form to win again in 1997/98. I even won in the same line, this time with the more sensible 19...Qg4 20 Bd2 Qd7. That was a nice game from my perspective, featuring a much stronger ...Ng4 too. But I wouldn't be surprised if my opponent looks back it in bemusement, wondering “How could I play like that?!?”

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