Dennis M's Chess Site

This is a blog for chess fans by a chess fan. I enjoy winning as much as anyone else, and I've had a reasonable amount of success as a competitor, but what keeps me coming back to the game is its beauty. And that, primarily, is what this site will be about! All material copyrighted.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I've Moved: Here's the New Blog!

The new blog is up! It will be a while before everything is just exactly perfect, but it's up and running and has new content. Here's the URL:

Thanks very much to all my loyal readers, and I hope you'll join me at the new site. Don't forget to bookmark it too, and to invite all your friends for what will hopefully be an even richer journey into the blogosphere.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Patience, Please

With the university semester winding down (with LOTS of grading to do), my setting up the new blog and with a new and unexpected 4/1-related matter to address, I'm unable to engage in as much blogging as I would like at the moment.

For those of you needing your chess fix, however, I can heartily recommending taking a look at this week's newly-released Chess Cafe columns. Noting my favorites, Nikolay Minev's "Double Mates" offers a diverse collection of tactically lively games and fragments resulting in double-check mates; Karsten Müller continues his examination of "Capablanca's Theorem" (the claim that in the endgame queen & knight are stronger than queen & bishop); and Ivan Markov presents the ten best games from Informant 91.

That should keep everyone sated for a few hours!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Of Interest on the Web

Some or all of these may have already caught the readers' eye, but if not, here's a second chance!

First, as I suspect almost everyone has heard, Garry Kasparov's retirement has let him escape any danger from an attack on the chessboard but not, alas, an attack from a chessboard (-wielding thug). Click here for the story and some comments by the man himself.

Second, part two of Mig's interview with Kasparov has been posted on the ChessBase news page (part 1 can be found here, while the third and final part awaits posting).

Finally, IM John Watson is an author whose books (particularly his solo efforts) tend to be excellent, and he's a fine book reviewer as well. After a long layoff, his latest batch of reviews for TWIC can be found here.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


In the comments to my "More Fun with Pachman" post, BabsonTask and a subsequent anonymous poster note that Fischer's ethically dubious assistance to Sanchez was (more than) recompensed by what happened to him in 1970, against the Yugoslavian IM Kovacevic.

The story, according to Mike Fox and Richard James, in their The Even More Complete Chess Addict, is that Fischer has made his move, setting a trap in what is an objectively bad position, and has gone for a little walk while awaiting his opponent's move. Viktor Korchnoi and Tigran Petrosian are watching the game see the trap and discuss the solution. Petrosian's wife is there too, and as her hubby is trailing Fischer in the standings, she actually walks over to Kovacevic and whispers the solution to him! Kovacevic plays the right move and crushes Fischer, though the latter went on to win the tournament by a two point margin even so.

As far as I know, the source of this anecdote is Korchnoi, and in light of his long-time enmity towards Petrosian, it's possible that the story is bunk. Further, while Kovacevic's 18th move was a nice one, it wasn't beyond the capacities of a strong IM, later a GM, to find such a move. In any case, here's the game:

Fischer,Robert James - Kovacevic,Vlatko [C15]
Rovinj/Zagreb Zagreb (8), 21.04.1970

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 dxe4 6.Qg4 Nf6 7.Qxg7 Rg8 8.Qh6 Nbd7 9.Ne2 b6 10.Bg5 Qe7 11.Qh4 Bb7 12.Ng3 h6 13.Bd2 0-0-0 14.Be2 Nf8 15.0-0 Ng6 16.Qxh6 Rh8 17.Qg5 Rdg8 18.f3

Black's position is beautifully coordinated for a kingside attack, and if White doesn't do anything special Black will roll him off the board. White's last move is a nice try: he's hoping to shut down the Bb7's diagonal (pre-f3, Black threatened, among other things, some combination of ...Nh4, ...e3 and ...N/Bxg2) and to open the f-file for his own use. 18...e3! This keeps the f-file closed, and now, despite the two pawn deficit, Black's attack is unstoppable. [18...Nh4 looks crushing: the queen moves away, and then 19...exf3 destroys the White kingside. However: 19.fxe4! Rxg5 20.Bxg5 puts a stop to Black's attack, and after 20...Nf5 (forced) 21.Nh5 Rg8 22.Bxf6 Qf8 23.Rf4 Ne3 24.Ng3 the position is unclear.; 18...exf3? 19.Bxf3 is clearly better for White, as Black has serious problems along the f-file.] 19.Bxe3 Nf8! 20.Qb5 Nd5 Not just hitting e3 and c3, but cutting the white queen off from the kingside. 21.Kf2 a6 22.Qd3 Rxh2 23.Rh1 Qh4 24.Rxh2 Qxh2 25.Nf1 Rxg2+ 26.Ke1 Qh4+ 27.Kd2 Ng6 28.Re1 Ngf4 29.Bxf4 Nxf4 30.Qe3 Rf2

Black is threatening 31...Nxe2 32.Rxe2 Rxf1, 31...Ng2 and 31...Bxf3 - too much! 0-1

I Was Right!

In my post "Naming and Contingency", I wrote the following:

"To take a relatively recent and prominent example [of an unjustly named variation], the ...Qb6xb2 line in the 6.Bg5 Najdorf deserved to be named after Bobby Fischer if any variation did, but apparently it came to be known as the "Poisoned Pawn Variation" when some journalist during the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match asked about the opening and was told that Fischer had snatched a poisoned pawn."

Victor Reppert commented to say that this story was mistaken: "The term 'poisoned pawn variation' was around long before 1972. I'm old enough to know." I replied in sackcloth and ashes, attempting to blame Edmar Mednis's book How to Beat Bobby Fischer, but reporting that a friend's search came up empty.

It turns out that I was right the first time; my mistake was only having my friend look at game 61 in the Mednis book (Spassky-Fischer, game 11 from their 1972 match). I subsequently recalled that Fischer lost on the White side of the variation to Geller in 1967, and then went in search of a local copy of the book to see what Mednis said in his notes to that game. Voila:

"There is no knowledgeable chess person who does not give Fischer full credit for making 7...Q-N3 [DM: That's 7...Qb6 for the descriptive notation-illiterate out there. While algebraic notation is vastly superior to descriptive, it does behoove at least Americans to be "bilingual," as there are many outstanding, inexpensive old chess books - many published by Dover - whose only "flaw" is that they are written in descriptive. Reading it will most likely be transparent to you in a week or two, and meanwhile you'll have acquired some great books dirt cheap.] playable. After a few brief sorties in the middle 1950s, Black's debacle in Keres-Fuderer, Goteberg 1955, dissipated all confidence and interest in it.

"Until 1961, that is, when Fischer resurrected it against Parma at Bled. His never-ending stream of contributions and discoveries, analytical and practical, have clearly imparted his name to 7...Q-N3. Yet what is its name? Unaccountabley, for over 15 years it had no name, just something like 7...Q-N3.

"This changed, for the worse at that, in the summer of 1972 when in the 7th match game against Spassky, Bobby played 7...Q-N3. Immediately after 8...QxP [DM: 8...Qxb2] the phones rang at the Marshall Chess Club in New York: various radio, TV, and newspaper people wanted know what call the variation. A reply that it had no name obviously wasn't satisfactory. So someone (let him remain nameless) after some seconds of contemplation (media people are in a hurry) came up with "Poisoned Pawn Variation." And that's what it is called today.

"What a horrible appellation! It utterly slights the real discoverer, and is also inaccurate for there is no clear proof that the QNP [DM: b-pawn] is actually poison. It may be too late to do anything about it (the power of the media, etc.), yet I propose the following accurate, understandable short name: 'Fischer's QNP.'" (Edmar Mednis, How to Beat Bobby Fischer (New York: Bantam Books, 1975), p. 201 [paragraph breaks added].)

Mednis was a friend of Bobby's, possibly there at the time of the aforementioned phone call(s), and writing less than two years after the fact (the first edition of the book came out in 1974); Victor, are you sure you're right? Maybe it was sometimes jokingly called the "Poisoned Pawn," but not in any sort of official way pre-1972. In any event, I'm glad I remembered the Mednis book correctly, even 17+ years after I last went through it; as for the truth of the matter, I'll have to defer to my elders and those with pre-1972 volumes featuring the variation.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

This Week on ChessBase: Pachman-Fischer

In light of the attention I've been giving Ludek Pachman and his Checkmate in Prague the last few days, it seemed to me fitting that he - more exactly, his second win against Bobby Fischer - get to have a starring role in my ChessBase show this Monday. (See this post for the raw game score - it's the second game.)

It's a very exciting game, and one in which Fischer certainly had his chances. Nevertheless, Pachman defended very cooly, and when Fischer failed to find the most accurate path through the complications, the White king went on a remarkable march to safety. Add to the game's entertainment value the interesting opening (I think every player needs to think about the Ragozin System at least once in their career!), and you've got a show well worth watching - so join me this Monday night (9 p.m. ET)!

As always, information for watching the show (live or later on, in the archives) can be found here, while a list of past shows is available here.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Pachman Strikes Back

In the previous post, we looked at an episode between Czech grandmaster Ludek Pachman and Bobby Fischer. In revenge for Pachman's win in their head-to-head game, Fischer helped the relatively unknown Sanchez beat Pachman in a later round, sharing a bit of home preparation in an act whose ethical legitimacy was questionable at best.

The story does not end there, however, and we resume Pachman's account from Checkmate in Prague, page 65:

"With the help of Sanchez, then, Bobby had caught up with me, but the matter did not end there. Two days later, before the start of play, I was taking a walk with the young Chilean player, Jauregui. We were chatting about this and that, when suddenly on our way to the tournament hall we ran into Bobby.

"'Ah, Mr. Pachman,' he called from a distance, 'so today you've been briefing my opponent.'

"Realizing at that moment that Bobby was due to play Jauregui, I retorted: 'Of course, Bobby. And I must say he's very well prepared.'

"My prompt reply caused Bobby to frown. He pondered the first moves in the ensuing game very deeply. And as it happened, Jauregui was using a system I often play, which helped to confirm Bobby's suspicions. He spent one hour and twenty minutes over the first eleven moves, anxious not to play according to the book and so avoid the danger of surprise. In the event, he lost his queen at the twenty-ninth move and was forced to resign at the fortieth. One might almost say that a bad conscience had robbed him of a point, involving the loss of first place in the tournament."

