My Six Memorable Games, Part 1: First Queen Sac

by admin on June 23, 2016

If Bobby Fischer had sixty memorable games, surely I can come up with six, right? During this period when I’m not playing a lot of tournament chess, perhaps it’s a good time to look back at some highlights from the past.

Actually, I have already written in this blog and elsewhere about some of my most memorable games. To avoid repeating what I’ve already written, I won’t include my game with David Pruess from 2006, which I already wrote a long article about in Chess Life. Some other great games that I’ve already written about here are:

  • Mackenzie-Nakamura 1999 (blogged on 4/28/2016)
  • Mackenzie-Browne 1999 (blogged on 6/25/2015)
  • Mackenzie-Tate 1996 (blogged on 10/18/2015)
  • Mackenzie-Belle (computer) 1983 (blogged on 4/24/2012)
  • Mackenzie-Delaune 1978 (blogged on 7/1/2008)

But don’t worry, I still have plenty of fun games that I haven’t showed you yet.

First on the list will be the game where I played my first queen sacrifice ever in a USCF-rated tournament. The game dates back to July 3, 1977, and was played in a tournament in Maryland (possibly the same tournament as my game with Delaune, only a year earlier). Here’s what I wrote about the game in my diary:

“In the fifth round I made up for [a defeat in round four] by playing the most brilliant combination of my life — a queen sacrifice that led to a forced mate-in-six! … Never have I played any combination as beautiful as this, and probably never will again. The whole game was magnificent — I slowly piled up positional and developmental advantages until he made a couple key blunders that weakened his kingside enough to give me a winning attack.”

As you can see, humility was not my strong suit when I was 18 years old.

It’s interesting to look at the game nearly 40 years later. The final combination is nice but very easy to calculate, and I would be sad if it was still the most beautiful combination of my entire life. In some ways I find the earlier parts of the game more interesting, where both players make some typical amateur mistakes. (I was class A at the time, and I think my opponent was class B.)

Dana Mackenzie – Geoffrey Wyatt

Center Counter Defense

1. e4 d5 2. ed Nf6 3. d4 Nxd5 4. Nf3 …

Nowadays I would not hesitate to play 4. c4. Black’s opening allows White to claim an advantage in space, and there is no reason to beat around the bush. However, the move I played is a perfectly acceptable developing move.

4. … g6

One of two common plans of development, the other being 4. … Bg4. Black gets into trouble because he tries to combine both of those plans!

5. Bc4 …

Again I wouldn’t play this move today, but it’s an acceptable developing move. The objection to it is that it’s hard for the bishop to accomplish anything on this diagonal, and it’s just in the way of a future advance of the c-pawn.

5. … Bg4?

This makes no sense whatsoever. It was okay for Black to put his bishop here when he still had a flight square at g6, but now he doesn’t any more. This means that if I put the question to the bishop, he will either have to take on f3 or retreat. But if he retreats, where will he go to? Back to c8?

Evidently my opponent had already decided that he was going to take on f3. But this was a very poor decision, because it turns my fifth move from a semi-pointless one into a quite effective one. Bottom line: both players’ fifth moves show they are fumbling around in the opening. But Black’s move has much worse consequences.

6. h3 Bxf3 7. Qxf3 c6 8. Nc3! …

I like this move, which takes advantage of Black’s miscue. The knight can’t take on c3 because of White’s check on f7, and so Black is forced to make a significant concession. He either needs to play 8. … e6, which defends d5 but creates dark-square weaknesses, or he has to play 8. … Nf6 abandoning his strong point. Which would you choose?

wyatt 1Position after 8. Nc3. Black to play.

FEN: rn1qkb1r/pp2pp1p/2p3p1/3n4/2BP4/2N2Q1P/PPP2PP1/R1B1K2R b KQkq – 0 8

It’s interesting that the computer rates the two moves as about even, but I think that the one my opponent played is definitely worse: 8. … e6? The reason this move is worse is that it creates irreparable weaknesses on the dark squares — what I call the “Swiss cheese pawn formation” on the kingside. Masters look with great suspicion on the pawn formation h7-g6-f7-e6, and this game will show you why. By contrast, the move 8. … Nf6 creates no new weaknesses. Class-B players might object to playing such a move because it’s “retreating,” but it is by far better to retreat and maintain a solid, defensible position than to overextend yourself and create targets for your opponent.

