Idiographic vs. Nomothetical Ideas in Chess: Part Two

I have been notoriously inconsistent with the second part of any blog I divide into parts. My whimsical nature means new fancies and a new indentured servitude to this moment’s fashions. Nabokov told us, “Existence is a series of footnotes to a vast, obscure, unfinished masterpiece.” Still I know it’s a bit of a cop out and a shame when a part deux never materializes. This one’s for my grandfather, for whom the Korean War was just a giant after party – with some killing thrown in ; we think he’d have gone after any belief that had “ism” as a suffix…

Here’s a game I played online at the usual time control of Game 30. It features another sideline to the Albin Countergambit. This time I made my emphasis for the game “challenging beliefs”. I did my best to try nothing but concrete evaluations. A regular Kasparov!

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 d4 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. e3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 dxe3 7. fxe3 Qe7 {
The problem with this move is that white can get in Nc3 instead of Nd2. Nd2 is
an important concession for black (if the queen captures on d2 it will have to
move again and cost white time). Although pressure on the e5 pawn is the plan,
and Qe7 is called for, move order is still important.} (7… Bxd2+ 8. Nbxd2 Nh6
9. Qb3 {Knights are very good in these types of structures. I want to play Bg4
if white allows it. It is not as easy to defend the pawns with a bishop as it
is to attack them with the knight. I can always play Ng8-e7-g6 if white plays
h3. Eventually the e5 pawn will fall. This is mostly on account of a)
potential rook pressure along the e-file and b) the lack of defensive help
from white’s knight.}) 8. Be2 Be6 {I decided to treat this position like an
isolani. This was nomothetical then, to put this bishop here. It turned out to
be correct, but of course I can’t yet bank on f5 an d5 weaknesses. I’ll get a
beautiful weak square on d4 if white advances his other pawn. It will also be
fixed.} 9. Bxb4 Qxb4+ 10. Nc3 Rd8 (10… Qxb2 {I rejected this because I’m two
moves from castling, I’ll be obliged to make a few hard-to-find defensive
moves to secure my position, which may come at the cost of more development.
The b pawn seems like a true white elephant. As far as concrete variations I
didn’t get very far. The move deserved consideration. Some of these pawn grabs
are traps and some are not. Some patterns stick in your memory, black losing
his queen in Sicilian variants, but a lot of times it pays to be frisky.}) 11.
Qc2 {I was frightened of Qb3. My hope of gaining an advantage was saved the original source. Qb3
is a crusher because I lose a move. I don’t like the capture for black because
my queenside pawns would become weak along an open file. If I recapture then
my knight is no longer targeting e5.} Nh6 {!} 12. O-O Ng4 {? White’s queen can
roost on e4 and be nigh unassailable.} 13. Qc1 Ngxe5 14. Ng5 O-O {? I wanted
the knights in this position. This is incorrect. White’s bishop will be quite
good. A queen trade is in the offing, due to their proximity, and then I’ll be
denied the advantage of a queen with the knight pair.} 15. Qc2 g6 16. Nxe6 fxe6
17. b3 {The game becomes difficult from here on out. Playing attack and
defense simultaneously is perhaps the last trick a chess player learns.
There’s precious little shorthand, and general principles are apt to lead the
unitiiated into an unbalanced and inappropriate balance of forces in an area.
I’m still not very good when under the gun. The signals that tell GMs about
piece distribution and the “value of time” are still invisible.} Rd7 18. Rxf8+
Qxf8 19. Rf1 {This position is equal. I sensed this. I tried to make a move
that would not wreck my position. Besides the plan to attack the base of
white’s pawn chain I’m fresh out of ideas. In four moves white’s knight can
get to f6 and the first player will be better for black’s inactivity.} Qc5 20.
Qe4 Qb4 21. Nd1 Rd2 22. Qf4 Rxe2 {A blunder. Unfortunate for white since I
believe his position was easier to play. White also has some concrete ideas
where as I had been trying to muster up the courage to take the a-pawn.} 23.
Nf2 Qf8 24. Qg3 Qc5 25. Kh1 Qxe3 26. Qh4 Kg7 {Missed Re1!. Due to heuristics I
thought I’d generate favorable tactics by securing my king and protecting e6
while involving the c6-knight somehow. This meant elaborate pawn moves and was
really quite silly. It came to me more naturally than Re1.} 27. Nd1 g5 28. Qh5
Qd2 29. Qxg5+ Qxg5 {Whew, thank God for blunders!} 0-1