Here's the game:

Jauregui Andrade,Carlos - Fischer,Robert James [E81]
Santiago (10), 1959

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Be3 Nbd7 7.Nge2 a6 8.Qd2 c5 9.a3 Rb8 10.b4 cxd4 11.Nxd4

11...Ne5 12.Rc1 Bd7 13.Be2 Rc8 14.Nd5 e6 15.Nxf6+ Qxf6 16.0-0 Qe7 17.Rfe1

17...Rc7 Probably the losing move, when Black goes from a cramped and difficult, but defensible position, to one in which he's completely overrun. [17...Ba4 seems better: it (1) makes it tougher for White to pile up on the d-file, (2) makes it easier for his own rooks to cover d6, and (3) clears the better d7 square as a retreat for his knight.] 18.f4 Nc6 19.Nf3! Bc8 20.Red1 Rd7 21.b5 Nd8 22.Qb4 Re8 23.Rd2 f5 24.c5 d5 25.c6 bxc6 26.Bc5 a5 27.Qb3 Qf7 28.Ng5

28...dxe4 29.Nxf7 Rxd2 30.Nd6 Nb7 31.Nxb7 Bxb7 32.Qe3 Red8 33.Bc4 cxb5 34.Bxb5 e5 35.Bb6 exf4 36.Qxf4 e3 37.Bxd8 Bd4 38.Be2 Be4 39.Re1 Bd3 40.Qxd4


Thursday, April 14, 2005

More Fun with Pachman

"Tragedy is what happens to me; comedy is what happens to you." - Mel Brooks

In the previous post, I recalled a somewhat questionable bit of gamesmanship by Ludek Pachman; today's excerpt from his Checkmate in Prague (pp. 63-65) finds the ethical shoe on the other foot:

"I had quite a time with him [the 15-year old Bobby Fischer] on that South American trip. We encountered each other first in Mar del Plata soon after the start of the tournament when Bobby, full of optimism, told me: 'I have white, and I'll wipe the floor with you.'

"I asked if he would allow me to defend myself a bit, to which he replied, with some magnanimity: 'You can do that; at least it will be more interesting.' He went all out, but I happened to be in good form, first playing defensively, then making a counterattack. On adjournment Bobby was a piece down, but he still hoped for a draw so when he had to resign, he leapt up, swept the pieces to the floor and ran from the hall.

"We spent about a fortnight after the tournament in the same hotel in Buenos Aires where we became friends. We even began working together for the next event in Santiago. One day I showed Bobby my secret weapon - a new variation which I planned to use with black in the Sicilian Defence. I had discovered an interesting point involving the sacrifice of pieces. It looked fine and Bobby was unstinting in his praise. In private, however, he found a 'hole' in my analysis; white had a final surprise and it led straight to mate.

"Bobby kept his discovery to himself, recording the entire variation in his notebook with the remark: Play against Pachman! In Santiago, however, he drew black, so he was unable to use his weapon. Seldom in my life have I played a game to compare with that against Bobby. We were both leading in the tournament while he had the added incentive of wreaking revenge for his earlier humiliation. He sacrificed a piece, followed immediately by a rook - mate seemed imminent, then, finally, my king escaped across the board to safety. Sweeping his pieces off with an angry gesture, Bobby ran out without waiting to sign his capitulation.

"In the next round [DM: Actually, it was three rounds later.], I met Sanchez of Colombia. He plays every game 'hard for a draw' and it is no easy matter to win against him. Therefore, I was overjoyed when I got him into the Sicilian Defence, actually into the variation for which I had prepared my secret weapon! Naturally, I started to use it, then came a surprise, my king was mated. [DM: In the actual game, he doesn't get mated but although he came under a heavy attack, the game concluded in an ending. I'll have to examine the game more carefully at some point, to determine if the choice was Pachman's, to bail out into a hopeless ending rather than get mated in his originally intended main line, or if Sanchez missed a quicker win and let Pachman partially escape.] I eyed my opponent doubtfully - he had revealed himself as a brilliant attacker - when Bobby burst in behind me:

"'Sanchez didn't beat you. I upset that variation! He simply played the way I showed him. That's very nice!'

"I managed to control myself sufficiently to congratulate Sanchez, and Bobby, too. Without a trace of reproach, I asked Bobby whether it had not occurred to him to tell me about his discovery. He laughed: 'Why should I? I wanted to beat you.'"

The conclusion of this tale will come soon; for now, here are the games referred to above.

Fischer,Robert James - Pachman,Ludek [C75]
Mar del Plata (3), 25.03.1959

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.c3 Bd7 6.d4 Nge7 7.Bb3 h6 8.0-0 Ng6 9.Nbd2 Be7 10.Nc4 Bg5 11.Ne3 Bxe3 12.Bxe3 0-0 13.h3 Re8 14.Nh2 Qe7 15.dxe5 dxe5 16.Qh5 Na5 17.Bc2 Nc4 18.Bc1 Nf4 19.Qf3 Rad8 20.Bxf4 exf4 21.Qxf4 Bc6 22.Ng4 h5 23.Ne3 Nxb2 24.Nf5 Qf6 25.Qxc7 Qxc3 26.Rac1 Qf6 27.Rfe1 Nd3 28.Bxd3 Rxd3 29.Qf4 g6 30.Rc5 Re6 31.Qb8+ Rd8 32.Qf4 gxf5 33.Rxf5 Qg7 34.Rxh5 Rde8 35.f3 Re5 36.Rh4 Rg5 37.Rg4 Rxg4 38.hxg4 Qd4+ 39.Re3 Qe5 40.Qf5 Qxf5 41.gxf5 Rd8 42.Kf2 Bb5 43.Ke1 Kg7 44.e5 Rd4 45.g4 Kh6 46.e6 f6 47.Kf2 Rd2+ 48.Kg3 Kg7 49.Rc3 Bc6 50.a3 Re2 51.Kf4 a5 52.Rd3 a4 53.Rd8 Rf2 54.Rd3 b5 55.Rc3 Rxf3+ 56.Rxf3 Bxf3 0-1

Pachman,Ludek - Fischer,Robert James [E51]
Santiago (6), 1959

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.d4 d5 4.e3 Nc6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 0-0 7.a3 Bxc3 8.Bxc3 Ne4 9.Qc2 a5 10.b3 b6 11.Bb2 Ba6 12.Bd3 f5 13.Rc1 Rc8 14.0-0 Rf6 15.Rfd1 Rh6 16.Bf1 g5 17.cxd5 g4 18.Bxa6 gxf3 19.gxf3 Qg5+ 20.Kf1 Rxh2 21.fxe4 Rf8 22.e5 f4 23.e4 f3 24.Ke1 Qg1+ 25.Kd2 Qxf2+ 26.Kc3 Qg3 27.Qd3 exd5 28.Rg1 Rg2 29.Rxg2 Qxg2 30.Qf1 dxe4 31.Qxg2+ fxg2 32.Rg1 Rf2 33.Bc4+ Kf8 34.Bd5 Rf3+ 35.Kc4 b5+ 36.Kc5 Ne7 37.Rxg2 Nxd5 38.Kxd5 Rxb3 39.Kxe4 b4 40.axb4 axb4 1-0

Sanchez,Luis Augusto - Pachman,Ludek [B88]
Santiago (9), 1959

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.0-0 Nc6 8.Bb3 Be7 9.Be3 0-0 10.f4 Qc7 11.Qf3 Bd7 12.f5 e5 13.Nxc6 Bxc6 14.g4 h6 15.h4 Nh7 16.g5 hxg5 17.hxg5 Bxg5 18.Bxg5 Nxg5 19.Qg4 Qe7 20.Rf2 Nh7 21.Rg2 Qf6 22.Rd1 Rfd8 23.Rd3 d5 24.exd5 Bd7 25.Ne4 Qh6 26.d6 Qc1+ 27.Rd1 Qh6 28.Qg6 Kh8 29.Bxf7 Bc6 30.Rh2 Bxe4 31.Rxh6 gxh6 32.d7 Rf8 33.Be6 Rad8 34.Rd2 Bxf5 35.Bxf5 Rg8 36.Rg2 Rxg6 37.Rxg6 Nf8 38.Rxh6+ Kg8 39.Rb6 Kf7 40.Rxb7 Ne6 41.Bxe6+ 1-0

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Swindle Like a Grandmaster

I've been reading Checkmate in Prague, the memoir of the late GM Ludek Pachman (1924-2003), and while most of the book is centered on the events of the so-called Prague Spring of 1968, elements of his chess career surface as well. Here is one such tale, from the Havana 1965 tournament, which I offer for two reasons. The official, respectable reason is to offer it as a salutary warning to those of us tempted to relax in winning positions. The more likely reason is that it's an amusing anecdote - at least to those of us who haven't lost a game in this way!

"Not long after [DM: referring to his draw with Bobby Fischer, with whom he had an even score for his career], I played the Pole, Doda. Anxious to win, I opened sharply, sacrificed a rook for a bishop, and went into attack. But a slight error spoilt it. Doda made an unexpected move, banging the piece triumphantly on the board and then running off to bring any colleagues who happened to be free to see what he had done to me. [DM: Ah, good ol' hubris...just you wait, Mr. Doda!]

"Meantime I sat frowning at the board; my ears were certainly dark red. [DM: Alluding to a claim earlier in the book that many players' ears turn red when in trouble.] My first impulse was to throw it in and go for several Cuba libres. Then I forced myself to review the situation, which led me to conclude that I was bound to lose. One of the threatened pawns had to go, attack was out. Then I saw a tiny chance -- having lost one pawn, I could, with an apparently weak move, offer another. Should my opponent take it, I would sacrifice yet another piece, and he would be in a bad way. Although the course right through the end was not clear to me, I could see a strong chance of mating. Under normal circumstances, it was a faint hope, for my offering the second pawn would arouse my opponent's suspicions and, being no fool, he would see after two moves at least what I already saw. But here was the only alternative to resigning at once.

"Finally, I hit on an idea for strengthening my chance somewhat. One more check-up confirmed that things stood as I had judged at the start, and now some ten moves [DM: until the time control at move 40] remained to me. I had a full hour to make them. Head in hands, I pretended to be seeking a way out, but actually I had decided to put chess out of my mind for most of the hour -- I would recite poems to myself or try to recall the logarithms I once knew by heart.

"Doda walked the stage as proud as a peacock while other competitors came along to see if my ears were red. Slowly the minutes ticked away; applause greeted the end of someone's game, then quiet again.

"With two minutes left on the clock -- I had set that as the minimum time for making my ten moves -- I reached for a piece to do what I had known for an hour I would have to do. Doda hurried back, then, after brief consideration, he took my pawn. Glancing as if with anxiety at the clock, I made a lightning move, presenting the other pawn. Doda frowned, glanced at my clock, and took the pawn, assuming that, being pressed for time, I had lost control and would offer more pieces. Another swift sacrifice left Doda clutching his head. He thought it over but now it was too late. Even eternity cannot repair the damage of a second, as Zweig wrote. Blow upon blow fell upon the black king, two minutes sufficed for a devastating onslaught. Caught by the time limit, my opponent had to resign. Players gathered round, cursing my luck in having emerged from such a hopeless position, and in a time scramble, too....In this case too big an advantage cost my opponent a whole point in the tournament" (Pachman, Checkmate in Prague (New York: Macmillan, 1975), pp. 56-57).

