What's the Worst Move? #5

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


Both the 1992 LPO and NC Closed Class Championships offered $10 prizes for the worst games, which brought a slew of ...unusual games. I will be presenting several A players games in a couple months columns, which should give my computer time to figure out exactly which moves were bad.

There was a disturbing trend towards illegibility in many of the booster section submissions, as if the players, so recently rattled, could not yet hold a pen. The nature of several games were entirely lost to posterity (a relief to some, one supposes) because of misrecorded moves.

Indeed, the winner of the LPO worst game award won largely by default, though his game should be required reading for new booster section players. Tired of pristine, esoteric GM games? Then try NP (1326) vs. Eric DeHaven (1181) for a little cinema verite.

1. Nf3 d5 2. b4 e6 3. Bb2 Bxb4?

Mr. Dehaven, of Virginia writes that "at the time I didn't know it, but in this setup, (orangutan) the b4 pawn becomes the most poisonous pawn in all the land. I bit into the apple and am still feeling the aftertaste!"

Frankly, Mr. Dehaven, I think calling this pawn poisoned is like calling the Hindenburg's landing in New York "not up to the highest standards".

4. Bxg7 Nc6

As for poisoned apples and aftertastes, does the name Snow White mean anything to you?

5. Bxh8

Someday your prince will come...but not in this game.

The rest of the game is no fairy tale, but will be appreciated by those who call chess a war game. Unlike the high level combative artistry of top players, this game captures the true nature of war: sloppy, senseless tragedy, chaos and stupidity (Eric already has his money, so we can be merciless.) Analyze this game and discover the joy of finding mistakes that really are mistakes, not your own analytical errors.

Nf6 6. e3 Qe7 7. a3 Bd6 8. Bxf6 Qxf6

Any second now, I expect one of the black pawns to surrender to a passing CNN camera crew.

9. d4 Bd7 10. c4 O-O-O 11. c5 Bxc5

It may only be a pawn, but you get the idea, never surrender when playing pre-Columbus rated players.

12. Bb5 a6 13. Bxc6 Bxc6 14. Ne5 Bb5 15. Nc3 Rg8 16. Nxb5 Rxg2 17. Na7+ Bxa7

Mr. Dehaven plays a lost game correctly, with threats.

18. Qf3 Qg5 19. Qxf7

And NP returns, as good as he gets.

b6 20. Qe8+ Kb7 21. Qc6+ Kb8 22. Rf1 Qe7 23. Rc1 Qd6 24. Qxd6 cxd6 25. Nc6+ Kb7 26. Nxa7 Kxa7 27. Rc6 Rxh2 28. Ke2 e5 29. Rxd6 exd4 30. exd4 h5 31. Rxd5 h4 32. Rh5 1-0

and Mr. DeHaven resigned, still down exactly the rook.

Choosing the winner of the NCCCC presented me with something of an ethical dilemma, as the clear winner in my mind was a game submitted by one of my opponents. Perhaps that is why it was so clear in my mind. However, it was legible, short, and I told all my opponents that they would get ten extra points for games submitted "in person". So, casting aside all hope of ever surviving a supreme court nomination hearing, I chose Mike Sykos of Morrell (1663) vs. Sykos (1775) round 2:

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 d6 4. Nc3 Bg4 5. d4 g5 6. h4 f6?! 7. Be2 Nc6

This game is an excellent illustration of the the clash between tactics and strategy. Unfortunately, the clash occurred entirely in Mr. Sykos's brain! Exhausted from the first round, my only strategy was a quick game and an afternoon nap, so I jumped at the chance of a sac-attack, seeing either a perpetual check or a wide open attack that would win or fail quickly.

8. Nxg5 Bxe2 9. Qxe2 Nxd4?!

I had not expected the sac to be declined, feeling that a knight and a queen at h5 would be overwhelming. Mr. Sykos, on the other hand, envisioned a double edged strategy involving reciprocal knight forks at c2 and f7, with his hopes of winning pinned on extracting his knight safely.

10. Qh5+

And now Mike's strategical vision caused his error. So focused was he on the Doppelganger knight forks that he totally failed to consider the effect of the queen on f7. Wishing to maintain some pressure on my knight, he wrote Ke7 on his scoresheet, then folded his hands to consider the move. Reading his intended move upside down, I fought to keep a poker face; I had considered the possibility of course, much as I have considered the possibility of winning the lottery, or having Kim Basinger falling at my feet and professing her inability to control herself in my presence. I expected him to scribble out the move momentarily, he's 1775 after all...more people are struck by lightening than...and I'm a pot bellied computer nerd and Kim Basinger is, well, not pot bellied. However, so in control was the strategy side of Mr. Sykos's brain that the tactical bean counter side never got a chance to speak. After a few seconds, he picked up his king and made it official:


The moment I reached for my queen (instead of the knight) he winced.

11. Qf7++ 1-0

Okay, there's no lottery in N.C., but does anyone know where Kim Basinger lives?

The clash between strategy and tactics is a much studied problem. The military has learned that pilots are basically right brained artists, gracefully guiding their craft through the air, devising high level strategies for aerial combat. Every now and then though, they must check in with their left brain administrator and go over housekeeping chores: fuel, check, radar, check, altitude, check.... If the artist fails to check in often enough, then embarrassing things happen, like Qf7 mate, a move any seasoned FAA crash site investigator would understand. On the other hand, if the administrative demands of the plane are too great, the intuitive strategic side shuts down and the plane becomes a straight and level flying, well managed sitting duck. It is this tense balance between the strategical and the tactical that constrains both aircraft design and pilot training.

Chess players understand this tension all too well. Overly tactical games can leave a player blind to the positional undercurrents. Or as Mr. Sykos discovered, failure to check the gauges now and then while pursuing a strategy can lead to running out of fuel, or flight squares. Each player must find his or her own balance between the thrills of strategical wizardry and mundane tactical reality checks. If a player knows his optimal balance, he can then try to steer the game towards positions that match it.

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