December 31, 2003

The Pawns - The End

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Click here if you missed the beginning of "The Pawns".

Part VI - Epilogue (not really)

The crowd went wild at the win of the local boy. For a moment, one could think that the playing board reverted to its normal role as a football field! The volume of the clapping and cheering was way over field-goal-levels. It was more suitable for touchdown-with-extra-point. Mr. McKinley took the microphone again, and began to sing praise to the "great intellectual battle" we have just been the witnesses (or participants!) of. But all I could think of was one thing.

"Pizza or movie?" I asked, turning to Libby with a triumphant smile.
"Why not both?" She responded with laughter in her eyes.
"You very nice," a gruff voice interfered with our jubilation.
We turned to see Denisov, who, for some reason, decided to drop by with a visit to the field. A general giving pep talk to the foot soldiers? Isn't it a bit too late for that? Isn't the game, like, over? The stands and the playing board were emptying quickly. The survivors of the pitched battle were heading to the showers, and in matter of seconds the three of us were alone.

"You very nice," he repeated with his horrible Russian accent, struggling to find the suitable English word, "Pair. Couple. Yes. Couple. I watch you from there. Not want ... separat?"
"Separate?" I helped him out.
"Yes. Not want separate you. It just game of chess, yes? Win, lose, not matter, yes? For nice couple, worth to lose." After taking another moment to find something suitable to say, he could only repeat: "You very nice couple," and left.

Libby was the first to regain her speech.
"What did you say his name was?" she asked.
"Leonid Denisov."
"Ok, I'll keep that in mind. Let me just apologize to Will, and then we can go have some pizza. And a movie."

Part VII - Epilogue (this time, really)

That was fifteen years ago. And today, I decided to wake up early to make some finishing touches to this story. As I was busy typing on the clunky keyboard of my ancient PC, I didn't hear the door opening behind me, or the sound of the approaching footsteps. Only when my wife's hand landed gently on my shoulder, did I leave my trance-like concentration and became aware of her presence in the room.

"Hi honey, working already?" she said, leaning to kiss me on the cheek.
"Just a few refinements, sweetheart. Almost done. Be with you in a moment." I replied, and she turned to leave, as I noticed a small icon flashing at the bottom corner of the computer screen.

"Libby, wait!" I called and beckoned her to return to the study. There's an email here for you. From work, probably."
"The heck with them, I'm not going to read email on a Sunday morning," she replied with the same open smile that I remembered so well from that day on the football field, and turned to leave yet again - this time also without success, because at that moment our children burst into the room. The studio I built in my narrow basement was clearly too small to contain the volume of sound and kinetic energy created by two children and two adults, so I had to acknowledge defeat. There will be no more work this morning. So be it.

"Come on, come on out. Back up we all go," I ushered my family into the living room, where we began planning our next move. Libby suggested the zoo, while I was not impartial to a drive to the nearby lake. But the children were not to be swayed.
"We want to go to the park!" announced Leo, seven years of age, setting his little foot down to mark the issue closed.
"But honey, we went to the park last time," in spite of all her good measures, my wife sometimes just didn't know when a battle was lost. Has something to do with the red hair, I guess.
"Park, park!" the five-years-old Dennis joined his brother, "We want to go to the big chess game, with the big knights and..." I exchanged amused looks with the love of my life.

"Ok rascals!" I said authoritatively, doing my best to feign dissatisfaction, "to the park we go. But next time...!"
"Park, park! We're going to the big chess game!" Leo and Dennis ran around the room excitedly, bumping into large objects and knocking down smaller ones, as their mother tried to restore order in vain.

After a very short while (which, as you remember, is about fifteen minutes in Thomas Jefferson Junior High-School time) we were all set to go.
"Leo, Dennis, you take the center! Forward, my brave pawns!" I ordered, and the kids were glad to comply and dash ahead.
I extended my hand, "Shall we follow them, my Queen?"
Libby took my hand and cradled it inside a warm pocket made of her own gentle palms and laughed, "Yes, my King."

The End

Did you enjoy this story? The best way to thank Alex (aka AlexSh) for his work is by giving him some feedback...

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 12:00 AM | Comments (5)

December 30, 2003

The Pawns - Part 5

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Click here if you missed the beginning of "The Pawns".

Part V - Endgame

For a while, Denisov's King (Mr. Finley, the math teacher) was courting danger as an army of the white pawns and pieces drew closer, using the f5 outpost as a pivotal point. However the Russian player proved that even though he was over the hill, a Grandmaster remains Grandmaster. It will take a heck of a lot more than a "promising American junior" to crush this somber representative of the best chess school on the planet.

