50 Years of Chess: Year 42

by admin on July 18, 2021

Wow! We’re moving on up to 2013 in this retrospective, and in this year I have a rich selection of interesting games to show you. But — here’s the catch — I’ve already written about almost all of them on this blog. Here are some of the “greatest hits” from that year:

Zildzic-Mackenzie: I sacrificed a bishop to get my opponent’s king in a mating net.

Mackenzie-Narayanan: A fantastic, thrilling rook endgame where my king ended up “in jail” on the back rank but my connected passed pawns saved the day. Narayanan was a very active follower of my blog at that time, and his comments on the endgame are also well worth reading.

Mackenzie-Anchondo: What do you play against a guy who likes to play gambits? Answer: You offer a gambit first! I played my trusted King’s Gambit, Anchondo declined it and played a tricky trap, I sniffed it out and won in fine King’s Gambit style. He actually asked me to write this post; he said it was the first time in his life he had ever lost as Black in the King’s Gambit. I think it’s a great honor when the person you beat asks you to show the world how you did it.

Mackenzie-Barnard: A high-quality game that I had completely forgotten. I played a speculative pawn sac on move 19 and managed to outplay my opponent tactically.

Jain-Mackenzie: A wild and original game in which I sacrificed an exchange and then sacrificed a knight by never moving it. It stayed on b8 the whole game, and was eventually taken by White’s king (!), which then was checkmated in two moves.

Mackenzie-Bykovtsev: Played on the same day as Jain-Mackenzie, but this game was its exact opposite. A smooth positional domination in which the only tactic was a little deflection sacrifice at the end. This game was probably my #2 favorite for 2013, and I may even write an extra post on it.

Traub-Mackenzie: In the 2013 CalChess State Championship I had three miraculous draw saves. This one was the third, a great lesson on corresponding squares in king endgames.

But somehow or other, I completely failed to mention one other really nice game in this blog, so that is the one I will show you today. Actually, I know why I omitted it. At that time I was still doing video lectures for chesslecture.com, and I tried to avoid duplicating material in my blog and my videos. This one was the subject of a lecture called “Help! A Knight Ate My Position!”

Stephen Fairbairn — Dana Mackenzie, 9/1/2013

1. g3 Nf6 2. d3 d5 3. Bg2 Nbd7 4. Nc3 …

One important point about this game was that Fairbairn played very quickly, as if he had to catch a train. In my video I talked about the psychology of playing an opponent who blitzes out his moves. In my opinion you should not attempt to match his speed. Stay calm and look for tactical finesses — if he’s moving too fast, sooner or later he is going to overlook something. As you’ll see, Fairbairn missed a bunch of tactical tricks in this game.

White’s choice of opening is typical for a player who wants to conserve time. He is playing a “system,” a King’s Indian Reversed, where his moves won’t change much no matter what his opponent plays. That being said, 4. Nc3 is unusual (4. Nf3 would be more normal), and at that time this position had zero matches in ChessBase!

4. … e6 5. e4 Bb4 6. Bd2 c6 7. Nh3 O-O 8. O-O d4

Position after 8. … d4. White to move.

FEN: r1bq1rk1/pp1n1ppp/2p1pn2/8/1b1pP3/2NP2PN/PPPB1PBP/R2Q1RK1 w – – 0 9

This was a pretty big decision. On one hand, I’m giving my opponent what he wanted — a King’s Indian Reversed pawn structure. And I’m losing tempi by pushing my pawns to d4 and e5. But I felt that it was justified positionally for two reasons. First, I can trade off my dark-squared bishop and then put all my pawns on dark squares, possibly (in the long run) saddling my opponent with a bad bishop. Also, I felt that his knight on h3 is not really correctly placed, so his typical kingside avalanche might not be as effective as usual.

9. Ne2 Bxd2 10. Qxd2 e5 11. f3 …

He didn’t want to play 11. f4 right away because 11. … Ng4 would take aim at the weak square on e3. So his idea is first to play f3, then Nf2, and finally f4. In the tempo battle, he’s taking two moves to play a pawn push he could normally execute in one move. And even after he gets that push in, his knight will be on f2 rather than f3, where it would “normally” be.

11. … Re8

I’m not sure if this was such a great idea. Perhaps … a5 followed by … Nc5 would be more thematic.

12. Nf2 Nf8

The legend of “Super Knight” must, of course, have humble beginnings. It’s hard to believe at this point that this knight is going to acquire super powers before the game is over.

13. f4 ef?!

Other options would be 13. … Ng4 or 13. … Bg4. The idea behind my pawn trade was to loosen up White’s kingside pawn formation and combat his pawn storm with piece activity. It’s a gutsy idea, and at least against this opponent it was perhaps a good one. Against an opponent who is blitzing his moves, it might be a good idea to head into a tactical position where he is more likely to overlook something. Just make sure that you’re not walking into a position that is just plain bad.

