When amateur chess players start a game, they tend to think in terms of winning. They hope to find some combination that will wow their friends and leave their opponent in awe. They want to play a great game so they can show members of their club, tell their wife about it (who may not even play chess and will have no idea what you’re talking about), or post it on chess.com (or the famous site, www.icrushedmyopponent.com - please don’t get this confused with Crush My Battle Opponent’s Balls, which is a guitar solo by Dethklok lead guitarist Skwisgaar Skwigelf) so everyone can finally appreciate your genius! Clearly, in most cases, chess is about ego, domination, and self-aggrandizement.
Here’s an example that shows non-professional chess has nothing to do with chess beauty and everything to do with winning: You play some dude who’s a bit higher rated than you. He begins to scoop away your pieces, one by one. As things get more and more desperate, you try one trick after another but all it does is lose even more stuff. Finally you have one knight left. No pawns, no other pieces, just one lonely knight. You should have given up long ago, but you just don’t want to give Black the pleasure. It’s clear you’re going down, but you want to let him know just how much you despise him before folding up the board and slinking home like a beaten dog.
Your opponent wonders why you won’t resign, but instead of finishing you off (cause he also wants to crush, win, and humiliate you), he decides to have some fun and let you flounder about like a fish out of water.
And here something epic happens. Black plays 1...Nf5???? and pure joy rips through your body... a joy far deeper than what you felt at your wedding, and bliss more intense than when your first child was born. Your oblivious opponent is still smirking at you, though at this point he’s wondering why your whole body is shaking. Then you play 2.Ng4 mate, making sure to keep a close eye on him. You revel in the strange sounds coming from his throat, you marvel at the mutant-level tics cascading over his face. Good God! This could be the single greatest moment in your life!
However, the chess pro tends to avoid that kind of melodrama (thought it sounds like fun!). Instead of going into a frenzy about how I’ll smash my opponent, when the game starts a Zen-like state envelops me. I sometimes give a loving look to all my pieces. Much like a football game where the coach gets his players into the right mental state for combat, I want my pieces to know that I have faith in them, that I’ll do everything I can to make them all as powerful as possible, and have them look as elegant as possible as they glide down the board. It’s not about winning, it’s about making my pieces happy, and if I succeed in that, I know they will make me happy too – BY CRUSHING MY OPPONENT WITHOUT MERCY!
Now that I’ve freaked you all out, we can move on to the theme of this week’s article: Games with insane, surprising, or beautiful finishes! Fun stuff! No, you’re not going to learn much this time. Instead, it’s kind of like telling your kids, “You don’t have to go to school today. We’re going to stay home and eat gallons and gallons of ice-cream!”
Okay, it’s time to buckle up your seat belts, take your blood pressure medicine, and prepare yourself for a wild ride!
This was the last round game and if Irina won, she would be the new World Champion! I was the American team’s coach at this event, and was really happy for her. Since no parents or coaches were allowed near the players (ropes kept us at bay), I decided to hang out with Benko since the result seemed a foregone conclusion. Indeed, Irina was standing as her opponent pondered her hopeless situation, and as she waited, she began to sing a song: “I’m gonna be World Champion! I’m gonna be World Champion!” over and over and over.
Sitting with Benko downstairs, I was waiting for her to rush out in a state of pure joy, and was looking forward to giving her a hug and congratulating her on a magnificent performance. And rush out she did, hysterically screaming in agony and vanishing down the dark Slovak streets. Chaos ensued. What happened???
Here’s the answer:
The moral of the story: never lose concentration, and never think the game is over until your opponent resigns or is mated. This game was a tragedy (for anyone of any age), but Irina demonstrated her mental toughness by getting better and better (weaker minds might have given up chess completely). Now she’s one of the strongest female players on earth (and recently became a GM!).
In this position White resigned since ...Rbb3 followed by ...Rh3 mate seems a tad strong. However, there was a way out!
And now another story of horror and woe:
Here’s another example from my coaching days. Once again Benko was with me. I’ll quote my book, How to Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition:
“Since coaches were not allowed in the playing hall for fear that they would speak to players, Benko and I were watching from way up above in the balcony. Black has just played his queen to g2, checking White’s king. It’s clear that Black has a big advantage and we were sure Josh was going to win this game. After giving the check, he only had five minutes for the next few moves, but surely that would prove to be more than enough?”
“We had expected 1.Qxg2 though Black wins after 1...Rxg2+. However, 1.Qf2 seemed odd. How did we miss it? Then reality hit us both in the face – this simply hangs the h1-rook! Of course, it was clear that White wasn’t aware h1 was floating in the breeze, no doubt feeling that it was defended a moment ago and so ‘Black still can’t take it.’ Good news for us since now, after the obvious 1...Qxh1, White would resign and we could begin looking at the games of our other players.
“But no – instead of snapping off the free rook (followed by ...Rg2 to boot), Josh sank into deep thought. In fact, he seemed disturbed by 1.Qf2 – for some reason he thought this wasn’t possible (just like our initial reaction!) and couldn’t understand why it was now staring him in the face! One minute ticked by, then two, and it became clear that Josh had bought into White’s ‘he can’t take the rook’ delusion.
“Naturally we were both freaking out from our perch, and after a third minute passed, Benko started muttering, ‘Take the rook! Why isn’t he taking the rook?’ I told him to be quiet, but another thirty seconds went by (leaving Josh with just ninety seconds) and Pal, who had lost all control, started raising his voice as he repeated the rook mantra, ‘Take the rook! Why can’t he take the rook?’ Of course, the arbiters would not take kindly to the coaches sharing this kind of information, so I quickly grabbed Benko and dragged him away from our scene of anguish. After using up all but a minute (Black was clearly wondering, ‘How did I miss this defense?’), Josh finally played 1...Qg6??”
Josh went on to win that game. There is a moral, and it’s not, “If your opponent hangs a rook, take it!” I’ll let the readers figure out what the real moral is. (HINT: it’s about the folly of believing your opponent’s, usually unintentional, lies.)
In our next example, we have a position that is overwhelmingly winning for Black. Even worse, it’s Black’s move! There are many ways to end the game, but Black decided to keep things simple and played 1...Qxf3+??
Now you’re White. Good luck!
Black is obviously winning, the simplest being 48...Qg6 49.Rf8 Qe6 50.Rh8+ Kg6 51.gxf4 (51.Qxe6 is hopeless) 51...Re1+ 52.Kg2 Qa2+ mating. Instead, Black played 48...Qxg3 and waited for White to resign.
We’ll finish with the final series of moves from the game R. Catig (1500) – M. Mills (1500), San Francisco 1974. I’ve given this game in full in a much earlier article, but for those who haven’t seen it, the end of the game is eye opening and extremely enjoyable. Though any grandmaster would be proud to have played the moves that Mills (rated 1500) played, what makes this game so amazing is the fact that this game won the tournament brilliancy prize ahead of several grandmasters and international masters! It was even featured in a Russian compendium of the greatest brilliancies of all time!