Saturday, September 15, 2007

Blast from the past

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.d4 c6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.e3 Qa5 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Bd3 Ne4 9.O-O Ndf6 10.Bxf6 Nxf6 11.Ne5 Bd6 12.f4 h5 13.Rc1 Bg4

When I played for my school team, about a quarter of a century ago, I had more triumphs than disasters. Unusually, for me at any rate, I remember the triumphs rather better than the disasters: beating St Paul's (Julian Hodgson on top board) when they'd won the National Schools Championships five years in a row was certainly the best of these, but there were others.

More than enough to make up, for instance, for a disaster in the same competition a few years later, when my Hertfordshire school went all the way to Wymondham in Norfolk. Needing just a draw, in the last game standing, to make the next round, our player, a safe piece up, forgot about the clock and lost on time. Having had several minutes to make his last move before the time control.

In those days going anywhere in Norfolk was a long, long journey: coming all the way back in the school minibus wasn't just a long journey but an almost silent one. I can, in fact, remember our scapegoat, after a very long a period of accusing silence, bursting out with "I didn't do it deliberately!". I remember his name - I just looked it up on the ECF grading database. There's no-one of his name currently playing. Perhaps the trauma made him give it up. I wouldn't blame him.

I never had a trauma quite that bad, but I do remember one game which left me going home holding my head and swearing never to play again, fully able to grasp the full extent of my own stupidity but quite unable to cope with it. Perhaps I realised that if I could play like that at the age of sixteen, I could play like that forever: that this nightmare was going to keep happening. If so, I was right.

It was October 1981 and I was graded 151. My opponent was only 105 and playing for a visiting school from, I think, Bristol. I won the exchange quite early on with the Benko Gambit that I favoured then and was in a position that should have been impossible to lose. That, indeed, I should have won against any player who was ever born and any machine that will ever be made. It was Black to make his twenty-ninth move:

Of course 29...Rd3 wins trivially, as do a number of moves in the position, but, to prevent a check from the rook, I unwisely played 29...Kf8 first. This wasn't fatal by any manner of means but my opponent, seeing - as I did not - the one tactical opportunity that remained to him, pushed his f-pawn one square forward.

I then played the rook to d3, surely winning the bishop since he could no longer play the zwischenzug with the rook. Indeed he could not - but he could and did produce the winning move instead. And filled with anger and embarassment, I went home, not for the last time in my chess life, screaming at myself.

I never forgot that one. In more than twenty-five years I've not forgotten it. Although, these days, I'm lucky if I can remember the moves of a just-finished game, I could remember almost the exact details of that long-gone disaster. I looked up the game this evening, as I have retained my old scorebooks, through crises, house moves, even emigration. I thought I was an exchange and two pawns up, but as it turns out, it was an exchange and only one. Close enough: it doesn't matter. And I remembered the name of my opponent, too. As one remembers a curse.

It is the nature of curses that they do not die until their work is done. I still recalled, of course, the game and the opponent, but I never thought to come across the name again. But a few days ago, I was reading up on some theory, specifically in the fourth volume of Khalifman's series Opening for White according to Kramnik. I was specifically interested in the Cambridge Springs Variation and found myself looking at the line which at the start of this piece, which, by a variety of possible move-orders, leads to the diagram immediately below it, a position in which Khalifman recommends that White continue 14.Qc2 with a slight advantage to White "owing to the stong position of the knight on the e5-square".

There are a lot of game fragments quotated in the five volumes of Khalifman's work, and one comes to expect citations, if not from Kramnik himself (since it is basically Kramnik's repertoire that we are learning) then from grandmaster games. Normally, that's what we get. Big names. But not this time.

Though I wish we did: not for the quality of the play, but because the name attached to Black's side of the board leapt out at me, far larger than that of any expert. Any grandmaster, any champion of the world. The game was Easton-Nendick, Bristol 1990.

Bristol. Nendick. NENDICK. That was the name. Nendick. I have remembered that name for over half my life and yet never expected to see it again. Nendick. I saw the name Nendick, like a curse, and I was cursed to remember, once again, how I felt, as a messed-up teenager, two and a half decades before, when I lost impossibly and stupidly, and shook, and went home in a funk, and swore that that I would give up chess.


Jonathan B said...


Fortunately, if that's the word, I have far too many disasters to remember them.

Anonymous said...

Team chess is hard. You screw things up and not only do you suffer the personal consequences, but you then realise what impact it has on the team. Helps to finish quickly as people tend to only remember the last game in progress as to how it affects the result. Flipside of course is the double benefit if you win and clinch the match for the team.
Off topic "We are top of the league, we are top of the league!"