Luck be a Lady Tonight
“You were lucky in that game!”
Certainly something that all chess players have heard from friend and foe alike. I’ve certainly made the comment once or twice in the past, to friend rather than opponent (manners maketh man), and with my sporadic and sacrificial style of play a few friends have grinned and stated ‘damn you’re lucky’.
It was during my latest bout, a league match versus an 1850, that my opponent missed a mate after a gruelling game. It had been a constant battle between equally matched players. I had arrived five minutes late but calmly seated myself and filled in the necessities of the scoresheet before giving my opponent’s hand a shake and taking noting his queen pawn move; The King’s Indian it was. Some time later I was holding my breath and picturing my hand knocking over the king with a ‘good game’.
The reason for this can be seen in the diagram. The position shows the deadlock that we had engrained ourselves into, frustrating as I had slowly achieved equality and then the advantage only to let things slide. In the new situation, his knight was looking more appealing with the matrix of pawns and my bishop certainly had no targets thanks to it’s colour. Nevertheless it was a drawn position and I should have ignored my thirst for victory. Ah if only.
I’d spotted the mistake a few moves ago so I will accuse the late hours of my stupidity. I knew this move couldn’t be made and yet saw it as the only way to progress: open the f5-e4 diagonal for my king to slip in and target the a2 pawn. I became too focused and then forgot his simple winning move of:
Taking back would result in a past pawn for white on the h file and whilst the black king can retreat to stop the pawn he can no longer stop the e pawn as it pushes on. I almost froze in horror as soon as I put the piece down. The game was over. Two hours of play (granted some games go on for a lot longer but late in the night it was a lot for me) had all been wasted and now he would finish me off with a simple quick exchange. He was even contemplating it, checking for the trap that I had set down, counting out the moves that my king could make but in the end his conclusion would be the same as mine. Sadly I examined the position. I’d have to leave him have the bishop and then a minor piece down I’d be slaughtered. Poker faced I tried to look nonchalant.
Amazement and relief washed over me and, as I gobbled up the pawn, I knew the game was now in my favour as my king would race to the opponent’s a pawn. Not a game over but a game saved.
Afterwards, my opponent stated that I was lucky and for a while I agreed. But what is luck in chess? There is no random deal of a shuffled card or roll of a dice. Each move is thought out by the player, calculated and conceived not picked from the air. In a chess game we more or less start as equals, or to be more accurate with white having a slight advantage, and should neither player make a mistake the end result will be a draw. Its not just our strengths that decide our likelihood of winning, but also our weaknesses. Those who make more errors are more likely to lose, this trait also being part of what defines their standard and grade in chess. So the next time someone is ‘lucky’ ask yourself this: was it Fortunawho enveloped the player in her arms or was it someone’s mistake that cost the game? I think you’ll find its the later.