Saturday, July 3, 2010

Rudeness, randomness and tactics

First, a brief quiz

You are to find the best line in each of the following positions. In each of them, there may be more than one line that gives an advantage, but you are to find the best one.

Black has just played Bc7xf4. All sorts of things are hanging. What’s White’s best line?

White to move again. Black would be a rook down after Bxf7, but if he hasn’t resigned yet, that’s not going to make him do so. Make him resign.

Black to move. This position is more complicated than the first two. :-) White threatens mate with 35.Ra7+ and 36.Qxh8.We have reached this position after the moves 32... Nf3+! 33.Rxf3 Rxg2+! 34.Kh1. Time to finish White off.

White has just played e5. What should Black do?

Rudeness in chess

I had a little talk with Todd recently about rudeness in chess – not verbal rudeness, but situations when one party plays on longer than they should. Perhaps it’s artificial to say that this isn’t verbal rudeness, because in Go (the Japanese board game) this is called “talking with your hands” – that is, your hands are saying is “I think you suck so bad that you can’t beat me even though I’m down a rook.”

But leaving that aside, I’ve started a new study program. I’m actually enjoying it a lot – there are a lot of neat tactics in even the simplest or most one-sided games, and I never really appreciated them back in the day, when I was much more busy beating myself up for not seeing them in the game.

And seeing the tactics is of course the critical factor in whether to resign – are you seeing them; is your opponent seeing them, or does it seem like you can swindle him?

I remember one Continental tournament where John Donaldson was doing that thing where the famous player is manning a room with a demo board and anyone can bring in their games. One of the A-players brought in a game, and Donaldson starting off by praising them for following cutting-edge theory. Then of course one of them deviated and he said “No, you can’t do that” but of course the other player didn’t find the refutation. Donaldson’s cries of “NO!” grew longer and more heartfelt as the game went on, and at one point he dropped his face into his hands, then straightened up and turned to the audience: “I am now officially telling all of you NEVER to resign a game in one of these sections unless you are faced with mate on the move!”

We’ve all been on both sides of this, of course – more often in blitz, but sometimes in slow games. I’ve found a couple of games of my own that are relevant to this theme. But first an answer to our quiz:

The point of showing these positions is to highlight how much aggravation you can save yourself with some tactical precision.

White can win the exchange back by 1.Nxh6+ Bxh6, but then it’s not clear he has a workable advantage at all – the isolated e-pawn may outweigh the two bishops. White can go up a piece with 1.Ne7+ Kh8 2.Nxc8 Bxh7+ 3.Kf1 Ne6 4.Qc2/c3 Bg3 with ideas of Qf4+, Rh1+ and so on. This gets complicated and White is under a lot of pressure. White can make it even more double-edged with 4.Qe7 Bxh2+ 5.Kf1 Qxc8 6.Qxf7 Rh4! but like I said this is complicated.

By the way, White has to take on c8 with the knight if he wants to keep the extra piece: 1.Ne7+ Kh8 2.Qxc8 Qa7+ wins the knight back, as 3.Qc5?? Be3+ is suboptimal.

So especially if White is tired, the best line here is not to bother with the exchange but to cut straight to the chase with 1.Ne7+ Kh8 2.Ng6+! hxg6 3.Qf8+ Kh7 4.Qxg7#. I think that this line is a little harder to spot than usual here, because White might have started out trying to decide what’s the best way to win back the exchange, and once you’ve looked at Ne7+ with the idea of Q/Nxc8, it’s a little harder to then think of it moving in the opposite direction to g6. But it's hard to keep your head and notice lines like this when there's a lot of other stuff going on.

The other quiz positions come from two games of mine, and will be discussed when they arise in the games below:

Shernoff - Richard Lewis Mid-West Amateur Team Championships, 2003 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f4 e6 7.Qf3 Bd7 8.e5

This is the last quiz position (above).

