Thursday, 25 December 2008

A Christmas Present For Our Readers

Merry Christmas, everyone.

This is a story I originally wrote for a Neighbours forum; the characters in the story are from the show. The game I feature here is a real game, and the tournament situation described in the story is a real situation. Those of you who enjoy these things may want to figure out what game and what tournament are being referenced here. (Note: the game may not necessarily come from the tournament.)


I looked thoughtfully at the pairing list on the door. Not that any of the top pairings would have changed, but it served as a way of anchoring myself in the reality of the situation.

1.Kinski, Ezekiel (7½) v Jeffries, Lisa (7½)
2.Kinski, Rachel (7) v Brown, Ringo (7)
3.Hoyland, Summer (6½) v Hunter, Justin (6½)
4.Parker, Bridget (6½) v Kirk, Benjamin IK (6½)
5.Freedman, Donna (6½) v Napier, Declan (6½)
6.Timmins, Breanna (6½) v Jones, Callum (6½)

The pairings continued to board 35, but my reading on was interrupted by Summer's bouncing up to me.

"Hey," she said, "good luck."

"Thanks," I replied. "You're probably the only one wishing me it."

An expression of mild sympathy came into Summer's eyes.

"No, don't." I said, before she could say anything to go with it. "I know what my name is like on Ramsay Street. Zeke's just about the only one on there to give me the time of day."

"Zeke can see what you're really like," said Summer, in explanation of this. I snorted in response; Summer has, despite having been friends with me for five years and thereby knowing me better than perhaps anyone, maintained a touching faith in my general good nature.

Summer turned to go into the tournament hall. As she was going in, I suddenly thought of something.

"Sum?" I called out.


"Smash that sexist pig for me, won't you? I'd hate to see his name in the prize list."

Summer smiled and went inside.



I sat there and looked at Zeke's first move. Normally, in such a situation, I'd have just pushed my c-pawn and offered a draw. But two things stopped me: first, I didn't think Zeke would have taken it – he hadn't agreed a quick draw yet in the tournament – and second, the thought of coming back here for some playoffs did not appeal to me.


Zeke stared at this in surprise; he'd obviously prepared enough to know I never played this.

2.d4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.f4

And I was right; he wasn't in the mood for a quick draw. I cast my mind back to rounds 6-8, where this sort of play had put Zeke into the lead with wins against Bree, Taylah and Summer. Well, this was certainly the day to defend well if ever there was one.

4...a6 5.Nf3 Nd7 6.a4 b6

There was a sudden flurry of activity from board five. Looking up, I was unsurprised to see the familiar sight of Donna Freedman agreeing a quick draw. Why had this girl entered the tournament, anyway?

7.Bd3 e6 8.0-0 Ne7 9.e5

Hmm. Zeke wanted to cut off my pawn-breaks by getting his in first. Well, developing as normal must still be right.

9...Bb7 10.Ne4

Should I take that? Would his bishop be good in the absence of mine? Hmm, this one would require serious – ow. This is so not a good time for caffeine withdrawal to kick in. Play a couple of safe moves, and then get a coffee.

10...d5 11.Ng3 c5 12.c3 Nc6

Zeke sunk into thought at this point, and so I went off to the hotel's on-site coffee bar, and tried to find the least overpriced drink on its menu. I'd just about managed this when Donna came up to me.

"Rare footage there, Donna," I said sarcastically.

Donna shrugged. "Like your round 7 game, then," she countered.

"I agreed a quick draw with my sister," I pointed out, "after I'd just lost a horrible game to Ringo spigging Brown. You've agreed quick draws with everybody."

"I've won three games," corrected Donna.

I rolled my eyes and sipped my coffee.

"There are too many games in this tournament anyway," she continued. "Why is a local junior championship eleven rounds long?"

"Because," I answered, "Paul Robinson, in his infinite wisdom, wanted to get his name in his own paper, and sponsor a tournament like the big international events. And he didn't consider why those events are nine or more rounds long, and why this doesn't apply to local kiddie events. Anyway, back to my game."



What have I done, Sweet Jesus, what have I done... I hastily checked myself here. I had no wish to find myself thinking of lyrics from musicals in yet another chess game. I dragged my mind back to the position. Two captures on f5, his knight landing there... ugh, no, there was no way I was getting into that.

13...exf5 14.Bxf5

So now what? Nf8, to prevent the e6 break? No, he'd play Bg5, and my position would get blown open... better castle and hope to weather the storm.

14...0-0 15.e6 Nf6 16.exf7+

This, I thought, wasn't getting any better any time soon. Take with the king and the knight comes into g5; take with the rook and I lose it...

