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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Fischer vs Geller Encounter

     Yefim Petrovich Geller was born in Odessa, Ukraine on March 2, 1925 and died in Moscow on November 17, 1998. From the end of the Second World War until the early 1970s Geller was one of those among the elite group who missed out on the world championship despite the fact that he was undoubtedly among the world's top ten players for over 20 years. 
     Dating back to 1947 during his days in as an undergraduate student at Odessa University when he entered into big time chess in the Odessa Team Championship, one could predict that he would go far. 
     His very first tournanment games were marked by inspired, attacking chess. He studied the games of Chigorin, Alekhine, Botvinnik and Smyslov and searched diligently for theoretical improvements. He improved rapidly and in 1949 he finished first in the semi-final of the USSR Championship and was awarded the coveted Soviet Master title. In his first international tournament in Budapest 1952, he finished second behind Paul Keres but ahead of the world champion Botvinnik, Petrosian and Smyslov. As a result he was awarded the GM title. 
     The year 1955 saw him tying for first with Smyslov in the USSR Championship and then by defeating Smyslov 4-3 in the playoff, Geller established himself as on of the world's elite. Over the next 25 years, he was to be a regular qualifier for the world championship candidates cycles. In the 1953 candidates, he finished sixth and shared third in 1956. His best result came in 1962, when he shared second place with Paul Keres. 
     Take a gander at his record against the world's leading players: Mikhail Botvinnik (+4 -1 =7), David Bronstein (+5 -4 =12), Tigran Petrosian, (+5 -3 =32), Vasily Smyslov (+11 -8 =37). 
     Against Mikhail Tal his record was +6 -6 =23. He had a minus one score against Paul Keres (36 games), Bent Larsen (11 games) and Mark Taimanov (30 games). The only players against whom he did not fare well were Viktor Korchnoi (minus 5), Boris Spassky (minus 4) and Lajos Portisch (minus 2). Among his most interesting encounters were those against Bobby Fischer. Geller scored 5 wins, three losses and only two were drawn. 
     At Skopje, 1967 Fischer lost his third game in a row to Geller in the following miniature prompting Yugoslav GM Bojan Kurajica to write that Fischer just couldn't play against Geller. Another Yugoslav, GM and journalist Dr. Petar Trifunovic, opined that Geller was in no way inferior to Fischer when it came to opening preparation and Fischer chose to play sharp opening variations because he was always playing to win. In this game Fischer succeeded in outplaying Geller in the opening, but his play was tactically flawed and Geller, who was a superb tactician, was quick to take advantage of it. 
     Skopje 1967 was the first in a series of international tournaments and featured a field of 18 players: twelve Yugoslav masters, plus Peter Dely (Hungary), Luben Popov (Bulgaria) and Bela Soos (Romania), two Soviet players, Efim Geller and Ratmir Kholmov, and Bobby Fischer rounded out the field. 
     Fischer had just recently come out of hiding and this was an important warm-up for is participation in the Sousse Interzonal later in the year. As it turned out, Sousse was to become famous because of the Fischer Affair. The tournament schedule was modified to fit Fischer and Reshevsky's religious obligations. See my post Bobby Fischer and the World Wide Church of God. After a dispute with the organizers over scheduling the games, Fischer walked out while he was leading. 
     At Skopje it appeared that Fischer might find the going tough because Yugoslav GM Milan Matulovic, Geller and Kholmov had plus scores against him. The tournament was also a precursor of what was to come at Sousse. 
     Fischer had lost his second round game to Geller and after nine rounds he was tied for first with Kholmov. It was at that point that Fischer once again revealed himself to be the loathsome snot face he really was. He announced he would withdraw from the tournament unless the chess sets were modified and the spectators removed from further rounds. The organizers could not meet the second demand so Fischer forfeited his tenth round game against Yugoslav master Milorad Knezevic (October 31, 1936 - March 31, 2005 ), who was later to become a GM in 1976.  Knezevic showed he was quite a sportsman when he didn't want to accept a free point and allowed the game to be re-scheduled for the next rest day; it ended up drawn.  
     After that, Fischer found his form, defeated both Matulovic and Kholmov and went on to finish first by a half point ahead of Geller and Matulovic who tied for second. Kholmov was a distant 4th. 
     Besides his loss to Geller given here, Fischer lost to Dragoljub Janosevic who tied for 13th and 14th place. Geller was undefeated and beat both Fischer and Matulovic but had too many draws against players in the middle and lower half of the standings. Matulovic's only two losses were to Fischer and Geller. 
     Although the following game is a miniature loss by Fischer, looking at it with Stockfish shows it to be enormously complicated and had it not been for Fischer's blunder he likely would have won. Fischer blamed the loss on 20.a3. It was a mistake, but the actual losing move came on his next move. But, it's hard to be hard on Fischer because the position was very, very complicated. 
 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Saint-Amant...an Interesting Fellow

