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Monday, October 15, 2012

Bryant Park Blitz: An Einstellung loss?

A few weeks ago, I was in the city on a Sunday, killing somme time while my girlfriend was recording some music (Check out her itunes page!). Naturally, I took the opportunity to get in a game of chess, and headed down to Bryant Park. There I found a player, sitting smugly with sunglasses on (it was a nice September day) taking on various opponents. Most of the opponents he played were crushed, making fairly simple mistakes and dropping pieces to simple tactics as the bespeckled player jokingly taunted them. I noticed, however, some errors in his play (both tactical and positional), and his tendency to underestimate the counterplay of his opponent.

I have posted the game below for your enjoyment. It was played with the time control of 5-0 (5 minutes each side, no increment). In hindsight, I think that this game might be a good example of the Einstellung effect. This effect is essentially when you become fixated on only certain moves or ideas, miss the optimal continuation in a position. I recently posted about some research concerning the Einstellung effect on chess players (it is a more generally phenomenon), and it brought this game back to my mind. In fact, I otherwise would have not posted the following game, because it contains some really rather sloppy play (I'm usually sharper that this tactically, I swear!), but is nonetheless instructive on several points.

In particular, I became fixated on the pressure my opponent was exerting on my King in the above position, and missed an excellent resource on move 21; I played the awkward 21.Bf4, when a combination of 21.fxg6, Rf7 and Rh7 would have easily secured the win.

Select 'Read more' or the following link to view the whole game.

The time pressure of blitz can sometimes highlight our tendency to overlook important possibilities. What examples of the missed possibilities and the Einstellung effect do you have in your own games?

Devin Camenares vs. Glasses, 0-1

Bryant Park, September 23th 2012

You can also view the game, with annotations, by downloading the PGN

1.e4 e6 2.d4 b6 3.f4 

Preparing an aggressive assault, which is indicated by Black's passive play 

3...Bb7 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Nd2 d5 6.e5 Ne4 7.Ngf3 c5 8.c3 Nxd2 9.Bxd2 c4 
In my estimation 9...c4 is a poor move from Black. White is given a free hand on the Kingside and the center. Black's counterplay comes quicker by simply increasing pressure against d4.

For example, 9...Nc4 10.O-O Be7 is a better try, although I would still prefer White. By closing the center completely, Black must depend on breaks with ...f6 or ...g5 to generate play.

10.Bc2 g6

Usually not an advisable move in a structure with e6 and d5, and here is no exception. It creates dark square weaknesses, and also weakens the pawns; e5 cannot be challenged, and the f7 pawn is now backwards.

Not only does Black now lack any real counterplay, but the structural weaknesses foreshadow an attack by White. Moves such as 10...Be7 or 10...Nd7, intending ...f6, are much better.

11.O-O Be7

I am puzzled why my opponent did not fianchetto his Bishop, since he played g6 a move earlier. This passive and slow play invites g2-g4 and f4-f5.

12.g4 h5 

Putting too many pawns on light squares. I immediately recognized the potential for tactics with gxh5, ...Rxh5, and Bxg6. Although I could not force Rxh5, it seemed the more natural move for my opponent to play (after all, it gives the illusion that Black is developing counterplay).

This is a nice illustration of the principle of not making too many pawn moves (especially weakening ones like ...h5) in regions of the board where you have less space.

After this move, I decided upon the following plan of action. I would start with 13.Ng5, not fearing Bxg5 because this would only open the F-file for my Rook. hxg4 is also troubling because after Qxg4 I would still dominate the Kingside, and start to eye tactics involving Nxe6, when all the weak Black pawns would start to fall (this is one of those tactics involving Bxg6. In the game we see another)

13.Ng5 Nc6 14.gxh5 Rxh5? 

Falling for the trap I set. 14...gxh5 was better, although White retains the edge.  


Black is helpless to avoid the loss of at least the exchange and a pawn, and with it he should lose the game.It was very pleasant to play this move, and both my opponent and the onlookers were surprised, with some exclaiming "This guy means business!"

The Queen is attacked, but the F pawn is overloaded and cannot capture the Knight without allowing 16..fxe6 17.Bxg6 Kd7 (What else?) 18.Qxg6. Black is both down material, as well as completely uncoordinated. In the game, my opponent opted for retreating the Queen, but this still allows for capture of the Rook due to the fork on g7.

16...Qd7 17.Ng7+ Kd8 18.Nxh5 Qh3

Now, instead of being down the exchange, Black is down an entire Rook (and a few pawns to boot). White is clearing winning, although the active looking 18...Qh3 is not a bad try for a blitz game. At this point, I was ahead on the clock

19.Ng3 Kc7 19.f5 Rh8

Cheekily threatening checkmate. Black is obtaining some measure of counterplay, but it isn't (or at least shouldn't be) enough to save the game.

20.Qe2 Bh4 

This move (20...Bh4), a logical follow up to Qh3 and Rh8, sent me into a tailspin. White is still has a large, winning advantage, but I ate up a lot of time on the clock considering how to defend against the threat of Bxg3, hxg3 and Qh1+. 

