Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Tale of Two Bishops

Apologies in advance if I offend someone's religious sensibilities. I speak as a lay person, but the topic at hand will lead me to venture into saying things I probably know nothing about.

The election of a new pope took place this past week amid much media ballyhoo. With the resignation/abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio met with the rest of the conclave in Vatican City on Tuesday (3/12) and emerged the next day as Pope Francis in honor of 13th Century's Saint Francis of Assisi. So far he seems to be developing a reputation as a humble man who pays his hotel bill himself instead of getting an assistant to do it.

Coincidentally, I had been seeing some monastic themes in my media consumption lately. One was the animated movie The Secret of Kells. The other was Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Having enjoyed the movie, I decided to read the book. The movie touches on it a bit, but the book more strongly emphasizes the historical divisions in the Catholic Church including factions of papal loyalists, Benedictine monks, and Franciscan monks. It seems strange to note that Francis and Benedict are now the names of the two most recent popes.

One interesting fact about the conclave that I never noticed until this one was the role of colored smoke as indication of how the conclave was going: black for discord, white for concord. So here's at least one place where I'm in over my head, but my understanding of what I read at Wikipedia is that a bishop is a full-fledged priest who has the power to ordain other priests and bishops. Bishops are often like governors or mayors of large cities in terms of their regional reach of authority. Some 80 bishops in the world are elevated to the level of cardinal who are like a cabinet of advisors to the pope and who have the power to elect the pope when necessary.

I have already gone over the end of my game in my previous post. My opponent is also my friend who has had the upper hand in our chess series (6-1 in his favor with no draws). I had spent most of my study time in the prior week on the Panov-Botvinnik Attack as it is a transpositional possibility. But he chose d4 and the King's Indian became our battleground. I had gone over a game between Kramnik and Nakamura, hoping that I could get some early strategic concession in the Bayonet Attack. But my opponent surprised me by playing the Petrosian Variation. 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 O-O 5.e4 d6 6.Be2 e5 7.d5
I followed up with my usual attempt to slow down White's queenside buildup by playing 7...a5 but I was on my own after he played 8.Bg5.
The pin annoys since Black's counterplay almost always starts with Nf6-moves and f7-f5. I figured on a queen move to probably e8 while watching out for Nc3-b5xc7. Nb8-a6 would be able to hold c7 for a while. So my plan was to break the pin in a methodical fashion. 8...h6 9.Bh4 Na6 10.Nd2 Qe8 11.b3 Bd7 12.a3 Nh7 13.f3 f5 14.O-O
At least I've got him nervous enough to castle. Sometimes White has so much safety that he can afford to delay castling. I once had a demoralizing game in which I was in a King's Indian type game pushing pawns in front of my king attacking nothing because my opponent was castled queenside, but I was so cramped on the queenside that I couldn't counter his attack there. So now I have the address of the enemy king. From the above diagram, my short-term strategy was to pressure e4 and probably open the f-file with fxe4. Part of the e4 pressure involved Na6-c5, but I still had to be careful of Nc3-b5. Also, in the ensuing lines, I thought about the problem of b3-b4 if I had a knight on c5 and saw that my minimally developing move 11...Bd7 was now a lucky happenstance in the position since it created some tactical counterthrusts on b5 and a4. 14...Nf6 14.Rb1 Nc5 15.b4 axb4 16.axb4 Na4
At this point I felt like I had almost an equal game. My queenside is still not great, but I expected counterplay on the f-file. And my pieces seemed to have some initiative starting with 17.Nxa4 Bxa4 18.Qc1 g5
Even though my bishop on a4 had threatened the enemy queen, it looked awkward on a4 and could have been even more so if I allowed b4-b5. But I began to think ahead to the careers of two other bishops: the one that had pinned me at h4 and the King's Indian problem bishop at g7. Without scope for Bg7, I would always be worse, so I began to envision opening the f-file, advancing my h- and g-pawns, and moving Bg7-h6 where it would have some prospects. With the coming exchange on e4, I didn't want my opponent to play the zwischenzug Bxf6 and then retake Nxe4 with a strong knight hitting d6 as well as squares near my king. So I opted to push White's bishop back first. 20.Bf2 fxe4 21.fxe4 Bd7 22.Ra1
White has currently has trouble getting to my weaknesses and I am not in the business of helping my opponent, so I spent some time trying to be as obstructive as possible and I figured the best way to do it was leave the rooks facing each other and try to push my attack. 22...Qg6 23.Ra3 g4 24.Qa1 Rab8.
Keeping to my strategy of being obstructive. It will be a while before he can get two pieces pointing at b7.

