Monday, January 29, 2007

Left turn

Here's a scenario that is not uncommon in open tournaments. Your latest opponent is a complete unknown who is rated perhaps 150-200 points below you, and right in the opening he plays something slightly unusual. I don't mean a respectable side variation, I mean an odd move order that gives you an opportunity to play for an immediate advantage. The chance will disappear if you don't take it now. What should you do?

I for one like to spend some time trying to refute such moves. Just imagine, this could be the big reason why no one plays this way (or will not play this way after your brilliant win makes the rounds!) If you pass up this chance, memories of the game will always be tinged with regret, especially if you go on to lose.

After the opening moves 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 a recent opponent of mine played the unusual 5...Nxd4!? 6.Qxd4 g6. The position is shown in the first diagram.

There is no compelling reason for Black to exchange knights on the fifth move unless he is worried that White will avoid simplification by playing 6.Nc2 or 6.Nb3 in reply to 5...g6. Of course White should not consider exchanging on c6 himself because it only strengthens Black's pawn position.

After 6...g6 White has a decision to make. Should he transpose back to regular lines by playing 7.e4 or 7.g3, or should he try to inflict damage on Black's pawn structure with the aggressive 7.Nd5!? After the further moves 7...Bg7 8.Bg5 (not 8.Bf4?! d6! intending 9...e5) 8...0-0 White has another choice to make. He must capture on f6, or else Black will play 9...Nxd5 and break the bind. There are two ways to do this: 9.Nxf6+ or 9.Bxf6+. Lots to think about!

During the game I concentrated my efforts on 9.Nxf6+. Because it creates a significant material imbalance (centralised knight vs unopposed dark-squared bishop), I don't think White should take with the bishop unless he is ready with prepared analysis or some previous experience.

After 9.Nxf6+ exf6 10.Bf4 f5 11.Qd2 Black has the obvious move 11...Qb6. White has to protect the b-pawn since 12.Bd6 Qxb2 13.Qxb2 Bxb2 14.Rb1 Bc3+ 15.Kd1 Re8 16.c5!? (White is a pawn down and must try for compensation) 16...Be5! is starting to look good for Black. So White's next move has to be 12.Rb1. Castling queenside instead drops a pawn after 12...Qxf2.

After 12.Rb1 it was time to pause and take stock of the situation (remember that I'm analysing on my mental chessboard!) White has managed to give Black a backward d-pawn on an open file, but in order to accomplish this he has had to cash in his lead in development. If White were given the free moves g3, Bg2, 0-0 and Rfd1 (or even Bd6 and c5) then one could speak of a serious positional advantage for White. Unfortunately, Black can throw a large spanner into the works by playing 12...d5!? (see the second diagram.)

This is a highly thematic idea. At one stroke Black eliminates his backward pawn and opens up the centre in order to put pressure on White's position. White cannot play the quiet 13.e3 because of the variation 13...dxc4 14.Bxc4 Rd8 15.Qc2 Qb4+, which strands his king in the centre. And 13.Qxd5 is no better in view of 13...Be6 14.Qb5 Qxb5 15.cxb5 Bxa2 with a clear advantage for Black. The only reply to 12...d5 is 13.cxd5. I got this far in my analysis and decided I didn't like White's position. He is a pawn ahead, and it is a centre pawn, but he is at least three moves away from completing his development. I remembered Capablanca's guideline that a pawn sacrifice in the opening is usually sound if the opponent's development is delayed by at least three moves. That is certainly the case here, and in fact Black can keep up the pressure with 13...Rd8.

So it turns out that 7.Nd5!? followed in due course by 9.Nxf6+ is a dubious idea. After spending 5 minutes or so on this analysis I made the practical decision to reenter the main lines, in this case by playing 7.g3.

Later on I had a look in my database and found the old game Capablanca-Colle, Barcelona 1929. Capablanca had the same opportunity to play 7.Nd5, but he too transposed to the main lines, this time with 7.e4. That settled the matter, at least in my mind. If 7.Nd5 gave White an advantage greater than the main lines, Capablanca would certainly have played it!

Friday, January 26, 2007


1966... The Beatles were on the charts with their album Revolver... Blow Up was in theatres... and England were World Cup champions! On top of all that came Bobby Fischer's brilliant win over Svetozar Gligoric in the Havana Olympiad. Heady days for a young chessplayer!

I was taken back to those Fischer days recently when the following game came to my notice. Another prodigy, another Spanish Exchange, and another quick victory for White. Quick, and very brilliant.
When this game was played (December 2005) Rybka was in beta testing, and was a complete unknown. Since then, of course, it has vaulted to the top of all the computer rankings. Version 2.3 is due out soon, and when that happens it's going onto my machine as soon as humanly possible!

Rybka 1.0 Beta - Jonny
15th International Computer Chess Championship
Paderborn 2005
Spanish Game C69

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0–0 f6 6.d4 Bg4 7.c3 Bd6
Gligoric played 7...exd4 8.cxd4 Qd7, which looks quite strange to modern eyes. In My 60 Memorable Games Fischer suggested 8...c5 9.d5 Bd6, which has been played a few times with mixed results.
8.Be3 Qe7 9.Nbd2 exd4 10.cxd4 0–0–0 11.h3
A minor novelty from Rybka. The game Z.Almasi-M.Marin, Oderheiu Secuiesc (zt) 1995 went 11.Qc2 Re8 12.e5 Bb4 13.h3 Be6 with equal chances.
11...Bh5 12.Re1 Bb4 13.Rc1 Rd7
Overprotecting c7, although the rook does seem a bit awkward here. Human players would consider the line 13...Bxd2 14.Bxd2 Bxf3 15.Qxf3 Rxd4. White has very good compensation for the pawn, but whether he has the advantage is another matter.
Rybka strikes! Opening the c-file will create real danger for Black's king.
14...cxd5 15.exd5 Qf7 (see the first diagram.)
If 15...Qd8 16.Qb3 Bxf3 17.Qxb4 Bxd5 18.Qc5 with strong pressure for White.
Rybka has calculated a long way ahead in making this passive sacrifice, so far ahead that none of my playing programs can find the idea.
If 16...Bxf3 then 17.gxf3! (certainly not 17.Qxf3 Bxe1 18.Nb6+ Kd8 19.Nxd7 Qxd7 29.Rxe1 Ne7 30.Rd1 Nf5 with only a small advantage for White) followed by play similar to the game.
17.d6!! (see the second diagram.)
Amazing... White, a whole rook down, simply pushes a pawn! The charming point is that despite his extra material Black cannot prevent the manoeuvre Qd1-d4-a7, invading his king's position and bringing the game to a quick conclusion. Jonny was probably expecting 17.Nb6+ Kd8 18.Nxd7 Qxd7 19.Qxe1, when 19...Bxf3 20.gxf3 Ne7 21.d6 Nc6 22.dxc7+ Kxc7 23.Bf4+ Kc8 is quite equal.
No better was 17...Ba5 18.Nxa5 Ne7 19.Qd4 Bxf3 20.gxf3 Qg6+ 21.Kh1 Qf5 22.Qa7 and White wins.
18.Qd4 Bb4 19.Qa7 Rxd6 20.Qa8+ Kd7 21.Nxd6 1-0
Black is completely lost no matter what he plays; for example, 21...Bxd6 22.Qxb7+ Ke8 23.Qc8+ Ke7 and now 24.Bc5!! Bxc5 25.Re1+ Kd6 26.Qd8+ Qd7 27.Rd1+, etc.
A brilliant game by any standard, human or mechanical.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is this Legal?

