Hasta la Vista

It’s better to burn out than to fade away. ? Neil Young

I think I’m going to take a break from chess (except teaching).

All the sparkle has gone out of my tournament play.

I’m getting all my artistic satisfaction from programming now, which demands most of my time, and more sitting than is good for my health. Tournament chess simply aggravates my physical condition. GM Davies advised me to simplify my life and discard extraneous activities, and I fear chess has become one of those.

Until such a time as I have more material to present, I bid my readers a fond farewell.


Jacques Delaguerre



“A knight on the rim is dim.” – Chess proverb

In 2014, Boris Savchenko won with 2. Na3 but I waited until the sixth move to play it last night.

This was another phase of my struggle against the reality that in many positions arising after 1. g3 White has no better plan than to transpose into a pretty conventional King’s Indian Attack, Nb1-d2, e2-e4, etc.

Instead, I sent the queen’s knight to the rim for some fancy footwork. The knight certainly was dim, but he was dedicated and laboriously made his way to b5, after which roundabout journey he managed to trade himself off for Black’s last active minor piece just in time to pacify the ending.

Black’s 8… a5 didn’t improve his game much: instead, playing in the center and ignoring White’s fiddling on the b-file should have led to an initiative.

Instead, the pieces traded and after White’s mediocre 33. Qe2 when 32. Qg5 might have kept the game somewhat artificially alive, the draw hove into sight.

The takeaway? I feel good that this week calm, at least, if not brilliance, seems to have returned to my game.

Jacques Delaguerre


Ars Longa Vita Brevis

[T]he depressing recollection of the great miseries, losses and anguish that were suffered during the war … still weighed heavily on the spirits of all the participants [ of Hastings 1945-1946] … I resolved to concentrate all my efforts on not thinking about it all; that is to say, on banishing from my memory, for the duration of the tournament, all these phantoms of the recent past, and this ensured my tranquility of spirit and serenity of mind, both attitudes so vitally necessary for any victory in the realm of sport. – Savielly Tartakower, My Best Games of chess 1905-1954

I have often wondered why chess performance declines with age. My general chess knowledge, technical accuracy and analytical skill continue to improve in my mid-60’s.

There are some issues of stamina, but generally I can keep up with youngsters even in that regard.

Last night I received a reminder of one of the other incumbencies of advanced age that can interfere with chess performance. When you’re older, you have more to think about, serious things to think about, and they obtrude at the chessboard.

Tartakower’s quote above was also in my mind as I sat at the board, and I realized the wisdom of his advice. But having suddenly been informed an hour before the game that a fellow with whom I had profession dealings 30 years before was awaiting sentencing on serious felony charges and had requested a character testimonial from me nonetheless disrupted my concentration.

And in the time-scramble endgame, the quiet mental murmur of placatory phrases to present before a judge interfered catastrophically with analysis, and the easily drawn endgame was lost.

I can’t take the game lightly, because that’s not my nature. I am there to win and advance, if I am there at all. I can discard chess as a discipline, but engaged, I can’t shrug it off.

Does one of my age have any real business in serious chess competition?

Jacques Delaguerre


Available and Unavailable

“Therein lies the secret of great hunters. To be available and unavailable at the precise turn of the road.” – Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan

James MacNeil won the Under 1800 prize this past weekend in the Denver Chess Club Fall Classic taking home $500.

I did not attend the tournament. I had other chores as we prepare our garden for winter.

At one point I felt that the essence of improvement after my return at age 59 to tournament competition after a 20-year hiatus was to play everywhere every time.

And improve I did, and continue to do so, yet recently my results have declined.

I see now that the essence of success is to play when I it is to my advantage to play, when I am ready to play, when I am psychologically prepared to play. To know, as Castaneda put it so beautifully, when to be available and unavailable.

In today’s game, I was available to take home James’ king.

I’m not sure why I minced around with 3. d3 and 4. Nd2, since after Black’s 2 … c5 there was no reason not to go straight into a King’s Indian Attack with 3. Nf3.

14. Nh4! was good enough, but the sacrifice of a bishop for two pawns was not convincing enough that I needed to refrain from 14. g4!!

