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 . 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 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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