We were both under the impression that I was winning material here, but this is not the case: 8...Nc6! at least equalizes, because of the hanging Nd4. Suddenly it is White who risks losing material or just getting the worse position. However, Black played a more natural move.
8...Bc6?? 9.Nxc6 Nxc6 10.exf6 Qxf6 11.Bd3 Qd8

Apparently Black was afraid of 11...Be7 12.Ne4

12.0-0 Be7 13.Bd2 Qd7 14.Ne4

I'm preparing to use my pawns to restrain and then chip away at his compensating pawn center

14...h6 15.c4 0-0-0 16.Bc3 f6 17.b4 Na7 18.a4 Rdf8 19.b5 Kd8 20.Rad1 Ke8 21.Nc5 Qc8 22.Bg6+ Rf7 23.Nxb7

Here, I was expecting 23...Qxc4, giving us one of the positions from our quiz:

During the game I was planning 24.Na5 Qc7 25.Qa8+ Nc8 26.Rc1; however, this is inaccurate.

In Go, there’s a concept that gets translated as “inducing move.” You want to make a move for reasons of your own, so you play an otherwise meaningless move that sets the enemy in motion in that direction. Then you play the move you wanted originally, which now has its original purpose plus it stuffs the new motion of the enemy.

Here, White can win a pawn with 24.Rxd6, since 24...Bxd6 is met by a recapture that forks the queen. But 24.Rxd6 itself carries no threat, so Black can just castle and White has only won a pawn. (Well, he can’t castle in the game, but he can if it’s just a quiz position!)

However, after 24.b6! Nc6 25.Rxd6! white captures with tempo, because he’s attacking the knight. Then 25...Nb8 26.Rd8+ forces the knight fork on d6. If Black replies to 24.b6! with 24...Nc8, then 25.Rd4 and (in any order) Rb4 when the queen goes to b3, Be4 when the queen goes to d5, and Ra1 when the queen goes to a2 will trap it.

Back to the actual game:

23... Qb8


Fritz wants 24.f5 e5 25.Qd5 Rhf8 26.c5, thus showing that a chess program can be sadistic, but equally good by this point is 26.Nxd6+ Bxd6 27.Qe6+ with mate on d7. However, I didn’t want to just threaten to put a pawn at e6, I wanted to force the pawn there.

24...d5 25.cxd5! Qxb7 26.dxe6

At the post-mortem, my opponent, who was about 10 and very polite and respectful, asked whether at what point it might have been rude of him to continue playing. I suggested that once variations like the one here: 26...Qxf3 27.exf7+ Kf8 28.Rd8+ Bxd8 29.Re8# start appearing, one should either allow them or resign. On the other hand, the position is not exactly annoying for White to play, so the rudeness is minor...

And it also shows that black is not the only one who can be obnoxious by playing on here: after White does the big sacrificial windup for his Morphy-style mate: 26...Qxf3 27.exf7+ Kf8 28.Rd8+ Bxd8

He doesn’t have to actually deliver it: after 29.gxf3 Be7 30.Bb4 Nc8 31.b6 followed by 32.b7 and now White is the one who’s being a jackass by continuing to play. Well, back to the game:

26...Qc7 27.Rd7

Here again Fritz saw a quicker mate with 27.exf7+ Kf8 28.Rxe7! but the one that’s coming will be good enough.

27...Qb8 28.Qd5 axb5 29.exf7+ Kf8 30.Rd8+ 1-0

What surprised me when I pulled the game was how much substantive tactics were in it even though from a competitive standpoint the game is completely trivial. However, in a less crushing position my planned inaccuracy at move 24 might have been enough to let Black back into the game. Likewise the 8...Nc6 shot is well worth spotting, before I give someone else that chance (or someone gives me the opportunity). And then there were the cute politeness “twin” variations at move 26.

The next game, however, is meatier.

