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The human side of chess, 4

1 Grushka – Tort

A beautiful game

If I kept this game it is because I showed it to the poet Jaime Sabines in a 1981 letter, a copy of which I still have. I had played several games of chess with Sabines at his house. In times when my parents’ treatment had spoiled my future, I believed that, being the governor’s brother in Chiapas, he would help me find a job.

Carlos Grushka, the opponent in this only game that I kept from my first tournaments had been, the previous year, youth champion of his country and later he would be Argentine runner-up; he represented Argentina in four Olympics, drew with Karpov and beat Larsen.

I have no interest in analysing this game with the computer system, which didn’t exist then. The analyses that I transcribe are those that appear in my letter to Sabines, when I was twenty-three years old. The poet, by the way, didn’t reply to my letter. But some time later I went to see him in Chiapas in search of work: something that constantly fails us players who were marginalised by our families.



Time control: 2½ hours / 40 movements


1 Nf3 Nf6

2 g3 d5

3 Bg2 Nbd7

I hadn’t studied this opening, so I improvised according to my own sense.

4 d4 e6

5 O-O Be7

6 c4 O-O

7 Nbd2 c5

8 b3 b6

9 Bb2 Bb7

10 Rc1 Rc8

11 e3 Rc7

12 Qe2 Qa8

13 Ne1 cxd4

14 Bxd4 Bb4

Threatening 15 … Bxd2 and 16 … dxc4, leaving a weak and isolated pawn on an open file.

15 Nef3 dxc4

16 Nxc4 Rfc8

17 Rcd1 b5

18 Nce5 Nxe5

19 Bxe5 Rc2

20 Qxb5 Ng4

21 Ne1

If 21 Qxb4 Bxf3; 22 Bxf3 Qxf3 threatening both 23 Nxf2 and taking the bishop.

21… Bxg2

22 Nxg2

He played that because 22 Nxc2 would lose a piece.

22… Nxf2!!

I have forgotten many moves, games and even opponents that I’ve faced over the board, but will never forget this great knight move. Grushka wasn’t expecting it.

23 Rxf2 Rxf2

24 Nf4

If he took my rook, the check of my other rook would be deadly.

24 … Qf3

25 Qd7

Had he taken my bishop, 25 … Qxd1 would also be fatal.

25 … Rcc2

26 Qd8 + Bf8

27 White resigns

Grushka got upset when I wanted to comment on this game as a postmortem. It’s obvious that his defeat didn’t match the image he had cultivated with his friends from the Club Mercenarios who had brought him to the tournament. After this game, in a raid that some young members of the Mercenarios gave me, Manuel López Michelone, with whom I would also play in that tournament, said something in front of me of bad taste. I was in the back of the car savouring my victory. Manuel, who was in the lead, said to his friends: ‘Who knows why Grushka lost’. It was as if the triumph wasn’t due to how I played, but to something mysterious!

Fortunately, friend Gerardo Brauer congratulated me and made very favourable comments on my plan to have brought the queen to square A8 to double my rooks on the C-file, which gave me a good development in addition to the beauty of an attack on the king from the corner of the board. Not all chess players are able to recognise that the other simply played well. But what stuck me the most that night was what another member of the Mercenarios told me, who was driving the car. He did it with the best of his intentions, but it hurt me. He told me that he had met my mother and that he ‘liked her very well’. I was speechless. I didn’t even smile. It was precisely she who had caused the abuse at home: something that Mario Guevara couldn’t know, and in fact in 1981 I didn’t even live with my mother but with my grandmother. I couldn’t communicate it due to the taboo of never criticising the parents, so I kept quiet among these young chess players and about the rest of the raid I don’t remember anymore.