Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Three chances to sac my queen in chess

I ran across an old chess game from the past. If the ghost of Mitch Hedberg were around, he would say <a href = "">every old chess game I played was from the past. (I used to like that joke. I still like it, but I used to like it, too.)</a>

Anyway. It wasn't a very good game, but it was much more instructive than if I'd done what I was supposed to and won it quickly. Let's look at the start.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bc4 a6 4. d3 (d4 is a good idea, but...I still just sort of got all my pieces out and didn't try anything crazy) h6 5. Nc3 b5 6. Bb3 Bg4

Black hasn't bothered to get his knights out. Now, I remembered Legal's Mate, but I also remembered that if you did it wrong, you just went down a piece and were kind of in big trouble and your coach and teammates probably thought,  gee, what the heck were you doing? (Note: this sort of thing can get in your way with general creativity. There are things to check off on. But it's a legitimate fear, and one that needs to be dealt with.)

The right move, here, is 7. Nxe5! because of Bxd1 Bxf7+ Ke7 Nxd5#. And it's a weird thing, here. Every chess player dreams of sacrificing a queen for a quick win. But I remember talking myself out of it: well, it's not an ORIGINAL sacrifice. Well, I'll feel dumb if I get it wrong. And I don't know when it happened, but at some point, I stopped trying for cool stuff and started grinding out wins. I was still a pretty aggressive player at this point, but...well, not this game.

7. h3 7... Bxf3 8. Qxf3 Qf6 9. Qxf6? Now I still had a big advantage, and Qe2 or Qg3 keeps queens on the board and also still threatens the annoying Nd5. So I am letting him off the hook and letting him get his knight in the game. Even an immediate Nd5 is rather good, but I don't know--I think I was learning about endgames and so tried to steer the game that way.

9... Nxf6 10. Nd5 Nxd5 11. Bxd5 c6 12. Bb3 a5 13. c3 Na6 14. f4 (this is rather good, giving the rook an open file) b4 15. fxe5 dxe5 16. Be3 bxc3 17. bxc3 Rd8 18. O-O-O Ba3+ 19. Kc2 Bc5 20. Bxc5 (this is where d4 really should have been obvious) Nxc5 21. Rhf1 Nxb3 22. axb3 and I felt I could gang up on the a-pawn and win and I did but it took way longer than I should have. The main moves aren't important here--it's that I'm trading down and not giving a weaker opponent a chance to mess up. As if I was running from the position with lots of pieces where I didn't want to face my chicken-ness.

Now I learned a lot from this game, with the endgame small advantages etc. And overall, it was favorable, though being exhausted may've cost me in the next two rounds. I got a bad position in round 2 then lost a tricky (but again instructional) game in round 3. So, yeah, I remember missing my chance. I remember fearing my (kind of sarcastic) chess coach saying "Mi-i-i-ster Schu-u-u-ltz! What took so long?" and also fearing him asking about why I didn't play Nxe5. The thing's something I wished I'd nailed down. But I sort of let my fears trap me. And I didn't really do much after that.

And so I remember this when I think about missing chances or not going with what I know or intimidating myself into going for the safe route without checking off. But the story doesn't end sadly.

I eventually did get my queen sacrifice later. It was actually a sham sacrifice--in other words, I got the material back quickly. But then a month later I had a chance for the real thing, and I took it, and it was glorious. It was a positional sacrifice! The guy next to me said he was glad I had the guts to play it! The end of the game was ridiculous--I pitched a bishop in a winning position, then my opponent pitched a rook. But--I got my queen sacrifice, and it was my own. Let's not worry about the opening play too much.

1. c4 b6 2. Nf3 Bb7 3. g3 Bxf3 4. exf3 c5 5. d4 Nc6 6. d5 Nd4 7. Bg2 Rc8 8. O-O g6 9. Nd2 Nh6 10. Nb3 Nhf5 11. Nxd4 cxd4 12. Bg5 Bg7 g4 Nd6 13. Qxd4 Rg8 14. Bf4 Bg7 15. Be5 Rxc4 16. Bxg7!? Rxd4 17. Bxd4 f5 18. Rfe1 Qa8 (he really should've played Kf7 etc. It looks ugly but it starts to untangle. King safety first, and ...b5 can develop the queen) 19. Bf6 Nc8 20. d6 e6 21. Be5 21... Qd5?! (...b5 and Nb6) 22. f4 and I'm having all the fun.

The sham sacrifice is below. In this game I went up a pawn then my opponent won an exchange for a pawn, but I had two passed queenside pawns, so I won material back.

I remember this when I talk myself out of something good, or if I think I might be about to. It's a good way to check off. You never know when good fortune is going to happen--but it occurs to me I never gave myself a chance to make another queen sac. I just didn't play aggressively enough. Well, there was 1. e4 c5 2. c3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. cxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Nf3 Bg4?! 7. e5 Ne5 8. Nxe5! but that doesn't really count (Bb5+ gets it back.) Still, you take what you can. The only reason I'd return to tournament chess is to get one more queen sac. That'd mean playing aggressively, with confidence, and so forth, and not second guessing, but having fun calculating to make sure of things.

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