Amazing chess club today at the Aptos Library! First, we had 22 kids and once again had to use just about every set in the house. And it isn’t just that we are getting more kids in the past; it also seems to me as if they understand chess better. The quality of their answers during my lessons is higher than it used to be.
The other amazing thing was the following game that I played with Linnea Nelson. I’ve mentioned her several times before; she has a USCF rating of 1350 or so, which is hard for me to understand, for reasons you’ll see below.
So we got to this position, where I’m White and I am totally busted. It would be too embarrassing to show you how we got to this point. The cool thing is what happened next.
FEN: 3r2k1/pp3pbp/4b1p1/2p1Pp2/3n1P2/qBN1Q3/2P1N1PP/1R5K b – - 0 21
Here I was expecting 21. … Nxb3 22. ab, after which Black of course has a huge advantage and a great game. But Linnea surprised me with 21. … Nxe2!?, which objectively is probably not quite as good. But it sets up some neat tactics. Of course if 22. Nxe2 c4 wins a piece. It also looks as if 22. Qxe2 c4 wins a piece, but if I had looked deeper I would have realized that 23. Nb5! saves it. After either 23. … Qb4 or 23. … Qc5 White can play 24. Ba2 and survive for the time being, although of course Black is still much better in the long run.
However, I was playing in speed-chess mode, with superficial one-move-deep analysis, so I didn’t see any of this. Instead I played 22. Nb5?? immediately, thinking that I was being clever. I was expecting something like 22. … Qa5 23. Qxe2.
That’s when Linnea sprang her surprise…
FEN: 3r2k1/pp3pbp/4b1p1/1Np1Pp2/5P2/qB2Q3/2P1n1PP/1R5K b – - 0 22
How does Black end the game right here?
(Space inserted so that you can think about it.)
(More space inserted so that you can’t cheat.)
The coup de grace is 22. … Qb2!!
Of course if I take the queen I’m mated on the back rank. I should have just resigned, but I played 23. Re1 and then after 23. … Nd4 I resigned, because I’m down a piece (and two pawns) with no counterplay.
Now you can see why I’m so mystified by the struggles Linnea has had in rated tournaments and the fact that her rating is only 1350. What kind of 1350 player comes up with moves like this?
But at the same time, I was thrilled to see her play this move, and indeed the whole idea beginning with 21. … Nxe2. It’s so characteristic of Linnea’s style. She doesn’t settle for just being two pawns up — she is always looking for more. She wants to win a piece, or to get a checkmate. I don’t think you can teach that kind of uncompromising search for the truth; it comes from within the student.
I’ll conclude with a famous position:
FEN: 3r2k1/p4ppp/1q6/8/8/2R1P3/P3QPPP/6K1 b – - 0 29
The game was Osip Bernstein vs. Jose Raul Capablanca, played 99 years ago (1914). Bernstein probably thought he had a slight advantage. But here Capablanca uncorked one of the greatest moves in chess history. What was it? And what does this have to do with Linnea’s game?