The book doesn't include the score of the game (or of any other games), so while I have the game in my databases, applying his comments requires a bit of guesswork, since the move numbers don't quite work the way he suggests. In any case, here's the game:

Pachman,Ludek - Doda,Zbigniew [A65]
Capablanca mem Havana (16), 1965

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 d6 4.Nc3 g6 5.e4 Bg7 6.Bd3 0-0 7.Nge2 e6 8.0-0 exd5 9.cxd5 a6 10.a4 Qc7 11.h3 Nbd7 12.Ng3 Re8 13.Be3 Rb8 14.a5 b5 15.axb6 Nxb6 16.Re1 Nfd7 17.f4 c4 18.Bc2 Nc5 19.Bd4 Nd3 20.Bxg7 Nxe1 21.Bd4 Nxc2 22.Qxc2 Nd7 23.Qf2 f6 24.Re1 Qd8 25.h4 Qe7 26.h5 Rf8

This seems like a good point to start discussing the game. In this Modern Benoni-like structure, White has a very healthy space advantage and reasonable attacking prospects in return for the sacrificed exchange. Since the e5 advance isn't going to happen any time too soon, White tries to reposition his rook more usefully with 27.Re3 This move has a good idea behind it: he wants to retreat the Ng3 (perhaps after swapping pawns on g6) and then swing the rook to g3. Unfortunately, it gives Black a very nice opportunity. 27...Ne5! This, I'm sure, is the move Doda banged on the board, and it's a good one. Taking on e5 is worthless: 28.fxe5? fxe5 regains the piece while completely ending any attacking fantasies White may have been harboring. Additionally, Black threatens 32...Ng4 and 32...Nd3 here, so it's safe to say that White has some serious problems here. 28.Qd2 Nd3 29.Nd1 Nxf4 30.Nf5 gxf5 31.Rg3+ Kh8 32.Qxf4 Rb3? [32...Qxe4 is winning, and a move I'm sure Doda would have found (and played) had he taken a bit more time, as it's easy to see that 33.Qf2 (33.Qh6 Qxd4+ 34.Kh2 Rg8-+; Maybe 33.Qxd6 was what Doda feared, but White's attack is a mirage: 33...Qxd4+ 34.Nf2 Bb7 35.Qc7 Rg8 36.Rxg8+ Rxg8 37.Qxb7 Qe3 38.Qc6 Qc1+ 39.Kh2 Qxb2-+) 33...f4 leaves White down a lot of material and without an attack.] 33.Nc3 Rxb2

I think it is this move that Pachman identified as the loser, but as best as I've been able to ascertain, however, Black is already lost! [Here are a number of sample variations in support: 33...Rf7 34.Qg5 Qf8 35.exf5 a5 36.h6+-; 33...fxe4 34.h6 Rf7 35.Qg5 Qf8 36.Nxe4 Rxg3 37.Nxg3 Qe7 38.Nh5+-; 33...a5 34.h6 followed by Qg5, etc., winning.; 33...Rxc3 34.Bxc3 fxe4 (34...Qxe4 35.Qxd6 with a quick mate) 35.Qh6 threatens Rg6, and unfortunately for Black, there's no good defense. 35...Bf5 36.Rg5 e3 37.Rxf5 e2 38.Rxf6 e1Q+ 39.Rf1++-] 34.exf5 Bd7 [34...Rb7 might be Black's best, but White wins here, too, after 35.h6 Qd8 36.Ne4 Rbf7 37.Nxf6 Rxf6 38.Qg5 Qe7 39.Re3 (39.Qg7+ Qxg7 40.hxg7+ Kg8 41.gxf8Q+ Kxf8 42.Bxf6+-) 39...Qf7 40.Bxf6+ Qxf6 41.Qxf6+ Rxf6 42.Re8+ Rf8 43.Rxf8#] 35.Ne4 Re2 36.Nxf6 Rxf6 37.Qg5 Re1+ 38.Kh2 1-0

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Rook vs. Bishop: Ending 3

We turn now to the third in our series of rook vs. bishop endings (its predecessors can be found here and here), this one taken from the game Viktor Kortchnoi (a.k.a. Kortchnoi, a.k.a. Kortschnoj)-Boris Spassky, Clermont Ferrand 1989.

Obviously enough, only White can win this (barring massive hallucination, bribe, or heart attack), but it's not exactly clear at first glance how he's going to make progress. White has no safe pawn move, the rook can't do anything by itself and the White king is stalemated.

Is it a draw then? Thanks to the indispensable endgame tool known as zugzwang, it's not.

51.Ra7 First step: activate the rook. Clearly Black doesn't want to retreat the king - at least not if he doesn't have to - so Black's next move is obvious. 51...Be6 52.Rc7 The power of waiting moves! Now Black has to make a significant decision. If he retreats the king, White happily plays Kg5 and works for the f5 break, while if he retreats the bishop, White has two interesting possibilities. First, he could take his king out of the cage, retreat to h3 and then perhaps try to penetrate Black's position by going the long way around:g2-f3-e3-d4-c5-d6-e7 and so on. Even assuming White can do all that without anything bad happening to him (such as useful pawn trades via ...h4 and/or ...g5), it's not enough. White will still need to break the Black pawn structure somewhere to make progress, so he might as well do it with the king on h4. And that leads to possibility number two: the f5 pawn break. 52...Bb3 [52...Kg7 53.Kg5 The Black king can't afford to give up any more ground, but it's already too much: White will maneuver the rook to f6, play f5, and win the pawn ending by taking advantage of Black's fractured pawn structure. 53...Bg4 54.Rc6 Bh3 55.Rf6 Bg4 (55...Bd7 56.f5 Bxf5 57.Rxf5 gxf5 58.Kxh5! comes to the same thing.) 56.f5 gxf5 (56...Bxf5 57.Rxf5 gxf5 58.Kxh5! (But not 58.Kxf5?? Kf8! 59.Kg5 Ke7 60.Kxh5 Ke6 with a draw.) 58...Kf8 59.Kg5 Ke8! 60.Kf6! Kf8 61.e6 with a routine win.) 57.Ra6 followed by Ra7 wins - the subsequent threat of e6 can only be averted by allowing the lethal Kf6 or by pitching the f5 and h5 pawns.] 53.f5! gxf5

Now that the Black pawn structure has been destroyed, it's time to start collecting the weakies. To do so, White maneuvers the rook to g5, when either the h5 or f5 pawn will fall. (Unless Black plays 54...Bd1, in which case 55.Rc6+ followed by 56.Kg5 and 57.Rc7, with the threat of 58.e6, will do the trick.) 54.Rc8 Be6 55.Rd8 Kg6 56.Rg8+ Kh7 57.Rg5 Kh6 58.Rxh5+ Kg6

Now it's time for another stage in the plan. However, the first thing we should do is extricate the rook, as White can't do anything as long as the rook is so clumsily placed. 59.Rh8 Kg7 60.Re8 Kg6

Okay, the rook's position has been improved; now what? 61.g4 is senseless, there aren't any inspiring room maneuvers on the horizon, so let's improve the position of the king. 61.Kh3! Bd5 [61...f4+

is a much more interesting move. I'm sure "Viktor the Terrible" would have won just the same, but there are a couple of neat traps. The more obvious but still seductive false trail is the liquidating 62.Rxe6+?? fxe6 63.gxf4 and now Kh7!! (and only Kh7!!) draws, maintaining the distant opposition: a) 63...Kf5 64.Kg3 Kg6 65.Kg4 Kh6 (65...Kf7 66.Kh5 Kg7 67.Kg5 Kf7 68.Kh6 Kf8 69.Kg6 Ke7 70.Kg7 Ke8 71.Kf6 Kd7 72.Kf7+-) 66.f5 exf5+ 67.Kxf5 Kg7 68.Ke6 Kf8 69.Kd7+-; b) 63...Kh5 64.Kg3 Kh6 65.Kh4 Kg6 66.Kg4 Kf7 (66...Kh6 67.f5+- see line a) 67.Kh5 Kg7 68.Kg5 Kf7 69.Kh6 Ke8 70.Kg6 Ke7 71.Kg7 Ke8 72.Kf6 Kd7 73.Kf7+-; ]

So the correct move is 62.g4, but there is another trick yet to come: 62...Kg5 63.Rg8+ Kh6 64.Kh4 Bc4 65.Rd8 f3 66.Rd6+ Kg7 67.Kg3 Be2 68.Rf6 Bd1 and now a) 69.Rxf3?? looks like a routine win, but amazingly, it's not! 69...Bxf3 70.Kxf3 Kh6!!

The only drawing move! (70...Kg6 71.Kf4 Kh6 72.Kf5 Kg7 73.Kg5 Kg8 74.Kf6 Kf8 75.g5 Ke8 76.Kg7 Ke7 77.Kg8 Ke8 78.e6 fxe6 79.g6 Ke7 80.Kh7 e5 81.g7+-; 70...Kh7 71.Ke4 Kg6 72.Kf4 - see 70...Kg6 71.Kf4) ; b) 69.Kh3 is the start of a rather subtle winning idea: 69...Be2 70.g5 Bd1 71.Kh4 Be2 72.g6! fxg6 73.Kg5 Bd1 74.e6 Bb3 75.e7 Bf7 76.Rxf3 Kg8 77.Kh6 g5 78.Rf5 g4 79.Rg5+ Kh8 80.Rxg4 Be8 81.Rf4 Bf7 82.Rxf7 Kg8 83.Rf8#; The most natural winning plan is c) 69.g5 Be2 70.Kf2 Bd1 71.Ke3 Be2 72.Kd4 Bd1 73.Kc5 Be2 74.Kd6 Bd1 75.Ke7 Be2 76.Rxf7+ Kg6 77.e6 Kxg5 78.Kd6 Kg4 79.Kc5! Bd1 80.Kb4! with an elegant win. And now, back to the mundane conclusion:

62.Rg8+ [62.Rg8+ Kh7 63.Rd8 Be6 64.Kg2 Kg6 65.Kf3 Kg5 66.Rg8+ Kh6 67.Kf4 followed by 68.Rg5 and 69.Rxf5, winning easily.] 1-0

Bits and Pieces: Chess News

Here are some recent stories from around the chess world that might be new and of interest to some of my readers:

(1) While I'm not a fan of GM Maurice Ashley's handling of master prizes at the upcoming HB tournament in Minnesota (see 1 and 2), his contributions to American chess have been substantial on many fronts, including and perhaps especially scholastic chess. As useful as any teacher can be, however, his or her time and energies are limited; accordingly, Ashley is trying to multiply himself by teaching teachers. Here's the link, which I recommend visiting sooner rather than later, as the NY Times tends to be quick in removing articles' freebie status.

(2) Chess's equivalent to the Energizer Bunny is at it again: yesterday's TWIC news summary reports that Viktor Korchnoi won the Beer Sheva Rapid, a 13-round robin event with 8 other GMs, with a dominating 10.5/13, leaving him 2.5 points clear of the field! UNBELIEVABLE. To slightly adapt a famous line from "When Harry met Sally," I'll have what he's having.

(3) The status of the world chess championship title may be in somewhat of a shambles, but one elite prize, the Chess Oscar, awarded to "the best chess player of the past year," continues to be presented on schedule each year. The 2004 award, as determined by 445 voters (including 74 GMs), went to Indian superstar Viswanathan Anand, with Garry Kasparov, Peter Leko, Vladimir Kramnik and Rustam Kasimdzhanov rounding out the top 5.

It's a well-known but minor award, not even carrying a cash prize, as far as I know. In light of the difficulties in organizing a fair world championship that's equitable to all the relevant parties, however, perhaps it would be best to create some sort of system like that in tennis: a year-long tour, grand slam events, and a meaningful player of the year award. Such a system would give the players something to strive for, create a busier schedule for the top guys (and gal!), generate a consistent media buzz (maybe), and do so without the organizational headaches that seem endemic to top matches.

