Stamford open: Age and Resilience 2, Youth and Talent 1

I faced three of America’s best young players in the last three rounds of the Stamford Open earlier this month. None of them started very well for me, but in two cases I was able to settle down and turn my game around.

The game against Jason Lu was another story.

Round 3

Jason was ranked 7th in the USA for age 11. He came out of the opening with a slight space advantage, and I never managed any kind of counterplay:

His play wasn’t flawless, but it was a lot better than mine. I probably should have castled short and tried to weather the storm

Round 4

Ellen Wang was the #1 nine-year-old girl by more than 200 points (seventh overall) and the bronze medal winner at the World Cadet Championship for girls under 10.

We were in an unusual but balanced middlegame position, until this happened:

Round 5

Ethan Gu was “only” 32nd in the US for his age, but a 2093 rating is more than excellent for a 13-year-old.

I quickly got into another cramped position. After my round 3 debacle, I didn’t have the patience to defend passively, so I took a chance:

This win gave me 2.5 out of 5, a good result considering I was paired up 4 rounds out of 5.

Coincidentally, all three of my opponents seem to have had birthdays in the last two weeks.  So I wish Jason, Ellen, and Ethan a belated happy birthday. Good luck, and thank you for games I’ll remember when I read about the titles you’ll be winning.

Play Like a Patzer; Think Like an Expert

The 2016-2017 Albany Chess Club Championship came to a close on Wednesday, February 1. The runaway victor was, once again, Jeremy Berman. Congratulations Jeremy!

This year a trophy was offered to Second Place as well, providing the rest of us something to vie for beyond “mere” rating points.

I’ve been playing rated, competitive chess for over twenty years, starting when I was in high-school. My first rated games were in a scholastic trophy tournament, run by the ubiquitous CCA Tournament Director, Steve Immitt. That started a 500+ games journey through the D-A rating classes.

In my youth I played every tournament I could possibly get to: a 12-round US Open in Virginia; consecutive World Opens in Philadelphia; multiple team championships in Parsippany; too many NYS Championships in Saratoga; random CCA tournaments all over New England; all-night tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan; and countless games cutting my teeth at the Vassar-Chadwick Chess Club, in Poughkeepsie, NY, my hometown. I had some decent wins, but mostly mediocre results. As an under-employed student, I got caught up in trying to win money over rating points, stunted my chess growth, and saw a high-school rating peak of 1770 foolishly brought down to the 1600’s. So I walked away from the game to focus on life.

And I did. But I missed the game. Even more so, I missed the carefree days of youth, when the young conscience is free of those pesky adulthood burdens – careers, bills, marriage. It’s not easy justifying playing chess as an adult. “How can you take time away from what’s important in life to play a game?” – is how the responsible-adult rationale goes. So now, I’m down to less than ten rated games a year. But I know this all-work-no-play attitude ultimately can’t compete with Caissa, my first love. If you’re reading this blog, then you too have been seduced by her. She’s my lifelong affair; no matter how determined I’ve been to leave her – and I’ve tried – she enchants me back. 

I decided to commit to playing in the Albany Chess Club Championship. But I quickly regretted that decision. I lost my first game. A close, contentious battle with Jeremy Berman, being ultimately decided on one move: if I make the right move, I gain a solid positional advantage; if I play incorrectly, then I’m saddled with a losing disadvantage. I missed the strongest move, and didn’t recover. I say there’s no luck in chess – just weak moves. He who makes the final weak move loses the win.

My first round opponent (Berman) and last round opponent (Dean Howard) were the only players rated higher than me entering the tournament. So sandwiched between those two games, I’d be playing rating-roulette: anything can happen in these late-evening midweek battles. My starting rating: 1998. Two points away from achieving the Grandmaster-equivalent-for-club players, the elusive rank of National Expert. So after that loss, I began the tournament instantly down 12 points. But I slogged my way through the next ten games (dropping a game to Gordon Magat, who simply outplayed me), and entered the last round 9-2, to Dean Howard’s 9.5-1.5. I’m now up eight rating points: sitting unofficially at 2006. The battle is on not just for Second Place, but also to secure my rating. I need a win to earn Second Place, but would also be happy with a rating-saving draw. A loss would be horrific. Twelve games, around 36 hours of intense chess, all for naught rating-wise. A loss would mean zero rating points gained, and a fitful night of chess-loser-regret tossing-and-turning. The reward from five months of laborious chess-work is earned or lost with this one game.