Nomothetical vs. Idiographic Ideas in Chess: Part One of Two

“Nomothetical” is an adjective used to describe an approach given to the formation of universal laws. “Idiographic” is its antonym, that is an approach revolving around individual cases. Related to chess you might ask, “Why am I losing so often?” or, more narrowly, “What caused me to lose this last game? What do you suppose are the pros and cons of these diametrical approaches? I’ll analyze the following game from both points of view. It’s not very deep, or very well played, but presents an opportunity for metacognition. I am black in a Game 30. My opponent is a 1480 and I am a 1560 on this particular server

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 d4 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. e4 Nge7 6. Bd3 Ng6 7. O-O Ngxe5 8.
Nxe5 Nxe5 9. f4 Nxd3 10. Qxd3 Bc5 11. Nd2 O-O 12. f5 Bd6 13. Nf3 c5 14. e5 Bc7
15. f6 gxf6 16. exf6 Qxf6 17. Ng5 Qg7 18. Bd2 Qg6 19. Qf3 Be6 20. Qxb7 Bd6 21.
b3 f5 22. Qc6 Bxc4 23. Qf3 Bxf1 24. Rxf1 Kh8 25. Qd5 Rf6 26. Qxa8+ 1-0

The Opening

Nomothetical: I play this opening although it’s not very highly regarded. The road to equality is very difficult. Although I know the Cambridge Springs Defense to the Queen’s Gambit Declined I often refuse to play it, so annoyed am I by the QG Exchange that takes me far afield. As a law I play openings that I enjoy; perhaps I have a good game with them once in a while and that’s what I remember.

Idiographic: I can’t blame the opening. I equalized on move five and was better shortly thereafter. White’s Bd3 was an early inaccuracy, no doubt caused by his unfamiliarity with my offbeat try.

Nomothetical: I can’t presume they’ll make an opening error. In this case white picked the e4 thrust, but it’s regarded as a non-threatening idea. Also by playing the Albin, which I won’t play in a longer time control, I’m being extremely inefficient with my play. Games should reinforce my study and vice versa.

Before Black’s Seventh Move

Nomothetical approach: I didn’t realize I was ready for a very good game. I knew I should be okay, but didn’t pause to figure out how. I do this a lot. I will know an opening’s principles and then “forget” to look for better responses after my opponent deviates. I need to start a) looking for great moves instead of good moves and b) ensuring that all forced moves are calculated c) ensure that I understand who is better or worse in a given position. I can assume that when playing a sideline to a sideline the player should be worse, objectively.

Idiographic: I’m not sure if the last thing can bear the stamp of law. I don’t have a comprehensive understanding of openings so it’s hard to say. In some examples like this one, it could have benefited me. In other cases I may be chasing a chimera and trying too hard to refute something beyond my ken. I may stray, or waste valuable time. In this game my time trouble caused me to blunder. I certainly would not have found 7…Be7 no matter what. I should have seen that the variation with the knight exchange is relatively equal (a passed pawn and a bishop pair versus a slight lead in development), and been happy. That’s what I did. Time saved for later will allow me to make moves that truly matter.

In part two I’ll evaluate the rest of the game, as well as the right approach to wins and losses.


Anand vs. the World

Vishy Anand won the 2012 Chess World Championship and already ranks among the strongest players of all time. The chess community knows him as a fantastically consistent competitor. This is due in part to his excellent preparation, evidenced by the stellar match record he holds. Recently he agreed to a game on billed as “Anand vs. the World.” It was so-called vote chess wherein the power of a crowd is harnessed against a true star of the sport.