Up until this point, the game has been rather even. Fritz likes White here with an edge of about +=0.6 for White. Perhaps my ploy with Rb8 created enough doubt that the White attack was worth pursuing. Aside from that, I can't explain why my opponent began playing rather defensively, which played into my hands. His defensive moves seem suboptimal in that pieces went to squares that were less and less active. 25.Re1 h5 26.Bd3 This cuts off the defense of the third rank by the Ra3. But that is what happens when you're cramped. Your pieces trip over each other. 26...Bh6
Black's problem bishop finally gains activity as I had planned. Already, Bxd2 is threatened, but exchanges are not always good to jump at and the choice to exchange or not is one of the finer points of chess. The Bh6 is technically the bad bishop, but such classifications are not always black and white. In an endgame, it would probably be bad to keep it, but here, you'll see it gets even better. 27.Nf1 This was the apparent purpose of Re1, heading toward f5. I had been thinking that White could exchange rooks on the f-file and then offer a second rook exchange on the a-file and then have his queen harass my king from the side. 27...Bg5 28.Ne3 h4 29.c5?
This is the beginning of the bad variations for White. Until this point, Black has been getting a better game, but at this point, Fritz jumps from equal with 25.Nf5 to about -1.0. 29...Nh5? Here 29...g3! attacking White's castled position was correct, followed by 30.hxg3 Bxe3! 31.Rxe3 (or 31.Bxe3? hxg3 and White has to sac about 5 points to stave off mate.) 31...Ng4! 32.Re2 Nxf2 33.Rxf2 Rxf2 34.Kxf2 Rf8+. 30.Nf5 g3! 31.hxg3 hxg3 32.Bxg3 Bxf5?. I got confused here and forgot that one of my lines included 32...Nxg3 which should have forced 33.Nxg3. I had been thinking of getting my bishop to d2 and couldn't with the threat of Ne7+, but 32...Nxg3 33.Nxg3 Bd2 would have been what I was after. Note how if White's bishop had not been at f2, White could have chosen to block the pawns with 31.h3. In a sense, the bishop was betraying his own side. Fritz likes White better by +0.97 here since White has the extra pawn and the White rooks seem to be bolstering the defense. 33.exf5 Qh6 34.Bc2 Bd2
I thought that Rb1 was coming, but White surprised me with 35.Re4 I saw my opportunity to get my pawn back, double rooks, and help defend against frontal king checks, so I went for 35...Rxf5 36.Bh2? The bishop seems little more than a tall pawn in the corner.
Now Fritz prefers Black again. 36...Rbf8 Not having two rooks on a8 any more, I expected White to press with 37.cxd6 cxd6 38.Ra8, but I could have gained a winning position if I had found 38...Be3+ from that position. 37.Rh3 Qg5 38.Qd1 I'm playing offensively and my opponent is playing defensively. We both show our discomfort with these roles. For the ending phase of the game, I refer you to my other post. But note how my bishop was almost the hero of the whole game (39...Be3!) despite a slow start behind my pawn chain and how his bishop almost became the scapegoat (42...Rxh2+!) despite a fast start in the pinning variation.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Order of Operations

Since today is Pi Day (3/14), I thought I'd do a math-themed post. I was intrigued recently by a problem that showed up on Facebook. And then I read this Slate article about the problem with some added value of research into math's symbolology. When I first saw the problem, "6 ÷ 2(1+2) = ?", I arrived at the answer 1. But then I checked my work and decided that I had made an incorrect assumption about the proper order of operations and then arrived at the answer 9.