This, I think, may be an example of the Einstellung effect. I became so engrossed in calculating defensive possibilities, trying to preserve my material advantage. Even after spending more than two minutes, which is a lot in blitz, I only spotted familiar attacking ideas for Black, missing White's counterattacking resources that would hold the balanced. 

Nevermind of course that the tactics involving ..Qh1+, Kf2 and ..Rh2 doesn't necessarily secure an advantage for Black. For example, play might continue 21.Rae1 Bxg3 22.hxg3 Qh1+ 23.Kf2 Rh2+ 24.Ke3 Rxe2+ 25.Rxe2 when a complex, but balanced, material situation is present on the board. In fact, I'd prefer White in this position.

Beyond overestimating the gravity of Black's attack (my brain shut down after seeing 23...Rh2+ in the above line), I missed simpler defensive ideas. 21.Qg2 covers everything. I saw this move, but rejected it because of tactics on the long diagonal. Of course, if I had stopped worrying about Black's pressure and actually calculated the line, I'd easily see that 21.Qg2 Qxg2 22.Kxg2 Nxe5 23.dxe5 d4 is nothing to worry about. White has such an excess of material that even 24.Rf3 at this point should be good.


A dubious choice (probably one of the worst in this position that doesn't lose immediately), although White may still be winning after this move. This move defends g3, but runs into ...g5. Unfortunately, the defensive mindset that produced 21.Bf4 infected my next few moves as well.

The correct idea was to defend actively. The idea is not hard to spot or calculate, although it is unusual enough to be easily missed if you are fixed upon only familiar patterns.

It starts with 21.fxg6 Bxg3 22.Rxf7+ Kb8 23.Rh7! 

This move combines attack (pressure against Black's seventh rank) and defense (on the h-file). It is completely winning, as Black has both the Queen, Rook, and Bishop under attack. Not to mention the fact that the White g-pawn is only two squares from Queening with devastating effect, and the f-file is open for the other Rook.

Perhaps I would have spotted this, if it wasn't for my narrow focus on the squares surrounding my King. After this, White is completely winning. Play might continue 23..Rxh7 24.gxh7 Bxe5 25.dxe5 and the Black Queen is stuck on the H-file. I'm not really sure what to recommend to Black here, other than ...d4

21...g5 22.Rae1

Not wanting to admit my mistake of moving the Bishop, I make an even worse move and nearly throw away my advantage. I only give away part of my material advantage, but I don't do enough to quench Black's initiative.

22...gxf4 23.Rxf4 Bxg3 24.Rf3 Bxh2 25.Kh1

A terrible mistake in a lost position. To prolong the game it would have been necessary to run the King the other way with 25.Kf2 Qh4 26.Kf1 Bg3 27.Qg2 Qf4 28.Ke2 Rh2, although White is still busted!

25...Bg3+ 26.Kg1 

My miscalculations have led me directly into the situation I was trying to avoid. Here, despite being up the exchange, I am lost as Black as a winning attack. However, my opponent is human, and as such is subject to the same tactical blindness the Einstelling effect exerted upon me moves earlier.


Missing mate in one with 26...Qh1#! My opponent had probably become so fixated with either breaking the pin on the Bishop or a particular mating pattern that he missed the simplest win. Nonetheless, Black is still in the drivers seat and retains a winning advantage.

27.Qg2 Bh2+ 28.Kf1 Qh4 29.Re2 Bc8

Here both me and my opponent missed a tactical possibility involving Nxe5, despite the fact that I was aware of it several moves ago (see the notes to my 21st move). 

29...Nxe5 30.dxe5 d4 the same trouble on the long diagonal I spotted earlier, this time with more powerful effect. 31.cxd4 Qxd4 and Black will win the e5 pawn, can win the exchange at will, and has a strong initiative not to mention an advantage on the clock.


Finally generating a counterattack. However, it is insufficient to save the game against best play. Ironically, a less active looking move in this position would actually allow me to hold the balance, which is incredible considering I walked into a mating net only a few moves earlier.

I only had about a dozen seconds or less at this point, compared to more than a minute for my opponent. I'll chalk it up to time pressure that I missed a potentially equalizing line, which begins with Re2-e3 to cover the third rank and threaten Rh3.

30.Ree3 Ne7 31.Rh3 Qf4 32.Qf2 Rxh3 33.Qxf4 Bxf4 34.Rxh3 Nxh5 and White should survive, although there are chances for both sides and I'd prefer Black slightly. Note that White cannot win a piece here due to the pawn on c4, which I was critical of back on move 9! 35.Bxf5 Bxf5 36.Rf3 is the piece winning attempt, but 36...Bd3+ saves the day for Black.

30...Rh7 31.Qf6 Qxf6

Much stronger for Black would have been 31...Qg4, taking the squares my Queen has left behind and threatening mate in the process. 

For example, 32.Ref2 Qg1 33.Ke2 Qc1 34.Bd1 Bg1 and the final blow is not far away (White is lost)

32.exf6 Bd6 33.b3

The position is complex, and I have fought my way back from the brink, but the damage done by Black's 20th move is telling, as I lost on time by more than a minute here. At any rate, White is likely lost in the final position. Certainly a wild example of Sunday Blitz!

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