- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A “Hail Mary,” as ecstatic Minnesota Vikings fans could tell you this week, is one of those last-second, throw-it-and-hope football plays that miraculously works out, where your guy comes down with the ball to score the winning touchdown.

There are no wide receivers in chess, but the idea of snatching victory from defeat with a high-risk, long-odds final play is a very familiar one. Longtime U.S. champion Frank Marshall was legendary for his late-game swindles, saving a hopeless position with an ingenious stratagem just when all seemed lost. In my own experience, a successful chess swindle requires a good poker face in order not to tip off your overconfident opponent that something if afoot.

Take, for instance, today’s game between expert William Fuller and strong master Leonid Basin played in 1992. I can just imagine White trying to stifle his own excitement as the germ of a saving idea began to form around Move 34 or so, trying to project an air of nonchalant resignation as his unsuspecting opponent was working out the fastest winning line. White’s Hail Mary here earns him only a draw, but one suspects Fuller wasn’t complaining.

Black sets up a solid Dutch Stonewall fortress, and White starts to go wrong on 23. Qc2 Raf8 24. b5?! (the tactics are a little iffy, but even worse is the idea to opening up queenside operations when White’s kingside needs shoring up) axb5 25. a6 Bxe5 26. Bxe5 bxa6! 27. Bd6?, “winning” the exchange but trading off a badly needed defensive piece.

After 27…Qg5 28. f4 (Bxf8?? now leads to mate in lines like 28…Bf3 29. g4 hxg3 30. Rb2 gxf2+ 31. Kxf2 Bh5+ 32. Ke1 Qxe3+ 33. Qe2 Qc1+ 34. Qd1 Qxd1 mate) exf3 29. Bxf8 Rxf8 30. Qd2 a5, Black has three pawns for the exchange, direct pressure on the White king and two outside passed pawns he can push as his leisure. Things go from bad to worse for White after 31. Rb2 a4 32. Kh1? (Ra2 Bg6 33. e4 Qxd2 34. Rxd2 dxe4 35. Ra2 isn’t good, but at least White fights on) fxg2+ 33. Qxg2 Rxf1+ 34. Qxf1 Qxe3 (see diagram), as Basin now has four pawns for the piece and several clear paths to victory.

It’s fourth and 10 with a few seconds on the clock, but with his pawns blocked and his king cornered, White has one last desperate try — and, amazingly, it pays off.

Play continued: 35. Rf2 (finally the semblance of an active threat, with a check along the f-file) Bg6?! (not bad in itself, but an essential move if White’s swindle is to work) 35. Rf8+ Kh7 37. Qf2!, setting the trap. Black has multiple winning lines here, just as the New Orleans Saints would be in the conference title game if just one guy had made a tackle. Now, on, say, 37…Be4+ 38. Kh2 Qxf2+ 39. Rxf2 b4; or 37…Qxh3+ 38. Kg1 Be4 39. Qh2 Qe3+ 40. Qf2 Qc1+ 41. Kh2 Qh1 mate; or even 37…Qg5 38. Rb8 a3 39. Rb7 Bb1, White could resign with dignity.

Instead, the master chooses the tempting path of immediate simplification and throws the win away: 37…Qxf2?? 38. Rh8+!!, and Black has to accept the draw as the forced 38…Kxh8 is a stalemate! Not a fair result, perhaps, but given White’s fighting spirit, perhaps a just one.


World champion Magnus Carlsen and some of the planet’s other best players are back in action at the traditional year-opening Tata Steel Tournament in the Dutch city of Wijk aan Zee. Dutch GM Anish Giri and Indian former world champ Viswanathan Anand held the early lead Monday with 2½ points in the first three rounds, with Carlsen right at their heels at 2-1.

U.S. junior star GM Jeffery Xiong is playing in the Tata “B” Tournament for the first time and has three draws in his first three games.

Fuller-Basin, Michigan Open, Detroit, September 1992

1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 d5 3. Bg5 c6 4. e3 Qb6 5. Rb1 Nd7 6. Nf3 Ngf6 7. Bd3 e6 8. O-O Bd6 9. b4 O-O 10. Na4 Qd8 11. Nc5 Qe8 12. Bh4 Ne4 13. Bxe4 fxe4 14. Nxd7 Bxd7 15. Ne5 Rf5 16. Bg3 Qe7 17. c4 Be8 18. c5 Bc7 19. a4 h5 20. h3 a6 21. a5 h4 22. Bh2 Bh5 23. Qc2 Raf8 24. b5 axb5 25. a6 Bxe5 26. Bxe5 bxa6 27. Bd6 Qg5 28. f4 exf3 29. Bxf8 Rxf8 30. Qd2 a5 31. Rb2 a4 32. Kh1 fxg2+ 33. Qxg2 Rxf1+ 34. Qxf1 Qxe3 35. Rf2 Bg6 36. Rf8+ Kh7 37. Qf2 Qxf2 38. Rh8+ Draw agreed.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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