Saint-Amant in 1860
     Whenever I saw the name Saint-Amant my thought was of some French guy who was always getting thumped by Morphy or Staunton, but it so happens he was actually a pretty interesting guy and not a bad chess player. 
     Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint-Amant (September 12, 1800 – October 29, 1872) was a leading French master and an editor of the chess periodical Le Palamede. He is best known for losing a match (+6 -11 =4) against Howard Staunton in 1843 that is often considered to have been an unofficial match for the World Championship. For complete details of the match visit Chess Archaeology.  It's interesting that although Saint-Amant was a notoriously slow player, he was the first player to suggest a time limit.  
    Saint-Amant learned chess from Wilhelm Schlumberger, who later became the operator of The Turk. He played at the Cafe de la Regence, where he was a student of Alexandre Deschapelles. For many years he played on level terms with Hyacinthe Henri Boncourt who was one of the leading players in France in the years between 1820 and 1840. 
     Boncourt was a strong player, but not quite in the class of the leading players of the day; he received odds of Pawn and two moves from Deschapelles and La Bourdonnais. In 1834–36 Boncourt led a Paris team that won both games of a correspondence match against the Westminster Club, then England's leading chess club. After La Bourdonnais' death in 1840, he was considered the country's best player. In December 1841 he revived Le Palamede (at its inception in 1836 it was the world's first chess periodical), which ran until 1847. 
     I was wrong about Saint-Amant always getting defeated by Staunton because in their two matches he did score nine wins which was a pretty decent accomplishment and as far as I could determine he only played one game against Morphy...a consultation in Paris in 1858.
     In 1858, Saint-Amant played in the Birmingham, England tournament, a knockout event. This international tournament commenced in Birmingham on the occasion of the British Chess Association's annual congress. The final match was held in London. 
     In the first round Saint-Amant defeated a player named Beetlestone 2-0, but then he was knocked out in the next round when he lost by a score of 1-2 to the eventual winner, Ernst Falkbeer. This interesting tournament included, among others, Paul Morphy, Henry Bird, Howard Staunton, Jacob Lowenthal and John Owen. 
     In the first round Bird lost to Robert Brien and Morphy to C.F. Smith. Morphy had just arrived in England and had initially signed up to play, but withdrew before it began. Due to his late withdrawal and the lack of an available replacement, Morphy’s name was included in the initial drawing of lots and his first round games were forfeited to his opponent who lost to Brien in the second round. Also in the second round, Staunton was eliminated 2-0 by Lowenthal. Returning to Paris, Saint-Amant was present at Morphy's reception at the Cafe de la Regence and that's when he played the consultation game. 
     Outside of chess, Saint-Amant was a government clerk in Paris from an early age. He then served as the secretary to the governor of French Guiana from 1819 to 1821.  He was fired from that position after he protested against the slave trade that still existed in that colony. After that, he tried his hand as a journalist and actor, then became a successful wine merchant. 
     Saint-Amant was a captain in the French National Guard during the 1848 revolution. For his role in saving the Palais des Tuileries from destruction by a mob, he was made its Governor for a few months. In 1851–52, he was the French consul to California. Upon returning to France he spent some years writing well-regarded works on the French colonies and a treatise on the wines of Bordeaux. 
     Writing in Chess Monthly in 1886, Theodore Tilton described Saint-Amant as an elegant dandy who was “awfully exquisite.” There was a tradition in the Cafe de la Regence that his seat was near a front window in order that “his handsome features might be seen in the best light.” Tilton wrote that he would play every afternoon until he heard the “sharp rat-a-tat of his wife's parasol on the outside of the window-pane, summoning him home to dinner.” At her beckoning, he would arise, bow to his opponent and then he “skipped away on tiptoe after the imperious parasol, as it flitted around the corner." 
     In America, Tilton was an abolitionist and you can read an interesting article about his activities involving the lady chess player Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the Skaneateles, New York website
     From 1860 to 1871, Tilton was the assistant of Henry Ward Beecher, a Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer and speaker who was known for his support of the abolition of slavery, his emphasis on God's love and in 1875, his trial for committing adultery with Tilton's wife. 
     After the Civil War, Beecher supported social reform causes such as women's suffrage and temperance and also championed Darwin's theory of evolution, stating that it was not incompatible with Christian beliefs. 
     Beecher had a reputation as a womanizer and in 1872 Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly published a story about his affair with Tilton's wife, Elizabeth. In 1874, Tilton filed adultery charges against him for the affair and the trial, one of the most widely reported US trials of the century, resulted in a hung jury. After the trial Tilton moved to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life. You can read about the scandalous affair in the Google book The Beecher Trial.
Elizabeth Tilton

