Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Beautiful Game

The United States Open returns to New Jersey in 2007. It will be played this late July and early August at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill, bringing back memories of the 1986 U.S. Open in Somerset, NJ.

I took two-weeks vacation, not only playing one game each evening in the main event but also participating in the daytime quads. One of the regulars in the top quad besides myself was the late Erich Marchand of New York. Another was John Nash, a mathematics teacher from West Virginia who was spending the summer at his parents' home in Princeton Junction. His father, of the same name, was a professor at Princeton University who would go on to win the Nobel Prize for his work on game theory. The elder John Nash was portrayed by actor Russell Crowe in the Oscar winning movie A Beautiful Mind.

I had not seen the younger John Nash in nearly twenty years until he made a rare appearance at the Hamilton NJ quads in March 2006 where he finished with 2 wins and 1 loss.

NM John Nash - NM Jim West, Somerset NJ 1986

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6

The Sicilian Najdorf used to be my favorite defense against 1.e4.

6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.O-O-O Nbd7 10.Qg3 h6 11.Bh4 Rg8 12.Be2 g5 13.fxg5 Ne5 14.Nf3

Instead Tal-Fischer, Zurich 1959 continued with 14.g6 Nxg6 15.Rhf1 Nxh4 16.Qxh4 Rg6 17.Bd3 Ng4 18.Qh5 Ne5 19.Nf3 Qc5 20.Nxe5 Qxe5 21.Qxe5 dxe5 22.g3 Bd7 23.Be2 Bc6 24.Bh5 Rf6 25.a3 Rd8 26.Rxd8+ Bxd8 27.Rxf6 Bxf6 and drawn in 35 moves.

14...hxg5 15.Nxg5 Rg6 16.Qe1 b5 17.a3 Rb8 18.Nf3 Nc4

Attempting to regain the pawn by 18...Rxg2? would be ill-advised after 19.Bg3.

19.Bxc4 bxc4 20.e5 Qb7 21.exf6 Qxb2+ 22.Kd2 Rxg2+ 23.Ke3 Rxc2 24.Ne4

This is better than 24.fxe7? after which Herb Hickman in his Newark Star-Ledger column gave 24...Rxc3+ 25.Kf4 e5+ 26.Kg3 Rxf3+ 27.Kxf3 Rb3+ when "White would get mated quickly."

24...Rb3+ 25.Kf4 Rg2!

Now Herb Hickman pointed out that 26.fxe7?? would lose immediately to 26...e5+ 27.Nxe5 dxe5#.

26.Ng3 Bxf6 27.Rxd6 Qxa3

Herb Hickman preferred 27...e5+.

28.Qd1 Rxf3+ 29.Kg4 Bxh4 30.Qxf3

But not 30.Kxh4? Rfxg3 31.Rd8+ Ke7 32.hxg3 Qxg3+ (Hickman).


Hickman gave the winning 30...e5+ 31.Kxh4 Qxf3.

31.Qxg2 Bxg3 32.Qxg3 e5+, White resigns.

But as Russell Crowe says in the movie, "The game is flawed!" In our haste to finish the game because the next round in the U.S. Open was to begin shortly, we both overlooked that White can fight on with 33.Kh5. Black is better, but "White would have counterchances against Black's king with his queen and rook", according to Hickman.

In a bizarre way, this assessment tends to prove the elder John Nash's theory of the "two-person zero-sum game". As you can see, there really should not have been a loser!