14. gf Ng4 15. Nxg4 Bxg4 16. Ng3 …

Position after 16. Ng3. Black to move.

FEN: r2qrnk1/pp3ppp/2p5/8/3pPPb1/3P2N1/PPPQ2BP/R4RK1 b – – 0 16

Here, I won’t lie, I started to get a little bit worried. First, we already see one unfortunate consequence of the pawn trade on move 13. If I had not traded pawns, White’s knight would not have had the square g3 available and would have had to go to c1. Now my bishop on g4 is in great danger of being trapped after f4-f5. Of course I had foreseen that and planned to play 16. … Qh4, but when we got to this position I realized that 16. … Qh4 would commit me to a pawn sacrifice after 17. Qb4. The more I looked at it, the more uncertain I became. In particular, after 17. … Re6 18. Qxb7 Rh6 I had the sudden awful realization that White can just play 19. Kf2! when 19. … Qxh2?? 20. Rh1 loses the queen!

Actually, the computer says that Black is doing great after 16. … Qh4 17. Qb4 Re6 18. Qxb7 Rh6 19. Kf2 Re8! But this is really tough for a human to assess. So I started looking for a Plan B. It’s pretty clear that my idea as Black is to play … Qh4 and … Re6, but when you have two “obvious” moves you should always make sure to look at playing them in the opposite order. I realized that 16. … Re6 was a little bit less risky because the queen stays at home a little bit longer, where it defends the d4 pawn. Now 17. Qb4 would make no sense for White.

16. … Re6

When I gave my lecture I said that this was perhaps my favorite move of the game because it was a case of keeping calm when things didn’t quite go the way that I planned.

17. h3 …

The position is now getting very tactical and very concrete. White had to also consider 17. f5 Rh6. I spent most of my time looking at 18. Qf4 Qh4 19. Kf2, when 19. … Ne6! is an excellent resource. But 18. Rf4! is probably better for White. Now 18. … Qh4 simply loses a pawn to 19. h3! Qxg3 20. Rg4 Qe3+ (force, otherwise the rook on h6 hangs) 21. Qxe3 de 22. Rg3 etc. Instead Black has to play 18. … Qg5, but this is not as threatening as 18. … Qh4, and the computer gives White a 0.7-pawn advantage after 19. R1f1. A highly entertaining computer-inspired variation is (after 17. f5 Rh5 18. Rf4 Qg5 19. R1f1) 19. … Nd7 20. Qf2 c5 21. e5 Rxe5 22. Ne4 Qh5 23. h3 Bxh3 24. Bf3 (the queen is trapped, but Black gets a lot of material for it) 24. … Qxf5 25. Rxf5 Rxf5 26. Re1 b6. It’s anyone’s guess what is happening here, as White has a queen against Black’s rook and three connected passed pawns.

17. … Qh4 18. hg? …

After this move I felt comfortable. Again the most consequential move is 18. f5, when 18. … Rh6? 19. Rf4 Qxg3 20. Rxg4 wins a pawn as mentioned above. A better try for Black is to give up the exchange for a pawn with 18. f5 Qxg3 19. fe Bxe6. Black will get an excellent outpost for his knight on e5, blockading White’s pawns and locking up White’s bishop. So I think Black has good chances to hold a draw — but a win is out of the question.

18. … Qxg3

Position after 18. … Qxg3. White to move.

FEN: r4nk1/pp3ppp/2p1r3/8/3pPPP1/3P2q1/PPPQ2B1/R4RK1 w – – 0 19

A picturesque position! White has an optically impressive armada of pawns, but Black’s queen has penetrated behind enemy lines and chases the White foot soldiers to their doom.

19. g5 h6 20. f5 …

Maybe a bit too hasty. Throughout this middlegame White has been missing the sharpest moves, which is to be expected from a player who is moving too rapidly. A true “maximalist” approach would be 20. Rf3 Qg4 21. f5 Rd6 22. e5 Rd5 and who knows what’s happening?

20. … Rd6 21. gh Rxh6 22. Qf4 …

Time to get rid of the intruder.

22. … Qxf4 23. Rxf4 Nd7

Ah yes. Remember this knight? So far he has been biding his time on f8, far away from the kingside action. But now he goes into a phone booth, puts on his cape and becomes Super Knight. Obviously he is aiming for the beautiful post on e5. If White allows that, Black’s knight is clearly the better minor piece in the position. So White takes his last opportunity to free his bishop.