     In the 1880s, Tilton frequently played chess with fellow American exile (actually an ex-Confederate) Judah Benjamin, until the latter died. Benjamin (August 11, 1811 – May 6, 1884) himself was an interesting character. 
     He was a lawyer and politician who was a US Senator from Louisiana, a Cabinet officer of the Confederate States and after his escape to the UK at the end of the Civil War, an English barrister and rose to the top of his profession before retiring in 1883 and moving to Paris.
     Benjamin was the first Jew to be elected to the US Senate who did not renounce his Jewish religion and the first Jew to hold a Cabinet position in North America. Benjamin doesn't seem to have been a very nice man. He was known for his view that slavery should continue. He based that on his belief that citizens had a right to their property as guaranteed by the Constitution. It was his opinion that it was as wrong for Northerners to rob him of his slave as it would be for him to steal their horse. 
     In 1861 Saint-Amant retired to Algeria and met an untimely end there in 1872 when he died after being thrown from his carriage. 
     For information about Saint-Amant's opponent Charles Stanley see my post on him HERE
 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Queen Sacrifice by Leonid Stein

Queen Sacrifice by Natalia Vetrova
     I have posted on Leonid Stein before, but his opponent is less known. According to Chessmetrics Nikolai Krogius (born July 22, 1930) achieved his best rating of 2686 in 1968 which put him just outside the world's best GMs. His ranking was in the teens which put him alongside players like Vlastimil Hort, Paul Keres, Svetozar Gligoric, Miguel Najdorf , Samuel Reshevsky and Wolfgang Unzicker; not bad company! 
     In addition to being a GM, Krogius is an International Arbiter, psychologist, chess coach, chess administrator and author. I have Krogius' book, Psychology in Chess published in 1976 in which he examines typical psychological oversights made by players at nearly every skill level. Some parts of it are quite interesting, but for the most part, I found it dry and uninteresting. 
     He won several tournaments, mostly in the Black Sea area and eastern Europe. Krogius played for the Soviet team in the World Student Olympiad in Oslo 1954, where he scored +7 =1 -1 on board three, and won team silver. A late bloomer, Krogius had several failed attempts at reaching the Soviet final and did not make his first one until age 27. His graduate studies were the priority until he finished his doctorate. Eventually he clawed his way up the Soviet hierarchy and participated in seven Soviet finals between 1958 and 1971. In the 1991 World Senior Championship he tied for 3rd-6th places and in 1993 he tied for first with Anatoly Lein, Mark Taimanov, Bukhuti Gurgenidze and Boris Arkhangelsky at the World Senior. 
     Krogius is a psychologists specializing in sports psychology and he coached Boris Spassky for several years, including Spassky's title match against Petrosian in 1969 and against Bobby Fischer in 1972. He has also served as chairman of the USSR Chess Federation, and co-authored five chess books. 
     Krogius scaled back his tournament play by the mid-1970s, playing only in occasional lower-level events and began important contributions as an author and at the same time moving into chess administration. He was captain of the USSR team for the USSR vs. Rest of the World match in 1984 and was the head of delegation for Anatoly Karpov's team for the 1990 title match against Garry Kasparov. 
     You can read excerpts from Krogius' biographical book, especially the Fischer match at Chess.com HERE
     The following game, won by Stein, appears in The World's Greatest Chess Games where it received a rating of 9 out of 15. In the game Stein played an inferior opening line and soon got into trouble and in desperation undertook a sacrificial attack that technically should not have succeeded. But, as is often the case, Krogius lost his way in the ensuing head whirling complications and allowed Stein to finish with a neat Queen sacrifice. 

