Monday, May 19, 2014

Vader versus Kenobi

As two of his final steps toward the Dark Side of the Force, Anakin Skywalker killed Count Dooku in a duel and helped Darth Sidious kill Mace Windu. Darth Sidious bestowed upon Anakin Skywalker the new title of Darth Vader. But his next epic struggle, an 8-minute duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi did not go as smoothly as with Dooku and Windu.

The 1993 Illinois Open was probably the best tournament of my life. I had just crossed into Class A for the first time prior to the tournament, rated 1832. In round 1, I defeated Erik Karklins, rated 2141. In round 2, I defeated Kevin Bachler, rated 2234. But in round 3, I faced the highest rated player of my entire chess career, Erik's son Andrew Karklins, rated 2413. It's strange to see my play from 21 years ago. My faint recollection was that I just tried to defend everything as best I could. Computers weren't very strong back then, but when I check my game over with Fritz, it seems that through luck and grit, I was able to withstand all he threw at me for the first 25 moves in an offbeat Sicilian with 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bc4. Karklins eventually played 7.c3 and 9.d4, but his big center didn't seem to become too dangerous for me. On the 26th move, I could have even offered a queen trade in an advantageous endgame, but my endgame was very weak back then. Then on move 29, he went for a dubious exchange sacrifice to get at my king. The evaluations stay equal until move 35 when I could have gotten a winning advantage from this position:

Unfortunately, I chose wrongly on move 35 to lose the win. Five moves later, I had this position:

My sense was that I had the advantage because of my advanced e-pawn. I just needed to hide my king from the White Queen's checks. Overconfident, I failed to appreciate that the checks could lead to the White Queen capturing e3 for a winning endgame.

VADER: This is the end for you, my master.
KENOBI: It's over Anakin. I have the high ground.
VADER: You underestimate my power.
KENOBI: Don't try it. [Vader vaults over Kenobi's head, but Kenobi cuts off Vader's left hand. Vader catches fire from the nearby lava. Kenobi walks away.]

After this defeat, I lost to an expert in round 4 and beat an expert in round 5. For my 3.0/5, I won $37.50, but my performance rating was 2279. Andrew Karklins went on to share first place with 4 others at 4.5/5.

In the intervening 21 years, I moved away from the Chicago area, reached expert rating in 2004, and struggled for the last decade with often disliking chess for teasing with false hope of my ever reaching master. Karklins seems to have spent almost a decade near the upper 2300s and lower 2400s before drifting down over the last 13 years and finally hitting a 2200 rating floor last year.

We were paired in round 3 of the 2014 Larry Evans Memorial.

According to this site, about 19 years elapses between Star Wars Episode III and Episode IV, when Vader and Kenobi have their rematch.

VADER: I have been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again at last. You should not have come back. The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner. Now I am the master.
KENOBI: Only a master of evil, Darth.
VADER: Your powers are weak, old man.
KENOBI: You can't win, Darth. Strike me down and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

Prior to the game, another master, Viktors Pupols saw our pairing and said, "If you are an e4 player, I know what your opening is going to be. But I'm not going to tell you." I doubt that he had our opening in mind when he said that.

Even though the game was short, I feel that the early shock of the opening gave me momentum to cruise through the middlegame, doing little more than securing my king, pressuring the center, and challenging whatever blockader showed up at e6. Except for the move 22.e6, I didn't feel like I did anything fancy and I felt surprised and relieved when he resigned. The last time I beat a master was 9 years ago. After this game, I scored 0.5 in three games, finishing at 2.5/6. Karklins became more powerful after I defeated him, scoring 2.5 in three games and finishing at 3.5/6.

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