Even for a non-expert, this was riveting to watch. His pieces cooperated from the strangest and most unexpected locations, combining kingside defense and queenside action at the same time. He parried Hoang's large offensive motions with small moves, shifting a Bishop here, a Queen there - usually only for one square at a time, and it was enough.

Of course I should be wishing for Hoang's victory - he was the local boy, not to mention the fact that a quick win by him would assure me of a chance to spend the evening with my sweetheart - but found myself rooting more and more for the bearded Russian. What can I say, I liked his style. And apparently so did Libby. With each move, she became more and more drawn into the game, wincing at each Knight move, sympathizing with each fallen pawn.

And soon enough, like a flatlined patient after CPR, Denisov's position started showing outbursts of life. Did Hoang make some mistake pursuing his initiative? Probably he did, but it was too subtle for me to catch. Queens were exchanged, allowing Mrs. Harris to step out of her heavy costume - oh boy, did she look sweaty and filthy - and the game headed for the endgame, in which black seemed to even have some advantage.

Less than half of the original number of pieces remained on the board now. The white ones were pressed back as the black Rook penetrated into the heart of the white position. This endgame was clearly going black's way, and white should be happy with a draw here. Libby's brother on b3 seemed to play a pivotal role in the game - black was attempting to advance him towards the queening square, and white was desperately trying to set roadblocks on his way.

Suddenly, a black Rook executed a deft maneuver, landing behind me, on e3. Hoang plunged into though. After a while, I realized the source of his predicament. He clearly had no plausible way to defend me! So that's it, not only is the bearded Russian going to fell the home-town-boy, but also I am going to miss out on the date of my dreams. Maybe I can just ask Libby to withdraw the clause she put to our meeting? Seeing the tense look in her eyes (she clearly also appreciated the gravity of the situation) I could see that she also regretted this stipulation. But no... you do not tout destiny. After all, we are all but pawns in the big game of life, right? We're all dependant on the will of the great Chess Player up there - so might as well to submit to it.

Hoang made his move. No, he did not find a way to defend me. I was hanging out to dry, and the black Rook (Mr. Nakamura, gym teacher) was eyeing me evilly. But ... Denisov did not capture. Non-challant as always, he moved a knight somewhere else. Did he think that the pawn capture could wait for later? If he did, Hoang showed him the error of his ways. Immediately, he moved a bishop to d3, thus not only defending me, but also cutting Mr. Nakamura's path to safety. What a turnaround, instead of winning a Pawn black had to lose a Rook for a Bishop.

A hush went through the crowd as they sensed the possibility of a home-team victory. The Rook was gone, and with it's demise the black position collapsed to shambles. Three more moves by each side, and Will-the-b3-pawn, the pride and splendor of black's position, also fell to Big Steven the white Rook, who now was on the rampage, having no suitable opponent to stop him. With the grace of a seasoned professional, who was no doubt as used to losing as he was to winning, Denisov extended his hand to his young opponent. "Black resigns!" Mr. McKinley's voice almost oozed with delight.

Please return tomorrow for the end of the story (parts 6 and 7).

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 12:00 AM | Comments (1)

December 29, 2003

The Pawns - Part 4

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Click here if you missed the beginning of "The Pawns".

Part IV - Attack and counterattack

Josh was lying flat on his back, gasping for breath. Around him, everyone tried in vain to do ten different things at once in order to revive him. I pushed aside the pawns and the pieces and knelt besides my friend. I felt remorse at not listening to him. Damn, baseball was a better idea. "Man, are you alright?" I asked, expecting the worst. "I think I need to be replaced," he whispered in my ear, raising his head off the turf, "And I think I know who wants to replace me". After uttering those words, he theatrically dropped his head back and closed his eyes. I suppressed a smile. Good old Josh. He's rough and ignorant, and can be a real ass sometimes - but I could always count on him to help out in a time of need. Not to mention the fact that he helped himself along the way: chess was clearly not up his alley, and when the paramedics carried his "dehydrated" and "heat-stricken" limp body away, he seemed pleased.

"You're back," Libby said reflectively and for the first time I sensed that she was not an indifferent party to our relationship.
"Fate, I guess," I replied, trying to impart a humorous mood. This time I learned my lesson, and was wary of peril from all sides. I surveyed the field, checking for danger from any black Knight, Bishop or Rook. At the time, it all seemed safe. At least for the next couple of moves, nobody shall threaten the pair of pawns locking the e-file.
"Would you like to go somewhere after this?" I asked, amazed at my own boldness.
"You mean, like a date?" replied Libby.
"Yeah? I guess, a date. Pizza, or movie, or?"
"You know what? Since you say it was fate that brought you back, I'd like to test your luck further. If we both stay on the board till the end of the game, I'll go out with you. Ok?"