One can hope!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Rook vs. Bishop: Ending 2

It's time to resume our brief series of rook vs. bishop endings (see here and here), and this one's a real doozy. We started with this easy-looking position:

and the task was to determine how White is supposed to win.

It does look easy: all we need is get the rook to the back rank and it's mate! Black can use stalemate tricks, sure, but if we put the king on h6 and the rook on the 7th to protect the pawn (if we have to), what resources could Black have then? So let's try it:

Attempt 1:

1.Kh6 Be4!

Hitting the h7 pawn forces White to play 2.Ra7, because the pure rook vs. bishop ending is generally a trivial draw when the king is in a corner of the opposite color of his bishop.


and now, the key move:


This move isn't terrific because it's showy; its strength comes from its preventing White from repositioning the rook on a different file. It's also the only move: 2...Bc6? 3.Rf7; 2...Bd5? 3.Rd7, etc.


There's no other way to attempt progress: if the rook retreats, the bishop simply returns to e4.

3...Be4+ 4.Kf7 Kxh7=

J. Vancura, the composer of this 1924 study, gave the unnecessarily fancy but also more thematic 4...Bg6+ 5.Kf6 Bxh7 6.Ra8+ Bg8= as the continuation. It works too! And either way, 1.Kh6 fails to win - but then how could White have any winning ideas here at all?

A first clue comes if we consider the position after 1.Kh6? Be4! 2.Ra7 Bb7!! Since it's a mutual zugzwang, White's win, if it's possible, will involve some tempo-gaining maneuver. White needs to get the rook off the a-file, for starters, and to do so without dropping the h-pawn. He can't move the rook yet, though, because of 1...Be4+, either winning the pawn or leading to stalemate, so by process of elimination, we get this:

Attempt 2:


It's not at all clear how this wins, but it's at least certain that it doesn't hurt anything, as the obvious/familiar Black tries 1...Kxh7, 1...Be4 and 1...Kg7 lose to 2.Rh4+, 2.Rxe4 and 2.h8(Q)+ Kxh8 3.Rh4+ and 4.Rxh1, respectively.

Turning to subtler lines, carefree bishop moves demonstrate the winning procedure. Thus

(A) 1...Bc6 2.Rc4 Bb5 3.Rc7 Bd3 4.Kh6 Bf5 5.Rf7 wins.
(B) 1...Bd5 2.Rd4 Bc6 3.Kh6 Be8 4.Rd6 (zugzwang) Bd7 5.Rf6 wins.
(C) 1...Bb7 2.Rb4 Ba6 3.Kh6 Bc8 4.Rb6 Bb7 5.Rd6 wins.

In each case, White is able to win by improving the position of the rook, and that becomes possible by attacking the conveniently relocated bishop. So Black's best try involves playing hide and seek with the bishop:

(D) 1...Bg2

Now what? Attacking the bishop on the g-file, in correspondence to the method of lines A-C, appears pointless, while 2.Kg6 Be4+ and 3...Bxh7 or 2.Kh6 Be4 3.Ra7 Bb7 both draw. Worse news still: if the rook leaves the fourth rank, then 2...Be4 wins the h-pawn, drawing.

Thus, even though it looks pointless, we see by process of elimination that White's only attempt is


Fortunately, it's also a good move! Black now has two options: to return the bishop to the h-file or not.

(i) 2...Bh3 3.Re4! (Taking advantage of Black's inability to capture on h7 when 4.Rh4+ would pick up the bishop) Bd7 4.Kh6 Be6 5.Rb4 Bc8 6.Rb6 (zugzwang) Bb7 7.Rd6 wins.

(ii) 2...Bc6 3.Kh6 Bd5 4.Rd4 wins.

Subtle? Yes. Difficult? Quite - but not impossible. But it's also elegant and instructive, and though the path to improvement comes not so much from mastering particular positions like this (though it's a component of one's skill), it does come (a) from the chess-specific cognitive development and (b) the feeling for the pieces one acquires by attempting to solve such positions. So if you haven't done so yet, give positions 3 and 4 a try before I present their solutions. It's worth it!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

This Week's ChessBase Show: Going Under the Radar

When picking a game for my ChessBase show (click here for directions on watching live and archived shows, and here for a list of previous shows' games), sometimes I choose a game from memory, sometimes I pore through my books, and occasionally a recent game catches my eye.

This week, something different. Rather than allow lesser-known contemporary masterpieces slip away into the anonymity of subsequent editions of the Mega Database, I went looking for them! Seek and you shall find, it says, and my search of ChessBase Magazine 104 was a success.

Our game features a nice battle from last year's Olympiad in Calvia, between rising star Baadur Jobava of Georgia and Neuris Delgado of Cuba. Delgado essayed the normally quiet Queen's Indian Defense, an opening that generally gives Black good control over d5 and e4. Jobava played a somewhat unusual line, however, grabbing a massive pawn center.

The usual question in such cases is whether the pawn center is overextended, and so too in this game: Delgado set about destroying White's pawns, while Jobava attempted to use the space advantage as long as it lasted to build up a kingside attack. Whose plan succeeded? Tune in Monday night (at 9 p.m. ET) to find out!

Rook vs. Bishop: Ending 1

Several days ago, I presented a series of four rook vs. bishop endings with the promise of forthcoming solutions. Here again is the first position:

The task was left unstated: White to move and...? One might reasonably wonder if White can win this, given Black's two passed pawns, but in fact he can. All he has to do is avoid the move actually played in the game Hanken-Fries, USA 2004:


This seems logical, but it's actually very bad - Black can now draw even without his pawns! As Pal Benko explains in his "Endgame Lab" column in the March 2005 Chess Life (page 46), "All we have to do is chase away the king with check when it steps either to e6 or g6. In case the pawn is pushed to f7, we have to play either Ke7 or Kg7 [DM: which square is appropriate depends on the location of the White king - Black doesn't want to allow the White king to protect the pawn] and take the pawn only afterwards. Therefore White needs the f6-square for his king to win..."

Therefore, White should have played 60.Rg6+ Kf7 61.Rh6 Be2 62.Rh7+ Kg8 63.Rd7 h4 64.Kf6 h3 65.Kg6 and wins (Benko).


Of course, given what we know from the Benko quote, 60...Kf8 led to a simple draw. Now the Black king gets cut off from the f-pawn, so White's winning chances rise dramatically, though by sacrificing the h-pawn (in order to return the Black king to its proper defensive post on the f-file) the draw is still available. Nevertheless, since Black rejected that idea when it didn't cost anything, it's unlikely he'll reconsider at the cost of a pawn.

61.Rb7 h4 62.Rg7+ Kh6 63.Rg4 Bf7?

63...Kh5? lost to 64.Rxc4 (64...bxc4 65.f7), but Benko rightly notes that 63...h3! draws, as 64.Rh4+ Kg6 65.Rxh3 Kf7 allows the king to return to his roost.

64.Rxh4+ Kg6 65.Rf4??

A blunder, and we all know why at this point: it allows the Black king to return to f7! 65.Rg4+ followed by 66.Rg7 was a very easy win, but some days, nothing seems to go right.


Vacating f7 for the king, right?

66.Kd6 Bb3??

Wrong. Even with the threat of 67.Ke7 hanging over his head, when the pawn clearly queens or costs Black the bishop, Black STILL avoids ...Kf7.

67.Ke7 1-0

It's easy for us to look at this and feel superior, feel Schadenfreude, wonder how they could be so slow, etc. Even Benko expresses his exasperation, asking rhetorically after Black's 66th move "Does Black want to lose?" Really though, there's just one relevant idea, and neither player got it. White didn't fear the Black king's reaching f7/f8, and Black had no interest in its reaching those squares. Presumably both thought the king would be in a mating net if it became stuck on the back rank, but neither realized that without the White king's safely reaching e6 or g6, there's no mate to be had. Thus, since Black (with correct play) can check the White king away the instant he reaches either of those squares, the Black king is safe.

So let's be smart and learn from others' mistakes: the strong side is typically best off with his king leading the pawn, as that facilitates the crucial process of driving the defender away from the queening square. The goal is to cut the defender off from the queening file (or in some cases, to cut it off from the pawn horizontally, though that's rarer).

Conversely, the defender wants to stay in front of the pawn and to prevent (if possible) the strong side's king from getting in front of the passer. In such cases, the position is rather like an opposite colored bishop ending: the defensive side has a very strong grip on the squares of one color, and despite the strong side's superior firepower, it's basically impotent to break the blockade: the pawn covers the wrong-colored squares, and when the king tries to help fight for that color complex (light squares in our case), he gets checked off immediately.

This is useful, but we can learn even more by playing around with the position (without the Black pawns, perhaps - at least at first). Try moving everything over a file or two either way, or down a couple of ranks. Will it make a difference? Which side, if any, benefits from the changes? Are certain pawns harder for one side to handle?

Further, we can reflect on what we've learned here for more complicated positions. We can see that the rook is relatively impotent to break the blockade by itself, and can perhaps start to think about the implications of exchange sacrifices in positions where the bishop's side has nearly full control over one color complex and not too many worries about squares of the opposite color. And how much leeway does it provide? One way to proceed is by adding pawns for each side. If the result with the new material is a draw, then add a pawn to White, or at least a further pair of pawns for each side. If the result, on the other hand, is a loss for the bishop's side, give him another pawn.

By playing around like that (remember the Cycle World post?), you'll learn something about rooks and bishops. It won't be some sort of dull theoretical ending you're trying to learn from a book (not that there's anything wrong with that!), but something fun, something you'll have taught yourself. Better yet, it won't be some sort of isolated chess factoid, but a case of genuine know-how with applications extending well beyond the initial exercise.

As they used to say when I was a kid: Try it, you'll like it!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Chess Patterns, Beauty and Humor

An important part of becoming a strong player is developing one's pattern recognition. Whether it's recognizing a tactical theme or understanding what plans are available in a given pawn structure, the more patterns you know, all things being equal, the stronger you're going to be.

Yet although it's "officially" chess patterns that players specialize in and value, I think we have a soft spot in our heart of aesthetic hearts for "civilian" patterns on the chessboard as well. Look, for example, at how the board is set up: nice neat rows of pawns, while behind them, with the tall king and queen in the middle, sloping down in height to the stubby rooks at each end.

Interestingly, though, when patterns which are attractive in a non-chess-specific sense arise in the course of a game, I think most players don't find it beautiful so much as they find it amusing. The presence of one sort of beauty outside of its normal context is unusual and unexpected, and leads to irony rather than a sense of the sublime.

