Brief lives

Miniature chess games are usually considered to be anything under twenty-five moves or so. They include, of course, many great masterpieces. Games under ten moves are rather different. I am not sure if anyone has done an anthology: there is surely scope. There is an anthology of very short poems, which restricted the length to thirteen lines (I think) to exclude sonnets, and of course there are many anthologies of haiku, tankas, clerihews, epigrams and so on. But the perfection of a very short and decisive game of chess rests essentially on the absoluteness of the error it contains; like a Persian carpet where the pattern occurs only once and the obligatory flaw must occur in its only occurrence.

There is a familiar trap in the Englund gambit which I have fallen into more than once online:

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1. d4 e5 2. dxe5 Nc6 3. Nf3 Qe7 4. Bf4 Qb4+ 5. Bd2 (5. Qd2 {loses to} 5... Qxb2 6. Qc3 Bb4) 5... Qxb2 6. Bc3 (6. Nc3 {is the remedy when} 6... Nb4 7. Nd4 c5 8. Rb1 {wins for White e.g.} 8... Qa3 9. Ndb5 Qa5 10. a3 Nc6 11. Nd5) 6... Bb4 7. Qd2 Bxc3 8. Qxc3 Qc1# 0-1
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Occasionally, I get lucky online and win very quickly. The English contains a number of positions that are sharper than they look. This blitz game was played at 3 minutes with a two second increment.

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1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 g6 {a bit premature} 3. d4 {sniffing the weak diagonal} 3... exd4 (3... Bg7 {may be best}) 4. Qxd4 Nf6 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> already losing} (4... f6 {and White has a nice game}) ({I discover John Watson discusses} 4... Qf6 {and suggests} 5. Qe3+ Qe6 6. Nd5 Qxe3 7. Bxe3 Na6 8. Bd4 f6 9. O-O-O Kf7 10. Nf3 c6 11. Nf4) 5. Bg5 Be7 (5... Bg7 6. Nd5 {is similar though it would avoid the specific trick in the game}) 6. Nd5 Nc6 7. Nxf6+ ({winning though the machine prefers} 7. Qc3) 7... Kf8 {maybe setting a trap} (7... Bxf6 8. Qxf6 Qxf6 9. Bxf6 O-O {and White is simply a piece up}) 8. Bh6# ({Even} 8. Qc3 {is better than it looks after} 8... Bb4 9. Bh6+ Ke7 10. Nd5+) 1-0
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Such games offer the winner an odd mixture of aesthetic pleasure and a facile sense of achievement. They are rare in competitive chess, but they do happen. At the end of last season, I turned up to a match for Dulwich in the London League exhausted after some building work at home and found myself playing Black against a strong player. I have never felt more like offering an early draw. It turned out there was no need. The following took less than ten minutes:

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1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. Nf3 {One of the surprises about playing the Benko is how few people accept it.} 4... e6 {Transposing into the Blumenfeld.} (4... Bb7 {is also good.}) 5. Bg5 (5. dxe6 {is also possible and was Karpov&#8217;s choice when Lobron played the Blumenfeld against him, though Black&#8217;s central majority can be dangerous. Alekhine overwhelmed the elderly Tarrasch in an early game. But I am not yet sure I&#8217;ve got the hang of the Blumenfeld.}) 5... exd5 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> Now my opponent started to think, not always a bad idea but one with some risks. I wondered what he was considering and amused myself with a fantasy line where he got mated in a few moves.} 6. Bxf6 (6. cxd5 d6 {is the main line of the Blumenfeld. White can often get some edge by gaining control of c4.}) 6... Qxf6 7. Qxd5 {I began to realise my opponent had gone seriously off-piste. The main technical challenge now is keeping a straight face.} ({The computer suggestion} 7. Nc3 {generates interesting play for White where natural play for Black can be dangerous e.g.} 7... d4 (7... dxc4 {may give Black some advantage}) 8. Nd5 Qd6 9. e4 dxe3 ({better} 9... Bb7) 10. cxb5 exf2+ (10... Bb7 {is necessary}) 11. Kxf2 {and White&#8217;s quicker development gives a decisive advantage e.g.} 11... Be7 12. Bc4 O-O 13. Nxe7+ Qxe7 14. Qd5) 7... Qxb2 8. Qxa8 ({White can bale out here with} 8. Qe5+ {but there is no way a strong player would aim for White&#8217;s position after} 8... Qxe5 9. Nxe5 d6 (9... g5 {is a computer improvement}) 10. Nf3 bxc4 {so I was not altogether surprised by his choice.}) (8. cxb5 Qxa1 9. Nd2 Nc6 {is another computer suggestion, also very bad for White but a little more complicated.}) 8... Qc1# {I simply played this and stopped the clock. My opponent took it very well; these things happen though not usually on move 8.} ({I imagine he had analysed} 8... Qxa1 {though the computer prefers Black here too.}) 0-1
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