24. e5 Nxe5 25. Rxd4 Rh5 26. Be4?? …

Played with at most ten seconds of thought. So far White’s mistakes have not been too costly, but this one is a tactical oversight that leads to the collapse of White’s whole position. 26. Rf1 was necessary, with roughly equal chances.

Position after 26. Be4. Black to move.

FEN: r5k1/pp3pp1/2p5/4nP1r/3RB3/3P4/PPP5/R5K1 b – – 0 26

26. … Rxf5!

Completing the destruction of White’s pawn phalanx. Of course, if 27. Bxf5? Nf3+ (Fork #1). But the outcome is not yet completely clear.

27. Rb5 …

Suddenly Black has a lot of hanging pieces — the rook, the pawn at b7, possibly the pawn at c6 (depending on what Black does). And the knight is no longer secure on e5.

27. … Rg5+ 28. Kf1 …

If White plays 28. Kf2, then 28. … b6 29. d4 Ng4+ allows the knight to escape with a tempo, so that Black does not lose the c6 pawn. But the f1 square proves to be not immune to knight checks either…

28. … b6!

Although 28. … Rb8 29. d4 Nd7 is also playable, it’s very passive. As I said in my ChessLecture, I always like to play actively if I can… and here I can.

29. d4 Ng4 30. Bxc6? …

Again White walks right into the tactics instead of taking his time and thinking about the position.

30. … Rc8 31. Be4 …

Another move that looks as if it defends, but doesn’t. It’s worth pointing out that the alternatives don’t work any better. 31. Rc4? walks into 31. … Ne3+ (Fork #2). 31. d5 walks into 31. … Ne3+ (Fork #3) 32. Ke2 Nxc2 (Fork #4).

31. … Rxc2!

Perhaps White was expecting 31. … Ne3+ 32. Kf2 Nxc2? 33. Rc1, when Black walks into a lethal pin. This is another example of a position where Black has two moves that are “connected,” namely a check on e3 and a capture on c2. As I said after move 16, whenever you are planning a one-two punch, move A followed by move B, you should always stop and ask whether it might be more effective to play move B first and then move A.

32. Bxc2 Ne3+

Fork #5.

33. Ke2 Nxc2

Fork #6. (Although you could say it’s the same as Fork #4.)

34. Rc4 Nxa1 35. Rc1 …

And now a sweet little move to end the game.

35. … Nc2!

Besides its ability to fork two pieces in a single bound, Black’s knight has just acquired a new superpower: immunity to capture. If 36. Rxc2 Rg2+ 37. Kd3 Rxc2 38. Kxc2 Black has a king and pawn endgame he can win with his eyes closed, thanks to his two connected passed pawns on the kingside.

Seven of Black’s last 13 moves, and all of his last four moves, were made by the Super Knight.

36. White resigns

Fairbairn stopped his clock and dashed from the tournament room. Who knows, maybe he really did have a train to catch.


  1. When your opponent is blitzing his moves, for whatever reason, don’t blitz yours. Take your time and look for the tactical oversights that will almost inevitably occur (unless he is Walter Browne, in which case good luck).
  2. When you have a “one-two punch” planned, move A followed by move B, always stop and ask yourself whether it might be more effective to play move B followed by move A. (See Black’s move 16 and 31.)
  3. Watch out for pieces that look as if they are defended, but aren’t really. This can happen, for example, if the defender is pinned or overloaded or can be deflected or captured. (See White’s move 26 and 31.)
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Kuhner July 19, 2021 at 10:47 am

In the National Tournament of State Senior Champions I played an opponent who blitzed like that: took around 1 minute for his first 15 moves, about 15 minutes for the next 5, and 1 minute for the rest of the game.

Unfortunately it was GM Sevillano, and if he made any tactical mistakes they were not visible to me! (I did get a decent position out of the opening–he notoriously plays strange openings and this was no exception.) My big problem was that I like to think on my opponent’s time, and without that, I ran short of time and eventually blundered.

“Don’t rush” is good advice, no doubt, but it has its limits….


admin July 20, 2021 at 5:50 am

LOL! Well, I did say that tactical missteps are inevitable unless your opponent is Walter Browne, and then “good luck.” I’d put Sevillano in that same category. I’ve lost a couple of games against Sevillano, too.


Mike Splane July 21, 2021 at 1:57 pm

17 h3 deserves a huge question mark. It weakens every square on both the g and the h file.

I’d be asking my g2 bishop, What task are you performing,, besides interfering with the queen’s protection of h2 ? I would probably play 17. Bf3 to eliminate the g4 bishop. If 17 … Bh3 18 Rf2 and Black’s king side attack is stopped in its tracks. If Black trades bishops I don’t know who is better, but White’s position is super solid and he might be able to eventually use the half open g file for his a1 rook. I don’t see how Black is going to get any use from the a8 Rook.


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