To illustrate, here are a couple of examples. The first offers a vertical, pawnless traffic jam (hat-tip to Brian Karen), while the second, classic game presents what has come to be known as the Alterman Wall:

Gruengard - Dobkin,I [C15]
Tel Aviv, 1946

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 dxe4 6.Qg4 Nf6 7.Qxg7 Rg8 8.Qh6 c5 9.Ne2 Nc6 10.dxc5 Rg6 11.Qe3 Qa5 12.Bd2 e5 13.Ng3 Ng4 14.Qxe4 Qxc5 15.Qe2 f5 16.f3 Nf6 17.Qf2 Qd5 18.Rd1 Qg8 19.Bd3 e4 20.fxe4 fxe4 21.Nxe4 Nxe4 22.Bxe4 Re6 23.Qf3 Ne5 24.Qe2 Qg4 25.Rf1 Qh4+ 26.g3 Qe7 27.Be3

27...Bd7 28.Bf5 Rc6 29.Bxd7+ Nxd7 30.Bg5 Qxe2+ 31.Kxe2 Rxc3 32.Kd2 Rc5 33.Rde1+ Ne5 34.Rf5 1-0

Alterman,Boris (2564) - Comp Deep Fritz [A03]
KC Human-Machine KasparovChess INT (9), 15.11.2000

1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 g6 4.Be2 Bg7 5.d4 0-0 6.c3 Bf5 7.Nbd2 e6 8.h3 Ne4 9.g4 Ng3 10.Rg1 Nxe2 11.Kxe2 Be4 12.Ng5 Na6 13.b4 c6 14.Bb2 Qe7 15.Ndxe4 dxe4 16.Nxe4 Rad8 17.Qb3 Qh4 18.Rh1 Rfe8 19.Rag1 f6 20.Nd2 Nc7 21.Nf3 Qh6 22.h4 Rf8 23.Bc1 Rde8 24.a4 Nd5 25.c4 Nb6 26.e4

26...f5 27.g5 Qh5 28.e5 Rf7 29.Be3 Rd7 30.Kf2 Red8 31.Rd1 Na8 32.b5 Bf8 33.a5 Be7 34.b6 axb6 35.axb6 Kg7 36.c5 Kf7 37.Ra1 Rb8 38.Qc4 Bd8 39.Nd2 Bxb6 40.cxb6 Nxb6 41.Qe2 Qxe2+ 42.Kxe2 Kg7 43.h5 Nd5 44.Ra7 Rbd8 45.Nb3 b6 46.hxg6 hxg6 47.Rha1 Kf7 48.Nd2 Ke7 49.Nc4 Rxa7 50.Rxa7+ Rd7 51.Ra1 Nxf4+ 52.Kf3 Nd5 53.Bc1 Nb4 54.Nd6 Nc2 55.Ra8 Rd8 56.Ra7+ Rd7 57.Ra8 Rd8 58.Rxd8 Kxd8 59.Bb2 Kd7 60.Nf7 Ke8 61.Nh8 Ne1+ 62.Ke2 Ng2 63.Bc1 Kf8 64.Nxg6+ Kf7 65.Nf4 Nh4 66.Kf2 Ng6 67.Nxg6 Kxg6 68.Bd2 Kh5 69.Kg3 Kg6 70.Kh4 b5 71.Bb4 f4 72.Kg4 f3 73.Kxf3 Kxg5 74.Be1 Kf5 75.Bb4 Kg5 76.Bc5 Kf5 77.Be7 Kg6 78.Kg4 Kh6 79.Bg5+ Kg6 80.Bd2 Kf7 81.Kg5 Kg7 82.Bb4 Kf7 83.Kh6 Kg8 84.Kg6 Kh8 85.Kf6 Kg8 86.Kxe6 Kh7 87.Kd7 1-0

Several days ago I mentioned the Humor Tourney for Endgame Studies and my own preference for the second-prize winner over the first. (You can find both here: the second-prize winner is presented in entry 276; the first-prize winner in entry 281. The can also be replayed in the Palview board on the left side of that page.) Maybe the reason the first prize-winning entry won was that White's material was used more efficiently in that study than it was in the second prize-winner's (the pawn on h4 and knight on a8 play no role in the final position), but with respect to the humor elements alone, I think the runner-up was superior.

The primary mechanism of the winning entry, wherein its humor lies, is a staircasing maneuver. The problem, however, is twofold: (1) staircase maneuvers are fairly common motifs in problems, and (2) staircasing maneuvers are common in ordinary chess games - especially in queen endings. The dual knight-hopping mechanism of the runner-up isn't unheard of, but in my admittedly limited experience with studies, it's rarer than staircasing; most importantly, though, from the humor perspective, it never happens in real games (or if it does, it's exceedingly rare - certainly I've never seen it or even heard about it).

If the primary feature of humor in chess is the presence of visually attractive non-chess-specific patters in an unusual, unexpected chess context, then I think that unless the efficiency criteria won out in the Humor Tourney, the wrong entrant won. But perhaps there is another element of chess humor I'm failing to take into consideration? If so, I reiterate my request from the previous post on the Tourney: rescue me from philistinism!

Blog Name!

Whether because Blogger is making changes that will eventually lead to improvements in their site, but are currently causing glitches, or because more people are signing up with them and taxing their resources, I've found their site increasingly inconvenient and will move to another location soon.

In fact, I would have moved some time ago, but there's a problem: I'd like to come up with a better name for the blog. Suggestions are welcome, as long as they're (a) within the bounds of good taste and (b) don't involve butchering my name ("Mono" puns...gee, I didn't hear those a few thousand times when I was a kid). So, marketing and advertising geniuses in my readership, please help!

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Case of Enduring Mutual Blindness

Alexander Morozevich sometimes plays long series of blitz games, and yesterday I watched part of a 76-game marathon with Tigran Petrosian. (The runner-up in last year's world junior championship, not the late former world champion.) Most of the games I saw were interesting and at a level you'd expect from a top 10 player and his talented young GM opponent, but one series of moves, in one of the games, was pretty remarkable. We begin here:

Morozevich's games tend to be crazy, imbalanced and lacking in familiar signposts, and this one is no different. Here he's up a piece, but Black's potentially threatening pawn mass gives him some chances - at least in the context of a 3-minute game. Black can't play ...e4 here, because the pawn hangs to the Ba8, while ...f5 hangs the e-pawn. Therefore, plausibly enough, Petrosian uncorks the following:


The move has its virtues: it recentralizes the queen, attacks the Nf3, and supports the ...e4 fork. There is one small drawback, however. Do you see it? You probably do, but if not, don't worry - you're in excellent company.


Logical - it threatens the e5 pawn and prevents ...e4 because, well, that would hang the Black queen.


An interesting idea: the Bc8 wasn't a paragon of activity, and if 30.Nfxe5(??) Rxa8(??) 31.Qxd7(??), Black "wins" the knight with 31...Bxe5(??), while 31.Nxd7(??) hangs the queen to 31...Qxd6.

30.Qxd7?? Rxa8?? 31.Rf1??

We wouldn't want to hang the Nf3, now would we? Further, this move comes with the crushing threat of 32.Nd2! Qxd2 33.Qxf7+ Kh8 34.Rh1+ Bh6 35.Qxg6. Naturally, Black prevents this.

31...Rf8?? 32.Qc7??

Again, cleverly pinning the e-pawn and thus stopping the ...e4 threat. Let's have a final celebratory diagram here:


Finally! And yet...I'm not sure that Black actually saw the threat so much as he wanted to elude the pin. Either way, after eight consecutive turns of mutual blindness - provoking much amusement and shock for the spectators - Black at long last saves the queen. (In case you too were struck with chess blindness, White could have played Nxf4 on any of moves 29-32.) White is winning here in any case, and certainly should have won, but a panicky time-trouble stalemate let Black off the hook yet again. Too much slapstick in one day may be desensitizing, so we'll close the curtain on this whole sorry episode now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Around the Web

It's a great big web out there, and it's impossible to keep track of all the good stuff. But hopefully I can offer a little help - here are three recent agglomerations of bytes worth your time qua chess fan.

1. Kasparov interview: Michael Greengard ("Mig") has transcribed and posted the first of what will be three parts of a very long interview he recently conducted with the famous retiree; you can read it here.

2. Kavalek's column: Erstwhile super-GM Lubosh Kavalek's Washington Post chess column is unfailingly excellent, and I'm especially eager to recommend this week's issue, due primarily to its second featured game. Lev Milman, a very talented 18-year old IM from New York, won a very nice game against fellow IM Joe Fang at the recent Foxwoods Tournament culminating with a beautiful concluding combination. If you miss it, you're definitely missing out!

3. Dragon analysis: Philosopher, blogger and Dragon specialist Victor Reppert has been presenting an occasional series featuring his Dragon games, and the latest installment is now in. The games are interesting and the theoretical summaries are well-done and a fine resource for students of that variation.

Maverick Chess?

Independent philosopher and blogger Bill Vallicella recently presented an interesting game on his website, complete with annotations. In the interest of truth and instruction too, let's take a look.

Vallicella,Bill (1170) - NN (1244) [B13]
ICC 5 0, 06.04.2004

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nc6

This is an inaccurate move order, and I'm surprised Bill didn't know how to exploit it, as he's a fan of the Smith-Morra gambit. [4...Nf6 is correct.] 5.Nf3 [5.cxd5! Qxd5 6.Nf3 transposes to a line of the 2.c3 Sicilian/Smith-Morra declined known to be favorable for White.; 5.Nc3 is the better move order from a pure Caro-Kann perspective. Now Black has to choose between the well-known endgame line with 5...Nf6 or play 5...e6, in circumstances much worse for Black than after 4...Nf6. 5...Nf6 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Qb3 Bxf3 9.gxf3 e6 10.Qxb7 Nxd4 11.Bb5+ Nxb5 12.Qc6+ Ke7 13.Qxb5 Qd7 14.Nxd5+ Qxd5 and now either 15.Qxd5 or (15.Bg5+ f6 16.Qxd5 exd5 17.Be3 with an interesting, well-studied ending. (Jacob Aagaard has a nice treament of this ending in his Everyman Press book on the Panov-Botvinnik variation of the Caro-Kann.)) ] 5...Nf6 6.c5 [6.Nc3 is the normal move, again inviting Black to play the endgame mentioned in the previous note, as 6...e6 7.c5 (and 7.cxd5 are both favorable for White.) ] White's plan in the Gunderam is to play Bb5xc6, thereby solidifying his c-pawn and control over the e5 square. White's position is very comfortable once that happens, so Black has to find some way to prevent the plan. 6...Bg4 This move gets the bishop outside the pawn chain and seems to take care of the problem of an eventual Ne5, but [6...Ne4! is better. This puts the knight on a good square and prevents an immediate Bb5, forcing White to waste a tempo with 7.a3 (7.Bb5 Qa5+ 8.Nc3 Nxc3 9.Bxc6+ bxc6 10.bxc3 (10.Qd2 is also possible, but Black retains an edge thanks to the bishop pair and a strong pawn center after 10...Ba6 11.Qxc3 Qxc3+ 12.bxc3 f6 13.Rb1 Kf7 14.Be3 g6 followed by ...Bg7 and ...e5.) 10...Qxc3+ 11.Bd2 Qd3 12.Qa4 Qa6-/+) And now Black attacks White's pawn chain at practically every point: 7...e5 8.b4 a5 9.Bb5 exd4 10.Bb2 Be7 11.Nxd4 Bd7 12.0-0 0-0 13.Bxc6 bxc6 14.Nc3 axb4 15.axb4 Rxa1 16.Bxa1 (16.Qxa1 Nd2 17.Re1 Nc4-/+) 16...Nxc3 17.Bxc3 Qc7=/+ White's lead pawn isn't "binding" anything anymore, so Black has a slight edge due to the bishop pair and the b4 pawn's slightly exposed status.] 7.Bb5

