How to almost beat a Grandmaster

When I was a young player with a squeaky, high-pitched voice I was always looking for easy ways to get better at chess. And so now that I’ve achieved this impossible feat with much less enthusiasm, I thought I should give something back to the community and share my secret methods with UOBCC’s many millions of followers. Also didn’t think this would fit in very well on my Tinder profile, although our resident dating expert Jonas Zurba could tell you from bitter personal experience how love and chess ability might be linked in one very specific set of circumstances…

Anyways enough set up and tragic heartbreak, back to the main event. Here it is, my definitive 12-step guide to almost beating a Grandmaster:

1. Stalk their lichess account. Although most activity on this site happens late at night when chess players are usually half-asleep, it’s still a useful preparation tool for anyone who has too much time on their hands. What we discovered from this non-intensive research project is that GM Keith Arkell has been playing the same opening system as white since around the time our club was founded and should probably switch it up at least every 20 years or so.

2. Pub, pep talk and pizza. If you try to take on a GM on your own, then you’re doomed to fail. That’s why you need people around you who can say that maybe you’ve got more than a 1% chance of success. The pizza was included because I just happened to be hungry at the time, probably most kinds of food would work for this.

The room where one of the things that enabled the other thing happened

3. Quick peak at your Chessable course. For anyone who isn’t yet familiar with this revolutionary chess improvement tool (please sponsor us!!!!) it’s basically a massive opening cheat sheet written by some of the world’s best players. The opening is the only phase of the game where you can steal moves from people who are much better than you, so don’t rely on your own judgement where it isn’t absolutely necessary.

4. Sugar rush. This came in the form of two Fanta orange bottles purchased on the way to the playing hall. Staying awake for 4+ hours of chess is not easy, so for one day only it’s best to bite the bullet and embrace diabetes.

5. Get crushed by the same player around 6 months before. For a bit of context, I had actually played my opponent during a Swindon blitz tournament in September last year, and there the result was a bit more predictable. The best way to avoid losing in 25 moves is to learn from personal experience, so if you can squeeze in a trial run then it’s definitely worth it.

6. If you’re prepared to use anal beads, then skip to step 9.

And now for some chess….

7. At the start of the game Keith demonstrated his expert knowledge of this Carlsbad pawn structure by blitzing the first 15 moves. I tried not to burn through too much clock time and actually managed to come up with some decent ideas. In this position 13 Qb8 is a nice touch, sidestepping the pin from Bh4 and avoiding tricks on the c-file that might have happened after Qc7.

8. After lots of manoeuvring which bored passing spectators, 36 Re4 starts to seize the initiative for black. White can’t stop the threat of h4 whilst his queen is way offside on the other flank. At this point the camera crew from Downend Chess Club began circling my board, which I knew had to be a sign of good things to come.

9. Here I was sure that black had a decisive advantage, with White’s king exposed along the 2nd rank and my passed b-pawn about to do some serious damage. Keith shrewdly chose to go for the endgame and found 50 Kg1, allowing his rook access to the queenside whilst also stopping my rook from entering along the h-file.

10. Now we come to the terrible twist. Black is still winning in this position if he goes for 55 f6, but I was too impatient and went for 55 Rc3 instead, allowing White’s king to get active with 56 Kg3.

11. After a gruelling battle I decided to offer a draw in the final position, which my opponent accepted with one minute left on his clock. I had seen that we would likely simplify to a rook + 1 vs rook + 1 ending; this should be an easy draw, but I still didn’t trust myself to hold it every time.

12. Drawing a top player definitely gives anyone an ego boost (unless you’re also a GM!?) but there’s always more to learn. After the game Keith was very generous in allowing me to analyse with him. He has a deserved reputation as one of the most ebullient personalities on the English chess scene, and this definitely came across along with his amazing insights.

Playing against a GM is tiring work, so don’t expect much from your afternoon game. Spoiler: I blundered a full rook to a one-move cheapo.

Thank you for letting me share my story, and if you ever run into a Grandmaster then maybe you’ll have a few tricks to surprise them. Keep an eye out for the film adaption of this blog, How I Almost Beat a Grandmaster: A Knights Out Mystery, coming soon….

And here’s the full game:

1 c4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 cxd5 exd5 4 d4 c6 5 Nc3 Nf6 6 Bg5 Bf5 7 e3 Nbd7 8 Bd3 Bxd3 9 Qxd3 Bd6 10 0-0 h6 11 Bh4 0-0 12 Rfe1 Re8 13 Qc2 Qb8 14 Bg3 Bxg3 15 hxg3 Qd6 16 b4 b5 17 a4 a6 18 Reb1 Nb6 19 a5 Nc4 20 Ne2 Ne4 21 Nf4 g6 22 Nd3 Kg7 23 Re1 h5 24 Nfe5 Rec8 25 Ra2 Rab8 26 Qc1 Rh8 27 Nf3 Rhc8 28 Kf1 Re8 29 Kg1 Rec8 30 Qa1 Re8 31 Nc5 Ra8 32 Rc2 Re7 33 Ree2 Ree8 34 Ne1 Nxc5 35 bxc5 Qc7 36 Nd3 Re4 37 Re1 h4 38 gxh4 Rxh4 39 g3 Rh6 40 Ne5 Qc8 41 Qd1 Nxe5 42 dxe5 Qf5 43 f4 Rah8 44 Rg2 Qe4 45 Kf2 Rh2 46 Rg1 Rxg2+ 47 Rxg2 b4 48 Qd4 b3 49 Qxe4 dxe4 50 Kg1 Rd8 51 Rb2 Rd3 52 Kf2 Kf8 53 g4 Ke7 54 f5 gxf5 55 gxf5 Rc3 56 Kg3 Rxc5 57 Rxb3 Rxe5 58 Kf4 Rxa5 59 Rb6 Rc5

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