Trapping the Trapper (Memorable Games, Part 3)

by admin on July 5, 2016

The year 1989 was a time of many changes in my life. I got married, I changed my name, I got a new job, and I moved from Durham, North Carolina (where I had spent six very happy years) to a small college town in rural Ohio. With so much going on, chess took a little bit of a back seat.

Nevertheless, that fall I had perhaps the best tournament of my life. In October 1989 I played my very first tournament in Ohio: the Roosevelt Open in Dayton, Ohio. I believe the tournament was organized by the Roosevelt Chess Club, but Google cannot find any such organization on the Internet. There is only a Dayton Chess Club. Does anyone know the history of the Roosevelt Chess Club, and whether it folded, or was renamed or absorbed into the Dayton club?

Anyway, the tournament had a terrific field in 1989. I went in as the seventh seed, behind five masters and an expert:

  1. Ron Burnett — 2462
  2. Dennis Gogel — 2435
  3. Charles Diebert — 2328
  4. Norris Weaver — 2249
  5. William Harris — 2217
  6. Douglas Jennings — 2190
  7. Dana Mackenzie — 2187

As it turned out, this tournament worked out in a way very similar to my first tournament victory (see my last post). I went into the final round in a three-way tie for first place at 4-0 with Gogel and Diebert. As the higher-rated players, they were paired against each other and drew. I got the “easier” pairing against Weaver, who had a score of 3½-½, and managed to win.

Even though my main competitors knocked each other out, in this case I felt that the victory was more well-deserved than my previous tournament victory at the 1988 Georgia Congress. Most importantly, I beat the #1 seed (Burnett), which I did not do in the Georgia tournament. Burnett’s rating on the wall chart was listed as 2507, which would make him the highest-rated player (and only 2500 player) I’ve ever beaten. However, the official rating report showed him at 2462 instead of 2507, so he must have had a bad tournament before this one. Even though the USCF was moving towards computerized ratings, it still wasn’t like today when you can find out your new rating within a week, and often within a day, after a tournament ends.

You might think that my “memorable game” from this tournament would be the game with Burnett. Alas, it objectively wasn’t that wonderful a game. Burnett simply blundered a pawn on the 19th move, and in a way that ruined any chance he might have had for counterplay. It was enjoyable for me, but not a game you could learn very much from.

However, the last-round game against Weaver was a different story. This was in some ways the ideal game: after going over it carefully, even with Rybka, I don’t think I made a single bad move. Weaver made only one bad move, and his mistake was not obvious. I’ve rarely played at this level in my life, and the fact I was able to do it at such a critical moment makes it even sweeter.

I have to admit that I posted part of this game before: see Ohio memories. But I think it’s worth looking at the whole thing, even if the last part is familiar to one or two of my readers.

The theme for this game is “trapping the trapper.” As you’ll see, not once but twice I deliberately walked into a trap my opponent set for me. Let’s see how it happened.

Norris Weaver — Dana Mackenzie

Nimzo-Indian Defense

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4

Incidentally, my win against Burnett also came in a Nimzo, in which I was White. It’s cool to win in consecutive rounds from opposite sides of the same opening!

4. e3 c5 5. Bd3 Nc6 6. Nf3 O-O

Interestingly, the 1980s were the heyday of the Huebner Variation 6. … Bxc3, which White nowadays often avoids by playing 6. Ne2. Alas, I was not up on my theory. However, this game seems to show that Black gets a fine game even without taking on c3.

7. Qc2 d6 8. O-O Bxc3 9. Qxc3?! …

The whole point of White’s 7th move was to be able to make this capture without doubling his pawns. However, it is very questionable whether White has gained anything in this way. He doesn’t even succeed in preventing … e5, because of the loose bishop on d3.

9. … e5! 10. de de

weaver again 1Position after 10. … de. White to move.

FEN: r1bq1rk1/pp3ppp/2n2n2/2p1p3/2P5/2QBPN2/PP3PPP/R1B2RK1 w – – 0 11

Of course 11. Nxe5? Nxe5 12. Qxe5 Qxd3 would lose a piece. White played instead

11. Ng5 …

a move I was not impressed by. I wrote in my annotations in 1989, “From moves 11-15 White plays without a plan, and on moves 16-17 he chooses a bad plan.” But according to Rybka I was wrong! It does not find any serious fault with any of White’s moves from 11 to 17; even his move 17 should have led to equality if played properly. I think the real message is that his whole position was unimpressive. And his decision to set a trap on move 17, while it was objectively okay, demanded very precise play from White and was therefore not okay from a fallible human point of view.

