Post-Mortems: Would you like fries with that?

Aug 21, 2009, 10:05 PM |

"The mistakes are all there, waiting to be made..."

                                                            -Savielly Grigorievitcyh Tartakower 

I am a regular customer at Burger King and McDonalds and whenever you go to one of the stores and you order something, they would usually ask, "Would you like fries with that sir/madam?" Although, since I live in Singapore they have a different way of asking but anyway, back to the fries topic. Just recently, I booted up my computer and loaded my Chessmaster XI (also known as Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition) and challenged the Chessmaster to a game. I was playing white.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. 0-0 Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 0-0 8. c3 d5

The position reached is the famous Marshall Gambit, a pet line of GM Alexey Shirov. I usually play the Sicilian (I know most of the lines involving 2. Nf3) or the Ruy Lopez however, I have never in my chess life encountered the Marshall Gambit before. Not knowing the bookline, I made moves I thought was logical. I continued 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxe5 Nxe5 11. Rxe5 c6Later, I found out that this was mainline and after 11... c6 we had reached the Marshall Counter-attack line 11... c6. Following the "Ruy Lopez" style, I pushed 12. d4The reply was simple, one I had expected. 12. ... Bd6. I replied 13. Re1?!, my first mistake in my opinion. Chessmaster's analysis says that there is nothing wrong with 13. Re1 (in fact it is a book line), however, in my opinion 14. Re4! was better, temporarily preventing 14. ... Qh4Then, 14. ... f5 15. Re1 Qh4 16. h3! when black no longer has the dangerous sacrifice 16... Bxh3!.

Anyway, back to the position after 13. Re1, Chessmaster XI played 13. ... Qh4, a scary looking move, threatening to win a pawn (not mate as the rook is not on f1, blocking the king's escape route) and launching a large attack. I played my first major mistake. Chessmaster's analysis agrees with me that 14. h3? was a bad move. 14. h3? was like me ordering a Whopper (as in a large attack). I thought that 14. h3 could prevent the attack but I was wrong. Chessmaster XI, after a half-minute think, played 14. ...Bxh3! asking me if I wanted fries with my attack. He sacrificed a bishop and opened my king's position like a can of sardines. Instead, I should have played 14. g3, declining the fries but I thought that with Black's light-squared bishop still on the board, my light squares would be a weakness especially after 14... Qh3, but then, being too stressed I didn't find the line 15. Re4! threatening to trap the queen after 16. Rh4, 15...Qf5 16. Bc2 Qf6 17. Rh4 Bf5 18. Bxf5 Qxf5 19. Nd2 when White has a slight lead in development and the more solid pawn structure. After 15. gxh3? Qxh3 I say yes to the fries with 16. Nd2?? and then I effectively lose the game to a mate in 4 after 16... Bh2+ 17. Kh1 Bg3+ 18. Kg1 Qh2+ 19. Kf1 Qxf2#. A short, painful loss. I didn't even reach the 20 move mark.

Looking back, even though I did play a bad middle game, I could have survived the onslaught if I had kept my head cool and played the move 15. Bxd5!. I was so focused on the attack that I neglected my only developed piece, the bishop on b3 and I should have traded it for the knight on d5. Then after 15... cxd5 16. Bxh3 Qxh3 17. f4!, I have an okay position which I could have held if I had played more carefully.

16. Nd2?? was also a mistake. I was expecting 16... Qxh2+ followed by a mad king chase which I thought I could survive, but then, the hammer blow came, not with the Queen, but instead with 16... Bh2+! when the Queen on h3 cuts of my escape square on f1 and it ended with a beautiful mate in 4, although it was I who was on the receiving end. A nice whopper and fries though, I have to admit.

Alas, I have learnt my lesson (or lessons). 1) Keep a cool head when defending, it allows you to spot defensive resources that you wouldn't find if you were playing haphazardly 2) When defending, sometimes you have to make concessions so that you can end up with a hold-able position. 3) Sometimes it's best to just skip the fries.