Unfortunately I looked at the game only afterwards; I think watching games live is a very instructive way to think about developing one’s game, and I’m quite sorry I didn’t get to be on the world’s team. You don’t really take in a sport just from a box score or a sheet of notation.

The drawn game provided a favorable result for the unwashed multitudes, since you don’t simply arrive at a group’s rating total by adding up their points – you also bring into the fold each member’s bad form. Sometimes a group is less than the sum of its parts; the American Legislature for instance has 535 participants, and together its members produce little more than spleen-filled bluster .So here is how the group acquitted themselves.

1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Bb4 6. Bd3 O-O 7. O-O Nbd7 8. a3 {
Think back to Bb4. White’s pawns will now be doubled. While it seems easy to
trade off one of them for the d-pawn the recapture with the e-pawn allows a
Carlsbad Structure without white’s normal piece activity. His knight is also
on f3 rather than e2. While the bishop remains in position it indirectly
relieves pressure on the d-pawn.} Bxc3 9. bxc3 Qc7 10. a4 {I don’t truly
understand this move. Black’s b5 push is pretty standard. Perhaps Anand just
did not want to play those complicated Meran Lines without a prize on the line.
The last thing you want to do is give away a novelty in a game of skittles
chess.} e5 {Black can get in his important break.} 11. Nd2 e4 {Black’s bishop
problem is solved and he is not worse.} 12. Be2 {Without looking ahead ask
yourself if you would capture on d5 with a pawn or a piece. They’re both
reasonable tries, with objective evaluations closely resembling one another.
They lead to different play however.} Re8 13. Ba3 Nb6 14. c5 Nbd7 15. c4 Nf8
16. Rb1 Ng6 {Black has plenty of space. At least four pieces will vie for
white’s king. It’s not so easy to come to the defense. White’s avenues are
quite closed on the queen wing.} 17. Qb3 Rb8 18. Rfc1 Bg4 19. Bf1 Be6 20. Be2
Bg4 21. Bf1 Be6 22. Be2 Bg4 {There were other moves for both sides. Qd1 for
white and Ng4 for black would have kept the game level.} 1/2-1/2



Remembering the Wine-Dark Sea

It snowed from the north/
rime bound the fields/
hail fell on earth/
the coldest of seeds – Anonymous, 9th century

But nowadays when we read this there is an added poetry. There is the poetry of a nameless Saxon having written those lines by the North Sea—in Northumberland, I think; and of those lines coming to us so straightforward, so plain, and so pathetic through the centuries. – Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse.

After reading this, I considered how the rolling on of years impacts our creations. We all know that refined masterpieces can be stricken with bathos in their twilight. What about those chess games whose luster suddenly seizes hold, years after the fact? As we grow, and not to say shrink as older minds do in pivotal ways, we experience different forms of understanding; the world looks very different when we’re moving away from it. Very old games feature a world of color, but you need the right instrumentation to see them, a spectroscope. Shut your Shredder, hide your Houdini, and remove your Rybka. Schlecter and Marshall, Paris, 1900.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 d4 4. Nf3 Nc6 {Here we have the Albin Countergambit
tabiya. Modern theory favors Nbd2 but g3 has always been another favorite. If
black isn’t careful the g2 bishop can become simply absurd.} 5. g3 {I’m
surprised Marshall didn’t play 5…f6 here. It’s a true gambit and suits his
style. White’s queenside pawn strike strikes with force though.} Bc5 {I like
this move. Marshall chooses simple development. He will work on the e-pawn
while developing naturally.} 6. a3 a5 {Cannot allow b4 from white} 7. Bg2 Nge7
8. Nbd2 Bg4 {Indirectly pins the d2 knight. White’s pawn on e5 can’t be held
unless the knights continually support one another.} 9. O-O O-O 10. h3 Bxf3 11.
Nxf3 Ng6 {The position is rather balanced. It’s difficult for black to know
whether to open the game or not. He’s being pulled in two different directions.
This opening is for the resolute!} 12. e6 {The pawn was dead. White gets
something for it.} fxe6 13. Ng5 Re8 14. Qb3 Ra6 15. Qb5 a4 16. Bd2 d3 {Black
has been planning to use the lever since the opening.} 17. Qxc5 dxe2 18. Bc3
exf1=Q+ 19. Rxf1 Nce5 20. f4 Nd7 21. Qe3 Nf6 22. Qf3 {Every great chess game
passes through the = point.} Rd6 23. f5 exf5 24. Qxf5 c6 25. Ne4 Rde6 {The
pawn isn’t really free. Can you see the thematic idea for black?} 26. Bxf6 gxf6
27. Nxf6+ Rxf6 28. Qxf6 Qxf6 29. Rxf6 Re2 30. Rf2 Re3 31. Rf3 Re1+ 32. Rf1 Re2
33. Rf2 Re3 34. Rf3 Re1+ 35. Rf1 Re2 36. Rf2 1/2-1/2