There I was, drinking my tea this morning, getting ready to go to work. I was up a bit earlier than usual, so there was time to get onto one of the chess servers for a quick game. I didn't realise just how quick... but of course one can never know this. My opponent was a Russian chap. His rating wasn't high, but respectable. A five-minute game, and I am Black:

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.dxc6
If you are going to take this pawn, you have to know what you are doing.
4...Nxc6 5.d3 e5 6.Bg5
To the cognoscenti, the first sign that White is drifting.
6...Bc5 7.Nc3
Intuition is a funny thing. Here I knew my invisible opponent wanted to gang up on my pinned knight, so I made a move that helped his knight find the "right" square for this project.
No points, by the way, for 7...Bxf2+? 8.Kxf2 Ng4+ and now 9.Qxg4! leaves White a piece ahead when all the captures are over.
Taking on f6 and then playing 9.Ne4 doesn't help White after 9...Bb4+ 10.Nc3 Rd8 with unpleasant pressure (or pleasant pressure, depending on your perspective.)
Again, no points for other moves.
9.Bxd8 Bxf2+ 10.Ke2 Nd4 mate.

Yes, I know: it's just Legal's mate with reversed colours. Nothing too special... except that I could not find a single previous example of this in any of the big databases!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Suspense Theatre

Anyone who's played serious tournament chess for a few years knows the sinking feeling that descends when you realise you've left your much weaker opponent a game-winning shot. I'm not talking about a strong move here; I mean a genuine cruncher, something that mates, wins a rook, or leaves you positionally ratched. Just imagine, a short time ago you were drifting along enjoying life, blissfully unaware of any danger... But now, suddenly, it's the Gates of Hell! How to react? That is, if you haven't already broadcast your distress with a series of choking noises and a face that has suddenly turned the colour of Informant 87.

One thing you should NOT do is take back your last move. No sense degrading your shaky reputation even further... unless, of course, you can get away with it. But be warned: this strategy will likely not succeed unless your opponent is miles away from the board or otherwise distracted, perhaps in watching the women's section... Quietly pick up the piece you have just moved, put it back on its previous square, and before you let go, give it a slight twist and say the word “adjust” in a low tone. You might also pray that no one else is watching.

But if you've really been playing badly, not even retracting your last move will help. There's nothing for it but to bear down and put some effort into dealing with the new situation. Chess is a struggle, observed Dr. Lasker, and at the highest level we struggle with the opponent as a whole person, not just as a chessplayer. At his press conference before their 1993 world title match, Nigel Short had some pretty uncomplimentary things to say about Garry Kasparov. Did Short believe all of those things? Perhaps he did – he's known to be very outspoken. But perhaps – just perhaps – he had spotted an interesting characteristic of his upcoming opponent: that he is prone to errors over the board when he tries to punish his opponent for something off the board.

Back to the situation at hand. You've just blundered against a weaker opponent. What do you do? I strongly recommend leaving the board and taking as carefree a stroll around the tournament hall as you can manage. Don't stick around and give off signals of distress. As all poker players know, body language is a powerful communicator. Leaving the board and going for a stroll signals to your opponent that you have other interests and don't really care what move he plays. I have observed many times that weaker players are disturbed by this strategy. Yes, I know we're not allowed to disturb the opponent, but leaving the board is never going to be prohibited, if only because of human rights legislation. Unless, of course, you are Vladimir Kramnik.

The position in the diagram comes from a last-round game in a Canadian Open of many years ago. I have the Black pieces and it is my move. In order to unbalance the play, I have castled on the opposite side from my opponent, which is usually not good strategy in the French Tarrasch. I am about to be punished for my extravagance. Whether he realises it or not, White is threatening to win immediately with 2.b4! axb4 3.Nb3, driving my queen away and winning my knight. There is an extra measure of stress for me here because I have no good way of preventing this threat. If I move the knight away, then White plays 2.Nxc6+ and my position is again a complete wreck. No, there's only one thing to do: ignore the threat and pray that he doesn't see it. So I adopted an air of unconcern, played the move 1...Rgd8, got up and went off to check out some other games in progress.

His clock ran for quite awhile. I took heart from another of Emanuel Lasker's observations: if the opponent doesn't see a good move right away, chances are he won't see it at all. But then I remembered a third observation of Lasker's: when you've found a good move, look for a better one. Maybe he's doing that... Argghh... More suspense!

Eventually my strategy of unconcern paid off. From some distance away I saw that my time was now running. I returned to the board to find that my opponent had played the extremely lame 2.Nf3? What a relief!

The game continued:
2...Nc8 3.Rxd5 Rxd5 4.Rxd5 Qxd5 5.Qe2 Nd6 6.Kh2 Kb7 7.Qe3 Nf5 8.Qc3 f6 9.b4?
The right move, but decidedly not at the right time.
9...Qd6+ 10.g3 Qxb4 11.Qxb4 axb4.

This knight ending is almost certainly lost for White, and he was in fact forced to resign a few moves later. I finished in the prize money as a result. I would offer a moral to this story, but there isn't one.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


The first diagram shows another interesting moment from the game Jakovenko-Illescas, Pamplona 2006. Black, who is under some pressure, has just played 18...Rd8. The idea seems clear enough: he wants to play ...b7-b6 and develop his queenside without allowing the reply Be4 followed by Nc6, so he pins the bishop against White's queen.

White had previously sacrificed a pawn to reach this position and must now continue to work with threats:
19.Qd2 b6!?
At first sight a surprising move. Instead of protecting his h-pawn, Black carries on with the plan of developing his queenside. But it turns out he didn't have a lot of choice, for example: 19...Kg7 (worse is 19...Kh7 20.Rad1! intending 21.Bxg6+, when Black has nothing better than 20...Kg7) 20.Qa5!? Qe7 21.Qc3 (threatening 22.Re3 followed by 23.Rf3) 21...Rd4 and now 22.b4! is very good for White.
Why am I awarding the dubious mark to this natural move? Well, it's not because it isn't a good move – it's because there seems to be a better one available. As Max Notkin reported in Chess Today, the leading computer programs have a strong preference for 20.b4! here. Without contacting Dmitry Jakovenko we'll never know if he considered 20.b4 and rejected it or failed to consider it altogether. I tend to believe the latter because even a cursory analysis reveals a dramatic increase in Black's difficulties. After 20...Bb7 21.bxc5 bxc5 22.Rab1 Rb8 White shifts the action back to the kingside with 23.Qxh6! and if 23...Ne8 then 24.Rb6! sets up very powerful threats. (See the second diagram. As Bent Larsen once expressed it, all pieces are attacking!) Going back, if Black captures the upstart with 20...cxb4 (instead of playing 20...Bb7) then 21.Qxb4 breaks the pin on the bishop, attacks the pawn on b6, and also threatens to snag the exchange with 22.Be4. This too is very strong for White. I'm speculating, but it seems to me there is a psychological reason why even a strong player could miss the move 20.b4. With this pawn configuration, setting up a lever on the c-pawn is not a common strategic device because of the reply ...cxb4, when if anyone's pawn position has been weakened, it is White's. So in the search for candidate moves 20.b4 would tend to be dismissed almost subconsciously. It's an interesting theory – if Jakovenko annotates the game somewhere we'll probably find out!

After 20.Qxh6 play continued
20...Bb7 21.Re3 Qg7 22.Qh4 Rd4 23.f4
and now Max Notkin suggests the following line for Black:
23...g5!? 24.Qxg5 f6 25.Qxg7+ Kxg7 26.Rg3+ Kf8 27.Ng6+ Kf7
with very good compensation for the pawn.


