Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tenacious Defense

While writing this I am sitting here looking at a book I’ve wanted to read for a decade, How to Defend in Chess by Colin Crouch. I had a copy at one time, and there was always one on the shelves at the Atlanta Chess Center. Although it was on my roundtoit list I never seemed to find the time to read it. The Legendary Georgia Ironman has a copy of Secrets of Chess Defence by Mihail Marin, whom I know to be a fine writer on chess. I will, hopefully, live long enough to read each of them. Hikaru Nakamura did not play particularly well against Caruana in the sixth round of the FIDE Gran Prix, drifting into a bad position by move 30. Will a little help from his opponent Hikaru battled back to even in the mid-30’s, but by move 40 Caruana could have pocketed a pawn, and the game, but refused, for some reason, to take the proffered gift. Still, he had a hammer lock on the game. Two moves later Hikaru was losing. Two moves after that he was down 2 pawns and DOOMED; the game a foregone conclusion. Hanging on the wall just to the right of the steps upstairs to the playing rooms of the Atlanta Chess & Game Center was a copy of a pelican that had swallowed another creature. It was placed there by the owner, Thad Rogers, who loved it. The only thing that could be seen of the other creature was the arms; the rest had been swallowed. The hands were around the neck of the pelican. The caption below read: NEVER GIVE UP! I thought of it while watching Nakamura doing battle in this endgame. He was, as is often the case when one refuses to give up, helped by his opponent. When Caruana played 57…c4 in lieu of d4 (because passed pawns must be pushed) I reflected on something IM Boris Kogan used to say to me, “Mike, why you make it hard. Chess is simple game.” One time I said, “Maybe to you, Boris,” causing him to erupt in laughter. They battled on move after move until Hikaru made an inferior move 74 (Ke3) when he had four better moves (h5; Bd7; Bb5; & Kd1) to keep the game close. It looked like Nakamura might be going down until Caruana put his bishop on b3 in lieu of e4 with his 78th move. The game concluded on move 84 with the point being split. It is one thing in chess to be known as a slashing and dashing player, but a true professional is one who is known as being tough to beat. The best reputation one can have in chess is to have it said about you that “He goes down like rotgut… HARD!” Today Nakamura faced the tournament leader, Dominguez Perez, with the Black pieces. He must have pleased current the Georgia State Champion, Damir Studen, when he chose to play the Mieses-Kotroc variation of the Scandinavian defense. Blazing new trails, Hikaru made a questionable twelfth move and was back on the defensive again. After Dominguez made his nineteenth move Nakamura was a clear pawn down. His own nineteenth move only tended to exacerbate and already tenuous situation. Hikaru battled on but did not give up. He did, though, let go of the rope with one hand when he played his 58th move of b5, when Kc5 would have kept him in the game. After 59 cxb5 Hikaru let go with the other hand by playing Qxb5, which gave White a mate in FORTY NINE, according to the program known as Houdini. Fortunately Nakamura was not playing a program but a human being because the human played 60 h5 rather than the first of the 49 moves leading to checkmate, Kg7. The game was ultimately drawn on move 80. What Hikaru Nakamura has done in the last two games by saving those two half points is tantamount to winning a game. The flashy games make the columns in newspapers, and now online, but it is games like this that prove the mastery of a player. I have followed Hikaru, not only because he had some nice things to say about my BaconLOG at the US Open in Indianapolis back in ’09, but ever since playing in one of the ancillary tournaments at the Continental Open in Sturbridge, Massachusetts in 2002, when the other GM’s were making quick draws with each other and going next door to eat seafood and drink copious amounts of adult beverages. It was strange to see no players on the first few empty boards until Hikaru made his way toward the top. The drawing masters were forced to play, and lose, until Kamil Miton managed a draw in the last round. If you go to the USCF MSA page for the tournament you will see something I have never seen before: Show ALL Sections Section 1 HIKARU Section 2 UNDER 2200 Section 3 UNDER 2000 Section 4 UNDER 1800 Section 5 UNDER 1600 Section 6 UNDER 1400 Section 7 UNDER 1200 Section 8 UNRATEDS'! What a tribute to a great player. Guess that says it all! Armchair Warrior

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