7...e6?! This is certainly a step in the wrong direction, though not yet a clear mistake - see the note to the next move. [7...Qa5+ 8.Nc3 Ne4 9.Qa4 Qxa4 10.Nxa4 Bxf3 11.gxf3 Nf6; 7...Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Qa5+ 9.Nc3 Ne4] 8.Qa4 Qc7? [8...Bxf3! 9.Bxc6+ bxc6 10.Qxc6+ Nd7 11.gxf3 Be7 leaves White with an extra pawn, but with plenty of weaknesses, too, while Black's position is fairly sound and his pieces ready for activity.] 9.Ne5 Now White, having achieved a Gunderam fantasy position, is winning. Even so, the rest of the game isn't quite the coronation it ought to have been (or rather, it is, but might not have been, had Black played slightly more accurately). 9...Rc8 10.Bf4 a6 11.Bxc6+ [11.Nxc6?? loses a piece after 11...axb5] 11...bxc6

12.Ng6 Bill punctuates this with two exclamation points (or "excited points", as Danny Olim is wont to say), but I think this is excessive for at least three reasons. First, while it's not a bad move and it's certainly enjoyable to play, it's also pretty obvious for a player of Bill's level, and obvious moves don't get multiple exclamation points unless something very special is going on. (For example, the obvious move has what seems to be an obvious refutation, but really isn't due to some later, unobvious rejoinder.) Second, 12.Ng6 was the point of 10.Bf4, so if there are exclams to be handed out, they belong on move 10. And third, 12.Ng6 isn't even the best move or even the second-best move. It's only #3 on the hit parade. [12.h3! Bf5 13.Qxa6 delays material gratification, but leaves Black bereft of counterplay and losing at least a second pawn with a bad position. 13...Qb8 14.Nxc6 Qa8 15.Qxa8 Rxa8 16.Nc3 and between his two extra pawns, space advantage, central bind and three connected passed pawns, it's an easy, worry-free win for White.; 12.Qxa6! Nh5 (Everything else loses pretty much instantly, as the panoply of knight discoveries leaves Black helpless to save all his loose pieces.) 13.Bd2 Nf6 14.h3 Bf5 15.Bf4 is an indirect way of reaching the position after 12.h3 Bf5 13.Qxa6.] 12...Qb7 13.Nxh8 Qxb2 14.0-0 Qxa1 15.Qxa6

[15.Qb4! This nasty move comes with two threats: 16.Qb7, forking c8 and f7, and 16.Nc3, trapping the Black queen. 15...e5! 16.Bxe5 Qxa2 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Qb7 Bd7 19.Re1+ Be7 20.Nxf7 Kxf7 21.Qxd7 Re8 22.Qxc6+- White is winning, but it's not nearly as easy to win as the position at the end of the line starting with 12.h3.] 15...Kd7?? [15...e5! looks obvious, and Bill mentions it. 16.dxe5 but here, instead of the decentralizing 16...Nh5?, why not (16.Bxe5 may be better - it certainly keeps the center under better control than 16.dxe5. But even here, it's not clear that White has an advantage. Black will make a few necessary moves (getting the queen out of the box, covering up the e-file), and White will be left with the problem of saving the Nh8. Warning to computer users: the tin can will claim that White has a decisive advantage here, but be patient. Chances are, if you carry the line through for a few moves, the evaluation will drift back to near-equality, as the Nh8 becomes increasingly imperiled. 16...Qb2 17.Qb6 Qc2 18.Qb7 Be7 19.f3 Be6 20.Re1 Kf8 with an unclear position.) 16...Ne4 17.Nd2 (17.f3?? Qd4+ 18.Kh1 Nf2+ 19.Rxf2 Qxf2 20.h3 Bxc5-+) 17...Qd4 finds White is up a pawn but without an attack, with three vulnerable pawns, and serious problems with the knight on h8. Further, if White tries to be clever with 18.Be3 Qxe5 19.f3? Nxd2 20.Bxd2 it will rebound against him: 20...Bxc5+ 21.Kh1 Be6 22.Re1 Qc7-+] 16.Qb7+ Kd8 17.Nxf7+ [17.Nxf7+ Ke8 18.Nd6+ Bxd6 19.Bxd6 wins, as Black can't stop 20.Qe7# without losing the rook (and then getting mated anyway just a few moves later).] 1-0

Rook vs. Bishop: 4 Endings

In my own practice, I haven't seen many rook vs. bishop endings, and I suspect the same is true for many of you, too. Nevertheless, if we want to be well-rounded in our chess education, it's worth spending some time every now and then even on relatively uncommon endings, if they are fundamental. So here are four rook vs. bishop endgame positions; your mission, if you choose to accept it - and I hope you will - is to do your best to solve the positions before I present the solutions over the course of the next few days.

Position 1: White to move and ___, and how?

Position 2: White to move and win - how?

Position 3: White to move and win - how?

Position 4: Win or draw?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Bobby Fischer and Damiano's Defense

In the post "Naming and Contingency," I presented some well-known analysis showing that Black loses by force after 3...fxe5 in the unfortunately named Damiano's Defense. An anonymous commentator reported having read (or at least having thought that he read) that a "strong player" beat Bobby Fischer once, in a simul, using said defense.

I don't know about a win, but I think I know what he's referring to. In Bobby Fischer: Complete Games of the American World Chess Champion (first edition), compiled and edited by Lou Hays, we find this (the game score is from the book, but the analysis is mine):

Fischer,Robert James - McGregor,Robert F [C40]
Houston sim Houston, 1964

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nxe5 Qe7 4.Nf3 d5 5.d3 dxe4 6.dxe4 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Bf5

This is a threat White can probably ignore: 8.Nd4 [After the Morphyesque 8.Nc3! Black is destined for misery: 8...Qxc2 (8...Bb4 9.0-0 Bxc3 (9...Qxc2 10.Qxc2 Bxc2 11.Nd4 Bg6 12.Ne6 Kd7 13.Bc4 Nc6 14.Rd1+ Bd6 15.Nxc7+-) 10.bxc3 Nc6 11.Re1 Nge7 12.Bb5 Qg4 13.h3 Qh5 14.Rxe7+ Kxe7 15.Ba3+ Kf7 16.Ne5+ Nxe5 17.Qxh5++-) 9.Qxc2 Bxc2 10.Nd4 Bg6 11.Bf4 Nc6 (11...c6? 12.Ne6 Na6 13.Bxa6 Kf7 14.Nc7+-) 12.Ne6+-] 8...Nc6 9.Nxf5 Qxf5 10.0-0 Bd6 11.Bg4 Qb5 12.Nc3 Qc4

13.Be2? After this lemon, the Black king gets to leave town. White's still better, but a huge part of his advantage is gone. [13.Re1+ Nge7 14.Be6+-] 13...Qf7 14.Bb5 0-0-0 15.Qg4+ [15.Bxc6?? Bxh2+ 16.Kxh2 Rxd1 17.Bxb7+ Kxb7 18.Rxd1 Ne7-+] 15...f5 16.Qh3 Nge7 17.Ne4 h6 18.Nxd6+ Rxd6 19.Bf4 Rd4 20.Be3 Rb4 21.Bxc6 Nxc6 22.b3 Re4 23.Rfd1 Rd8 24.Rxd8+ Nxd8 25.Rd1 Qe6 26.g3 Rxe3

[26...Rxe3 27.fxe3 Qxe3+ 28.Kf1 Qf3+ 29.Ke1 Qe3+ and White can't escape the perpetual without hanging the Rd1.] 1/2-1/2

Hays writes the following of McGregor's opening choice: "Bluffing. McGregor, actually a strong player, wanted Fischer to think he was a beginner." I'm not really sure that the bluff worked - wouldn't a beginner play 3...fxe5? Fischer didn't play a particularly incisive game, but even so, had he not played the 13.Be2 lemon - which had nothing obvious to do with purely psychological factors - McGregor would almost surely have been another simul victim.

So, fans of dubious openings, it's true: someone played one of the absolute worst openings against one of the world's absolute best players and lived to tell the tale, but it's not an example worth emulating.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Naming and Contingency

In the previous post, we saw that the so-called "Maroczy Bind" was named for Geza Maroczy not because he played it, but because, after facing it, he popularized that setup. A bit of an injustice to Swiderski, but he's not alone.

To take a relatively recent and prominent example, the ...Qb6xb2 line in the 6.Bg5 Najdorf deserved to be named after Bobby Fischer if any variation did, but apparently it came to be known as the "Poisoned Pawn Variation" when some journalist during the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match asked about the opening and was told that Fischer had snatched a poisoned pawn.

Oh well. Even worse is the baptism of Damiano's Defense - 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6? Damiano's connection to this horrible move was that he mentioned it in a treatise, refuting it! It would be more just if the opening had some other name and 3.Nxe5!, the first move of the refutation, was known as Damiano's Attack or something to that effect.

(In case anyone's curious, the main line proceeds 3.Nxe5 fxe5 [3...Qe7 lets Black regain the pawn and live, but with a clearly inferior position] 4.Qh5+ Ke7 [4...g6 5.Qxe5+ and 6.Qxh8] 5.Qe5+ Kf7 6.Bc4+ d5 7.Bxd5 Kg6 8.h4! [much more accurate than the immediate 8.Bxb7, though that may also win after 8...Bxb7 9.Qf5+ Kh6 10.d3+ g5 11.h4 Kg7 12.Bd2 g4 13.Qxg4+ Kf7 14.Qh5+ Ke7 15.Bb4+ c5 16.Bxc5+ Kd7 17.Qf5+ Kc7 18.Bxf8] h5 9.Bxb7! and now:

A. 9...Bxb7 10.Qf5+ Kh6 11.d3+ g5 12.Qf7! with a quick forced mate, as the threat of 13.hxg5+ Qxg5 14.Rxh5# can be delayed but not prevented.

B. 9...Bd6 10.Qa5 and a final divergence:

B1. 10...Bxb7 again leads to a forced mate, though it takes a little longer this time: 11.Qf5+ Kh6 12.d4+ g5 13.Qf7! [again] Bf4 14.hxg5+ Qxg5 15.Bxf4 [again threatening Rxh5#] Nf6 16.Qxf6+ Kh7 17.Qxg5 any 18.Rxh5#

B2. 10...Nc6 11.Bxc6 Rb8. Here at least Black won't get mated too quickly, but he's four pawns down with a bad position to boot. White's winning.)

Finally, there are also more minor nomenclatural injustices that arise due to the originator's modesty. The Polish GM Savielly Tartakower is the inventor of both 1.b4 (alternately called the Polish and the Orangatun [and in Russia, it's named after Sokolsky, who wrote a book on the opening]) 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 - the "Catalan", named for the place he introduced the opening.

Does it matter? Perhaps no one is harmed, especially since there aren't any copyrights on chess moves and no royalties lost ("If I had a nickel for every time someone played that opening..."). But still, it is an injustice, in that the person who deserves the credit doesn't receive it (or in the case of Damiano's Defense, blame is improperly assigned).

A final, semi-bleak thought: if my recommendation is strictly followed, does it mean that in about 15 years, every new variation will be called something like the "Shredder 21" or the "Fritz 20"? Ugh!

The Swiderski Bind?