What choice I had? One doesn't look a gift horse in the mouth, and if the girl of your dreams offers you a date, even a highly conditional one, you better accept! But the tension was killing me. Bishops, Rooks and other pieces swarmed around us, doing an intricate dance comprehendible only to an expert-or-higher-rater-player. I regretted quitting the chess club after only one lesson. But then again, what good would it do to me to know my chances of survival? Whatever happens, I'll await my destiny.

Denisov was developing some kind of action of the Queenside, with the help of Will, who already advanced twice, and Hoang decided to retaliate on the other wing. A white pawn appeared next to me on f4. This can't be good. Of course black will have use Libby to capture f4, and she'll immediately lose her life to the white rook standing on f1. Truly a fate worse than death, having your sweetheart being replaced with Big Steven! Denisov surveyed the wooden board, then the football field, and made up his mind. I could clearly see his hand moving a small piece on the board. Libby was blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. I was ready to give her the cue.

"Black Pawn to Queen's Knight six!" announced the Game Master. What was that? Even the crowd, who so far remained ignorant to the meaning of the moves so far, made a faint gasp. Pawn to Queen's Knight six was a bad move. That was obvious. Admittedly, advancing Will yet another time, to b3, grabbed black some space on the queenside, but how could a Grandmaster ignore the danger of white's counter attack, which immediately followed? "White Pawn to King's Bishop five!" the pawn to my right walked one more step ahead, not threatening Libby anymore. Hoang's attack on the black kingside was getting serious.

Please return tomorrow for part 5: "End game".

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 12:21 PM | Comments (5)

December 28, 2003

The Pawns - Part 3

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Click here if you missed the beginning of "The Pawns".

Part III - Middle game

The opening stage of the game was over now and play had slowed down, with the contestants taking minutes instead of seconds for each move. We had some time to talk about non-chess stuff and get to know each other better. She was from out of town, living most of the time with her divorced mother in California. This was her annual weeklong visit to meet with her father, who managed a hardware store on Ridge Street, and her brother. We both loved the same movies, the same literature genres, and most important, Rock-n-Roll. She even made a positive comment about my T-shirt, which flashed for a moment through a gap in my white robe as I waved my hands to denote just how great, in my opinion, The Boss was. She was also interested in odds and bits about life in our town, and I told her about our favorite pastimes and even pointed out some of my friends to her. ("Hi, nice to meet you, Josh" - another mind-blowing smile, another glimpse of those impeccable ivory-white teeth).

"What do you think of the game? Who's winning?" She asked, turning her mind to more current matters. "Hard to say for now" I replied, while trying to figure out what was happening on the board from my not-exactly-vantage spot. Behind Libby and her colleague, a small armada of black pieces was assembling, preparing to break through at the first opportunity. The white pieces took a somewhat more defensive stance, ready to fend off the impending invasion. Some distance away, a white bishop and a black knight were heading for the showers, having just been exchanged. "What do I know about those Grandmaster games," I summarized the results of my examination. "Could go either way".

Mrs. Harris passed next to me, walking diagonally from d1 to h5. Denisov's reaction to this move was interesting. For the first time, his attention left the confines of the small rectangular board, which served as a smaller, wooden replica of our huge battlefield. He examined the larger, real board and its players. For a moment, the piercing gaze of his black eyes rested on my brow, before sliding onward to survey the rest of the field. Clearly, he saw an opportunity here. Maybe Hoang's last move has been a mistake? I remembered the simple rhyme I learned from my sole visit to the chess club: "Queen on the rim, your future is grim". Or was it a Knight? Anyway, it was not good to put your pieces at the edge of the board, and Hoang just did. Denisov was probably considering what would be the most horrible and cruel way to punish him.

"Why is he taking so long?" asked Libby. "I think he wants to calculate ahead," I responded. "I think it's what they call 'A critical position'". "Oh. So, you were telling me about your Springsteen collection?" Bringing up my favorite topic made me lose my alertness at the worst possible time. As I was extolling the virtues of 'Born in the USA' in Dolby Stereo, disaster struck. "Move away, man". "What?!?!" - my brain did a summersault. "Move or be moved. I just captured you, man," Libby's fellow-black-pawn, the one from d5, was unrelenting in his attempt to set foot on my square. "Queen's Pawn takes King's Pawn" - repeated Mr. McKinley into the microphone again, just so there was no doubt. I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye properly.