They’ve Forced my Hand

After reading the revolutionary “How to Win Chess Almost Every Time” on Wikihow I’m reduced to tears dropping down upon a keyboard. I’ve been writing to you for six months, on chess topics ranging from the Stygian to the sunny, but I still don’t have you winning nearly always. I promise to turn over a new leaf soon! You can look forward to such illustrious columns from me as “Proceeding When your Opponent Also Knows how to Win Almost Every Time.” Won’t you stay tuned for my reflection piece, “Why are you Settling for Winning Half your Games? I think that the columns will be a bit derivative because everything needed to be said is already on that one page, but I’ll press on if I can.

I’d like to apologize to a necessarily angry readership. You should’ve expected more. Never once did I tell you to move your pieces forward. Sometimes the only advice you need is simple common sense! It’s all easier than studying the Najdorf too.

Perhaps you would even be right to question my fitness as a writer of a chess column. After all, I don’t even win more than half of the time against players of equal strength. To think that these writers have avoided arbitrary considerations and codified the Philosopher’s Stone of chess…”Go about as a rule of thumb, 60% aggression and 40% defending.” What have I been doing but dabbling?

Reading this piece gave me some cold comfort despite the abrupt end to the search for answers in chess, and my own guilt at not having forecast it. The flamboyant talent of Nakamura and Carlsen has heretofore been wasted, many contests decided by threefold-repetition as they refused to move pieces forward; we should see some more exciting contests now that strategic principles are available. I’m not the only one who has fallen down on the job either. Writers like Jacob Aagaard have been penning useless books on the Queen’s Indian; everyone now knows that it’s ridiculous and unsound to settle for a backward move like e6 in your opening. Support groups for chess players exist if you’re distraught about the sudden invalidity of defenses such as the French. There is help!

The only question I have is that if the article makes you win nearly always then why do the authors advise you to practice?


Genius or Fraud?

Isaac Newton accomplished quite a bit. He was an inventor, though of course no one truly needs some of the more highbrow stuff – either this Calculus, or the one with numbers and symbols. He was also a theoretician who happened upon gravity. Newton is supposed to have had one of the highest IQs, by inference since they didn’t have such tests in the 17th century, even among geniuses. He wrote theological works and found time to study optics. It’s a luminous CV, but one thing he couldn’t do was play chess.

There is record of him owning a board, but no evidence exists of his game scores. I surmised the other day I could “wipe the board with him” and set out to prove it. Of course he’s quite dead, so a human being had to play as Isaac.

“Isacc” agreed to calculate variations well, but without a conscious plan. A genius unfamiliar to chess but possessing formidable analytic skills might play this way. Isaac agreed on forgoing any positional considerations not noted down in literature extant to Newton. His technical endgame technique would be purposefully hideous and we decided that Newton, cagey fellow, would play a random opening to try to get his more modern opponent away from a theoretical struggle. Here is how the old coot fared. He has black in a Game in 30.