Jacques Delaguerre


Collecting Lint

Amalgamated Lint–up 3 points! – Gomez Addams

My game certainly has collected lint lately.

Every Gruenfeld player with Black likes nothing better than White to play e3 … Be2 without moving the queen bishop out to f4 nor otherwise offering challenge Black’s quick rush to the center. Yet in recent weeks I lost two .. two .. games with Black in that, the easiest of lines.

First it was a three week’s pneumonia, but the second game has no such excuse. Chess just stopped for me for a week. My psyche refused to step through the looking glass into Chess’s 1.x-fractal-dimensional world. Perhaps I was sated artistically with tremendous progress in a software system I am currently designing and coding. Perhaps I was merely bored.

In any case, I managed this week, with great difficulty, to eke out a win against a player 400 points below me. I wouldn’t mention it except for the worst move of the game, which is quite instructive. It’s not in the notation, it’s in the comments: 22. Ra2 { draw offered }.

After a mediocre opening which left Black on the kinfe edge of disaster, White could have tried to set up a battery on the a-file and pawnroller on the queen side, but White was looking for a draw. After a few feeble attempts at strategy, and seeing that Black had nothing, White duly offered said draw.

That was a Mistake. Of course, I did not want a draw. Indeed I sensed the hated draw looming. But to offer the draw after some half-hearted wood-shifting gave away White’s secret: he didn’t understand the position nor did he have a plan. That was all Black needed to formulate a plan in a sterile position: to wit, the certainty that White would aimlessly trade if given the chance. After 27. Bxc4, Black’s bishop became dangerous and fortunately White did not grasp how dangerous, allowing a subsequent win of the exchange and the game.

Jacques Delaguerre


Back in the Saddle Again

With opposite coloured bishops the attacking side has in effect an extra piece in the shape of his bishop. –  Mikhail Botvinnik

I had a difficult few months of chess, but I’m back in the saddle again. Even my opponent, USCF Life Master Brian Douglas Wall, noticed and commented upon the change.

For one thing, I’ve gotten over what in retrospect was probably pneumonia.  But the important change is that I’ve settled some issues that were spoiling the game for me.

  1. I spent some time feeling I had penned myself in too closely in my choice of openings. But that which I concluded some years ago about my formal repertoire I believe still valid. The wide spectrum of opening possibilities mostly lie for me in the realm of rapid or blitz chess. I have to follow my own interpretation of game theory as it applies to a comprehensive approach to the openings and cannot play with heart in any other fashion.
  2. The utilitarian justification for continuing to participate in formal competition is that it requires the discipline to find the coup au plus juste first time, every time. This is a good life and work discipline.

In any event, my play in tonight’s game conformed at least to my minimum expectations.

My opponent with White chose the “Chicken Classical” against my Modern Defense with 6. h3. I thought for a very long time and chose 6 … Na6 with an early c5 and a Benoni pawn formation. White sought action with a temporary pawn sacrifice, but dynamic equality ensued leading to a Q+R+B ending with bishops of opposite colors in which White had to abandon his intended pawn-snatching raid and force the trade of queens to save his king.

Jacques Delaguerre


A Look at the Queen of Katwe

The members of the Denver Chess Club, all veterans of the movie focus group wars since “Pawn Sacrifice”,  have been invited to a preview of “Queen of Katwe”, a Disney biopic s the life of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan chess prodigy from Katwe who becomes a Woman Candidate Master after her performances at World Chess Olympiads.

Chess seems to be getting better and better educational press as mainstream pedagogues tout its virtues with regard to the formation and maturation of intellectual outlook. It’s scene almost as a panacea for the young who are somewhat detached from the learning process

I teach chess to elementary school students in the public school afterschool enrichment programs. I’d have to agree with the experts here, especially in light of recent experiences where four autistic youth were enrolled in my class by their advisers. Noted for disrupting their mainstream classes, the four immediately took to chess and are perhaps the most focused of the students in my class.

I look forward to seeing the film and reporting back here.

