Saturday, March 1, 2008

Political Chess Game

It must have been almost 10 years ago when I signed up for an open chess tournament. I started playing the game seriously in my late twenties—way too old to start competitive chess! Competitive chess is really time-consuming—many hours hovering over a chess board, analysing complex positions; and many more hours reading chess literatures, studying positional theories and endgames etc. I have since lost a major portion of all those knowledge, having given up on the game some years ago. However, some pleasant memories have remained up to now.

In the fourth round, I was paired up against a promising young player. Time control was 90 minutes plus 45 minutes after reaching 40 moves. I was the underdog. He had the white pieces, and so it was even harder for me to dictate the game.

1. d4 d5

When you have played chess for long enough, there will come a time when you will stumble upon the queen's pawn opening—a sound opening which has been adopted by many grandmasters for ages. It will often lead to a very positional game where theoritical knowledge is very important.

2. c4 e6

White offers his flank pawn, a maneuver known as the queen's gambit; but at the same time attacking the d5 pawn. I decided to play safe, and therefore defended my d pawn with the e pawn. This is known as the Queen's Gambit Declined.

3. Nc3 Nf6

White develops his knight while attacking the d5 pawn again; and black develops his knight while defending that d5 pawn. The d5 pawn is therefore attacked twice and defended three times (the queen on d8 defends it too). Still OK.

4. Bg5

Now white plays aggressively; he develops his queen's bishop and pins black's knight at f6. Now we have a bit of an issue. Black's f6 knight can't move, because if it moves, white's bishop can take the black queen on d8. In other words, that f6 knight is indirectly no longer defending the d5 pawn. How should black defend? Many people would defend with ... Be7 here. This move breaks the pin while developing a piece at the same time.

4. ... Nbd7

A dubious-looking move by black. This move develops a minor piece and defends the f6 knight. However, it does not break the pin. The black queen is therefore still in danger. Besides, that knight standing on the d7 square blocks the queen's defense of the d5 pawn. So now the d5 pawn is only defended by the e6 pawn and the f6 knight, but the latter is stuck to his post because of the pin. White was therefore able to take advantage of the situation and win materials.

5. cxd5 exd5

6. Nxd5

Now white has gained a pawn, and at the same time attacks the f6 knight twice. If that f6 knight moves, white's bishop will take black's queen at d8. Therefore a passive (defensive) move like ...Be7 comes to mind.

6. ... Nxd5!!

The black knight breaks the pin by brute force, and wins a knight for a pawn!

As early as this 6th move, I had technically won the game. The rest of the game was just to make sure not to make any mistake. I played safe by trading down proportionately, clearning off the board as quickly as I could.

I take no credit for the above repertoire. The trap was invented by a renown grandmaster more than a hundred years ago. Those painful hours reading chess literatures can be useful.

There are lessons to be learnt here.

1) In most battles, planning and preparations are very, very important. Without proper preparations, one is often caught by unpleasant surprises.

2) Never ever underestimate your opponents, even if it seems impossible for them to beat you.

3) Always be patient and be united. Rushing out to attack the enemy without developing your pieces first is almost always a bad strategy. Try to resist the greed. It is normally much easier to attack when all your pieces (resources) are developed and can work together. You know the saying (CoC Michael Pang knows this one): Numbers have strength.

During this election season, we see that the ruling Barisan Nasional planned well ahead. Their campaigning actually started long before the the dissolution of parliament. The opposition also did some preparations, although to a much lesser extent. They had very limited resources, and permits for gatherings were not easy to get!

I can't help but feel that the ruling Government is underestimating some opposition candidates, but maybe the have a justifiable reason for doing so.

However, the most pitiful fact is that the opposition parties are not united. Endless bickerings, different agendas and manifestos. How are we to have any confidence in them? Even if they can win any seats at all, they will all end up becoming lonely cowboys!


Anonymous said...

Hey, I think you owe the less informed readers an answer how the black pieces overcame the disadvantage of losing the pinned queen to be one piece up!

You evil-ly censored the part about the menacing black bishop taking advantage of the exposed white king and under developed white pieces (hee hee). Trying to prove a point about the effects of the Malaysian censorship board?

Cornelius said...

Hahaha, 2R1I, I know that some master treasure hunters are strong chess players. But I didn't know that you'd take the trouble to read this chess history of mine!

Yes, indeed is it often a bad idea to start the attack before the development of your pieces. White in this case hadn't completed his development, yet was too greedy to go for a single pawn.

For whatever it's worth, to those who are curious to know, after black's reply, 6. ...Nxd5, white had a couple of possible moves. The obvious one was of course, 7. Bxd8. It might also be possible to retreat that same bishop with something like 7. Bd2.

Perhaps if it were me, I would have chosen that second option, i.e. 7. Bd2. But either way, it was already an uphill task for white by then. However, the queens would have still been on the board. The 2-point deficit is bad for white, but maybe there is still hope to salvage the situation.

