Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Much of my blogging, trying to intertwine movies and chess, has been about art imitating art. I hope the reader finds that the combination is a tasteful blend rather than a Frankenstinian monstrosity. The great thing about our game, I believe more than other games like bridge, checkers, Monopoly and even Milton Bradley’s Checkered Game of Life, is that chess imitates life. It’s been said many different ways, using all kinds of metaphorical variations, but I prefer the simple simile attributed to World Champion Boris Spassky: “Chess is like life.” Chess is one of the special life-imitating arts like music and dance that incorporates motion and time.

Today, I’ll try something a little riskier, prompting a disclaimer. I do not intend to offend veterans or their families who sacrificed so much, the people and nationalities that suffered in World War II, or the players of this game. By recounting a war story with a chess game, I do not intend to trivialize the events of World War II or any other conflict. Through my research, I’ve come to appreciate that Douglas MacArthur was a controversial figure. I come neither to praise nor to condemn nor to bury, but merely to recount. Hopefully with artistic license and attempts to stay away from bad taste, I won’t invoke the wrath of my four-person audience.

This game was the top board during the final round in the Open section. Since the other players in contention had drawn or lost, the winner of this game would win clear first, a cool $2,000. IM Enrico Sevillano had White against GM Melikset Khachiyan. Although Khachiyan has the better title, Sevillano actually has the higher USCF rating, so he’s definitely no slouch. Fpawn has already annotated this game for the USCF website wrap-up on the 2008 Far West Open and even quoted me, but I wanted to embellish a bit more. Sevillano opened with his favored Alapin system against Khachiyan’s Sicilian. On moves 11 and 12, White offered a double pawn sacrifice which Black only partially accepted, but White succeeded in marooning Black’s King in the center. Black then offered three pawns of his own to get his rooks out. Through a series of inaccuracies and one blunder in moves 23-30, White's large advantage dissipated to nothing. Black seized the initiative on move 31 and returned his King to the kingside to participate in the final siege on White’s King.

Sevillano,E (2567) - Khachiyan,M (2556) [B22]
Far West Open Reno, NV (6.1), March 23, 2008

1.e4 c5 2.c3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.d5 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 Ne5 8.Bb5+! Ned7 9.0-0 g6 10.Bg5 Bg7 11.e5!?
An interesting pawn sacrifice. 11...dxe5 12.d6 e4! [ 12...exd6? 13.Rd1 e4 14.Qf4 d5 15.Bxf6 Qxf6 16.Qc7+- White wins a piece and needs only to tame Black's pawn roller.]

In December 1941, days after their attack at Pearl Harbor, Japan invaded the Philippines and took control despite an American military presence based in Manila headed by General Douglas MacArthur.

13.Qf4 e6? Black's king is now stuck in the center helping the overloaded queen defend the Black Knights against White's Bishops. [ 13...a6!+/=] 14.Bxd7+!? [ Fritz prefers 14.Rd1! Nh5 ( 14...0-0?? 15.Bxd7 e5 16.Qh4 h6 17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.Qh3 retains a piece advantage.) 15.Qxe4!! Qc8 ( 15...Qxg5? 16.Bxd7+ Kxd7 17.Qxb7+ mate in 6.)] 14...Kxd7 15.Nd2 e5? Black trades material to activate his rooks. 16.Qxe5 Re8 17.Qxc5+- White has all the cards: material, space, king safety, and development.

MacArthur had become a legendary hero during World War I, but his reputation became tarnished when he was forced to flee the Philippines, leaving behind his forces who were ultimately captured by the Imperial Japanese Army. Once he landed in Terowie, Australia, MacArthur vowed, “I shall return.”

17...Qb6 Surprisingly, although Black is behind in so many ways, offering a queen trade becomes a good way to blunt the disadvantage of the vulnerable king on this move and on move 24. White knows it and declines, but he must give ground. 18.Qc4 Re6 19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.Nxe4 Rc8 21.Qa4+ [ 21.Nxf6+ Considering how the fortunes of the two minor pieces diverge, trading into an all heavy piece ending might have been a better choice for White. 21...Rxf6 22.Qg4+ Re6+-] 21...Rc6 22.Rad1 Bd8
There is a mate in chess called the epaulette mate, so named since the King, flanked by two Rooks in chess diagrams resembles a high-ranking military officer wearing shoulder boards, also known as epaulettes. In the position after 21...Rc6, the alignment of the epaulettes isn’t quite right, invoking an image of an officer with poor posture and shoulders slumped forward.

Fritz estimates that White has a whopping +3.5 advantage. Over the next four moves, White's advantage evaporates. 23.Rd4? +2.5 [ 23.Nd2!] 23...f5! 24.Ng3? +1.5. White's knight becomes rather useless here. [ 24.Nd2!]

The summer of 1944 saw Allied victories in the Marianas, Peleliu, and Morotai Islands, shrinking the Japanese Empire and giving the Allies strategic airbases. The Battle of the Philippine Sea crippled Japanese naval and air forces.