I was impressed with White's imaginative play in the game Jakovenko-Illescas, played at Pamplona in December 2006. In the position shown in the first diagam, Illescas has just played the new move 12...a6!? Previously handlers of the Black pieces had chosen to block things up with 12...e5, leading to a typical closed King's Indian/Benoni structure and a heavy manoeuvring struggle. Had Illescas played that way, the game might still be going on!

Illescas's novelty was obviously intended to support the advance ...b7-b5, creating counterplay for Black. Unfortunately for him, Jakovenko got in first with a powerful idea of his own:

13.e5! dxe5 14.d6 Qxd6 15.Bxf6 Bxf6 16.Ne4 Qe7 17.Nxf6+ Qxf6 18.Nxe5

The resulting position is shown in the second diagram. White has given up a pawn, but his positional compensation is tremendous. Black's active pieces have been exchanged, and his remaining ones will struggle to find good squares. Meanwhile, White's centralized pieces will generate multiple threats, giving him a strong initiative for some time to come.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Decision time

Every “weekend warrior” knows that the faster pace of modern chess is affecting the quality of play. In a recent team match we had 90 minutes for all our moves, which is an especially insidious time control. Game/30 is obviously a form of speed chess, and everyone knows to adjust their decision-making accordingly. But Game/90 is quite a different matter. It plays like classical tournament chess for quite awhile, but of course it too inevitably deteriorates into a time scramble without any safe harbour on the horizon. When this turning point is reached the position may still be quite complicated, or it may be relatively simplified (which is not to say simple.) Either way the effects are unpredictable, and that, my friend, is one of the charming ideas behind “sudden death” time controls. Unless someone goes wrong, neither player can win.

In my game from this match I reached the diagrammed position as White and with an important decision to make. In the preceding complications I had managed to win the exchange (or as my opponent said afterwards, “I had to sacrifice the exchange.”) This has come at a price: Black has an unopposed dark-squared bishop, active pieces and an extra pawn. Nevertheless I believed then (and still believe) that White must be better here.

How to proceed? The answer isn't obvious. My thoughts ran along a narrow track for awhile, and when I eventually found the right idea I didn't execute it properly. I blame the clock.

When you have won the exchange for a pawn, winning back the pawn is often a good idea because then you will simply be up the exchange. As everyone has known since the days of Reuben Fine, when you are up the exchange you can sacrifice it back to win a pawn and create good winning chances. With this philosophy in mind my eye naturally fell on the weak pawn at e6.

There are two ways to get at this pawn. One is to play 1.Ng5 and threaten to take it, while the other is to play 1.Ne5 and threaten to take the bishop that is defending it. The first option has the added virtue of putting pressure on Black's king position and creating possibilities such as Nxh7 followed by Qh5+ and Bxg6. The second option has the added virtue of restricting Black's unopposed bishop. Maybe there are sacrificial possibilities on g6 as well, but they're not as incisive.

1.Ng5 is obviously more complicated, so I gave it some priority. Black can react in several ways:
a) 1...e5. This I did not like for Black because it weakens the a2-g8 diagonal. White can take advantage with 2.Rd1! threatening the forced manoeuvre Rxd6, Qc4+ and Nf7+ which trades off two sets of pieces and reduces the bishop on g7 to pawn status. Black is curiously short of remedies. Perhaps 2...Rf4 is necessary, but I still like White after 3.Nge4. (In the post-mortem my opponent told me he was intending to meet 1.Ng5 this way. When I showed him 2.Rd1! he had to agree he had dodged a bullet.)
b) 1...Re8. This protects the pawn but allows the sacrifice 2.Nxh7!? After 2...Kxh7 3.Qh5+ Kg8 4.Bxg6 Re7!? the game is still rather complicated, but in new ways. White has a rook and pawn against two minor pieces, kingside pressure, and the weak pawn on e6 to attack. But Black is not without his own chances. Verdict: unclear, but probably equal. And in this line, Black does not have to take the knight. For example, 2...Nf5!? is interesting.
c) 1...Bd4!? The reason I eventually rejected 1.Ng5. White has to play 2.Rf1 because 2.Nxe6? fails to 2...Rxf2! (not 2...Bxf2+ 3.Qxf2 Bxe6 4.Qg3 with advantage) 3.Nxd4 Rxe2 4.Ndxe2 and now 4...c4! brings all of Black's pieces to life. Despite having two rooks for the queen White is in a bad way since they are quite uncoordinated. But my assessment of 1.Ng5 Bd4 2.Rf1 was perhaps hasty and not accurate. White threatens 3.Nxe6 as before, and both 2...Qc8 and 2...e5 are refuted by 3.Nxh7! Black probably has to play 2...Rf6, but this allows 3.Nf3, exchanging off the bishop on d4 and improving White's chances somewhat. I blame the clock here too.

1.Ne5 is the quieter method. It didn't take me too long to decide that 1...Bc8 was the best reply. Now it is hard to see a good follow-up. Black is threatening the manoeuvre 2...Nf5-d4. Depending on how White reacts he will be threatening ...Nbc2 or ...Bxe5. Because 2...Bc8 has cleared the second rank, sacrifices on g6 are unlikely to succeed.

Time to look at the clock. My goodness! Already 30 minutes behind... if it goes on like this you'll really be in time trouble! Are there any other ideas for White? Well, in the previous analysis it transpired that the knight on d6 was a bit of a danger piece. When Black gets time for ...Nf5-d4, the effect on White's game is not pleasant. So let's see if we can trade him off. How about 1.Nb5? If 1...Bxb5 2.axb5 (stronger than the immediate 2.Qxe6+) 2...Qd7 3.Bd3! Nxd3 4.Qxd3 Bxb2 5.Rxa7 and things are going quite badly for Black. And after 1...Nxb5 2.axb5 it's mission accomplished!

Another quick look around... nothing else comes to mind... so it's 1.Nb5, press the clock, and let him start thinking! Unfortunately, the game continuation revealed that 1.Nb5 did not improve White's chances. The queens came off after 1...Nxb5 2.axb5 Qb6 3.Ra3 Bxb5 4.Qxe6+ and my pawn on b2 proved to be a nagging weakness. When my opponent eventually offered me a draw, I had 15 minutes to his 40 minutes on the clock and only a symbolic advantage on the board. But it was an enjoyable game!

Back at home I set up diagrammed position again. With no clock ticking I saw the right idea right away: 1.Ne5 Bc8 and only now 2.Nb5! After 2...Nxb5 3.axb5 b6 4.Ra3 Nd5 5.g3! White is clearly on top. How could I have missed that?!

I learned three things from this game:
1. When the opponent has a pawn and active pieces for the exchange, winning back the pawn might be a good idea, but exchanging or restricting his active pieces might be a better idea.
2. Keep a flexible outlook. An idea from one variation might be the key to another variation.
3. Try to maintain objectivity, even when behind on the clock.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mind freak

I must stop reading The Chess Mind; it's affecting my regular mind.

Take a look at the first diagram. Abrahams thinks that Black has just gone wrong by playing 1...Rb2. To demonstrate this he gives the following variation: 2.Ng5 (with the threat of e5-e6) 2...h6 3.Nxf7 Kxf7 4.Bxh6 gxh6 5.Rxd3 exd3 6.Qxh6 “with an attack.”

The resulting position is shown in the second diagram. Let's try to find a defence to this “attack.” It doesn't seem too difficult, since the only real threat is 7.e6+. Let's make Black play 6...Re6. This hits the queen, so White has no time for a rook lift. He must work with checks: 7.Qh7+ (or 7.Qh5+ Ke7 8.Qh7+, which comes to the same thing) 7...Ke8. Now there are two main variations:

A) 8.Qxd3 Rxa2 9.f4 Qh4
Hitting the rook and threatening ...Qf2+.
10.Rf1 Rb6.
Black will now double rooks on the seventh rank, and it is all over for White.