The author of the Slate article seems to prefer 9. I don't really wish to belabor the point but the left-right rule seems simpler than one incorporating the association of the 2 with the term inside the parentheses. However, I could imagine some inconsistent words coming out of my mouth if an expression were written "6 / 2x". Ultimately, ambiguity should probably be stamped out by the poser of the question by using parentheses.

In my most recent game, I missed several wins and wound up with a draw. I saw winning moves, but my analysis had faulty second or third or even fourth moves. Sometimes they were even moves I had seen before, but I somehow missed changing the move orders into a winning operation. I chalk it up to general tactical atrophy combined with the fatigue of a 5-hour game and clock anxiety since I had used up 140 of my 150 minutes and queens were still on the board.

I'm playing Black and I have an almost fantastic position with all my forces trained on the enemy king, but my own king is rather insecure. White's last move was 38.Qa1-d1, threatening both Rxh5 and Rg4 and if my queen leaves the c1-h6 diagonal, Qxd2 is also a possibility. I had been thinking of trading 2 rooks for a queen, but materially, that didn't exactly make sense and I didn't see any berserker queen follow-up.

But then I realized that the threat of Rf1+ might be better than the execution and what the position really cried out for was 38...Rf2!

My opponent sank into a big think because of the not-so-subtle threat of Qxg2#, while 39.Rg4 fails to 39...Rf1+ and the queen gobbles the rook at the end of the exchanges on f1. I'm not sure if 39.Rg4? Rf1+ 40.Qxf1 Rxf1+ 41.Kxf1 Qxg4 qualifies as a zwischenzug, since it seems to be a two-move exchange before grabbing g4. White's move was 39.g3.

 This move stops combinations on g2, but it also cuts off the Rh3 from defending e3. I saw this and thought what could be better than threatening a discovery with 39...Be3? But I analyzed 40.Rxe3 Qxe3?! 41.Qg4+ Ng7 42.Bh7+ and I thought I was losing control. But I overlooked my ace in the hole, the zwischenzug. 39...Be3! 40.Rxe3 Rf1+ 41.Qxf1 Qxe3+ 42.Kg2 Rxf1 43.Kxf1 Qc1+ 44.Kg2 Qxc2+ and Black wins easily.

Instead I decided to cut off the white queen's threats on g4 and h5, and also try to sac on g3, so I made the move 39...R2-f3?! White played 40.R3-h4 reviving the threat of Rg4.


With my queen landing on e3 with check, I no longer feared Rxe3 and Qg4, so I checked with 40...Be3+. White played 41.Kg2 fairly quickly and I went back to 41...Rf2+ thinking that I had him with either a discovery against Kg1 or a fork against Kh1 starting with Rf1+. But he surprised me with 42.Kh3.


Here I should have taken a breath, but it was difficult to stay calm. I still had about 9 minutes on my clock and I was sure I was overlooking all kinds of killer moves for myself and my opponent. I saw 42...Rxh2+ 43.Kxh2 Qxg3+ 44.Kh1 but couldn't find a follow-up and thought that the dangers against my king were mounting. In fact 43...Qxg3+ 44.Kh1 is a losing continuation for Black. I settled for 42...Nf4+ 43.Rexf4 R8xf4 44.Rh5 Qg7 45.Rh7 Qg5 46.Rh5 Qg7 1/2-1/2.

But Black had much, much better from the above diagram. After the game, neither of us knew exactly what went wrong, but Fritz showed me that the win was in my grasp with a mate in 5. Add all the missed wins before that and I was kicking myself most of the week. I set up my analysis board at the position above where the continuation taunted me all week.

44...Rxh2+ 45.Kxh2 Rf2+ 46.Kh1 Nxg3+ 47.Kg1 Ne2++ 48.Kh1 Qg2#.