Dejected, I walked away from the board, throwing a dirty look at Mrs. Harris along the away. Why you ... this is entirely your fault, I thought. Did you have to move to the edge of the board? And you call yourself a Queen? You are a harlot, a wench, a courtesan! Fuming with righteous indignation, I passed near the players' table as Hoang picked up the pawn that represented Josh, and recaptured with it. "Queen's pawn takes King's pawn," I heard the announcement on the loudspeaker, and saw Josh avenging my demise and forcing that horrible black pawn off the board.

I don't know why, but unlike all previously removed pieces, I didn't go to wash myself up from the sweat and return my costume. For some reason, I preferred to stay at the table and observe, as it was Denisov's turn again. The recently deceased black pawn passed me by, and tapped me on the shoulder "Come on man, let's get out of those dresses", but I waved him off. He turned to go, but then stopped hesitantly. "Look man ... I didn't mean to?." he muttered, "I mean, I know you, like, had a good thing going there, but I, like, had my orders, and ..." "It's ok, man. No hard feelings," I replied, while trying to avoid looking directly at him - which turned out to be a bad idea, because instead I locked eyes with the bearded Siberian, who was examining me as if I was still relevant to his position.

"Don't disturb the players, please. Go chat elsewhere!" Mr. McKinley swooped on us like a vulture, much to the relief of the black-pawn-boy, who was adversely affected by my depressed state of mind, and was glad to stop apologizing and get out of there. Before following him, I gave Libby one last long look. She was truly majestic. In the middle of all this storm of captures and recaptures, she stood like a bastion of safety. One last gaze into those wonderful eyes, and forever our ways shall part?

"Help, someone!" "Give him some air!" "It's a heat stroke!" "Water!" - Half-dozen voices were screaming at once. It was not immediately clear to me what happened, but I saw all the pieces leaving their squares as a small human maelstrom was forming in the center of the board. Mr. McKinley threw away his microphone and dived into it, and I followed.

Please return tomorrow for part 4: "Attack and counterattack".

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 11:31 PM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2003

The Pawns - Part 2

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Part II - Dynamic tension

Click here if you missed the beginning of "The Pawns".

Standing there in the center of the board, I couldn't help but feeling a little exposed under the watchful eyes of the two-hundred-strong audience, who were now beginning to show interest in the game. Yes, I wasn't really exposed - I was wearing my normal clothes - baggy jeans and a "Satan Rules" T-shirt, and above them a white robe, and a small white cap identifying me as a Pawn. But I wasn't used to being in the limelight, and now suddenly all the attention was focused on me - a lonely pawn out there in the open. The little pawn that could, that's me - I chuckled. But my loneliness was short-lived. Already Denisov's massive paw was stretched in the direction of the board; already Mr. McKinley's voice was booming in the speakers again. And before I had any time to even start enjoying my famous solitude, a slim dark figure separated itself from the wall of black Pawns and began walking in my direction, stopping only when she reached e5.

"Hi, I'm Libby" the black-pawn-girl introduced herself with a candid smile that sent my heart to do the hoola-hoop. If it was a cartoon, I would be howling like a wolf and my eyes would pop out of my skull like the cork of a champagne bottle. But since it was not, and people were watching, I limited myself to the polite, if somewhat bland "Hi Libby, I'm Martin", and we exchanged courteous nods. A handshake somehow seemed inappropriate - after all, she was the enemy.

She was in that delicate age in which the first rosebuds of a girl's womanhood start to open - the springtime of life. In other words, she was in the ninth grade. Her straight sun-colored hair was simply done, and adorned with only a thin bow, whose edges were visible from under her black cap. Her face was not the kind that would inspire a Renaissance artist - the cheekbones were probably too round and the chin was a bit too small. But what drew me to her were her eyes. To say that she had big blue eyes would mean nothing. It would be like saying that Bill Gates is rich or the Everest is tall. Red hair and blue eyes, this combination should be outlawed before it kills someone. Probably me. All my fifteen-year-old boyish soul yearned for her.

As I was busy feasting my eyes on my vis-à-vis, more moves were made - a pair of knights came out into the third row, and a bishop followed suit. Both sides were experts of the game, and they made the opening moves very quickly. Libby was looking around with a curios expression in those clear bottomless lakes she had for eyes, and I realized I had to act soon. A pawn's life on the chessboard is a short one, and every minute now, at the whim of Patrick Hoang or his overseas adversary, one of us could be sacrificed or exchanged - and for all I know I may never see her again. As I was suffering from extreme time pressure, plus an acute case of infatuation, I hope the reader will forgive me that all I could come up with was the corniest phrase to ever escape the lips of a man and enter the ears of a woman.