16...Kh8 17.Bc2 Rxf7 18.Ne5 Re7 19.Bg5

Right. Could I play knight takes knight here? Ah, no, rook takes knight kills that. Well, that leaves only one choice.

19...Qd6 20.Bxg6 Nxe5 21.Nf5

And that, I thought, is probably that.


I got up from the board and looked at the other games. Board four was just finishing; Bridget Parker wrapped up a nice win against Ben Kirk.

"Well done," I said to her, when we were out in the corridor. "Nice game."

Bridget smiled. "How's it going in yours?"

"Obviously," I said, "I can't comment on that. Your reaction could be construed as advice."

Bridget nodded. "Fair enough. How do you think the other games are going?"

I thought about this. "Board two could go either way. Six is looking good for white, as is three." With this, I went back to my board.


That, I thought, is a relief. Had he played 22.dxe5, I suspect I would have been congratulating him on winning the tournament shortly afterwards. This gave me some counter-chances.

22...Rxg7 23.dxe5 Ne4 24.Bf5

He's losing it, I thought. The pressure's finally getting to him. Surely bishop takes knight was better. This just gives me an extra tempo when I take the pawn...

24...Qxe5 25.Bh6

I sank into thought here. Something was screaming at my brain, trying to attract its attention. While I was thinking, the games on boards three and six finished the way I expected, meaning that a loss would leave me tied with Summer and Bree as well as Bridget.

Hang on, surely this couldn't work, could it? I hadn't been building for an attack at all, but the opportunity to play this sacrifice had just shot up out of nowhere...



All of a sudden, I had a crowd of spectators round my board. Zeke nearly leapt out of his chair on seeing this move, but played the forced response.

26.Kxg2 Rg8+

The variations swirled around in my brain. If he went back to h1, ...d4 was going to be deadly. Hang on, what about Qf3? No, that was fine: queen takes bishop, queen takes queen, knight f2 mate. If he went to h3, I'd have rook g3 check... yeah, looked pretty good.

27.Bg4 d4

For the first time in the game, Zeke looked visibly perturbed. Running short of time, he played the obvious move, the one to get him out of both the pin and the battery I'd been setting up.


Yes, I thought. Got you. This will be the one. The game that makes it all worthwhile. As I was savouring this thought, the board two game finished. A beaming Rachel Kinski immediately came over to watch mine.

28...Bc8 29.Bxc8 Rg3+

I could sense the atmosphere building up in the crowd, but by now it was irrelevant. Okay, maybe the impressed look that Rachel was giving me wasn't irrelevant.


He couldn't take the second rook, because queen takes pawn would have been mate. But this allowed the whole point of the combination to happen.

30...Qe7+ 31.Kh5 Qe8+ 32.Kh4 Qd8+ 33.Kh5

Rachel was biting her lip here. I think somewhere in her mind was the hope that I hadn't actually got a win here, and was just going to go for the perpetual. Not a chance, I thought. I've calculated this to the end.


Again, he couldn't take this. The queen would recapture with mate.

34.Kh4 Rg6+

Slowly, the reason for the mysterious queen moves dawned on the crowd. If the king now went back to h3, queen takes bishop check would finish him off.

35.Kh5 Rxh6+

And if he took this one, it was mate on g5.

36.Kg4 Qxc8+ 37.Kf4 Qe6

Zeke took some time to catch his breath here, but eventually shook his head and extended his hand.


"For someone who was exhausted and had no confidence in her own ability," observed Summer, "you produced some pretty awesome chess there."

"Thanks," I said. "I was lucky, though. Zeke missed several wins in the middle there. I'm not sure I deserve this title."

"Don't be silly," sighed Summer. "You always do yourself down like this; you beat Zeke because he fumbled a winning position under pressure and you didn't."

I pondered on the truth of this as I sipped a drink that seemed almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

"You know," continued Summer, "this could be just what you need. You took a couple of calculated risks in the game, and it paid off. You might find this approach works well in the rest of your life."

This was traditionally the point at which I would make a sarcastic comment at the expense of Summer's family, but for once I was in the mood to take her advice. "How do you mean?"

"You might want to build bridges with the Ramsay Street lot," suggested Summer. "Zeke already likes you; I'm sure the others will once they see past your reputation."

I raised an eyebrow at her.

"And if ever you wanted a place to start," Summer carried on with a twinkle in her eye, "I see the tournament runner-up is sitting over there with nobody to talk to at the moment. You might want to provide her with some company."

I looked from Summer to Rachel and back again, my mind whirling around. I suddenly sensed something, a feeling that I had had at around move 25...

"See you later," I said to Summer, getting up from the table. "I feel there's a calculated risk here I need to take."

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