Shernoff (2110) - Matthew Bluestone (2160) Ft. Wayne, 1996

This was the most unfortunately memorable tournament location in my experience. Bill Goichberg was experimenting with trying to run Continental tournaments in new locations, and a bunch of us from the University of Chicago chess team tried to help him out by driving down to Fort Wayne. The hotel had a strange landscape in back of it – almost an acre of flat blacktop expanse, with an incredible array of fast-food restaurants sprouting out of it like mushrooms. There were no street or lane markings (or even parking spaces) – just pristine blacktop and fast food.

I went downstairs the first morning and asked the manager if there was someplace cheap nearby that we could eat breakfast. Obviously the blacktop expanse was available but I try to avoid that kind of stuff. The manager said that there was just the hotel restaurant. I said yeah, but these are undergraduates, so I’d like to find someplace cheaper. He said, “There isn’t any.” I said “Not in the whole city of Fort Wayne?” “That’s right.” We ended up at a subway about half a block from the hotel.

The hotel also featured a maid who loudly demanded that we pay her to clean our room, because it was so messy. I just exchanged a stack of towels with her. I considered complaining about this, but then reflected that this would be to the manager who had just insisted that there was no other place to eat in the entire city.
And during the tournament, a very nice sweater disappeared from my hotel room. I am not surprised that Bill did not return to this venue.

My opponent in this game, Mathew Bluestone, was a top college player who was on the Harvard team. Yes, this was back when

a) being rated 2160 made you a top college player, not an above-average high school player
b) such a rating could get you a chess scholarship
c) the only schools recruiting chess players were Ivies
d) you only got a (full or partial) scholarship, not a free ride, a stipend, and a bogus “assistantship” lecturing B-players on the alternatives on move 20 of the English attack in the Najdorf variation
e) you were expected to actually take your classes.

Truly simpler, more innocent days. Our game, however, was neither simple nor innocent.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.g3 a6 7.Bg2 Nbd7 8.0–0 Qc7 9.Be3 Rb8 10.a4 b6 11.Qe2 Bb7 12.Rae1 Be7


Contrary to my earlier experience, this is not always a good move. Here, White should just play f4 and look for play with f5 or g4-g5, now that Black’s king can’t castle queenside. 13.f4 Nc6 can be met simply with 14.Bc1, and now White is threatening 15.b4 Ncd7 16.Bb2, improving the position of his pieces and gaining space.

13...exd5 14.Nf5 dxe4 15.Nxg7+ Kd8 16.Nf5 Ne5

I don’t know about you, but I think that Black has a fantastic position!


I made a long analysis after the game to show that this move is much stronger if my Re1 is on the d-file instead (duh!), but the Re1 actually does a good job of inhibiting ...Nf3+, which I think (in retrospect) Black must have been trying to arrange. Bf4 is still pretty clueless – the bishop should go to g5 right away. And I disagree with both of Black’s pushes of his h-pawn that follow – he should have played a rook to the g-file instead.

17...Qd7 18.Nxe7 Qxe7 19.Bg5 h6?! 20.Bh4 Kc7 21.Qd2 Rbe8 22.Qd4 Qe6 23.Re3


Better is Ng6. But now my Bh4 isn’t doing much, so I relocate it to g3.

This game is sort of a weird twin of the first one. Here I’m the one who lost a piece in the opening for no particular reason; however, as in the previous game, Black has met the situation by walking his king around and shuffling his other pieces (maybe he was hoping that I would make another ridiculous sac?) and the tempi he’s wasted enable me to mount a genuine attack. Already (compared to the previous diagram, it’s looking more like I really intended for all this to happen, and in the next diagram it’ll look even better for White (even though by then, ironically, Black has a forced win).

24.g4 Nxg4 25.Rb3 Bd5?! 26.c4 Bc6 27.Bg3 h5?! 28.a5 Rb8 29.axb6+ Kb7 30.Bxd6 Rbg8 31.Ra1 Nge5

So by now the position really does look like White is attacking (my bishop certainly looks a lot better on d6 than it would on h4), but in the meantime I’ve finally chased a black rook to the g-file. So both of Black’s dearest wishes will come true in the next move-pair: I will make another wild sac, and Black will get to play Nf3+.