In my post on the (alleged) Geza Maroczy-Viktor Korchnoi game, I mentioned en passant that part of Maroczy's claim to fame is a pawn structure bearing his name, the so-called Maroczy Bind. The history bug bit Victor Reppert, and he apparently tried to find the stem game, the maiden voyage, the tournament debut of Maroczy's eponymous brainchild.

The result? Nothing. Not a game found he, so he sent me a comment and passed along the challenge: could I do any better?

At first, I assumed he must have used overly strict search parameters and optimistically fired up ChessBase 9.0. I opened the Mega 2005 database, entered "Maroczy" (with White) in the game data filter and White pawns on c4 and e4 in the position filter, and subsequently did the same for him with Black (but with Black pawns on c5 and e5). A number of games popped up in both cases, but only one or two were even vaguely Bindish, and neither could plausibly be thought the basis of the "Maroczy Bind" label.

Fortunately, Andrew ("Andy") Soltis came to the rescue. A book I found quite helpful as an up-and-coming kid was his Pawn Structure Chess, and in the second edition (1995), pages 108-109, he provides the explanation:

"Oddly enough, Geza Maroczy (pronounced MAHRotsee) was not the originator of the pawn formation that bears his name. In fact, the first master game to gain recognition of the Bind was Swiderski-Maroczy, Monte Carlo 1904, in which Maroczy, with Black in a Dragon formation, was the 'bindee' rather than the 'binder.' It was his opponent who played c2-c4 and e2-e4. But for years later Maroczy, a great Hungarian grandmaster and chess journalist, repeatedly drew attention to the powers of the Bind, and by the 1920s, permitting the Bind was equated with making a blunder. [For the sake of those afraid of the Bind, I continue:] In our time, however, the Bind has been shorn of much of its reputation because of the many methods of freeing Black's game. In its purest form thet Bind is still a very dangerous animal, but Black can avoid the pure form if he plays carefully."

Swiderski,Rudolf - Maroczy,Geza [B38]
Monte Carlo Monte Carlo (4), 1904

1.e4 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 g6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4

The basic Bind. 5...Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 d6 8.Be2 Bd7 9.0-0 0-0 10.h3 [10.Qd2 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6 12.f3 a5 13.b3 Nd7 14.Be3 Nc5 15.Rab1 Qb6 16.Rfc1 is a normal, main line position that has occurred in hundreds of games, but although Swiderski's move is less incisive, it can't really be described as an error, either.] 10...Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6 12.Qd3 Nd7 13.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.b4 b6 15.Rfd1 a5 16.a3 axb4 17.axb4 Qc7 18.Nd5 Bxd5 19.Qxd5 Rxa1 20.Rxa1 f5 21.Qe6 Ne5 22.exf5 Rxf5 23.Ra8 Rf8 24.Rxf8 Kxf8

White still has a slight edge here, but now he miscalculates, loses a pawn and the game. 25.c5? [25.Qd5+/=] 25...dxc5 26.f4 Nf7 27.Bc4 Qxf4 28.bxc5 bxc5 29.Qc8+ Kg7 30.Qxc5 Qe5-/+ 31.Qc8 Nd6 32.Qg8+ Kh6 33.Qf8+ Kg5 34.Bf1 Qe3+ 35.Qf2 Qxf2+ 36.Kxf2-+ Kf4 37.Bd3 Ne4+ 38.Ke2 g5 39.Bc2 h5 40.Bb3 e5 41.Bf7 h4 42.Bc4 Nf6 43.Kf2 Ke4 44.Bf7 Kd3 45.Bg6+ e4 46.Bf5 Kd2 47.Bxe4 Nxe4+ 48.Kf3 Kd3 0-1

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Humor Tournament: 1st place

In an earlier post, I referred the readers to the second-prize winning entrant in a study competition devoted to humor; now, at last, Tim Krabbé has revealed the first place-winning composition (see diary entry 281). The winning composition is certainly impressive, but in all honesty, I greatly preferred the second place-winning work (same location; diary entry 276).

Does this mean I'm an endgame study philistine? If there are any composers reading this, I'd love to know what sorts of criteria lead the cognoscenti to prefer the winner over the runner-up.

Radio Reflections on Chess, Children, and Character

South Bend area chess player and higher ed blogger Ken Smith (not that Ken Smith) occasionally writes radio essays for our local NPR radio station, and this Friday his essay offered reflections arising from the local chess scene. The punchline comes at the end, when he writes that "[w]hen you watch them [chess-playing pre-teens], you get the impression that some of them may already know that chess, like life, is about character."

I think he's overly optimistic about the value of chess and its role in shaping those kids' characters, but I think Ken does a nice job of presenting something of our game, in an attractive way, to the "gentiles" - something all of us with access to media should do from time to time, if only to combat the negative images out there.

Thanks, Ken!

This Week's Non-April Fools' Show

Amos Burn (1848-1925) is best known to us for his variation in the French Defense (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4) and for his horrible loss in the famous "pipe game" with Frank Marshall. If you're especially literate in chess history, you may even know of Burn's reputation as a player with a passive, stodgy style.

That's part of the story, but there's more. (How could there not be? What a shame it is to dismiss one's life or even just their creative achievements in a sentence or two!) Despite his often less than crowd-pleasing style, his great strength also enabled him to play some excellent and exciting games; this week, we'll take a look at one of them, a game featuring one of the most amazing moves of all time. Better still, as it was a casual game, it's not in your databases (though it can be found in this universally acclaimed monster volume), so this week's show is especially worth watching.

Here's the beginning of the game:

MacDonald - Burn,Amos [C41]
Casual Game, 1910

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nd7 4.Nc3 Ngf6 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Re1 c6 8.d5 c5 9.Bg5 h6 10.Be3 Kh7 11.h3 Nb6 12.Bd3 Bd7 13.a4 Rc8 14.a5 Na8 15.b3 Nc7 16.Ne2 Nce8 17.c4 Ng8 18.g4 g6 19.Ng3 Ng7 20.Qd2 Rc7 21.Kh2 Qc8 22.Rg1 f5 23.gxf5 gxf5 24.exf5 Nxf5 25.Nh5 Kh8 26.Rxg8+ Rxg8 27.Bxh6 Be8 28.Bg7+ Rxg7 29.Nxg7 Kxg7

Burn is in (more than) a bit of trouble here, but just a few moves later, when it seems that MacDonald has him cooked (har har), Burn produces a truly incredible defensive resource that turns the tables. To see that move, and to see my analysis of the rest of this entertaining game, join me on ChessBase's server this Monday night!

As always, directions for watching the show can be found here, while a list of previous shows can be accessed through this link.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

April Fools' Day: Fact or Fiction - Answer 4

Finally, there was this question: True or false: The strongest tournament performance by a female player was not turned in by Judit Polgar, nor by Susan Polgar, Maya Chiburdanidze, Xie Jun or any other female world chess champion.

Answer: true. The record-setting performance was by a Polgar, but not by former women's champ Susan Polgar or the (by far) highest-rated female player in history, Judit Polgar. Rather, it was middle sister Zsofia who, at the tender age of 14, won the Rome Open in 1989 with a score of 8.5/9 and a staggering performance rating of 2930. Unfortunately, this mega-success was an isolated event in her career, and unlike her sisters she is "only" an IM. Still, she has the female tournament performance rating (TPR) record, and her games from the event weren't just wins; they were often massacres.

Here's one of them.

Polgar,Sofia (2295) - Chernin,Alexander (2580) [B85]
Rome 1989

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be2 Nf6 7.0-0 Be7 8.Be3 0-0 9.f4 d6 10.Kh1 a6 11.Qe1 Na5 12.Qg3 [12.Rd1 is more usual, so that after 12...Nc4 13.Bc1 White's queen's rook isn't shut out of the game.] 12...Nc4 13.Bc1 b5 14.a3 Qb6 15.Rd1 Bb7? [15...e5! was better, according to Polgar, when 16.Bxc4! bxc4 17.fxe5 dxe5 18.Qxe5 Re8 19.Qg3 Bd6 leaves Black excellent compensation for the pawn.] 16.b3 Na5 17.Bf3 Rac8 18.Bb2 Rfd8?

[18...Rfe8+/- Polgar] 19.Nd5! Nxd5 [19...exd5 20.Nf5+- regains the piece, due to the threats of 21.Qxg7#, 21.Nxe7+, and both 21.Bxf6 and 21.Nh6+ Kh8 22.Nxf7+ kg8 23.Nxd8 (followed by 24.Bxf6) if Black plays 20...Bf8.; 19...Bxd5 20.exd5+-] 20.Nxe6! [20.Nf5 g6] 20...g6 21.Nxd8 Qxd8 [21...Ne3 22.Bd4+- Polgar] 22.exd5 Rxc2 23.Rab1+- Bh4 [23...Nxb3? 24.Be4 Polgar] 24.Qh3 Bc8 25.Bg4 Bxg4 26.Qxg4 Nxb3 27.g3?! [27.f5! immediately is better, as here, unlike the game after 28.f5, Black can't play 27...Qd7 because of 28.Qxh4.] 27...Be7 28.f5 a5? [28...Qd7!?] 29.fxg6 hxg6 30.Qh3 Rxb2 Black has to give up more material to stop the mate, as [30...f6 31.Qe6+ Kg7 32.Bxf6+ Bxf6 33.Rxb3 leaves White too many entrance routes (Rb3xb5-b7+; Rf1+Rbf3, etc.) to the Black king,; while 30...Bf6 31.Bxf6 Qxf6 32.Rxb3 is even worse.] 31.Rxb2 a4 32.Rf2 Nc5 33.Rdf1 f5 34.g4! Open lines! 34...Ne4 35.Rg2 1-0

April Fools' Day: Fact or Fiction - Answer 3

The question here was if a standing world champion had ever lost a serious game in 12 moves, and the answer I noted when formulating the question that Boris Spassky, as a kid, once lost to Viktor Korchnoi in 12 moves.

Korchnoi,Viktor - Spassky,Boris [B71]
Leningrad, 1948

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4 Bg4 [6...Nc6 is widely considered best here.] 7.Bb5+ Nbd7 8.Bxd7+ [Why not 8.Qd3 instead, encouraging Black to first waste a tempo on ...a6?] 8...Qxd7 9.Qd3 e5 10.Nf3 Bxf3?! 11.Qxf3 Qg4?? 12.Nd5!

[Spassky believed he was losing a piece after 12.Nd5!, but the neat 12...Kd8! saves the knight. Nevertheless, the position after 13.Qxg4 (13.Nxf6 Qh4+ is the point, though this position too is miserable for Black: 14.Qg3 Qxf6 15.0-0+-) 13...Nxg4 14.h3 Nh6 15.fxe5 dxe5 16.Bg5+ Kd7 17.0-0-0 is absolutely horrible for Black, so resignation was appropriate in any case.] 1-0

Some readers thought Anatoly Karpov's infamous 12-move loss to Larry Christiansen in 1993 rendered a yes to my question, but that game occurred many months before his FIDE World Championship match with Jan Timman.