In prepared openings, it takes two to stay on course, and only one to go off trail. I always joked I’d make it to Expert without knowing any opening theory. Every game is a new adventure – I ignorantly blaze my own path, and quite often enter thorny thickets. One can say this is the hallmark of a chess swindler – frequently fighting back from losing positions.

My game with Dean predictably soon had me in the briar patch, and we arrived at the following position.

Playing for equality, I decided to trade down. I should have exchanged queens first. Instead, after a good think, I play 16. Nc5. Which immediately turned into 16. Nc5??


Only now, AFTER I played the move, did it become clear: he can simply take my knight, and my planned recapture of 17. Rxc5 utterly fails to black simply moving his queen to c7 or e7. If I play 17. QxQ first, after 17… RxQ, I’m basically forced to play 18. RxR, and then black recaptures with the knight, solidly protecting the hanging bishop. There is no recourse. I’M LOST! JUST. LIKE. THAT. Of course, Dean takes the knight. 16…Bxc5.

I saved my worst move of the tournament for my last game. Quite possibly the worst blunder I’ve made in three hundred rating points. Completely unforced. No tricks. No tactics. No traps. No zaps. A wholly unnecessary move with zero advantage gained, and no saving grace. I’m down material and position, with no counter-play. This is resignable. Just put your hand out; abscond; soothe your sorrows with Wendy’s; go home and kick the dog.

Now I’m staring at the board, suffering through the five stages of grief. Is this REALLY over? I’m searching and analyzing the position. There’s nothing. My clock is ticking down. Ahh, ok. Forget it. I’m done. I’m going to resign. I’m not going to sit here and play hope-chess, where one hopes their opponent sinks to their level. I’ll spare myself the humiliation.

But Dean isn’t at the board. He’s walking around. Predicament: how do you resign with no opponent? So I sit there and keep studying the position, accept it’s hopeless, and have a full-on internal dialogue, that goes something like this:

What just happened? I made a horrible move. Why? Because I’m an idiot. Ok, but you ARE rated around 2000, which means you’re a good chess player. True, relatively speaking, I am a good player. I just made a bad move. So if I’m a good player, and I’m capable of making a bad move, then logic says my opponent, who is also a good player, is also capable of making a bad move. Good point. Wait. This is just like the Superbowl from a few days ago. The Patriots are a good football team – had the best record in the league, but they played a horrible first half. Then the second half, they played great, and the Falcons played weak. So just because the Patriots played a weak half first, doesn’t mean they are the weaker team. The Patriots were down 28-3. Down 25 points. In the third quarter. That’s a loss. But somehow, they came back. They didn’t give up. They didn’t quit. They waited for their opponent to make weak moves.

But I’m not the Patriots and this isn’t football. But okay, I’ll let myself make ONE move, then I’ll resign. What move gives my opponent the best opportunity to make a weak move? I exchange queens. 17. QxQ. Dean comes back to the board.

He makes his move. 17…Bxf2+. WHAT THE??? UNBELIEVABLE! I’M BACK IN IT! JUST. LIKE. THAT. I felt like the Patriots.

Forget the pawn. I KNEW I’d get it back. Suddenly it’s a game. And just like the Superbowl after regulation, it was a tie score, stopped one move before bare kings. Draw.

But really a win-win.

Dean earned Second Place in the ACCC, and I finally, on game 543 of my chess life, became a National Expert.


1) No one has ever won or drawn by resigning. If it’s a draw, then the game will play to a draw. The endgame experience gained playing until the very end is worth the effort. If you make a blunder, don’t give up. Weak moves can be contagious.

2) Stay at the board. Think on your opponent’s time. We’re not grandmasters, calculating while we wander the aisles. The more you look, the more the board reveals. In post-game analysis, I’m always amazed to see what I missed. “How did I not see that??” Also, you never know when your opponent will prematurely resign.

