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Chess is Hard, Part One

I recently played in a chess tournament in Guernsey, the largest (relatively speaking) of the Channel Islands. It was an up and down tournament, and many of the games demonstrate why Chess Is Hard(tm), at least for me. 

For example, in my third round game vs Ton Goris (one of several very nice Dutch players/tourists at this event) I found it difficult to be objective in complicated positions, and several times succumbed to the temptation to play "aggressive" moves when better, more sensible, alternatives were available.

John Chernoff (2140) vs Ton Goris (2000), 37th Guernsey Open 2011:

1.Nf3

This is an unusual move for me, but I managed to discover that my opponent plays the French and I wished to avoid "Frenchy" lines at all cost.  As we shall see, however, the French are not so easily avoided.

1...Nf6 2.b3 e6 3.Bb2 d5 4.e3 Be7

At this point d4 and Bd3 takes the game into fairly "regular" channels, but I in my two hundred points higher rated egotism felt that I should play as aggressively as possible and not blunt the long diagonal.  As things turned out, however, my b2 Bishop had little reason to be grateful.

5.Ne5 Nbd7 6.f4 Nxe5 7.fxe5 Nd7

Lo and behold, we have a French anyhow, at least as far as Black is concerned!  The 1600 player in me now just wants to put a B on d3 and a Q on h5 and somehow mate, but of course none of that actually works and in the meantime I'm uncastled, under-developed and Black is almost ready for the usual ...f6 break and other standard Gaulish operations.

8.d4 c5

The inconspicuous beginnings of an audacious idea.

9.Bd3 cxd4 10.exd4 Bb4+

This move, which looks absolutely silly, has a shocking idea behind it which Black only just managed to analyse himself out of...

11.c3 Be7

...and so the whole drama remains backstage.  Black's original concept was ...Qh4+ g3 Qxd4?!! when, alas, Qe2! Ba5 b4 seems to win a piece, albeit at the cost of several valuable pawns.  In my opinion Black, having gone Bb4+, should have continued this way regardless, especially as the road he chose instead was certainly no less perilous.

12.O-O f5 

This is where the commentator generally says something like "Not good, but Black's game was difficult anyhow". However, from a psychological view, this is deceptive: the relief I felt after ...f5 (or really after O-O) was quite dangerous - all my worries (...Qh4+, ...f6, even ...c4 bc dc Bxc4 Nb6 and ...Nd5) were gone and smooth sailing beckoned; all was right in the universe and my two hundred rating points were asserting themselves as if through some sort of Newtonian law.  Alas, for every action, an equal and opposite reaction occurs, at least in my games.

13.g4!

After this move, my self congratulation and inner smugness shifted to levels hitherto unknown outside of Libertarian Fundraising Dinners.  I calculated ...g6 gxf5 exf5 Bxf5! gxf5 Qh5+ Kf8 Rxf5+ Nf6 exf6! Bxf5 fxe7+ Qxe7 Ba3! and preemptively awarded myself a brilliancy prize while my opponent went into what I took to be one last regretful think about how badly things had gone wrong for him.

13...Qb6

Wait a sec. ...g6 wasn't forced?  My opponent isn't simply there as a prop in a play written with me as the protagonist?  Hrumph!

This was, in retrospect, the psychological apex of the game: though ...Qb6 is hardly solving Black's problems, it was nonetheless an unwelcome reminder that, even in highly abstracted microcosms of reality such as chess, the world still somehow manages to refuse to revolve around me and my desires.

14.gxf5?

A truly terrible move in every sense: tactically, positionally, even morally.  White is essentially throwing a bit of a tantrum with this: I was denied my "brilliancy" after ...g6 and couldn't cope with the tedious reality before me, even though it was in fact a practically winning reality after the simple Kh1.  In fact, I actually wrote Kh1 on my scoresheet as if to say, "Yes, I see that Kh1 is winning, but such a win is beneath me and I shall instead make a grand romantic gesture so that all may bask in my artistry".  In other words, I was a perfect git.

14...Nxe5 15.Qh5+ Kd8

It was probably somewhere around this point that I suddenly realised I was not actually Frank Marshall and that my position was about as romantic as a flatulent yak.  To my credit and surprise however, I did not completely despair and found a decent try in time pressure.

16.fxe6 Nxd3 17.Qxd5+ Qd6 18.Qxd6+ Bxd6 19.Ba3

I was pretty sure the Knight was trapped on d3 at this point (the endpoint more or less of the line begun with fxe6), but of course things are never quite that simple and Black has several ways to muck up the issue, like 19...Bf4 20.Rf3 Bxe6 21.Rxd3 Bg4 22.c4 Re8 23.Nc3 Re3 24.Rxe3 Bxe3+ 25.Kg2 Bxd4 26.Rf1 with an ongoing mess.

