The Equalizing Injustice of Chess

by admin on January 4, 2019

For those who have never heard it, the phrase in the title apparently comes from Edward Lasker in 1913, but it has bounced around from one chess writer to another for the last century. It seems like an appropriate description of what happened to me in the San Francisco International chess tournament yesterday and today.

Yesterday, in round three, I played the following short and far from sweet game against Teddy Coleman.

D. Mackenzie – T. Coleman

1. e4 e5 2. f4 …

It seems as if everybody is playing 1. … e5 against 1. e4 these days. Happy times for a King’s Gambiteer!

2. … ef 3. Bc4 d5 4. Bxd5 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nxd5 6. Nxd5 Bd6 7. d4 Qh4+ 8. Kf1 Be6 9. Qf3 g5 10. e5 g4 11. Qxf4 Bxd5 12. ed Nc6 13. dc Kd7

Position after 13. … Kd7. White to move.

FEN: r6r/ppPk1p1p/2n5/3b4/3P1Qpq/8/PPP3PP/R1B2KNR w – – 0 14

Here I need to play 14. Ne2 or 14. Be3, with a very sharp position. In our analysis after the game it seemed to be about equal. As I told Coleman, “This is what you play the King’s Gambit for!”

However, I outsmarted myself here. I thought that I saw a better way to develop my knight than to walk into a pin on e2. Why not take advantage of the fact that his g-pawn is pinned?

14. Nf3?? gf! 15. White resigns

Of course, what I missed was 15. Qxh4 fg+ 16. Kf2 ghQ, when Black not only gets his queen back but swallows a White rook and knight in the process. Of course, I don’t have to take on h4, but then I’m a piece down and in very hot water to boot.

I’ve been doing tactics training on chess.com to prepare for the tournament, and it obviously did no good whatsoever. However, I did get an interesting hint about my weaknesses. I did poorly on queen sacrifices, and this was a queen sacrifice by Black (albeit a very temporary one). Also, I failed one puzzle for which one of the keywords was, “Does this tactic work?” I think that is a great theme to be aware of, because many tactics come out of one player thinking he has a clever trick that actually fails. Pins that aren’t. Trapped pieces that aren’t. It’s a long and sad litany.

After this game, Coleman told me, “Don’t worry, one of your opponents will blunder in a later round.” That’s the equalizing injustice of chess. And sure enough, it took just one day for Coleman’s prediction to come true.

Position after 37 .. Rxh5. White to move.

FEN: 5b2/2p2k2/pp1p1p2/3P1N1r/1PPP1R1p/4K3/1P4P1/8 w – – 0 38

In this position, which also came out of a King’s Gambit, I was playing against Sarvadh Sathiaram. We’re in the last few moves of a time scramble, where both of us have less than a minute left to make three moves. (In this tournament there is a 30-second time delay, so you can build your time back up.)

Here, of course, I can’t take the h-pawn with either of my pieces, because 38. Rxh4 would hang a knight and 38. Nxh4 would lose the exchange after 38. … Bh6. This was enough to cause me a serious freak-out, because I had to come up with a new plan in less than a minute. I finally played

38. Rf3! …

With one second to spare. This was unforgiveable—you should never let your clock run down to one second, even if you have a 30-second time delay, because if you fumble the piece or miss the button on the clock, or even if you a split second too slow in hitting the button, you lose. Nevertheless, I think that this was a pretty good move.

Now Black walks into a helpmate in three. Seriously, I think that his next three moves are the only ones that could have gotten him checkmated so fast.

38. … Kg6 39. Ke4 Kg5? 40. Ra3 h3??

I’m not sure what Sathiaram was thinking here, but I’m sure that it was a similar case of time-trouble panic, just like my near-meltdown on move 38. Now, as I was getting ready to take on h3, it suddenly dawned on me that I had a slightly stronger move.

41. Rg3 mate!

Ironically, Sathiaram had turned down a draw offer a few moves earlier, and I think that he lost precisely because he was trying too hard to win. What a crazy game chess is.

Hopefully, this will be the stroke of good fortune that turns the tournament around for me. I had a rough time in the first four rounds, with three losses and a draw. In fact, my last two tournaments have both been a struggle; in my last nine games I had zero victories. I hope that this lucky win will break the drought, and that the forecast for the next four rounds will be more showers! (Showers either of good luck or good moves – I’m not picky.)

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Larry Smith January 5, 2019 at 7:30 am

Thanks for taking the time to share these real-life scenarios! Good luck the rest of the way!

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