B) 8.f4 d2 9.Rd1 Qd7 Threatening to exchange queens. Let's see: two extra pieces, a passed pawn on the seventh rank. Why are we even looking at this? White is totally lost.

If I have learned anything from reading Abrahams, it is this: whenever he thinks someone has an attack, they probably don't have an attack.

It's time to put away The Chess Mind and take out my copy of Boris Gelfand's game collection.

Mind games 2

More reading of The Chess Mind today, and more faulty analysis by Gerald Abrahams.

The first diagram arose in the game Schlechter-Lasker, Cambridge Springs 1904 after Black's 10th move ...Nc6. Abrahams writes that White can now play 11.Ba6, and if 11...Bxa6 then 12.Nxc6 Qc7 13.Nxe7+ Qxe7 14.Nxd5 Qe4 15.Bxf6 “with great advantage.”

Peter Biyiasas once told me never to attach a firm assessment to any position where the player on move has a forcing line available. Always play out the forcing line first, he said, and only then decide who stands better. Good advice!

So before we get too depressed about Black's chances, let's try the forcing move 15...Qxg2. This hits the rook and leaves White very short of replies. There are only two that I can see: 16.Kd2, which is met by 16...Qxd5 17.Rg1 g6, when White's loose king is more important than the weakness of g7; and 16.Ne7+ Kh8 17.Bxg7+ Kxg7 (17...Qxg7!? is also interesting) 18.Nf5+ Kh8 19.Ng3 Rg8 (threatening 20...Rxg3) 20.Qh5 Rg6 (second diagram) when Black has good compensation for the pawn due to the weakness of the light squares in White's position.

But this is not the end of the story. In Abrahams's line, instead of capturing on d5 with the knight right away, White can play 14.dxc5! This is more like it. Because the pawn on d5 is attacked by both queen and knight, White gets the advantage no matter what Black plays.

As Abrahams correctly notes, Black should meet the speculative 11.Ba6 with the simple 11...Qc8. After that there is very little on the horizon for White.

In the actual game, Schlechter played 11.0-0 and won in 37 moves.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mind games

My bus reading of the moment is an old copy of The Chess Mind by Gerald Abrahams, which I picked up last week in a used bookstore on West Pender Street in Vancouver. I'm not using a chess set for this effort, and I recommend the same policy to anyone who wants to analyse positions or games while riding on public transit. Do play over the moves on your mental chessboard if at all possible. Bringing out a pocket set on a bus can easily lead to a reputation as a local eccentric, especially if you are a regular commuter.

Gerald Abrahams (1907-1980) was a well-known London barrister with a keen intellect and many outside interests besides chess. To my knowledge he had no formal training in psychology, which will be evident to the informed reader of today. His purely chessic credentials are similarly open to debate. From the game fragments and analysis that appear in the book I would assign him an Elo rating of no more than 2300. He participated in a number of British Championship tournaments, but never approached winning the title. Yet Jeff Sonas of Chessmetrics fame assigns him a world ranking of #45 for 1946. This is probably based on his result in the Great Britain vs USSR match of that year, where he scored a rather fortuitous win over Mikhail Botvinnik's longtime sparring partner Vyacheslav Ragozin. Interestingly enough, in The Chess Mind Abrahams does not mention this happy result, at least explicitly. When he does talk about Ragozin in another context, he describes him as “one of the strongest Soviet grandmasters.” (Here is another piece of good advice: always express praise and admiration for players you have beaten.)

The Chess Mind is an unusual, interesting and somewhat ambitious book that seeks to describe the process of playing chess through the prism of mental constructs such as vision, imagination, memory, technique, and that old standby common sense. I say “describe” because I'm not persuaded that the author actually explains very much with this taxonomy. I find myself disagreeing with some of his reasoning and many of his conclusions, but I must admit to being forced to rethink old ideas. When I have finished reading The Chess Mind I will consider writing a more detailed review.

On to some chess. The position in the diagram arose in a game between Frederick Yates and Reginald Michell played at Marienbad 1925. Abrahams, who cites this game example in a chapter entitled Imagination: Its Use and Abuse, was a great admirer of Yates, one of the few British players ever to defeat Alexander Alekhine.

After such an elaborate buildup the reader may be disappointed to learn that I am going to refute Abrahams's assessment of this position. I don't do such things intentionally. But when you are forced to analyse on your mental chessboard, and when you have to visualise things as clearly as possible, from time to time you will see something that others have missed.

From the diagrammed position, the game carried on as follows:
25.f4! Nxd5 26.Nh5+!
The exclamation mark is from Abrahams. It is in fact the best move. Michell now played 26...Kh7? This loses, although brilliant play is required to prove it (see below.) But what about accepting the knight sacrifice?
This is dismissed as inadequate by Abrahams.
This check is followed, writes Abrahams, “by an overwhelming attack.” Really? I can agree that playing the Black king to h7 or h8 leads to immediate disaster, but how about the natural
How is White to continue the attack? The only way forward is
creating the threat of 29.Rh8 mate. There is only one defence:
In one stroke Black defends the mate threat, returns the sacrificed material, and forces further exchanges. Quite a lot for one move!
29.Rxe8+ Kxe8 30.Bxd5 Rxd5 31.Rxf6
Now Black must contend with the deadly threat of 32.Qg8+ followed by 33.Rxf7+. Again there is only one satisfactory defence:
With this simple move Black defends against the mating attack and forces White to start worrying about his passed d-pawn, which is supported from behind by a centralized rook. The only real defect in Black's position is his somewhat offside queen, but that can easily be remedied. The conclusion is that White has no advantage at all, and so Michell could and should have accepted the knight sacrifice. Abrahams's assessment of the position, based as it was on faulty analysis, was not correct.

Here is how the game itself concluded:
26...Kh7? 27.Bxd5 Rxd5 28.Rxe7 Qxe7 29.Nf6+ Kg7 30.Nxd5 Qd7 31.Qxd4+
Black resigned.

Outside pawn

Cameron R - Scoones D
Nanaimo Open 1980

The scrappy position in the first diagram arose during a time scramble in the late stages of a game in which I had been on the attack for many moves. My opponent, a local expert, had historically been an easy point for me, and I wanted to keep the streak going. Needless to say, he too wanted to win this game and break the streak. Although I did not realise it, I had already missed two opportunities to put my opponent away cleanly. With most of my former advantage gone, my clock ticking down, and my rook under attack, it was time to start playing chess again.

