Still Occasionally Brilliant
    By Tommaso Dorigo | February 1st 2010 01:15 PM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    As I quickly approach my forty-fourth birthday, I can almost feel the decline in my mental and physical abilities. Sure, I try to oppose it, but it is arguably an uphill fight.

    One of the means I have to gauge the line-up of my neurons is to play blitz games in the Internet Chess Club: my Elo rating is still rather stable on the ICC, although the rate of blunders per game seems to increase. When I play a nice tactical combination, however, I have the feeling of rejuvenating: it is just as if somebody injected some magical youth potion in my veins, for a while.

    Have a look at the following short game, which I played this evening against a similarly rated opponent (Cazzeo, 1918 5-minute Elo points). I do not find any real blemish in my moves, and the ending is rather brilliant, although by no means original.

    Tonno-Cazzeo, ICC, Feb 01 2010
    1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 g6 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.Be3 cxd4 7.Bxd4!? Nf6

    A first stupid trap: 7....e5 would lose a pawn to 8.Bxe5, due to the unprotected Qd5. But black plays the best move here.

    8.Nbd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Qd8

    Here my Fritz 8 says that Qf5 would have been significantly better. I agree, but there is no real flaw in the move played by black.

    10.Be3 0-0 11.0-0 Qc7 12.Qe2

    I am rather puzzled to see, post-mortem, that Fritz considers all the previous moves as best. Sure, the position is rather simple; and yet it feels pleasing to be able to play a string of "best" moves...

    12. ... a6 13.Rfe1 b5

    Another move that Fritz does not appreciate much, offering 13. ... Bf5 as an alternative. But again, the difference in the evaluation of the two positions is minimal.

    14.Bb3 Bb7 15.Bc5!

    Again best according to Fritz! So far all of my moves raise not an inch of criticism in the silicon brain.

    15. ... Rfe8?

    Black is not willing to ignore the pseudo-threat of 16.Bxe7, which is actually not possible at the moment (16....Rfe8 would win the bishop on the spot) but which puts pressure on the a3-f8 diagonal, and plays in white's hands. Here it was necessary to keep cool and play 15. ..., Rad8, or 15. ... Nd7. To the former white would reply 16.Rad1, to the latter 16.Ne4, with slight advantage in both cases.


    A simple, but devastating sacrifice. Simple if you have seen similar things in grandmaster games of the past, of course, since it takes 14 half-moves to prove winning. Fritz 8 takes about 8 seconds to recommend Bxf7 on my computer; I took a fraction of it, but then spent about 20 seconds to verify that it was indeed winning. Black should now decline the piece and move away with the king, but he would still get in a lost position. Maybe better to go down in flames...

    16.... Kxf7 17.Ng5!

    The point. Maybe black had only considered 17.Qe6+ Kf8 18.Ng5, which is defensible after 18....Nd8. But white prevents that defence with the N check. If now 17....Kf8 there is not 18.Qe6 Nd8, but of course 18.Ne6+ and the black queen is lost.

    17.... Kg8 18.Qe6+ Kh8

    For, of course, 18....Kf8 19.Qf7 is mate. Now we witness the well-known smothered mate mechanism:

    19.Nf7+ Kg8 20.Nh6++ Kh8 21.Qg8+!! Nxg8 22.Nf7 mate.

    Of course 21....Rxg8 22.Nf7 mate would have been the same thing. A nice, clean combination, as it is rare to play in blitz games... Maybe some of my neurons are still hanging in there.


    Nice! As far as I can tell, I'm no where near as quick as I was when I was 25, but I'm a lot craftier.

    I'm still waiting for the 14th issue of IJMPD to come out (it's supposed date is December 2009) as it is supposed to contain my first published paper. I can't believe it's February and I've been looking at their website essentially every day since early December. I guess no matter how old I get, I still retain my youthful optimism.

    I'd be surprised if your brain were already atrophying and chess is as much creativity as mental adroitness.   Plenty of people are creative into their 90s and on.

    If you had to actually fight the opposing pieces on a battlefield, I suppose you might worry at 44 ...
    I've been getting into chess over the past few weeks, with Chessmaster 9000, which gives you a lot of tutorials for $10.
    Notation doesn't come natural yet, do you get to the point where you can read it&visualize it right away?

    The Scientific American recent issue has a letter that is relevant to you. I'm reproducing it here in full.

    * Major Pill

    Regarding Gary Stix's cover story "Turbocharging the Brain" at age 40 (nine years ago) I was a physical and mental wreck; I was way overweight, and my mathematical abilities seemed to be deteriorating. I found a magic pill that lowered my weight (by 20 percent) and my blood pressure and cholesterol (now both "normal"), revitalized my you-know-what drive, and made my mind stronger than ever. The pill I started taking: triathlon.

    Alexander H. Slocum
    Neil and Jane Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Since it might help you, I didn't worry about copyrights :)