Life Imitates Chess Imitates Baseball
by FM Andy Lee
It’s become rather clichéd to blame sporting obsessions for distracting certain players during major chess tournaments. Short draws are attributed to a player’s desire to retire to the hotel bar to watch the latest soccer or cricket match. I’ve never quite understood this phenomenon; despite being a rather passionate baseball fan, I’ve never found chess and sports to interfere much with one another.
That said, some friends of mine from Cincinnati had purchased tickets to the Giants-Reds day game on Wednesday, and I went with them to engage in one of life’s purest pleasures, trash taking. The Giants, as I’ve come to expect, were down 10-1 by the third inning, and I was wishing that I could go back home across the bay, which I might have done had I not been in the USCL lineup that evening. My Cincy buddies were enjoying themselves immensely and trying to get me to drink beer; perhaps they were Dallas Destiny fans as well. I ignored them politely and hand some garlic fries and a lemonade.
Anyway, since I’m sure at some point you want to get to the chess, the Giants came back and took an 11-10 lead, only to blow the lead in the ninth and go into extra innings. (Doesn’t blowing a one run lead feel a lot like going into a pawn up ending and hanging the extra pawn?) And so we slogged on … tenth inning, eleventh. And at some point I realized that we were getting close to 5 o’clock, and it was going to take me a good 20 minutes to exit the stadium and bike on over to the Mechanics’ Institute. And there I am, sunburned, hoarse from screaming, bloated from garlic fries, trying to read an opening book in the upper deck while Barry Zito is giving up screaming line drives.
I ended up leaving before the game was over, proving that the expected disapproving tut-tutting from team captain John Donaldson was more frightening than the baseball game was enticing. I somehow managed to switch my baseball-addled mind over to chess mode, switched off the auto-queen feature on Blitzen, indulged in a few garlic heavy burps, and settled in for an evening of chess.
The opening in my game was moving at a nice molassesy speed, so I had ample opportunity early on to wander about and annoy my teammates by looking over their shoulders. Patrick had some sort of Sicilian on Board 1 – he was down a pawn but his knights were everywhere but his opponent’s bishop was strong but Patrick’s queen was centralized … anyway, that was about the time I decided to stop looking at his game (since I didn’t have a clue what was happening) and just go based on his facial expressions. Did glasses off mean that he had traded queens? Did rubbing his eyes mean that he was unhappy or just sleepy? Tough to tell.
Danya’s game on board two stressed me out even more. You know it’s a bad sign when you’re thinking about the other guy’s game: “Hey, that guy’s opening looks pretty strong; I might start playing 1.d4 again just so I can play it!” I mean, who can resist playing g4 at some point in every queen pawn opening?
(Bercys-Naroditsky after 14.Rg1; I am perturbed by white's kingside formation)
My assessment of Steven’s game on board three was also based on gut reactions. When he was down an exchange, I was a little sad for him. When he won the exchange back again, I was happy. When he was down the exchange again, well, you can guess how I felt. (Besides feeling that either I was insane and he had never won the exchange back in the first place or that these guys had missed the chess lesson where they tell you about how the castles are worth five and the pointy ones and the horseys are three apiece.)
My game, fortunately, was rather clear cut. White cannot be happy about taking on d5 and breaking up his ideal center; however, he tried to justify the decision by hanging on to the d5 pawn. This idea, 10.Qb3, appears to have been the critical mistake, since after 10… Nf5 white cannot castle: 11.00 Bxf3 12.Bxf3 Nxd4 with a terrible discovered check coming.
(Lopez-Lee after 10.Qb3 and Nf5; the d4 pawn is quite weak)
After 11.Ne5 Nxd4 12.Qd1 Bf5 my pieces swarmed in: 13.Bd3 Re8 14.Kf1 Qh4 15.Be3 f6, although white avoided a couple of checkmates: one unlucky line was 16.Nf3 Bxd3+ 17.Qxd3 Nxf3 18.Bxb6 Re1+ 19.Rxe1 Qxe1#. He instead played 16.Bxf5 Nxf5 17.Bxb6 axb6, but then had to avoid 18.Nf3 Ne3+ 19.Kg1 Nxd1 20.Nxh4 Re1#. Nevertheless, the result was never really in doubt.
(Lopez-Lee analysis; a checkmate that remained hidden in the wings)
Steven had already drawn by the time I was finished (after a nifty display of tactics from both sides), and Danya had exerted his will through some magical pawn sacrifice on g4 that involved trading his bad pieces, activating his good ones, stopping the kingside attack, and crippling his opponent’s pawn structure. A neat rook penetration lead to zugzwang and victory.
Somehow Patrick also pulled out his game, although he mentioned that it probably wouldn’t make his best games collection. He was kicking himself for not playing 18.Nxd6 at the critical moment.
(Wolff-Wang: the critical moment after black's 17th)
Then 18… Qxd6 19.Nf6+ is ugly, and 18… Bxd5 19.Qxe5 Ne4 20.Nf5 is devastating. But then Danya suggested 18… Ne4, which, besides being aesthetically pleasing, is also a hell of a move. (Or so it appeared last night, feel free to bash holes in it with your electronic devices.)
One other wild moment from Patrick’s game: our trusty TD Payam Tanaka suggested that instead of 46.Rxb4 that Patrick could have played 46.c6.
(Wolff-Wang after 45... Nd7)
I brilliantly pointed out that white’s rook is hanging and that there might be more important things to do than to play pawn moves, to which Payam said 46… Nxb8 47.c7! Oops! So then I tried to take the knight (if nothing else, I can take a hanging piece when I see one). But 46… Rxd4 47.c7! However, black can weasel out of it now: 47… Nb6 48.Rxb6 Rc4. And in the light of day, I also see that 46… Rxc6 47.Nxc6 Nxb8 is a clever line as well, since 48.Nxb8 b3 turns the tables. Oh well … just like some baseball comebacks (the Giants lost 12-11 in 12 innings), some variations just aren’t quite meant to work out, no matter how beautiful they appear.