Saturday, November 08, 2014

Losing R-E-S-P-E-C-T

As in the famous song by Aretha Franklin, you have to have respect.

In a recent article in Chess, John Saunders reviews the impact of computers on chess and how they have changed our perceptions of chess-players at the highest levels (Saunders on Chess, Chess, October 2014, p 58). I agree with most of what he has to say, and being of a similar age (BC – Before Computers), I too lament the more free-flowing and in hindsight, naive 1960s, the last decade of computer-free chess.

He points out the way in which computers have made everyone an instant expert on chess, able to critique the moves of the greatest players as they are made, simply by having an analysis engine running in parallel with the human players. This has led to a lack of respect for the top players because by pointing out sub-par moves, the computer shows their limitations. Once they walked as Gods among us but now they are shown to be merely human (‘Human, all too human’ by Friedrich Nietzsche).

I take a rather different point of view. I too have lost a certain degree of respect for modern chess players but not because of the mistakes they make according to analysis engines. Rather, my decrease in respect is because they use them to prepare to such an extent that you know (because they often tell you) that the win of a game was brought about by excellent memorisation of lines prepared by the computer. I compare these games with the intellectual effort across the board by chess geniuses of the past. Yes, there was extensive preparation in the past, certainly since Alekhine. But it was the players own thinking which was involved. The discovery process was human not silicon circuitry calculation. And the use of general principles (not universal, hence there were always some exceptions) and practicality, are human traits which all of us use to navigate through a chess-game and also life itself. In other words, the effort is no longer even significantly human. At least that is how it looks.

The skill-set of the modern player is different – how to drive the technology and it’s not as easy as it looks. But it doesn’t feel to me as though the quality of thinking is at the same level as the greatest players of the past. The computer gives so much help that some of the deep thinking is sub-contracted out to that machine. This is doubtless a generational issue. An old fashioned bias (guilty as charged, m’lord). But let us put it to the test. Let the top players play against each other with no silicon preparation, as I have suggested in a previous post. Randomly selected credible openings with no adjournments. I bet there will be some significant surprises. Recall the time when Chigorin swept all before him in Gambit tournaments?

Here is one of Chigorin’s greatest games – fittingly an Evan’s Gambit played against Steinitz from a World Championship Match in 1892.

Mikhail Chigorin Versus Wilhelm Steinitz (Game 1, World Championship, Second match, 1892)

Evan’s Gambit

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bb4 5. c3 Ba5 6. O-O d6 7. d4 Bg4 8. Bb5 ed4 9. cd4 Bd7 10. Bb2 Nce7 11. Bd7 Qd7 12. Na3 Nh6 13. Nc4 Bb6 14. a4 c6 15. e5 d5 16. Nd6 Kf8 17. Ba3 Kg8 18. Rb1 Nhf5 19. Nf7 Kf7 20. e6 Ke6 21. Ne5 Qc8 22. Re1 Kf6 23. Qh5 g6 24. Be7 Ke7 25. Ng6 Kf6 26. Nh8 Bd4 27. Rb3 Qd7 28. Rf3 Rh8 29. g4 Rg8 30. Qh6 Rg6 31. Rf5 1-0

The following effort is not at such an elevated or wild level as the game of Chigorin. It is, however, reasonably instructive. On Board 29, I have White against Ioan Secrieru of Romania in a match Australia/NZ versus Romania.

The game is simple to understand. I play a passive but safe opening (sorry Mr Chigorin – I wimped out), which gradually leads to a superior position because of elementary mistakes amateurs tend to make. I obtain the better centre, control of a key open file and pressure on my opponent’s weak pawns. I work on those advantages in a slow, methodical way, not allowing any counter-play, until checkmate.

