The following story is both truth and fiction.
It’s truth in that the chess game annotated beyond the cut represents a huge, heartbreaking moment in my life, the point when I stopped loving something I loved. A thing that I would now like back.
It’s fiction in that… it’s going to be, like more and more of these posts, a novel chapter. In the story, J’s little brother Todd, with the frosty hair and a cooking show called “Foods for Dudes,” actually finds Nd5. I have this pegged as about the fifth of fifty-ish “epistles.”
The dude starts boldly.
2. Nf3 d6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nf6
5. Nc3 g6
Enter the Dragon. Black will perch his dark square bishop on g7, and the longer the game progresses, the more of a horny, ill-tempered firebreathing Targaryen monster it becomes. If you’re playing white in this position, your ONLY goal is to cope with this piece.
As with any variation of the Sicilian Defense (Meeting e4 with c5), the longer the game lasts, the more of an advantage black has. But it’s a trade off. Black really allows white to develop his pieces more quickly, and if you thirst for blood, like I do, you can fire on all cylinders. What’s more, black’s position cedes temporary control of the center, most notably the d5 square. The d5 square. The d5 square. The goddamn d5 square. This, dear readers, is called “Foreshadowing.”
If you come at me, Bubba, you better not miss.
6. Be3 Qc7
7. f3 Nc6 – Already there are vicious little traps everywhere, and careful attention to your opponent’s precise move order is crucial. The “Yugoslav” variation amounts to the most direct challenge to black’s system. White’s bishop will deploy along the e3-h6 diagonal, and try to force an exchange of dark squared bishops, and once that is done, a skilled player faces a completely denuded king. After f3, the g4 square can’t be used to rid the board of white’s dark squared bishop with the little sortee of 7… Ng4. Hence the difference between the “Dragon” and the “Accelerated Dragon.” If black doesn’t play d6 and white tries to “steal” a move and play f3, for example, black can break on d5 in one move instead of two, and it gets REAL ugly for white. Chess players, good ones, need to always be mindful of tiny little transpositional errors and how to exploit them.
8. Qd2 o-o
9. Bc4 (this is the “book” move, as in, the move recommended by theory. In most “Open Sicilians” (ie., where white’s d-pawn is exchanged for black’s c-pawn) a white bishop on c4 severely constrains black. The D5 square remains a structural weakness, and the little diagonal pin on f7 gives white a whole host of possible cheap shots.
10 Bb3 Qc7
11. o-o-o Bd7
12. h4 Rfc8(?)
The parenthetical question mark is a key piece of chess annotation. It means, in the judgement of the annotator, the move is questionable. And this is the moment I need to tell you a few things.
This is an ACTUAL game of chess we are looking at, here. One played by me in, I think, 1997. It was the first round of a large open tournament up near King’s Island, north of Cincinnati, and my opponent, a guy named Emory Tate, was the REIGNING UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES CHAMPION. He was an air force officer stationed at Wright Pat. Dude was a straight-up Mensch. Combat missions over the Euphrates, Taught himself Russian so he could play better, all the while playing incredibly bloody, beautiful, risky, apocalytic chess. An attacking player of the first department. Let’s talk about personal fucking heroes, here.
He had a roughly NINE HUNDRED rating point advantage over me, when a difference of 300 represents a notable skill gap. I mean, I had a reputation I could live with, one of being a streaky, mercurial player who, every year or so, would go on a tear and take a random dude to the woodshed. This would have been a HUGE scalp.
And on his twelfth move, Tate Blinked.
He’s by no means lost at this point, but he was going to have to re-conceive the game completely. His structural advantages are still in place, and he might well win the game if he knew how to say “B” after saying “A” –But Tate was up against an obsessive, snot-nosed little swashbuckling motherfucker who had/has a savant-like aptitude for pattern recognition. And the reason you study chess tactics they way you do, is simply to recognize patterns so that your spidey-sense activates when your opponent fucks up. And I knew THIS pattern. A line-clearing sacrifice so that your opponent’s pieces trip all over each other. I saw this coming a mile away.
13. h5 b5 it’s a matter of who gets there first.
14 hxg6 hxg6 (remember the white bishop? fxg6 is now an illegal move.)
15. Bh6 Bf8. (this is why Tate chose his twelfth move, so that the standard dark-bishop-exchange move can be sidestepped) It would have worked against most other people.
Once again, dear readers, I am not most other people, and I what I love about myself now that I’ve lost weight and am not a sugar-addict – is the simple gift of intense concentration. I stared at this board, intensely, for a solid hour.
And here I made the SECOND coolest chess move of my life. The line clear.
16 Bf8(!) Rxf8
Tate could have survived by ignoring the bishop, but he wouldn’t get to be an swashbuckler. That’s a bizzaro – Dale Carnegie rule I live by: Make your foes behave counter-intuitively, much as the way you treat your friends as the way they see themselves.
17. Rxh8+ (!!)
This was THE coolest chess move of my life, and I allowed myself a TINY piece of gamesmanship. NO WHERE in the rules of chess are you required to say “check.” (the plus sign in the annotation means black’s king is in check) – Players sometimes say “check” just to be assholes. I said check, here, and Tate and I were already grinning at one another. He’s an International Master about to lose to a 1300 player and everybody in that room was going to fucking see it.
17… Kxh8 (only legal move)
18. It’s irrelevant at this point. Because I made a move OTHER than Nd5.
I think what happened in my mind is that I saw an invisible piece, a common oversight chess-players make. Nd5 is a vicious move, here. It’s attacks the black queen on c7, deflects the black knight away from the kingside, and, oh, yeah, that’s a checkmate threat on d7. You CAN’T avoid all three threats. But in my mind I calculated the consequences of Qh6 and imagined that Tate would find wiggle room and then just… I lost the thread. I resigned about ten moves later after he’d consolidated, up a rook.
One thing that really stuck with me. He took me aside after the game and PROFOUNDLY complimented my play, telling me that only a VERY strong player would have found Bf8 in the first place, and that I should really practice building better decision trees, which led me to him talking about my favorite book, The Inner Game of Chess. One of two I didn’t sell, or give away.
I still haven’t played in another tournament. But I have eleven months, which are going to fly by as I write and read and reengage with my other hobbies. like learning to play the piano. This story behind this one will have to wait a couple of weeks.