Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Someone once asked where I get the pictures posted here. I usually just use keywords on Google Images to find the picture of my heart's desire. I suppose I'm remiss in crediting the sources. Today's image comes from where you can get a wallpaper-sized image. It's not a natural photograph, but it fulfilled two of my major criteria: a lone tree reflected in a placid lake. The thoughtful person and random birds were a bonus as was the general grayscale dreariness.

This blog has been frozen, reflecting a coldness I've had toward chess for an extended period. I keep thinking Caissa's absence might make my heart grow fonder, but prolonged estrangement seems to better follow "Out of sight, out of mind." Have I forgotten what it's like to have fun playing chess? The rush of solving a problem, the triumph of victory, the mystery of Zoroastrian symbolism. The siren's song is faint. Sometimes, I visit ChessTempo to test my mind against the middlegame and endgame puzzles, but sometimes it makes me fall asleep at my computer or prompts me to curse my failings. My blogroll seem similarly inactive these days, most surprisingly Castling Queenside, but I still click over to the three who seem at least somewhat active. Temposchlucker took a summer hiatus but seems back to the tantalizing world of trying to organize the cognitive hash that we amateurs call our chess thinking. I tried to add my two cents, but he shot me down with a dismissive "Nope!"

My attitudes towards chess are much too messy to summon the discipline of organizing my thoughts. I'm trying to get past the first few pages of Charles Hertan's Forcing Chess Moves who urges "use computer eyes." Perhaps it's too simplistic to blame mere geometry, but when I miss a problem, I tell myself that I just didn't look deep enough or wide enough. Full width-depth search is a labyrinth that only computers can hope to navigate by brute force. Perhaps we humans can only hope to cut through the thicket with concepts and patterns as our signposts. On ChessTempo's endings, I groan when I get a QP v Q problem. When I miss it, the winning move is tagged with "Win in 48 moves". As if that's humanly possible. I do see patterns in the RB v R endings now and I daresay I can get a decent percentage correct. But the RP v R endings are still quite confusing which is aggravating because it offends my delusion that knowing Lucena and Philidor are enough.

Sometimes, the move that was too lateral for my narrow mind is tantalizingly close.

I saw that Qd1+, if legal, would be checkmate, but I couldn't find Qg4 skewering the Re2. Why? Because I was too focused on not losing the queen or the rook.

And the two recent problems on Temposchlucker's blog:

Here, Tempo said I was in good company as GM Rowson couldn't see this through the thicket. But even being given Qd5+ Ke3 Qg2 c1Q Qg5+ Kmoves Qxc1, I couldn't see it all the way through. I saw Qd5+ Kc3 Qd4+ Kb3 Qa1 prevents both queening and the bishop pawn stalemate. The real problem came from Qd5+ Ke2. At no time did I even consider Qa2. Perhaps in retrospect, I could say "When there is a bishop pawn stalemate possibility, pin the pawn from the drawing corner" might be a helpful recitation to keep my sieve-like brain from dropping this lesson. "Depth and breadth," I say. "Insufficient signposts," someone else might say.

And here I missed almost everything because I had such an attachment to my evaluation that Black was in danger of one or other family check. Did I prune these variations before they even budded? Or did I have human bias? I saw that Qg5+ Kf1 Qg2+ Ke1 Qg1+ Kd2 Rd8+ Kc2 probably was going nowhere. I tried to consider Rd8 when I knew it was strong, but pruned it as soon as I thought of Nf7+ Kg8 Nxd8, forgetting that Qxf7 puts the losing ball back in White's court. So I opted for Qg5+ Kf1 Rd8 hoping that the full family check Nf7+ Kg8 would end with Nxg5 Rd1#, Qxg5 Rd1# or Nxd8 Qxc5. Never in my wildest dream did I consider Qf8+ Rxf8 Nf7+. Zwischenzug is German for "How the heck did I miss that?!"

My fear of losing material seems to be hindering many of my tactics. Vinny tells Josh, "See, he didn’t teach you how to win. He taught you how not to lose. That's nothin’ to be proud of. You’re playin’ not to lose, Josh. You’ve got to risk losing. You’ve got to risk everything. You’ve got to go to the edge of defeat! That’s where you want to be, boy. On the edge of defeat!" I'm pruning variations before they get good. Whether it's Hertan's computer eye blindness, or whatever I choose to call it, it's all discouraging. Chess isn't 100% discouraging; maybe only 75% so. One bright spot was this problem:

I was proud of myself for finding Re2+. But I didn't find it from the initial position. Only when it was one ply away did I see it. I wrap up with my own theme for the top picture: "Do not prune a variation until quiescence has been reached."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Terminator

I have never been into slasher movies, but if you replace the hockey-mask-wearing psychopath with a cyborg assassin, and throw in some time paradoxes and impending Armageddon, then I'd be popping some popcorn. TV Tropes gives The Terminator as an example of the archetype called Implacable Man.

Since his announcement on Monday that he fathered a love child about 14 years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been all over the news.

Coincidentally, I had been reviewing a problem I had missed at It had the following initial position. Black to play and win.

I had missed the problem on February 5, 2010 by playing Bh1. How do I know such detail? I broke down and bought a one-year Gold Premium Membership for $35. The information geek inside me couldn't resist the siren call of database drill-down to try to figure out why this game eludes me. Temposchlucker's post on the drills he was doing made me realize that I have to get back to fundamentals of tactical vision and calculation.

If you haven't tried your hand at the above diagram, then

Before the diagram, White had just won a pawn by playing the sequence:
40.Bd3xNf5 exf5

Black has impressive batteries along the a8-h1 diagonal and the a8-a1 file. Is White safe? Apparently not. The solution to the diagram begins with


Of course White can't capture because it brings the Black Queen to his back rank with deadly consequences. Perhaps he can wait for escape later, but for now he can try to hunker down with

42. Qf4

The key move brings the Terminator onto the scene. (See if you can guess why I call the queen the "Terminator")

43. Qd2

White runs for cover.

Now what? You might be tempted to put the queen in a mating battery with 43...Qe4, but after 44.f3 Rxc1+ 45.Qxc1 Qxf3 46.Qc8+ Kh7 47.Qc2+ g6 48.Qd2 Qh1+ 49.Kf2 Qxh2+ 50.Ke3 50.Qxg3+ Kd4, Black has a winning endgame, but more technique will be required.

A young Alexander Ivanov, playing in I think an under-26 championship in Riga in 1980, goes for the killer move.


Black keeps advancing to unsupported positions, purposely hanging the Black Queen as if it lacked any regard for personal safety. But the Black Queen is immune to capture (44.Qxd4 Rxc1+ 45.Qd1 Rxd1#) as is the Black Rook (44.Rxa1 Qxa1+ 45.Qe1 Qxe1#)


White tries one more retreat before throwing in the towel. White now has both heavy pieces on the back rank with his own battery threatening to capture Rxa1. Black plays his ace in the hole and only now goes to the a8-h1 battery. Now that g2 can't be protected by playing f3, Ivanov played 44...Qe4!, forcing resignation as the best White can do to avert checkmate is 45.Qxe4 Rxc1+ 46.Kg2 Bxe4+ a rook-down endgame with no chances.

Back at the 43rd move, I wondered what if 43.Qe3? It still protects the rook right?


All four heavy pieces are on White's back rank attacking each other!

45.Rxe1 Rxe1#

The unstoppable Queen reminded me of the unstoppable hanging Rook in the Steinitz-Von Bardeleben "Battle of Hastings" game.

That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead. — Kyle Reese

I'll be back. — T-800