I think that the reason Rybka nevertheless does not like 8. … Nf6 is that White will offer a pawn sac with 9. O-O! and build up rapid pressure on e7 with the moves b3 and Ba3. However, it’s doubtful that I would have played that pawn sac back then. Class-A players are much too attached to their pawns. Nowadays — absolutely.

After Black’s 8. … e6 I played 9. O-O (no pawn sac required) Bg7 10. Rd1.

Let’s talk about these last two moves of White’s. They are perfectly good moves, both ranking high on Rybka’s list of possibilities. But they show a certain lack of sophistication, a “connect-the-dots” approach to chess that is again, I think, typical for a class-A player. White is checking off all the boxes. Castle — check. Protect your pawn — check.

There were some more dynamic possibilities, which were not necessarily better but which I would definitely consider if I were playing the game today. First, Mike Splane is fond of saying that you should only castle if there isn’t something better to do, and in this position there is. 9. Ne4 would have started putting pressure on those weak dark squares immediately. After 9. … Bg7 White could follow up with 10. Qa3!? or 10. Bg5!, asking Black some hard questions. Even if I didn’t play Ne4 on move 9, I certainly would play it on move 10 (if I were playing the game now), the point being that Black does not want to capture on d4 because he would lose the ability to castle. (That is, 9. O-O Bg7 10. Ne4! Bxd4 11. Bh6.)

However, my 9th and 10th moves were certainly not blunders, and I still had a nice advantage after 10. … O-O 11. Ne4 (finally!) h6. Now I played an odd move that worked out incredibly well but probably shouldn’t have.

wyatt 2Position after 11. … h6. White to move.

FEN: rn1q1rk1/pp3pb1/2p1p1pp/3n4/2BPN3/5Q1P/PPP2PP1/R1BR2K1 w – – 0 12

This is an extremely interesting position from a strategic point of view because it points to a key weakness in my chess at the time, which continued for many years after (and probably still continues to some extent). The opening is just about over. I’ve castled, I’ve gotten all the pieces out — except on the queenside, where there is still a little bit of confusion — and the question is, what do I do next?

In that era, I had no idea how to form a plan once I got out of the opening. The only thing I knew about was moving forward and attacking, and the idea of strategic repositioning or even retreat was foreign to me. All of White’s best three moves, according to Rybka, are bishop retreats: Bf1, Be2, and Bb3. I think that almost all masters would play either Bf1 or Bb3 in this position. Why? It’s because White is thinking about two things: 1) What are the pawn breaks? and 2) Where do my pieces belong?

The bishop moves are building toward the eventual pawn break of c4 and d5, which is White’s main way of busting open the position. Also, White recognizes that his bishop does not belong on c4 any more (if it ever did). He needs to move his pawn to c4, in part because it’s the only way to activate his queenside pieces. He’d like to bring the bishop out to e3 or f4 without having it taken by the knight, and to do that he needs to play c4 first. So all of these lines of reasoning are pointing to c4 as an essential ingredient in White’s plan. The move d5 may come later, but you’ve got to at least do c4 first.

But I didn’t think that way back then. I was thinking, “How do I attack?” When you think this way, you tend to move the pieces that are already in good positions. This is a point that Jesse Kraai used to emphasize in his ChessLectures. Amateurs tend to play with their “pretty pieces,” which in this case means my queen. “Don’t just move your pretty pieces!” he would tell us. Find a way to make those ugly pieces (the bishop on c1) into good ones.

So the move I played was 12. Qg3? Jeremy Silman, too, would hate this move. He would ask, “In what concrete way does this improve White’s position?” Answer: It doesn’t. The queen isn’t any better on g3 than it was on f3.

And yet this move worked like a charm! The reason was chess psychology. My opponent saw the queen on g3 and said, “I can attack it with my knight!” So psychologically, I induced him to move his beautifully placed knight away from the square d5. This solved all of my remaining strategic problems for me. Instead of moving his “pretty piece,” he should develop his “ugly piece,” 12. … Nbd7, and Rybka rates the position as essentially equal. If, say, 13. Nd6 Qc7 14. Bb3 b5! Black adamantly refuses to let his knight be chased away from d5.

But instead, Wyatt played 12. … Ne7? Every time I played a suspect move in this game (5. Bc4, 12. Qg3) he made an even worse one that made the suspect move look great. This is why you have to be very careful when analyzing your victories. There’s a tendency to think that, because things worked out in the end, all of the intermediate steps were right, too.

Now I played 13. Bf4! (Hooray! More dark-square control!) Nf5 14. Qh2! Pretty unconventional, but this turns out to be a great place for the queen.