19. ...Ke7 20.Bxd6+ Kxd6

After the terrors of that last half dozen moves White is finally close to winning back the d3 Kt and emerging with an at least slightly better endgame.  Or is he?!  Suddenly Nd2 (to "prevent" g5 and collect the d3 Kt) isn't quite so simple after ...g5 Ne4+ Kd5! Nxg5 Rg8 Rf5+ Kd6 Kh1 Nf2+! and thus the weirdness continues, only now with both players in increasingly acute time pressure.

21.Na3!?

21. ...Bxe6

Black understandably decides to return the piece rather than face the random complications of ...g5.  That said, psychology is definitely in play here as well - while generally speaking a lower rated player does well to create "confusing" positions so long as they are genuinely confusing and not simply bad, at this point Black probably felt as if the ground had been shifting underneath himself for long enough.  Certainly I felt that way, but unfortunately I had no choice but to threaten obscure complications should Black insist upon collecting his wayward steed, like 21...g5 22.Nb5+ Kc6 23.c4 Bxe6 24.Rad1 Nf4 25.d5+ Bxd5 26.Nd4+ Kc5 27.cxd5 Rhg8 28.Ne6+ Kd6 29.Kh1 Nxd5 30.Rf5 Kxe6 31.Rdxd5 with a perpetual headache.

22.Rf3 Nb2 23.Rb1 Bg4?

This is bad though.  Simply Nd1, when something like Nc4+ Bxc4 bxc4 Nxc3 Rxc3 b6 occurs and the earth continues turning.

24.Rg3 Nd1

25.Nc4+

Better was 25.Nb5+! Kc6 26.Rxg4 Ne3 27.Rg5, but such subtleties were going increasingly unappreciated in ever looming zeitnot.

25...Kc7 26.Rxg4 Nxc3 27.Rxg7+ Kc6 28.Re1 Rae8

There were various other options for both sides in the last few moves but given our mutual time pressure it's hard to criticise the obvious moves we both chose. That said, Rae8 looks wrong (I expected Rhg8) though it did cause me to spend my remaining few minutes trying to find a clean win.  Probably the simplest is something beginning with Ne5+, keeping both rooks on and avoiding Ne2+. Instead I went for the h pawn...

29.Rxe8 Rxe8 30.Ne5+ Kb6 31.Rxh7 Ne2+ 32.Kf2 Nxd4 33.Nc4+ Kc6

At this point I've practically no time left and still several moves to make before the time control at move forty.  Perhaps philosophising about things earlier in the game was a bad idea.  Ah, well.  In practical terms, I'm guessing White's best try is to forget hunting the King and simply consolidate with Ne3, but a modest move like that is hard to make when Black seems only a well placed check away from disaster.

34.Na5+ Kb6 35.b4 Re2+ 36.Kg3 Rxa2 37.Rxb7+ Ka6

With seconds to spare, White notices that there's no mate and simply flails his way to a draw.

38.Rd7

Slightly better is 38.Rb8, though Ra3+ 39.Kg4 Re3! 40.h4 Re4+ seems to hold.

38...Nc2 39.Nc6 Kb6 40.Rd6 Kb5

Time control has mercifully arisen, but thinking isn't of much use anymore for the position is almost certainly drawn.  That said, a nearly disastrous sequence occurs here due to a silly misunderstanding: both I and my opponent expected the clocks to show extra time after the fortieth move but they did not, showing instead a few seconds for me and a few minutes for him.  Therefore, in a bit of a panic, I played the next two moves:

41.Nd4+ Kxb4 42.h4

At this point we both realised the clocks only display extra time once the original allotment expires.  However, for a moment I thought I overlooked Kc5 (since I, in fact, had), though Nf5 of course preserves the tattered remnants of White's dignity.

42...Nxd4 43.Rxd4+ Kc3 44.Rd7 a5 45.h5 Re2 46.h6 Re6 47.h7 Rh6 48.Kf4 a4 49.Rc7+ Kb2 50.Rb7+ Ka2 51.Kg5 Rh1 52.Kg6 a3 53.Rb5 Rxh7 54.Kxh7 Ka1 55.Kg6 a2

1/2-1/2

Things to learn from this game:

1) Violence isn't always the answer.

2) Though violence isn't always the answer, sometimes violence IS the answer.

3) Perhaps another way to say the above is this: sometimes you have to be brave, sometimes you have to be practical, and knowing when to be which is part of what makes a good player.

4) Don't give up when things go awry - you're not the only one who finds chess hard.

***

P.S. -> Here's the entire game to play through:

 

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