David Smerdon | November 01, 2011 13:16

A tired tussle

After a usual day of class at Tinbergen, I’m exhausted.  Not physically, of course, but that part of my brain that calculates anything is completely spent.  This means that I basically haven’t picked up a chess book in a couple of months.

So you can imagine that after the exam week just passed, I was in no mood to sit in front of a chess board.  Doubly so after the Friday night post-exam celebrations.  In fact, for the first time in my academic life, I can honestly say that more than half of the class partygoers would have preferred to have just gone home to sleep instead of attend the dinner-and-drinks – myself included.  Fortunately (unfortunately?), groupthink and peer pressure kicked in, and Friday evening we dragged ourselves out into the Amsterdam nightlife after what seemed like an eternity of study all-nighters.

Saturday morning, almost all of us enjoyed the rare opportunity of a sleep-in, something I hadn’t experienced in two months.  I say ‘almost all’, because I was drafted to play in the Dutch chess league that morning.  On board one.  Against the strongest team in the league.  With the black pieces.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, I found myself sitting across from one of my childhood chess idols, Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan.  Feeling a little worse for wear, I was desperately hoping not to embarrass myself.  My captain was well aware of my post-exam exhaustion and had concucted a cunning plan involving my board two poking me under the table if I started snoring at the board.  The odds were not in my favour.

Fortunately, though unbeknownst to me, two things were on my side.  My opponent, it turns out, was also suffering a fair case of fatigue, having just returned from winning a prestigious but undoubtedly draining tournament in Barcelona.  And consequently, he was looking for an easy, textbook, routine game with few surprises.  My strategy, on the other hand, was to play as unorthodox and interesting as possible – primarily to keep myself from nodding off.  This probably rattled Yasser a little (though completely unintentionally on my part), but at least we both ended up with a quite enjoyable and entertaining game – even if we both played quite below par.

Meanwhile, classes already resumed this morning, so I’ll have to wait another eight weeks before I get my next weekend off.  And wash, rinse, repeat.

Yasser Seirawan-David Smerdon
Dutch League, Utrecht versus HMG
29 October 2009

1.c4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.b3 Be7 (Over breakfast, I asked Ian Rogers what I should play against Yasser. ‘I don’t want a crappy English!’, I complained, my mouth spraying toast crumbs. ‘I”ll fall asleep for sure. How can I make it interesting?’ ‘Play a quick Be7-f6′ was his reply as he dodged the doughy projectiles. And it worked – the advice, as well as the dodging.) 4.Bb2 Bf6 5.Nc3 Ne7 6.g3 (Here I really had to stop and think. Of course, normal moves like ...c5 and ...0-0 were possible, but they would surely lead to ‘normal’ English-style positions that would be far more to my opponent’s taste – and experience – than my own. So how to make it interesting?) 6... e5!?

PGN string

(Twenty minutes of thinking well spent – but I almost needed a prod from my teammate when at some point I started drifting off. Yasser’s comment on this move afterwards was ‘It definitely feels like overpressing and not correct, b ut gosh darn it if I couldn’t find a refutation!’) 7.d4 (Of course Nxd5 looks logical, but after ...Nxd5 cxd5 e4!? black gets quite a lot of compensation for the pawn. Yasser afterwards suggested cxd5 instead, and indeed after ...e5 Nh4 Nxd5 Qc2! white looks better, and my ‘ídea’ could have received the punishment it deserved.) 7... exd4 8.Nxd5 Nxd5 9.cxd5 c5

PGN string

10.dxc6 (the tempting e4 would have only led to trouble after dxe3 Bxf6 Qxf6! fxe3 0-0 Bg2 Bg4! with Bxf3, Nd7 and Qd6 to follow.) 10... Nxc6 11.Bg2 O-O 12.O-O Bf5 13.Qd2 Qb6 14.Rfd1 Rad8 (so, somehow, we’ve ended up in a not-quite-routine isolated queen’s pawn position. Here I thought I was better, while Yasser thought he was! Well, at least we weren’t bored.) 15.Rac1 Rfe8 16.Rc4 Be6 (This is what I had been banking on. It looks like white’s winning a pawn, but in fact...) 17.Ra4 Bd5

PGN string

(...the pawn is poisoned! The obvious Nxd4 Bxg2 Kxg2 Nxd4 Bxd4 loses to ...Qc6+! followed by ...b5. And it looks like white has no useful move at all, coupled with a ridiculous rook on a4. Yasser finds the solution.) 18.Bxd4! Bxf3 19.Bxb6

PGN string

19... Rxd2 20.Rxd2 Bxg2 (We’d both gotten to here in our analysis and rejected Bxa7 because of ...Bh3 Be3? Ne5 and black’s threats are menacing. In fact, a much better retreat afte ...Be3 is Bb6! with f3 and Kf2 to follow.) 21.Kxg2? axb6 22.Rc4 Kf8 (Weak. In fact, Yasser’s comment afterwards was ‘You played three terrible moves in a row, and I still couldn’t find a win!’) 23.e3 Ra8? 24.f4 b5? (Just shocking.) 25.Rc5 Ra5 26.Rd7? (Fortunately, Yasser’s fatigue returns the favour. Kf3 would have put me in serious trouble, especially as my clock was under 5 minutes to reach move 40.) 26... Rxa2+ 27.Kf3 Nd8 28.Rc8 Rb2!

PGN string

(finally, I start to wake up again.) 29.Rdxd8+ Bxd8 30.Rxd8+ Ke7 31.Rb8 Rxb3 32.Rxb7+ Ke6 (And now things have have simplified to a relatively straightforward draw, though I try hard to give my opponent more chances.) 33.g4 h6 34.h4 b4 35.f5+ Kf6 36.Kf4 (And suddenly, with 20 seconds left on my clock, I realised I was facing a sneaky mate in two...)

PGN string

36... g5+! 37.fxg6 Kxg6 38.e4 Rb1 39.e5 Rf1+ 40.Ke4 Re1+ 41.Kf4 Rf1+ 42.Ke4

PGN string

(And all’s well that ends well – DRAW. We had a nice analysis session before we headed our separate ways for a well-deserved night’s sleep. Or at least that’s how it should have gone, but that’s another story...)

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Author: David Smerdon

David Smerdon is a chess grandmaster from Brisbane, Australia. David attended Anglican Church Grammar School and Melbourne University. To qualify for the title of Grandmaster, a player must achieve three Grandmaster norm performances, and a FIDE Elo rating over 2500. Late in 2007, Smerdon achieved his third and final Grandmaster norm. In the July 2009 FIDE rating list his rating passed 2500, so he qualified for the title of Grandmaster. He is the fourth Australian to become a Grandmaster, after Ian Rogers, Darryl Johansen and Zhao Zong-Yuan. In 2009, Smerdon won the Queenstown Chess Classic tournament.

Source: Wikipedia

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