G. Eraclides (1987) Versus Ioan Secrieru (1867)

Colle

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 d5 4.Bd3 c5 5.c3 g6 (this is not quite right and allows White’s Knight to assume an early active position) 6.Ne5 c4 (definitely bad; many amateurs play this way but it drives the Bishop where he is comfortable and eases any pressure on White’s centre; White no longer has to worry about a Pawn exchange on d4) 7.Bc2 Bg7 8.Nd2 Qc7 9.O-O O-O 10.Qe2 Nbd7 11.Nxd7 (N2f3 was also good but White wants to play the ‘classic’ central advance in the Colle. It gives Black the chance to free his position slightly but without any real prospects. Black hopes to create some options for his ‘bad’ Queen Bishop, although the Bg7 is not that good either, ‘biting on granite’) Bxd7 12.e4 dxe4 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Bxe4 Rfd8 15.Qf3 Bc6 16.Bxc6 Qxc6 17.Qe2 (exchanging Queens gives Black chances against b2 and makes c4 look good as it restrains White’s Queenside; it is also better to hold on to the Queen as she will create threats) b5 18.Bf4 (centralisation, restraining e5 and controlling b8; Nimzovich would be proud of this amateur’s play) a5 19.Rfe1 b4 20.h3! (a hideaway for the Bishop f4; the coming Pawn exchange strengthens White because Black cannot easily get a Rook into b8 to contest the file, which will become White’s in time) bxc3 21.bxc3 a4 (Black hopes to fix the Pawn on a2 but nothing comes of it; in fact, it weakens b4 which turns out to be very important; note also the defensive role of Black’s Queen. As a piece, the Queen is better in attack and her potential is wasted having to defend a mere Pawn) 22.Rab1 Qd5 23.Rb4 (see what I mean?) Rdc8 24.Reb1 Bf8 25.Rb5 Qd7 26.Be5 Bg7 27.Rb7 Qd8 28.Bxg7 Kxg7 29.Qe5+ Qf6 (hoping the Queen swap will relieve the defence; if Kg8 then R1b4 and White just waits ‘zugzwang’ style for Black to implode) 30.Qxf6+ Kxf6 31.R1b5 (again restricting e5) h5 (what else?) 32.Kf1 g5 33.h4! (seizing the opportunity to create, attack and win the weakened Pawns) gxh4 34.Rxh5 Rg8 35.Rxh4 Rg5? (Rf8 held out a little longer) 36.Rf4+ Rf5 37.Rxf5+ exf5 (or he loses another Pawn on f7 but his position is dreadful) 38.Rb4 f4 39.Rxc4 Kf5 40.f3 f6 (the position is quite unusual and not unattractive although Black is lost) 41.d5 Ke5 42.Rd4 (White’s technique is logically straightforward – Passed Pawns should be advanced if practicable) Rb8 43.d6 Ke6 44.d7 Rd8 45.Ke2 (it’s all over ‘bar the shouting’) Rxd7 46.Rxd7 Kxd7 47.Kd3 (Black could resign here but plays on hoping for an asteroid to strike the Earth and cause the game to be cancelled) f5 48.Kd4 Kd6 49.c4 a3 50.c5+ Kc6 51.Kc4 Kc7 52.Kd5 Kd7 53.c6+ Kc7 54.Kc5 Kc8 55.Kd6 Kd8 56.c7+ Kc8 57.Ke5 Kxc7 58.Kxf5 Kc6 59.Kxf4 Kc5 60.Ke3 Kc4 61.Kd2 Kd4 62.g4 Ke5 63.Kc3 Kf4 64.Kb3 Kxf3 65.g5 Kg4 66.g6 Kf5 67.g7 Kg6 68.g8=Q+ Kh6 69.Kc3 Kh5 70.Kd3 Kh6 71.Ke4 Kh5 72.Kf5 Kh4 73.Qg4# 1-0

If only all our games followed this kind of template: get the superior position (with help from weak moves by your opponent) and then use good technique to grind out the win. No mind-numbing tactics, just the patient application of technique or as Belgian crime-writer Maigret said – the order and the method.

Until next time may all your games be brilliant wins (unless you play me).

 

Friday, March 07, 2014

An outpost, an outpost, my kingdom for an outpost!


Hi Pilgrims,
 
Well may your whole kingdom depend on an outpost. Apologies for the tardiness of this new posting.

First, some grumpiness given expression. Recent faster time-controls in professional chess is an affliction which has been increasing over the last decade and may now be approaching levels at which we need to call in experts in epidemiology to put this scourge down. Faster time controls equals poorer strategic decisions which equals shallow play which leads to tactical errors and therefore poorer chess. Fans may like it – afficionados do not. Botvinnik was right to stay away from this form of chess.

It does not help that games now have to be completed at one sitting to avoid cheating with computers, so endgame play suffers as well.

Now that I have got this off my chest I feel better already.

The following game is between two amateurs and illustrates the importance of sound development and gaining an outpost for you pieces. Eventually one opponent succumbs to such pressure, makes a blunder, and loses the game. This happens to the professional players as well although their ‘errors’ tend to be more nuanced and the exploitation of error is undertaken far more skilfully than any amateur can do it. Well, I should think so!

This game is for beginners or amateurs and illustrates some basic themes.

Jose Miquel of Spain (1255) Versus George Eraclides of Australia (1584)
 
