A Visit from the Dementors

by admin on May 4, 2008

How did J. K. Rowling know?

Here is someone who has probably never played a chess game in her life, never had the gut-wrenching experience of losing a game she should have won … and yet she describes perfectly how it feels. When the dementors come to visit Harry Potter, he feels as if they have sucked out all the joy from his body, and there will never be joy in the world again. That’s exactly how I felt after I lost my game against Juande Perea this afternoon.

In the Harry Potter books, the remedy for the dementors is a Patronus charm — you think of the most wonderful, uplifting thing that you can. After that, a good serving of chocolate will help you get over the residual effects.

I didn’t have a Patronus charm, but fortunately I have a very understanding wife who brought me chocolate, and I’m now over the worst of it. In fact, I have a new way of ranking chess losses: by how many squares of chocolate it takes to get over them. This one took me four squares (at least).

Okay, I know that you guys want to see the gory details, right? They are plenty gory. Oh yes, they are.

I went into the game with a great frame of mind. I was going to apply Jesse Kraai’s lesson, play a nice mainstream opening, take advantage of the dynamic imbalances and all that. And I think I more or less succeeded. But I still lost, because of my old nemesis, time trouble.

The opening (I was White) was a King’s Gambit Declined, and I got a very nice middlegame out of it. In fact, I missed at least one probable win along the way. But let’s jump all the way ahead to move 41. We have just gotten past the time control, which means I have plenty of time to think (the second time control was game in one hour). Here is the position:

This is quite possibly the position where I lost the game. It’s not that I played a bad move — in fact, the move I chose (41. h5) may in fact be White’s best. But I spent 25 minutes on it, which meant I had only 35 minutes for the rest of the game. I could have made this move in one minute! It’s the move I would have played after one minute, after five minutes, … But instead of just playing the darned move, I had to keep on analyzing to make sure I had seen everything.

The main point is that Black cannot play 41. … g5? because of 42. hg hg 43. Rh2+ Kg7 44. Kg2! g5 45. Qh3!! and mate on the h-file is unstoppable. Did you see this? By the way, a similar thing happens after 43. … Kg8.

However, there is another very interesting line, which Juande pointed out after the game. That is 41. Re2, which he thought was winning for White. Actually, Fritz disagrees; it says that after 41. … Qe6! (preventing e4-e5) Black is no worse off than in the other line. But Juande did see something here that I didn’t. After 41. Re2 I thought Black would just play 41. … Rd8, and my b-pawn is hanging. However, after 42. e5! Black cannot take the pawn. If 42. … Qxb5?? (the move I was afraid of) 43. Qxb5! Nxb5 44. e6! and Black loses big-time. Or if 42. … Nxb5, now the key is not 43. e6?, when 43. … Rxd5! 44. ef Qxf7 hangs on for Black (Fritz says it’s equal), but instead 43. ef! and White is finally breaking down Black’s kingside.

Well, I think you can agree that this is a very complex position, and probably worth 5 or 10 minutes of study. But I think that I should give myself an ironclad rule from here on: never take more than 10 minutes on a move. It’s almost never worth it. Especially in a sudden-death time control like this one.

Okay, so the game continued 41. h5 Qd8 42. Nb4 Qf8 43. Nc6 Nb7 44. Qc3 (a planless move; I should just have played 44. Ra2. If he plays 44. … Nc5, I just play 45. Qc4 and chase his knight back.) 44. … Qd6 45. Rcf2 Nd8, and we get to our next key position.

Here again I think I played a good move, although perhaps not the best. I really should have looked harder at 46. Nxd8, because it’s the most forcing line. After 46. Nxd8 Rxd8 47. e5 fe 48. de Qd3+ 49. Qxd3 Rxd3+ 50. R2f3. This is actually really terrible for Black, because a swap of rooks leads to a won endgame for White, a point that I did not fully appreciate. And if Black tries the tricky 50. … Rxf4 51. Rxd3, now he has to defend mate and his rook on f4 is hanging. Fritz comes up with 51. … g5 here; nevertheless, I think that White is clearly winning.

Instead I played 46. d5, which I think was a pretty good move. If Black tries 46. …. Nb7? I hit him with 47. Ne5! (one of the points of 46. d5). So 46. … Nxc6 was pretty much expected, and now I played 47. Qxc6! I really liked this point. White is not at all afraid of trading queens, because in the endgame Black will still have a lot of trouble coordinating his rooks, and he will have to deal with the continuing threats of g5 and h6. To me, this was a good example of weighing the dynamic imbalances correctly.

But now my time was getting agonizingly low. After 47. … Qxc6 48. bc (another tough decision) I was down to 10 minutes for the rest of the game. Yes, I have squandered 50 minutes just on the last 8 moves! The game continued 48. … Rd6 49. g5 Kg8 and we get to our last key position.

Here my gut instinct was to play 50. Ra2, which would have been a good move. The point is that Black still can’t play 50. … fg? because of 51. Ra8+. So Black has to defend the first rank with 50. … Rd8, and now after 51. Ra7 White is still in complete control, and probably winning. But then I suddenly saw a cheapo: if I play 50. gf R6xf6? 51. Rxf6 Rxf6?? 52. Rxf6 gf, then White wins with 53. d6! And so, with less than 5 minutes now on my clock, I played 50. gf. This is again not really a blunder, but the problem was that I had no plan for what to do if Black didn’t fall into the cheapo. And he didn’t. He played 50. … gf.

And now the dementors started circling.

I had no idea what to do. According to Fritz, 51. Kf3 is good, and 51. h6 is even better. Basically, White has to anticipate that Black’s main threat is … f5, so he should bring his king over to defend the pawns.

But the dementors were circling, and I no longer could think rationally. I played 51. Rg4+? Kf8 52. Ra2 f5! 53. Ra8+ Ke7 54. Rgg8? (54. Rf4 is forced, with a probable draw) fe 55. Rge8+ Kf6 56. Kf4? (Don’t ask why. I can no longer think rationally.) 56. …. Rxd5 57. Rad8?? Rxd8 and now I resigned, because 58. Rxd8 Ke7+ wins my rook.

Aaaagh! The dementors! Aaaaa … aaaa … aaa … aa … a …

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Carina May 10, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Haha, the dementors are a really good way to describe it. When death is imminent on the chessboard, it feels like dying emotionally too, atleast until you get away from the board. Then you can wonder about why we play a game that has, lurking within it, such a big potential to crush you. I guess it’s like with any other addiction – there can be no withdrawal once you’ve gotten used to its benefits and used to compensating for its costs. 😀 Who would want to withdraw anyway!?


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: