50 Years of Chess: Year 11

by admin on October 31, 2020

After two years of not playing any rated chess games, I returned to the tournament scene in 1982 at the U.S. Amateur Team East championship. This was my introduction to one of the most popular and fun tournaments in the American chess calendar — the only tournament with no money at stake where you will actually see grandmasters.

When you’re used to playing most of the time only for yourself, playing for a team is a really different and fun experience. There’s nothing like losing a game … and finding out that the team won anyway! It’s as if the defeat is wiped out. Likewise, there’s nothing like winning the decisive game of a tough match, and knowing that four people are excited about your game, not just you.

I played in the 1982 tournament for the Princeton University team, as the third or fourth board. After a draw in round one, in round two I played the longest game time-wise of my chess career: a 106-move ordeal against a national master named Herb Hickman. It started at 8 pm and didn’t end until 4 am. (The reason it was so long was that there were no sudden-death time controls back then.)

That game was my first experience ever with one of the Four Endgames of the Apocalypse: Q+RP versus Q. It’s an endgame so complicated that even Vassily Smyslov, one of the great endgame players of all time, said that he did not completely understand it. Alas, I am no Smyslov, so I lost the game.

After putting in the equivalent of a full work day, only one with no breaks and intense concentration for the whole eight hours, I had to drive back to Princeton (perhaps a 45-minute drive), go to bed at 5 am and try to sleep for about four hours before picking up my teammates to go back to the tournament! I am not a night owl; I need my sleep. Before the game, it felt as if my brain was in a fog and my eyes had had sand thrown into them. Under the circumstances, I thought it would be a miracle if I could get through the game without hanging a piece.

So what happened? One of the shortest and prettiest miniatures of my chess career! It lasted 17 moves, a mere 89 moves less than my previous game. What a crazy game chess is.

Dana Mackenzie — Rick Jones

1. e4 e6 2. Nf3 …

Possibly my first tournament game with this variation. Two years of sabbatical had given me some time to re-think my openings, and the French Defense was one where I had done some home analysis. However, my opponent makes a U-turn into an Alekhine’s Defense, which is not recommended if you don’t know what you are doing.

2. … Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. d4 c5?!

Too optimistic. The hole on d6 becomes a target much too quickly. Better was 4. … d6.

5. c4 Nb6 6. Nc3 cd

After the game I thought this was a blunder, and that Black had to play 6. … d5 in an effort to assert some control over d6. Nevertheless, he has problems after 7. ed Bxd6 8. Ne4.

One cool thing about this game is that Black’s pawn on d4 and White’s knight on c3 will stay there for seven consecutive moves before I finally move my knight out of the attack. Seven consecutive in-between moves! It might be a record for me. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I feel as if this was possibly a sign of my tactical improvement. Lower-rated players typically feel the need to resolve this kind of tension as soon as possible.

7. Bg5! f6?

This is basically the losing move, even though on the surface it’s very plausible. After all, White has two pieces en prise! How can he stop from losing material?

Position after 7. … f6. White to move.

FEN: rnbqkb1r/pp1p2pp/1n2pp2/4P1B1/2Pp4/2N2N2/PP3PPP/R2QKB1R w KQkq – 0 8

The solution: More in-between moves!

8. ef! gf 9. Ne5!! …

When you have two pieces en prise, the solution is to put a third piece en prise! After all, your opponent can’t take them all!

Well, of course the knight isn’t really en prise because the f-pawn is pinned, but it still makes an attractive picture, with three of my minor pieces attacked by pawns. Both of the “real” piece sacrifices are completely sound. If 9. … fg, then 10. Qh5+ Ke7 11. Ne4! takes away the flight square from Black’s king and leads to a forced mate. The computer shows us how: 11. … Qc7 (or 11. … Qe8? 12. Qxg5 mate!) 12. Qxg5+ Ke8 13. Nf6+Ke7 14. Nd5+ Kd6. Here I would probably just take the queen, but Fritz ruthlessly delivers mate with 15. Nf7+ Kc6 16. Ne7+! Bxe7 17. Qb5 mate. You will seldom see a more god-awful pileup of Black pieces than in this final position.