Small consolation was that I clinched first place in my round robin. I also rationalized that perhaps I had gotten a gift of a win from a drawn position in my previous game, so my score evened out.

Sometimes a draw can feel like a loss when you miss a beautiful killer combination.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Assaulting The Dragon

I remember reading along with a taped version of The Hobbit audio book as a child. The story culminated in the slaying of the dragon Smaug by a well-placed arrow shot by the archer Bard. I believe the book was published using the images from the Rankin-Bass animated feature where the dragon Smaug has a bit of a feline look. This week, the first installment of Peter Jackson's live-action Hobbit trilogy hit the theaters.

During the Holiday Swiss, I faced two fellow experts, each time having the advantage of playing White. But it didn't always seem like an advantage because I faced systems that I only know how to play generically and sterotypically. In the first game, my opponent psyched me out with the Dragondorf with early a6 and b5, discouraging me from castling queenside. He delayed castling long enough for me to get fixated on an early Bh6 and I fell into a trap that I've probably sprung dozens of times in internet blitz games from the Black side. The game is so short that you can almost follow it blindfolded to the following position: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 a6 7.f3 b5 8.Qd2 Bb7 9.Be2 Nbd7 10.O-O Bg7

I had been eyeing the early Bh6 with Bxh6 Qxh6 and Qg7 to deny Black the right to castle kingside. I had a vague sense of danger that my knight on d4 was subject to a pin after Qb6, but I felt pretty confident that I could retreat Qe3 and play the tricky Nf5 if need be. But I overlooked a refutation that I only evaluated after I played 11.Bh6?? Bxh6 12.Qxh6 Qb6!. I resigned without making a thirteenth move once I saw that any move to protect the pinned knight is refuted by 13...e5. This includes my intended defense of 13.Qe3 e5 14.Nf5 gxf5. What I overlooked was that Black's ninth move 9...Nbd7 protects the queen on b6 so that Black has time to capture 14...gxf5 going up a piece for one pawn and also trading down toward a queenless middlegame.

I'm a little arrow-happy lately, so here's the marked up version of the combination I should have seen before I committed to Bh6:

In the second game against an expert, I avoided the Austrian Attack against the Pirc and soon transposed into a Classical Dragon: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 c5 6.O-O cxd4 7.Nxd4 O-O 8.Be3

Just after the time control, I got the following position:

The game continued 31.Ng5 Qh5 32.Kg2 h6??

My tactical vision failed me and I didn't even look for the winning combination. Instead, I meekly retreated back to Nf3. What I missed was Bard's archery strike at Smaug 33.Bxf6!, removing the guard on h7. I forgot that the Qh5 move that originally protected h7 as a pawn was no longer protecting h7 as a square once h7-h6 was played. Black's least worst line seems to be 33...hxg5 34.Bxe7+ Kg8 35.fxg5 which Fritz8 gives as +3.27.

Five moves later, I thought I found more fireworks to net me two pawns, but Black got back into the game with threats to my king and eventually I lost my two extra pawns.

Materialistic Fritz8 agrees with my combination beginning with 36.Rxe7! Rxe7 37.Rxe7 Kxe7 38.Qxb7+.

But instead of falling for 38...Kd8 39.Bb6+ Ke8 40.Qxc8+, my opponent played 38...Nd7! 39.Qxc8 Qf5!

Eventually, I lost both my extra pawns because Black's pieces were freer to move while mine stayed huddled around my king. After seeing my pawns picked off, I felt lucky to get a draw.

I scored only 0.5/2 playing against Experts who both played Dragons against my e4. Sometimes you get the Dragon; sometimes the Dragon gets you. I learned some lessons in attacking the Dragon's Keep. And it was a decent return to chess as I gained 7 rating points from the 3.5/5 result in the tournament.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Endgame Obsession #4 KBNvK

The ending King, Bishop and Knight versus lone King was probably one of my first endgame obsessions. I lived in a small dorm room in the middle of Chicago and owned (still own) one of the early-to-mid generation of chess computers: Radio Shack Chess Champion 2150. I think I paid $130 for it. Contrary to my hope of training with an in-house strong expert, eventual testing showed it to be closer to 1750 rating. Still, it was fun to set up openings and try to outplay the computer. I used to watch what it was thinking because computer chess was so new and I was curious how this machine "thought".