3) Study tactics. I use Solving tactics puzzles is the most efficient way to study. You can make Expert without knowing deep opening theory. Patzers love openings. Makes them sound like a chess player. They’ll show you all the sidelines. Then they’ll drop a piece to a tactic.

Near-upsets at the AACC Championship

On November 30, two games from the Albany club championship could have ended in big upsets, but did not.

Gordon Magat was a Rook down against Kun Park in a Q+R vs. Q+RR position. It wasn’t simple, especially with less than a minute on both clocks. Kun lost his Queen for a Rook trying to avoid perpetual check, and Gordon won the ending that followed.

My game with Paul Moore was almost a routine win for me. I won the exchange in the early middlegame. His attacking position was insufficient, but he had more CP (Cheapo Potential) than I realized, and it could have ended badly for me.

Benni VS. Goliath

It was the first of many Simultaneous Chess Exhibitions to be held this New Year at the Albany Academies Chess Club. Dean Howard, a local expert, honorary AA Chess Club member and long time Chess player did the honors.

Twelve of 24 Chess Club students banded together in the AA Buttery to show their quality against Mr. Dean Howard. Lining up as they did along the polished great oak tables, the uniformed students faced their nemesis with armies and armies of white pieces. Like a young tribe on the hunt and out for blood, they surrounded their quarry. Always six young warriors to the front and six at his back. Always. “Surely, one of us shall fell this man.” Or so they thought.

Dean, the top board Geezer, the great chess beast, the gargantuan elder, came at them one, by one, by one with the black pieces. The Chess Clubbers had already danced their little war dance, dressed for battle, and sang their song of defiance and victory. The time for resolve was at hand. And so they launched their spears, pebbles, rocks and arrows. The cavalry rode forth, the infantry marched, the lancers and pike advanced. But the man in the center of the assault was not fazed. He seemed to be enjoying it…

Like a rampaging elephant squashing mosquitoes into goo, the surrounded man stood victorious in the end. And from that ash heap of fallen kings he declared certain games worthy of study. Below is one of those games.

"Wearing the Black"
“Wearing the Black”

Not only Dean Howard commented this game as worthy of review, but the blunder checker software agrees that it merits review and or publication.

Dean HowardBenni Matsuo at Albany Academies Buttery

January 26th 2016 the Albany Academies Chess Club is proud to have Peter Henner do the honors of a Simultaneous Chess Exhibition.

Here is a free beginner chess book written by Lauren Goodkind of the Bay Area. It is a touching work and quick read. Her personal story and teaching method are worthy.

A good video by Dereque Kelly on the KIA. 


Thomas E. Clark is the Chess Tutor in Albany NY at The Albany Academies. He is the chess instructor in Schenectady NY at the Brown Private school. Tom is the chess teacher in Latham NY at the Albany Chinese School. He also tutors chess in albany NY at the summer LEAP program for kids.

Not as good as I thought

The Capital District Chess League season has begun. The Albany “A” team won its first match against Saratoga 3.5-0.5 on April 19

Board 1: Jeremy Berman (Alb) beat Gary Farrell (Saratoga)
Board 2: Dean Howard (Alb) beat Alan LeCours (Saratoga)
Board 3: Tim Wright (Alb) drew with Glen Gausewicz (Saratoga)
Board 4: Gordon Magat beat (Alb) Joshua Kuperman (Saratoga)

Gordon won an exchange in the middlegame and won routinely after that.
Glen had a small space advantage, but Tim managed to trade some pieces and a draw was agreed.
After some complications, Jeremy was ahead in material but behind on time by enough to regret declining an earlier draw offer. Unfortunately for Gary, he needed to spend more time trying to offset the material deficit, and his own time ran out first.

My game with Alan was the last to finish. I got a modest space advantage, built it slowly without being too aggressive. Alan maneuvered unsuccessfully after grabbing a pawn, and I won comfortably without being at risk of losing.

That’s what I thought.

The computer evaluated Black’s position more favorably, and found two big holes on my tactical analysis.

Not a bad game, all things considered, just not as good as I thought on the way home.

