Playing chess can be a bit like swimming in the surf. Everything may look safe enough above the breakers but all manner of nasties lie below.
Visitors to Australia often ask about the danger of shark attack, but those are so rare that most locals disregard the possibility altogether. To make the clichéd connection to being hit by lightning, during the 1980s in Oz we averaged one death by shark attack per year compared to 1.7 deaths by lightning. (I had something to say about being struck by lightning in my newspaper column a few years ago, but I doubt if anybody took me very seriously.)
Much more prevalent in the Australian surf is the dreaded bluebottle—a stinging jellyfish that invades the beach in great numbers when there's an onshore wind.
Bluebottles can also crop up unexpectedly on the chess board, and that can be either good or bad. It depends on who gets stung.
In a recent game my opponent had me in all kinds of trouble. His attack was strong and I had struggled for some moves to keep my queen on the sixth rank where she could defend my f6 pawn and the king that sheltered behind it.
In the diagrammed position white played 32.g3 hoping to force Bxe5 when, after dxe5, his queen, bishop and pawns would make short work of my defences. Unfortunately there were some bluebottles in the water in the form of the b7 bishop and my ambitious pawn on e4. So, 32...e3+ breaks communication with the rooks and opens the game to a a veritable swarm of bluebottles. After 33.Nf3 e2 threatens to queen, for the the knight is now pinned—and the rest of the game played itself. I was lucky to win this one, but it only takes one careless move for the bluebottles to ruin your day.
Here's a tragicomedy I had to work hard to lose. I was having a lovely time walking white's king down the board when the wind changed direction and the bluebottles came rolling in. I had actually succeeded in forcing his king onto perhaps the only square where he was completely protected, and left him with double mating threats. He had 32.Rc8# and 32.Qxe6+ with mate next move. It was time to get out of the water!
Five-minute games are wonderful breeding grounds for bluebottles and there were lots swimming around in the next game. It was played on the now-defunct World Chess Network. I played 19.Qg2 trying to keep my queen on the board and black replied with an immediate check. Once again I tried to keep the queen by interposing a knight but when, two moves later, he brought rook and bishop to bear on f2, threatening my queen and the knight she protected, it was time to head for the surf and hope the bluebottles would get him.
This final swim on the chessboard wasn't one of my games at all, but was played by my good friend Pirc. It was played in the Rooty Hill Chess Club Championship a couple of years ago. There are more bluebottles in this one than you'd find at Bondi Beach on a long weekend. I was talking to Pirc about it the other day and she said that she tried to talk herself out of sacrificing a rook on move 18 because “this is supposed to be a serious game”. She sacrificed it anyway, and the rest was just good fun. It's worth noting that when she played this game her ACF rating was below 1450.