Chess

Eaten by a bear

23 October 2021

9:00 AM

23 October 2021

9:00 AM

I don’t like losing at chess. It feels bad in the moment, whether my position subsides like a failed pudding, or crashes like a severed tree. It feels bad right afterwards too, staring at a big fat zero on the scorecard.

But worst of all is the lingering knot of disgust, because usually one’s mistakes are echoes of shortcomings one knew about already, and there is no hiding from them. The chorus from Radiohead’s ‘Just’ (from The Bends) could as well be an anthem for sulking chess players.

You do it to yourself, you do
And that’s what really hurts
Is you do it to yourself
Just you, you and no one else
You do it to yourself…

But last week I lost a game and felt, well, pretty much fine. Of course, the big fat zero was a disappointment — to myself and my team. But as for the game itself, my opponent had played a blinder, and I had to admit that I hardly stood a chance. It is not pleasant to be eaten by a bear, but it hardly counts as a moral failing.


On move 19, Rasmus Svane, a dangerous young German player, sacrificed a piece. In itself, this didn’t come as a shock, but his punchy follow-up certainly did.

Rasmus Svane–Luke McShane

Bundesliga, October 2021

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nf6 4 O-O Nxe4 5 Re1 Nd6 6 Nxe5 Be7 7 Bf1 Nxe5 8 Rxe5 O-O 9 d4 Bf6 10 Re2 b6 11 Re1 Re8 12 Bf4 Rxe1 13 Qxe1 Ne8 14 Nc3 Bb7 15 Qd2 d5 16 Re1 Nd6 17 Bd3 c5 18 dxc5 bxc5 19 Nxd5! A strong idea, but I thought I had it covered. Bxd5 20 Bxh7+ Kxh7 21 Qxd5 White has two pawns for the piece, and the knight is under attack. If 21…Nb5 22 Qxf7 Nd4 23 Qh5+ Kg8 24 c3 and the knight gets no rest. But with my next move, I felt things were under control. Be7 At the time, I thought this was quite clever. The bishop cannot be captured: If 22 Rxe7? Qxe7 23 Qxa8 Qe1 mate. Black also need not fear 22 Bxd6 Bxd6 23 Qxf7 Qf6, as the bishop is no worse than three pawns. 22 Re3 An unpleasant surprise. I had expected 22 Rd1, because if Black moves the knight then Qh5+ and Rxd8 wins. But I intended to meet that with 22…Rb8 23 Bxd6 Bxd6 24 Qxd6 Qxd6 25 Rxd6 Rxb2 with a drawn rook endgame. Bf8 The only move I slightly regret. Better was 22…Rb8 23 Qh5+ Kg8 24 Rh3 f6, and here 25 Qh7+ Kf7 26 Rg3 Bf8 is perfectly safe. In my wish to anticipate this, I tucked the bishop away too early. 23 Rh3+ Kg8 24 Qh5 f6 25 Qh8+ Kf7 26 Qh5+ Kg8 27 g4! I had expected a draw by perpetual check, but this superb move caught me completely off guard. The pawn advance creates a flight square for White’s king, and a battering ram towards the Black one. Were the bishop on e7, this wouldn’t amount to anything. Qe8 A natural defensive move. In fact, 27…c4!! 28 g5 Qa5 29 Bxd6 Qe1+! 30 Kg2 Qe4+ still just about saves the game, but that was far beyond my wit. 28 Qh7+ Kf7 29 Qh5+ Kg8 30 Qh7+ Kf7 I was still begging for that draw by perpetual check, but now he hit me with another surprise. 31 Re3! Qc6 31…Qc8 32 Qh5+ g6 33 Qd5+ Kg7 34 Bxd6 Bxd6 35 Qxd6 Qxg4+ 36 Rg3 is grim for Black. 32 g5 Threatening mate with g5-g6, so it must be taken. fxg5 33 Bxd6 Bxd6 33…Qxd6 34 Rf3+ Ke7 35 Qe4+ picks up the rook on a8. 34 Qf5+ Kg8 35 Qe6+ Kf8 (see diagram) Now 36 Rh3?? Bxh2+! turns the tables. I was still oblivious to what was coming. 36 Re5! The bishop is pinned, and Re5-f5+ can only be met by 36…g6. Then 37 Qf6+ Kg8 38 Qxg6+ mops up and forces mate. Black resigns

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