Knights Do Not Always Lose to Bishops

Today’s game is a renewal of a long standing rivalry. Carl Adamec and Dean Howard have been playing each other since sometime in the 1970s. Then it was on opposing high school teams, now they fill high boards for the Schenectady and Albany clubs. Here is their latest edition from board 2 of the recent Albany A – Schenectady A CDCL match:

Black is nowhere near equal, but he is not quite beaten on the board. There was, however, no more time on his clock and he resigned here. This was a rather good effort by Mr. Adamec in demonstrating Knights are not helpless against Bishops when they have a sturdy central outpost from which they can not be ousted.

Illustrative game:

Uncle Sam loses, but Thomas wins

Albany A defeated Uncle Sam 3-1 in a CDCL match on May 19. The results by board:
Board 1: Phil Thomas (US) beat Dean Howard (Alb)
Board 2: Jeremy Berman (Alb) beat Odanayo Ogundipe (US)
Board 3: Peter Henner (Alb) beat Sylvester Canty (US)
Board 4: Tim Wright beat (Alb) Elihue Hill (US)

Phil Thomas is one of the most improved adults on the local chess scene in recent years. His rating has improved the 1700’s to over 2000. Here is his excellent win on board 1 of our match last month. Click on any move to see a board and to play through the moves, including some of the variations.

As a sidebar to show how far Phil has come, here’s the first game we played.

Thanks again to Messrs. Mockler and Little for the new animated boards.

A Short, Sharp Game

Here is another game from the recent Albany A – Albany B match. This is the short, sharp contest that took place on board 2. The game began as a Caro-Kann, not an opening usually noted for great tactical excitement. Boyce and Howard combined to show us even so staid a debut as the Caro can be treated tactically.

I believe one of the participants in this game has not appeared before in these posts; Scott Boyce. Mr. Boyce has been around the local chess scene for a long time. If my failing memory has not betrayed me, I recall him from some of Open events and scholastic tournaments John Dragonetti and I directed way back in the 1970s. Scott was recruited for the Albany B team as part of the effort to improve their results. Mr. Howard has been on these pages many times in the course of winning the AACC Championship more than once and as a high board for Albany A.

This miniature game is a lesson for us all. The Panov-Botvinnik Variation forcefully changes the course of the Caro from positions with a fixed pawn structure into a positions where piece play and dynamics take center stage. It can shock an opponent who lacks experience and preparation. You are wagering on finding the correct move at each step through the opening skirmish. However, against an experienced opponent the Panov undertakes a challenge that can get out of hand. Second best moves can bring a very sudden downfall as we have seen today.

Illustrative game:

More soon.

A Won Position is not the Same as Winning a Game

Dean Howard and Michael Mockler have met many times over the years and lately, in the CDCL and in the annual Albany Championship and elsewhere. Mr. Mockler often does very well in the opening of their games. Here is an example from this year’s AACC event:

Here is the position after White’s 25th move in the above game:

Howard Mock 3

Mr. Howard is a hard fighter who knows the one great truth about chess at the club level: obtaining a winning position and actually winning the game are not the same thing. In the above game Mockler obtained a significant material advantage more-or-less out of the opening; three minor pieces and two pawns for a Queen. Mr. Howard made use of each and every chance his was given redress the balance, fought hard and eventually won. The lesson for developing players is hard work in a bad position can bring great rewards.

Today’s game fragment

Howard, Dean – Mockler, Michael [C02]
CDCL Match Albsny A – Schenectady Geezers, Guilderland, NY, 28.05.2014

Howard Mock 1


After interesting opening play in the Advanced French the above position was reached. Black has done well: He has a passed pawn on c4, the Bishop pair and some lead in development that may be realized by using his Rooks on the f or d-files. The advantage lies with Black.

