Recovering from a Loss

During my studies in the National Sports Academy we had many other subjects besides chess. Anatomy, psychology, biochemistry, sports medicine, etc. Some of them were not really related to chess, some very close to the aspect of our game. We also had many sports. And one winter day we headed towards the Vitosha mountains for a two-week ski course. I had never used skis in my life before. Nor skates nor any other sports that requires balance, and thus I was deeply worried.

The first thing that I did the first day was to fall. I was falling on every single angle, in every situation, at every occasion. People were laughing at me. But what they did not understand at this moment was that I was falling on purpose. I learned how to fall without being injured, and not to be afraid to do so. And in the remaining thirteen days I fell only one more time.

One of the first things that I now teach my students is how to fall. To attack, calculate, risk, and most of all- lose games. The earlier this fear is taken from them, the better. Those who risk will win. Draw is only half the reward, and no one remembers those games.

But that is only at the beginning. Then we start to play competitive chess, and need to face the unpleasantness of losing games. And not only to face it and to survive it, but to keep on moving after that. After all, there are still rounds to go, and one loss usually is not decisive in a tournament.

The following game was played in the penultimate round at the strong tournament in Sydney, 2010. I was leading the open with 6/7, while my opponent was half a point behind:
Bojkov,D (2505) - Zhao Zong Yuan (2592) [C00]
Sydney Int Open Parramatta AUS (8), 10.04.2010
1.e4 e6 2.d3 c5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.0–0 Nge7 7.Re1 d6 8.c3 e5 9.a3 a5 10.a4 0–0 11.Na3 Kh8 12.Nb5 f5 Black did not handle the opening in the bets possible way, and White has now a pleasant choice how to gain the advantage. 13.exf5!? [13.Nd2 with the idea to bring the knight to c4 and attack the pawn on d6 was also great. 13...Be6 14.Nc4 Bxc4 15.dxc4 will discover the backward pawn on d6 anyways and Black is in trouble.] 13...gxf5 14.d4!

Once that the center is opened, White will have access to the opponent's weakened camp. 14...cxd4 15.cxd4 e4 16.Ng5 h6 17.Qh5 Kg8 18.Nh3 Rf6 19.Nf4 Bd7 White is obviously better. I just need to find the best way to place my pieces. 20.Qd1 [20.Bd2!?±] 20...Nb4 21.Bd2 Kh7 22.Bf1 A critical momemnt from psychological point of view. The sportive situation at this moment could be the decisive factor. [22.Bxb4 wins a pawn, but things are far from clear after- 22...axb4 23.Qb3 Bxb5 24.axb5 Rxa1 25.Rxa1 d5 26.Qxb4 Ng6 the opposite coloured bishops give chances for a successful defence for Black.; I also realized that if I wish to make a draw I can force repetition of moves- 22.Nh5 Rg6 23.Nf4 as the rook is forced to protect the d6 pawn, Black cannot deviate. A draw would have secured me leading position before the final round, and shared first place in case of a draw against the co-leader G. Jones in the final round. However, I became greedy, and decided to win a clear first place.] 22...Nbd5 23.Nh5 Rg6 24.Nxg7 Kxg7 Now I followed the intended forced line which I have foreseen with: 25.f3? Missing the strong reply: [Both: 25.Qb3 would be solid, and better for White.; Likewise, a small edge is preserved after: 25.Rc1] 25...e3!

26.Bxe3 Nxe3 27.Rxe3 f4 Tables have turned, now it is Black who is better. I could not adjust to the situation, and lost later. 28.Re2 fxg3 29.hxg3 Rxg3+ 30.Rg2 Rxg2+ 31.Bxg2 Nf5 32.Qd2 Qf6 33.d5 Kh7 34.Rc1 Rg8 35.Rc7 Rg7 36.Qc2 Kg8! The threats Nf5–e3 or Nf5–h4 cannot be faced. 37.Rxd7 Rxd7 38.Qc8+ Qd8 39.Qxd8+ Rxd8 40.Bh3 Ne3 41.b3 Kf7 42.Be6+ Kf6 43.Kf2 Nf5 44.f4 Ng7 45.Bg4 h5 46.Be2 h4 47.Bg4 Nf5 48.Kf3 Nh6 49.Be6 Nf5 50.Kg2 b6 51.Kh3 Ng7 52.Bg4 Nf5 53.Kh2 Rg8 54.Kh3 Rg7 55.Nc3 Re7 56.Bxf5 Kxf5 57.Nb5 Kxf4 58.Nxd6 Re3+ 59.Kxh4 Rxb3 60.Nf7 Kf5 0–1

