I was taught chess in 1970, at the age of eleven, by a twelve-year-old American boy, John Crown, who was living on our road at the time.
Having taught me the moves, we then played a game with me as white. He advised that it was usual to start the game with a pawn move, preferably one of the two centre pawns. I thought about this and played one of the centre pawns two squares forward. Having played my first move – 1.d4 – John asked me why I’d chosen to play that pawn instead of the other. I answered that, as it was protected by the queen, it seemed the better choice of the two to play first. John accepted my reason, and we played on – needless to say, I don’t have the game, but I know that I did lose!
But I’ve been a d–pawn player, as White, ever since.
I’m a “calculated risk” person, rather than a gambler or gambiteer, and I’ve tended to be like that throughout my life.
Despite this, my choice of openings were based on the fact that I had a good memory – which is generally on what young chess players rely: memorising long sequences of moves in the hope that their opponents won’t know them as well and fall into one or more traps along the way. I particularly was taken by the Sicilian Dragon defence and spent hours learning the variations…
At school, I played “doss”/”skittle” games against my classmates and then won a place on the senior school team, which was a great feeling.
The first game for the team – an away game against Marian College – was also my first memorable game. My original notes, which were made without the benefit of a computer at the time, are in italics.
Edan Corcoran v James Burke
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4
A unusual move-order, at the time, and one of which I wasn’t aware. I decided to stick with the main sequence moves of the Dragon…
3…Nf6 4.Nc3 g6?!
4…Nxe4 5.Bxf7+ Kxf7 6.Nxe4 +/=
4…Nc6 was really necessary here, to prevent 5.e5, when Black’s position becomes a mess.
White had the opportunity of playing 5.e5, which would cause some problems for Black, as the Dragon pawn structure would become spoiled after 5…de 6.Nxe5 e6 7.d4 cd 8.Bb5+ Bd7 9.Nxd7 Nbxd7 10.Qxd4 Bg7 11.Qb4 Qe7 12.Qxe7+ Kxe7 with a slight advantage to White.
Again, 5…Nc6 is possible, although even after the move played 6.e5 de 7.Nxe5 00 8.00 Nbd7 9.Nf3 Nb6 Black’s position is not as poor as what could have occurred if the pawn push had occurred on move five.
Last chance for the pawn push…
…. is gone!
A surprisingly common move, instead of the normal placement on e3.
7….00 8.Qd2 Re8
To avoid the exchange of the Dragon bishop.
And a poorly chosen time for this move as it drops a pawn.
9….cd 10.Nxd4 Nxe4!
A small surprise. If now 11.Nxe4 Nxd4 wins a pawn, Or else – after 40 minutes!! – he chose…
11…bc 12.Nxe4 d5! Why not?
Why not, indeed, as 12.Bxf7+? fails to 12…Kxf7 13.Nxe4 Bxb2.
Missing 12.Bxf7+! Kxf7 13.Nxd8+ Rxd8 14.Bxd2 – I’d still have an advantage, but White would be somewhat better than in the game.
12…Nxc4 wins a piece.
True. It appears I may have gotten carried away with winning the rook, instead of the bishop, not quite paying attention to the simple fact of winning the bishop gratis. As a result of this error, the advantage passes back to White.
13.Nxf7 was better.
13…Kf8 14.Bxe8 Kxe8
Passing the advantage back to me again.
15.Re1 Kxd8 16.Rxe7 Bxc3 17.Rxh7+ Ke9 18.bc Nxh2 19.Kxh2 was best. There’s also 15.Nxb7 Nxh2 16.Nxd6+ ed 17.Kxh2.
However, my silicon pet, Houdini, has 15.Nxb7 Rb8 16.Nxd6+ ed 17.Re1+ Kf7 18.Re7+ Kf8 19.Ne4 Rb7 20.Nxd6 Rxe7 21.Bxe7+ Kxe7 22.Nxc8+ Kd7 23.Nxa7 Nd2 as equal, although I wouldn’t be too confident playing it – even today!
Strangely, I gave this move a question mark, though Houdini considers it the best, writing…
This is a dubious move. If Edan played 16.Nxb7 Bxb7 17.Kxf1, he’d have gained a pawn. Best was 15…Kxd8 16.Re1 Bf6
16.Bd2 was better – the pawn capture on b7 doesn’t do much better as the bishop is worth more than the knight with pawns on both sides of the board.
16…Kxd8 17.Re1 Bf5
Here, and on the next move, I had the opportunity of exchanging on c3, however – even back then – I preferred bishops over knights, and the two bishops are worth more than the bishop plus knight.
This threatens 20…Bxc3 21.bc Rxc3 winning a pawn after playing 19…b5. but if 19…b5 20.Bd2 – to protect the knight – Bxc2 wins a pawn.
19.Nd5 was relatively better. 19…Rxc2 20.Rxe7 Bxb2 21.Rxb7 Bd4 22.Be3 Bxe3 23.Nxe3 Bd3+ 24.Ke1 Rxa2 with advantage to Black.
19…a6 saves the a-pawn.
Here Houdini rejects 19…Rxc2 in favour of 19…Bd7 due to 20.Bxd6 with a long sequence, which – though advantageous to Black – is not as good as 19…Bd7.
Missing 20.Bxd6 Rxc2 21.Bxe7+ Kd7 22.Re3 Rxb2 23.Ba3 Rxb5 24.Re7+ Kc6 25.Rxg7 Bd3+ 26.Ke1 Ra5 27.Bf8 Rxa2 with only a slight advantage to Black.
If the bishop moves, then 21…Bd6 wins the rook.
21… Bxc2 22.Bc1
To save the bishop and the pawn.
Houdini prefers 22.Be3 but the result is the same – the b-pawn falls.
Now if 23.Nb5? Bd6+ wins the knight. So…
23.Be3 Bxb2 24.Ke1 Bc3+
Again, 24…Ba4 transposes.
Surprise! I expected 25.Ke2.
“If you’re material up, exchange pieces.”
I plan to play …Kc7, …Bd7 and …Kb6 winning a piece and the game.
27.Kc3 Kc7 28.Kb4 Bd7
So far as planned. the only option for White is…
29.Nb5+ Bxb5 30.Kx5 d5
30…e5 is quicker, though it shouldn’t make a difference from now on.
31.Kc5 e6 32.Kd4 Kd6 33.f3 e5+ 34.Kd3 Kc5
The king and pawns advance inexorably.
Now if 36.g4 hg 37.fg g5 38.h4 gh gains another passed pawn. The same goes for 36.f4.
35…Kb4 was quicker.
To try and force through 37.f4. But…
36.a3 or 36.Kc3 was necessary to stop Black playing 36…Kb4.
This can’t be bad since he has nothing left but zugzwang.
37…d4+ 38. Resigns
He loses after the exchange of pawns. The most correct game I have ever played.at
Er, not quite! Perhaps at the time…!!
Someone else once said “I played the rest of the game perfectly”.
That was J. R. Capablanca – child prodigy and the third World Chess Champion.
But that’s quite a different matter…
[Houdini gives mate in eighteen moves – I’ll let you see if you can work it out!]
Our team captain was in the process of writing “6-0” for Marian, when a number of their players pointed out that I’d won. “Really?!! Oh, great!” and changed it to “5-1”. It was a great feeling to realise that I’d managed to win my first game playing for the team when everyone else had lost.