Played on Lechenicher SchachServer http://www.chess-server.net
 

February 2013

Queen’s Pawn Irregular

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Bg5 Bg7 4. c3 (he is trying to blunt the future action of the g7 Bishop, but in the process he concedes too much space in the centre, while Black gets on with development) O-O 5. Qc1 (far too premature; development with g3 or Nbd2 was better) d5 (the Gruenfeld set-up is more effective here because it captures more space) 6. Bh6 Nbd7 7. Bxg7 Kxg7 (the King guards the black squares quite adequately for the remainder of the game; White is simply not sufficiently developed to do anything substantial but he still continues with his flawed, time-wasting, plan of an early attack) 8. h4 h5 (note that in these types of positions, with the Black King on g7, a player can always swing a Rook across to h8 if needed for the defence) 9. Nbd2 (finally some development; White’s style seems to be to attack, and only if unable to make any progress, think about development; it is as though Steinitz never existed to enunciate his principles of chess; perhaps because both players are amateurs, White thought principles could be set aside; alas, you cannot ignore sound principles without incurring a cost) c5! (central play before White can fully develop) 10. e3 Qc7 11. g3 (11.b5 c4 cramps White and the position is then even - Black's Queen Bishop and White's Queen's Knight are both 'developmentally challenged') e5 12. dxe5 Nxe5 13. Nxe5 Qxe5 14. Nf3 Qe7 (the seeming win of a tempo – after having given so many away – which forces the Queen to retreat, only serves to drive her to where Black intended the Queen to be) 15. Bg2 Bf5 (15...Bg4 was also good but on f5 the Bishop is eyeing e4 and d3 for future action) 16. O-O Rad8 17. Ng5 Ne4! (Black now sees a possibility for an outpost)18. Nxe4 dxe4! 19. Qc2 Rd3 (and now we have an unassailable outpost; positionally, White is lost because Black controls the d-file absolutely) 20. Kh2 Rfd8 21. Rad1 R8d6 22. Rfe1 Qd7 23. Rxd3 Rxd3 24. Bf1 Rd2 25. Qb3 Rxf2+ 26. Bg2 Qd2 (note how safe the Black King has been throughout the game) 27. Rg1 Bg4 (28. Qxb7 Bf3 and it is over) 0-1
 
The lessons from this game between amateurs are firstly, not to neglect development, especially because of an ephemeral, premature attack. The opponent must have made some error, there must be a disturbance of the equilibrium in your favour (Pachman’s excellent terminology), to justify a commitment to the attack. Also, an outpost in enemy territory, especially one which is hard to dislodge, is highly advantageous. If you do not blunder, then with patient manoeuvring you should win the game.
 
That’s all folks and may all your outposts in future be incontestable.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Chess on the edge


Hi Pilgrims,

For average players it is very important to be able to recognise, and know what to do with, certain recurrent patterns or structures. Experienced and strong players do this almost instinctively, while the rest of us waste mental energy trying to work things out.

We are often told by chess teachers, that a Knight on the edge of the board is a bad thing. The Knight is a piece whose strength is the ability to jump other pieces and obliquely attack or control important squares. Its natural habitat is somewhere around the centre of the board. At the edge, much of its energy is dissipated into nothingness.

Yet the injunction to never place Knight at the edge of the board is really only a generalisation rather than a universal law. There are important exceptions and being able to recognise, and take advantage of them, is critical for all players. We are all familiar with situations where it is perfectly sound to move a Knight to the edge of the board as part of some tactical threat or to exchange, say, an enemy Bishop on g6.

But there is also sometimes, a very important positional advantage to placing a Knight on the edge of the board, which super-grandmasters know, or should know, since a famous game between Rubinstein (W) and Takacs (B) at Budapest, 1926.

That game revealed that a Knight at the edge of the board can inflict crippling pressure on certain kinds of pawn formations: the formation of pawns on a7 (or a6), b7, c6 with a Knight on a5.

A modern, and perhaps more instructive, instance of this theme occurred recently in a game between Morozevich (W) and Mamedyarov (B) at the Grand Prix even in Beijing, July 2013.

Mamedyarov, perhaps out of necessity, poor planning, or even ignorance (it happens to even super GMs), gave himself the formation of pawns on a7, b7, c6. Morozevich, recognising it instantly, pounced by placing his Knight on a5. The point is, as you will see from this highly instructive game, that playing b6 to drive away the Knight, is not possible due to the loss of the pawn on c6. Hence the need to defend this pawn formation constantly, which completely distorts Black’s whole position. Structural weaknesses that have to be constantly defended, while your opponent dances around doing what he can to bury you, are absolutely horrible to play. Unless your opponent makes a mistake, you are doomed to endless passive defence or Kamikaze-style counter-play.

When you play over the game, notice how Morozevich, after he has planted his Knight on a5, expertly ties up the position, gaining more and more small advantages as an increasingly desperate Mamedyarov fights a losing battle to survive.

Is this what they mean when they say the win ‘is only a matter of technique’?

Probably, but it helps if you are a superb player like Rubinstein or Morozevich.

Play this game over carefully; learn, enjoy, and remember.

Morozevich  V  Mameryadov, Biejing 2013

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. d4 c6 6. O-O d5 7. Qb3 dxc4 8. Qxc4 Qd5 9. Nbd2 Qxc4 10. Nxc4 Be6 11. b3 Bd5 12. Ba3 Re8 13. Rac1 Nbd7 14. Na5 Rab8 15. Rfd1 Bf8 16. Ne5 Bxg2 17. Kxg2 e6 18. Bxf8 Kxf8 19. Nec4 Ke7 20. b4 Rec8 21. a3 g5 22. Nb2 Ne8 23. Nd3 f5 24. h4 g4 25. Nf4 Nef6 26. Rc2 Nd5 27. Nd3 Rf8 28. e3 Rfe8 29. Re1 N5f6 30. Rb1 Rec8 31. Rbc1 Rd8 32. a4 Ne4 33. b5 cxb5 34. Rc7 Nd6 35. Nc5 bxa4 36. Ncxb7 Nxb7 37. Nxb7 Rf8 38. R1c6 Rf7 39. Nc5 Ke8 40. Rxe6 Kd8 41. Rec6 1-0

For the sake of historical completeness, here is the original gem by Rubinstein where the Na5 is used to telling effect after Queens are exchanged.