What can we say after such a painful loss? Everything seemed to be irreparable. Instead of comfortably leading, now I needed to win as Black against India’s second GM (historically) D. Barua to maximally achieve shared first place, while a loss or even a draw would put me out of the prizes.

The bridges were burned, and the only good thing about the situation was that the next round was starting earlier than usual.
Barua,D (2479) - Bojkov,D (2505) [C55]
Sydney Int Open Parramatta AUS (9), 11.04.2010
[Dejan Bojkov]
1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d3 Nc6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.0–0 0–0 6.Bb3 d6 7.c3 Na5 8.Bc2 c5 9.a3 Nc6 10.h3 Re8 Here and on the next move, objectively best for Black is to orientate for the d6–d5 advance: [10...d5 11.b4 a6 Hoever, I wanted to keep as many pieces and pawns on the board as possible.] 11.Re1 h6 12.b4 a6 13.Nbd2 Bf8 14.Bb2 Qc7 15.d4 exd4 16.cxd4 cxb4 17.d5 Ne5 18.axb4 Bd7 Objectively speaking, White is slightly better as he controls the center. However the position now represents a kind of Benoni, and the Indian GM is a typical 1.e4 player, so I felt more confident about my future. And indeed, here he thought for a long time, and immediately comitted a mistake. 19.Qb1?! Letting the knight jump on an active position. I was expecting something like: [19.Rc1 Rac8 20.Nxe5 dxe5 21.Ba4 Qb6 (21...Qb8) 22.Rxc8 Rxc8 23.Bxe5 Bxa4 24.Qxa4 Bxb4 with sharp, doubled-edged position.] 19...Nh5 20.Bd3 Nxd3 21.Qxd3 Nf4 Black gained the bishop pair, but it is hard to find a plan to open them. 22.Qb3 Rac8 23.Nd4 Qd8!

Threatening with 24...Qg5. 24.N2f3 Qb6 White lacks now the resource Nd2–c4–a5. These mikro-improvements of the position will discourage my opponent and he will fall in time-trouble. 25.h4 If the knight goes back- [25.Nd2 then 25...Bb5 intending doubling of the rooks along the c file is unpleasant for White, as he cannot oppose the activity there due to the Nf4–e2(d3) thrusts.] 25...Ng6! Another sudden move backwards, but the knight has a better future on e5 and c4. It is difficult for Black to improve his pieces, for example I realized that I cannot leave the f8 square with my bishop, as well as the dangers that a possible knight implanting on f5 might bring. Here is a sample line: [25...Bb5 26.Nf5? (26.Re3 is correct with unclear game) 26...Bc4? (26...Ne2+ wins teh pawn on e4 or an exchange) 27.Qc3 Ne2+ 28.Rxe2 Bxe2 29.Nxh6+ Kh7 30.Ng5+ Kxh6 31.Qd2 I actually calculated this line, but missed the simple 26...Ne2+ win...] 26.Re3 Ne5 27.Nd2 Qd8 Forcing g2–g3, and closing the white's rook access to g3. 28.g3 Qb6 Now we can return to our main plan-doubling of the rooks on the c file, Bd7–b5, and penetration along the c file either to gain absolute control over the second rank, or to attack the pawns on the fourth. 29.Kg2 Bb5 30.Nxb5 Qxb5 31.Ra5 Qb6 32.Ra4 Ng4 33.Rf3 [33.Re2 Qb5 34.Re1 Be7 with the idea Be7–d8–b6.] 33...Qb5 34.Ra5 Qe2 35.Qd3 Qxd3 36.Rxd3 Rc2 37.Ba1 After the game Barua named the move "probably a decisive mistake". In severe time-trouble he was trying to keep his pieces intact, but it looks like that the move: [37.Bd4 was giving more chances for salvation- 37...f5 38.exf5 Re2 39.Nf1 a) 39.Nf3 Nxf2 40.Bxf2 Rxf2+ 41.Kh3 h5 (41...Be7!?) ; b) 39.Kf3? Rexd2 40.Rxd2 Rxd2 the bishop is hanging; 39...Nxf2 40.Re3 Nd3+ 41.Rxe2 Rxe2+ 42.Kf3 Re1 43.Ne3 Rb1 44.Ke2 Nxb4 with an extra pawn for Black, although white's active pieces still keep the game going.] 37...f5! 38.exf5 h5 39.Kf3 g6! The point in the combination, which I noticed after a thorough check of my initial idea. I could still gone badly wrong after: [39...Nh2+ 40.Kf4 (40.Kg2 Re2 41.Kxh2 Rxf2+ 42.Kh3 Rfxd2 43.Rxd2 Rxd2 should be lost for White, as his pieces are discoordinated, he lacks the resource b4–b5 due to Rd2xd5 and last but not least, I am threatening Bf8–e7–d8 with decisive effect.) 40...g6 But just in time I saw the amazing position: 41.Kg5 Rxd2 42.Rxd2 Nf3+ 43.Kxg6 Nxd2 44.f6

