Chess: White commits double blunder

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THERE are two good ways to spoil winning positions. The complacent blunder involves falling into a trap through failing to suspect the existence of a tactical trick. The panic blunder is caused by seeing the possibility of an unpleasant trap, then tripping straight into another one when rushing to avoid it. Today's position, from a game Shcherbakov- Arlazarov played in the USSR in 1972, sees White managing to combine both types of blunder to let his opponent escape from an apparently lost position.

ch08out-harts-nws With White's pawns well advanced and the black king practically in a mating net, the game is almost won. It needs only the finishing touch. One idea is 1. Kg6] when 1 . . . Qxg4+ 2. Kf7 Qh5+ 3. Kf8 leaves Black defenceless against 4. Qg8 mate, while 2 . . . h5 in this line is mated by 3. Qe8+ Kh7 4. Qg8+ Kh6 5. Qh8. If Black meets 1. Kg6 passively with 1 . . . Qb8 then 2. f6 is decisive.

White may have seen all this, but it is always hard to surrender one's extra material in an endgame. Perhaps someone had even told him in his youth that when he saw a good move he should look for a better one. (Terrible advice. When you see a good move, play it] Good moves are few and far between and should not be wilfully rejected.)

Anyway, he came up with the finesse of 1. f6] which is objectively just as good as 1. Kg6, but set the scene for the blunder that followed. After 1. f6, White has calculated that 1 . . . gxf6 loses at once to 2. Kg6 (since Black has no checks and 1 . . . Qb8 allows mate in two) while 1 . . . Qxf6 2. Qxf6 gxf6 3. Kxh6 is equally easy for White.

However, the reply 1 . . . Kh7] caught White by surprise. Black threatens 1 . . . g6 mate and 2. Qf5+ leads only to a draw after 2 . . . Qxf5 3. gxf5 gxf6. The two obvious moves for White to consider are 2. fxg7 and 2. f7.

Now let's recap White's thought processes and concomitant emotions from the diagram, which must have been something like: 'Okay, this is an easy win now, 1. Kg6 wins, but 1. f6 is even easier. (Plays 1. f6, met quickly by Kh7.) Oh (expletive deleted), didn't see that. (Expletive repeated) He's threatening g6 mate. Have I blundered? No. Stay calm. Okay, it's still an easy win with either f7 or fxg6.'

The thought process now continues remorselessly to the blunder: 'What does he do after 2. f7? I'm threatening 3. Qf5+ and he hasn't got any checks. Oh no. He plays 2 . . . Qe5+]] and after 3. Qxe5 g6 it's mate. That was a narrow escape. Right, it's 2. fxg7 and that's easy, because 2 . . . Kxg7 is met by Qg6+ followed by Qxh6+.'

So the game finished 2. fxg7 Qf7+]] with a draw by stalemate after 3. Qxf7. White's mistake was 2. fxg7, a rare case of being panicked into complacency after seeing the line with 2. f7 Qe5+ 3. Qxe5 g6 mate. If he had stopped to think about it, he would have spotted 3. g5]] winning for White after 3 . . . Qxe6 4. f8=N+] But the potential for blundering would not have been there in the first place if he had thought long enough about 1. f6 to wonder what happened after the reply Kh7.