11. … Qe7 12. f3 Rd8 13. a3 Ne8!

weaver again 2Position after 13. Ne8. White to move.

FEN: r1brn1k1/pp2qppp/2n5/2p1p1N1/2P5/P1QBPP2/1P4PP/R1B2RK1 w – – 0 14

This is a key moment in the game, from both the strategic and tactical point of view. Tactically, I’m dangling the h7-pawn in front of White, and it’s not clear whether he should bite or not. The computer says he shouldn’t: the piece sac 14. Bxh7+!? Kh8 15. f4 f6 16. Bb1 fg 17. fe Kg8 18. Qc2 g6 19. Qxg6+ Qg7 is complicated, but Black has enough resources.

Of course, neither player could calculate such a line with computer-like precision. The fact that I was willing to play a move like 13. … Ne8 shows me that I was playing with tremendous confidence. If he wanted to snatch on h7, I believed I could handle the resulting complications. If he didn’t, I believed I had a stronger position. By repositioning my knight to d6 I put it on a powerful post and free my f-pawn to advance and gain space. Black can really think about playing to win.

14. Ne4 …

Braw-aw-w-wk! Chicken! But OK. The computer says that this is the sane way to play.

14. … f5 15. Ng3 g6 16. Rb1 Be6 17. b4!?

weaver again 3Position after 17. b4. Black to move.

FEN: r2rn1k1/pp2q2p/2n1b1p1/2p1pp2/1PP5/P1QBPPN1/6PP/1RB2RK1 b – – 0 17

Weaver sets a not very deep trap. It looks as if Black can win a pawn, again because of the loose bishop on d3, but there is a tactical reason why White can win it back. After careful consideration, I decided to “fall into” his trap. This contrasts with his decision, on move 14, not to fall into the trap I set for him with 13. … Ne8.

It takes a lot of confidence to play the move your opponent wants you to play and say, “You know, I think that position is fine for me.” I think that my confidence came in part from beating a 2500 player in the previous round. Ordinarily against a master, I might be inclined to give him too much respect. In fact, for a long time I considered playing 17. … Qf7. But I finally decided to call his bluff. If I could beat a 2500 player, why should I worry about whatever tricks a 2250 player might have in store for me?

17. … cb 18. ab Nxb4!

Exclamation point for confidence.

19. Ba3? …

Immediately my opponent goes wrong. The correct way to win back the pawn was 19. Bxf5!, which according to the computer leads to equality (+0.09 for White, which is about as close to equal as you can get) after 19. … a5! 20. Bxe6+ Qxe6. However, I think that the move Weaver played is the move most humans would make — the pin on the a3-f8 diagonal just looks so inviting. It’s his only real mistake of the game.

I think that the annotation I wrote in 1989, pre-computers, is right on the money: “With 19. Ba3? White wins back the pawn, but Black’s pieces obtain splendid squares. The knight on d6 is a marvel of attack and defense!”

19. … a5 20. Be2 Qc5 21. Bxb4 ab 22. Rxb4 Nd6 23. R1b1 Ra2 24. Kh1! …

Position after 24. Kh1. Black to move. Position after 24. Kh1. Black to move.

FEN: 3r2k1/1p5p/3nb1p1/2q1pp2/1RP5/2Q1PPN1/r3B1PP/1R5K b – – 0 24

What an incredible position Black has gotten after falling into White’s trap! All of his pieces are deployed actively. The knight on d6 holds everything together. White’s c4 pawn is on life support. His king is cowering nervously in the corner. The bishop is held only by the knight, which can easily be kicked away… Hey, wait a minute! Doesn’t Black just win a piece with 24. … f4?

I’m sure that this was what my opponent wanted me to think. In fact, 24. Kh1 was a really clever trap in a position where White was in deep trouble. But once again, I saw deeper. I hate to brag, but I really wish that I could always be in such great form as I was in this game.

24. … f4! 25. ef ef 26. Qf6! …

Aha! White springs the trap.

26. … Re8 27. Qxf4 …

Position after 27. Qxf4. Black to move. Position after 27. Qxf4. Black to move.

FEN: 4r1k1/1p5p/3nb1p1/2q5/1RP2Q2/5PN1/r3B1PP/1R5K b – – 0 27

There’s a phenomenon that Mike Splane has commented on, that sometimes when our opponent plays a forced move there is a tendency to underrate it. That may have been the case with my opponent here. My last move, 26. … Re8, looked like a forced and kind of defensive move, so he underrated the potential energy behind it. White has won a pawn, but Black now has a move that basically ends the game. Imagine that with one move, you could put basically everything in White’s position under attack, except the Queen.

