Traps, Tricks & Mistakes: Psychology

This post is a collaboration with Mr Andrew Crosby who is an expert in chess gambits.
Andrew usually plays them in his games with great success. In addition, he is an active member of our virtual club taking part in our online tournaments and matches.

The final leg of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix 2022-2023 took place in Nicosia, Cyprus. The event featured twelve of the strongest women players in the world. It included two former women’s world champions, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Zhongyi Tan.

In round 1, the German player Dinara Wagner surprisingly defeated the top seed Aleksandra Goryachkina, who was 154 ELO points higher ranked. Wagner with the white pieces played the Catalan Opening so called in 1929 when Savielly Tartakower, one of the best players in the world, was in Barcelona, Catalonia, for a tournament. The organizers requested him to play a new opening that could be named after Catalonia.

Wagner gained a significant advantage in a sharp line that led to her opponent being left with four pawn islands including two sets of doubled isolated pawns. The German player kept pressing while Goryachkina created counterthreats. Both players missed some tactical tricks and after five and a half hours of playing, Goryachkina resigned.

By round 8, Dinara Wagner was leading the tournament. She repeated the Catalan against another Russian player. This time, Polina Shuvalova. The funny thing about this round 8 match is that Shuvalova came armed with a psychological surprise for the tournament leader.

Shuvalova headed straight into the Catalan variation used by Wagner against Goryachkina lulling her into a false sense of security where she had a pleasant memory of her previous victory. Then on move 14th came the surprise, a prepared move unfolding a complex exchange sacrifice.

Shuvalova succeeded in setting Wagner off balance making her burn more time than herself. However, Wagner used all her tactical resources to ultimately reach a drawn endgame due to opposite coloured bishops. Sadly for Shuvalova her passed pawn was prevented from queening.

Dear readers, psychology is an element to always take into account in chess.

In today’s example, Shuvalova led her opponent to a position with a pleasant memory. But by playing a novelty, she created doubts in her opponent’s mind. As a result, Dinara spent too much time thinking. However, it didn’t stop her losing her momentum and finishing tournament winner.

Players intend to psychologically influence their opponents in different ways. For example, Nakamura once tried to influence his opponent’s mood by means of playing quickly.

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