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Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Wild Tarjan Game

Tarjan in the old days
     In 1984 GM James Tarjan was still in his early 30s when he quit chess to became a librarian and the US lost an exceptional player. Tarjan was a fierce attacking player, but away from the board he was a genuinely nice guy. 
     I remember one incident at the international tournament in Cleveland, Ohio (in 1975) where Tarjan was playing when a bunch us were looking at one of the games in progress.  One of the local masters was demonstrating how, after a certain move, black was winning. Tarjan strolled by on the way to the coffee machine and after a casual glance at the position quickly pointed out the refutation of the master's move. It demonstrated how good a Grandmaster's sight of the board is! It also said something about Tarjan.
Tarjan recently
     In another incident at one of the US Championships a few of us were looking over one of the games when IM John Grefe walked by and stood there looking at the position. Somebody asked him what his opinion was. Grefe's reply was, “Show me some money!” I don't remember what the questioner's reply was, but Grefe turned and walked away. 
     At his peak Tarjan's rating was over 2600, but after he retired a few years ago and returned to tournament play it has dropped to its current level of 2479.  His last event was in a California tournament where tied for 6th and 7th , scoring +3 -0 =3, which included two half point byes. 
     Tarjan's opponent in this game was Peter Cleghorn (born 1938), many time champion of Alaska. Cleghorn has been inactive for the last couple of decades and his last USCF rating was 2405.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Blame it on President Trump

     Back in September, 2016 at the start of the Baku Olympiad complaints started when officials tried forcing players who needed to drain the lizard or release a sewer snake to make a written request first. Team captains protested and a petition was circulated to end the practice. Arbiters then tried to justify the demand, presumably to stop cheating. This is just one of many controversies involving FIDE and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, former head of the Russian republic of Kalmykia and head of FIDE for the last 22 years.
     A couple of days ago Ilyumzhinov, resigned...or not. Some say he did, he says he didn't because he didn't sign anything to make it official, emphatically adding that he was NOT resigning. 
     The funny thing is, Ilyumzhinov says he is the victim of a US-led plot to topple him, claiming, "I think there is an American hand in this, and I think it's called a set-up." 
     18 months ago Ilyumzhinov was placed on a US sanctions list for alleged dealings with the Syrian regime and as a result, he was unable to attend last year's world championship match in New York due to the threat of arrest. That was under President Obama, but now that Donald Trump is President and the latest incident happened on his watch, Mr. Trump has to take the blame. 
     Just because someone holds a position of leadership, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should. The problem many organizations suffer from is a recognition problem – they can’t seem to recognize good leaders from bad ones and that seems to apply to FIDE. 

1-Leaders who lack vision cannot inspire or motivate and cannot accomplish anything.
2-When leader lacks character or integrity, they will not be able to lead effectively 
3-Lack of performance is a sure sign of a poor leader 
4-Good leaders are aware of how much they don't know and are willing to entertain the help and support of their subordinates. 
5-Good leaders communicate effectively and are good listeners. 
6-If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of service above self, they are good leaders.
7-Empathy, humility and kindness are signs of good leadership. 
8-The best organizations have leaders who look to he future and are focused on positive change and innovation to keep their organizations fresh, dynamic and growing. 
9-Leaders who don't pay attention to needs of the consumer are destined for failure. 
10- Leaders not fully committed to investing in those they lead will fail. The best leaders support their team, mentor and coach and they truly care for their team. 
11- Good leaders are accountable. They don’t blame others and don’t claim all the credit for the success of their team, but always accept responsibility for failures that occur on their watch. 
12- Good leaders don't demonstrate arrogance or bravado, but real courage to deviate from the status quo and seek new opportunities. A good leader provides a team or organization with vision, values and guidelines; he does not create chaos. And chaos seems to surround Mr. Ilyumzhinov. 
     His statement that there's an American hand in this and he's being set-up is playing the blame game. You play this game when something goes wrong and you identify someone else as being responsible and you refuse to accept any of the responsibility. The thing is, when people play the blame game, they often engage in irrational thinking. When leaders do it, chaos in the organization results. It'll be fun to see where this leads.

