Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fourth of July games

For a few years now, my friend and neighbor Tom Panelas has been running a bank of chess boards at our local fourth of July shindig it the park down the street from where I live. This year, I showed up fairly early and ended up manning two boards for most of the afternoon, mostly against kids who were under 10 in age and under 1000 in playing strength. I did have one tremendously entertaining game, though, against Adam J, captain of the Wendell Philips High School chess team, and I wanted to share it because it’s become sort of a tradition for me to tremendously embarrass myself on the internet at least once a year.

But first I wanted to share a game against one of the few grown-ups to challenge me, just to show that I had some measure of general coherency during the afternoon. This game started off as a fairly normal English:

Grown-up - Shernoff [A20]
Nichols Park 4th of July, 04.07.2011
1.c4 e5 2.e3 f5 3.a3 Nf6 4.Nc3 g6 5.d3 Bg7 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.b4 0–0

After it was no longer an issue, I noticed that White could have taken my e-pawn after b4-b5 around here. Here, it doesn’t really work, because of 8.b5 Ne7 9.Nxe5 Ng4 and Black gets into trouble on the long diagonal. But he should definitely do it on the next move, or play Be2 and castle, because he ends up wasting too much time with these meaningless pawn moves on the queenside.
8.Bb2 d5 9.c5?!

Okay, I’ve got the big center, he isn’t castled but I am, ergo I should push a center pawn. The f-pawn is keeping a knight off e4 for me, so I think I’ll push the d-pawn.

9...d4 10.Qb3+ Kh8 11.exd4?! (better is 11.Ne2) 11...exd4!?

After 11...Nxd4 12.Nxd4 exd4 13.Ne2 Re8, Fritz awards me an advantage of .69 of a pawn, but this isn’t likely to result in the sort of game I want to play outdoors on a hot afternoon.


This looks natural and aggressive, but it’s wrong, because the knight doesn’t have a safe retreat. After 12.Ne2, Fritz rates the position equal, as it doesn’t trust my ability to hold the pawn at d4 after the upcoming b4-b5 push.

12...Re8+ 13.Be2

and again, this is an overplay, but I was pretty sure he’d grab the d-pawn. Better is 13...Nh5, when I’m holding the d4 pawn solidly and White can’t stop both Nf4 (with trouble for the Be2) and a6 (with trouble for the Nb5).

14.Nbxd4? (14.g3 is the only move) 14...Nf4

This is a natural move: White gets rid of his en-prise piece while attacking my queen, and is ready to exchange his Bb2 with check, thus preserving it from capture. However...

15...Rxe2+ 16.Kf1 Rxb2

17.Qxb2 17...Qxd3+ 0–1

Okay, on to the main show. It is essential to realize that I had just been playing for two or three hours against small children and my whole attitude was focused on playing quickly and grabbing material (the above game was played after this one). It took me a while to adjust when faced with a real player.

Adam J - Shernoff
Nichols Park 4th of July, 04.07.2011

Oh! He’s one of those players. Wants to bring the rook out first. Well, I can cover h3 with my bishop.

1...d5 2.h5

Hmm. A new square for his rook. Well, I can cover that with my queen.


Man, he really wants to bring that rook out, doesn’t he? At this point, I’m not expecting the game to be very difficult.

3...Nxh6 4.Rh5 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bd6?!

I was just thinking in terms of sitting tight in the center without thinking too much and waiting for him to hang something. Fritz already wants me to start playing more constructively with moves like
5...e4, which I will follow up with other moves like Qf6 (if 6.Ne5 then 6...Nxe5 7.Rxe5 Be6 first), Bc5, and 0-0-0. Black dominates the center and is efficiently developed.

6.Nc3 Be6 7.a4 Qf6 8.a5


Stupid, stupid, stupid. I actually thought “Well, if I don’t fix the pawn here, he’ll just push it another square and I’ll have to lose a tempo playing b6 anyway.” Of course if that happens then – Hello! – he’ll have lost another tempo ALSO, pushing the pawn that extra square.
Sadly for the future quality of this game, Adam is playing badly enough (with this “push both rook pawns” garbage) to convince me that he’ll soon tank, but without actually playing badly enough to instantly lose. Well, that’s not true – White had a fairly crushing line here if he’d just started to think positively and targeted f2, instead of just waiting for a blunder:
After 8...e4

9.Ng5 (9.Ng1 Qxf2+! 10.Kxf2 Ng4+ and Bg3#) 9...Ng4 and white is forced to take twice on e4 with his knights, as 10.Nh3 is met by 10...Nxf2 11.Nxf2 Bg3. Sadly, this line remained unplayed.

I realized that I had to start playing constructively here, and decided to cleverly play Nb4 and Qg6 here, threatening the brutal Nxc2+ and the Rh5. Unfortunately, I violated basic chess precepts like “Hey, he gets to make moves also” and “BTW, you should pay attention to what those are.”

8...a6 9.Ra4 Nb4 10.d4


By now I really should react to him in the center and take the d-pawn, but then he takes back with his knight which then defends c2 and I’d have to think of something new to do and do a bunch more calculating, and it was too hot for that, plus the little kid on my other board kept yelling at me to move more quickly, and...