But one day, I found out that bishop and knight versus lone king was not a draw, just a difficult win under the constraints of the 50-move draw. So I started setting up positions on my trusty computerized punching bag and trying to win. I have known generally what to do and had even developed my own final phase beginning with this position:

My winning method involved moving the Bishop to the f1-h3 diagonal and shifting the Knight from e4 to f3, all the while taking care not to stalemate the Black King. The moves are 1.Ke1 Kg1 2.Bh3 Kh2 3.Bf1 Kg1 4.Nd2 Kh2 5.Kf2 Kh1 6.Bg2+ Kh2 7.Nf3#.

Last Sunday, I decided to try some internet chess and reached this position after my 55th move as Black in which I captured White's last pawn Kxe5:

So I had a chance to test myself. Over the years, I would not say that I ever learned this ending cold. And my successful but imperfect technique here pushed me to try to learn more of those subtleties that continue to elude me about this ending. With the help of the Shredder Tablebase website, I went over my game score with a fine-toothed comb and tried to figure out where I wasted moves and what the proper technique should have been.

I want to push the White King to the edge of the board by centralizing all my pieces. White wants to stay away from the light-squared corners because that's where he can be checkmated. Once I get the White King to the corner, I need to organize my pieces a certain way and maneuver to force the White King to the deadly corner.

56.Kd3! I have to execute the mate before my 105th move. Shredder says Mate in 25 which I will hereafter abbreviate like M25. Optimal would be to checkmate on move 80. 56...Nf4+ WASTE+1. 56...Nc5+ was better by one move, but I don't think I can really fault myself for some of these small differences. 57.Kc3! Kd5 58.Kd2 Kd4! 59.Kc2! Ne2?!

This time Shredder tells me I have wasted 2 moves: WASTE+2. Better was 59.Nd3! with the Knight and Bishop eventually taking away c2 and e2. 60. Kb2?! WASTE-1 (White helps Black closer to mate by one tempo). 60.Kd2 resists one move longer. 60...Kc4?! WASTE+1. 60...Kd3 was better by one move.
Notice that the Bishop is on one of the long diagonals pointing into the non-mating corner and dividing the board into two triangular regions. If the White King gets chased by the Black King to the smaller red triangle, then he's that much closer to getting pushed to the mating corner.

61.Kc2! Nd4+ 62.Kb2! Bg6 63.Ka2! Kc3 (This is where the Black King likes to be.) 64.Ka3?! WASTE-5

White does well to choose the corner with 64.Ka1! instead of the game allowing 64...Bf7 65.Ka4 Bb3+! 66.Ka5 (66.Ka3 Nb5#) Kc4 67.Kb6 looks like he's breaking free of the walls, but 67...Ba4 sets up a new wall from a4-e8 that with the Black King's help can contain the White King in the small triangle a5-a8-d8.

But here my stereotyped thinking hurt me a little. I knew of the idea of attacking the corner square with the knight to dig the King out of the spider hole. And then the follow-up is to attack the next square with the bishop. But the knight isn't in place yet, so I confused myself here. More properly following my slightly suboptimal strategy would have been to play 64...Nb3 and if 64.Ka2 Bf5 (biding time) 65.Ka3 and only then 65...Bb1 66.Ka4.