How may Black proceed? A couple of plans are obvious: a) 19…, a6; intending 20…, b5. Most likely White will meet that idea with 20 b5, leading to very complex play after: 20…, Nd8 21 b6 Qc6 22 h4 Be8 23 Bg5 Bxg5 24 hxg5 Bg6 25 Rb4, when the engine says Black is better no doubt because of the weak pawns on b6, e5 and g5. Or, b) Offering a pawn to activate the Bishops with; 19…, Rfd8 20 Qe2 Be8 21 Qxc4 Nd4; when the game simplifies. White appears to be able to hold things together even though his pawns are damaged and the Black Bishops have room to maneuver. Both are reasonable plans. There is a third possibility, 19…, Be8. This is harder to find because at the club level retrograde maneuvers are often passed by. Play might go: 19…, Be8 20 Ng5 Bxg5 21 Bxg5 Bg6 22 Rc1 Rf5 23 Bh4 Rxe5 24 Qg4, hitting both the c and e-pawns. Black will have to return the pawn he picked up. The game remains complex, but is trending towards equality.

Rybka recommends the third option, 19…, Be8; even though it means giving up the Bishop pair, something a human being would be reluctant to do. After much back-and-forth analysis with the machine, it seems to me 19…, a6; is the best choice for Black. That does not however lead to Black obtaining a clear advantage by any means.

Mr. Mockler, confronted with this great complexity, searched for another path.

19…, Rxf3?!

An Exchange sacrifice not so different from the famous Russian Exchange sacrifice on c3 in the Sicilian Defense. In the Sicilian the “sac” on c3 is especially potent if White has castled long and may well be a winning try if Black can pick up the e-pawn as a result of eliminating the Nc3.

20.gxf3 Nxe5?

Howard Mock 2

It looks to me Michael was thinking along the same lines as in the Russian Sicilian c3 sacrifice, and he believed the same idea applies; if the e-pawn falls, Black may well win. Often in our making of combinations there is a but. Here the but is tactical – the loose Bd7.

A cautious reexamination at this point was necessary. It would have uncovered a better path for Black: maximum activation of his pieces with: 20…, Rd8; then 21 f4 Be8 22 Qg4 Rd3 23 Ne4 Nd4!; with a game that is dynamically balanced and where Black has good compensation for the Exchange given up.


Howard Mock 4

White would have been motivated to reexamine the position if he had accurately calculated everything.

21.Bf4 Bd6 22.Bxe5 Bxe5 23.Rxe5!,..

Howard Mock 5

Simple, convincing and winning. There are times when even our good local players lose sight of what is happening in the heat of a tough game. Mr. Howard seldom falls prey to that fault. This could be the move Black missed in his calculations, or it could have been on the 26th turn the error crept in.

23…, Qxe5 24.Qxd7 Rf8

Howard Mock 6

It is possible Mr. Mockler calculated this far and thought his threats were sufficient to hold, or even win, the position.

25.Ne4 Rxf3 26.Qc8+ Rf8

Howard Mock 7

Here Black may have realized that 26…, Kf7?; loses to 27 Nd6+! Qxd6 28 Qxb7+, winning the Rook on f3. This allows White to hold on to the material, and one of the compensating Black pawns fall. If Black instead runs with his King; 27…, Kg6 28 Qe8+, when the fork on f7 will cost Black a whole Rook.

27.Qxc4 Qf5

Howard Mock 8

For developing players careful note should be taken of how White proceeds from here forward. There is no rush, just a steady improvement of the posting of the White pieces until Black is left without choices. The focus of the White forces is on g7 with a secondary job of screening the White King from annoying checks. The pressure on g7 ties up all of Black’s units and in the long run the b-pawn will fall. Then the Knight may come to a post where it attacks g7, and White trades off all the pieces on g7 and Queens the b-pawn. Good technique means no drama, just a steady squeeze until the opponent’s position cracks.

28.Rb3 b5 29.Qe2 Rc8 30.Nc5 e5 31.Qf3 Qg5+ 32.Qg3 Qc1+ 33.Kg2 Re8 34.Qe3 Qd1 35.Qf3 Qd2 36.Rd3 Qg5+ 37.Qg3 Qh6 38.Rd7,..

Howard Mock 9

38…, a5 39.Ne4 1–0

These two games point up the truism that getting to a better or winning position is not the same thing as winning a game.

More soon.

Howard – Mockler from the Albany Championship

Wednesday, 19 March, 2014 saw some more play in the Albany Championship. The results were:

Howard 1-0 Mockler. The game and its details are the subject of today’s post.