"So, what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" oh oh. Did I say that? "My brother Will brought me here. There he is," she pointed towards a nerdy-looking kid who was acting the part of a black b-pawn, still on its original square. "He's always trying to convince me chess is fun, but I just don't get it" she sighed. Was she sad at her brother's obstinacy or at her own incompetence? I was just happy that my hackneyed pick-up line didn't draw out any negative response from her. Suddenly I felt invincible. If I got away with this cliché, I can do anything.

"Are you any good at chess?" Libby asked, "Will is on the school's team, you know". I admitted that, no, I was not on the team, and could not hold a candle to her brother's chess-playing ability (let alone the ability of the two intellectual giants on the podium), but I could play, and was good at explaining stuff, and does she mind if I enlighten her a bit about what's going on. She didn't mind. In fact, as she admitted later, she was terrified to miss her cue to move, and was glad to find an ally who could, in a moment of need, to whisper "Psst - it's you - go over there". Little did she know that when I wasn't talking, I was praying to God that her and I would be forgotten on our squares, just left standing there on e4 and e5 for the rest of the game. Actually, God, make it the rest of our lives, will'ya?

My prayers were cut short with a punch to the left side of my back. Sure, everything has been too perfect. The powers that be (in the shape of Patrick Hoang) decided to mess up with my mind a bit and placed Josh within fist-range, on d3. "I got your back covered, buddy!" he beamed, "If anyone dares to capture you - bam, they'll have to deal with me"
"Thank you, Josh. You still owe me that dollar, by the way," we have been best friends for years, and I knew exactly which button I had to push to make him shut up.

I turned forward again, only to discover to my horror that a black pawn appeared out of nowhere on d5, within my striking range. And of course, I was within his. My soul, which was until now playing a heavenly symphony, broke a string. I believe it was Lasker who wrote something about the "dynamic tension" that exists between two central pawns attacking each other, although I don't think it was this kind of tension he meant. If you have a weak heart, don't try this at home. Courting someone whom you just met, and already knowing she is the girl of your dreams, making your best effort to be witty and charming, not to mention charismatic - all that while knowing that your relationship could be broken asunder at the whim of a pawn exchange. That's dynamic tension for you. And it was a very small consolation to know that Josh "had my back covered".

Please return tomorrow for part 3: "Middle game".

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 11:10 PM | Comments (1)

The Pawns - Part 1

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Part I - Opening move

"These costumes must weigh a ton!" complained Josh as he was struggling to keep pace with me. "I told you we should have gone to play baseball instead".
"Stop whining, man, and think just think how bad they must feel" I waved my hand towards the group of darkly-clad figures at the opposite end of the field. Having to wear all black on such a hot day cannot be good.
"You have the nerve to complain?" chimed in Big Steven, "You guys are just pawns. I have to stand with this thing on my head" from behind his back, he produced a crude paper-and-plastic construction, which resembled a fortified tower only after a thorough examination.
"To your places, everyone!" Mrs. Harris' sharp voice cut through our argument like a pair of scissors. "Josh and Martin, take the center. No, not over there, Steven, you're the Queen's Rook".
Josh and I took our spots on d2 and e2 respectively, while Big Steven gloomily shuffled towards his place of exile on a1. All the other kids were assigned to pawn duty, but Steven's size worked against him - he was standing in the first row, along with the mind-numbingly boring adults.
Behind us, Mrs. Harris, the vice-principal, was taking her place as the white Queen, while keeping a watchful eye on her minions - and also on Mr. Harris, who volunteered for the occasion to serve as his spouse's King (or, as Josh sarcastically put it: "he was volunteered").

After a very short while (which, in Thomas Jefferson Junior High-School time meant about 15 minutes), all thirty-two participants seemed safely rooted on their squares. A small commotion delayed the start of the match even further, as it was discovered that the black Bishop and Knight switched places, and Mrs. Harris had to race to the other side of the field to restore their rightful order. Upon return, she waved her hands to the Master of Ceremonies, i.e. William H. McKinley, Principal (what a coincidence, the principal of a school named after a dead American president is himself named after another dead president), to indicate that all was ready for the grand opening.

McKinley mounted the wooden podium and grabbed a hold of the microphone. He was in his familiar element.
"Dear students, teachers and visitors! We gathered here today to celebrate the blah blah blah of the yadda yadda!"

At that point, I stopped listening, partly because I already knew why we gathered here today, and partly because Josh punched me in the ribs, which was his usual method to indicate that he had important information to convey.
"I bet a dollar that I'll move off my square before you," he said.
"What makes you so sure?" I asked.
"Grandmasters always move the Queen's pawn first."
"That's bollocks. And besides, ours isn't a Grandmaster."