Unfortunately, my confusion lasts for the next seven moves during which time my opponent offered a draw, but I soldiered on until move 72 began to look familiar again. 64...Bb1?! WASTE+2 65.Ka4 Kc4?! WASTE+2 66.Ka3! Kc3! 67.Ka4 Bc2+?! WASTE+2 68.Ka3! Nb3?! WASTE+3 69.Ka2! Nc5?! WASTE+2 70.Ka1 Nd3?! WASTE+2 71.Ka2 Nb4+ 72.Ka1! Bb3! 73.Kb1 M20. After 17 moves, I've only moved five moves closer to mate. But I'm familiar enough with this position to make steady progress from here.

Here begins the maneuver to dig White's King out of the non-mating corner. 73...Nc2! If the Knight arrived here by checking the King on a1, the Bishop can waste time by simply moving along the a2-g8 diagonal. 74.Kc1 Ba2! 75.Kd1 Nd4!
Notice that by centralizing, the knight grabs more squares, particularly the e2 square where it currently stops the White King from taking a shortcut toward the safe h8 corner. e2 is also where the knight may drop in to help herd the White King toward its doom at h1. The Black Knight will make a W pattern from where it began on b4-c2-d4-e2-f4. 76.Kc1 WASTE-3. From the above diagram, White has one of his best chances to break for freedom. Black must know the technique of stopping the fugitive with some well-timed moves. This maneuver is one of the prettiest in the mate and helps illustrate the cooperation of Bishop and Knight. 76.Ke1 Kd3 77.Kf2 starts to see daylight above the first rank. 77...Ne2!
A friend of mine called this the lock position. The Black King guards the green squares at e2, e3, and e4 while the Black Knight guards the seemingly porous red squares at g3 and f4. The White King needs to find a path to h8 via f3-g4 or g2-h3-h4. Luckily for Black, Be6 cuts off all these routes, keeping the fugitive near the deadly h1 square.

Back to the game after 76.Kc1

76...Ne2+ 77.Kd1 Kd3 78.Ke1 Bb3?! WASTE+2.
Here I mixed up the more crucial prophylaxis of 78...Ke3! with the timewasting 78...Bb3. If the White King goes back to d1, the Bishop can check him out of there. 79.Kf2 Bd5! Helping cover f3 ad g2 while the Knight covers g3 and f4. The White King either has to go g1-h2-h3 or back toward e1-d1. 80.Ke1 Ke3! 81.Kd1 Bb3+ 82.Ke1
Black's final tasks involve getting the Bishop to the d1-h5 diagonal and squeezing White down to two squares at h1 and h2. Unfortunately, many of my misconceptions still lead to inefficient moves. 82...Nf4! 83.Kf1 Be1 84.Ke1 Bg4 85.Kf1
Here I went awry again by trying to post my pieces according to my formation at the top of this post. The game finished with 85...Nd5?! WASTE+6 86.Ke1?! WASTE-4 Nc3 WASTE+4 87.Kf1 Kd2 88.Kf2?! WASTE-1 Ne4+! 89.Kg2 Ke2 (my formation) 90.Kh2?! WASTE-2 Kf2 91.Kh1 Bh3?! WASTE+1 92.Kh2 Bf1?! WASTE+1 93.Kh1 Nd2 94.Kh2 Nf3+ 95.Kh1 Bg2# I mated with ten moves to spare and a net wastage of fifteen moves. But my opponent chose continuations totaling about 16 moves where he helped me toward mate. Without those, I might have overstepped the 50-move draw.

The most efficient path I know now from the above diagram is: 85...Be2+! It's okay and actually desirable to check the king here. The Knight hiding at the Black King's shoulder is in the right spot to deliver checkmate if the White King chooses 86.Ke1 Nd3#. 86.Kg1 Kf3 The King takes a drunken path to g3. 87.Kh2 Kf2 88.Kh1 Kg3 89.Kg1 Nh3+ 90.Kh1 Bf3#

Although the bishop check is a little harder to remember, the aesthetics of this final position and the fact that it is fastest persuades me to memorize this final method as the way to go.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect in science refers to chaos theory where small things can exert a great effect. Edward Lorenz coined the term when he conjectured that a hurricane can form as a result of a butterfly flapping its wings. In Jurassic Park, mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) demonstrated chaos by dripping drops of water on the curved knuckle of Ellie Sattler's (Laura Dern) hand. The movie entitled The Butterfly Effect explored various outcomes when Ashton Kutcher traveled to the past to try to change his fate as well as those of his girlfriend and best friend. Ray Bradbury's short story A Sound of Thunder also utilized a butterfly when the outcome of an election in the present was changed after a time traveler accidentally stepped on a Cretaceous butterfly. Florida's butterfly ballot played a chaos-inducing part in 2000's POTUS election.