1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. f3 {I’m trying to convert this Pirc into a Saemisch
King’s Indian. Black can play the lines of the Austrian Attack, this has some
similarities, without issue since white’s f4 will take two moves. F3 attempts
to “strongpoint” the e4 square.} g6 4. c4 Bg7 {They didn’t really fianchetto
bishops back then, nor did they have Indian Defenses. Of course, without
mixing it up a little an older player would be lost in a theoretical jungle
against even an average tournament player.} 5. Nc3 O-O 6. Bd3 Nc6 7. Nge2 e5 8.
d5 Ne7 9. O-O Nd7 {Perhaps better for white is just to develop and take the
dark squares. He’s solid and has a spatial advantage. He’s proven what he
needed to out of the opening.} 10. b4 a5 11. bxa5 {B5 would be better because
I can control the hole on c5 thanks to my queen. That knight on c3 isn’t going
anywhere, anyhow.} Rxa5 12. Nb5 Nc5 13. Bc2 c6 14. dxc6 bxc6 {Isaac gave me a
preponderance of pieces in my area of attack. Let’s see if he can deny me the
space I need for my plans.} 15. Qxd6 cxb5 16. Qxc5 {This pawn sacrifice is
quite exceptional and enough to make black slightly better. Not bad for a
human computer.} bxc4 17. Qxc4 Qb6+ 18. Rf2 Ba6 19. Qb3 Rb5 20. Qa3 Rc8 {This
is quite a critical section of the game. Black is under no threat, and I like
his practical chances. Unfortunately Newton doesn’t know how to optimize his
piece placement.} 21. Be3 Qb7 22. Bd3 {Black is now threading a fine line
between activity and chaos in the ranks.} Bf8 23. Bxb5 Bxb5 24. Bc5 {Not as
good as the simple Qc2 which breaks one pin and engages another. I was in love
with the a3-f8 diagonal but it’s time to change plans.} Nc6 25. Bxf8 Ra8 26.
Qb3 Kxf8 27. a4 Qa7 28. Qxb5 1-0

Sorry old boy. We might not do a lot in the world today, but we did build a society where mediocrity can flourish. Take that back to the 17th century with you.





Put it in the Grimoire

“There were also less elevated spells such as to ‘put down fear or anger’ which involved writing a magic sign on a laurel leaf and showing it to the sun, saying ‘I call on you, the great god in heaven, [strong] lord, mighty… protect me from all fear, from all danger that threatens.'” – Owen Davies, Grimoire

I have been writing a cross-cultural literary comparison of occult knowledge all night, and I thought I’d take a break to play some chess. I don’t know if I’ve accidentally peeved a warlock during my research, but something made me want to play quite aggressively. If I ever feel this way again I’m bringing a laurel leaf or two to the tourney!

1. e4 c5 2. c3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. cxd4 Nf6 5. e5 Nd5 6. Bc4 Nb6 7. Bb5 (I’m not sold on this move since black would like to play a6 anyway)….a6 8. Bd3 Nc6 9. Nf3 d6 10. a3 {I’m out of book now. I’m also unsure about what to do I can either castle here or play a waiting move. I see now that this is slightly weakening and ought to have simply castled. I wanted to preserve castling, the best waiting move, for later since I couldn’t form a plan. The only piece I’m certain about is my queen’s knight, which must go to d2.} Qc7 11. Bf4 Be7 12. Nbd2 d5 {I believe that closing the position in this manner assists white. White’s pieces are better-placed. The game looks as if it will come down to a race on respective sides of the board. Sacrifices feature heavily in these positions.}

13. Ng5 { This launching maneuver does give up a center pawn. Perhaps this was a mistake since I don’t want the game to be opened.} Bxg5 14. Bxg5 Nxd4 {There is a decent amount of initiative for the pawn.} 15. O-O Qxe5 16. f4 {This is, as you can obviously see, a slip. When I calculated this line before white’s 13th, I failed to see the weakness on e3. There’s something to be said for rechecking your lines after the first few moves of a variation.}

