Sunday Chessbrunch #9: Secondary Practice

Via Futility Closet. White to mate in two.

I’m heading out to IRL Chessbrunch in a little bit. We’re not going to the North Avenue Beach Chess Pavilion today — the temperatures are supposed to be in the upper 90s with the heat index approaching 110F. It’s definitely Fry An Egg On The Sidewalk weather. I would die. Benjamin might survive but would almost certainly be worse for wear.

We’re going to pick some other day this summer for that outing. Today, we’re going somewhere with air conditioning and comfy seats and ice cream. It’s the right choice.


While checking Twitter this weekend I came across a post that really struck me:

I’ve talked previously about what I want out of this renewed interest in chess. I have a few goals here, and very few of them involve my tournament record or my USCF rating or, indeed, my chances of becoming titled. Mostly it boils down to having fun and, where appropriate, getting out of the house a bit more.

It started off as having a new activity and common interest with a good friend. In recent months I’ve realized another important point is to meet new friends.

I’ve also enjoyed having a real hobby again; I didn’t really have hobbies in school, and in recent years I’ve been so focused on my career that I’ve barely had time or bandwidth in my life for anything else. Having something to do that isn’t related to what I do for work is really nice. I miss it in basically the same way I missed being able to read for fun, which I couldn’t do when I was in college and grad school.

But I think I’m also really liking having a structured practice, per Eve Ewing. Something that requires application and discipline. That was, after all, part of the impetus behind this blog — I wanted to track my progress on an ongoing project (tournament chess), in the same way that people blog about knitting or running marathons. This is my knitting. This is my marathon.

I couldn’t tell you (yet) if it’s having a positive impact on my writing. But I’ll definitely be on the lookout for it.

If nothing else, thinking of chess this way might help with my recent feeling of inadequacy. I feel like I’m not getting some key concepts and that I’m not learning from my mistakes. I feel like I’m just not getting better. Maybe if I treat it more like a discipline it’ll make it easier to power through periods like this when I feel stuck and utterly incompetent.

Learning from failure. Patience. Discipline. Resilience.

James Bridget Gordon vs [redacted], Lichess.org 2018

This was kind of a weird game, but it gave me an opportunity to work on a couple weaknesses in my play. It let me practice improvising when my initial plan goes astray, and it let me practice playing through a game even at a significant disadvantage. (In this case, I was down material after a bishop sacrifice and, according to Stockfish at least, in a very precarious position late in the endgame.) I was able to come back from what was apparently a decisively losing position by sticking to a plan and making the best of what I had to work with.

You can view the entire game on Lichess.

  1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Bg4 3. Nf3 Bxf3

Three moves in and I’ve already been knocked out of my preparation.

4. exf3 e6 5. c4 dxc4 6. Nc3 Nc6 7. Be3 Bb4 8. Bxc4 Bxc3+ 9. bxc3 a6 10. Rb1 Rb8

I wasn’t feeling great about my chances here.

11. O-O b5 12. Bd3 Nf6 13. Re1 Nd5 14. c4 bxc4 15. Bxc4 Nxe3 16. fxe3 O-O 17. Rxb8 Qxb8 18. d5 exd5 19. Bxd5 Ne7 20. Be4 Qb2

Even though I had a slight advantage — according to Stockfish, anyway — I felt like I didn’t really have a solid hold on the game. I decided to give up some material in order to seize the initiative.

21. Bxh7+

Stockfish did not like this move. At all. The computer analysis swung from a +1 to a -3. But I was determined to make this work.

21. …Kxh7 22. Qd3+ Kg8 23. Re2 Qa1+ 24. Kf2 Qf6 25. f4 Qd6 26. Qe4 f5 27. Qf3 Qd5

Black would spend much of the rest of the game trying to force me to trade queens. In a lot of previous games I’d be fine with that, figuring it would limit my opponent’s opportunities for counterplay. But I needed my queen here to make this plan work. Plus, Black’s queen was their most active piece, and if they were busy using her to harass my queen then they couldn’t go after my king.

28. Qh3 Qf7 29. Kf1 Qg6 30. Rf2 Qh6 31. Qg3 Qg6 32. Qh4 Qe6 33. Rf3 Ng6 34. Qg5 Ne7 35. Rh3

I just want to note here that Stockfish has this at -11.2. In other words, I’m losing badly.

35. …Qf6 36. Qg3 Qg6 37. Qh4 Qh6 38. Qxe7

Not only do I have my piece back, but Stockfish now has this game at +0.6. That’s an 11 point swing in three moves. And I didn’t even do anything brilliant. Just some simple moves with a particular plan in mind. My opponent gave me an opening and I took it.

38. …Qf6 39. Qxc7 Qa1+ 40. Kf2 Qxa2+ 41. Kf3 Qf7 42. Qe5 a5 43. Qxa5 Qb7+ 44. Kf2 g6 45. Qa2+

The beginning of the end.

45. …Kg7 46. Qe6 Rf6 47. Qe5

The rook is pinned down, and if the king moves to break the pin then I have checkmate in a few moves.

Black’s best option here is to try and swing the queen around so that they can force a repetition or perpetual check draw — but that requires more tempo than Black actually has. The other option is to try and trade rooks (47. … Qb4 48. Qc7+ Rf7 49 Rh7+ Kxh7 50. Qxf7+), but then there’s the danger of being forced to run towards my kingside pawn structure.

But none of this mattered, because…

47. …Kf7

Ballgame.

48. Rh7+ Kf8 49. Rxb7 Ra6 50. Qb8# 1–0

I could’ve also delivered mate with 49. Qxf7+Kg8 50. Rh8#. I didn’t see it at the time, and I mostly just wanted to finish the game off as simply as I could. This wasn’t as pretty, but it got the job done.

Solution To Puzzle: 1. f8=B! Promoting to a queen is stalemate. Promoting to a bishop ensures that the Black king has nowhere to run. Black’s only legal move is 1. ..Kxf6. White then delivers mate with 2. Rf4#.