Rubinstein  V Takacs, Budapest 1926

1. c4 Nf6 2. d4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Nbd7 5. e3 Be7 6. Nf3 O-O 7. Rc1 c6 8. Qc2 a6 9. cxd5 exd5 10. Bd3 Re8 11. O-O Nf8 12. Rfe1 Bg4 13. Nd2 N6d7 14. Bf4 Bg5 15. h3 Bh5 16. Bh2 Bg6 17. Bxg6 hxg6 18. Qb3 Qb6 19. Na4 Qxb3 20. Nxb3 Ne6 21. Na5 Ra7 22. Kf1 Bd8 23. b4 f5 24. Nb2 g5 25. Nd3 Kf7 26. Rc2 Bb6 27. Bd6 Nd8 28. Nc5 Nxc5 29. Bxc5 Bxc5 30. bxc5 Ke7 31. Rb2 Kd7 32. Reb1 Kc8 33. Ke2 Re7 34. Kf3 Re4 35. g4 g6 36. Rg1 Nf7 37. h4 gxh4 38. gxf5 gxf5 39. Rg7 Nd8 40. Rg8 f4 41. Rh8 fxe3 42. fxe3 Kd7 43. Rg2 Re8 44. Rxh4 Re7 45. Rh8 Kc7 46. Rgg8 Rd7 47. Nb3 a5 48. Nc1 Ra8 49. Nd3 b5 50. cxb6 Kxb6 51. Nc5 Rd6 52. a4 Rc8 53. Kg4 1-0

Postscript

I have been asked by readers, why I do not embed chess game app as part of the posting (it’s easy), to make it easier for readers to play over games in two dimensions. It is a belief (or prejudice) on my part, that because chess is most often played competitively in a real world of three dimensions (with time as the fourth), it is best that we break out the traditional chess set and play over games in this real world. I think it is better for the mind. Portisch and Petrosian preferred to do that.

Until next time, Pilgrims.

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Friday, July 05, 2013

Simple Beauty in Chess


Apologies for the very late new posting. I have had to contend with illnesses, a new job, and numerous writing projects, some of which were fortunately part of my income stream. In compensation some classic games and a poem are thrown in for free.

One of the best chess magazines in print, for average players, is CHESS (www.chess.co.uk ). The analysis does not involve too many spewings from a chess engine but rather actual human-mediated thought processes. In other words, you get words telling you what is going on in the position, strategically and tactically, which is better for understanding and thus improving. I imagine that the names and images of the chess writers are of actual people rather than clever computer interfaces. You also get snapshots of the latest chess news from many different levels of the chess universe.

I mention this magazine because in a recent issue (May 2013, p36) there was an interesting article by a thoughtful young player, Peter Lalic: ‘Bringing back the good times’. In this article there is discussion about poetry in chess – not the kind with stanzas and lines with metre (see below an effort by yours truly) but rather a game that has such a distinctive form  that it is like the structured beauty of a poem. It is exemplified in a game of Capablanca’s against Treybal, played at the great Karlsbad tournament in 1929. Capablanca is White.

I will let the game speak for itself.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 e6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.Bxe7 Qxe7 6.Nbd2 f5 7.e3 Nd7 8.Bd3 Nh6 9.O-O O-O 10.Qc2 g6 11.Rab1 Nf6 12.Ne5 Nf7 13.f4 Bd7 14.Ndf3 Rfd8 15.b4 Be8 16.Rfc1 a6 17.Qf2 Nxe5 18.Nxe5 Nd7 19.Nf3 Rdc8 20.c5 Nf6 21.a4 Ng4 22.Qe1 Nh6 23.h3 Nf7 24.g4 Bd7 25.Rc2 Kh8 26.Rg2 Rg8 27.g5 Qd8 28.h4 Kg7 29.h5 Rh8 30.Rh2 Qc7 31.Qc3 Qd8 32.Kf2 Qc7 33.Rbh1 Rag8 34.Qa1 Rb8 35.Qa3 Rbg8 36.b5 axb5 37.h6+ Kf838.axb5 Ke7 39.b6 Qb8 40.Ra1 Rc8 41.Qb4 Rhd8 42.Ra7 Kf8 43.Rh1 Be8 44.Rha1 Kg8 45.R1a4 Kf8 46.Qa3 Kg8 47.Kg3 Bd7 48.Kh4 Kh8 49.Qa1 Kg8 50.Kg3 Kf8 51.Kg2 Be8 52.Nd2 Bd7 53.Nb3 Re8 54.Na5 Nd8 55.Ba6 bxa6 56.Rxd7 Re7 57.Rxd8+ Rxd8 58.Nxc6 1-0

It is worth recalling how good these great players of the past actually were, playing in the era before chess became a professional pursuit and with computers doing the substantial part of the thinking for a chess player.