I suppose that a butterfly could be a suitable symbol for the rebirth of my chess career, but it remains to be seen if this bug has the lifespan of an autumn Monarch or an adult mayfly.

I had a pretty easy time of it in my first tournament game in almost two years. I did outrate my opponent by 400 points, but my opponent blundered on move 4 and never really recovered.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.d5 Bc5 4.Bg5?

Black has two choices to take advantage. I didn't even consider 5...Ne4 which is a little unclear if White resists 6.Bxd8 Bxf2# and instead chooses 6.Be3 Bxe3 7.fxe3 Qh4+ 8.g3 Nxg3 9.Nf3 Qh6 10.Rg1

Instead of that, I chose the pawn-winning route of 5...Bxf2+ 6.Kxf2, but I spent a decent amount of time trying to choose between 6...Ne4+ and 6...Ng4+. At the time, I thought that they were close to equivalent, but it turns out that one is clearly much better than the other. I suppose I could blame it on greedy and holey analysis where I began to see my queen taking 7...Qxg5 and then when 8.Nf3 Qe3 and then if 9.Qc2 then 9...Nf2, trying to win the exchange. Finally, I decided Ne4 is more useful when I want to prevent White from exchanging queens with 9.Qd2. I did look at the variations where the White King marches forward to g3 or e3, but I didn't look far enough to see that 6...Ne4+? runs into trouble when White plays 7.Ke3 Nxg5 8.h4!. I missed that the knight is trapped. Little things matter and 6...Ng4+! followed by 7...Qxg5 is the accurate way to stay one whole pawn ahead. As it turns out, my opponent failed to punish 6...Ne4+? by retreating 7.Ke1. By move 11, I was a whole rook ahead.

This morning I missed problem 78837 at ChessTempo where I completely missed an important variation.
After ...g3-g2
I started off preoccupied about where my king would go if I started with 1.Rh7 threatening mate 1...g1Q+. So my candidate was 1.Kf6. Assuming 1...g1Q, I worked it out for a few seconds that I would have forced checkmate after 2.Rf7+ Kg8 3.Rg7+ Kh8 4.Rh7+ Kg8 5.Rbg7+ Kf8 6.Rh8#. I congratulated myself for seeing that Kf6 protects Rg7 so that Rh8 mates. So I went ahead and moved and got the answer wrong. Black need not play 1...g1Q. Instead a little prophylaxis goes a long way. 1.Kf6? Rh4! stops the mating attack. Oh yeah. Rooks attack backwards also, protecting h7. So the correct maneuver is 1.Rf7+ Kg8 2.Rg8+ Kh8 3.Rh7+ Kg8 4.Rbg8+ Kf8 5.Kf6. Now the mate is set and 5...Rh4 6.Rxh4 serves only to delay the inevitable. In this case, a bunch of seemingly useless checks make all the difference in the outcome.

Commentators on this problem noted that Nimzowitsch discusses rooks on the seventh rank in My System. In Chapter 3, he talks about the enveloping maneuver and the crucial square h7.

Limited mobility and backwards attacks seem to be a disproportionate number of my blind spots. I guess I just need more practice. But trying to maintain the fun of chess is my primary objective for now.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Two weeks ago, I went to watch some games in the fourth round of the Western States Open. I watched the games unfold on the top boards. The openings seemed vaguely familiar, but they also looked strange. Between the motion and the act had fallen a shadow that obscured the idea. I felt I was seeing, but not grasping.