16…Qd6 17. f5 e5 18. f6 gxf6 19. Rxf6 {? Bxf6 is beautiful. It exploits black’s loose pieces and king position. If black saves his rook the e-pawn will fall – as will his king before long. I didn’t see the threat to the rook and dismissed this line. Black’s queen is not in any danger.} Qc5 20. Kh1 {? I did not even see that I could have prevent the double check by interposing with the bishop.} Ne6 21. Rc1 Qd4 22. Nb3 {I am giving up pawns hoping that black’s queen, getting overzealous, will take on b3 and fall due to …Rxc8.} Qxb2 23. Rc2 Qxa3 24. Rxc8+ {I had this plan (a bad one, I’m seeing now) and thought that after sacking some pawns black’s queen would be offsides. In fact it’s eminently defensible for black. The subtlety is tough to see, we both missed it. Black has to recapture with the knight to take the sting out of the second exchange sacrifice. A knight hopping to e7 should break up white’s attack.} Rxc8 25. Rxe6+ fxe6

26.Qh5+ Kd7 27. Qf7+ Kc6 28. Qxe6+ {?? It’s seductive, but it loses. The queen
will seize black’s third rank and black will survive. Necessary was Be7! to
kick the queen first. I missed the simple mate on d6 that’s necessary to
evaluate the position properly. I believed the queen could go to b2 without
issue.} (28. Be7) 28… Qd6 29. Na5+ Kc7 30. Qf7+ Qd7 31. Qf6 {This is an
improvisation. I had planned to play Be6 but that is losing. I’m glad
alternatives exist. Try not to make it up as you go…} Rhf8 32. Qxe5+ Qd6 33.
Qg7+ Nd7 34. Be7 Qe6 35. h3 {I don’t want to limit my pieces by having them do
guard duty for my back rank.} Rf7 36. Qb2 b5 {Black could have gobbled the
bishop, but I thought he might not. He was low on time and the attack will
still continue (albeit with a perfectly winning game for black).} 37. Bb4 Kb6 {
The king wants to go to the center of the board. His pieces offer greater
protection there then on the side.} 38. Qd4+ Nc5 39. Nb3 Qc6 40. Nxc5 {?! It’s
not so easy for white. The position is equal.} (40. Bxc5+ Qxc5 41. Nxc5 Rxc5 {
White has some good chances. Soon he may have conntected passers of his own.})
40… Kc7 41. Ba5+ Kd6 42. Ne4+ Ke7 43. Qa7+ {The simple Bb4+ was fine. This
attempt to win the rook is faulty. In severe time trouble don’t give yourself
tactical headaches.} Kf8 44. Bb4+ Kg8 45. Qd4 Qc1+ 46. Qg1 {My opponent has
about ten seconds left.} Qf4 47. Nd2 {? I have about thirty seconds left so I
think I’ll start hanging pieces now.} Rc1 48. Qxc1 Qxb4 49. Qc8+ Rf8 50. Bxh7+
{? This attempt to deflect the king doesn’t work either. The rook is defended.}
Kxh7 51. Qd7+ Kh8 52. Qxd5 Qb1+ {? White drops his queen.} 53. Nxb1 Rf1+ 54.
Kh2 1-0



An Olympic Blunder

A great many chess games end without displays of brilliancy. These unmemorable struggles get filed in the back of our brains where we put irrelevant data. Today I recalled the difference between a eukaryote and a prokaryote, after someone walking by had hummed a few bars of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Membrane.” It’s all still up there unless you let your brain, like an inept housemaid, re-sort all of your things. Do not let your bad chess, or your opponent’s bad chess, get sent to the recesses of your mind. There are hidden lessons in the blandest of games. When you make a mistake because of your opponent’s mistake you truly didn’t understand his mistake. All clear? Here is an example:

My opponent here dropped a knight in  a game that was sloppy and non-theoretical. He probably saved us some time and a few headaches. What went on in this game? It took twenty minutes and nobody had any fun. Let’s get something productive out of this amateurish outing.

