The ghost of Aron Nimzovich
(A post in the Halloween spirit.)
Last night I was playing chess against Shredder, the computer program, and set its rating at 2220. At that very moment, through a glitch in the time-space continuum, the ghost of Aron Nimzovich was summoned and possessed my computer.
"What is this?" thought Nimzovich. "The afterlife is not as bad as I thought! Look, I have a chessboard in front of me, and on the other side of the board is an opponent who, by the looks of him, is a patzer. Strange, though... I have no arms or hands. Ach! But I can move the pieces by the mere power of my thought!"
Shredder (possessed by Aron Nimzovich) -- Dana Mackenzie
And indeed, by the power of Nimzovich's thought, the computer played 1. g3. All unsuspecting, I replied 1. ... d5 2. Nf3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. O-O e5. "Now I shall induce him to overextend his pawn center," Nimzovich thought, and played 5. d3 Ne7 6. e4. But I foiled his plan with 6. ... de. "What is with these modern chess players?" Nimzovich thought. "In the old days they would have played 6. ... d4 without hesitating. Then I attack the base of the pawn chain with f2-f4 and g2-g4-g5, and White wins. Now it seems we are in for a more subtle battle." He recaptured, 7. de (diagram).
Position after 7. de. Black to move.
FEN: rnbqk2r/ppp1npbp/6p1/4p3/4P3/5NP1/PPP2PBP/RNBQ1RK1 b kq - 0 7
Here I played 7. ... Rxd1? "Ho-ho!" chuckled Nimzovich. "It is the worst of patzermistakes. He believes that by trading queens, he will make it more difficult for me to win. But he does not realize that he is gifting me a free tempo and making his position worse. 'To be ahead in development is the ideal to be strived for.' -- My System."
Play continued 8. Rxd1 O-O 9. Nc3 c6. "Another free tempo!" Nimzovich thought. "And not only that, he has created a weakness on d6, where I can put a knight or a rook later. 'A pawn move must not be regarded in itself as a developing move.' -- My System."
10. Be3 Nd7 11. a4! ...
Position after 11. a4. Black to move.
FEN: r1b2rk1/pp1nnpbp/2p3p1/4p3/P3P3/2N1BNP1/1PP2PBP/R2R2K1 b - - 0 11
"Prophylaxis!" the good doctor thought to himself. "My opponent wishes to untangle his pieces by putting his knight on b6 and developing his bishop. With this move I prepare to chase the knight away. I might also be able to provoke some further weaknesses in my opponent's pawn structure."
11. ... Re8 12. a5 Nf8 13. Rd6 ... "Now that he has no way to drive this rook away, I prepare to take over the d-file."
13. ... h6 14. h3... "Prophylaxis! I do not want his bishop to have any good squares."
14. ... Be6 15. b3 ... "Prophylaxis! The bishop shall not move to c4 and thence to a6. It must remain at e6, where it is in the way of Black's other pieces."
Position after 15. b3. Black to move.
FEN: r3rnk1/pp2npb1/2pRb1pp/P3p3/4P3/1PN1BNPP/2P2PB1/R5K1 b - - 0 15
15. ... f5. "My patzer opponent foolishly believes that he has spotted a flaw in my play. He is hoping to open the long diagonal and win material due to the skewer of my knight and rook. But the threat is easily defended. Black's positional defects cannot be remedied by mere tactics."
16. a6! b6. "Creating a weakness on c6 in addition to the one on d6. Although the pawn at a6 could come under attack at some point, it exerts a powerful cramping effect on Black's position."
17. Rad1 f4 18. gf ... "I have no fear of the long diagonal."
18. ... ef 19. Bd4 ...
Position after 19. Bd4. Black to move.
FEN: r3rnk1/p3n1b1/PppRb1pp/8/3BPp2/1PN2N1P/2P2PB1/3R2K1 b - - 0 19
19. ... c5?
"Like most patzers, my opponent does not realize that every pawn advance creates a weakness. This opens up the square b5 for my knight and also gives me chances to open the long h1-a8 diagonal. The exchange of dark-squared bishops is a small price to pay for these advantages. But there is no need for me to initiate the exchange -- let him be the one to capture, and in that way give me another free tempo."
20. Be5 g6 21. Nb5 Rec8 "A pathetic move. Nevertheless, I must prevent him from getting any counterplay."
22. c4 ... "Prophylaxis!"
22. ... Rc6 23. Kh2 ... "Prophylaxis! This move frees my bishop to move later in the game. Meanwhile, I have no reason to be concerned about the exchange of rooks, because I maintain control over the d-file. His remaining rook barely even counts as a rook, because it cannot leave the a8 square."
23. ... Rxc6 24. Rxc6 ... "Now what can Black do about the threat of Nc7?"
24. ... Bc8 "Black is trying to entice me to play Rd8, which would dissipate my advantage as my rook can be chased by his knights. But his move does nothing about the real problem in his position -- the lack of activity of his pieces. In fact, it makes the problem worse."
25. Bxg7 Kxg7 26. Nc7 Rb8 27. Ne5! ...
Position after 27. Ne5. Black to move.
FEN: 1rb2n2/p1N1n1k1/Pp1R3p/2p1N1p1/2P1Pp2/1P5P/5PBK/8 b - - 0 27
"The triumph of White's strategy of prophylaxis and restraint! It is reminiscent of my Immortal Zugzwang Game against Friedrich Saemisch. Even though White has no direct threats, none of Black's pieces or pawns can move without immediate loss of material. Alas, it is not a complete zugzwang, because Black can play ... Kg7-h7 for the rest of the game. But in this case, White can simply bring his bishop into the game, checkers style, with Bg2-f3-h5-f7, followed by Rd8 with the inevitable win of either the knight on f8 or the bishop on c8. Perhaps the least-worst move for Black is 27. ... Nfg6, which gives up a pawn after 28. Ne8+ Kf8 29. Nxg6 Kxe8 30. Nxe7 Kxe7 31. Rxh6. If 31. ... Bxa6, then 32. e5! is very strong, re-establishing a nearly zugzwang position. 33. Bd5 and 34. Rh7+ will follow."
27. ... h5? "A fatal weakening move. Like most patzers, my opponent does not put up the best defense."
28. Ne8+ Kh7 29. Nf6+ Kh8 30. Rd8 Black resigns
"Well, this has been fun, but dawn is breaking and I have to go. But a funny thought just occurred to me! If they ever built a machine that played chess, which of course is unlikely ever to happen, I imagine that it would play as badly as my opponent did in this game."
With those words, Aron Nimzovich departed my computer, and I blinked my eyes in wonder at what had just happened. Was that truly Shredder that had just played against me as if it were the ghost of Aron Nimzovich?