Jen on the Inventors, Bluffing and Kosteniuk
By Jennifer Shahade   
September 14, 2008
Philadelphia Inventor WGM Jennifer Shahade
Three years ago, I met Matthew Herman at the Marshall Chess Club, at the suggestion of former New York Knights team-member, John Fernandez. I introduced Herman to the rest of the team and we had dinner at the French Roast to celebrate his induction to the Knights, a team I managed for the first two years of the U.S. Chess League. After moving to Philly in 07, I accepted a ceremonial post as an Philadelphia Inventors alternate but never intended to play: I was still too close to New York, chronologically speaking. So it was strange to find myself in my first game for the Inventors in the third week of USCL 08--against the Knights! A simple reason was that my dad, the manager, said he needed me as other players were busy. But in all honesty, I've always been excited by match-ups between family members, friends and former teammates. Does that make me a bad person or just show my addiction to intensity?  

Sadly, we lost the match 1-3. The Knights first win of the season was crowned by a breakthrough win by GM Pascal Charbonneau over GM Sergey Kudrin in the Maroczy Bind. Since we'd already lost the match, I was happy to see my friend Pascal win Game of the Week. My hyper-honest brother voted this game as first place despite a two paragraph long rant about how it only won due to the dearth of high quality games this week, inspiring me to imagine a comic proposal scene, "All the other women in the world were soooo awful. You're the best of the lot, so why don't we tie the knot?" More Greg-bashing is in order because he mocked me on the forums and at Friday night dinner for saying that Alexandra Kosteniuk had a good chance against Yifan Hou in the World Women's Champs Final (Sept 14-17, Nalchik). Did anyone see Game 1? Oh, here it is:


Anyway, back to USCL. Pascal doesn't have too much time to study due to his demanding finance job, but regardless of his record, he is always motivated by the chance to win Game of the Week. I love beauty prizes because you can win them at any time with any score, so Game of the Week and Year are two of my favorite USCL features. 


Perhaps if Matt or I had found a win in our crazy game, one of us would have gotten some Game of the Week votes.

I was happy to have accurately predicted the opening up to move 10. I played the Qd4 Sicilian and I had a feeling that Matt would reject 3...a6 or 3...Bd7 (allowing Maroczy Bind-like structures) for the most straightforward 3...Nc6 lines.

Position after 10.Qd3

I had focused on the scarier Qa5 in the above position, instead of 0-0, which Matt played. A couple moves later, we reached the following position, where Herman had just played the gutsy 12...Rfd8.

Position after 12...Rfd8

13.Nd5 is no good due to Qxa2 but  13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.Nd5 Qxa2, 15.Nxe7 Kf8 16.Bb4 with the idea of c5 17.Nc6! looked great for me!  I spent a long time before playing Nxc6, too long. I wanted to analyze everything around this line, but it was a waste because as soon as I realized that the line was feasible, I was going for it. Here's why.

A few days before playing Matt, I was at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City playing in a No Limit Hold Em poker tournament. This is a fitting article to talk about poker since pokerstars is the official USCL sponsor. Still, I'm not sure how many CLO readers play poker, so I'm going to explain this in a basic way, and you can go to my personal blog if you want the details. About 45 minutes into a tournament, I had increased the number of chips I started with by about 20%. So I was pretty happy, chit-chatting about the difference between cheating in chess and in poker, and the Sopranos (the actor who played AJ was in the tournament!!)  when I woke up with a pair of kings, the second best hand in poker. A dude who was involved in many big pots, and played almost half of the hands so far, raised in early position. I re-raised him a normal amount- I didn't want to entice him too easily but I also didn't feel the need to scare him away. We built a large pot, and the board got scarier and scarier reading 66978 with three spades. I folded to a big bet after the 8 of spades, the last card aka river. I was sure that he could easily have some random cards that would give him a straight, a flush or at least trips.  After I folded, he turned over gleefully ACE KING OF HEARTS, good for absolutely nothing. 

 No way I was going to suffer two stone-cold bluffs in one week. During the game I was alreading imagining the horror of plugging the position after Bb4 into Fritz and discovering I was totally winning. So I had to take  the exchange.

I often warn my students about analyzing too deep without examining candidate moves at every step (missing the thicket for the long branch), but clearly I'm not immune to this error....

Position after 17...cxb4

I played 18.Nxd8 quickly, based on previous analysis, but 18.e5! was far better because now Nd5 loses to Qh7 when Qh8 is a mate threat thanks to the knight on c6! The game continued 18.Nxd8? Rxd8 when 19.e5 is no longer strong due to Nd5 Qh7 and not only do I have no threat but my own king is in deep trouble.

After my mistake, I had to switch to defense and Matt had many tempting choices. I was sure I was in trouble, but somehow I managed to avoid mate, coordinate my pieces and regain the initiative. I entered this position, both of us with very little time on the clock:

Position after 28...Qc6

29.Rxg7 leads only to a draw so I had to try 29.Qxh7 Qxc4+ 30.Ke1 (hoping he'd play Qb4+?? in his time pressure which loses instantly to Rd2) Rd7 31.Qh8 Qg8 32. Qxg8 Kxg8. Still in mutual time pressure, I threw away my winning chances in that endgame in just a few moves. We agreed to a draw just after Kudrin resigned.

So calling his bluff didn't win the game for me but my instincts were right because 18.e5! was super strong. I would have had a better chance of finding it if I hadn't wasted so much time convincing myself to play Nxc6 and Nd5 in the first place. Bobby Fischer once said something about how you should always take a pawn when you can't figure out why it loses. (Why is game 1 of the Fischer-Spassky the first thing that comes to my mind?) I also recommend calling bluffs cause there's nothing better than catching one red-handed. I like to relive that moment in the Borgata but this time I turn over my kings, scoop the pot and leave the kid in the oversized football jersey gasping for tournament life. And then three days later, I instantly see e5! Unbluffable Jennifer, an autumn resolution.