Sunday, May 16, 2010

In-flight Entertainment

While flying back from what I believe was the 1986 U.S. Open in New Jersey, I was using a CD-case magnetic chess set to review some chess material. Harold Dondis, a man who knows how to use his time well at or away from the board, was sitting, if I recall correctly, in the row in front of mine, across the aisle. He saw the chess set and asked me if I wanted to play a game, to which I agreed. We passed the set back and forth after each move, and, according to my memory, were in a reasonably equal or unclear position when the plane began landing procedures. Harold offered a draw, which I of course accepted.

Unfortunately for me, in our subsequent rated encounters, I was unable to use the Plane Imminently Landing Defense, and I am now -3 against him. :-(

Several years later, I was again reviewing some chess material on a flight, presumably using the same chess set, and I happened to be sitting next to "Mr. X", who I was surprised to discover knew a reasonable amount about chess. I don't recall him telling me that he was ever an active tournament player, but USCF online ratings (you cannot hide on the Internet) suggest he may have once been a rated Class B player. He and I also played a game, which was also drawn via the Plane Imminently Landing Defense.

After returning home, I was chatting with my landlord, and although I don't remember how our conversation came to this, apparently my landlord knew of Mr. X. Someone my landlord knew worked at "Company Y", for which Mr. X was doing consulting. He chuckled as he related that some folks within Company Y felt they were overpaying Mr. X. Small world.

While recently flying out to the land of The Road to Chess Improvement, I was seated next to an industry insider who told me the interesting snippet that Craisins were developed out of an attempt to get more value out of the waste stream from production of cranberry juice. Our conversation was wide-ranging, and since he had some knowledge of chess and some interest in seeing what kinds of things separate stronger players from weaker players, I showed him on my PDA (an upgrade from the CD-case chess set) how to force checkmate with just a rook, which I think he appreciated.

I love that technique (found in many basic endgame books), taught to me many moons ago by D.T. (not Deep Thought), who was not a tournament player himself (5/19/10: I sit corrected, D.T. informs me he had indeed played in some tournaments in high school). Years ago in a game against N.N. (No Name, for anyone who has been wondering why I play N.N. so often), we were down to kings, plus my pawn inexorably marching to promotion. N.N. was rated highly enough and was way beyond Old Enough To Know Better*, but declined to resign, despite the fact that I had plenty of time left on my clock. I promoted to a rook so he could also appreciate that technique (though perhaps not as much as my fellow passenger).

* A series being:

Not Old Enough To Know Better
Old Enough To Know Better
Not Old Enough To Know
Old Enough To Know
Not Old Enough
Old Enough
Not Old

I also showed my fellow passenger this well-known position, where White to move wins, or Black to move draws:

The solution is well worth working out if you do not know it. Speelman's Endgame Preparation (p. 21.) covers it, as I suspect a number of other endgame books do. The key ideas came to a young Bob Seltzer's hands a bit too late many years ago, long before he made master, as I saw him lose a similar position from the winning side.

If any of my future opponents arrive at such a position over the board with me and still haven't worked out the solution, it will be my pleasure to help you learn and appreciate it. :-)

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