The Heffalump’s Escape

For my penultimate game of the season I was paired against a formidable opponent in Alan Perkins, joint British U16 Boys Champion in 1965 and student international in the 1970s. In recent years he’s preferred to ply his trade in the calmer waters of the local chess leagues.

My archives remind me that we first met 40 years previously in a weekend congress when I managed to draw. I was slightly worse in the final position but quite probably ahead on the clock. We met again in 2010, in another match between Richmond B and Ealing A, when I lost.

In both games I had white and faced the King’s Indian Defence, trying the Saemisch Variation in 1977 and the Smyslov Variation in 2010. In 2017 I was again White, and it was another Smyslov Variation.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 Bg7
4. Nf3 O-O
5. Bg5 c5
6. d5

I’d learnt from my earlier game against Mike Singleton to play d5 here.

6… d6
7. e4

Looks natural, but the stats suggest that e3 is to be preferred. It’s slightly more popular, the choice of stronger players and has a much better percentage. Maybe next time.

7… h6
8. Bh4

Again natural, but the stronger players – and the stats, prefer Bf4.

8… e6
9. Be2

Again, Nd2 is the expert move.

9… exd5
10. exd5

Choosing a King’s Indian rather than Benoni formation. An unpopular decision which also scores poorly for White. If you’re playing a 2200 strength opponent it helps if you know some theory!

10… Qb6

A new move. 10… g5 11. Bg3 Nh5 is the recommended plan.

11. Qd2 Bf5
12. O-O Nbd7
13. h3 Rfe8
14. Bd3 Ne4
15. Bxe4 Bxe4
16. Nxe4 Rxe4
17. Rac1

White has problems with the long diagonal but could defend tactically: 17. Qc2 Rae8 18. Qa4.

17… Rae8

Here there was no reason why Black couldn’t have taken the pawn: 17… Qxb2 18. Qxb2 Bxb2 19. Rb1 Bg7 20. Rxb7 Nb6 and c4 will fall while Black can hold d6.

18. Rfe1

There was no reason not to play 18. b3 here, and no reason for Black not to trade rooks and then take on b3. We’d both misjudged the position.

18… f5
19. Bg3

Again, I could have played 19. b3 and he could have captured the pawn.

19… g5
20. Rxe4 Rxe4
21. Nxg5

21. b3 was still about equal. I was concerned about my bishop being buried alive after 21… f4 but I can always play g3 at a convenient time.

Instead I lash out with a ridiculous sacrifice, hoping to get three pawns against a piece. Or perhaps, aware of Alan’s tendency to get into time trouble, trying to lure the heffalump into a swamp in a deep dark forest. You decide.

21… hxg5
22. Qxg5 Qxb2
23. Bxd6 Qf6

I’d missed this simple defence. I might have played 24. Qg3 to keep the queens on, but instead traded.

24. Qxf6 Bxf6
25. Rc2 Be5
26. Bxe5 Nxe5
27. f3 Rxc4

Now I only have one pawn for the piece. Time to resign?

28. Re2 Nf7
29. Re8+ Kg7
30. Re7 Rc2

30… b5 was the easiest way to win.

31. Rxb7 Rxa2
32. d6 Kf6
33. d7

My passed pawn reaches the seventh rank. Black will have to be a bit careful.

33… c4
34. Rc7 Ra4
35. g4 fxg4

35… Ke7 was the way to go: 36. d8Q+ Kxd8 37. Rxf7 c3 and the white rook can’t get back.

36. fxg4 Nd8

Now Ke7 doesn’t work because the white rook can return via the f-file to stop the c-pawn.

37. g5+ Ke7
38. g6 Ra6
39. g7 Rg6+
40. Kf2 Rxg7
41. Rxa7 Kd6
42. Ke3 Kc5
43. Rc7+ Kd5

The territory’s becoming swampy for Black now as he only has one pawn left and the white d-pawn is surviving. The only path to victory here was 43… Kb4, but it’s not so easy in the quickplay finish.

44. h4 Rh7
45. Ra7

The wrong plan. The way to hold was to get the white rook to the eighth rank to have access to the b-file. So: 45. h5 Rxh5 46. Rc8 Rh8 47. Rb8/Ra8 and there doesn’t seem to be any way for Black to make progress.

Now 45… Kc5 would have put Black back on track, but instead he captured the h-pawn.

45… Rxh4
46. Ra8 Rh3+
47. Kd2 c3+
48. Kc2 Kc4

48… Rh8 was a simple draw, and even Kd4 was good enough. But instead the heffalump tumbled head first into the swamp. Will the tiger put the boot in and score an unlikely and, frankly, undeserved victory?

49. Rc8+

Sadly not. All I had to do to win the game from here was to play one of the most obvious moves in the history of chess: 49.Rxd8 Rh2+ 50.Kb1 Rh1+ 51.Ka2 Rd1 52.Rc8+ Kb4 53.d8Q Rd2+ 54.Kb1 c2+ 55.Kc1 Rxd8 56.Rxd8 and wins. For some reason (or for no reason at all other than having to blitz during a mutual time scramble) I had a brainstorm and decided I needed to check before rather than after capturing the knight.

49… Kd4
50. Rxd8 Rh2+
51. Kb3

Moving up the board because I was scared of mate threats. This is fine but Kb1 and Kc1 also draw, although Kd1 loses. Ironically, without the white pawn on d7 the draw would be automatic.

51… Rb2+
52. Ka3 Rb7
53. Rh8 Rxd7
54. Rh4+

54. Kb3 was again an automatic draw. He could only prevent Kc2 by playing Kd3 when I can just play Rh3+.

54… Kd3
55. Rh3+ Kc2
56. Rh2+ Rd2

At this point I stopped recording my moves. I’m not sure what I played here but it certainly wasn’t Rxd2. The position’s still drawn but it’s easy for White to go wrong now, which is what happened, and Alan just about had enough time to force checkmate.

An exciting ending which I certainly should have drawn, and was, for just one half-move, winning. I really shouldn’t have been allowed to get that close. Perhaps randomising the position on move 21 was justified even though it was an awful move.

You might also think that trying to play a proper game of chess in 2½ or even 3 hours is ridiculous. I agree, but I also think both adjournments and adjudications are ridiculous.

Richard James

This entry was posted in Annotated Games, Articles, Endgames, Improver (950-1400), Intermediate (1350-1750), Richard James, Strong/County (1700-2000) on by .

About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.