Not much choice for the first move:
Getting the rook off prise and setting up a powerful pin on the knight. If White had seen what was coming, he might have opted for 38.Kxd4 here. In that case Black takes the exchange with 38...Ng2 39.Rxg2 Rxg2 40.Ke3 and now the best way forward is the simple 40...Rxb2. Another possibility was 38.b4, but that too would not help much. Because of his time shortage White decides to remain passive and see what happens.
38.Rc1 Ng2 39.Rcf1 Ne3 40.Rc1 Ng2 41.Rcf1
Black has repeated the position in order to make time control – a well-known technical device.
Also possible was 41...a5, fixing the queenside pawns, but it makes no difference. With the time control over it had become clear that the pin on the knight will eventually land White in zugzwang. When his spare moves run out he will have to bail with Rxg2 and the extra exchange will leave Black with only minor technical problems.
42.b4 a6 43.Rc1+ Kd6 44.Rcf1 (second diagram)
Black's strategy has paid off; he could now play 44...Kd7 and let White's spare moves run out as noted. But there is another way to win.
44...Ne3! 45. Rc1
Also a standard technical device. If there is any chance that Black will repeat moves and allow a draw, White should make it as easy as possible for him to do so. Thus he returns the rook to the same square.
45...Nd5 46.Rcf1 Nxb4 47.Kxd4
Not much choice. If 47.Rc1 then 47...Nd5 and Black wins the knight immediately.
47...Nd5 48.Ke4
Here Black could play to win a piece with 48...b5, but there is a simpler way of persuading White to resign.
48...Rxf4+ 49.Rxf4 Rxf4+ 50.Rxf4 Nxf4 51.Kxf4 Kd5!
Black's king dominates the centre and 52...b5 will give him an outside passed pawn. White's position is hopeless and so he resigned here.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Rules in chess

Are there rules in chess? Yes. Or no. Everything depends on who you want to believe. Jacob Aagaard says there are rules, and that we ignore them at our peril. John Watson says there are tendencies that have been simplified into rules, but at the highest level of play no one bothers with them very much.

Interested readers are encouraged to track down Watson's book Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, Aagaard's later book Excelling at Chess, and Watson's review/rebuttal of Aagaard that appeared in his online book review column. A word of warning: prepare to be challenged!

In this blog I do not have the time, space, or material for a book on the subject of rules in chess. Instead I would like to discuss rules in the context of two endgame positions.

Say you're in a simple rook and pawn ending involving a passed pawn. Quick now: where does your rook belong? That's right: behind the passed pawn. It doesn't matter whether you're the attacker or the defender. It's quite a well-known rule.

Take a look at the first position. What do you notice right away? White's rook is in front of the passed pawn; in other words, it's in the wrong place. Doesn't White know the rule about rook and pawn endings? What to do? Oh, good – luckily, there's a tactic: 1.Rh8!, threatening to queen the pawn. Black must take: 1...Rxa7, and now White skewers the rook with 2.Rh7+, winning easily.

Now take a look at the second position. White's rook is in the right place: behind the passed pawn. And look at Black's pathetic rook, completely paralysed by White's pieces. Good job, White. Now, what to do? Well, Black is threatening to bring his king over and capture the pawn. We could check him, but that doesn't help. Hmm... there doesn't seem to be any way forward. The unhappy verdict: an easy draw for Black.

Let's sum this up from the perspective of the rule. With his rook in the wrong place, White won easily; with his rook in the right place, White could not stop Black from drawing easily. Here we have a what is known as a counterexample, or in simpler language, an exception to the rule. Whatever you call it, in the circumstances anyone who wants to argue for a strong version of the rook/passed pawn rule has some explaining to do.

(Sidebar: there is an old and well-known saying, “It's the exception that proves the rule.” Very few people understand this saying properly, because the word “prove” is being used in an antiquated sense. Here it does not mean “demonstrate” Instead, it means “test.” So today we would say, “It's the exception that tests the rule,” which makes better sense. Now, back to our discussion.)

Faced with such an exception, what can one say about the status of the rule? I suggest there are three possibilities:
1. The rule is no longer valid
2. The rule no longer applies
3. The rule is overridden by another rule

If we decide that the rule about putting rooks behind passed pawns is compromised to the extent of no longer being valid, we might try formulating a new rule, such as “Rooks must be kept active.” In the first position, we could argue that White's rook, posted in front of his own passed pawn, is only apparently inactive. The tactic 1.Rh7! shows that it is in fact active, thus satisfying the rule.

As an alternative we might want to argue that all chess rules have qualifying circumstances and are not intended for certain positions. For example, we might argue that chess rules are positional in nature and are not intended to apply to tactical situations. When tactics arise, rules fly out the window.

Finally, we might want to argue that in any chess position, a number of rules apply, and that our task is to find the most appropriate or important one. Here we could argue that the second position demonstrates the rule that passed pawns must be blockaded. Because promotion brings a new queen into the picture, the positional rule about rook placement must take a back seat.

Or we could adopt a fourth position, which is that trying to conceive and apply rules to a chess position instead of analysing and understanding it in terms of concrete possibilities amounts to absurd and pointless mystification. Because of the laws of the game, the hard truth is that tactics are paramount in chess. As Nigel Short once said, “Checkmate ends the game!”

Rooks belong behind passed pawns. Rooks must be kept active. Passed pawns must be blockaded. We're in a position and we have to find a move. Which rule applies? Without analysing the position, we can't tell. Once analysis reveals the correct line of play, only then can we characterise the position in terms of a particular rule.

In my opinion, rules are important in chess only to the extent that they assist correct decision-making. If rules help us find stronger moves, great. But if they hinder us from finding the strongest move, they must be reexamined. I think this puts me in the Watson camp!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Break and enter

In the summer of 2005 I spent a number of Saturday afternoons taking on all comers in the forecourt of Interactivity Games, the premier game store in downtown Victoria, British Columbia. Store owner Jack Pinder supplied a table, a stool, three boards, three sets of pieces, and an honorarium for the resident master. All in all it was a great gig. Each summer sees a huge influx of tourists to the sunny capital of British Columbia, thanks to its well-deserved status as a Conde Nast Top Ten destination. At least half of my opponents were from tourist stock, and many were from chessplaying countries like Germany and the Netherlands.

One afternoon a young man from Toronto came to my table and took the White pieces. After many adventures we arrived at the first diagrammed position with Black to move.

It is completely obvious that White is a pawn down and on the defensive. More experienced players will notice that my opponent has manoeuvred his rook to a rather odd square. On its own, the idea was a good one: prevent Black's pawns from advancing by attacking them from the rear and from the flank. If Black cannot make progress, the game must end in a draw.

Unfortunately for the viability of this plan, the simple advance of Black's pawn mass is not the only danger hanging over the White position. Black also has the very real threat of a mating attack against White's king. If successful, this plan will force the king to flee to the centre files. With the White king out of the way, Black will switch back to Plan A and advance one of his pawns to the queening square unhindered. As it turned out, this is what happened in the game, but not without further adventures. Here is the play from the first diagram:

NN - Dan Scoones
Victoria (simul) 2005

1...g4 2.hxg4
Certainly not 2.Rxh4? Kg3 with the double threat of 3...Kxh4 and 3...Rb1 mate.
2...fxg4 3.Kh2! (see the second diagram)
White is still alert. After 3. Rh8? Kg3! 4.Kf1 (or 4.Rf8 Rb1+ 5.Rf1 Rxf1+ 6.Kxf1 Kh2! 7.Kf2 g3+! [not 7...h3? 8.g3! and Black cannot make progress] 8.Kf1 h3 9.gxh3 g2+ and Black wins) 4...Rb1+ 5.Ke2 Kxg2 6.Rxh4 g3 and Black's pawn will promote.
Black obviously wants to play 4...Rb2, pinning and winning White's g-pawn. He could have played 3...Rb2 with the same idea, but that was not so precise (see the next note.) White hurries to prevent the threat.
White's position looks desperate, but as so often with rook endings, there was still a way to draw. White should play 4.Rh8! Rb2 5.Rf8+ and now:
a) 5...Kg5 6.Kh1! hxg2+ (or 6...Rxg2 7.Rf5+! Kh4 8.Rh5+! Kg3 9.Rxh3+! and White has forced stalemate) 7.Kg1 Kh4 8.Rh8+ Kg3 9.Rh3+! Kf4 10.Ra3 and Black cannot make progress;
b) 5...Ke3 6.Re8+ Kf2 (going west doesn't help since it just takes the king away from the scene of action) 7.Rf8+ Ke1 8.Kh1! Rxg2 (or 8...hxg2+ 9.Kg1 with a firm blockade) 9.Rf1+ Kd2 10.Rd1+ Kc3 11.Rd3+ (not 11.Rc1+? Rc2 and wins) 11...Kc4 12.Rxh3! and draws.
As hinted in the previous note, it was important for Black to play 3...h3 since playing 3...Rb2 first would make it much easier for White to find the drawing idea with 4.Rf8.
4...Rb2+ 5.Kg1 Kg3!
Threatening mate. White has no checks and must move his king.
6. Kf1 Rb1+ 7.Ke2 gxh3 8.Rg5+ Kf4
White's rook does not have any checking distance, but it makes no difference here.
9.Rh4 h2!
Only now did it dawn on White that he has been outplayed. 10.Rxh2 fails to 10...Rb2+ winning the rook, and otherwise the pawn queens.

