What’s in a Name?

I played a chess game against one Robert J. Fischer in my most recent tournament. He introduced himself as Bobby.

Chess players have ratings. A novice can be rated in the 1000-1200 range, whereas Grandmasters are 2500 and above. At a 1947 ELO rating, I am close to the much-coveted line of 2000, and the title of Expert. But if I want to cross that line, I’ll need to beat people already above it, people like Bobby.

What follows is a textbook example of how not to beat people like Bobby.

I sat down at the table, shook his hand, and played 1.e4. He replied with 1..e5 almost instantly.

1.e4 e5

And with that, I am already rattled. I should not have looked at his rating. I have begun to psych myself out. His 1..e5 seemed so confident, like he’ll be very prepared for any standard line. What’s a non-standard line I could play here?

2.Nc3

The Vienna. A Romantic-era opening not currently in vogue. Black can follow up here with 2..Nc6, after which the game can become a slow positional struggle for the d4 and d5 squares, as both sides prepare to push their f pawns. But this is the Vienna! No one wants insipid positional play from the old-fashioned Romantic-era chess openings. You want wild sacrifices in exchange for rapid development. You want a little derring-do, some swashbuckle. And if you’re comfortable inviting that as Black, you play 2..Nf6.

2..Nf6 3.f4

Swashbuckle! The classic Vienna game f4 pawn gambit, striving for additional control of the center. Black is unwise to accept this gambit, as the following e5 by White proves strong. For a deeper dive into the Vienna, take a look at Dereque Kelley’s excellent analysis of the Vienna game here, I love all his opening videos and have learned a ton from them.

Best by Black from here, rather than accepting the pawn, is to vie for rapid development and central control as well, rather than to going pawn-hunting. This means playing 3..d5, the Falkbeer variation.

3..d5

After this central countergambit, the resulting lines are very sharp. I’m hopeful that my new friend Bobby is not very familiar with them. Hilariously, I never stopped to consider whether I was familiar with them. I was not.

4.fxe5 Nxe4 5.Nf3 Bg4

It is amazing, when one dives in to an opening that they don’t actually know how to play, how early one can make a catastrophic blunder. So many lines in this opening, if White isn’t careful, can see the Black queen landing on h4 with check, followed by something terrible happening on e4 or d4.

With that said, I’ll put it to you here. I moved my d pawn in this position. Should I have moved it to d3, or to d4?

6.d4

And just like that, the game is over. Does it look over? Because it is.

This is a classic psychological error on my part. You see a structure that is familiar, even though it is familiar from a FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT OPENING. In this case, there are several lines in the Petrov with similarities to this: White has knights on c3 and f3, Black has a knight on e4, and the most frequently-played move is d4.

But that is a different opening. You have your f pawn in the Petrov. There is no queen check on h4 in the Petrov. You can’t just make pawn moves willy-nilly because they are “similar” to other structures you know. You have to be precise.

You can scroll through the full game in its entirety with the resulting gory details below, with additional comments from me displayed on certain moves. The next time Bobby and I play, who knows? Maybe I’ll trot out the Vienna again, now that we are more acquainted with one another.