32.Rxa6 Nf3+

On 32...Kxa6 I was planning 33.Ra3+ Kb7 34.Ra7+ Kc8 35.Rc7+ Kd8 36.Bxe5, which may not be sufficient, but is more than I had any right to hope for after my foolish 13th move. One entertaining continuation is 36...e3 37.Bf6+ Qxf6 38.Rxd7+ Ke8 39.Qxf6 Rxg2+ 40.Kf1 Rxf2+ 41.Qxf2 exf2 42.Rc7 Bd7 43.b7 Ke7 44.c5 and White should do well by pushing those queenside pawns.


If the game hadn’t been so eventful already, I might have been tempted to let the queen go here with 33.Kh1. This works out well (and humorously) if Black decides to just go straight for the mate with 33...Qh3.

Things look dire for white, as 34.Bxh3 Rg1# and 34.Bxf3 Qf1# are sub-optimal, and the Bg2 can’t be defended. However, after 34.Ra7+ Kc8 35.b7+ Bxb7 36.Ra8+ Bxa8 37.Rb8+ Nxb8 the queen can now be taken with check: 38.Bxh3+! Nd7 39.Qc5+ with a quick mate. Note the power of the two bishops! ;-)

But unfortunately if Black just takes the queen, White’s ball of pieces on the queenside loses all cohesion and he has no effective follow-up, for example: 33.Kh1 Nxd4 34.Ra7+ Kc8 35.b7+ Bxb7 36.Rbxb7 Qxd6. Luckily I avoided all this temptation, as I hadn’t seen the check at all, and was so grateful to notice my rook covering that square that I just snapped it off!


Far be it from me to criticize a flashy move that could have led to a forced checkmate, but it is simpler to just recapture: 33...exf3 34.Ra7+ Kc8 35.Rc7+ Kd8 36.Bg3 fxg2 37.Bh4+ f6 38.Bxf6+ Ke8 when White's checks come to an end and Qe1# is threatened.


Strangely, this is a mistake.

Giving us our third quiz position.

I can’t capture the rook: after 34.Kxg2? exf3+ 35.Kf1 Qe2+ mates on the back rank, and 35.Kg3 Rg8+ is too gruesome to contemplate. But the king should have gone to f1 instead. Supposedly, Michael Stean once said “If you have only one move that doesn’t lose instantly, there’s no excuse for not finding it!” The trick is to know when you only have one move.

Black proceeded optimally for a while:

34...Rhg8 35.Ra7+ Kc8 36.Rc7+ Kd8 37.Rg3

But now he missed 37...Qh3!!, forcing checkmate. This is why the king should have gone to f1 instead of h1. Then Black would have been legitimately over-extended. But this Qh3 shot is one of those moves that’s not terribly difficult to find when you’re given a quiz position and told that Black has a forced mate. In the game, after all the confusion that has come before, it’s hard to keep a clear head and notice the possibility.

37...R2xg3? 38.fxg3 Qh3 39.Qd1?!

Better was the self-defence with 39.Kg1, after which my Fritz of the time put White up almost three pawns, which is pretty amazing considering the actual material situation.


More in the spirit of the game (true, by now Black was probably pretty sick of the spirit of the game) would be 39...Ba4!, with the idea of 40.Qe1 Nxb6, although after 41.Rxf7 the mate on f1 is covered and White’s queen is free to roam again. But it once again becomes a difficult game.

There is a clear win here for White, but (as with 37...Qh3!!) it requires extraordinary tactical precision and a clear head, which pretty much guarantees that we wouldn’t have found it in the game.

