A Reunion and a Paradox

by admin on August 13, 2018

Three posts in three days! Woo-hoo! I’m not promising to make it four for four, though.

Last night I had a reunion with a former student of mine named Cole Ryan. He was one of the few kids who stuck with the Aptos Library Chess Club all the way through high school. (And he also assisted me for a year or so after he was technically “too old.” We have an age limit of 18 that is almost never enforced.)

Cole has been in the Navy for the last couple years, sweeping floors in lots of really interesting parts of the world. Now he’s come back to the Bay Area to finish college. (He will start at San Jose State in the fall.)

We played a bunch of 5-minute and 7-minute games, and it seemed to me that he had not lost any of his chess ability in spite of being on ships and not playing much over-the-board chess for the last two years. (He did say he has played some online.) I think I won between 2/3 and 3/4 of our games, but they were all very competitive. I don’t think there was a single game where one of us got an advantage and just cruised to victory. Instead, our typical game went like this: Player 1 screws up in the opening and Player 2 gets a huge advantage. Then Player 2 screws up in the middlegame and Player 1 gets back in the game. Then one player or the other wins on time.

Here’s a somewhat typical example, from a 7-minute game. It was quite a head-scratcher, because White (Cole) goes from a probably winning position to probably losing in the space of three moves, even though the moves he played were perfectly natural and were in fact the first moves I would have considered if I were White. Here is the position:

White to move.

FEN: 1rr3k1/6pp/5p2/p2Pp3/Pn2P3/4P3/4B1PP/1RR3K1 w – – 0 1

What could possibly go wrong? White is up a healthy protected passed pawn, and he figures all that he needs to do is take over the c-file. So he plays

1. Bg4?? …

As I said, this is the first move I would look at, too. But it’s important for White to anticipate Black’s response and realize that the back rank is a problem. All White needs to do is play a simple prophylactic move, 1. h3. Then if Black plays, for example, 1. … Kf8 (he has nothing better) then 2. Bg4. If 2. … Rxc1 3. Rxc1 Nd3 4. Rc7 is an elementary win. The threat is d6-d7-Rc8.

1. … Rxc1 2. Rxc1 Nd3

Ouch! Suddenly White realizes that he has to keep the rook on the first rank, because if 3. Rc7 Rb1+ would lead to mate.

If White swallows his pride and plays 3. Rd1, he should still be able to hold a draw. But with less than a minute on his clock, it is difficult for White to reconcile himself to the changed circumstances, and he continues to play “aggressively” (i.e., plays to lose).

3. Rc8+?? Rxc8 4. Bxc8 Nc5

Position after 4. Nc5. White to move.

FEN: 2B3k1/6pp/5p2/p1nPp3/P3P3/4P3/6PP/6K1 w – – 0 5

Amazingly, I think that White is just plain lost here, even though he is still a pawn up. His bishop, which seems to have a wide-open board to roam around on, has trouble finding any good squares. Black’s knight is just going to gallop around and gobble up at least two of the three pawns on a4, d5, and e4, and there doesn’t seem to be anything White can do about it. For example, if 5. Bg4 Nxa4 6. Bd1 Nc3 7. Bc2 a4 and the pawn queens. Or if 5. Kf2 Nxe4+ 6. Ke1 Nc3 White can take his pick of losing the d5 pawn or the a4 pawn. Probably the best is to abandon the d5 pawn and hope to draw somehow in the battle of 3 pawns against 4 on the kingside.

In any event, Cole made it easy by losing all three pawns. He played 5. d6 Kf8 6. d7 Ke7 and here he either resigned or his flag fell, or both.

One of those games that just makes you shake your head at what a weird, paradoxical game chess is!

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