   One thing is clear… Ilyumzhinov is no Max Euwe, one of the truly nice guys in chess. In January of 1955, the Cleveland Chess Association sponsored a Chess Week at the Parma (Ohio) Chess Club and the main attraction was Dr. Euwe. He gave a lecture and invited questions and gave special attention to the juniors. After the lecture he went over some games on a demonstration board and told some anecdotes. He was a very imposing man, but was kind enough to give his autograph and jot down the comment, “I wish you good luck with chess interest.” to a shy ten year old kid. I still have it today. 
     During his tenure as FIDE president from 1970 until 1978, Euwe always tried to do what he considered morally right rather than what was politically expedient. As a result, he was occasionally at loggerheads with the USSR Chess Federation because they contributed a large share of FIDE's budget and Soviet players dominated the world rankings.
     When it came to the Fischer-Spassky match, Euwe thought Fischer should have the opportunity to challenge for the title and interpreted the rules very flexibly to enable Fischer to play in the 1970 Interzonal Tournament. Euwe believed it was for the good of chess. 
     When Gennadi Sosonko defected in 1972, the Soviets demanded he should be treated as an non-person, excluded from competitive chess, television or any other event that might be evidence of his defection. Euwe refused even though it meant no Soviet players took part in the 1974 Wijk aan Zee tournament, a major events in those days. 
     When Viktor Korchnoi sought political asylum in The Netherlands in 1976, Euwe opposed Soviet efforts to prevent Korchnoi from challenging for Anatoly Karpov's title in 1978. Korchnoi regarded Euwe as the last honorable president of FIDE. 
     Also in 1976, Euwe supported FIDE's decision to hold the 1976 Chess Olympiad in Israel, which the Soviet Union did not recognize. As a result the Central Committee of Communist Party of the Soviet Union then started plotting to depose Euwe as president of FIDE. 
     When it came to the FIDE presidency and all the problems that accompanied it, Boris Spassky said Euwe was the man for the job. Anatoly Karpov said Euwe was a very good FIDE President. The venerable Yuri Averbakh believed Euwe always sought to understand the opposing point of view and called him without a doubt, the best President FIDE ever had.  Who is the worst?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My Macabre Fascination With Alekhine's Defense

     Countless studies have shown that bad things have far more impact than good things on the human psyche. Bad things are a powerful draw for the curious or thrill-seekers and the macabre is often regarded as a source of significant fear and anxiety. Events and objects belonging to the macabre contain elements of violence, mutilation, mutation, monstrosity, murder and mayhem and are seen as undesirable, horrific, and disturbing occurrences that one should avoid whenever possible, but yet we are often drawn to them. 
     At the most basic level, there’s the excitation-transfer theory. Seeing or experiencing something so visceral and so brutal is a powerful stimulation, not necessarily a good stimulation, but it puts the person in a brief state of excitation, during which other stimulations can be more vivid or intense. We know it’s wrong, unpleasant and grim, but this is what provides the stimulation, so we do it anyway, and get the vicarious thrill. There’s also plain old curiosity. People often feel compelled to know the details purely for their own sake. 
     That's the way I feel about Alekhine's Defense. When I see it, I want to turn away, but am drawn to it and generally can't resist playing over the game. I've even played it a few times with about even results and the few times I've faced it, I have always played 2.Bc4. To date nobody has ever taken the e-Pawn and allowed me to sac on f7 then regain the N with 4.Qh5+ (1. e4 Nf6 2. Bc4 Nxe4 3. Bxf7+ Kxf7 4. Qh5+) even though white has zero advantage. I've done a lot of analysis with this line using engines, but white never gets a hint of an advantage!  In fact, in many cases black wriggles his K out of danger and then gets a strong counterattack. 
     Alekhine's Defense got a boost in the 1970s when Fischer used it in his match against Spassky, scoring a win and a draw. GM Lev Alburt has long been an advocate of the defense and has found many interesting approaches for black, even including the weird 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Ng8. This odd move has been played by Petrosian as well as US Grandmaster Joel Benjamin who named it the “Brooklyn Retreat.” Alburt doesn't recommend it as part of a “healthy” repertoire, but says it's OK to play it against weaker opponents. I'm not sure what that means. Opponents that are weaker than me or opponents that are weaker in general, meaning non-masters. 
     The goal of the Alekhine is to destroy white's center without getting destroyed and the process is not a simple one. One thing, because of the high degree of central tension, is that thematic P-breaks can lead to disaster if played at the wrong time, and sometimes moves that look downright ugly can be very effective. All of this means that even positions that are considered inferior can be played with some degree of confidence if the opponent is unfamiliar with with the strategies of the defense. Actually, I guess the same could be said of any opening, but it's especially true with the Alekhine, probably because it's not a popular defense and most opponents won't be even remotely familiar with the patterns arising from it. 
      In the following game Eric Schiller played the retreat 2...Ng8 and the result was a wild game that white should have won thanks to his forceful play. Unfortunately, time pressure for both sides resulted in Schiller getting the point.