Karel Treybal (1885-1941), was no slouch. He was a Master level player with an ELO of 2490, Champion of Czechoslovakia in 1921, winner of the Silver Medal in the 1933 Olympiad, and he came 6th at Karslbad in 1929. He had an older brother, Frantisek Treybal (1882-1947) who was also a strong player and Champion of Czechoslovakia in 1907. Not bad at all. Here is a game of Frantisek his against the brilliant but flawed attacking player, David Janowski.

Janowski, Dawid Markelowicz - Treybal, Frantisek
Prague 1908

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 c5 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.O-O Nf6 6.b3 Bd6 7.Bb2 O-O 8.Nbd2 b6 9.Ne5 Bb7 10.f4 Nb4 11.Be2 Ne4 12.a3 Nc6 13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Qe1 Qc7 15.c4 f5 16.Rd1 Rad8 17.Nxc6 Qxc6 18.dxc5 bxc5 19.Qc3 Rf7 20.g4 Rdf8 21.gxf5 exf5 22.Bh5 Rd7 23.Rf2 Rfd8 24.Rg2 Bf8 25.Rd5 Qe6 26.Re5 Qf6 27.Rg5 h6 28.Rg3 Rd3 29.Qc1 Qh4 30.Rxf5 Qxh5 31.Rxh5 Rd1+ 32.Kg2 R8d2+ 33.Kh3 Bc8+ 34.f5 Rxc1 35.Bxc1 Rc2 36.Rg1 Kf7 37.a4 Bd6 38.Ba3 g6 39.Bxc5 0-1 (source: http://www.echesspedia.com/ accessed July 3, 2013).

 
It appears that during World War II, Karel Treybal was involved in resistance activity on behalf of his country and paid the ultimate penalty. I quote the following (from http://www.echesspedia.com/ accessed July 3, 2013): ‘Treybal  had been arrested on 30 May 1941 in his office at Velvary and was escorted to the Pankrac prison in Prague. He was charged with concealment of weapons for use by Germany’s enemies and for having personal possession of a pistol without authorization. He was condemned to death on 2 October 1941 and executed the same day.’

A sad finish for a brave man, in one of the bleakest periods of human history. Incidentally, Capablanca and Lasker also passed away from natural causes during that momentous year 1941.

 
Here is the poem mentioned above. A mere exercise in structure for a poetry class but not without some value:

‘The Grandmaster’s Simultaneous Exhibition’
1
He stops at my board

This small grey man with

Darting, hungry eyes

And watches me move.

He leans on one hand,

Ponders his reply,

Then his other hand - 

A fell bird of prey -

Swoops down to capture

The piece I dared move.

 
2
When he comes around

To my board again

I ask him to pass;

Let other players

Fall before I do

I think in my pride.

 
3
But his souless eyes

Look up from the board,

Their gaze fixed somewhere

Deep inside my head.

With finality

He utters these words:

‘There is no point

To further thought,

Your game is lost’

And shows me the win

Before moving on.

 
4
I leave the table

Humbled and disgraced,

My eyes averted,

First to lose a game.

 

How often has this happened to ordinary players in simuls?

 

See you next time pilgrims.

 

 

 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Randomise openings in tournaments and bring back sparkling chess

Hi Pilgrim,

One of the things that used to happen in playing chess before the age of analytical engines and databases was that chess players tended to make more mistakes, especially in the openings. That led to more scintillating play as the example below amply demonstrates. Even in correspondence chess, you would see the King’s Gambits and the Evans tried out with every expectation of victory.

Today, if you played in this way you would probably get smashed with no chance to fight back. Safety first and quiet positions that disadvantage chess engines, are the prevailing strategies used by players, except in the much lower echelons of correspondence or server-based chess. In cross-board chess, thorough preparation combined with the players’ phenomenal memories and understanding, is used to produce ‘gotcha chess’.

I have previously argued in another venue, for the randomisation of openings in chess tournaments. This would bring back excitement to those of us who like to follow the games of the very best. It would mean that when you sat down to play an opponent in a tourney, the opening which would be played is selected by a random process at that moment, from a long list of sound openings (including most gambits). So you can no longer count on your experience with a particular opening or the memorisation you have undertaken prior to meeting a particular opponent whose opening preferences you know. You and your opponent are on your own! All you have is your talent and general knowledge of all the openings.

Sure, positional players end up playing gambits sometimes, but by the same token, sharp tacticians end up having to play quiet variations. It depends on what is pulled out of the hat.

Imagine this wonderful scenario:

Carlsen sits down to play a game as White against Morosevich; the tourney official selects the opening to be played at random; it is a Vienna Gambit.

Next time these two players meet in this tourney with colours reversed, the draw produces a King’s Indian. And so it goes on for all the players.

