Why I didn’t get home for dinner until 9 last night: a chess player’s apology

by admin on October 9, 2011

Yesterday I got together with Cole Ryan (see my post from last week) and Gjon Feinstein for some game analysis and speed chess.

We played 8-minute games with lots of analysis between, so we only had time for five games, which went more or less as you would predict. Gjon beat me 2-0 and Cole 2-0, I beat Cole 1-0 and fielded one irate phone call from my wife who wanted to know when I was coming home for dinner! (If you’re keeping score, that’s Kay 1, Dana 0.)

Here is one of my games against Gjon, where I botched a huge advantage. It’s an interesting line of the Marshall Defense to the Queen’s Gambit (one of my favorite dubious openings):

Gjon Feinstein — Dana Mackenzie

Skittles Game

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d5 3. cd Nxd5 4. g3 …

White goes for a Catalan-style development. Gjon has played this before against me and I think that some other people have as well. In true monkeys-typing-Shakespeare style, I was bound to figure out eventually what was wrong with it.

4. … Nc6 5. Bg2 e5!

That’s what’s wrong with it! If White wants to play it safe, you bop him in the nose.

6. Nf3 …

The most testing line is 6. de, of course, and I would have played 6. … Bb4+ 7. Bd2 Nxe5. It looks a little loose for Black, but computer analysis gives only a small edge to White after 8. Bxb4 Nxb4 9. Qa4+ Nbc6.

6. … Bb4+ 7. Kf1 e4 8. Ng5 …

Black to move.

Gjon really knows his openings, so this is about as bad a position after 8 moves as I’ve ever seen him in. He said he was surprised, too, at how disastrously his idea of 4. g3 and 5. Bg2 had turned out.

But … the game is far from over. What is Black’s best plan here? The move 8. … e3 is very tempting, but I eventually decided that it was fool’s gold. White would just play 9. Nf3 and after 9. …  ef 10, Kxf2 Black has given away his advantage for not so much. White can castle by hand with Rf1 and Kg1 and have a decent game.

So I played the calmer 8. … f5. It’s definitely unusual for me, in a blitz game, to go for the positional solution instead of the tactical one, but you know what? I was right! At least Rybka thinks so. It gives me a 1-pawn advantage after this move but only about a 0.4-pawn advantage after 8. … e3.

Unfortunately, I did not continue playing the best moves.

9. h4 O-O 10. e3 …

Black to move.

Again Black has a decision to make. Clearly he needs to finish developing, but where is the right place for his light-square bishop? This time I chose wrong. I played 10. … b6?, a real speed-chess move. I was attracted by the superficial glamor of developing my bishop with check. But so what? After Kg1, what is the bishop doing on a6? Not only that, by playing … b6 and … Ba6 Black has created two huge weaknesses, the knight on c6 and the square e6, which are both left undefended.

I should have applied the “sniff test” to this position. Black’s advantage is significant enough that he should not have to do something unusual, like … b6 and … Ba6. I should just continue in the most straightforward way, kicking the knight with 10. … h6 with the intention of 11. Nh3 Be6. The reason I didn’t play 10. … h6 was that I was concerned about 11. Qh5!?

Position after 11. Qh5 (analysis).

Lovers of Brian Wall’s Fishing Pole will appreciate White’s move. If 11. … hg 12. hg Black is S.O.L., if you know what I mean. White’s plan is g6 followed by checkmate on h7 or h8. At minimum Black has to give back the piece with 12. … Nf6.

But there is no reason that Black needs to go along with White’s plan! Instead of taking the poisoned knight, he can just go about his business with 11. … Qe8 12. Qxe8 Rxe8 13. Nh3 Be6, with an excellent position.

Instead of 10. … h6, the game went 10. … b6 11. Nc3 (setting a trap; he wants me to take on c3 and lose a piece due to the fork Qb3+) Ba6+ 12. Kg1 Bc4.

White to move.

Black’s last move stops the queen forks but not the knight fork! Here White should play 13. Ne6 Nxc3 14. Nxd8 Nxd1 15. Nxc6. An appropriate punishment for Black’s leaving the e6 and c6 squares undefended — White took advantage of both of them! The position is still a bit tricky — Black’s knight on d1 is trapped but it’s hard to see how White will attack it. Rybka suggests the maneuver Bf1, Kg2 and Bishop anywhere.

Surprisingly, Gjon didn’t play this and after the game he said he didn’t even think about it. He played 13. Qc2 instead and, after 13. … Nxc3 (maybe 13. … Bxc3 was better, keeping White’s position more securely bottled up) 14. bc Be7 he surprised me with 15. Nxe4! fe 16. Bxe4, winning three pawns for a piece due to the threat on Black’s knight on c6. So as you can see, he did punish me for my weakening move 10. … b6, albeit in a somewhat different way.

After 16. … Bd5 17. Bxh7+ Kh8 18. e4! I unfortunately don’t remember the rest of the game, as I was now very low on time. Basically he pushed his pawn to e5, I sacrificed the piece back even though I didn’t need to, and then I went down in flames.

Moral:  (1) Weaknesses matter, even when you’re ahead. Especially when you’re ahead. Try to find ways of securing your advantage without creating any unnecessary targets.

(2) Don’t forget to come home for dinner.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

RuralRob October 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I wonder if Kasparov ever had that “when are you coming home for dinner” problem? Maybe that is why he retired.


Ashish October 10, 2011 at 12:14 am

With all this promise of dinner … what was it?


admin October 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Well. To be honest, I was in charge of fixing my own dinner because I knew I was going to be home later than 5:30, which is when Kay likes to eat. I told her I’d probably get home around 7, so when it got to be past 8 she started to wonder. I think she was more worried that I wouldn’t go to the grocery store, which I was supposed to do on the way home. But that doesn’t make quite as good a story.


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