Christiansen,Larry Mark (2620) - Karpov,Anatoly (2725) [E12]
Hoogovens Wijk aan Zee (2), 01.1993

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3 Ba6 5.Qc2 Bb7 6.Nc3 c5 7.e4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nc6 9.Nxc6 Bxc6 10.Bf4 Nh5 11.Be3 Bd6?? [11...Qb8 and; 11...Bc5 are known theoretical approaches; the first fights for the f4 square, while the latter develops the bishop and prepares to castle. Maybe Karpov thought he was combining the virtues of each, but alas...] 12.Qd1

And this time, unlike the previous game (and also the next one), Black really does lose a piece, so the resignation is appropriate. 1-0

The shortest loss in a serious game by a sitting world champion, then, as far as I'm aware, was Tigran Petrosian's 15-move loss to Vladimir Liberzon in a team tournament in 1964:

Liberzon,Vladimir M - Petrosian,Tigran V [C18]
Moscow-ch Trades Union Moscow (4), 05.12.1964

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Ne7 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 7.Qg4 Ng6 8.h4 h5 9.Qg3 Qa5 10.Bd2 Nc6 11.Bd3 Nce7 12.dxc5 Qxc5 13.Nf3 Bd7 14.0-0

We have a normal position here, and now Black makes a normal sort of move. 14...Bb5?? Very logical. The light-squared bishop is Black's traditional problem piece in the French Defense, so trading it off is logical. Further, by getting rid of White's bishop, Black's chances of fighting for the f5 square are enhanced. Just one problem: 15.Be3! Oops! Petrosian resigned now, believing he was losing a piece after [15.Be3! ; ironically, like Spassky in the game with Korchnoi, he was mistaken, as 15...d4 forces White to either remove the attack on the queen with 16.Nxd4 or to take d4 away from the knight with 16.Bxd4 or the best move, 16.cxd4. White is up a pawn for nothing after the latter move, but at least Petrosian could have played on in that case.] 1-0

Patzers and relative patzers, take heart: no one is immune from blunders!

April Fools' Day: Fact or Fiction - Answer 2

The second story I offered for the readers' judgment was this: in 1988, I played my all-time favorite player, Mikhail Tal, in a simul - and drew! True or false?

The first few bits are true: I did play him in a simul in Los Angeles, and he was (and probably still is) my favorite player, but I didn't draw. Nor, alas, did I win; no, I received a good old-fashioned whuppin'.

At that time, I would sometimes play 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 a6 with the Black pieces, and I had succeeded in beating crazy-man IM Kamran Shirazi with that in a tournament game some time before. So I figured that if Shirazi couldn't get anything against it in a tournament game, then why should Tal do any better in a simul? Of course he's much stronger than Shirazi, but he also has less time to think.

Whatever the merits of that line of reasoning, my opening choice was a less-than-inspired one. Unfortunately, I don't have the game any longer, but here's an example of Tal's brutal efficiency against a similar setup. (And since I knew about this game, I should have taken it as a salutary warning that the Modern wasn't a brilliant choice against the Wizard of Riga.)

Tal,Mihail - Tringov,Georgi P [B06]
Amsterdam Interzonal Amsterdam (23), 1964

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 c6 5.Bg5 Qb6 [5...Nf6 is the normal, safe(r) move, transposing to the Pirc.] 6.Qd2 Of course, though 6.Rb1 wasn't so much bad as a move a Tal just doesn't play. 6...Qxb2 7.Rb1 Qa3 8.Bc4 Qa5 A bit cavalier about developing, perhaps, but there's a good idea behind the move. Black wants to play e5, grabbing some space in the center, but with the queen on a3 it loses to 9.dxe5 dxe5?? 10.Qd8# 9.0-0 e6 But then why this, especially in light of his reconsideration just two moves later? I suppose Black got cold feet, or suddenly thought that a ...d5 plan made more sense, but now Black has neither space nor development. 10.Rfe1 Preventing ...d5, on account of the e-file pin. 10...a6 11.Bf4!

White's advantage is significant here, but even so, if Black stayed passive with 11...Qc7 or 11...Qd8, White would still need to do the work to get at Black's position. Instead, GM Tringov decides it's time to do something active; shockingly, White's extra space and five-piece advantage in development pays off. 11...e5? [11...Qc7 12.e5 d5 13.Bxd5 cxd5 14.Nxd5 exd5 15.e6 with an attack is a line given in the Chess Stars series on Tal. Let's continue the line: 15...Bh6! 16.exf7+ Kxf7 17.Bxh6 Nxh6 18.Qxh6 Nc6 19.Ng5+ Kf6 20.Re3 with a decisive advantage for White. For example, 20...Bf5 21.g4 Bxg4 22.Qh4 when the threats of 23.Qxg4 and 23.Ne6+ allow White to regain the piece (at bare minimum) with an ongoing attack.; 11...Qd8 12.d5 b5 13.dxe6 fxe6 14.Bb3 e5 15.Bg5 Nf6 16.Rbd1+-] 12.dxe5 dxe5

13.Qd6! Tal is in his element here: the Black king is stuck in the center, and the threats of Red1 and Ng5 (among other things) is lethal. 13...Qxc3 [If 13...exf4 White has only one good move, but it's a doozy: 14.Nd5! winning the queen, as 14...cxd5 15.exd5+ Be6 16.dxe6 f5 17.Rxb7 leads to mate by Rxb8+, Qd7+ and Qf7#.] 14.Red1 Nd7 [14...Bf6 lets Black thrash around, but without any real hopes of saving the game. Here's the proof: 15.Bxe5 (15.Nxe5 is even stronger but less human. 15...Be7 16.Bxf7+ Kf8 17.Qc7 Nd7 18.Bb3 g5 19.Rxd7 Bxd7 20.Nxd7+ Ke8 21.Be5 Qd2 22.Nb6 Rd8 23.Rf1+-) 15...Qxc4 16.Bxf6 Nd7 17.Bxh8+-] 15.Bxf7+!

Another sacrifice, and now all is clear: Black is mated in at most four more moves. 15...Kxf7 [15...Kd8 16.Ng5 Qc4 17.Rd5 Qxd5 18.exd5 exf4 19.Ne6#] 16.Ng5+ Ke8 17.Qe6+ [17.Qe6+ Kd8 18.Nf7+ Kc7 19.Qd6#] 1-0

April Fools' Day: Fact or Fiction - Answer 1

In the previous post, I offered four stories with varying degrees of plausibility; today, over the course of the day, I'll reveal whether each is true or false and offer details.

The first story presented a game that was allegedly played by two world-class players. Nothing amazing about that, but oh yes - one of the players had been dead for 34 years when the game began. True or false?

Answer: true, by which I mean that I truly relayed the story. In 1985 Viktor Korchnoi, on the short list for the semi-dubious title of strongest player never to become world champion, decided to expand his already tremendous chess resume by taking on the thoroughly deceased Hungarian great Geza Maroczy.

Maroczy is best known to most chess players for a certain pawn structure known as the "Maroczy Bind". The Bind occurs (from the White side; make the appropriate changes to apply it to Black) when the White d-pawn is exchanged for the Black c-pawn and White has pawns on c4 and e4, giving him a strong point on d5. For example, after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 (4...Nf6 is normally played here in order to prevent this) 5.c4, White has set up the Maroczy Bind formation.

Understanding this pawn formation with both sides in its different formulations is an important part of the chess player's arsenal, but there's more to the man, even as a chess player, than his popularization of a particular pawn structure. Maroczy, whose dates were 1870-1951, was one of the world's strongest players in the first decade of the 20th century; strong enough that Mike Fox and Richard James, in their 1993 work The Even More Complete Chess Addict (p. 120), put Maroczy in a tie for the 29th-34th greatest player of all time, even with (among others) Efim Bogoljubow, Isaak Boleslavsky and Aron Nimzowitsch and ahead of Bent Larsen, Lajos Portisch and Leonid Stein. I don't know how seriously to take the precision of their evaluation, but that they can even consider it speaks volumes for his ability.

Maroczy was also well-known for his special excellence in queen endings, but it's an even more impressive skill in an "endgame" to play chess 34 years after one's death. Viktor Korchnoi seems to have been a believer in, or at least quite open to, phenomena of the parapsychological variety.

In his 1978 world championship match with Anatoly Karpov, for instance, there were huge fights between the Korchnoi and Karpov camps over the presence in the audience of one Doctor Zukhar. Zukhar was a parapsychologist in Karpov's camp whose job, allegedly, was to stare at Korchnoi and "confuse his thinking." Whether he succeeded qua parapsychologist is unclear, but he clearly did succeed in distracting Korchnoi, who engaged in more than his own fair share of psychological warfare during the match. (Here's an online article that will give the reader some sense of the match's acrimonious antics.)

Fast forward seven years. Korchnoi met a Swiss medium named Robert Rollans, and from 1985 to 1988 Korchnoi allegedly played the thoroughly deceased Maroczy. Though I don't believe it's genuine - I assume it's a sham perpetrated by Rollans and some reasonably strong chess friends - it's a nice game and Korchnoi's endgame technique was quite elegant. (The game, with some brief comments, can be replayed online here.)

Answers and further details to stories 2-4 coming later...stay tuned.

Friday, April 01, 2005

April Fools' Day: Chess Fact or Fiction?

In honor of April Fools' Day (as if my earlier commemoration wasn't enough! - see 1, 2, 3 and 4), here are several odd or unexpected claims. Two are true, and two are false. Can you guess which is which?

1. The following game was (allegedly) played by two world-class players:

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 cxd4 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 Qc7 10.Kd1 dxc3 11.Nf3 Nbc6 12.Bb5 Bd7 13.Bxc6 Bxc6 14.Bg5 d4 15.Bxe7 Kxe7 16.Qh4+ Ke8 17.Ke2 Bxf3+ 18.gxf3 Qxe5+ 19.Qe4 Qxe4+ 20.fxe4 f6 21.Rad1 e5 22.Rd3 Kf7 23.Rg3 Rg6 24.Rhg1 Rag8 25.a4 Rxg3 26.fxg3 b6 27.h4 a6 28.g4 b5 29.axb5 axb5 30.Kd3 Kg6 31.Rf1 Rh8 32.Rh1 Rh7 33.Ke2 Ra7 34.Kd3 Ra2 35.Rf1 b4 36.h5+ Kg5 37.Rf5+ Kxg4 38.h6 b3 39.h7 Ra8 40.cxb3 Rh8 41.Rxf6 Rxh7 42.Rg6+ Kf4 43.Rf6+ Kg3 44.Rf1 Rh2 45.Rd1 Kf3 46.Rf1+ Rf2 47.Rxf2+ Kxf2 [47...Kxf2 48.b4 c2 49.Kxc2 Ke2 50.b5 d3+ 51.Kc3 d2 52.b6 d1Q] 0-1

Not a bad game, but what makes it noteworthy is that White had been dead for more than 35 years by the game's completion.

2. In 1988, I had the opportunity to face my all-time favorite player, the great Mikhail Tal, in a simul. I was at or close to my peak then, and I was fortunate enough to pull out a draw.

3. Boris Spassky, later to become world champion, once lost to Viktor Korchnoi (also spelled "Kortchnoi" and "Kortschnoj," depending on where you look) in 12 moves when both were kids, but another world champion, while world champion, also managed to lose a tournament game in just 12 moves.

4. The strongest tournament performance by a female player was not turned in by Judit Polgar, nor by Susan Polgar, Maya Chiburdanidze, Xie Jun or any other female world chess champion.

Answers tomorrow.