Players like the comfort zone of familiar openings but if there were no rating points involved and a sponsor threw enough money at it, I am sure many first class players would take part. Amateurs around the world would love to see such contests.

I discovered the game below in an anthology by Purdy. He used it to show how it was possible to produce great combinative games in correspondence chess that rivalled anything produced across the board. Not something likely to happen today. Notice how Black’s king is penned up and then White has all the time he needs to finish him off. I hope you enjoy it.

The game is from the British Correspondence Chess Championship 1946-47.

R. (Bob) G. Wade Versus Wallis (no other details known at this time)

1. e4 e6

2. d4 d5

3. Nc3 Bb4

4. e5 c5

5. a3 cxd4

6. axb4 dxc3

7. Nf3! Cxb2

8. Bb2 Ne7

9. Bd3 Nbc6

10. Qd2 Ng6

11. b5 Nce7

12. h4 Nf5

13. h5 Ngh4

14. Nxh4 Nxh4

15. Ra4 Nf5

16. Rg4! Bd7 (not g6??)

17. Bf5 exf5

18. Rg7 bb5

19. Rh3 Qe7

20. Qa5! Bc6

21. e6!! f4

22. Re3!!! fxe3

23. exf7+ Kf8

24. Ba3 Qa3

25. Qa3+ Kg7

26. Qe7 exf2+

27. Kf2 Raf8

28. h6+ Kh6

29. Qf6+ Kh5

30. Kf3 Bd7 (...Rhg8!?)

31. Kf4 h6

32. Qg7 d4

33. g4+ Kh4

34. Qg6! Kh3

35. Qd3+ Kg2

36. Qe2+ 1-0 (Mate in 3)

Now that is a sparkling game which would grace any player's collection.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

An intriguing Sicilian


Hi Pilgrims,

We have just seen completed the latest World Championship of Chess between Anand and challenger Gelfand. A few Sicilians were played in that match, although you would be forgiven for thinking they were but a pale shadow of Sicilian-slugfests, as we know them from previous World Championship contests.

I felt a sense of déjà-vu while the match was on. It was as though I had been placed in a time-machine and transported back 20 years. This was the Indian prodigy who took Europe by storm, the speed-king of chess, playing against one of the ‘beastie-boys’, as Short used to refer to that generation of amazing young players (which included the incredible Ivanschuk and a little later, Kramnik and Kamsky), coming along in the late 1980s and early 1990s to challenge the dominance of Karpov, Kasparov, and other aging Grandmasters.

These were the post-Karpov wunderkinds of chess, heirs to the aggression of Fischer and dynamism of Kasparov. And wasn’t chess wonderful for it? It is with some degree of hindsight that we can now say that the period of the 1990s was a modern golden age for chess and we may not see its like again.

So a mixture of nostalgia and regret tinged my following of this match. Well played by both; relatively risk-free play; boring for the average player. But regret at what was not there: players like Carlsen or any of the other current, youthful (or at least younger), giants of the modern game. Instead we have old gladiators in their forties duking it out, with punches lacking power but delivered with skill.

Of course, the younger players were not there because they either did not participate in a selection system they thought was unfair or they simply did not make it to the endgame. So it was up to the old(er) guys to make with the charisma, the danger, the conflict, the drama; make it a contest worthy of the highest level of chess competition. Did they succeed? 

The rapid-play decider is of questionable value; like a penalty shoot-out in soccer, it divides the fans. Is it exciting or just an ignominious way to decide such an important even? I think it lacks dignity for the game and the quality of the players. I am a traditionalist. Play the match to 24 games and if the match is drawn have done with it. The title-holder remains the champion because the challenger failed to defeat him or her.

It seems the opinions of the ‘experts’ are mixed, so your opinion reader, is as good as any one else’s at this stage. We shall see what history will make of it all.
Enough commentary.  Here is the rather intriguing Sicilian.

Kerecsenyi, Zoltan (1567) Hungary versus Eraclides, George (1649) Australia

ZI-2011–0–01085 Lechenicher SchachServer, 10.09.2011

This is game two of the mini-match we played on Lechenicher SchachServer.