Henner 0-1 Alowitz. Arthur used his Petrov’s Defense against Peter’s 1 e4, no surprise. White did not do badly in the early part of the opening. Mr. Henner then began to run astray as the opening moved towards the middle game. There was a quick simplification to an ending and Mr. Alowitz found a shot that picked off a pawn. From then onwards White was working hard not to let the game slip away from him. Eventually the game came down to a Rook and pawn ending, and Black had held on to the extra pawn. Further hard work by Henner got to an even pawn and Rook end game. All the effort had taken a great deal of time. Peter Henner’s clock ran out in a dead even position.

Jones 0-1 Magat. This was an unusual English where Black took some big risks and lost his d-pawn as a result. With a very unpromising middle game and ending to look forward to, Gordon worked to complicate the game. Mr. Jones made an unfortunate choice on move 17; he decided to maneuver pieces when the position called for tactics to force simplification to a won ending. Mr. Magat laid a trap for the adventurous White Queen and Joe stepped into it. Several more moves were played, but a full Queen’s difference was too much. The game ended on move 27.

Stephenson 0-1 Northrup. A short and sharp fight wherein Will Stephenson left his Queen hanging. This is the first time in ten rounds of play that Will hung decisive material early on. Cory wrapped things up quickly after the gift.

One of my ongoing challenges is getting the scores and standings from each of the club tournaments. With several delayed games, my occasionally missing a round of play due to other commitments, and sometimes just plain mistakes, it is hard to be certain the standings and scores are correct. For the Schenectady event I have been aided by Philip Sells and his computer program producing up-to-date cross tables regularly. Albany does not the benefit of that technology. There I have relied on keeping a running tally and the help of the participants. This most recent Wednesday, Peter Henner had put together a cross table of the results he has in hand. I’ve made use of Peter’s work to try and update and correct the Albany standings as I have them. Any errors in these standings and scores are my responsibility not Peter’s.

1-2 Wright 9½-1½ w/ Berman and Lack to play
1-2 Berman 5½-1½ w/ Wright, Henner, Perry, Northrup, Eson and Stephenson to play
3 Howard 8-2 w Lack, Denham and one other to play
4 Perry 2½-2½ w/ 7 to play incl. Berman, Jones, Magat and Henner
5 Magat 5½-3½ w/ Perry, Northrup, Denham an Eson to play
6 Denham 3½-3½ w/ 6 to play
7 Lack 6-4 w/ Howard, Wright and Perry to play
8 Mockler 6½-4½ w/ Jones and Stephenson to play
9 Jones 5½-4½ w/ Mockler, Henner and Perry to play
10 Henner 3½-4½ w/ Howard, Berman, Jones, Perry and Eson to play
11 Northrup 3½-5½ w/ 4 to play
12 Alowitz 1½-8½ w/ 3 to play
13 Eson 0-8 w/ 5 to play
14 Stephensen 1-9 w/ 3 to play

As is seen easily there is still a long way to go before this event is over. The most critical game is Wright versus Berman. This head-to-head encounter may well decide the title this year. By dint of great effort Dean Howard has gotten close to Berman and Wright. If the leaders falter, Dean just may pull through to take the title once again. Although Glen Perry stands fairly high up on points lost basis, he has a very tough line-up to face. My guess Glen will fall back some places as he plays Berman, Jones, etc. The same can be said for Jason Denham. Gordon Magat, at +2 so far, may also be in contention for one of the top three spots. Everyone else seems to be out of the running or nearly so. I am hoping to see these delayed games played in the next few weeks. If not, the beginning of the Capital District Chess League season will cause the Albany Championship to stretch out through the Spring.

The race to the under 1800 prize in the Albany Championship is between Cory Northrup and Jason Denham. Both have scored 3½ points on the positive side. Cory has lost 5½ points and Jason 3½. With four and six games to play respectively, almost any outcome is possible. None of the other under 1800 players appear to have any chance to get into the mix.