Now Black continued 14. … Qb6, a superficially good move that forces White to sacrifice a pawn. But the good news is, it’s a great sacrifice. I played 15. c3, inviting him to take my poisoned pawn on b2. As it turns out, taking is not a good idea: if 15. … Qxb2? 16. Rab1 Qc2 17. Bd3 Qxa3 18. Rxb7 is very strong, with a triple attack on the b8 knight. See why it’s so important to develop your “ugly pieces” while you still can?

I don’t know whether my opponent saw this or he was just intimidated, but he correctly declined the pawn sacrifice with 15. … Na6. I played 16. b3?!, once again not the most accurate move. Better would be 16. b4!, which makes the knight on a6 look really stupid and prevents the pawn break … c5. This again shows the one-dimensional, connect-the-dots approach to chess that I had back then. My entire thought process was, “How do I save my b-pawn?” I should have thought, “How can I save my b-pawn and do something else useful at the same time?”

It goes without saying that Black should have taken advantage of my lapse by playing 16. … c5. But every time I played a bad move in this game, he played a worse one, and that is true in spades here.

wyatt 3Position after 16. b3. Black to move.

FEN: r4rk1/pp3pb1/nqp1p1pp/5n2/2BPNB2/1PP4P/P4PPQ/R2R2K1 b – – 0 16

Here Wyatt played 16. … g5? Good grief, why would you even think of playing such a move? This pseudo-aggressive move only chases White’s bishop where it wants to go, and it creates more weaknesses on Black’s kingside. Maybe Black thought that by trading my dark-squared bishop he would ease the pressure on his dark squares, but the problem is that his dark-squared bishop gets traded too.

I didn’t mind trading bishops, so I played 17. Be5 Qd8 18. Bxg7 Kxg7?

Black’s last chance to keep some sort of playable position would have been 18. … Nxg7, but this is obviously unpleasant. Instead, the king comes forward to meet his doom.

19. Qe5+ Kg6 20. Bd3!

wyatt 4Position after 20. Bd3. Black to move.

FEN: r2q1r2/pp3p2/n1p1p1kp/4Qnp1/3PN3/1PPB3P/P4PP1/R2R2K1 b – – 0 20

Forty moves after the game, I think that I like this move (20. Bd3) better than the showy sacrifice that follows it. I like it because it’s a “sneaky good” move. You don’t realize just how busted Black is until you start asking what he is going to play. 20. … Qd5 would run into 21. Qf6+. 20. … Ne7 would run into two lethal discovered checks in a row: 21. Nf6+ Kg7 22. Nh5+ and mate next move. So Black’s next move is basically forced. At first it looks as if he’s only losing a pawn, but it turns out to be a whole lot more…

20. … f6 21. Qxe6 Nc7

Are you ready? If you can’t find the right move now then shame on you, because I’ve dropped a million hints.

22. Qxf5+!! …

As promised, my first-ever queen sacrifice. It leads to a Lasker-Thomas style king hunt, though not quite as amazing as that one.

22. … Kxf5 23. Nc5+ Black resigns.

It’s mate after 23. … Kf4 24. g3+ Kf3 25. Bf1! and Rd3+ is unstoppable. A cute coup de grace.

Although 22. Qxf5+!! is the move that gets all the exclamation marks, I really think that the greatest value of the game is everything that went before it — the way that Black’s poor decisions led to the final combination, and the move 20. Bd3! that set up the final combination. (By the way, if you’re wondering, yes, I saw the queen sacrifice when I played Bd3. So really the combination begins there.)


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Roman Parparov June 24, 2016 at 8:22 am


Dana did you ever check if you are related to George MacKenzie?


chessperado June 24, 2016 at 10:35 am

the “Bloody Mackenzie”?


Roman Parparov June 24, 2016 at 11:08 am

Nah, George H. Mackenzie, the #1 US player between Morphy and Pillsbury, the winner of Frankfurt (1887)


admin June 24, 2016 at 11:19 am

No relation. I know this primarily because my wife and I both changed our names when we got married. She had a Scottish grandmother and likely has some Mackenzies deep in her past, but they would still have lived in Scotland in the 1800s. My only connection to the Mackenzies is that I used to do Scottish dancing and performed in a clan Mackenzie kilt! True fact!

It has occurred to me previously that if I ever won a national title I would be the second Mackenzie to do so. However, that’s quite unrealistic at this point. (Maybe the U.S. Open would count?)


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