Monday, March 27, 2017


   If you like openings that are overly analyzed and that offer few unexplored paths, say the Queen's Gambit and the Ruy Lopez that lead to positions once described by Anthony Santasiere as “like a piece of dead flesh kept overlong on ice...more the tool of a coward than an adventurer" and those that require “correct, super-refined memorized opening followed by a grand effort in cooperation in liquidating the major forces, so as to arrive at an endgame which was often conducted with superb finesse and great virtuosity" then feel free to move along...there's nothing to see in this post.

     But if you are a swashbuckler who opts for brilliancy and would rather lose a beautiful game than win a boring one then gambits are for you. One caveat: you can't successfully play gambit openings until you have mastered tactics!!! 

     So, if you are a decent tactician and if you like gambits, British player Ian Simpson's sites are worth a visit! As stated in his blog, the focus is primarily on the gambits in the classic “Open Games” (1.e4 e5) band the majority are reasonably sound. 
Ian Simpson’s Chess Site 
Ian Simpson’s Chess Blog 

     This game features From's Gambit, a notoriously double edged gambit that should only be played after significant study because it can lead to some pretty complicated positions that are difficult to evaluate over the board.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Preston Ware

Mr. Ware appears to have been camera shy
     Preston Ware Jr. (August 12, 1821 – January 29, 1890) was born in Wrentham, Massachusetts and died January 29, 1890 in Boston. 
     At the age of seventeen he became clerk in a wholesale boot and shoe house in Baltimore, Maryland at a salary fifty dollars a year (about $1,200 today) plus his room and board. It was during this time he learned to play chess. He was eventually promoted to a position as a bookkeeper for the firm and later was employed by Robert G. Ware and Brother, of Baltimore, a wholesale boot and shoe dealer. About this time he was one of the organizers of the Baltimore Chess Association. After a brief stay with Robert G. Ware and Brother he established the wholesale shoe company of Anderson, Ware and Co. Over the next several years Ware partnered with different individuals in the boot and shoe business, forming and selling several of them. 
     At one point Ware held interest in a freight company called the Jenk’s Boston and Baltimore Packet Line, which he had helped organize. The line lasted until it was put out of business by steam ships. 
     In 1852 Ware moved his family to Boston and joined another boot and shoe company named Joseph F. Dane and Co. In Boston he joined company with several other players who met regularly at the United States Hotel and in 1858 founded the Boston Chess Club. 
     In 1853 Ware bought out the Hayward Rubber Company and in 1855 he sold his interest in the shoe and boot business in Baltimore to his partner. In 1858 he sold his interest in the Joseph F. Dane and Co. and in 1860 sold his stock in the Hayward Rubber Company and became agent of the Newark Rubber Company. Not done with the shoe business, Ware formed another boot and shoe company which continued in business until 1879 when he sold out again. 
     Ware played in many local tournaments. Internationally he participated in Second International Chess Tournament in Vienna in 1882 where he finished in sixteenth place of eighteen scoring a total of 11 points out of 34. At least he had the satisfaction of beating Max Weiss and the winner of the tournament, Wilhelm Steinitz, in a game lasting 113 moves. At the time, Steinitz had not lost or drawn a game for nine years prior to this tournament and was the unofficial World Champion. 
     Ware also competed in the first, second, fourth and fifth American Chess Congresses. Ware was an influential member of the Mandarins of the Yellow Button in Boston. The Yellow Button was a pin worn in the hats of Chinese imperial officials to indicate high rank in the civil service. The Boston Mandarins were a group of amateur players who beaten a recognized master (a professional international player) in an even game...no simuls, etc. They played on Saturday afternoons and dined together in the evening. The group was the foundation of what would become the Deschapelles Chess Club in Boston.
     Ware was known for his eccentric opening play. He used the Ware Opening (1.a4, then known as the Meadow Hay Opening), the Corn Stalk Defense (1...a5, sometimes known as the Ware Defense), and the Stonewall Attack. Around 1888 he reintroduced the Stone-Ware Defense against the Evans Gambit, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bb4 5. c3 Bd6. The Edo historical rating site puts his rating at around 2350. 
     The following game is a typical Ware game. After a double Stonewall opening, Ware launches a Q-side P expansion, but black had several opportunities to launch a decisive K-side attack. When he failed to do so, things got really messy and Ware managed to establish advanced, connected passed Ps on the Q-side. Things were so messy in fact that I ran Shootouts using Stockfish at several points because I didn't think it was possible to rely on the engine evaluation. Given these circumstances it didn't seem fair to assign question marks to all the moves that Stockfish wanted to; the positions were just to complicated to be calculated over the board. Besides, in a number of cases I discovered that the engine's horizon effect was skewing the evaluations! 
     The game was played inthe 2nd American Chess Congress, held at the Kennard House in Cleveland, Ohio. Two decisive games (+2, -2, or +1 -1) were required against each opponent. Play was from 9-12 am, 2-5 pm, and 7-10 pm each day, but players were free to make other arrangements. 
     After the opening of the Ohio Canal in 1827, a number of large brick hotels with up to 200 rooms were built which included the Kennard House in 1855. All the hotels were 5 stories high with plumbing, bathrooms, and water closets located in common areas instead of in every room. The buildings generally had retail stores and office space on the street level, and several had balconies on the upper floors overlooking the street. The changes in name and management of these early 19th-century hotels were frequent. Today the Kennard House is a parking lot. 
Kennard House