In the game, my opponent opted for a more forceful move, which I was happy to see anyway. He played into my plan:

7. Bxd8 Bb4+!

Black need not take back the white bishop at d8 immediately; he has tempo with the check on the white king. The white king has no where to go. He has no choice but to block the check with his queen!

8. Qd2 Bxd2+!

After the queen block, black's bishop simply take that queen, and still had that tempo, checking the white king.

9. Kxd2 Kxd8

Only after the white king has taken back the black bishop, then the black king takes back the white bishop on d8.

And the at the end of that several moves, black is still up by a knight for a pawn. Both kings have lost their rights to castle. But with the queens no longer on the board, perhaps it's not too dangerous for the kings to be in the middle of the board anyway.

After that it was amusing to note that the game had hardly anything to do with mating the opponent's king. Rather it was more of a cat and mouse game—I was trying to force trading down pieces, while my opponent was trying to run all over the board, avoiding those trades!

Anonymous said...

what if you were attacked by an amateurish player with unorthodox moves? all those chess lit wouldn't come into play anymore, huh? treasure hunting should have some added spice too... to give a little more flavour rather than just having similar type questions which the masters have pretty much "been there, done that".

Cornelius said...

Thank you for your comment.

Yes, you are correct. Against a person (not necessarily an amateur) who employs unorthodox moves, the literatures won't help. But in that case your studies and preparations in other areas will help.

The point I am trying to make here is that preparation means a lot. In this paticular game, it's the wonderful trap invented by a grandmaster of yesteryears. In another game, perhaps it's the studies of whether to push the d7 pawn to d6 or d5 in the Dragon Sicilian.

A sound advice by Bobby Fischer: Play the board, not the man. But of course you need to know principles first in order to play the board well!

Learning/knowing about a particular opening/position is already a preparation in itself. Whether you will ever be able to use any of that knowledge, whether in part or whole, in you actual games, is another matter.

Regarding your suggestion that hunt questions "should have added spice... little more flavour...", I must agree with you, my friend.

Having said that, however, I am very concerned about accuracy. In my opinion, "adding flavours" shouldn't lead to dubious solutions. The answers should somehow fit one way or another, no matter how you twist and turn the clues.

Anonymous said...

since you are such an ardent fan of both treasure hunting and chess, why not include chess as part of a challenge. it could be setup in such a way:

set up 3 different chessboards (so that no sharing of answers) in an enclosed area so that no peekings from other teams. The pieces on each board are arranged in such a way that there is only one possible step to move to avoid a check mate. Give probably about 3-5 minutes depending on difficulty.

Cornelius said...

I'd like to add that intoducing "new flavours" into hunt questions may be subject to objections from the hunters. It is human nature. People take time to get used to something new.

Some time ago, I posted this question in the RR Blog:

Q) Owned by a vocalist, but for the lack of 501.

A) Three A's

It was interesting to note that several grandmasters tried this question. And when I revealed the solution, there ware mixed reactions from the grandmasters. Some gave their endorsements; they said this question was brilliant. Others said it's inaccurate.

But I think if I were to adopt this style several more times, it will be accepted by all in the long run. The real question is whether the CoC is prepared to put his neck on the chopping board to weather out all the objections?

Cornelius said...

Ah! I have never tried being a chess composer before. And I don't know if I am good enough to become one! I will think about it, if I can still find the time... hahaha! I have been in situations where I was losing a game and had to find ways how to avoid mate, but I have never tried to set up those positions before.

But just curious, can anyone tell me if it's possible to insert chess diagrams (positions) into blogspot?

Anonymous said...

i know a chess family up in Penang. the father and 3 sons eat and sleep chess. all 3 sons have won some championships in their age category. Every time I go visit the children will always be in the middle of "studying" chess with books and chess pieces set up on the floor. I play for fun. Don't know any of these learned moves. I always ask to play with one of them, usually with the youngest! The first few times, they had "trouble" figuring me out. In my mind i wonder what are they analysis so much when honestly i move that piece with no other purpose at all!! except that it was my turn!!

now they know my standard and don't bother to much about my moves.

Cornelius said...


I couldn't help but smile to myself when I read your comment. It is a common misconception by many people about chess players. But the kid was well-trained—he was "playing the board". It is often very difficult to fight the inclination to underestimate one's opponent in chess, especially when that opponent's moves appear "strange". But it is a good habit to continue playing according to principles no matter how the opponent plays.

I think the reason my opponent blundered in the game I mentioned above was because he didn't spend a little bit of time to consider my dubious-looking move 4. ...Nbd7. He saw the pin, and took for granted that my 4th move was "wrong", and reacted mechanically. Had he kept to opening principles, he would have continued developing his pieces, castled and only then started looking for opportunities to launch an attack. Even if he had wanted so much to win that d5 pawn, he would have at least played something like 5. a3 move first to prevent a possible check with Bb4+. It is called prophylaxis in chess.

Alas, as I said, I have given up on chess years ago. All those knowledge gone. Only the basic remains. I guess I just wanted to move on to something new—like treasure hunting! It's not like I had it in me to become a Grandmaster in the chess world!