Unfortunately, I seem to be making a habit of having these posts begin with a “I haven’t blogged in a while” note. But once again, I’ll try and get back off the wagon (or is it on the wagon?).
As a much longer aside, the inspiration from the title comes from Ostap Bender, the star of Ilf and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs. There is actually a chess connection with that book, with a few chess remarks sprinkled in before the Interplanetary Chess Tournament episode.
I think I first heard of the book after taking a class in 19th century Russian Literature at UC Berkeley; the natural follow-up was the 20th century class, and while I don’t think this was on the syllabus, I was digging around to find some good books. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere – not on Amazon, Addall (a formerly great way to find used books), the campus library, and the old stalwarts in Berkeley of Cody’s or Moe’s. I only got the book after asking around at Moe’s, when one of the staff overheard my question about it – he seemed to be the only one there who knew of it. Anyway, he said he had read it a few times already, and he’d give me the book for free!
I’ve read it a few times since then, and each time, I learn a little more about the book, picking up on some more subtle cues and hints that managed to dupe the censors into letting it get published. It’s since been well surpassed in critical acclaim by the proper release of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, but I can’t say I really get that book. So it goes.
Despite that completely tangential note, the title works for multiple reasons – not only is it my first blog in months, it looks like we might actually have a competitive world championship match this year! Anand played pretty well overall in Corus (despite the last round blip) and even won a tournament for the first time in years after that. He hasn’t played quite as well in Zurich so far, but hey, it’s something.
My issue as a fan with his play wasn’t so much the lack of wins or tournament wins, but the lack of interesting games – he really didn’t seem interested in playing chess. But starting with the last couple rounds in London 2012 (against Nakamura and Carlsen), and now through 5 rounds of Zurich, almost all his games have had some interesting content. That’s not to say he’s playing like he did in 2007 or 2008 (when he probably was at his absolute peak), but its a good u-turn from where he was for most of 2011 and 2012.
As for actual chess? Well … this will have to do.
I haven’t played an actual tournament game in over 2.5 years now (amazingly, my last rated game was in August 2010). I did play a rapid tournament (not USCF or FIDE rapid rated, though) 6 months back although that partly contributed to my silence here (losing every game you play still sucks). Still, I play on ICC now and then and I actually had a good moment earlier today in the 3-minute pool against a 2360 player or so (apparently good enough for top-50 in the 3-minute rankings).
I liked my position here as Black, but it wasn’t terribly obvious how Black should continue. White’s knight is strangely offsides on a4 but the rest of his pieces are decent, and while Black’s hanging pawns are quite secure, it’s not obvious that pushing forward with …c4 or …d4 will lead to anything. I wanted to play the thematic …d4 at some point, but I thought I could spend a move playing 19…h6.
The …d4 idea probably wasn’t going anywhere, and I wanted to unleash the Bb7 while also messing up White’s pawns. To that end, flicking in …g5 seemed like it’d be useful. In some ideal world, maybe I could play …d4, and if he doesn’t take, then …g5 and …fxe3; if he does take, …cxd4 and …Nc3. I actually spent 20 seconds coming up with this plan, which probably wasn’t good from a time management standpoint. (Old habits die hard)
After 20.Bxe4 Rxe4 21.Nd2, there aren’t so many …d4 plans, but I played 21….Rb4 hitting the b5-pawn. It’s a completely non-standard maneuver, but how does White save this pawn now? He tried 22.Rb1 and once I again, I sank into thought. I had noticed the Na4 being offsides, and after …Rb4, I realized it didn’t have so many safe squares to go to, but I couldn’t see any way of attacking it here. Something like …Qh4 and …g5 is too fanciful to work and there wasn’t any other way to get on the 4th rank to hit it.
With 39 seconds left, it dawned on me – 22…g5! 23.Bg3 Qg6!. A nice little overloading of the White queen, made possible with the general purpose …h6 move. After the trade on g6, the knight has no retreat.
He tried 24.Qxg6 fxg6 25.Rxb4 axb4 26.Rb1 (26.Nb3 saves the knight, but with 26…c4, the pawns will run), but after 26…Ra8 27.Nxc5 Nxc5, there simply isn’t enough compensation.
Maybe if I was playing regularly, I’d expect to see this …g5/…Qg6 idea quickly, but as it was, I’m quite happy with that sequence. Short moves to get the job done.