Jacques Delaguerre


Truth is Beauty

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,–that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
– John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

The Colorado Open was played this past weekend. I did poorly, winning three Blacks and losing two Whites. I’ve been rehashing my White openings, which led to several learning experiences about how we make chess decisions.

An inexplicable (at the time) and losing mistake from a dominant position yielded the ephiphany that we don’t really calculate, not as a computer does, except in the simplest forcing sequences. It’s aesthetics, not calculation: various components of our chess psyche vote on our next move.

The game provided this week exhibits the most clarity I mustered in the Colorado Open. Its moves possess the beauty of truth. The coherent Black position threatens to keep an extra pawn where every trade leads towards one or another won ending. White thrashes in the net and loses the midgame instead.

Jacques Delaguerre


Pawn Sacrifice (the movie)

Paul Marshall: I think he’s afraid of what’s gonna happen if he loses.
Father Bill Lombardy: No, he’s afraid of what’s gonna happen if he wins.
-from the movie “Pawn Sacrifice

http://www.impawards.com/2015/posters/pawn_sacrifice_ver2.jpgWhen, in 2014, the Denver Chess Club was invited to the focus group screening of “Pawn Sacrifice”, I almost skipped the event.

After all, I had twice viewed the meticulously researched “Bobby Fischer Against The World“, so rich in authentic photos, videos, and interviews with friends, family, and grandmasters who knew Fischer personally.

And who was the genius who had cast 5’8″ Tobey Maguire as the 6’1” Bobby Fischer? Was this a comedy?

Au contraire, the film is an underrated masterpiece, one which cost $19M to film and has, at last count after two years, earned about $8M.

This week I brought home the DVD to view with my wife, as she had not attended the screening in 2014. The wife is not a chessplayer, yet is familiar with the game and its history and is an acquaintance of grandmasters. She was suitably impressed, while my own respect for the achievement was renewed by a second viewing.

“Pawn Sacrifice” is a highly fictionalized recounting of the rise of the greatest individual genius the game has known.  It is also a vast dramatic simplification of the huge cast of characters and of the many seminal events in the real Fischer’s life.

Fischer’s great achievement is that he stood up to the state-sponsored, organized, disciplined, committee-style chess of the late Soviet sports empire as the only significant American player of his generation and beat them at their own game with nothing more than his own ability to analyze and perform at the board. This is artistically rendered with great sympathy, sensitivity, and a high degree of chess authenticity in the movie.

Maguire, who apparently provided the stimulus to get the movie made, totally owns the role of Fischer, having captured his walk, his facial expressions and other mannerisms, his board behavior, and perhaps even caught a touch of Fischer’s madness in portraying a man who elevated obsessive-compulsive disorder to a high art form.

Liev Schrieber (Boris Spassky) and the other Russian-speaking actors in the movie turn in very credible performances, perhaps the finest vignette of Russian acting in an American film ever. This is only possible because the movie is not an American paean to Fischer, not an act of nationalistic hero-worship, though it depicts the adulation Fischer received from the American masses at the time of the 1972 match.

Instead, “Pawn Sacrifice” is a psychological drama, a morality play, timeless and beyond nationality, exploring to what degree society will allow and even encourage individuals to deviate from the norm when such deviation is accompanied by exceptional performance.

Doctor, my husband thinks he’s a chicken! … How long has this been going on? … About twenty years … Why didn’t you seek help sooner? … We needed the eggs!

Jacques Delaguerre


Old News

Since I returned to tournament chess in 2011 after a hiatus of 20 years, I’ve had an … “interesting” time with the openings.

Having depended heavily on memorization in my earlier years, I found I needed a reset.

Easier said than done. My best games have consistently been those where there was no opening: I was calculating from the first move. That’s hard to do when you play into lines where you have studied.

Today’s game was one of those games. Played in 2011, I had only the vaguest ideas of the modern English opening, but as you will see it worked out okay.

I’m still shuffling my repertoire. Dutifully I have recently pursued more mainline stuff than I had been playing. The results have been mediocre. I feel like I’m wearing someone else’s clothes. I can’t stay interested and blunder aimlessly.

I think it’s back to my simple-is-better game theory approach to the Chess in the coming tournaments.

Jacques Delaguerre