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Philosophical side of chess III: David vs Goliath

by Sagar Shah - 05/06/2017

In the third round of the Mayor's Cup 2009, 19-year-old Sagar Shah was pitted against the strong Russian grandmaster Vladimir Belov. A product of the Russian chess school, Belov was stronger than the Mumbai boy by nearly 400 Elo points. Sagar's confidence had reached the lowest of levels. He left for the round from his home with a mentality of already having lost the game. On the way to the playing hall, a miracle occurred! Suddenly the boy was rejuvenated! Check out the article to see what transpired and what was the result of the encounter! 

I get up at 6 in the morning! I am playing the Mayors Cup international chess tournament 2009 which is held in my hometown, Mumbai.
The game is to begin at 10 a.m. but I am not able to sleep.

The Reason: My third round opponent is the extremely strong Russian GM Vladimir Belov 2628. While preparing against him on the previous day, I saw that he hardly had lost a game to players rated lower than him. After all to reach a rating of 2628 you have to be consistent. With my paltry rating of 2268, I had mentally given up the hopes of beating my esteemed opponent. And when I came to know that he had been a second of the super famous Alexander Grischuk, that was the last nail in the coffin!


How can a player who is just another bloke in the sun (i.e myself) challenge a product of Russian chess school? More importantly what quality did I possess that would be superior to his? His opening knowledge would definitely be world class as he had worked for Grischuk. He must definitely have seen more middlegame patterns, and well, even a 12-year- old Russian boy would play better endgame than me! I left my home with this “I give up” attitude. It was definitely a David vs Goliath encounter!

I reached the railway station to catch the train for the tournament hall. And while I was on the bridge I saw the train approaching the platform. I made a dash to catch! My eyesight was fixed on the bogey as it came near.

Thoughts like, “I would be late for the game if I didn’t catch the train, a 10 minute deficit against Belov is like rubbing salt to the wounds etc. etc.!” started to bombard my mind.

BAMMM!In my haste I hadn’t noticed a stone that was lying in my path and I fell. It wasn’t a bad fall, I got up instantly but I had lost enough time to not be able to catch the train! I waited for the next train to come. While I was waiting, I tried to think about what had just happened.


There were two forces interacting in the situation when I wanted to catch the train: The train and Myself.
I had absolutely no control on how the train would behave. But I had full control on my body, on my legs and on my speed. I should have been focusing on how I could maximize my running speed, on how I could have dodged the obstacles in my path and given my best. But what I did was to watch the train. Secretly I was hoping that my gaze would be powerful enough to slow it down!


Add to that my mind which was producing negative emotions. How in the universe was I to focus on the job at hand. As I reached the tournament hall, I had formulated an important hypothesis:


In many situations of life there two forces interacting with each other.
1. Forces that are in our control.
2. Forces that are out of our control.

In such a scenario it is important to completely block out the forces which are not in our control and focus with all the energy on what is in our hands. Because if we give our best and still can’t achieve the job, you need not be upset, as there was nothing more that you could have done about it. But what we definitely should not be doing is to waste our precious energy on things that we cannot influence.(like the train)

Thus the Moral is: Train your mind to always focus and give 100% on the things that you can influence. If you do that you will never feel guilty that you didn’t give your best!

As for my game with Vladimir Belov, I reached my board a few minutes late but I was calm. My mind was focused at the work on hand, to make the best moves! It was as if I didn’t even care who was sitting opposite me.

 We played a hard fought game, And Believe it or not , after four hours I was able to beat him!

Since that day David has grown and with that so has his confidence and self belief!

Belov - Sagar

[Event "2nd mumbai mayors cup"]
[Site "Hewlett-Packard"]
[Date "2009.05.03"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Vladmir, Belov"]
[Black "Sagar, Shah"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E12"]
[WhiteElo "2623"]
[BlackElo "2271"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "82"]
[SourceDate "2009.03.06"]
{This game is an example of how not to get intimidated by a really strong
opposition and at the same time how we should always try to improve our
position bit by bit and when all the small advantages unite we get a big
advantage.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. c4 b6 4. Nc3 Bb7 5. a3 d5 6. cxd5 Nxd5 7. e3
{This has been proved to be quite a toothless line after black replies g6 but
that is where my knowledge ended.} g6 8. Bb5+ c6 9. Bd3 Bg7 10. O-O O-O 11.
Nxd5 $6 exd5 {If he wanted to take on d5 then he should have played Bd3
directly, without Bb5+. Why to give a check and force me to play c6 when that
is the move I have to make anyway. !} 12. b4 a5 $1 13. Bb2 Nd7 14. Qc2 Qe7 15.
Bc3 axb4 16. axb4 Rfc8 17. Qb2 Qf8 18. Nd2 Rxa1 19. Rxa1 Ra8 20. Rc1 $6 {
Surrendering the a-file to me. Here i was very much tempted with the idea to
go f5-f4 but later decided it would be too exposing and just simply doubled on
the a-file.} Ra4 21. Bc2 Ra7 22. Bb1 Qa8 23. h3 Ba6 $1 {Improving my bishop.
Throughout the game I have tried to improve my pieces and it finally led to a
big advantage.} 24. Bc2 Bb5 25. e4 Nf6 $1 26. e5 Nh5 27. g3 Bh6 28. Re1 Ra2 29.
Qb1 Qa3 30. Nb3 {Now Ng7 followed by Ne6 would have given me a nice position
where he would have no counterplay, but I went in for Bc4 not seeing my
opponent's excellent counter stroke.} Bc4 31. e6 $1 Ng7 (31... fxe6 32. Bxg6
hxg6 (32... Qxb3 33. Bxh7+) 33. Qxg6+ Ng7 34. Rxe6 Qa8 35. Qxh6 Bxb3 36. Rxc6 {
And the position is unclear.}) 32. e7 Ne8 33. Bd2 $2 (33. Bd1 {And White
should have a small advantage, but I think my opponent touched the wrong B.})
33... Bxb3 34. Bxg6 hxg6 (34... Bxd2 {Would have won even more quickly.}) 35.
Bxh6 Bc2 36. Qc1 Qxc1 37. Bxc1 Bd3 38. Be3 f6 39. g4 Rb2 40. Kg2 Rb1 41. Bc1
Kf7 {and he resigned. My first win against 2600+ GM.} 0-1

Related articles:

Part I of the Philosophical side of chess: Leave your comfort zone

Part II of the philosophical side of chess: Knights and Bishops