I laid eyes on a tiny Asian girl in the Class A section. After checking the wall chart, I found out it was Joanna Liu, or should I say National U-8 Girls Champion Joanna Liu. Seeing her reminded me of The Joy Luck Club's story of Waverly Jong.

I transcribed the dialog near the end of the clip because the words seemed rather apropos to my relationship with chess of late.

WAVERLY: Guess what? I've decided to play chess again.

MOM: You think it's so easy. One day quit, next day play. Everything for you is this way. So smart, so easy, so fast. Not so easy any more.

[Back in chess tournament. Waverly is losing in front of an audience including her family.]

NARRATOR WAVERLY: What she said, it was like a curse. This power that I had, this belief in myself. I could actually feel it draining away. I could feel myself feeling so ordinary. All the secrets I once saw, I couldn't see them any more. All I could see was were my mistakes, my weaknesses. The best part of me just... disappeared. But I can't put it all on my mother. I did it to myself. I never played chess again.

One of Amy Tan's big breaks was a short story called Endgame. I was somewhat keen on trying to find a copy, but then I realized that it's likely that the best parts of Endgame were cannibalized for The Joy Luck Club.

I showed up at the club Thursday ostensibly to collect on a few debts, but also to see how the Holiday Swiss began. Round 1 produced the usual 500-point mismatches, but there were quite a few upset draws and one upset win. Again, I simply spectated. I didn't feel an urge to play, but after I left, I could almost envision myself among the players, returning to the world of silent cerebral intensity.

Throughout my life, computers and chess have exchanged positions as my favored hobby. The past three years, computers have dominated, drowning out Caissa's siren call. But the season is turning again. Recursion. Reversion. I feel my interest turning back to chess. Waverly's words haunt me: curse, powerlessness, blindness, mistakes and weaknesses. Confident and powerful or drained and ordinary? Perhaps it's time to test myself again.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spectator Sport

I was reminded today about this funny Geico commercial. My favorite moment had been that the player on move finishes capturing Nxg4 and then turns his dagger-like gaze on his opponent as if to say, "In your face!" I was curious about Andres Cantor's words, so I found this translation at

Ha sido una partida intensa hoy- (It’s been an intense match today)
Ya veremos qué está pensando- (Now we’ll see what he’s thinking)
Está pensando- (He’s thinking)
Veamos qué va a hacer- (Let’s see what he’s going to do)
¿Moverá a la reina o moverá al caballo?- (Will he move the queen or the knight?)
Qué tensión- (What stress)
Viene - (Here he comes)
Viene Viene Viene (Here he comes Here he comes Here he comes)
GOL! (Goal!)

Commentators at observed that:
(1) the board was set up with the correct light square on the right. But...
(2) White has two light-squared bishops.

It's hard to tell where Black's Queen Rook is (if it's even present), but from examining the video, it seems to be hiding at a8 behind the Bb7. That allows the material to be even in the position which is likely a Najdorf or Scheveningen Sicilian opening. So the initial position seems to be:

Utilizing the guesswork of retrograde analysis that I learned from The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, I can devise a plausible (but not realistic) path in which White's f-pawn captures Black's g-pawn and then underpromotes to a Bishop on g8 and then winds its way back to e2 via h7, g6, and h5, after which White plays pawn to g4.

The move ...Nxg4 is regarded as a mistake, but it's not entirely without merit. The idea is Bxg4 h5 (bishop moves) Bh6 pinning the White queen to the King. Unfortunately, White gets a lot of desperado moves such as Nxe6, Ndxb5, leading to a game that is close to equal.

Back to the initial position, the line b4 Nb1 Bxe4 seems preferable, winning a pawn in the center and gaining time. Fritz made up a funny line here: Rh3 d5 g5 Bd6!? gxf6 Qxf6 Re3 Bf4 (pin resurfaces!) with -/+ advantage to Black.

A retrograde problem and a tactical lesson inside a humorous commercial. Fake chess at its finest!