11.dxe5 Qxh5 12.exd6

Ooops! Now my Nb4 is hanging, and I react badly...

12...Nc6? (12...c5!) 13.dxc7 0–0

Now I figure I’ll just round up the c7 pawn and crush him... somehow. In fact, Fritz calls this position equal, a measure of how badly I’ve played over the last few moves. And as often happens when you’ve blown an advantage but don’t realize it, I get frustrated trying to find good lines that aren’t there anymore, and make matters worse. Much, much worse.

14.Qd3 Rac8 15.Ng5

Hey! He’s threatening mate! How’d he do that?


Way dumb. I was concerned about not only blocking the mate, but getting my knight back into play and having my queen defend against the mate so the knight could move again. I just didn’t calculate. After 15...Bf5 16.Qxd5 Rxc7 Black is doing all right again.


16.g4, forking my queen and knight, is, umm, much stronger.


There’s a game against Portisch where Vlastimil Hort says “My hand should be cut off for making this move.” This is that kind of move. It’s wrong on just so many levels.
First of all, I saw perfectly well that he would just play Qe4 and my knight can’t be maintained on that square, so he’ll get to capture on e6. Second, since in my pride I want to pretend that I moved the knight to e5 for a reason, so I won’t retreat it to c6, which is in fact its best square.

17.Qe4 Ng6 18.Nxe6 fxe6 19.Qxe6+ Kh8 20.Rc4

Hey! Did I mention that my knight should really be on c6? White now has a colossal advantage. Among his threats is Nb6. I play yet another move without thinking, simply making stupid threats by reflex under the theory that eventually he’ll just screw up on his own:

20... Rfe8?? 21.Qxe8+! Rxe8 22.c8Q

Hey! Did I mention that my knight should be on c6?
Now I really had to do some thinking. I’m down a piece and a pawn, and I’m going to lose more pawns on the queenside because of his back-rank threats.


Fritz wants me to fork immediately with 22...Nd6 23.Qc5 (23.Qd7 Qxd5) 23...Nxc4 24.Qxc4. I regarded this as insufficient (Fritz rates White as ahead by 3.2 pawns) and went for a potentially bigger regain of material.

23.Qxb7 Nd6 24.Qxa6

Did I ever mention that it was stupid of me to push this pawn to a6? Did I?

24...Nxc4 25.Nf4??

Adam sees that if he recaptures on c4, I’ll capture on d5. But that just means that he should put that hanging piece on d5 to work first, and capture 25.Nxe7! Then there’s really no hope for me. Now I’m still nominally behind in material, but I have chances because his development is so poor. On the other hand, I still have back-rank problems and he’s got an a-pawn that’s pretty close to queening. Still not any easy game for either player.


He needs to move his e-pawn one or two spaces here and get his bishops out. But unfortunately I think he decided that defending the a-pawn was important. It is, I suppose, but not as much as his development. And if he can get the queens off along with that, so much the better: 26.e3 Nxa5 27.Qb5, hitting e8, and his remaining queenside pawns will roll me up.

26.Bd2?? Nxb2?

26...Nxd2 27.Kxd2 Qb4+ would have won the Nf4, but who’s calculating when I can just enter his position like this?


This is a pretty awful move, but it’s actually really difficult to play White’s position now. After 27.Nd3 Qxc2 28.Nxb2 Qxb2 29.e3 Qa1+, White loses coordination. So the very best move is 27.c3!!, so that White can play Nd3 on the next move without losing the c-pawn. Then 27. c3 Nd5 28.Nd3 Nxd3 29.Qxd3 and Fritz calls this position equal. These two are by far White’s best lines, which shows how careful he has to be here.

27...Qxc2 28.Qb5 (Maybe I’ll drop the rook) Rd8 29.Bb4 (Maybe I’ll drop the knight) Nf5
Now he’s making it obvious, but Adam’s actually been playing little one-mover threats for a long time now. It’s almost as if he’s caught my disease from earlier in the game.
30.a6 Qc1+ 31.Kf2 Nd1+
Yes, I actually missed a mate with 31...Qe3+ 32.Ke1 Rd1
32.Kg1 Nde3 33.Qb6

Okay, showtime! I’ve got one hell of a bind, and the Bf1 is evaporating, but my Rd8 is also hanging with mate, and I don’t want to put it on g8 and have him try to conjure some smothered mate (or Ng6+ & Q-h-file mate) or queening his a-pawn... I wanted it to be over, quickly and permanently. So I enlisted the help of Susan, the vastly underrated little girl on the other board (“Hey! That’s cheating!” said Adam) to check my calculations as I finished things off with checks.

33...Qxf1+ 34.Kh2 Ng4+!

Susan had not anticipated this, but she felt very proud of herself for being able to calculate that on 35.fxg4+ Qxf4+, 36. Kh3 Qg3 is mate, and if the white king steps back instead (before or after 26.g3 Qxg3+) then Rd1 mates. So Adam didn’t take the knight, but after

35.Kh3 Nf2+

Susan was shocked to discover that 36.Kh2 is met by Qh1#, so Adam played
and the rest of the game wasn’t that difficult.

What a fourth of July!
More games from the Skokie tournament that I won coming in a bit...