Heuristics and Perception : Hynes vs Cox, Shropshire Congress 2015

GM Davies suggested a recent game: Tony Hynes vs John Cox, Shropshire Congress 2015 2015. Cox, author of the chess book The Berlin Wall, resigns a Giuoco Pianissimo after 15 moves against an “unknown”.

After playing through this amusing miniature, I lightly opined to Davies that 5 … 0-0 is a lemon. 5 … a6 seems to do best in practice, e.g., 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. Bb3 Ba7 7. O-O d6 . “It’s not just about the opening,” replied the GM, “check with an engine and you’ll find some very serious tactical errors.”

Chess being intrinsically difficult, lacking a definitive solution short of exhaustive calculation, we employ heuristics, analytical rules for examining a position, to navigate the complexity. A heuristic is never absolute, merely, as the Zen koan has it, “a finger pointing at the moon”.

We call our educated guesswork strategy and use the word tactics when matters devolve to concrete calculation.

Yet the saying of chess is not the playing of chess. The somatic joy of the game is the sudden flash of insight,  that instance wherein you see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, /  Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.

Heuristics are merely a discipline as we try to polish our perception of the game.

Glad of the grandmaster’s advice, I plugged the game into Stockfish which confirmed my impression that Cox’s loss was a failure of perception more than one of calculation.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 O-O (5 … a6!?) 6. b4

Stockfish would rather castle. White isn’t really threatening to win a pawn yet, after 6 … Be7 7. b5 Na5 8. Nxe5 d6 Black is okay.

6 … Be7 7. O-O d5

Stockfish likes 7 … a6 and so do I. Here we go a-thrusting.

8. exd5 Nxd5 9. Re1

Stockfish likes 9. b5 Na5 10. Bxd5 Qxd5 11. c4 Qd7 12. Nc3 for White.

9 …  Bg4

Here’s where the perceptual failure really kicks in. Stockfish suggests the obvious 9 … Bf6.

10. h3 Bh5 11. b5 Na5 12. Rxe5

Now 12 … Nf6 tidies Black’s position, again obviously, but …

12 …  Bxf3 13. Qxf3

Stockfish thinks Black should play 13 … Nb6 eventually losing a pawn into a possibly drawn ending, but Cox completes his thrusting with an unsound combination.

Nxc3 14. Nxc3 Bf6

Stockfish suggests the fantastic 14 … Qd4 15. Rxe7 Qxc3 16. Bxf7+ Kh8 17. Qe2 Qxa1 18. Qb2 Qxb2 19. Bxb2 Rad8 20. Be5 c5 21. Be6 Rf6 22. Bc7 R3f8 23. Bxa5

15. Rd5 1-0

After 15 … Qe7 16. Bd2 it’s over.

Jacques Delaguerre