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nc3 {This belongs to a family of queen pawn openings where white
does without his c-pawn. It’s played occasionally at a high level. Nobody
studies the defense from the black side so it’s easy to get caught not knowing
what to do.} d5 (2… e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Qd5 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qe7 6. Bf4 Qb4 7. Qd2 {
The attempt at transposing into a Budapest Defense fails. White’s c4 weakens
his dark square but here he has not played it.}) 3. Bf4 Bf5 4. f3 {This is
premature. It helps to control the center but some of the central push’s venom
is gone since I have time to prepare.} g6 5. g4 Bd7 6. e4 c6 {? I needed to
capture the pawn. I thought I would play in hypermodern fashion here and
provoke white’s pawns forward to weaken them. He seems all too willing, but
space is a funny thing. You don’t know how much room you need until you have
too little.} 7. e5 Ng8 8. Qd3 {Nobody has a plan. This is more dangerous for
the attacker since the burden belongs to him. Evaluations bounce back and
forth over the next twelve moves.} f6 {Not fearing the pin on the knight after
a recapture. Bf6 solves that problem. More troublesome is that the weakness
I’ve generated doesn’t actually help. He can simply keep the tension in the
heart of my position and recapture with his queen when I capture.} 9. exf6 Nxf6
10. Be5 Bh6 11. Be2 {Beware of developing moves that don’t actually help you
at all. White simply passed his turn.} O-O 12. h3 Qb6 {This is a waste of time.
C5 is important as I see no great way to get rid, or make use of, the queen
bishop.} 13. f4 {It wouldn’t be the end of the world except white needs to pay
attention to e4. He soon forgets about the comfortable roost he’s given black.
The king’s knight becomes quite powerful. It’s definitely a ram and a lever.}
Bg7 14. Na4 Qb4+ 15. c3 Qxa4 {It’s hard to say what white was thinking.} 16. b3
Qa6 17. Qc2 Qb6 18. Nf3 Bc8 19. Nh4 Nbd7 20. f5 Nxe5 21. dxe5 Ne4 22. fxg6 Qf2+
23. Kd1 Qxh4 {There’s not much to this. White misses a tactic.} 24. gxh7+ Kh8


Feet on the Floor

The United States Chess Federation’s rating system has built-in rating floors. These prevent sandbagging, intentionally dropping your rating to play against lower-rated opposition, and also help preserve chess dignity. Without floors you could jeopardize a rating you worked your whole life to build.

My chess rating has dropped precipitously in the past few months and I’m nearly at my floor. At this proverbial fork in the road I can either take a break, I am taking up a new combat sport and trying to learn the piano anyway, or I can have some fun. I choose the latter.  I will be venturing The Vulture as black (as white I will be launching my f-pawn forward one square in what is known as the Barnes Opening). You may be asking why someone who wants to rehabilitate his game would reject generations of accumulated theory. Let me tell you why I will place my scant remaining respectability to 1. d4 c5 2. d5 Nf6 3. c4 Ne4?!

I am interested in rehabilitating my ability to work at problems I face over the board. Moving from the specific to the general for a moment I should mention the will to find the best move must also be improved. I plan to be tied down in a Gordian Knot of hanging material, shuttered knights, and an insecure king. There will be no far-flung hope for a draw, not with the amateurish undermining of my game without rhyme or reason. I will finally be forced to look for initiative and lose my penchant for passivity. That is one thing keeping me in the ratings cellar.

Chess is wonderful. There is no method which can hide your true strength. When you sing, chances are your friends tell you that you’re a regular nightingale. When you draw, well-meaning loved ones say “I just love impressionism!” to your badly-rendered portraits. Chess is a form of art which suffers no delusions. Much unmasked I must try the radical to improve.

The Vulture is a cruel creature elegantly adapted to a grisly job. Ever wonder why the bird is bald? It’s to keep clean when he’s snacking on the dearly departed. Feathers would require constant cleaning. The Benoni wannabe is every bit like its namesake in its stark rejection of formalism. The wizened bird knows one thing: notions of decorum must occasionally give way.



Whose Variation is it Anyway?

I’m not sure if Whose Line is it Anyway? is featured on British television but it’s worth finding some archived footage of the American version starring Colin Mochrie. You gave us  The Office so it’s the least we can do. Sometimes I feel I’m improvising when I’m playing chess. I play combinations and I’m hopeful, but, much like an impromptu gag with a rubber chicken, count on the unexpected happening. The results of my failed tactic late in this game sure had unforeseen consequences.

