'I love all positions. Give me a difficult positional game, I will play it. Give me a bad position, I will defend it. Openings, endgames, complicated positions, dull draws, I love them and I will do my very best. But totally won positions, I cannot stand them.'
- Jan Hein Donner
Playing black in the above position is Sam Osborne, current British u-16s champion. A whole bishop down with just two minutes left on his clock (compared to white's twenty), Osborne managed to win within five moves. Needless to say, his opponent was the present writer.
The occasion was the second round of this year's Galway Chess Congress (a fine event, by the way, held in a seaside hotel and populated by lovely people). My game strategy was the same as it always is against juniors: make as many weird moves as possible as early as possible and hope that I get out of the woods first. This had looked like an eminently sensible plan when Sam thought for some fifteen minutes after my first move, 1.d3 (natch). There followed 1...e5 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 Nf6 4.c3 Bd6 5.Na3, by which point I was more than half an hour up on the clock, and things had got so bad temporally after 5...c6 6.Nc2 0-0 7.e4 Be6 8.Qe2 Re8 9.Nh3 dxe4 10.dxe4 h6 11.f3 b5 12.Ne3 Qb6 13.Nf2 Nbd7 that Sam offered a draw.
Uncharacterstically, I chose to play on.
14.0-0 Rad8 15.Kh1 a5
My inner menace was in the mood for bluff, so to keep the position as stressful as I could I sacrificed a pawn for absolutely no compensation whatsoever:
16.f4 exf4 17.gxf4 Bxf4 18.Qf3 Bb8 19.Nfg4 Nxg4 20.Nxg4 Ne5 21.Nxe5 Bxe5 22.Qh5 Qc7 23.Rg1 Kh7 24.Bg5 Rd3 25.Bf1 Rd7 26.Be2 Rg8 27.Bg4 Bxg4 28.Rxg4 Qd6 29.Be3 Qd3?? 30.Qxe5 g6 31.Qf4 Rg7 32.Qxh6+ Kg8 33.Rh4 f6
And so we reach the diagram. What followed is, strictly speaking, a long way from being the worst move on the board. I could let myself get mated instantly via 34.Bg1, for example, or drop my queen in all manner of amusing and implausible ways. But the game's actual gaffe, the undramatic 34.Qf4?? belongs on these pages for several reasons. For one thing it is therapeutic for myself to air dirty laundry in public, to stand atop a high rise building and shout 'I'm shit at chess!' However, today's post is more of a warning siren against complacency. 34.Qf4 doesn't lead to mate, nor does it leave a queen en prise, but this somehow makes it worse: it's a nothing move, a move that suggests that simply anything can win in the position when in truth this is hubris of the ghastliest kind. From a nice scalp against a British champion to humiliation and self-loathing in a matter of seconds. And so for those of you who still wish to make something of chess, the moral of the story of this: do always stay until the end credits, won't you?