This was true. "Ours" was a thin oriental teenager, barely our age, wearing miniature round glasses, a checkered shirt and a pair of tattered blue jeans. His name was Patrick Hoang, International Master, and Junior Chess Champion of the United States. Two years ago, his parents had the misfortune of working in our small Midwest town for a few months, and he attended Thomas Jefferson Junior High, apparently not long enough to leave any major scars in his psyche, but long enough to be remembered by Mr. McKinley.

And it was only natural for the latter, when he heard that a major chess tournament would be played here, to invite Hoang together with one of the visiting chess professionals, to hold a "live" exhibition game in our school. His opponent was Leonid Denisov, Grandmaster, who, with his 200-pound figure and his long black beard resembled a Siberian Ranger more than a chess player. This was a battle of generations, a battle of East vs. West, and there was also a spicy aspect to it: twenty-some years ago, when he was in Hoang's age, Denisov was the Junior Chess Champion of Soviet Union. In his prime, he was considered a contender for the World Championship, but now he was merely one of the few dozens chess-knights-for-hire, mercenaries of the rook and bishop, content with making a living on the slopes of the chess Olympus, without any hope to scale its topmost peak.

If you've never been in an audience of a live chess game, I can't tell you, unfortunately, how it looks from the viewers' perspective. Probably should be an impressive sight from the stands, but here below on the playing board, carefully drawn on the school's football field, it was far less of a spectacle. I passed my eyes from Josh, who was still bemoaning the fact that he allowed me to drag him into this, to the Black armies across the board, to the somewhat disinterested crowd, and finally to the two contestants, on an elevated stage to my left, with a real chessboard between them. Everything was ready.

The voice on the loudspeakers refused at first to enter my brain, and only after an additional punch to my kidneys courtesy of Josh, I realized that Hoang made his first move, prompting Mr. McKinley to yell "Pawn to King Four!" into the microphone. Whoa, that's me. "You owe me a buck" I told Josh with a wry smile as a made my way two squares ahead, without much hope that my friend will pay up the bet.

Got curious? Don't worry: the complete story - all 7 parts - will be published here.
Please return tomorrow for part 2: "Dynamic tension".

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 01:18 AM | Comments (2)

December 23, 2003

Christmas PlayChess puzzles

Merry Christmas everyone!

The following puzzles are positions from HCL games in which the attacking player has missed the fastest way to finish off his opponent. As you can see the collected positions come from all levels, be it advanced or rookie. If you don’t want to miss the fun, then refrain from using chess engines. Computers are able to solve them in less than a second for most cases.

Mate in 2

HCL-E946-5   (1-0)
MindenFele - Max
Position after 28... Ka6

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 black Bishop on f8 g8 black Rook on h88
black Pawn on a7 black King moving from b7 c7 white Queen on d7 e7 f7 black Pawn on g7 h77
black King on a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 black Pawn on h66
a5 black Pawn on b5 white Pawn on c5 d5 e5 black Pawn on f5 g5 white Pawn on h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 white Knight on f3 g3 h33
white Pawn on a2 white Pawn on b2 white Pawn on c2 d2 e2 white Pawn on f2 white Pawn on g2 h22
a1 b1 white King on c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

The first one is easy (I think). White plays and mates in 2. In the game White played 29.Qc6+, so this is not the solution.

HCL-C1793-6   (1-0)
footyhead - ronan48
Position after 31... Rf6

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 black Rook moving from f8 g8 h88
white Rook on a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 black Rook moving over f7 g7 h77
a6 b6 c6 black Pawn on d6 black King on e6 black Rook on f6 g6 white Rook on h66
a5 white Pawn on b5 black Pawn on c5 d5 black Pawn on e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 white Pawn on e4 f4 g4 h44
a3 b3 white Queen on c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
a2 b2 white Pawn on c2 white Pawn on d2 white King on e2 white Pawn on f2 g2 h22
a1 b1 white Bishop on c1 d1 e1 f1 black Rook on g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

It is White’s turn to play (Mate in 2). There are 2 solutions to this problem.

HCL-M309-5   (1-0)
Fabius - Tapiwa
Position after 48... Kh7

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 black King moving from g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 white Pawn on f7 g7 black King on h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 white King on f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 white Knight on c5 d5 e5 white Pawn on f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 h44
black Pawn on a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
white Pawn on a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 white Pawn on h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

White played 49.Ne4 and just missed a mate in 2.
Hint: Read the stalemate article, to get the idea.

