Thursday, December 15, 2005

November, 2005

A Mental Glitch, A Master Scalp

Playing at a local club in New Jersey, I reached this position from a Slav Defense that had gone tactical very early in the game. I had the black pieces and time control was set at G/90. A closed, positional game usually arises from a Slav Defense, but my opponent's early pawn-grabbing opened up the queenside for some active play. The white king castled long, and it is on its original square only because black's queenside attack of queen and rook chased it back there.

At this point, the 20th move and only 15 minutes on our clocks, our game began to attract the attention of a few kibitzers and fellow competitors. Much to the displeasure of my master-rated opponent, they hovered over our board, stroked their chins in contemplation, and scratched their heads in disbelief. They gawked at this most unsettling picture. Indeed, it was obvious that an upset was brewing on board 5. In fact, in this position, barring any gross blunder by black, white is already lost. The attention embarrassed my opponent considering that I was rated only at 1700. A player rated 300 points above his opponent is expected to win hands down everytime. In this match-up, the point spread was 500. That meant that I had no practical chance of beating him, but chess is full of theories and moments of ooops and uh ohs. Once in a while, the fickle finger of fate allows the tail to wag the dog and the bear to trap the hunter. It is not pure conjecture when I say that my opponent underestimated me, for he made his moves quickly. Clearly, he was impatient to make true the foregone conclusion that he will win.

If being at the losing end of an upset was disconcerting to the master, then missing a forced mate was equally disappointing to me. Black was threatening mate at D2. White played the desperate 20. Be2 ( diagram ) to make room for his king's escape. I had seen this move in my analysis and even calculated that it would lead to a forced mate. Thus, 20. Be2 was a losing move, and I made a mental note of it. The queen move 20. Qd1 would lose immediately to 20... Qf2#. Alternatively, 20. Nf3, attacking the black queen and protecting the D2 square, also fails against 20... Qf2+ 21. Kd1, Rb1#. These two continuations underscore how desperate white's position has become, only a ground-shaking, heart-stopping, gross blunder by black could turn the table around. If tactics dont get the job done, then black's passed C pawn would have put on a strangulating squeeze on white. White neglected to develop his pieces, spending his valuable tempi going after a mere pawn. In the position shown, he is actually a pawn down instead of a pawn up. A reversal of fortune, as some might put it.

But in the world of mental notes and electrical brain messages, there is also shortcircuitry. I refer to this phenomenon in the most mundane term---forgetfulness. Those who are in their middle-ages are prone to bouts of forgetfulness. Forgetting a line of analyses, allowing one's attention to be diverted, and not re-checking a previous calculation are all signs of acute dementia. However, more realistically, my problem with short-term memory is to blame. I can remember things quite well if they are distant enough in time, but a phone number or address put to memory 5 minutes ago will be lost forever.

Anyway, let's go back to the game. I played 20... Qc3+ 21. Kf1, Rb1+ 23. Bd1, Qd2 24. g3, Rd1+ 25. Kg2, Qd5+ and white resigned. As you can see, the line I chose was good enough to close the deal but there is the matter of efficiency. It was not the most efficient way to win. That brings us back to the line that leads to a mate by force. Again, from the position shown, 20...Qd2+, 21. Kf1, Rb1+ 22. Bd1, Rd1+ 23. Qd1, Qd1#

Understandly, my opponent left the playing hall in a huff although he resigned with grace and made no attempts at mitigating his loss nor demeaning my win. Till the next time...


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