What does it take to beat a titled player? For someone who has played chess for a relatively short period of time, Brandon’s first encounter with a titled player was a close call. After a queen sacrifice for a knight and bishop out of the opening transition to relieve pressure on an exposed king side, the NM (National Master) had an advantage throughout the middle game – as an engine evaluates a position, it would have him as better by +3 – which is the equivalent of being up a whole piece. Considering he had a queen from the earlier exchange, that was understandable, but in the broadcast – the two played while he streamed games on twitch – he was finding it more and more difficult to maintain equality and avoid the traps and tricky decisions Brandon would continue to demand of him with his usual style of play, favoring a highly aggressive, sacrificial style rather than that of slowly trying to accumulate positional advantage and convert it in an endgame.
On move 28, the NM blundered and the position was again equal — Brandon was playing a NM for the first time, a titled player — and he was winning.
On move 16, worried about potential sacrifices of the FM on his kingside, Brandon followed a double attack on his knight with the fateful decision. 16. Ne4 …
Here, the position is partially closed and, because of white’s pawn structure, his pieces will have trouble finding good positions and access into the position. But, if he could take on f6 with the bishop, the knight – which came with check – he’d win the knight, open up the kingside – and win the bishop too on d5. So, he did what he thought he had to do – what had always well served him in the past – he sacrificed to the God of Chess, Caissa. 16. Nxe5!
Despite the engine evaluating this as a mistake – not a blunder – it presents a number of problems for white over the next 13 moves, regardless of what an engine might suggest. Human beings aren’t engines and do not think as engines do. Complications easy for an engine to navigate may not be as easy for a human, especially when you are rated nearly 400 points higher than the player across from you and they have just sacrificed their queen and you are continuously being pushed back.
By move 27 another chance for a sacrifice presented itself, and this time, while it was the best move, Brandon decided instead for another – an attempted trick that would win his opponent’s queen.
From here, the position is virtually equal, but you have to seize the opportunity when it presents itself. A move early or a move late will not cut it. This position is equal – but you have to take advantage of it and play accurately. Here I considered Nxf2 – taking the f2 pawn, and threatening a discovery if white doesn’t take the knight with the bishop. Which I should have done, because if he took with the rook, moving the light squared bishop back to h7 would expose a double attack on his rook and win some material. But, that’s not what he did. He played a safe move after a game of risk and aggression, and talked himself out of the move that kept the balance and initiative – half measures are not for the game of chess at the highest level.
Despite this inaccuracy, I would argue black still has much of the initiative, much better pieces, and better long term chances if he remained accurate. The next move would see the FM blunder and present Brandon with another opportunity to gain advantage. So, he goes for it;
And for his hard work, the FM blundered when he took the pawn on c4 — and with that, after a long, complex struggle, the game was even and with better pieces and better coordination, Brandon could play for the win. It was the most important game of his career and he had risked everything, but at the supreme moment, the game would require one sacrifice more than he was willing to offer the Gods, and the Gods will only accept the best.
But the equalizing move was yet another sacrifice, a sacrifice that Brandon debated, considered … and then talked himself out of playing. He thought he was pushing his luck, and in a game against a FM, a professional, a titled player no less. So, instead of the equalizing Be6, Brandon played a discovered check – a move which begs itself to be played for most amateurs – whenever the possibility arises. Even when it has no long term strategic value, the notion of making only one threat seemed good enough. After blundering yet again he would resign after a wild game which presented him with a number of possibilities – and an important lesson to be learned. Half measures will never cut it against a professional. To view this game in full, see the .gif I’ve included below. At a later point I will make a video to include on this page, but at a different computer which does not have the software I normally use.
Regardless of the loss, Brandon showed his great attacking potential, love of chaos and razor sharp positions but most importantly — his inexperience. His next game against a titled player would be different.