Sicilian Defence – Najdorf Variation

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. Bg5 Be6 9. O-O O-O (this has all been seen before; Black is following a line of Fischer’s) 10. Kh1 Nbd7 (a risky line; h6 and Nc6 are other risky alternatives; as this is a Sicilian Najdorf, you cannot expect any risk-free variations; this sentence sure carries a lot of ‘risk’!)11. Qd3 (he wants to link Rooks and also be able to transition to Qg3 if occasion calls for it) Rc8 (once again, Black had Qc7, h6, or even b5 with an unclear assessment; Black develops his Queen’s Rook to its traditional square – can it really ever be a Sicilian without that Rook on c8?)12. Rad1 h6 13. Bc1 (appears to make Black’s h6 pointless, although later in the endgame, h6 is useful for supporting a g5 pawn move – see move 34 below) Qc7 (the plan is to play Bc4 to exchange Bishops and control c4) 14. Qg3 Kh7 (avoiding his tactical trick of Bxh6 but also protecting h6 itself) 15. f4 Bc4 (15...exf4 16. Bxf4 opens the position too much in White’s favour)16. Bxc4 Qxc4 17. Qf3 (17. f5 may have been worth a try for its cramping effect but any follow-up is bound to be slow; Black’s counter-chances are on the Queen-side one way or the other; not surprising in a Sicilian) b5 18. a3 Qc7 19. fxe5 (19. f5 Nc5 20. Nxc5 Qxc5 with a5 and b4 threatened) Nxe5 (played this way on intuitive grounds; Black liked the Knight sitting on his outpost supported by the Pawn d6, radiating force into the White position; positionally more conservative – and perhaps correct – was dxe5; as it turns out Black gets a strong but cramped position) 20. Qf5+ Kh8 (leaving space for Ng8 if needed to defend h6) 21. Nd5?! (White gives up a Pawn for the dubious compensation of constricting Black’s position in the expectation of a winning attack, which alas for him never eventuates, due to accurate play by Black) Nxd5 22. exd5 Qxc2 23. Qxc2 Rxc2 24. Nd4 (Black now plays very accurately to slowly defend his weak points; then the next stage is to uncoil his position; finally Black maximises his winning chances with the extra Pawn; I felt like a very poor version of Lasker or Korchnoi, digging in for a long fight on the road to victory) Rc7 25. Nf5 Ng6 26. Bd2 Re8 27. Bc3 f6 28. Nd4 Ne5 29. Ne6 (this Knight is annoying but that is all White achieves with Queens no longer on the board; in fact, Black’s Knight is a more useful piece) Rcc8 30. h3 Nc4 31. Bd4 Bd8 (now we begin the ‘uncoiling phase’) 32. Rf3 (he still thinks he has an initiative so plays for the attack; it is hard to suggest a worthwhile alternative) Bb6 33. Bxb6 Nxb6 34. Rg3 g5 35. Rf3 Nxd5 (White has fallen for – or allowed to take place – a cheap tactic; it is interesting to go back and look at White’s position from move 29 onwards to see how brittle it actually is; all the tactical nuances are with Black) 36. Nxg5 hxg5 37. Rxd5 Re6 38. Rfd3 Rc6 39. Kh2 Kg7 40. Kg3 Kf7 41. Kf3 Ke7 (frees up the Rook from defensive duties so progress can be made in advancing the Pawns) 42. R5d4 Re5 43. g3 (he might as well have tried h4 with some drawing chances) Rf5+ 44. Kg4 Re5 45. h4 gxh4 46. gxh4 (an outside passed Pawn is his only hope but it is too late; Black aims to swap one Rook then get on with exploiting the few winning chances he has) Rc4 47. Kg3 Rxd4 48. Rxd4 d5 49. Kf4 Ke6 50. a4 (desperation; maybe b3 was better) f5 51. h5 Re4+ 52. Rxe4+ fxe4 (the united passed Pawns are deadly) 53. axb5 axb5 54. Kg5 Kf7! (obviously the Black King must stay close enough to stop the White passed Pawn) 55. h6 e3 and White resigned.

From Black’s point of view a satisfying, if flawed, game. I do not normally enjoy a cramped position, particularly one which requires me to play very accurately all the time. As Tarrasch taught us from years ago, it is hard to keep defending a cramped position. I think I played well to convert the meagre chances to a win. My opponent probably missed some opportunities to hold the game or at least to make it harder for Black to win.

But then again, it is human to make mistakes, otherwise we would never bother to play chess. Where would be the fun in endless, perfect, draws?


George Eraclides

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

A champion is forever - once good, always good

Hi Pilgrims,

I have been reading assiduously the works of Cecil J Purdy. You have come across some of his ideas in my reference to ‘bunny rules’ in previous postings.

There is no doubt that Purdy is the best writer, teacher, and annotator for chess players who are below Master Class. If you are an average player or no better than a category one player, then you would be very foolish to ignore his writings. Take your nose out of the latest ‘Win with...’ book or computer software upgrade and read Purdy instead.

Even if you later graduate to higher levels of play because you are talented or you want to study the current crop of openings guides so as to successfully play ‘gotcha chess’, you will have benefitted from Purdy. You will be able to orient yourself quickly and well to different positions. Purdy knew well the teachings of the greatest thinkers and writers on the game: theorists like Steinitz/Lasker, Tarrasch, Nimzovich; players like Morphy, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, up to the era of Fischer. He absorbed what was best but did not innocently just swallow everything. Practical play throws up its own kind of wisdom, and Purdy was canny enough to realise that chess is in the end, a practical activity: You want to know what will help you to play better and win; leave the dogmatic rhetoric for the theoreticians in their ivory towers.

