What Does It Feel Like to Be Defeated by a Chess Prodigy?

12/18/2013 11:38 am ET | Updated Feb 17, 2014

This question originally appeared on Quora.
Answer by John Fernandez, @JFernandez, 2133 FIDE

In 2002, I was happily playing in the Bermuda Open when I got paired in Round 2 against a youngster who had just gotten his first GM norm. I think you'll recognize the name.

This story I had put together for The Week in Chess, which sadly no longer seems to have archives going this far back. Fortunately, I have my backups. Here is what I wrote for TWIC 11 1/2 (sigh) years ago. The annotations and emotions are all mine:

IM Hikaru Nakamura (2430) - John Fernandez (2079)

2002 Bermuda International Open (2), Southampton, February 2, 2002

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Be3 Ng4 This position is very similar to the very popular Najdorf line espoused by the 2700 club over the past few years, the only difference that 5. ... Nc6 instead of 5. ... a6 has been played. To this day, I'm not sure which position is better for Black. In the Najdorf line, Black has the benefit of having the b5 square covered, which in this game proves to be incredibly important. In this position, Black has some pressure on the d4 square instead. Both continuations are very interesting.

7.Bg5 Qb6 a move that I have come to like due to my success with it in bullet and blitz games on the Internet. Black creates some nasty threats, but they can all be repulsed, with accurate play. [I think that the better way to handle this position is to continue in Najdorf fashion with 7...h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 Bg7 10.Nb3 with a complicated position.]

8.Bb5 The only move! Pinning the Nc6 allows White to defend everything.

8...Bd7 Both players have little choice on move 8.

9.0-0 h6 [Maybe the best choice was to suffer in the slightly worse endgame that arises after 9...Qxd4 10.Bxc6 Qxd1 11.Bxd7+ Kxd7 12.Raxd1 Black has the same lingering problem in this variation - he just doesn't have his pieces out.]

10.Be3 Nxe3 11.fxe3 Ne5? [I suspect in the future, if players get this position, they will play something more sane such as 11...e6 ]

12.Bxd7+ Kxd7 [The other recapture, 12...Nxd7 was tried with completely disasterous consequences. 13.Nd5 Qd8 14.Ne6 1-0 Stefanova,A - Chilingirova,P, Nadole 1995]

13.Nd5 Qd8 Now White embarks on a move repetition which isn't necessary at all.

14.Nf3 Nc6 Originally Hikaru's idea was to continue with 15. Ne1, but he didn't like the position after 15. ... Qe8. After looking for a good move in the position, he finds that the best continuation was to go back one move!

15.Nd4 Ne5 Black has little choice in the matter. He has to repeat moves and see what White is up to. Around here, I started to get the feeling he might have something crazy like Rxf7, but I was already past the point of no return. If I was truly afraid of this variation, I should have seen it when I played 11. ... Ne5. [Trying to hold the f7 pawn with the Queen via 15...Qe8 doesn't work out. 16.Nb5 Rc8 17.e5! is just too strong.]

16.Rxf7!! Thud. Splat. Foomp. Erf. I'm dead. The worst part about this position is that not only can I not take the rook, but I don't have a constructive move anywhere! Not only is White right now a pawn up, but my e6 square is horribly weak. All I can do at this point is just sit at the board and wonder what horrible things I've done to my position.

16...g5 [I suppose that the best thing to do in these situations is to take the rook and console yourself to brilliant loss, hoping that the chandelier will fall on your opponent's head or something. Unfortunately, I was much closer to the chandelier, so I decided to not play 16...Nxf7 because of 17.Qg4+ (Horribly enough, White might also be able to avail himself of another "sacrifice", viz 17.Ne6 and white is at least better in all lines. This sacrifice most certainly can't be taken17...Kxe6 because of mate in 2: 18.Qg4+ Ke5 19.Qf5#) 17...Ke8 18.Qg6 (18.Ne6 Qc8 (18...Ne5 19.Nec7+) 19.Ndc7+) 18...Qd7 19.Ne6 and I'm getting massacred. I'm jettisoning tons of material, maybe even including my king.]


Oh dear. Now EVERYTHING'S going. Not only is he jumping on my central light squares with Qf5+ and Ne6, but he also wants to crush me with Qb5+. Taking the rook doesn't help because of 17. ... Nxf7 18. Qf5+ Ke8 19. Ne6. It's important not to just count on the material. Right now, I may have a rook for a pawn, but the true question is how much material will be DOWN in, say, 4 moves? I simply can't defend all the threats. Total time used was White: 17 minutes, Black: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Not only did he play brilliantly, he didn't have to think much to find the crushers. A good game by the US Junior Champion, while I now need a rum swizzle. Bye. 1-0

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