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.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Ernie, this was good play on your part compared to some of my early efforts at the Far West Open! I made some real howlers! I couldn't even refute Mackenzie's Q.G.D/Marshall Defense (1. d4, d5 2. c4, Nf6?!). On most normal days, I would have sent him home crying to Mama over moves like that!!

I only started playing well on the last day! I hated my passive defenses. That's going to come to an end real quick!

I did have one highlight in the last game though. Some Expert decided the ticket was the Q.G.D/Hennig-Schara Gambit against me. 28 moves and 1-hour later, he was on his way home, defeat having been suffered!

From a positional standpoint though, it is not usually a good idea to weaken squares. Thus, when you fianchetto a Bishop on say, "g2" or "g7", then leave the King Pawn at home. And when you fianchetto a Bishop on say, "b2" or "b7", then leave the Queen Pawn at home.

If you're going to break that rule, better have a real good reason for doing so.

Your move 'd3' looked horrible from a positional point of view. And 9. a4 was screaming to be played.

You could have also played the interesting Gambit Idea of 4. b4!? followed by 5. Rb1. It's sharp and White might have enough. It's close.