Sunday, February 21, 2010

Iceman Revisited

Blogger tells me that this is my 127th blog post. Back in post #4, I introduced Iceman. Not the one from Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, but the one played by Val Kilmer in Top Gun. Iceman is a cool cucumber who makes no mistakes but mainly just waits for you to make your own mistake and then he pounces. In post#4, I cast my opponent as the winning fighter pilot.

Last Thursday's game was no brilliancy. In fact, Fritz's Evaluation Profile shows that I was slightly worse a lot of the time.

For forty moves, we kept the game pretty much balanced, each missing small opportunities here and there. But similar to my game 10 weeks ago against this same opponent, one pawn got too far ahead and all of a sudden the game tipped in my favor. For this performance, I got to play the role of Iceman.

It wasn't as if I just turtled up, since I did make use of the queenside expansion. But sometimes I wish my game was a bit more like Maverick's wild and dangerous style. Still, being an opportunist is not a bad way to go in chess. My old Iceman post has a collection of chess adages surrounding the role of mistakes in chess. I'll reiterate just two of them here:

"One bad move nullifies forty good ones." - I.A. Horowitz
"Without error, there can be no brilliancy." - Emanuel Lasker

Monday, February 8, 2010


From the Encyclopedia Mythica:

When the Minotaur was born, Daedalus built the Labyrinth to contain the monstrous half-man, half-bull. For years Minos demanded a tribute of youths from Athens to feed the creature. Eventually, the hero Theseus came to Crete to attempt to slay the Minotaur. Ariadne, daughter of Minos and Pasiphae, fell in love with Theseus and asked Daedalus to help him. Daedalus gave her a flaxen thread for Theseus to tie to the door of the Labyrinth as he entered, and by which he could find his way out after killing the monster. Theseus succeeded, and escaped Crete with Ariadne. Minos, enraged at the loss of his daughter, shut Daedalus and his son Icarus into the Labyrinth.

I had the opportunity to visit the site of Knossos on the Island of Crete, the seat of the Minoan civilization. From ground level, we saw what seemed like the ruins of a many-roomed basement with rock walls between each room. Our guide suggested as does this article that the ruins of a complex palace inspired the impression of a labyrinth.

Early in my chess career, I liked booked lines of the Sicilian and King's Indian, but eventually figured out that I was not very good at memorizing them, at least not to the point that I could rely on my memory for the myriad positions that crop up. Eventually, I gravitated toward the conceptual approach of the one-size-fits-all Modern Defense and a Botvinnik style English with pawns at c4, d3, and e4. But I became bored of my game with its closed positional maneuvering and nurturing of small advantages. So I struck out for the tactical grounds of 1.e4. But the Sicilian Labyrinth - as Lev Polugaevsky named his two-volume treatise - intimidated me. So I played irregular lines like the Grand Prix and the Morra and tried to research the Alapin. But good results eluded me and I began to rethink my approach.

My game last Thursday was an adventure into the Sicilian Labyrinth. My opponent chose the Nc6 Sicilian. I chose the Open Sicilian with d4 cxd4 Nxd4. Then my opponent chose the Labordonnais-Lowenthal-Kalashnikov variation which I knew only superficially. The game once again became a close positional maneuvering struggle with me pressing toward weak light squares on his kingside, but I was frustrated by my queen having to do a chess maze to get to the attacking squares (Qf2-d2-d3-e4-g4-e4-h4).

Rather than an open tactical game, I ended up with a positional one out of the Open Sicilian. Except for some weak moves between moves 20 and 23, I felt in control for much of the game. The Thread of Ariadne was on my side. After I annotated my game, I decided to try to get a Icarus-eye view of the Sicilian Labyrinth and came up with this map.
Of course, there are all kinds of omissions on this map. The small area that says Dragon/Najdorf/Scheveningen might as well say "Here be dragons" and there are myriad transpositional secret passages that move from one corner of the map to the other.

Three pieces of wisdom: 1. Don't fly too close to the sun or your wings will melt. 2. Never start a land war in Asia. 3. Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.