It is not so often I get to publish a game close to its actual date of play. There are frequently games lined up from earlier events to get out of the way. This time I have a gap in the queue, and this game was most exciting to watch for three reasons: first, it features two very good players who have met many time before, and second, the outcome of the game is important to the tournament standings. Mr. Howard’s win keeps him close to the leaders, and Mr. Mockler’s loss probably means he has no chance at a high place. Thirdly, the game itself was an example of sharp and uncompromising chess. What more could this watcher ask for? And, because it has an immediate bearing on the Albany standings, I think it should be published now.

Howard, Dean – Mockler, Michael [C06]
AACC Championship 2013–14 Guilderland, NY, 19.03.2014

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7

This is the mainline Tarrasch Variation of the French Defense. There are hundreds of Grandmaster games in the database for this line.

5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ngf3 Qb6 8.0–0 cxd4 9.cxd4 Nxd4 10.Nxd4 Qxd4 11.Nf3 Qb6 12.Qe2?!,..

How Mock 1

More standard is 12 Qa4. Here is one example:

Worth noting is that the play is not too dissimilar to what goes on in our game, other than the Black Queen’s sortie to the K-side.

Another example is:


Grandmaster Soltis used the less popular alternative; 12 Qc2, and a willingness similar to Howard’s in the giving of pawns to obtain a win from an experienced opponent in the US Championship thirty years ago:

What can be gleaned from today’s game and the foregoing examples? I’d say offering the d-pawn is a very playable idea for White. A very old chess saying is: When A. is said, B. follows. If you are going to give the d-pawn you have to be ready to put more material at risk to get the benefit of the first sacrifice.

12…, a6 13.Bf4 Be7 14.b4?!,..

How Mock 2

White has given up one pawn to obtain a lead in development. He now tosses another pawn in the hopper for what? Apparently to extend that lead. Objectively this is risky, but maybe Mr. Howard wanted to test Mr. Mockler in a tactical melee?

It is easy enough to commiserate with White. After all, isn’t White supposed to come to this point of an opening holding on to the advantage of the first move? The chess books say White in this line can offer up the d-pawn and obtain compensation, but unless you closely read the books and dig a little on your own, finding the right moves is not easy.

Here, a normal continuation with 14 Rfc1, makes it likely another pair of minor pieces will be traded off on c5. Each reduction in material increases the value of the pawn plus. As long as White has the light squared Bishop on the board there are potential Bxh7+ tricks if Black hurries castling. How long can White wait around for Black’s decision on castling is a question begging an answer? As moves go by minor piece trades on c5 are more and more likely. The pawn structures are not likely to be dramatically changed immediately, so if things are to happen it will involve the placing of pieces, and the logical and likely active posts for pieces will provoke trades. All this ambiguity must have driven White’s decision to shed another pawn. Black’s development is still behind White’s, and the absent pawns mean open lines for the White “long” pieces. Certainly, one of the attractions of making the further material investment is avoiding normal minor piece trades.

14…, Qxb4 15.Bd2 Qg4

Black has the advantage wherever his Queen goes. Both 15…, Qa4; or 15 Qa3, are good moves. This move to g4 is both the least advantageous and the most aggressive. It fits with Mockler’s style, and that maybe what Howard counted upon.

16.h3 Qh5 17.Kh2?!,..

After taking stock of the position with a second pawn gone, White decides on direct action on the K-side. It is not absolutely correct, but the alternative, 17 Rac1 Nc5 18 Bb1? (White likely would be reluctant to see his light square Bishop off the board and with it many of his attacking chances. According to the mighty Rybka that is a better path. A human is unlikely to see it that way.) 18…, Bd7 19 Rfe1 Rc1; and the lead in development is gone.

17…, f5!?

How Mock 3

I expected nothing else from Michael. It does appear that 17…, f6; is calmer possibility. If 17…, f6; play could continue: 18 g4 Qf7 19 exf6 gxf6 20 Bh6 Nc5 21 Bc2 Bd7; when Black holds on to his two extra pawns and has solved the development problem. White has some compensation; open lines and a Black King that, at best, will have to seek sanctuary on the Q-side where White can bring his Rooks to bear on him.

The choice here was fascinating to this observer. The game move attempts to shutdown activity on the K-side to some extent or to make White capture on f6 leading to the line mentioned above. White for his part decides to go all in.

