Only two weeks after the last rounds Schachbundesliga saw the rounds 5+6 to end year 2016.

MSA Zugzwang Munich – underdog in the Schachbundesliga

It has come as no surprise that my team MSA Zugzwang Munich went into the weekend as 2nd last (but still ahead of Stefan’s SV Griesheim!) in the ranking with only one draw against Berlin Tegel. Despite our three well-known grandmasters Bromberger, Kindermann and Hertneck it is hard to compete with most of the teams that are massively packed with international professionals.

Along with our travel partner FC Bayern Munich we were facing the current title holder SG Solingen (who broke Baden-Baden’s series of 10 consecutive wins in a row) and the hosting team SV Mülheim Nord. I was actually looking forward to a relaxed weekend as a spectator but as our youngster Léon Mons suddenly became ill I was forced to play.

Without some of their top players such as Giri und Harikrishna Solingen was still big favourite in the match. In fact, it didn’t look as bad for quite some time. However, Solingen didn’t leave any doubts who would be winning and after losing two hard fought games after more than 6 hours the overall result was a clear 6,5-1,5.

In my own game I was playing Black against IM Jörg Wegerle (Elo 2442). I wasn’t particularly happy as I got outplayed by his rock-solid but consequent play in numerous blitz games played on playchess.com (where Jörg is known as “Kendo”) in the last decade. However, this time things started promising.

Position after 10 moves in Wegerle vs. Lammers

Position after 10…Nb6

Due to White’s solid but not overly ambitious setup Black could equalize rather easily. In the above position White is confronted with the uncomfortable c4!? that even or especially after the natural (and intended) 11.Na4 c4! works pretty well with the idea of 12.Nxb6 Qxb6 13.dxc4? Bf5. As Solingen’s board 2 Borki Predojevic pointed out after the game 11.b3!? is no concession and was totally playable therefore.

However, after a long thought Jörg decided to transpose into a worse endgame after 11.0-0 c4 12.Be3! Bf5 (after cxd3?! 13.Qxd3 Qxd3 14.exd3 Black’s missing piece coordination outbalances White damaged pawn structure) 13.Nh4 (better was 13.Rc1 as d3 is indirectly defended by Bxb6 – the point being that again Black is not ready to take on d3 due to the missing piece coordination)
Be6 14.Bxb6?! Qxb6 15.Nd5 Bxd5 16.Bxd5 xcd3 17.Qxd3.

Position after 17.Qxd3 in the game Lammers vs. Dinstuhl

Position after 17.Qxd3

I felt I must be a lot better here but couldn’t find any clear way. In fact, White doesn’t have any weaknesses and is right in time to get out of the awkward pin without major damage. I finally decided to take the endgame after 17…Rfd8 18.Qe4 e6 19.Bxc6 Qxc6 20.Qxc6 bxc6 where Black keeps a slight advantage due to his better pieces. However, in the position below my opponent defended carefully starting with 21.Nf3 and a draw later became inevitable.

Position after 20...bxc6

Position after 20…bxc6

Beyond the board

One of the best things of Schachbundesliga is the time you spend with your team mates before and after the games – in our case mostly in trains or restaurants. But what do players talk about? Is there anything they have in common besides chess? There is!
Apart from other subjects team internal conversations in our case usually deal with two major topics: chess or politics.

Few players make it to the world’s strongest league without a strong affinity for the game – which is easily noticeable in many situations. Most of the times when we sit down a chessboard is rolled out immediately to start analysing whatever comes in one’s mind. Consequently, I wasn’t particularly surprised when Christoph Eichler (who might be the most active player in our team in terms of time spent on chess) started some massive tactic training torture (he had prepared before) on our last trip to Berlin that lasted for many hours until total exhaustion. Besides, after decades of high level chess our grandmasters bring in historical references of the “good old times” whenever they can 🙂

Another big thing are conversations about politics/society. Those often complex and highly controversial debates in a generally sleepy atmosphere are usually held in a high volume to make sure all passengers in the railway carriage can follow! I don’t wanna go into too much detail but I would give myself good odds to correctly predict who is backing which side in a any discussion that arises. Quite entertaining indeed!

By the way I’m proud to say that we have a remarkable team spirit! It’s always nice to see those guys from diverse backgrounds and get new inspiration (I don’t refer to the political discussions in particular though)!

Sunday’s match against Mülheim

In our match against Mülheim next day we came close to a real surprise. After an early loss of Christian Schramm (who is rather unlucky so far) Mühlheim was leading 3-2 with three remaining games. While Stefan Kindermann and Erasmus Gerigk were defending worse endgames against GMs Landa and Feygin I had an easy winning position against IM Volkmar Dinstuhl when the following happened:

Position after 50.c5 in the game Lammers vs. Dinstuhl

Position after 50.c5

A few moves earlier I had exchanged my dominating minor piece just to keep it as easy and safe as possible. I still struggle about what happened next. After Ra7 without any hesitation I went 52. Ra8?? which spoils the win right away as the resulting bishop endgame is draw. In fact, my opponent gave me two more chances by playing Rxa8 53.Bxa8 Ke6?? but here as well as after 54.Bf3?? Bf8?? I missed the winning idea Bc6! to prevent the Black king from reaching c7 (without allowing d4-d5-d6). A Black setup with Kb8 and Ba5 or d8 is not sufficient as White will put his king to b5 and his bishop on the h3-c8 diagonal to achieve a deadly Zugzwang. After 55.Kd3?? Kd7 Black had an easy draw as I can neither leave my c5 pawn undefended nor support the d6 push without losing both pawns. I don’t wanna dive any deeper as my point is just to hint to the horrible decision to exchange rooks.

You may wonder how on earth this could happen to me?
Looking back on the game after a week I’ll try to come up with an explanation which you may find useful for yourself. I would be curious to read comments on what is your explanation and whether you’ve had similiar experiences yourselves!

When I got into the rook/bishop endgame I basically switched off my head, stopped calculating and started to play very quickly. In fact, the position hardly needs any calculation but when you change its character it’s always important to be aware a new “game in the game” requires some fresh general and concrete thinking. Honestly speaking, I didn’t even see any problems converting the bishop’s endgame although the least to notice is that it’s not straightforward. I remember I analysed it about 15 years ago and somehow thought to remember with an active King and the connected pawns having crossed the middle of the board the game is just over. When I realized it’s not as easy I still couldn’t get back in the mood to just sit down and mobilize the last energies to find the idea with Bc6 mentioned above.

So my advise is to take your time and be aware about what is happening. It seems obvious and we all know this and are able to act accordingly but in some situations one still doesn’t do it. In these situations we lay off routines we’ve trained for decades. In my case, a tough working week and organisational issues in the role as team captain might have made its contribution but that should never be an excuse!

Due to the missed win all hopes for a 4-4 tie had to be buried. Finally, Stefan as well as Erasmus could not hold their endgames which finally resulted in a overall 5,5-2,5 defeat.

Meanwhile, Stefan’s team SV Griesheim overtook MSA Zugzwang (for now!) by a surprising win over Speyer-Schwegenheim. Read the full story about their exciting weekend here.