Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bulletin Guy

At the Far West Open, I was neither player nor TD. I occasionally helped out my friends on the demo boards and I helped with some of the computer support for the organizer. But I had purposefully avoided most responsibility, preferring volunteerism and getting paid in "Thank you"'s. My most official duty was getting scoresheets and translating them into PGN for preparing the games bulletin. Our club had about twenty members playing, eight in the open section alone, so there were plenty of vicarious thrills of enjoying other people's wins while distancing myself from their losses. For the long periods of silence and inactivity, I had Asimov's "Prelude To Foundation" with me.

When I look back on the weekend, it seemed enjoyable if long and it had its moments. Don't get me wrong. I'm still living in the hermetically sealed comfort zone that is typical of self-absorbed nerds. Conversations are still stilted and brief. But a few times, when I looked up from my scoresheets and my Pocket PC, I almost had the semblance of a social life.

Jerry: Why aren't you playing?
Me: Can't stand the stress of losing.
Jerry: Well, take byes.
Me: Ha ha. If only I could anticipate my losses and always replace them with byes.
Jerry: I know what you mean. The pain of the losses seems to be bigger than the pleasure of the wins.

Tim: Are you playing?
Me: No, just watching this time.
Tim: Why not?
Me: Stomachaches.
Tim smiles knowingly. (Tim and I had almost exactly the same conversation vice versa a couple years ago when he pointed out the correlation between stomachaches and chess.).
Tim (looking over at drunknknite losing to fpawn): I bet he's going to have a big stomachache.

Mike(kibitzing during blitz): "Yes. Yes, I did it. I killed Yvette. I hated her SO...much. It-it-the-ff-it. Flames-flames. Flames...on the side of my face. Breathing. Breath. Breathing breath."
Me: History of the World? Or Young Frankenstein?
Mike: Clue.
Me: Ah, Madeline, you left us too soon.

Hanging with Nate and going over his games.

Eating prime rib with Nate and Chris at the Grand Sierra's Lodge Buffet between rounds 1 and 2.

Listening to John Donaldson and Vik Pupols swap a bookful of old chess stories.

Goofin' with Grant.

Watching Antal and Sevillano destroy other masters in style while filling in on demo boards.

Getting the inside scoop from Dana regarding his scalp of an IM.

Talking to Craig about Asimov and getting shushed by a GM.

Talking to fpawn about wheelchairs, Supernationals, and Foxwoods, and then listening in while he gave strategic advice to Danya about how to approach his next opponent.

I could get used to this. No worries. Just enjoying chess from the peanut gallery.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fantasy and Nightmare

In my last Reno Club Championship Qualifier game, I was playing against friend and upstart Class A player Grant Fleming. I had anticipated his playing a Scandinavian against my intended 1.e4 since he seemed to be having some success with this opening lately, so I tried to book up. I decided to play a positional line with Nc3 and Nf3 while delaying d4, hoping to catch him in a trap involving an early Nd4. The game quickly left my book as he played an early Bg4, which I had missed in my preparations. Still, I uncorked a thematic b4 pawn offer hitting his queen at a5. He didn't bite, but a few moves later, I loosened my position with d3 and the b4 pawn became more appetizing. I became dissatisfied with my compensation, but a few moves later, I mixed things up with d4, with complicated sequences of central exchanges in front of his uncastled king. We reached the following position:

My bishop on c5 prevents Black from castling kingside and my queen prevents queenside castling. Where to move my queen? In order to keep the Black King in the center, I would like to stay on the d-file, so Qd4, Qd3, and Qd1 are possibilities. Qd4 and Qd3 look like naturally centralizing moves for the queen, but Qd1 caught my eye. I saw that it scores some initiative points on the Bh5 with variations such as Qd1 Bxe2 Qxe2+ Kd8 or Qd1 Bg6 Re1 threatening a devastating discovery. But if Qd1, then what about Rd8, forfeiting the right to castle queenside? Then Qe1 would again threaten a devastating discovery. But then Black has Bd2 taking care of the checking piece in the discovery and also forking the undefended knight on c3 to boot. Qd1 is no good because of Bxc3 Qc1 Bxe2. The queen is very bad trapped against the first rank. How strong is the discovery? If from Qd1 Rd8 Qe1 Bd2 Bxh5+ Bxe1 Rxe1+ Kd7, I didn't think that two bishops for the queen was enough.