18.Rg1 0–0 19.g4?,..

An error that came close to ending the game. If White calculated the coming sequence accurately, Mr. Howard is even more of a cold-eyed Riverboat gambler than I thought he was. Perhaps he missed the capture on f3 and the subsequent double attack with check on e5 and made the best of a bad deal. He may have thought Black would only capture on e5 with the Knight when Rg4xg7+ wins the Queen for a minor piece and a couple of pawns.

19…, fxg4 20.Rxg4 Rxf3!?

How Mock 4

Dean dangled a “bright and shiny” object and Michael goes for it. My question about the move has to do with the difficulty of calculating the upcoming sequence. Safer is 20…, Kh8; but the game would then enter a period of maneuver in obscure circumstances. This is one of those junctures where almost all players struggle; is it the correct moment to shift into concrete tactics, or is it preferable to maneuver for some while longer in hopes of a better chance? Mr. Mockler is correct to opt for the tactics now, I believe.

21.Qxf3 Qxe5+!

This is the move that Mr. Howard may have misjudged. It is possible he overlooked this check picking off the Ra1.

22.Kg2 Qxa1 23.Bc3!,..

How Mock 5

The other possibility is that Dean saw this resource and was willing to gamble there would be enough play for his Queen to compensate for the lost material.

23…, Qxc3 24.Bxh7+ Kxh7 25.Qxc3 Bf6

The combination was pretty much forced. Black has three minors for a Queen and a couple of pawns to boot. We don’t often see this kind of material imbalance around here. It is this feature of the game that captured my interest most of all.

Black has just two pieces out and working, the QR and QB are at home, and getting them out and about may easily cost material. Mr. Mockler, with a substantial material edge, tries to hang on to as much as he can. He might have done better to hark to the old adage: What do you do with extra material? Give some of it back to simplify to a won position.

26.Qc2+ Kg8 27.Qg6 Kf8 28.Qh7 Ne5 29.Qh8+ Ke7 30.Rxg7+ Bxg7

How Mock 6

Not bad, but better may be 30…, Nf7. Black should not shrink from letting one or even both of his extra pawns go to get his pieces out and about. Two Bishops and a Rook will ably handle a Queen in an open position.

31.Qxg7+ Nf7 32.Qc3 Bd7 33.Qb4+ Nd6?

How Mock 7

Black evaluated the situation wrongly here. Giving up some pawns with 33…, Ke8 34 Qxb7 Rc8 35 Qxa6 Rc4; gets the pieces are on their way to activity. None of White’s pawns are very strong. Black would have retained a winning advantage in this way. Granted there would be many moves to be played. After the text Black has to give up a minor piece and the advantage.

34.Qh4+ Kf7

Going to the back rank drops the Rook.

35.Qh7+ Kf6 36.Qxd7 Rg8+ 37.Kf1 Nc4 38.Qxb7 a5 39.Qh7,..

How Mock 8

White is not quite winning yet, however what is Black to do against the advance of the h-pawn?

39…, Rg7 40.Qh8 Kf7 41.Ke2 Rg5 42.h4 Re5+ 43.Kf1 Rf5 44.Kg2 Ne5 45.h5 d4

How Mock 9

Things now were becoming clear to the several watchers of this game. The Rook and Knight are just not working together well enough to balance the lust to expand of the h-pawn. Even worse tidings are coming. If White should for some reason give up the h-pawn, he can scoot his Queen over to the Q-side, capture the a-pawn and create a similar problem there for Black. In that case the Black King would be far from the scene of the action.

46.h6 Rg5+ 47.Kf1 d3 48.Qh7+ Ke8 49.Qe4 1–0

How Mock 10

Mr. Mockler resigned here. A possible finish is: 49…, Rh5 50 h7 Nf7 51 Qxd3 Kf8 52 Qg6 Rh6? 53 Qxh6+, and the pawn Queens with check. A very entertaining battle. I will ask Mr. Howard if he calculated the combination beginning with 19 g4, out to the position with three minor pieces for the Queen? He did use a considerable chunk of his clock leading up to the move. Whether the decision was the product of calculation or intuition, it did give us thrilling contest to watch.

More soon.