Back in the old days of the Cold War, Mad magazine use to have a great cartoon called “Spy vs. Spy.” (Maybe they still do — I haven’t looked at Mad for about 30 years.) The cartoon chronicled the never-ending escapades of two spies, the White Spy and the Black Spy, as each one would try to outwit the other. The great thing about it was that neither spy was right or wrong, and you couldn’t really even tell what they were fighting for. They were just perfect mirror images. UnlikeÂ SylvesterÂ vs. Tweety Bird, or Wile E. CoyoteÂ vs. the Roadrunner, neither spy ever seemed to gain the advantage over the other.
So, in that spirit, I would like to present to you Blogger vs. Blogger. Michael “White Spy” Aigner versus Dana “Black Spy” Mackenzie. Except there is one problem. In this rivalry, so far, I have been much more Sylvester and he has been much more Tweety Bird.Â
(Fabric courtesy of my wife, Kay Mackenzie.)
The first time I played Michael was in the Calchess Labor Day tournament in 1997, and I won. I remember thinking at the time, “Wow, he was pretty good — and he’d probably be even better if he stopped playing 1. f4.” Well, truer words were never spoken (or thought). Since then I don’t think he has ever played 1. f4 against me, and he has never lost — going into yesterday, he had beaten me six times and I had only managed one measly draw. He has beaten me every way possible. He’s beaten me in 19 moves, and he’s beaten me in 90 moves. He has beaten me on time (twice!). He’s beaten me from positions where he was better, and beaten me from positions where he was worse. Doesn’t matter!
Yesterday I thought I might break my hex, but in the end it was the same story. After an opening that would be best not repeated, we got to the position below, where I came up with a bolt-from-the-blue shot:
White to move.
Up to this point Michael had been kind of pushing me around, and I think he got a little bit careless, thinking that White had no threats. But I surprised him with 17. Nxc4!, after which Black is lucky not to be losing. The game continued 17. … bc (with e5 hanging, nothing else is any better) 18. Ba4+ Kf8 19. Rd8+ Kg7 20. f6+! (a key deflection) Kxf6 21. Rxh8 and White has won the exchange. Black can easily get it back with 21. … Bg4+ 22. Kxg4 Rxh8, but I felt pretty good about this position because White has eliminated Black’s two bishops and I can continue with 23. Bd7 followed by 24. Rf1+.
However, Michael played a really excellent move, 21. … h5!
Position after 21. … h5!
Black is willing to play an exchange down, because he anticipates having terrific piece play. One possible line for White is 22. Kg3, but now the computer says that Black is very close to equal after 22. … Kg7! (I was actually worried about 22. … h4+ because I thought my rook might be misplaced after 23. Rxh4, but Fritz says White has a big advantage here. The rook defends e4, which is important, and even if the rook gets chased to g4 and taken by Black’s bishop, White is still a pawn up.) A very unusual line is 22. Bd7 Bxd7! 23. Rxa8 Bg4+ 24. Kg3 Bxe2 25. Rxa6+ Kg7 (see diagram).
Position after 25. … Kg7 (analysis).
This is a material balance I don’t think I’ve ever seen before — two rooks and a pawn against three minor pieces! I felt that this position was far too risky for me. Three pieces are mating material, and White’s pawn on e4 looks weak. Fritz assesses the position as slightly better for White, which doesn’t surprise me. It also doesn’t surprise me that after 26. a4?, the move I would probably have played, its assessment switches to a big (0.8 pawn)Â advantage for Black. That just shows how dangerous the position is.
So, in the end, I decided to play 22. Rxc8 in the second diagrammed position, giving back the exchange to reach what I thought was a position where I had a slight advantage and no real chances to lose. The good news is, I think that all three aspects of this decision were correct — that White probably didn’t have anything better than 22. Rxc8 (except for the very risky line we just looked at), that 22. Rxc8 is risk-free and that it offers a very slight edge to White.
The bad news is, I contrived to lose the game anyway. That’s how itÂ goes in Sylvester vs. Tweety Bird! So my lifetime record against Michael now goes to 1 win, 7 losses, and 1 draw. At least he is a gentleman — you don’t feel bad when you lose to him.
Now I shall put this episode behind me, because I have four more games to play in the CalChess State Championship, and every opportunity still to have a good tournament.