27. … Bf5!

Pow! The rook hangs. The other rook hangs. The bishop hangs. The back rank hangs. Oh my god. The rest is just a crush.

28. Nxf5 …

My earlier post has some cute analysis of what happens after 28. R1b3, and you can look it up if you wish. Suffice to say, it isn’t very healthy for White to allow my rook to a1 and my queen to g1.

28. … R2xe2! 29. Nh6+ Kg7 30. h4? …

Technically, I guess this is White’s second mistake, but the position was very hard for him. The indefatigable computer comes up with 30. Rxb7+! Nxb7 31. Rxb7+ R8e7 32. Rxe7+ Rxe7 33. h3 Qc7 (Really? This is the best Black can do?) 34. Qxc7 Rxc7 35. Ng4 Rxc4 (diagram).

weaver again 4Position after 35. … Rxc4 (analysis). White to move.

FEN: 8/6kp/6p1/8/2r3N1/5P1P/6P1/7K w – – 0 36

This would be a pretty tough endgame for Black to win. However, I have to think that there was something better than trading queens on move 33. In real human chess, the kind of pressure White was under almost guarantees that he will make a mistake. The game finished very quickly with

30. … Re1+ 31. Kh2 Qg1+ 32. Kh3 Rxb1 33. Ng4 Qh1+ and White resigns. 34. Kg3 Nf5+ would win White’s queen, and either interposition on h2 would cost a rook.

The most important lesson from this game, I think, is: Don’t trust your opponent! Be willing to call his bluff. Also, it’s amazing what you can do with a little confidence.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

paul B. July 6, 2016 at 9:53 am

Name change? From what and why if it’s not too personal.


admin July 6, 2016 at 12:28 pm

I think I’ve mentioned it a couple times before, but probably haven’t told the whole story here. My birth name was Dana Nance. I never liked that name, and when my relationship with Kay started to get serious I told her that I wouldn’t mind taking her name if we got married. But then she surprised me and said that she didn’t like her name either! (It was Burnham.)

That’s when we started thinking about taking a third name. We had a couple of friends who had done that. But how do you make up a new name out of the blue?

I used to be a Scottish dancer, and at the time I had a kilt to wear during performances. A clan Mackenzie tartan. So I said, “Why not Mackenzie? At least my name then would match my kilt.”

Kay said, “Hmm. Kay Mackenzie. Yes, I like how that sounds.”

And that was that! I’ve always said that if it had taken any longer than that, we probably wouldn’t have done it. You’d be amazed at how long it sometimes takes for us to agree on a name for our foster kittens. But for this, the most important name we chose in our lives (since we never had kids), it took less than five minutes.


Todd Bryant July 7, 2016 at 6:25 am

Hi Dana. How do you recall the details of tournaments that predate the USCF’s online records? Personal records of some kind?


admin July 7, 2016 at 7:22 pm

Back in those pre-Internet days, you could order the rating report of a tournament for a modest fee, maybe $2.50 or $5. I did it exactly twice — the two times that I finished in first place — basically as souvenirs. Those happened to be, of course, the two tournaments I wrote about in my last two posts. Any other tournament, I wouldn’t have such a detailed recollection of.


Peter July 7, 2016 at 1:37 pm

Hi Dana, love the blog.

The way how white parts with his dark squared bishop strikes me as overconfidence. Surely it belongs on b2 followed by some later f4.

Just wondering, have you ever devoted a blog post about Elo inflation or maybe different variants within the Elo system? It would be a nice topic for a mathematician/chess player. I love that stuff as well.


admin July 7, 2016 at 7:31 pm

Hi Peter,

You make a good point. Besides querying 19. Ba3, the computer also considers it a mistake to take on b4. I didn’t mention this in my commentary because it’s a “having said A, then you must say B” thing — if White wasn’t going to take, why did he move his bishop to a3?

I don’t think that I have written a post on the rating system or rating inflation. If memory serves me, I did write a somewhat indignant post (either here or on Facebook) a year and a half ago when my rating hit 2199 after a tournament where I thought I had surely gone over 2200! But calmer analysis showed that 2199 was correct.


Roman Parparov July 9, 2016 at 1:43 pm

The Elo inflation in the USCF system is easy to notice because there are rating thresholds below which ratings cannot drop. It’s not as easy with the FIDE system, and although the feeling for the inflation is there, peculiarly the 2700+ list refuses to inflate at least in the number of players.


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