Suddenly, an inspiration occurred. A vision of a queen sacrifice and crisscrossing bishop diagonals from Adolf Anderssen's famous Evergreen Game came into my head. What about Qd1 Rd8 Bd2 Bg4+!!? The bishop stopping haltingly on g4 covers the d7 flight square. The Black King is trapped in a well and my heavy pieces are pouring hot oil down on his head. After Bg4+! Bxe1 Rbxe1+ Black gets to sacrifice his pieces in vain to delay a forced mate in 4, e.g. Ne4 Rxe4+ Qe7 Rxe7+ Kf8 Re8++! Kxe8 Re1#. I played Qd1 and to my barely suppressed delight, the moves Rd8 Qe1 Bd2 followed. It's tough to maintain a poker face when you're anticipating the pleasure of being the cat that ate the canary. With triumph and authority, I banged out Bg4+!! and smugly watched for my opponent to go through the five stages of chess grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. This correlated with the following nonverbal signals: his head snapped back in surprise, his eyes searched the board in vain, he frowned and searched harder while biting his lip, shook his head slowly for thirty seconds, and then laid his king down. As we shook hands, my opponent said, "Congratulations on a brilliant victory and in only 20 moves!" I tried to suppress my pride and joy, but couldn't help mentioning that the ghost of Adolf Anderssen helped me. I went home early in the evening, satisfied with my chess ability and comfortable in my standing for the Qualifier. Heck I could probably even lose the final three games and still qualify. Fritz told me that while my opening and early middlegame play was uneven, my decision to open the center was good. I was a little annoyed that the play after Qd1 was not inevitably winning because of the move Nd7! hitting the Bc5 that was preventing him from castling. But my spirits were undampened. I even had enough time to catch up on a small backlog of TV shows that I had recorded before I went to bed.

As I dreamed, a nagging doubt crept in. What if my opponent had found Nd7!? Then my brilliancy would have been thwarted. So what? Some people have poked holes in Anderssen's games, too. But then my dream took a turn toward nightmare...

I was back at the club and instead of playing the provocative Qd1, I played Qd3, which was probably even a little worse than Qd4 because it allowed Bg6 and I had to move my queen again, this time to Qc4, allowing him to castle queenside if he so dared. Then came b6 and Ba3 to keep kingside castling off the table. If c5, I was planning to invade on b5 with queen, knight, or bishop. But instead of c5, Black played Bd6 in a bid to castle kingside again. By now, I had five minutes left to make ten moves. The time pressure raised my anxiety and I found my mind sluggish and starting to panic. Rash thoughts interrupted my analysis. What about Nb5? It forks Qc7 and Bd6 and its main defect seems to be cxb5, but after Qxb5+ Nd7 I can regain the piece with Bxd6 Qxd6 Rbd1 Qc7 Qd5 Rd8 Bb5 O-O Bxd7 and unpinning shouldn't be all too hard. So I rushed in with Nb5 cxb5 Qxb5+ Kf8! My head snapped back in surprise. I began to search for any way to get enough compensation for losing a knight. Seeing none, I bit my lower lip while I mentally kicked myself for making an incompletely analyzed piece sacrifice. I went through some motions in tiny hopes of swindling chances, but the position didn't seem to have any. My mood steadily sank as Black consolidated everything and even put his extra knight on the fabulous d5 square. I reached over and offered my handshake in resignation. In the postmortem, we both talked of the Qd1 creeping move and how it was "refuted" by Rd8 Qe1 Bd2. My exact words at that point were, "Don't I have a mate here somewhere?" I didn't see double discovered check, so I quickly gave up looking.

Near midnight, a beaten chessplayer, I drove home and ran my game through Fritz. In the analysis of the 18th move, Fritz showed me how Qd1 could plausibly lead to the brilliant checkmate with Bg4+. For the next three hours of tossing and turning, my mind kept returning to the same thoughts: "Dang. That rare beautiful victory and the pride that came with it could have been mine. Instead I only have this pathetic loss. Why do I waste my time with this stupid game when it brings me such misery? My tactical ability is already fading with age, so my attempts to improve are just futile." I finally fell asleep, but awoke four hours later to the same negative thoughts. I don't think I shook the funk until the second day after this loss. This loss seemed to hurt more than others because I was so close to a brilliant miniature and failed.

I showed Mr. Anderssen my game. When I showed him the shoulda/coulda parts, he chuckled, "Sorry, kid. You just don't have what it takes."

Poetic license was taken in the italicized portions of this post.