Mate in 3

HCL-B1723-10   (0-1)
speedmat - Validus
White has just played 55.b4

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 black Pawn on e6 f6 g6 h66
a5 black Pawn on b5 c5 black Pawn on d5 white Pawn on e5 black Knight on f5 g5 h55
black Pawn on a4 white Pawn on b4 black Pawn on c4 white Pawn on d4 e4 f4 g4 h44
white Pawn on a3 white Pawn moving over b3 white Pawn on c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
a2 white Pawn moving from b2 black King on c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h22
white King on a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Can you checkmate the White King in only 3 moves?

HCL-C2343-19   (1-0)
GrimRazor - Handkaes
Position after 26... Kf6

a8 b8 white Rook on c8 d8 e8 black Bishop on f8 g8 black Rook on h88
a7 black Pawn on b7 white Queen on c7 d7 e7 f7 black Pawn on g7 h77
black Pawn on a6 b6 c6 d6 black King moving from e6 black King on f6 g6 black Pawn on h66
a5 b5 c5 black Pawn on d5 e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 white Knight on d4 black Knight on e4 f4 g4 h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
black Queen on a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 white Bishop on f2 white Pawn on g2 white Pawn on h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 white Rook on f1 white King on g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

This one is a little bit complicated since you have to calculate all variations to make sure that you have found the solution (White mates in 3).

Mate in more than 3

HCL-M416-10   (1-0)
PretenderMC - EmK
Black resigned immediately after he played 23... Bxh2+.

a8 b8 black Rook on c8 black Queen on d8 black Knight on e8 black Rook on f8 g8 black King on h88
a7 black Pawn on b7 c7 d7 e7 black Pawn on f7 g7 black Pawn on h77
black Pawn on a6 b6 c6 black Bishop moving from d6 black Pawn on e6 white Pawn on f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 black Bishop moving over e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 white Bishop on d4 e4 black Bishop moving over f4 g4 white Queen on h44
a3 b3 white Pawn on c3 d3 e3 f3 black Bishop moving over g3 h33
white Pawn on a2 white Pawn on b2 white Bishop on c2 d2 e2 f2 white Pawn on g2 black Bishop on h22
a1 b1 c1 white Rook on d1 e1 black Bishop on f1 white King on g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

White is in check but Black’s position is helpless. White needs 4 moves to checkmate.

HCL-M336-2   (1-0)
Salo - aadje
Position after 26... Qc6

black Rook on a8 b8 black Bishop on c8 black King on d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
black Pawn on a7 black Pawn on b7 c7 black Pawn on d7 white Rook on e7 f7 g7 h77
a6 black Knight on b6 black Queen on c6 white Bishop on d6 e6 f6 black Pawn on g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 black Queen moving over d5 e5 f5 white Pawn on g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 white Rook on d4 black Queen moving over e4 f4 g4 h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 black Queen moving from f3 g3 h33
white Pawn on a2 b2 white Pawn on c2 d2 e2 black Knight on f2 g2 h22
a1 white King on b1 white Queen on c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

It looks like Black has a material advantage. However, it is White’s turn to play. In 7 moves Black is checkmated. You may think that this is a difficult problem but as soon as you get the idea, you’ll see that Black can only delay the end.

The last problem is the one I enjoyed most. It is a beautiful endgame study.

HCL-C1870-2   (1-0)
footyhead - daveboy6968
Position after 50... Re8

a8 b8 c8 d8 black Rook on e8 black Rook moving from f8 black King on g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 white Pawn on e7 f7 g7 h77
a6 b6 white Rook on c6 d6 e6 white Bishop on f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 white Pawn on c5 d5 e5 f5 white King on g5 h55
black Pawn on a4 black Pawn on b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 h44
white Pawn on a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 white Pawn on f2 g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Black has a lot of replies to every White's move but the result cannot change. White wins this game inevitably. I consider this, as a very educative example arising from a position which appeared in a C class game. I am not going to tell you how many moves White needs. As you can see Black is lost, but there is one move that ends the game faster.

PS: Please, do not post any comments containing the solutions. Allow other playchess members to solve the puzzles without tempting them to scroll down the page. I’d like to read your comments about the difficulty level. I have checked hundreds of games with my chess engine, and I read the analysis window, before looking at the position. I cannot evaluate the difficulty. I have to remind you that in all cases the moves actually played are not the solutions.

Posted by Michalis Kaloumenos at 09:19 PM | Comments (9)

December 19, 2003


Hello Playchess pals.

I have created a big database with all HCL games played in this site, and I intend to report regularly on many chess related topics, based on the completed games from this site. In order to experiment with this absolutely new for me task, I decided to start with the quite entertaining conclusion of a game of chess: The stalemate.

During 2003 in Human Chess League 16 games ended with stalemate. I am going to present you 4 cases.