     The game would have made good material for Krogius's book because it shows how difficult it is to conduct a defense against a prolonged and vicious attack as well as what happens when you make a mistake...another one is lurking in the background waiting to rear its ugly head. 
     It was very interesting to go over this game with Stockfish 9 and compare its moves to John Nunn's comments because in many cases the engine disagreed with his analysis. When the book was written the authors used Chessbase for analysis. Engines will be quick to point out tactics, but long range strategy is still something they cannot perform well, but it is the GMs forte, so I think Nunn's positional evaluations are more likely to be correct than Stockfish's purely mathematical evaluation as long as there are no tactics involved. 
     Sidebar: Kris Littlejohn, a second for Hikaru Nakamura, did the data gathering and analysis. No ordinary off the shelf laptop here! Littlejohn began by building a special computer for that purpose. He would begin work weeks or even months before a tournament as soon as the list of participants was known. Then databases are combed gathering information about lines opponents like to play and then a search to ferret out novelties begins. He uses branching to predict all the possible moves that could be played. The next step is to figure out which moves that opponent would be comfortable with given his historical games. The result is a report of possibilities. Of course it's also necessary to keep current on what opponent's have played to avoid surprises. Consideration will also be given to Nakamura's tournament situation and whether he needs a win or a draw. 
     When traveling with Nakamura, Littlejohn used his laptop to connect with the big computer back home and he also had a backup laptop available with a chess program just in case of Internet outages. 
     Littlejohn and Nakamura then go over the report together and Nakamura memorizes the 500-1000 moves, reciting it back to Littlejohn without looking at the board to ensure that he has all the information in his head when he goes into a game. And now you know why we aren't all Grandmasters!! 
     Engines can process more information faster than the human brain, but there are things computers can't do. Much of chess is intuitive and engines will miss those nuances. That's the reason GMs and top level correspondence players use engines as a starting point, but they are the ones who make the final strategic decisions. 
 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Korchnoi on Curacao 1962

