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Pursuits: Chess

LEAVING LONDON a fortnight ago for Calcutta where I now am, I happened to buy a comb in the departure lounge - an action which those who know me might consider slightly unusual, but which is hardly a felony. In paying for the thing, though, I slapped down my boarding pass and promptly forgot it; so that when, an hour and half later, and not having been Tannoyed, I went to the gate, I might, faced with a particularly obdurate bureaucracy, have had serious problems.

Fortunately I retrieved it, and here I am. But this trivial incident set me thinking about analogous episodes in chess games. The obvious example is the pawn advance (which cannot be undone even by retracing your steps through a transit area), which later proves fatal.

Ideally, I wanted to find a game where White played the apparently harmless a2-a3 at an early stage and was then dispatched in the endgame, ultimately by a black king arriving at b3. But in the example which I thought of, it turned out that a3 was a late concession when White was already in disarray:

White: Walter Browne

Black: Vassily Smyslov

Las Palmas Interzonal 1982

Once the king got in, it was all over. 18 ...c5 19 dxc5+ Rxc5 20 Rxc5 Kxc5 21 Nc3 Kb4 22 Rc1 c5 23 e3 d4 24 exd4 cxd4 25 a3+ Kb3 26 Nd1 Bc4 27 Nf2 Nd5 28 Ne4 Ne3 29 Nc5+ Ka2 30 Bh3 Bb3 31 Bd7 Nc4+ 32 Kd3 0-1

At the end, Browne, who is a notorious time trouble addict, lost on time. But after 32 ...Ne5+ it is simple, since if 33 Kxd4 Nxd7 34 Nxd7 Rd8 35 Rc7 Be6.

The following classic game features several weakening advances, including one in the notes. Nowadays, Black usually plays 6 ...dxc4 7 Bxc4 b5 8 Bd3 a6 9 e4 c5 to hit at White's centres in the opening, or, if he wants to play the ...Bd6 system, first 6 ...Bb4 after the weakening 7 a3 then Bd6. The point is that if in the game 10 ...e5 11 dxe5 Nxe5 12 Nxe5 Bxe5 13 Bxh7+ Kxh7 14 Qh5+ Kg8 15 Qxe5 wins a fairly good pawn; but with the extra a3 in, 16 ...Qd3 (not 15... in view of the extra move) more or less equalises.

11 ...h6?! started Black's slide and 14 ...g6? compounded the error. Instead 14 ...Re8 would defend, preparing 15 d5? cxd5 16 Bxf6 Qxf6 17 Qh7+ Kf8. At the end 20 ...Rxf7 21 Qxg6 is mate.

White: Jose Raul Capablanca

Black: Charles Jaffe

New York 1910

Queen's Gambit Meran

1 d4 d5

2 Nf3 Nf6

3 e3 c6

4 c4 e6

5 Nc3 Nbd7

6 Bd3 Bd6

7 0-0 0-0

8 e4 dxe4

9 Nxe4 Nxe4

10 Bxe4 Nf6

11 Bc2 h6?!

12 b3 b6

13 Qd3 g6?

14 Qd3 g6?

15 Rae1 Nh5?

16 Bc1 Kg7

17 Rxe6! Nf6

18 Ne5 c5

19 Bxh6+! Kxh6

20 Nxf7+ 1-0