When analysing this ending at home, it bothered me that White had missed a drawing resource. Perhaps I too had gone wrong somewhere? Let's backtrack to the position after White's move 3.Kh2 and try a different plan:
Threatening 3...g3+ 4.Kh3 Rh1 mate. But what if White takes the h-pawn?
4.Rxh4 Ra1!
The point. White is in zugzwang and must weaken his position.
Much better than 5.Rh8 g3+, when Black mates as before. But it doesn't save the game.
5...Kf3 6.Rh8 Ra2+ 7.Kg1 Kxg3 8.Kf1
Or 8.Rf8 Ra1+ 9.Rf1 Rxf1+ 10.Kxf1 Kh2! and Black's pawn will promote.
8...Ra1+ 9.Ke2 Kg2
White's king has been driven away from the queening square, and the Black g-pawn will now promote by force.

So is that the end of the story? Not quite. Let's backtrack again, this time to the position after 3...Rb1!? Instead of the compliant 4.Rxh4? White can throw a wrench into Black's plan with:
4.g3+! hxg3+
Black in turn can try to be clever, but the effort falls short: 4...Ke4!? (of no value is 4...Kf3? 5.Rf5+ followed by either 6...gxh4 or 6.Rf4+) 5.gxh4! (not 5.Rxh4? Kf3 and Black wins as before) 5...Kf4 6.Ra5! (6.Rh8? Rb2+ 7.Kg1 Kg3 8.Kf1 [8.Rf8 Rb1+ 9.Rf1 Rxf1+ 10.Kxf1 Kh2 and wins the queening race] 8...Kh2! followed shortly by ...g2+ and wins) 6...Kg3 7.Ra3+! Kxh4 8.Rc3! with a well-known drawing position.
5.Kg2 Rb2+ 6.Kg1 g2
Or 6...Kf3 7.Rf5+ etc.
Avoiding the last trap: 7.Rh8? Kf3 8.Rf8+ Kg3 9.Rb8!? Rf2! 10.Rb3+ Rf3 11.Ra3!? Kh3! 12.Ra1 Rf1+ 13.Rxf1 gxf1Q+ 14.Kxf1 Kh2 and wins. After 7.Ra5 White's rook has adequate checking distance and will hold the third rank with a well-known drawing position.

So the verdict is: draw with best play. It looks like I stole one!

Friday, January 12, 2007

The kibitzer

About ten years ago I was playing some 5-minute blitz chess on one of the free servers -- I think it was Chess.Net -- and in one of those games I ended up with this position as White. I think I had around a minute left on my clock. My opponent had just banged out the move 1...Qf5-f3! (well, it felt like he banged it out... that's what an OTB opponent would have done...)

What to do, what to do? Mate is threatened, as well as the rook. 2.Qxh7+ perhaps? Followed by a knight fork? No good -- he just takes the knight and I'm in the same leaky boat. No time left to even think about resigning... down went my flag and the game was over.

In those days, and on that server, there was no automatic game saving function. The moves were sent to my inbox via email. I got them on screen and started entering them into ChessBase with the analysis module running.

I got to the final position, entered my name, my opponent's name, and the venue, and just before clicking the Save tab, I happened to glance at the evaluation window. +11.69! Pardon? For a moment I was transported back to one of those post-mortems at the chess club, trying in vain to stop a kibitzer from reaching in, moving a man, and saying, "Why not this?" So annoying.

Back to the current position. Someone's winning all right, but from where I'm sitting, it can't be White! What's the killer move, Mr. Bucket of Bolts? Oh. That.

I'm rambling on here in order to put some space between the position and the key move. You see, I'd like you to find White's defensive shot for yourself.

I've shown this position to a dozen or so players of all categories and asked for an assessment. No one has spotted the winning defence.
Enough already. Take another look at the diagram, and try the move 2.Qg7+!

Simple chess. White breaks the pin on the g-pawn by force and captures Black's queen, winning easily. There are two variations: 2...Kxg7 3.gxf3; and 2...Rxg7 3.Rd8+ Rg8 4.Rxg8+ Kxg8 5.gxf3.

Computers are NOT killing chess! They're killing BAD chess!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A rare Bronstein blunder

Much well-deserved praise has been heaped upon David Bronstein's book of the 1953 Zurich/Neuhausen Candidates Tournament. It is not just a record of an important chess competition; it is a book of chess ideas.
"The author has tried not to overload this book with variations," wrote Bronstein in the preface to the first edition (1956.) "Variations are interesting if they demonstrate the beauty of chess; they are useless if they exceed the limit of what a human being can calculate during a game; and they are harmful if they are offered as a substitute for investigating and explaining positions where intuition, fantasy, and talent decide the outcome."

I have to say right now that I do not completely agree with this statement. The accurate calculation of concrete variations is fundamental to playing chess at any reasonable level; therefore concrete variations, whether beautiful or not, must be fundamental to understanding the game. And isn't one of the goals of analytical work that of extending the limits of what one can calculate? Nevertheless, in reading Bronstein's book I allow myself to suspend this minor disbelief and enjoy the stream of chess ideas flowing from his very creative pen.

Some time ago I read the claim that, despite years of scrutiny by Soviet players and analysts, only two or three analytical errors had ever been found in Bronstein's Zurich book. With most of my chess library in storage at the moment, I'm temporarily unable to track down the source of this claim, but I believe it was made by Boris Vainshtein in his biography of Bronstein entitled Improvisation in Chess.

Time to look at the first position. This is a snapshot from the game Boleslavsky-Averbakh, played in round 13, and shows the position after White's move 16.e4!? Bronstein writes that this advance would not be considered by most players because it weakens the d-pawn, and besides, where is the weakness in Black's position that would justify this concession? It is the unfortunate position of Black's queen, he says, and he gives the following variation to prove this: 16...dxe4 17.Nxe4 Qg6 18.Bd3 Bf5 19.Nh4 Qh5 (see the second diagram) 20.Nxf5 Nxf5 21.Nxd6 Nxd6 22.Qxc7, and White wins an important pawn.

If you haven't already done so, try to spot something stronger for Black than 20...Nxf5. Yes, it's a queen move.

So where does this leave Bronstein's variation? On the slag heap. After 19...Qh5, White has nothing better than 20.Nxd6, but this move order allows Black the interpolation 20...Bxd3 21.Qxd3 Rxd6 22.Nf3 c6, and I'm with the people who were worried about White's d-pawn.

Instead of 18.Bd3 White can play the immediate 18.Nxd6, and although he might be a bit better after 18...Qxc2 19.Rxc2 cxd6, Black doesn't look to be in any serious trouble.

This analytical error is not one that was found by any of those Soviet players or analysts. How do I know this? Because it is repeated in all three Russian editions of Bronstein's book. Hard to believe, but nevertheless true.

