I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but the U. S. Chess Championship is currently going on in St. Louis. I have been dutifully following the games online, of course.
It is one of the great cruelties of chess that forty perfect moves can be undone by one moment of carelessness. We amateur players blunder all the time, of course, but somehow it’s always a bit comforting to see the top players do likewise. For example, here’s a position that occurred in the game between Benjamin Finegold (playing white) and Yasser Seirawan:
We have come to the finale of a long endgame. Finegold had been pressing for quite a few moves, trying to make something of a microscopic advantage in what until recently was a rook and minor piece endgame. In the diagram, black can now even claim a small edge of his own based on the outside passed g-pawn, but with a move like 1. Ba6 white should have no trouble holding the draw. Probably a bit frustrated, Finegold now played 1. c4??. He probably expected something like 1. … Nxd3 2. Kxd3 axb4 3. axb4 g4 4. c5, and in a few more moves only the two kings will remain on the board. Alas, he missed a trick.
Yasser Seirawan is a four-time U.S. Champion, but he has been mostly retired from professional play since the early 2000’s. His many fans (myself included, I’m currently reading his recent memoir and enjoying it immensely) were delighted to see him play: 1. … Nxd3 2. Kxd3 a4!! and suddenly white is just lost. The point is that the black king is close enough to the white pawns to prevent any mischief, while the white king will need to take a massive detour to the kingside to stop the g-pawn. White resigned after 3. Ke3 g4.
A possible finish would be 4. c5 bxc5 5. bxc5 Kd5 6. Kf4 Kxc5 7. Kxg4 Kc4 8. Kf3 Kb3 9. Ke2 Kxa3 10. Kd2 Kb2, and white is just one move too slow to make a draw. Endgames are hard!
But even that pales in comparison to the tragedy that befell defending women’s champion Irina Krush, here playing white against Sabina Foisor, in the first round:
White has been nursing a small advantage for most of the game, but she now blundered with 1, Bb3??, which just loses immediately to 1. … Rc1+!. White has to play 2. Rxc1, but this just leaves the queen hanging to 2. … Qxd3. Oops! Don’t worry about Krush, though. She rattled off five straight wins and coasted into the semis, which began today.
As I said, chess can be a cruel, hard game. Anyone who has played tournament chess knows there is no high quite as high as playing a really good move, and no low quite so low as playing a really bad one.