     Who are we going to believe?  In the last post I touched on the fact that it had been rumored that Korchnoi had been instructed to throw games at Curacao in 1962, so thought it would be interesting to see what Korchnoi himself had to say about the tournament.
     Korchnoi wrote that the Soviet delegation included a man who had nothing to do with chess...a KGB colonel in civilian clothes. On the player's return to the Soviet Union, the colonel wrote a report on Korchnoi's improper behavior by visiting a casino. By that time Korchnoi's personal file was already substantial. For example, at the European Team Championship at Oberhausen in 1961 he had been reported for behaving badly because he had asked a German lady to a movie. They didn't go, but it didn't matter; he had committed a sin by asking.  
     Korchnoi was also having problems with other Soviet players and officials. Although the organizers of the 1963 Piatagorsky Cup in Los Angeles had sent three tickets for Soviet players, the Soviet Chess Federation had arranged for only two, Korchnoi and Keres to play. However, Petrosian insisted that he be allowed to play so Korchnoi was out.  
     Korchnoi reached Curacao by tying for fourth place with Dr. Miroslav Filip in the Zonal.  He wrote in Chess Is My Life that had he known what was going to happen later he would have stepped aside and let Leonid Stein go in his place! He wrote that everything was arranged by Petrosian, who along with his friend Geller, agreed to play draws in all their games together and they then persuaded Keres to join them.  
     In the tropical heat it was important to conserve physical energy and the arrangement gave the conspirators an advantage over the other players. Korchnoi thought Keres made a mistake by agreeing to the arrangement because he was playing better than the other two and it wasn't to Keres' advantage to take draws against his main rivals. Korchnoi opined that a more crafty Keres, upon learning of the pact, would have sought out a separate alliance.
     Korchnoi claimed that at first he didn't grasp what was happening and when he saw a 10-move draw between Geller and Petrosian in the second cycle he asked Geller who he was intending to beat and Geller replied, “You!” 
     In the meantime fatigue was beginning to creep up on those not in on the Geller-Petrosian-Keres alliance. Dr. Miroslav Filip of Czechoslovakia started to play weakly.  Later Tal fell ill after the third cycle with kidney problems, was hospitalized and withdrew.  
     At the completion of the first cycle Korchnoi was in the lead, but then he began suffering the effects of fatigue. It was so bad that in one game he had a big advantage against Fischer, but then blundered away a piece. Even a week's rest on the island of St. Maarten didn't help. The tropical conditions were sapping energy. 
     By the time the last cycle rolled around Korchnoi lost to the three leaders and that's what prompted Fischer's claim that Korchnoi had been chosen as a sacrifice by the Soviet authorities. Korchnoi couldn't believe Fischer was serious because, as Korchnoi wrote, by nature he was incapable of being a sacrificial lamb. 
     It's well known Korchnoi didn't like Petrosian and as he was quick to point out, had he won those games Petrosian wouldn't have won the tournament. In the end, Petrosian finished ahead of Geller and Keres by a half point with the decisive game being Benko – Keres in the fourth cycle. 
     The position was adjourned with Benko having a slight advantage. Up until that time Keres had defeated Benko every time they had met and their individual score stood at 7-0 in favor of Keres; he had won four games in the 1959 Candidates and three at Curacao.
     According to Korchnoi, it was on the initiative of Petrosian's wife that Petrosian spent the night analyzing the game which Benko won. Later his wife bragged how she had made her husband champion. If Korchnoi's version of what happened is correct then Benko's claim, as mentioned in the previous post, is not true and he did accept the analysis offered him by Petrosian and Geller. 
Rona Petrosian

     It seems doubtful to me that Petrosian would have invested a whole night's work if Benko had been unwilling to accept any help.  The only second Fischer and Benko had was Arthuir Bisguier. Also, remember that after one of the rounds, Bisguier was in Fischer’s room when Benko entered, looking for help from Bisguier. Fischer dismissed Benko’s request, mocking him, because Fischer regarded Bisguier as his personal assistant since he believed that he had the better chance to win the tournament. An argument ensued with Bisguier trying unsuccessfully to diffuse it. Benko ended up slapping Fischer and Bisguier stepped in to separate the two.  So it is conceivable that under the circumstances Benko would have welcomed some analytical help. 
     After the Soviet payers visited St. Maarten, Korchnoi's game collapsed and the rumors began spreading that he was involved in the plot. Writing in Curacao 1962, Jan Timman said that “a former World Champion” told him that Korchnoi had been told to lose his game as black against Petrosian in round 23. Petrosian's wife, Rona, had put great pressure on Korchnoi's wife, Bella and it was a telling detail that both women were Armenian, as was Petrosian. See that game and discussion HERE.
     In 2002, Korchnoi's explanation for the loss was that he simply did not understand the line of the English Opening well enough, but in a 2003 interview in New in Chess, Korchnoi was asked if the events at Curacao were like a scene from a novel. He replied, “I would say that the part played by my wife in this situation should not be underestimated. She was Armenian and in some ways she believed like Petrosian's youngest sister...When Petrosian was around, she always acted like a pupil, like a younger sister.” 
     In any case, Keres finished second in the Candidates matches again and Petrosian went on to defeat an aging Botvinnik in a titanic struggle in 1963 in which he exhausted Botvinnik with draw after draw in the first half of the match. In a fit of sour grapes, Botvinnik wrote that Petrosian was a player who destroyed the creative process. Korchnoi agreed, adding that the statement applied to more than Petrosian's chess, but you could not “help but admire the devilish determination of the man.” 
     The following game from round 5 in which Korchnoi defeated Fischer is one of the better known games from Curcao. Fischer was lost right in the opening and his play was so anemic that Korchnoi didn't think enough of the game to even bother including it in his best games collection.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Hoped for Chess of the Future

