Into thin air

This is a chess game with the most beautiful move I ever almost got to play.

Slater – MacHolmes, Metrowest Chess Club 1997

1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 exf3 5.Nxf3 Bg4 6.Qd3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 c6 8.Be3 Nd5 9.Bc4 e6 10.0-0 Qd7 11.Bg5 Nxc3 12.bxc3 Ba3 13.d5 cxd5 14.Bxd5

White has sacrificed a pawn in the Blackmar Diemer gambit. Being a pawn down gives a sense of urgency – if White doesn’t cause some mayhem Black will simply secure his king, trade pieces and win the endgame with his extra pawn –  and 13.d5 makes sense as an attempt to blow up the position before Black can get safely tucked away by castling.

However, as I contemplated the d5 pawn push, the contination that concerned me was 13.d5 cxd5 14.Bxd5 Nc6. Instead of capturing the bishop (which as you will see in the game continuation costs Black his queen), it seemed logical that Black would try this move, developing the knight and blocking White’s attack on the b7 square. Then Black would be ready to castle kingside.

I furrowed my brow – this was back when I could calculate – and found the answer: 15.Bxc6+ bxc6 16.Rad1 Qc7 17.Be7!! The bishop is cast into thin air, sacrificed on an empty square where Black has three possible ways to capture it – all of which lose. Obviously …Kx7 or …Bxe7 allow Qxf7 checkmate. That leaves 17…Qxe7 18.Qxc6+ Kf8 19.Qxa8+ Qe8 20.Rd8 and White mops up. 17.Be7 also prevents castling (which is the reason I found it) and leaves Black pretty much stuck with something like 17…Rf8 18.Bxa3 and a relatively trivial win for White.

In real life Black ruined my combination by capturing the bishop on d5:  14…exd5 15.Rae1+ Kf8 16.Be7+ Qxe7 17.Rxe7 Kxe7 18.Qxd5 1-0

Wish I’d gotten to play Be7 – the kind of move that brings you to play silly gambits in the first place.

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9 thoughts on “Into thin air

  1. This is always fascinating stuff to read (although it’s too complex for my feeble mind, espeically this early in the morning). I used to play chess with my father but we had a more slash and burn type approach (just try to mop the other guy up, get as many pieces as you can).

    Reading this type of analysis reminds me of one of my very favorite books from my youth, Nabokov’s The Defense. Nabokov, in addition to being an avid lepodopterist was a serious chess fan, as evidenced in both The Defense and one of my other favorites, Pale Fire.

  2. Thanks, good stuff.

    “The latest research findings argue against elevating aptitude over effort, or expecting a fierce focus on the game to translate readily into mastery or a sense of purpose beyond the board. Chess expertise, recent studies suggest, is based on laboriously amassing a bigger “store of structured knowledge,” rather than on intrinsically powerful analytic capacities.”

    That’s why I ended the post on Lighting Up Your Brain with the advice to try chess – but then stop. A little chess study is a exercise in analytical thinking. Beyond that you’re just learning chess patterns, nothing more.

    So while hardcore US chess junkies often lament that most of those scholastic players will quit playing after a few years, in fact that’s probably the best possible outcome for the kids.

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