The Washington chess community suffered a big loss last month with the sudden passing of Life Master Bill Mason at the much-too-young age of 49.
Bill was one of the most active and popular players on the local scene, a longtime stalwart of the D.C. Chess League powerhouse Arlington Rooks, state champion of Virginia in 1991, and editor of the much-missed “King’s File” chess quarterly. He had several prominent grandmaster scalps to his credit, and was always a tough, but genial sportsman at the board. He leaves behind a wife, two young children and a wealth of good chess friends from across the region.
A nice appreciation of his life and chess achievements, written by friend and fellow chess player Steve Mayer, can be found on the U.S. Chess Federation website at http://www.uschess.org/content/view/12636/760.
Bill’s love of chess and his generous spirit were both on display in the lively annotations he gave to his own games and those of his top rivals for the King’s File. Here are two spirited games won by Bill, relying heavily on his own postgame analysis.
Bill’s D.C. Chess League play over the decades forms a big part of his chess legacy, and the first game is a quality win over a quality opponent — longtime Maryland master Bob Eberlein. There’s some sophisticated shadow-boxing early in this Leningrad Nimzo-Indian, with both players weaving and bobbing over how the pawn center will be resolved: 8. f3 e5 9. e3! Nbd7 10. Bd3 0-0 11. Nh3 e4!, when Black is fine after 12. Bxe4 g5 13. Bg3 Nxe4 14. fxe4 Qe7.
The game turns on 16. Nf2 Qa5?, when Bill gave a long and convincing analysis of why the Black queen should have stayed closer to the kingside; better would have been 16 … g4!? 17. f4 Nf3+ 18. Bxf3 gxf3 19. Qxf3 Nxe4 20. Nxe4 Bf5 21. 0-0 Rxe4! 22/ Rae1 Rxc4 23. Qh5 Qf6 24. Re3, with complex play.
The queen’s absence is keenly felt as White takes control on 19. Bxe5 Rxe5 20. h4! Nf4 21. Nd3 Nxd3+ 22. Bxd3 Bd7?! (Bill labels this an error, but Black would also be hurting on his recommended 22 … f5 23. Kf2 f4 24. hxg5 hxg5 25. Rxg5! Rxg5 26. Qxf4 Rg7 27. Qf8 and wins) 23. Rb1 Rg8 24. Rxb7 Be8 25. hxg5 Rgxg5 (hxg5 26. f4 gxf4 27. Qh2+; or 25 … Rexg5 26. e5+ Kh8 27. Rxg5 Rxg5 28. exd6 Qd8 29. Qe3, and White is clearly better) 26. Rf1! Rg6 27. f4 Qa6 28. Rxf7+ Bxf7 29. fxe5 Kg7 30. Qf4 Qb7 31. exd6 and Black could resign with dignity here.
In the final position, Eberlein gives up facing 36 … Kh7 37. e5+ Rg6 38. Rf7 mate.
Today’s second game is an entertaining win over another local stalwart, expert Ralph Mikell, taken from a 1991 D.C. Open dedicated to longtime master Jack Mayer, Steve Mayer’s father. The opening is a Benko Gambit taken from the time when that opening was enjoying a major vogue.
All the bishops come off and Mason as Black has to find a way to generate counterplay in the face of White’s menacing knights and queen. The double-edged play sharpens even more after 16. e5!? dxe5 17. Nxe5 Rfd8 18. Rh3 (Nc6? Qxc6), when Black admits he was bluffed out of 19 … Ndxb5 20. Nxd5 Rxd5 because of 21. Rxf6, overlooking that 21. Qb5+ 22. Qe2+ 23. Ke2 Rxe5 is check, and Black wins decisive material.
Granted that reprieve, Mikell pursues a very potent attack that Black just deflects in the nick of time: 22. Re1 Rxa2 23. Ng3! (Nxg6?! fxg6 23. Rg3 Ng4 and wins; or 23. Nxf7?! Kxf7 24. Qh6 Ke6! and the Black king escapes) Qd2! 24. Nxh5+? (missing his chance — 24. Nf5+ Kh7 25. Nxf7 produces a strong attack, though Black appears to survive via 25 … gxf5 25. Qxf5+ Kg7 27. Rg3+ [Re7 Ra1+] Kf7 28. Qg6+ Kf8 29. Qg7+ Ke8, and the king flees to the queenside) Kg8 25. Nf4, and Black now powerfully exploits White’s own defensive vulnerability.
It’s over after 25 … Ne4! 26. Qh6 (Rxe4? Ra1+ leads to mate) Rb8! 27. Nexg6 (White is just one move away from crashing through, but it’s not his turn) Qxe1+!, and White resigns as the coming 28 … Rb1+ leads quickly to mate. Observed the annotator/winner: “Not perfect but fun.”
Bill was always several ranks above my pay grade at the board, and I considered it a breakthrough just to hold him to a draw. (My only victory in our half-dozen games or so came on a time forfeit.) The best thing about the position in today’s diagram, taken from a 2001 D.C. Chess League game, is that readers can’t see how badly I misplayed the opening of this Botvinnik English. (Don’t ask how my bishop found itself on h3; to this day I can’t explain it.) I knew I was in trouble, but still had some hopes of reorganizing a bad game when Bill rudely disabused me of any illusions.