First White has to realize he can save the b-pawn with (39...Ba4!) 40.b7! and the threat of 41.Rc8# doesn’t give Black time to take the queen. Then Black plays 40...Nb8!

and now after 41.Qe1 Bc6 Black has disturbing counterplay. So White has to win the bishop with 41.Rc8+ Kd7 42.Qxa4+

And now we’re at the third crossroads. There’s mate hanging on f1, and White’s instinct to always go forward when attacking the king may get him into trouble. He may even forget about Black’s knight and hang his queen after something like 42...Ke6 43.Re8+ Kf5 44.Qd7+?? (skewering the black queen!) or 43...Kxd6 44.Qa6+??

Here White has to see that moving the queen back to where it was before is good: simply 42...Ke6 43.Qd1 or 42...Kxd6 43.Qd1+ Ke7 44.Rxg8 are dead won for White.

Even Fritz showed more sense here, suggesting 39...h4!, with the idea of 40.Rxc6 hxg3 41.Qe2 and the position is still complicated.

By the way, it does look like we were in a wee bit of time pressure here coming up to move 40, and our tactikular precision suffered a mite because of it. But actually the first time control was at move 30, and Matt’s brain was just melting from all the crap we’d been through. But now I shut him down smoothly after

39...Ba8? 40.b7 Bxb7 41.Rxb7 Rg6 42.Bf4 Ke8 43.Rb5 h4 44.Rh5 Qe6 45.Qd5 hxg3


It hardly matters that I missed a quick mate here with 46.Qa8+ Ke7 47.Bc7. A Tal or Shabalov may have been happy and proud to go for a continuation like 47...g2+ 48.Kg1 Qxc4 49.Qd8+ Ke6 50.Qe8+ Kf6 51.Be5+, but I was playing on a “no further craziness allowed” imperative. I realize that this sort of contradicts one of the themes of the post – that one should try to be super-precise and finish off the opponent quickly so as to avoid screwing up later. But, tired from all that has come before, there’s actually a lot more chance of me screwing up a line like this than in playing a simple endgame where I have a clear advantage.

Though I have to add that I pretty much saw the continuation up to the next diagram at this point, where it’s a lot simpler position, and this tips the balance. If queens were going to stay on with my king so open, then it would have been better to look for the quick mate.

46...Qxd5 47.Rxd5 Rb6 48.c5 Rxb2 49.c6 Nb6 50.c7 Rc2 51.Rd8+ Ke7 52.Rb8 e3

53.Bxe3!? Rxc7 54.Rxb6

In objective chess terms, 53.Rxb6 e2 54.Rb1 was better, but I just didn't want to bother thinking any more. And that line does leave open the option of me trying to approach the pawn with 55.Kg2?? d1/Q+. :-)

Note that I did NOT say that this line would have “speeded up the game.” Given my opponent’s behavior from here on, that might have been true in terms of number of moves, but not in terms of hours out of my life. This brings us back to the rudeness theme.

Bluestone had used up all of the first time control a long time ago, and (in playing the game out) sat very deliberately and used all his time for the sudden death control also, making the game last well past the starting time for the next round. In fact, he offered me a draw later on when I repeated moves (I said “No thank you.”).

I suppose he wasn’t just trying to be obnoxious, because my score sheet shows that I repeated moves a little bit further on (I needed a lot of calming down after that middlegame, and was proceeding along the lines of “do not hurry”) and he didn’t offer a draw again. He can’t have been hoping I would make another random sacrifice because, sadly, he doesn’t have anything left that I can sac for. But he didn’t resign until after (note the move number)

No question about White making progress!

80.Kg6 Rc6+ 81.Bf6 Rc8 82.Rh7 1-0

with about thirty people watching in a circle around us, including the TD tapping his pen on a scorepad.

Here’s one last thought about people who get upset with you because they’re insulted that you played “garbage” (or “not real chess”) against them: the result doesn’t matter. If you lose, they will be insufferably self-righteous and lecture you on the proper understanding of the game, and if you win they will be furious because you must have cheapoed them somewhere and destroyed the logic and beauty of them winning to show you how stupid you are.

I’ve been on both sides of that one, too.