Oh, and if 9. … cd, then 10. Qh5+ Ke7 11. Rd1 once again takes away the flight square and wins. For instance, 11. … Qe8 12. Bxf6+ pulls the king away from the defense of the queen. Although Black does get three pieces for the queen, he can’t survive with his king in the middle of the board.

So my opponent decided not to take any of my pieces and plays instead

9. … h5. I replied 10. Qd3, creating all the same threats as before. Black’s reply 10. … Rg8 was forced, and then 11. Qh7 created a mate threat. Black defended with 11. … Qe7.

Position after 11. … Qe7. White to move.

FEN: rnb1kbr1/pp1pq2Q/1n2pp2/4N1Bp/2Pp4/2N5/PP3PPP/R3KB1R w KQq – 0 12

The last real decision of the game: to take the rook or take the pawn and continue the attack? Technically there is no wrong decision. After 12. Qxg8 Qg7 (best according to the computer) 13. Qxg7 Bxg7 14. Nb5 White gets a superior endgame with two rooks against two minors. But I’m really glad that I played the more principled move.

12. Qxh5+! …

I wanted to end the game fast so that I could take a nice long nap between rounds.

12. … Kd8 13. Nf7+ Kc7

If 13. … Ke8, then 14. Nh6+ Kd8 15. Nxg8 is extra nasty because it not only wins the rook, it threatens the queen and the f6 pawn.

14. Nb5+ …

After having a sword over his head for eight moves, the knight finally escapes! And pretty effectively, too.

14. … Kc6 15. Ne5+ Kc5

Position after 15. … Kc5. White to move.

FEN: rnb2br1/pp1pq3/1n2pp2/1Nk1N1BQ/2Pp4/8/PP3PPP/R3KB1R w KQ – 0 16

I know that none of you will have any difficulty finding White’s next move, but I just want to give you the pleasure of finding it for yourself.

The answer is…

16. Bxf6! …

An appropriate coup de grace for this truly savage game. Black’s queen is in checkmate! It has no safe squares, because 16. … Qxf6 would be met by 17. Nxd7+. Instead my opponent played one of the most pointless moves of all time,

16. … Qh7 17. Qxh7, and then Black resigned.

It’s a little bit surprising that Black was punished so drastically when he made only one really bad move, 7. … f6. I think that this would be a really good teaching game to show why you should think twice, and three times, before playing … f6 (or f3 for White) in the opening. Not that it’s always bad, but when it goes wrong it can go really, horribly wrong.


  1. Be very careful about playing … f6 in the opening before castling, especially if the opponent’s queen might be able to come to h5. Vice versa, if your opponent plays this move, it may be worth sacrificing a piece to set up Qh5+.
  2. One of the most important weapons in the attacker’s arsenal is the in-between move. When your opponent takes a piece and expects you to automatically recapture, or when your opponent threatens a piece and expects you to automatically move it, stop and think again! Can you play a threat elsewhere on the board that trumps your opponent’s threat?
  3. There are no automatic moves in chess! (Okay, this is a slight exaggeration, but I cannot overemphasize how important it is to carefully scrutinize every move you believe to be “automatic.” I think that there is a strong correlation between a person’s rating and the percentage of “automatic moves” they don’t play.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Robinson November 1, 2020 at 1:31 pm

“When you have two pieces en prise, the solution is to put a third piece en prise! After all, your opponent can’t take them all!”
Which makes me think of one of my favorite games. https://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1109363
I actually got to use that in a tournament game in 1979 or so. Very satisfying.

And I have made mistakes here before but…
8. fe! gf

Isn’t that 8. ef! gf ?


admin November 1, 2020 at 1:57 pm

Yes indeed, thanks for spotting the typo. I will correct it, so that later readers will say, “What is Richard Robinson talking about?” 😎


Mary Kuhner November 1, 2020 at 6:08 pm

I play the Fantasy Caro-Kann for White, which involves an early f3 (I think the “fantasy” is that you’re going to be able to get and hold a big pawn center with this move….) I have a good record in tournament games with it, but you can lose SO FAST with White if you are the least bit careless! I lost quite a few blitz games before I got the hang of it. *Both* of the diagonals passing through f2 are dangerous, and castling only deals with one of them.


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