Saturday, March 21, 2009
Near Upsets at USATE 2009
I have posted three annotated games that were "Near Upsets at USATE 2009." The games feature confrontations between masters and amateurs where the amateurs could have won if only they had not missed the winning move or plan. I found these games while going through the file of 599 Games recently posted at the NJoyChess website (which I will probably return to in the near future to annotate other games of interest.)
Each year at the World Amateur Teams / US Amateur Team East they give out awards for the biggest ratings upset of each round. It's a shame that they can't give some consolation prize to the players of "Near Upsets" -- the ones that got away. The most interesting in that regard was Derrick Higgins vs. GM Nick DeFirmian, where the Expert player missed two chances to bring down a GM in a fascinating line of the Najdorf Sicilian (see diagram above for the first critical position). Based on the way he played, I predict that Dr. Higgins will have other chances in the future. But I'm sure he is still kicking himself over this one.
My intention is not to embarrass the amateurs who, like Rahul Swaminathan (see below) missed a chance to force mate against a strong master -- nor to embarrass the masters who almost got mated. My view is that upsets and near upsets serve to remind us of just how complex chess can be, so that even amateur players can have moments of near-brilliance where they almost see through the thicket to victory. Unfortunately, no one ever tells you during over-the-board play that it's "your turn to play and win" as they do in chess puzzle books -- or in the diagram below. Instead, in the midst of the thicket and with time ticking away on the clock we have to hope that we can sometimes see our way to the clearing ahead. And that may be why we continue to play, despite so many set-backs and failed attempts: we know that it is possible for even us amateurs to compose a masterpiece. The near-upset reminds us of what could have been, and convinces us that it is possible next time.