In many of his books, his annotations are sprinkled with nuggets of wisdom about how you should evaluate a position. What you should do. Why the player under scrutiny did what he or she did and what you can learn from the moves played. And as you look at the position he is commenting upon, you have the practical example before you to remember; not just a tactical motif to help with future pattern-recognition but an idea to treasure for many different positions in future encounters. Even in correspondence chess, the ideas of Purdy are invaluable to help you in a practical, no-nonsense way. It is with good reason that Fischer himself thought highly of Purdy as a teacher of chess.

I am currently reading volume one of ‘C. J. S. Purdy’s Fine Art of Chess Annotation and other thoughts’ published by Thinkers’ Press, Davenport USA and edited by Dr Ralph J. Tykodi. I obtained my copy via mail order from Neville Ledger in Tasmania nlchess@tassie.net.au . He may not have any copies left of this book or the other Purdy classics. You may have to seek them out in the specialist second hand trade or find a library which has copies. His annotations and essays are perfect for the average club player. He leaves just enough unsaid in an annotation to allow you to work things out and feel satisfied with your efforts.

Anyway, I was going through his notes to famous championship games, such as those of Bovinnink against Smyslov. It occurred to me to ask the perennial question: How good are the players of one era compared to the best of another era?

The answer from the evidence of history is that the best players from one era are in fact as strong as those of any other era. Perhaps one era has more of them than another but their strength is uniform. I base this claim not on ELO historical ratings or similar formulae applied to player results.

I believe that on the basis of players of different generations, playing against each other in the transition points of different eras, the strength of the best players can be assessed. Steinitz playing strongly, well past his best period against new players; Capablanca and Lasker did the same well into the subsequent era (the twenties and thirties) and against the hypermoderns and booked up theorists; Alekhine was devastating against players who would later come to dominate chess; Botvinnik was in the forefront of players well past his best period, which was in the thirties and forties, and he was a very, very hard man to beat, even by a rampant Fischer later in the 1960s; Smyslov, as we know, played off in candidates matches at the age of 61. And do I even need to mention Korchnoi?

If players from a more modern period were indeed so superior to those from the past, they would be giving them a hiding, almost all the time. This is not what history shows us.

So on those occasions when players of different eras actually met, played in tournaments or even matches (the transition points of eras) the results of those players past their best period, facing those about to reach or having reached their best period, are generally good to excellent. The new masters looking for a quick kill against the old and worn out, are often surprised and bested by the old warriors.

Therefore I conclude: once good, good for all time.

This is boon to those of us who like players and games from different eras. We can have fun and still learn much that is worthwhile.

Now, here is a game of mine recently completed on Lechenicher SchachServer http://www.chess-server.net/ which used to be the old IECG.

This ‘chess club’ is comparable to the ICCF and players are of a very high standard. I usually struggle against them but more recently (thanks to inspiration by Fischer – see previous post – and Purdy) I have been doing better. In the following game I make a mistake using a variation in the Open Sicilian (3.Bc4) popularised by the strong Australian player Bill Jordan in the 1980s. I lose a Pawn due to some speculative nonsense but then play inventively and aggressively in the ending which forces my opponent to play conservatively. He makes an error and the result is a draw. I should mention that the time control was quite fast, hence the errors in analysis by both players.

Eraclides, George (1649) Australia versus Kerecsenyi, Zoltan (1567) Hungary

ZI-2011–0–01085 Lechenicher SchachServer, 10.09.2011

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 e6 4.0–0 Be7 5.d4 (more in the spirit of this variation is 5.d3 with a patient build up) cxd4 6.Nxd4 a6 7.a4 Nf6 8.Nc3 0–0 9.Be3 Nc6 10.Kh1 Bd7 11.Qe2 Rc8 12.Rad1 Qc7 13.Bb3 Nxd4 14.Bxd4 e5 15.Be3 Be6 16.Bxe6 fxe6 17.g4 (speculative and unsound; correct was 17.f3 with Qf2 and even a Rook on d3 in time) Qc6 18.f3 d5 (as Purdy and countless teachers from the past have pointed out, a central thrust is the complete answer to an unsound flank attack; I now lose a Pawn but get a strong Knight which dominates my opponent’s Bishop; I use this ‘domination’ to help me secure a draw) 19.exd5 exd5 20.g5 d4 21.gxf6 Bxf6 22.Ne4 dxe3 23.Qxe3 Qxa4 24.Qb6 (this aggressive move can lead to a loss by Black in certain variations after Qxb7 if White is allowed the time to place a Rook on the g-file and take on f6 at the right moment; Zoltan quite rightly now, plays most carefully after winning the Pawn) Qxc2 25.Qxb7 Qc6 26.Qb3+ Qc4 27.Qxc4+ Rxc4 28.Ra1 Bd8 29.Kg2 a5 30.Rfd1 Rb4 31.Rd2 Bb6 32.Nc3 Rd4 33.Rxd4 exd4 34.Nd5 Bd8 35.Rd1 Bf6? (any winning chances lay with 35...Re8 with a long endgame; my analysis showed White can still draw) 36.Nxf6+ ½–½ (Draw agreed)

I will not be playing this variation again, any time soon. Only Fischer lines when I can.

George Eraclides

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