A nightmare come true
     Mikhail Tal's trainer, Alexander Koblencs, described this game as one of the most complex in chess history on the theme of the sacrifice for the initiative and asked if it was the chess of the future. Back in 1998 British FM Graham Burgess responded “only if there is another Mikhail Tal born in the future.” Unfortunately Burgess was right; you won't see the heavyweights playing like this today. 
     Back in 1962 at the Candidates Tournament in Curacao the three top finishers (Petrosian, Geller and Keres) drew all twelve of their games against each other in an average of only 19 moves. Soon after the tournament Bobby Fischer alleged that the Soviets had colluded to prevent any non-Soviet – specifically him – from winning. His allegations were twofold.  First, that Petrosian, Geller and Keres had prearranged to draw all their games. Yuri Averbakh, who was head of the Soviet team, confirmed Fischer's claim in a 2002 interview. Reuben Fine had made the same accusation against Soviet players back in the 1940s.
     Fischer also claimed that Korchnoi was forced to throw games, but after he defected from the USSR in 1976, Dominic Lawson called the allegation "preposterous", noting that the main beneficiary of Korchnoi's losses was Petrosian, whom Korchnoi detested. Korchnoi also wrote that he was surprised by the short draws.
Larsen

     There were also allegations that, in the ultimately decisive Benko-Keres game in the penultimate round (which Benko won), Petrosian and Geller (who were good friends) conspired against Keres by offering to help Benko. Benko has written that Petrosian and Geller offered to help analyze the adjourned position, but that he refused the offer. 
      As a result of all the allegations FIDE changed the format of the Candidates' Tournaments and in 1966 a series of elimination matches was instituted. Ex-Champion Botvinnik and Paul Keres (2nd place in the 1962 Candidates) were seeded into the matches, but Botvinnik declined and his place was taken by Efim Geller, who finished 3rd in the 1962 Candidates. 
Tal
     The following game was the last game of the match and the score was tied 4.5-4.5, so the situation was very tense.  In the game Tal went for broke with a speculative sacrifice on move 17 when he attacked Larsen's position which was basically quite solid. Larsen had a fleeting moment when he could have secured a good game, but has often happened with Tal's opponents, he missed his chance and Tal went on to score a brilliant win. 
     Tal made his sacrifice based on general considerations, but it put Larsen in the position of having to find some tricky tactics if he was going to hold the game.  It also demonstrates the necessity of finding the most efficient way to win after obtaining a superior position. 
     Tal was known as a great attacking player, but he was not a one sided genius; he could play positional chess and endings with the best of them, but his preference was tactical melees. His play was characterized by the following: 

* Keep his opponent's King in the center if possible 
* Breakthrough in the center 
* Get the initiative which enabled him to increase the assault ratio 
* Open files and diagonals 
* Secure outposts for his pieces 
* Eliminate defenders of the opponent's King 
* Weaken the opponent's King's position

 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

FIDE Bank Account Frozen

     Alert reader Daniel Belasco point out yesterday that FIDE's bank account has been frozen by its Swiss bank. The action was taken over alleged Assad links and sanctions by the US Treasury against FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who has unsuccessfully tried several times to be removed from the list. 
     Back in 2015 Ilyumzhinov, a Russian multimillionaire and politician, was added to a US Treasury Department sanctions list for allegedly materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the government of Syria. 
     Obviously this is going to severely damage FIDE's business activities and they will have some problems that will affect the international chess world. For the complete story visit Chessbase's website.
     I have to agree with a couple of comments on Chessbase regarding this development. As one poster pointed out, as far as we know the FIDE account is not Ilyumzhinov's personal account. He also asked, have any FIDE funds been misappropriated by Ilyumzhinov? And finally, what right does the US have to dictate how Swiss banks conduct business? 
     For details on the US sanctions against Syria you can visit the US Treasury Department HERE.
     Additional reading:  Banking in Switzerland  and How Swiss Bank Accounts Work