Buried treasures

Every year hundreds of chess books are published around the world, but no more than five percent go on to become classics. Fischer's My 60 Memorable Games, Keres's Grandmaster of Chess, Larsen's Selected Games of Chess, Kasparov's The Test of Time... every serious player knows these books and has read them cover to cover.

Among the remaining 95% of chess books there is wide variability in both quality and content. Here are several books that to me stand out in some way, but which for various reasons are not well-known to modern players. If you can find one of these in your local used bookstore, snap it up immediately!

How to Beat Bobby Fischer, by Edmar Mednis (1975)
The late Edmar Mednis parlayed a scrappy and perhaps fortuitous win over Bobby Fischer in the 1962/63 U.S. Championship into a career as a best-selling author. In this book he presents the 61 games that Fischer lost between 1958 and 1972, that is, between the Portoroz Interzonal and the famous match victory in Reykjavik. On the surface this is a novelty item that plays off Fischer's own selection of 60 games, but on a deeper level it is a master class in analysing one's own games, identifying and understanding the mistakes, and then correcting them. Of particular value is the treatment of the psychological factors behind specific errors, and of the periods of relatively poor performance that affect every player from beginner to master.

Chess Openings: Theory and Practice, by I.A. Horowitz (1964)
This thick, one-volume opening book appeared a year or so before the famous 10th edition of Modern Chess Openings that was edited by Larry Evans, and it fell immediately under the shadow of its successor. Al Horowitz, then editor of Chess Review, was not a leading grandmaster; on top of that he had already produced a whole forest of low-level books aimed at D-Class players. But for this effort he brought three key elements together and created a modern masterpiece. First, he began each section with explanatory prose and something he called Idea Variations. These were lines that showed one side or the other executing a key idea and either getting the advantage or forcing a level position. Then he moved on to Practical Variations, the main lines that result from the struggle of both sides to impose their will on the opponent. Finally, he rounded off each section with a number of complete illustrative games by leading players. The result is a book that is as fresh today as it was more than 40 years ago. This is probably more than one can say about MCO 10, although at the right price I wouldn't pass that one up either!

Confessions of a Grandmaster, by Andrew Soltis (1990)
Andrew Soltis is another author whose books can vary wildly in quality. This is his chess autobiography and games collection, published by Thinkers Press of Davenport, Iowa. It is refreshingly candid, and packed with personal stories and interesting anecdotes. It also analyses many encounters with contemporary rivals, usually leading Americans but including the Canadian players Duncan Suttles, Peter Biyiasas and Lawrence Day. A sub-plot running through the book is the author's quest to obtain the grandmaster title, something he achieved in 1980 after many years of effort through the ups and downs of tournament play. This book demonstrates by specific example that apart from their greater playing strength, grandmasters are just like the rest of us: they deceive themselves, get tired, experience doubts, and make silly mistakes. But they persevere, and that's nine-tenths of what gets them the title.

Modern Grandmaster Chess, by Andrew Karklins (1974)
In the early 1970s Andrew Karklins was a young, rated expert living in Chicago. For some reason he became fascinated with the games of the 1964 Soviet Zonal Tournament (a qualifier for the 1965 Candidates Matches.) The dramatic story of the tournament was future World Champion Boris Spassky overcoming a 0-2 start to win the event outright. Over a number of years Karklins analysed the games in great detail, with the aim of understanding every move and answering every one of his own questions. After completing this task he realised that his work should be published. Every game is thoroughly annotated, and no assumptions are made about the reader's playing strength. The result is a highly instructive textbook portraying the struggle behind modern chess, and incidentally delving into the mystique of the Soviet School.

1234 Modern End-Game Studies, by Harold Lommer (1968)
This is a Dover reprint of a book that originally appeared in 1938. As the title implies, it is a collection of composed end-game positions with solutions (at the back.) A study is a position that cannot be assessed or evaluated because there are unresolved complications leading to a surprising or paradoxical result. These are identified in the stipulation, that is, the statement of White's task, which is always to draw a position that looks lost, or to win a position that looks lost or drawn. Open it to a random page and begin solving; there is no better training in developing your analytical powers.

The Art of Sacrifice in Chess, by Rudolf Spielmann (1951)
The Austrian grandmaster Rudolf Spielmann was one of the three or four strongest players in the world in the 1920s. This book, also available in a Dover reprint, is many things at once: a collection of the author's best games, a classification of sacrifices according to their various characteristics, and a thorough treatise on attacking chess. The works of Vladimir Vukovic may be more familiar to the modern reader, but this book by Spielmann was the trailblazer. The only downside is the occasional "helpful" note by editor Fred Reinfeld, whose chess was to Spielmann's as mine is to Garry Kasparov's.

Positional Chess Handbook, by Israel Gelfer (1991)
This book by a modern Israeli grandmasters contains hundreds of well-chosen game examples illustrating all of the major positional ideas in chess, including strong squares, pieces good and bad, weak pawns, cramped positions, the two bishops, and much more. The emphasis is on recognising the key elements in each position and in finding a line of play that exploits them. There is a natural emphasis on the transition from the middlegame to the endgame. I would describe this as a spiritual successor to the works of C.J.S. Purdy or to Larry Evans's famous book New Ideas in Chess.

Bobby Fischer: a Study of His Approach to Chess, by Elie Agur (1992)
Perhaps this treasure is not buried as deeply as the others -- for example, I recently spotted a very favourable review on the web by IM Jeremy Silman. Elie Agur is a national master from the Netherlands, although his FIDE affiliation is currently with Israel. Despite his modest rating of 2285, he has written a highly perceptive book on the characteristics of Fischer's play that separated him so clearly from his contemporaries. I would rate this effort more highly than the Mednis book mentioned earlier, but of course both are very instructive.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Slaying the Dragon, 1969

