Dream Position

by admin on May 23, 2017

Most of the time, when we talk about a “dream position,” we mean a position that is too good to be true — all the pieces in just the right places, working together like a team.

The position below, on the other hand, is an ACTUAL dream position: a position that came to me in a dream this morning!

dreamWhite to play and win.

FEN: 2r2r1k/p1q3p1/1bn3Pp/2pQp3/2P4P/P1p2N2/2N5/4RRK1 w – - 0 1

A few weeks ago my friend Larry Smith sent out an e-mail to his discussion list asking whether any of his friends ever dreamed about chess. I don’t know how other people on the list answered, but I told him that my dreams about chess usually do not involve actual positions or moves. Usually, in my dreams, I’m playing in a big tournament, the round is about to begin, and I can’t find my board. A typical anxiety dream.

It is completely unprecedented for me to dream about a chess position and then remember it well enough after waking up to reconstruct the position. But that’s what happened this morning!

In the diagrammed position, in my dream, I “played” the knight sacrifice 1. Ng5! Rybka says that this is in fact the only winning move for White. In the dream, I distinctly recall that I was not sure whether it was winning or not, but it just seemed like the best way to make trouble. The clues are the stalemated position of Black’s king and the threats of Nf7+ or Ne6.

My opponent, whose name and face I do not remember, so I’ll just call him Garry Kasparov, cooperatively played 1. … hg? In dreams, people always accept your sacrifices. Rybka says that Black has a couple better tries: 1. … e4 and 1. … Ne7, but I’ll come back to those later.

In the dream I never actually played my next move. I was debating between 2. hg! and 2. Kg2?, when suddenly the point of my sacrifice hit me. I distinctly remember the wave of happiness that hit me when I saw how I was going to win, and that wave was so strong that I woke up.

So the right move, of course, is 2. hg!, opening up the rook file. The wave of happiness came when I realized that my threat was 3. Qh1+!, forcing mate next move. This is a very difficult move to see during a dream, and perhaps even in real life,  because it involves retreating my best attacking piece from its dominating square in the center and putting it in a far corner of the board. This threat forces Black to respond right away. 2. … Rxf1+ 3. Rxf1 does not really change anything, so the two meaningful options are 2. … e4 and 2. … Rf4. If 2. … e4 then White wins with the elegant king move, 3. Kg2!, preventing … Qg3+ and opening a line for the rook to come to h1 and deliver checkmate. If 2. … Rf4 the most straightforward win is 3. Rxf4 ef 4. Kf2, once again clearing the back rank so the rook can come to h1.

The most attractive point about the combination, in my opinion, is the way in which h1 turns out to be the crucial square, and the way that in one variation the queen uses that square and in the other variations it is used by the rooks. For a position that came to me in a dream, I think it’s pretty darn good!

Psychologists might want to know how I remembered the whole position with such clarity. Well, I didn’t. I was pretty hazy about the positions of the Black Queen, Bishop, and Rook, so after I woke up I had to experiment a little bit to find places for them that were both reasonable and that did not interfere with the combination in the dream. The way I remembered the position was an interesting mix of seeing particular pieces on particular squares, and seeing particular tactical or positional motifs. Here were the things I remembered:

  1. The queen on d5 and pawn on g6, the key ingredients in the whole combination because they stalemate Black’s king. Of course, for this purpose the Black pawn on g7 is also essential.
  2. The knight sacrifice on g5; of course, Ng5 is a very typical attacking motif, with the idea of Philidor’s Legacy always hovering in the background.
  3. The open f-file created by the knight move, with rooks on f1 and f8.
  4. The pawn tension on h4 and g5 created by Black’s taking the knight.
  5. The enormous pileup of pieces on the c-file, all held up by the knight on c2.

As it turned out, I had to make two significant changes to the position after waking up, in order to make it a good problem.

First, I had to add Black’s “traitor pawn” on e5. Otherwise Black would have a perfectly good defense with … Qg3+. Also, the pawn at e5 gives Black the possibility of the “rook lift” defense 2. … Rf4, and that is something I was definitely aware of during the dream.

I also had to move White’s queen rook from b1 to e1. In the dream it was definitely on b1, but with the rook on b1 the problem has a “cook,” found by Rybka, which I never could have seen during the dream, or even looking at the board in real life! The “cook” goes as follows: 1. Ng5 e4! (declining the sacrifice) 2. Kg2? (playing for a win; 2. Nf7+ Rxf7 3. Qxf7 Qg3+ would be a draw) Ne5! 3. Ne6 Rxf1!! 4. Nxc7 Rxb1. Black gives up the queen for two rooks. The position still looks quite perilous, but according to Rybka this variation is sound and even a bit superior for Black.

By placing the rook on e1 in the initial position we avoid this cook; White wins after 1. Ng5 e4 2. Kg2! Ne5 3. Ne6 Rxf1 4. Nxc7, and the point is that the knight on c2 defends the rook on e1. This is kind of cool because in the combination as I originally dreamed it, the knight on c2 plays no role whatsoever. So now every White piece has a purpose. Also, let’s face it, e1 is a much more sensible place for that rook to be than b1.

Finally, let me mention that if “Garry Kasparov” had declined my sacrifice with 1. Ng5 Ne7, I would have won with 2. Rxf8+ Rxf8 3. Nf7+ Kg8 4. Nxh6+ Kg8 5. Nf7+ (note that Philidor’s Legacy doesn’t work here because after 5. Qg8+?? Black can take with the knight) Kg8 6. Qe6! This calm step-aside move is decisive. White now threatens Ng5+ followed by Qg4, and Black has no really good way to stop it.

I’ll leave it to the psychologists to discuss the meaning of this dream. For chess players, an important lesson is something that I have heard Gjon Feinstein tell his students: When you have your opponent’s king in a stalemated position, you should think about extraordinary possibilities; any sacrifice may be justified if it enables you to play a check.

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Larry Smith May 24, 2017 at 8:36 pm

Great story! It’s quite remarkable that you were able to remember as much of this position as you did, as well as to mold your dream position into something viable. The snippets of games/positions I’ve ever dreamed only made sense during the dream itself, but upon waking up were always hugely flawed.

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