and despite the extra piece I can resign as there is no defense against f6–f7 mate!] 40.fxg6 [40.f6 Bh6 41.Bc3 Bxd2 42.Bxd2 Ne5+–+] 40...Bh6 At the price of two pawns I activated all my pieces, and White is helpless. 41.Bc3 Barua saw the refutation of the line: [41.Ne4 Rxe4 42.Kxe4 Nxf2+ 43.Kd4 b5! with inevitable mate on c4.] 41...Rf8+ 42.Ke2 Rxf2+ 43.Kd1 Rxc3 44.Rxc3 Bxd2 0–1

It ended well after all. Two things helped me to recover quickly from the loss. First of all, between the games there was not much time for being sorry for myself. The last round was starting early in the morning after the tough defeat, and I was busy mainly to prepare for the final game. In chess there is no if, but only tomorrow (preparation) and now (over the board).
The second thing was that a draw and a loss in the final round were practically equal from a financial point of you, and I did not have doubts about whether I needed to play for a win, or for a draw. The award for the final effort was not only the gold medal, but the shared money prize.
Another important case: we can also lose a game earlier in the event, and we still need to recover after. This is harder, and I can only share my own ideas for this case.
First of all, do not analyse deeply the game that you lost! There is no need to discover how poorly you have played, and to feel bad about your chess. You are already shaky enough anyways. (The other possibility is that you discover how ingeniously you have played, and how stupidly, and unfairly you have lost- that is also a bad variation- in this case your mind keeps on coming back to the position in which you made the mistake, and distracts you during the future games!) You will have a lot of time to analyse your mistakes when you come back home, and you will do it in a more objective way. You need only to have a brief look at the game, as you might have lost it in the opening due to a lack of knowledge. Then the line should be repaired/learned in order not to lose in the same scenario afterwards (this might be really silly).
Secondly, try to relax. Do it in your prefered way- go out for a walk, read a nice (positive!) book, see a nice (preferably comedy!) movie, or just something that will not keep you returning to the lost game: take a hot shower, a bath, meet friends and have some drinks (but do not get drunk-this is definitely not the solution- you need to be sober tomorrow), visit the gym, listen to your favourite music. You know yourself best, you will decide what will make you feel good.
Third- postpone the preparation for tomorrow. You do not want to see the pieces when you are nervous, and you will have enough time tomorrow.
Last, but not least- if you have lost faith in yourself and your abilities- have a look at your best games. You will see that you can play better than in the game that you have lost, and that you are still a good player, despite the msitakes that you made, make and will make in the future. After all, we are all mortals.
Once your equanimity is restored, you can play in your usual way. Losses are still possible, but wins, too. What is sure is that you will give the best of yourself when you are balanced, and optimistic, and success will come.
Good luck!

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