Hallucinations and Beauty

by admin on August 26, 2014

At Mike Splane’s chess party I showed a game I played against Paul Richter (a teen-aged expert and soon-to-be master, with a rating around 2180) that I’m also planning to give a ChessLecture on. The game had a beautiful finish, but I also had a curious blind spot that might have cost me the victory if my opponent had played the best move.

richter 1Position after 41. Bh6. Black to move.

FEN: n3b2k/5q1p/4pP1B/pp1pP2p/2pP4/P1P3Q1/1PB5/7K b – – 0 41

We have just passed the time control (Black with only 4 seconds to spare) and both players can breathe again. The question is whether Black has any way to save the game.

I had mentally been thinking of the game as over for about the last four or five moves, so it was with a sense of horror that I realized Black could play 41. … h4! here. If 42. Qxh4 Qh5! I have to trade queens, and after 43. Qxh5 Bxh5 44. Bf8 Nb6! 45. Bc5 Na4! 46. Bxa4 (alas, White has no other way to defend the b2 pawn) ba the opposite-color bishops endgame is a dead draw, even if the computer continues to believe that White has a 1-pawn advantage.

Somehow I thought that was the end of the story, and so when I presented the game at Mike’s party I asked, “How can Black save the game?” The move 41. … h4 was suggested pretty quickly. Strangely, perhaps because of the way I asked the question, nobody pointed out that this doesn’t save the game. White doesn’t have to take on h4!

In fact, after 41. … h4 42. Qg5! White would win just as in the game. Key point number one is that 42. … Qh5 is neither a check nor a pin, so White can simply play 43. Qg7 mate. Key point number two is that 42. … Qg8, attempting to trade queens, is met by 43. Bg7+ and mate next move. A cute “smothered mate” theme!

Why didn’t anyone point this out at the party? I think it’s because of the way I asked a leading question (“How can Black save the game?”) and then rapidly swept away any discussion by showing the 42. Qxh4 line. There is a great pedagogical lesson here for teachers. If you ask a leading question, you’ll only get the answer that you want, which might not be the best answer. Far better to ask your question in a neutral, non-leading way.

Anyway, in the game Richter didn’t play 41. … h4 but played 41. … a4? instead. Probably a computer wouldn’t even consider this move a mistake, but I do. Against human beings, try every sleazy cheapo that you can! It just might work. There is a strong possibility that I would have taken the pawn. Even a month after the game I was still under the impression that it should have been a draw.

After this I continued 42. Bg7+ Kg8 43. Qg5 and Black resigned.

richter 2Final position (after 43. Qg5).

FEN: n3b1k1/5qBp/4pP2/1p1pP1Qp/p1pP4/P1P5/1PB5/7K b – – 0 43

Now we come to the “beauty” part of the game. If Black tries 43. … h4 now, he’s a move too late. White wins with the bishop sac 44. Bxh7+! (the Horwitz bishops!) 44. … Kxh7 45. Qh6+ Kg8 46. Qh8 mate (diagram).

richter 3Final position (if Black had played it out).

FEN: n3b1kQ/5qB1/4pP2/1p1pP3/p1pP3p/P1P5/1P6/7K b – – 0 46

Perhaps because this position never actually appeared on the board, it didn’t occur to me until this morning how mathematically beautiful it is. All of White’s pieces are lined up on the long diagonal, except for the pawn on a3 and the king on h1. Too bad that my king couldn’t be on a1 to complete the diagonal, but oh well, you can’t have everything. Even so, I don’t think I have ever seen a position with seven pieces of the same color on one diagonal!

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