New club in town

by on May 1, 2009

Last night I went to the first Thursday evening chess club at Cabrillo College, in Aptos. Whether this is actually a “new club” depends a little bit on one’s interpretation. There already is a Tuesday club at Cabrillo, which Yves Tan started last year. And there was a Thursday club at Borders Bookstore, which withered away because the bookstore started restricting us more and more — we had to play in this part of the cafe, and we had to finish by that time (which got earlier and earlier). So in a way, the Cabrillo Thursday club is a hybrid of these two. It’s in the same location as the Tuesday club but may perhaps draw some of its clientele from the former Borders club. We’ll see.

The driving force behind the new club seems to be Cailin Melville, a former junior player who is now “all grown up.” As fortune would have it, I played Cailin in my very first game in the new club, and fell on my face in the most embarrassing manner. It’s his first win against me, I believe, so I am sure he will be happy to see it permanently enshrined on the Internet.

Cailin Melville — Dana Mackenzie (game/25, with a 5-second increment)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d5 (See my ChessLecture, “Fun With a Supposedly Inferior Opening”) 3. Nc3 c5 (sort of an accelerated Grunfeld without the fianchetto, if that’s possible) 4. cd Nxd5 5. dc Nxc3 6. Qxd8+ Kxd8 7. bc e5 8. Nc3 f6 9. Be3?! Na6 10. O-O-O+? … (After the game we both agreed that 10. c6 was a better try. In fact, maybe I should have played 9. … Kc7 before … Na6 in order to anticipate that possibility.) 10. … Kc7 (diagram)

The next two moves are kind of interesting. Cailin played 11. c6?, which I was sort of expecting but which is misguided because it opens all sorts of lines against his king. It would make more sense for him to try to complete his development with 11. g3. But when I played over the game on the computer this morning, it found another possibility that neither Cailin nor I even dreamed of: 11. Nd4!?! Where do computers come up with these moves? For fans of the Cochrane Gambit, it’s a similar idea — White is sacrificing a piece for a couple pawns and a big, intimidating, mobile pawn mass in the center. Also, after 11. Nd4 ed 12. Bf4+ Kc6 13. cd, Black’s king is none too comfortable. Fritz evaluates the position as equal! In fact, it says that Black should cold-bloodedly decline White’s sacrifice and just play 11. … Nxc5, leading to a slight advantage for Black.

After Cailin’s 11. c6? I also made an instructive mistake. I played 11. … Kxc6?, a really superficial move that Cailin correctly questioned after the game. 11. … bc! was much better. The reason I didn’t play that move was that it makes my pawn structure no better than his. But even though Philidor said that “Pawns are the soul of chess,” it’s not always true. Black has much better chances because of the threats of … Ba3+, … Bf5+, and … Rb8. It is the opening of the b-file that really makes White’s position critical, because it allows Black to get a third piece into the attack — and three pieces against an undefended king are often mate.

An example line is 11. … bc 12. Nd2 (hoping to get to c4) Ba3+ 13. Kb1 Bf5+ 14. Ka1 Rhd8! 15. Re1 (what else?) and here Fritz comes up with 15. … Nb4! 16. cb Bxb4 winning the knight on d2. Best play, according to the computer, is 11. … bc 12. Ne1 Ba3+ 13. Kc2 Be6 14. Nd3 -/+. The position is closed enough that Black doesn’t have an immediate win, but nevertheless White’s position is passive and Black has the initiative.

Another obvious problem with 11. … Kxc6 was the fact that it exposes my king to attack. Still, Black’s position is certainly not worse; I’ve just missed a chance to make it a lot better.

That was the interesting part, now let’s get to the embarrassing part. After 11. c6? Kxc6? the game continued 12. g3 Ba3+ 13. Kb1 Bf5+ 14. Ka1 Be4 15. Bg2 Kc7 16. h4 Rhd8 17. h5 b6.

Here, or hereabouts, a lot of crazy things happened. First, Cailin took about 12 minutes on his 16th move and came up with the plan of h4-h5-h6, which seemed so irrelevant to me that I took it as an indication that he really had no plan. At this point he was down to about 3 minutes for the rest of the game, while I had 14 minutes. And then his cell phone rang! I’m not sure whether it was on my 16th or 17th move that it rang, but I distinctly remember feeling sorry for him and waiting until he was done talking on the phone before making my move! My thinking was along these lines: “He has a bad position, he has no clue what he’s doing, and he’s down to only three minutes on his clock, so I’m not going to take advantage of the situation by also moving while he is talking on the cell phone.”

Moral: NEVER




(At least during the game. After the game you can feel sorry all you want.)

Now he played 18. h6 and I whipped out 18. … g5, thinking, “What sort of nonsense is this?” Then he played 19. Nxg5? and I played my ridiculous blunder. I saw his threat of Ne6+, of course, but there is absolutely nothing to it if  I play the in-between move 19. … Rxd1+. Instead, I played 19. … Bxg2?? and after 20. Ne6+ realized that (a) No matter what I do, he is going to capture on d8 with check (a fact I had overlooked); (b) He is going to get his rook to the eighth rank; and (c) I’m going to lose my h7 pawn, after which his plan of h4-h5-h6 suddenly looks like a stroke of genius!

All of which came to pass. I won’t bore you with the gory details.

I have an upcoming ChessLecture about underestimating your opponent (actually, I’m surprised that it hasn’t aired yet). This debacle would have made a perfect example!

But anyway, I’m looking forward to playing on Thursdays again. If you’re in the Santa Cruz area, come out and give the new club a try! (It’s at 7 pm, in the new Student Activities Center East.)

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chad Bam May 1, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Hi Dana- Sounds like a lot of fun–the club–if not this game! Hey- where’s the PGN LOVE?


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