What's the Worst Move? #4

A column reprint from "The Gambit", of the North Carolina Chess Association. Author: Robert Morrell. Reprinted with permission.


Recently, I have been able to unravel one of the great mysteries of the metaphysics, a question that has stumped the likes of Newton, Einstein, Shcrodinger, Calvin, and Hobbes. The question is "what is time?", and the answer came to me as I looked at some games sent for this column:

Time is a drug.

Stay off my telephone line so the Nobel Prize committee can get through.

The answer to this mystery came in a game sent by Ulf Hellsten. At the Seahawk Rapids II action chess (game in 30) tournament last April, Mr. Hellsten (2020) played black against the Torre Attack of Dave Manquis (1600).

1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 g6 3. e3 Bg7 4. Bd3 O-O 5. Nd2 c6 6. f4 d5 7. Bxf6 exf6 8. h4 Re8 9. Qe2 h5 10. Ngf3 Bg4 11. O-O-O Nd7 12. Qf2 Re7 13. Rde1 b5!

The punctuation is Ulf's, who thinks f5 was screaming to be played. Having 400 points plus less of an ear, I'll trust him, though Qa4 seems plausible to me, if only to keep the board from tipping over from the weight of all those pieces on the kingside.

14. e4 Qb6 15. exd5 Rae8 16. dxc6 Qxc6 17. Rxe7 Rxe7 18. Re1 Be6 19. d5 Qxd5 20. Qxa7 Bh6 21. Qa5 Nc5 22. Be4 Nxe4 23. Nxe4 Bxf4+ 24. Kb1 Rd7??

Here, I first began considering concepts of time. The most advanced theories (as seen on Star Trek re-runs) would attribute this move to the well known "wormhole effect," whereby a player makes a move, then suddenly finds himself transported to a nearly identical, parallel universe where he had only thought about, rather than made, necessary supporting moves. Mr. Hellsten, thinking mate in two, had obviously just come from a cosmos without moves 20 and 23. How else could you explain an expert player's certainty that his bishop was still lingering on g7? Mr. Mangis' welcome to this alien from another universe: the jolting 25 Nf6! On behalf of the rest of the universe Mr. Hellsten, I'm sorry.

25. Nxf6+ Kg7 26. Nxd5 Rxd5 27. Qc3+ Kg8 28. Ng5 Bd2 29. Qg3 Bxe1 30. Qxe1 Bg4?

Mr. Hellsten was hunting cheapos, and he lucked out...

31. b3???

(31. Qe8+ Kg7 32. Qxf7+ and mate on next move.)

31... Rd1+ 32. Qxd1 Bxd1 0-1

Despite the "setback" white still has a won game, but... he lost on time in about 15 moves.

Here, wormholes, quarks and even the "time is money" theory fail. However, if time is viewed as a drug, and all the world addicts, then peculiarities such as this game come into focus. Clearly both players were going through withdrawal as their supply of time ran low. A major stinker in the place of a forced mate is as clear a case of DT's as I've seen. Other trends match the time/drug hypothesis. Surely it is no coincidence that Blitz chess's popularity has gained during the same period of the "just say no" movement.

Not wanting to encourage drug use let me hasten to point out that too much time can also hurt one's play. Consider the experience of A.E., playing white against Nolan Tomboulian in the Billy Watt. Mr. Tomboulian, clearly familiar with time's ability to cloud men's minds, gives his hapless opponent an overdose:

1. e4 c5 2. d4 e6 3. dxc5 Bxc5 4. Bf4 b6 5. Nc3 Qe7 6. Nb5 Na6 7. Nc7+ Nxc7 8. Bxc7 d5?

The bishop is trapped by d6, but Nolan gives his opponent more time. (Insidious isn't it?)

9. Bb5+ Bd7 10. Bd3 Nf6 11. Nf3?? dxe4

Mr. Tomboulian begins to work on his time drunk opponent.

12. Be2 exf3 13. Bxf3 Nd5 14. Bg3 Bb5!

There are bad bishops and baaad bishops.

15. Qd2 Rd8 16. a3 O-O 17. Be5 f6 18. Bg3 Qd7 19. h4 Ne7

Mr. Tomboulian gives his opponent one more fix of time, and it proves fatal

20. Be2 Qxd2+ 21. Kf1 Qxe2+ 22. Kg1 Nf5 23. Kh2 Nxg3 24. Kxg3

I'm not a fan of quick resignation, but death with dignity comes to mind here

Bxf2+ 25. Kf4 Rd4++ 0-1

There are five, count 'em, five black pieces involved in this mate.

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