It is a game I played on It demonstrates some of the problems that face a setup featuring bishops both fianchettoed. It’s possible to fall into passivity early if you cannot pry open one good diagonal. I used the shaky Four Pawns Attack against the formation since it at least provides white great space. The onus is on the defender to prove the instability of the attacker’s central formation.

1. e4 g6 2. d4 b6 3. c4 Bb7 4. Nc3 Bg7 5. f4 e6 6. Nf3 Ne7 7. Be2 d6 8. O-O
Nbc6 9. e5 (9. d5 {The crux of this move is that Ng5 is able to punish the
weak e6 pawn if the f pawn recaptures. Thus exd is virtually forced and white
gets a great position.} exd5 10. cxd5 {The queen’s knight has no useful square.
}) 9… dxe5 10. fxe5 Nf5 11. Bg5 Qd7 12. d5 Nxe5 13. dxe6 Qxe6 14. Nb5 {I was
concerned about Qc6. This consolidating move stops the threat of the fork.
This plagued black for some time.} Nxf3+ 15. Bxf3 Bxf3 {?} 16. Qxf3 {? I
evaluated Nxc7 several moves deep but did not recognize it as an effective try.
I did see that Kf8 was forced after Nxc6, but I missed the fact that I can
recapture black’s queen with check. It’s a simple but important geometric
pattern.} (16. Nxc7+ Kf8) 16… O-O 17. Nxc7 Qxc4 18. Nxa8 Bxb2 19. Rab1 Nd4 {
Sometimes concrete analysis is the only way to find the right move. Qb7 looks
so ugly but it’s the only try that wins directly. What is the queen to do
there besides defend the wayward knight? It also lets black off the hook with
his f7 weakness. I am flummoxed here.} 20. Qf2 (20. Qb7 {With the idea of
extracting the piece and making sure white’s queen doesn’t get overburdened.})
20… Ne2+ 21. Kh1 Bd4 22. Qf3 Qxa2 {I commented during the game that Rbe1 was
a better try, and certainly safer than the text. Once the b-rook punches its
ticket to the 7th rank white is doing well.} 23. Nc7 (23. Rb3 {Looking at …
Rc8 and then Rb3!? on I am proud of this move although it’s objectively not
that fantastic. I chop a lot of wood and try to keep the game rather stable.
Once in a great while I sense an opportunity to do something cool with my guys.
I was not at all confident. As it turns out, I foresaw little of the variation
that I ended up getting in the game. Chess is a game of luck indeed.}) 23…
Rc8 {Nd5 was accurate and Rbe1 is still winning here.} 24. Rb3 Rxc7 25. Qa8+ {
? Move order is everything! I needed to stop the king from running.} (25. Bh6
Qa6 26. Rd3 {Gradually increasing the pressure until black cracks. With so
many loose pieces the game must be close to a close here.}) 25… Kg7 26. Rh3 {
H5 scared the dickens out of me. It is the correct defense.} (26. Bh6+ {A neat
try that I dismissed because I did not think I could force a mate. It turns
out I was correct in one line and not the other.} Kxh6 27. Qf8+ Kh5 (27… Kg5
28. Rh3 h5 29. Qd8+ f6 30. Qxc7 {Anything can happen! How’s that for expert
analysis? Hey, maybe you should upgrade to the premium membership!}) 28. Rh3+
Kg4 29. Rh4+ Kxh4 30. Qh6+ Kg4 31. h3+ {Good luck seeing this! I certainly
didn’t}) 26… Rc2 (26… h5 27. Qd8 {Everything is aimed at f6} Qc4 28. Bf6+
Bxf6 29. Qxf6+ Kh7 30. Rxh5+ gxh5 31. Qf5+ Kg8 32. Qg5+ Kf8 33. Qd8+ Kg7 {
Perpetual check!}) 27. Bh6# {A sad way to end a hard-fought game. I wanted to
keep playing.} 1-0