24...Qa6! Again, the queen trade offer is best for Black. 25.Qc2 [ 25.Qxa6 Rxa6+/= leaves the game nearly equal.] 25...Qxa2?! 26.Ra4?!+/- +1.1 [ 26.Ne2 rehabilitates the knight. 26...Rcxd6 27.Nc1 Qa5 28.Ra4 retains some advantage for White.] 26...Rxc3! 27.Qxc3 Qxa4 28.Qg7+ Kxd6 29.Qxb7 Bb6 30.Qf3?!= 0.0 Dead even according to Fritz [ Pawn hunting might actually have been better. 30.Qxh7 f4+/=] 30...Ke7 31.Rd1?! [ 31.b3!?=] 31...Qc2!=/+ The first advantage to Black in the game. Black threatens to overload the White Queen with Bxf2+. 32.Rf1 'A sad necessity.' - fpawn. 32...Kf6 33.b3 h5 34.h4 Qd2 35.Qa8 Qd8 36.Qb7? White's Queen loses active threats for a couple moves, enough time for the Black Queen to pick up h4. [ 36.Qxd8+ Bxd8 37.Rd1=/+ White should hold a draw despite Black's better King and pieces.] 36...Qd4!-+ 37.Qh7 Qxh4

In the fall of 1944, the Allies turned their attention to the Philippines retaking Philippine soil in The Battle of Leyte.

38.Qh8+ Kg5!
Other moves draw or worse.

On October 20, 1944, MacArthur waded ashore on Leyte Beachhead and triumphantly proclaimed, “I have returned.”

39.Qc8 Re5 40.Nh1 White's army is in quite a sad state.

Although, the Japanese Army retreated to the Philippine hills and held out for a year, Manila became secure enough that MacArthur set up headquarters and began planning the invasion of Japan.

40...Qd4 41.Kh2 Qh4+

Operation Downfall became unnecessary following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

42.Kg1 Qd4 43.Kh2 Re4 44.Qc1+ Kf6 45.f4 h4 46.Nf2? Rxf4
White resigned 0-1

On September 2, 1945, General MacArthur received the formal Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, thus ending World War II.

What surprised me about this game is how large an advantage can be overcome at this high level. I’ve been putting together games bulletins for the Reno tournaments for four years now and I don’t remember too many times that turnarounds occurred among 2400-rated players. The evaluations over the course of the game usually move in a monotonic manner from edge, to advantage, to winning, and to won. It seems at high levels, strong technique prevents comebacks, but this game serves as a good counterexample.


frenez said...

your post seems to bolster the (perhaps the too passionate) debate over on drunknight.

it's frustrating to lose a won game, no doubt.

check out the book 'ghost soldiers' (i think). it was made into a movie recently, the great raid ... the book is much better. it recounts the rescue of pows in the phillipines.

Soapstone said...

frenez - I'm glad you tied it in because that was partially what I was hoping. I'm not sure what the sound and fury was at drunknknite's blog. He made it sound like a bunch of haters at the club who are out to get him came over and 1) said he didn't deserve to win and 2) said that the whole game hinged on one move (I don't know where this came from). IMHO, we were just being chessplayers interested in evaluating a position we saw and taking it where we thought it should go. I freely admit drunknite admirably refuted my "winning" line. After seeing more of the early phase of the game, I made the judgment that he was lucky to win. When he posts the moves, I will be surprised if there aren't at least three killer lines that his opponent missed. At the expert level, I think sitting on a losing position for several moves while your opponent makes second-best moves requires both luck and skill. I tried to take the personal attack part out of it by saying that I really respected his ability. Drunknknite countered my "lucky" statement by saying his opponent was also lucky to get the winning position in the first place. I don't dispute that varying degrees of luck and somewhat unpredictable rates of error exist in chess. But dodging a forced mate in 7 versus allowing a weak b6 square seem a little different. Despite luck, credit is still due to the person who takes advantage of his opponent's errors as drunknknite duly did. Perhaps he thought we were giving his opponent too much credit for being a player who SHOULD capitalize on his opportunities. No real argument here. Except at the World Open, Fritz doesn't play our games for us, we have to do it ourselves with our fallible minds and bodies.

Thanks for the reading suggestion. I have never wanted to look back at WWII until I watched Ken Burns' "The War". Social Studies were my worst subject in school.

drunknknite said...

Ernie - The comments on my blog were not directed at you and I didn't mean to say that there were a bunch of haters. Alsasua honestly had contempt in his voice when he recommended Qf8 and I was just noting the fact that there is no reason for this. It just seems like people want to see me lose. So I fired back. I knew you and Grant were just kind of in awe at what had happened and I didn't mean any disrespect or anything negative about it.

Soapstone said...

Kevin - Honestly, I thought that the contempt you heard in Alsasua's voice was mainly for your opponent. "How could you miss Qf8?" After all, it was his move to miss.

frenez said...

ok, now i have to see this qf8 move and how anyone could miss it! where is it?

Soapstone said...

frenez - 32.Qf8 is now linked to drunknknite's blog. I think this is the direct link to the game.