Scoones D - Emig M
Victoria Ch Qualifier 1969
Sicilian: Accelerated Dragon B35

Martin Emig, a long-time member of the Victoria Chess Club, was a keen correspondence player. We had many interesting OTB battles as A-Class players in the early 1970s. The game presented here was our first encounter, from a qualifying tournament for the club championship. At the time, Martin was a recent arrival from Germany and a largely unknown quantity. There was little at stake except honour since we were both through to the main event already.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6
He played this a lot. I think the French was his only other defence to 1.e4.
5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4
I had read Fischer, and I was aiming for that "sac... sac... mate" thing that he pulled off against Larsen in 1958. The Yugoslav Attack, we called it at the time, but later on the Batsford Corporation attached the name of the Soviet player Vsevolod Rauzer.
The introduction to a very deep trap...
8.f3?! (D)
...into which White stumbles...
... and which Black in turn misses. The dangerous move is 8...Qb4!? 9.Bb3 Nxe4! 10.Nxc6 (It's better to bail out with 10.fxe4 Bxd4 11.Bxd4 Qxd4 12.Qxd4 Nxd4 13.Nd5 but I don't see White surviving after 13...Rb8. He's a pawn down and Black's position looks pretty solid.) 10...Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 Qxc3+ 12.Ke2 Otherwise Black simply captures on e3. 12...dxc6! The future grandmaster Peter Biyiasas fell into this trap against an American expert, and duly arrived at this miserable position as White. However, I don't have to tell you who failed to win or even draw the game in the end... 13.Bd4 (White cannot recapture the piece since 13.fxe4 loses the queen to 13...Bg4+) 13...e5! 14.Bxc3 Nxc3+ 15.Kd2 Nxd1 16.Raxd1 Ke7 with two extra pawns and an easily winning game for Black. Instead of 9.Bb3 White must find 9.Nxc6! bxc6 10.Bb3. Taking on c6 is usually a serious concession in the Dragon, but in this case it has cost Black several tempi with his queen. I would say White is doing all right here.
9.Qd2 Rd8 10.0-0-0 d6
After this we're back into a regular Dragon formation, except that Black has played the mysterious and probably useless move ...Rfd8. The verdict: better for White.
11.Kb1 a6 12.g4 Ne5 13.Bb3 Bd7 14.h4!
Here too it might be said that instead of ...Rac8 and ...Nc4, Black has played ...Rfd8 and ...a6. He's way behind the eight-ball now.
It looks strange to see Black moving his kingside pawns, but he has a concrete idea: he wants to establish a blockade on the square h5 and thus prevent the opening of the h-file. This would be clever, except that now he won't be able to stop White from blowing open the g-file.
15.gxh5 Nxh5 16.Bh6
A standard device to exchange an important defender. Black should try 16...Bf6.
16...Rac8?! 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 (D) 18.Nf5+!
No points for other moves!
He has to take this way since 18...gxf5 19.Qg5+ Ng6 20.Qxh5 Rh8 21.Qg5 f6 22.Qg2 leaves his king position in ruins with a level piece count.
19.exf5 Ng3
If 19...Nxf3 20.Qg2 Ne5 21.fxg6 fxg6 22.Qg5 Nc6 23.Rd5! shutting out the Black queen, for example, 23...Qb6 24.Rg1 Nf4 25.Ne2! and Black's position collapses.
20.fxg6 Nxh1 21.gxf7 Nxf7?!
Not the best. The only try was 21...Ng6 22.Rxh1 Qh5 but after 23.Rg1 White's attack is very powerful.
22.Rg1+ Kf8 23.Be6?!
A bit of a stumble; correct was the immediate 23.Qg2. With time running short the Dan of 1969 could not see a clear win after 23...e6, when he would be a whole rook down. But the Dan of today sees a simple win with 24.Bxe6 Ke7 25.Bxf7 Kxf7 ( 25...Rxc3 26.bxc3) 26.Qg6+ Ke7 27.Qh7+ Ke6 28.Rg6+ Ke5 29.Qg7+ and mates quickly.
A tougher defence is 23...Qe5 but after 24.Bxc8 Rxc8 25.Rxh1 White has an extra outside passed pawn supported by a rook, which I had probably assessed as winning. I do remember being absolutely certain he would take on c3...
And that, as they say, is all she wrote.
24...Ng5 25.Qxg5 (D) 1-0

One would think that such a game would be a harbinger of things to come. Well, despite this defeat in the last round of the qualifier, Martin Emig went on to win the Victoria Championship itself by a comfortable margin. I never played another Yugoslav Attack, and in fact went on to become a dry 1.d4 player. Sometimes it's not just rook moves that are mysterious!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Brag time

Dan Scoones - GM Jaan Ehlvest
ICS G/5 Chess.Net, 10.10.1997
Sicilian: Closed B26

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d3 d6 6.Be3 e5 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.h3 Be6 9.Nd5 Bxd5 10.exd5 Ne7 11.c4 Nf5 12.Ne2 Nxe3 13.Qxe3 h5 14.f4 Bh6 15.Qf3 Qe7 16.0-0 exf4 17.Nxf4 Bxf4 18.Qxf4 Nd7 19.Rae1 Ne5 20.d4 cxd4 21.c5 Kd7 22.cxd6 Kxd6 23.Qxd4 1-0

I am grateful to GM Ehlvest for respecting my (shaky?) technique, and for playing me in the first place!

Who was Prince Dadian?

The following is a brief extract from Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia:

"Andria Dadiani, also known as Andria Dadian-Mingrelsky in a Russian manner (born 1850–died 1910) was a nobleman and chess player from Georgia (then part of the Russian Empire). Member of the Mingrelian (Western Georgia) princely family of Svan descent, he was born in Zugdidi, W. Georgia. He graduated from Heidelberg University Faculty of Law in 1873. Later, he served as a lieutenant-general of the Russian army.

He had played at Paris, Rome, Kiev and Tbilisi tournaments before he won the Saint Petersburg amateur chess tournament in 1881-1882.

He was the president of the 1903-1904 Monte Carlo international tournaments and according to the common, though unreliable beliefs, invited the Russian chess master Mikhail Chigorin to play but later paid him 1,500 francs (greater than 3rd prize money) not to play because Chigorin had published analysis of one of the Prince's games, pointing out he had made gross errors. A valuable art object was to go to the winner of a short match between the 1st and 2nd place finishers (Tarrasch and Maroczy). The players wanted a play for money also. This annoyed the Prince who gave the art object to the 3rd place finisher (Pillsbury).

According to more accurate accounts, Dadiani refused to remain part of the tournament, physically and financially, if Chigorin had been allowed to participate. Chigorin, who had traveled to Monte Carlo in good faith, was expediently removed from the list. Dadiani payed him the $1500 in compensation."

The adventures of the roguish Prince Dadian of Mingrelia came to my notice through the wonderful and much lamented magazine Chess Chow.

There are a number of somewhat brilliant games on record that are attributed to Prince Dadian, but there is no corroborating evidence to suggest that he ever reached the master class under his own steam. He is believed to have offered established masters financial inducements to lose these games to him, and it would not surprise me if the moves were worked out by the Prince in advance. Here are two examples:

Prince Dadian - Baron Ignatz Kolisch
Played in 1897
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bc4 Nxe4 4.Nc3 Nxc3 5.dxc3 f6 6.Nh4 g6 7.0-0 d6 8.f4 Qe7 9.fxe5 dxe5 10.Be3 Nc6 11.Qe2 Bd7 12.b4 0-0-0 13.a4 Bg7 14.b5 Nb8 15.b6 axb6 16.a5 bxa5 17.Rfb1 Nc6 18.Rxb7 Kxb7 19.Ba6+ Ka8 20.Bb7+ Kxb7 21.Qb5+ Kc8 22.Qa6+ Kb8 23.Rxa5 Nxa5 24.Qa7+ Kc8 25.Qa8# 1-0

Prince Dadian - Fyodor Duz Chotimirsky
Played at Hamburg in 1901
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 g4 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.0-0 gxf3 7.Qxf3 Qf6 8.Nd5 Qd4+ 9.Kh1 Qxc4 10.d3 Qc5 11.Bxf4 Nd4 12.Qh5 Ne6 13.Be5 c6 14.b4 Qxc2 15.Qxf7+ Kd8 16.Qxf8+ Nxf8 17.Rxf8# 1-0

Several more examples of his achievements in this area were anthologised in the classic book 1000 Best Short Games of Chess, by Irving Chernev.

Welcome to Dadian Chess

In this blog I will post several different kinds of articles:

1. Impressive games. Every so often I come across a game that astonishes me by its depth, originality, or sheer power. New games, old games -- it doesn't matter.
2. Opinion pieces. From time to time an issue somewhere in the chess world is causing strong reactions. I will weigh in as I think appropriate.
3. Memorable games. I have been playing tournament chess since 1967, so this year is a milestone for me. My output has been modest, but I have a few favourites to share.
4. Interesting positions. This could be an endgame, a middlegame combination, a tricky opening line... or a position where someone went badly wrong.
5. Corrections to published analysis. I like to "argue" with my books -- it's amazing how many mistakes are out there, waiting to be discovered!
6. Book reviews. I own upwards of 700 volumes, most of which are very good.
7. Stories. As any tournament player will tell you, the funny stuff almost never gets published!

Many thanks to James Chan for encouraging me to start this blog!

About Me

My photo
Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.