Most endgame studies with a few pieces on the board advice to double check carefully our next move in order to avoid a stalemate. The defending King is usually near the border and an attacking Rook or Queen guards all escaping squares. Most stalemates just happen in such a position after a careless move. The first example is characteristic.

HCL-C2063-9   epenz - Maz   (1/2-1/2)
Position after 53... Kb1

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 white Pawn on h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 white Pawn on f4 g4 h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 white King on g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 white Queen on d2 e2 f2 g2 h22
a1 black King on b1 black King moving from c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Can you find a mate in 2?

White has all the available material to mate his opponent. However, his desire to obtain the maximum forces to finish the game guides him to promote the pawn to a Queen. 54.h8Q Stalemate!

What a pity, because after 54.h8R Black has only one available move: 54.Ka1 and 55.Rh1#.

The second example is very educative, since White follows exactly all the instructions one can find in a book with basic pawn endgames.

HCL-B1586-7   (1/2-1/2)
Pietros - sarx
Position after 46.hxg4

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 black King on f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 black Pawn on f5 black Pawn on g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 white Pawn on g4 h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 white King on f3 g3 white Pawn moving from h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Black blunders his 46th move. He should have played 46.f4. After 47.Ke4 Ke6 48.Kd4 Kd6 39.Ke4 Kc5 has managed to advance his King to the 5th rank leaving White with a doubt which is the best way to delay checkmate.

Yet, he played 46... fxg4+. After 47.Kxg4 the game is drawn. However, White presents an excellent technique to achieve this target. After 47... Kg6 his retreats without leaving g-file 48.Kg3 and after 48... Kf5 he takes the opposition with 49.Kf3.

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 black King on f5 black Pawn on g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 white King on f3 white King moving from g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Any other move is bad for White. Black advances the pawn 49... g4+ and an identical cycle of moves repeat: 50.Kg3 Kg5 51.Kg2 Kf4 52.Kf2.

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 black King on f4 black Pawn on g4 h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 white King on f2 white King moving from g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

The cycle repeats once again: 52... g3+ 53.Kg2 Kg4 54.Kg1 Kf3 55.Kf1. Black advances the pawn 55... g2+ 56.Kg1.

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 black King on f3 g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 black Pawn on g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 white King moving from f1 white King on g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Black has two choices. He either abandons pawn protection or plays 56... Kg3 stalemate, offering me the chance to remind you of basic pawn endgame positions.

The most entertaining stalemates happen with many pieces left on the board, while one player is almost in zugzwang and the other enjoys material advantage. Have you ever managed to stalemate your opponent while your position is objectively inferior? How many times did it happen to you to turn a triumph into a disaster by neglecting a stalemate? The following game shows exactly that.

HCL-C1538-17   (1/2-1/2)
Maz - Cristian13
Position after 36... Ka7

black King moving from a8 b8 c8 white Rook on d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
black King on a7 black Pawn on b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 white Queen on g6 h66
a5 white Pawn on b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h55
black Pawn on a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 white Pawn on g4 white Pawn on h44
white Pawn on a3 b3 white Pawn on c3 d3 white Pawn on e3 f3 g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 white Rook on d1 e1 f1 white King on g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Black has just one move available: b7-b6. In any other case 37.R1d7 would be considered as an exemplary pin, reducing the mobility of the opponent. But the position requires a different way of thinking. Considering the zugzwang, White should search for a move that mates the opponent after he plays b7-b6. If no such move can be found, he must allow Black's next move by removing the Queen or the Rook from the 6th and 8th rank respectively. Yet, the mating move exists: Qg6-h7. So, a waiting move is necessary: 37.e4 or 37.g5 or 37.h5 have the same result 37...b6 38.Qh7#.

The final game involves a master technique one must always have in mind especially when the position is lost or extremely difficult to fight. Setting a trap may not be the best move in many cases, as it possibly shortens the game, but sometimes is crowned with success.

HCL-A1414-6   (1/2-1/2)
pizzachess - Freitag
Position after 51... Ka5

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
black Pawn on a7 black Pawn on b7 c7 black Bishop on d7 e7 black Pawn on f7 g7 black Pawn on h77
black King moving from a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 black Pawn on g6 h66
black King on a5 b5 c5 black Rook on d5 e5 f5 g5 h55
white Pawn on a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 black Pawn on f4 g4 white King on h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 white Pawn on h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 white Queen on e2 f2 g2 white Pawn on h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 black Rook on f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Black has a huge material advantage. Notice that White can move only one piece: his Queen. He sets a beautiful trap by playing 52.Qe5. Black decides to take the Queen for free and dominate the board after 52... Rxe5. Alas! The game is over: Stalemate.

Posted by Michalis Kaloumenos at 08:47 PM | Comments (9)

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