1) Mackenzie **** 1=0- =10- 11-- 11-- 11-- 1=1- 11-- 11 (15.5) 
2) Hosmer 0=1- **** 11-- 1=1- 00-- 01-- 11-- 11-- 11 (13.0) 
3) Elder =01- 00-- **** 01-- ==01 11-- 11-- 11-- 11 (12.5) 
4) Judd 00-- 0=0- 10-- **** 11-- 10-- =11- =11- 11 (11.5) 
5) Ware 00-- 11-- ==10 00-- **** 01-- 01-- 11-- 11 (10.0) 
6) Smith 00-- 10-- 00-- 01-- 10-- **** 11-- 11-- 11 (9.0) 
7) Harding 0=0- 00-- 00-- =00- 10-- 00-- **** 01-- 11 (5.0) 
8) Johnston 00-- 00-- 00-- =00- 00-- 00-- 10-- **** 11 (3.5) 
9) Haughton 00-- 00-- 00-- 00-- ---- ---- ---- 00-- **** (0.0) 

The hapless Mr. Haughton withdrew after 10 straight losses and his unplayed games were awarded to his remaining opponents as wins. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The First Soviet Championship

     In 1874, Emanuel Schiffers defeated Andrey Chardin in a match held in St. Petersburg and so was considered the first Russian champion until his student, Mikhail Chigorin, defeated him in a match held in St. Petersburg in 1879. In 1899 the format of the championship was changed to a round-robin tournament known as the All-Russian Masters' Tournament. 
     In 1920 a tournament designated All-Russian Chess Olympiad was held and only later was it recognized as the first official Soviet championship. The event, probably the strongest in history up to that time, was important because it was the beginning of state support for chess and authorities also realized that chess could be used as a tool for political and cultural reasons. 
     Odd sidelights were that the participants were forced to play, the tournament was marked by a strike protesting the meager food rations and it was not long afterwards that the winner would be proclaimed by the government to be a traitor. 
     The idea for the tournament began in early 1920 and discussions were headed up by the military organization overseeing military training. Alexander Ilyin-Zhenevsky, a strong master, headed up the Russian Sports Olympiad committee and it was he who suggested chess be included. The actual program for the tournament was put together by Alexander Alekhine and prominent masters Nikolai Grekov and Nikolai Grigoriev. 
     As a result of World War One (July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918) and with Russia in the middle of a revolution and the economy in a mess, it was not even known with any certainty which players were alive or dead, let alone could play. So a call went out using the Red Army to locate players who were then shanghaied for the tournament. Ilyin-Zhenevsky denied that players were forced to play. Supposedly the military's involvement meant the players would get special treatment and after the tournament they could return to their jobs. But, that was not always the case. Dr. Abram Rabinovich, who lived in in Kiev, was walking home from work when he came across an announcement that he and two other players believed to be in Kiev had been ordered to Moscow. He was advised to report to the local military authorities. Rabinovich was recovering from typhus and did not want to make the trip, but was forced to go anyway. Peter Romanovsky, a bank employee from Petrograd, was conscripted into the Army to insure he made it to Moscow. In addition to the main event, a simultaneous amateur event was planned and the military was also used to assure players for that event were “available.” 
     The strongest players included Alexander Alekhine, Peter Romanovsky, Nikolai Grigoriev, Abram Rabinovich, Ilya Rabinovich, G.Y. Levenfish, Benjamin Blumenfeld and Ilyin-Zhenevsky himself. Players not from Moscow were housed in a military barracks and ate in the mess hall. Players were unhappy with the arrangement: the barracks was cold and unheated and the beds were hard and the food poor. 
     Food quickly became an issue. The rations for both the recruits and the players consisted of about 7 ounces (slightly more than half a loaf of bread today) plus and evening meal of thin herring head soup and fried herring tails. As a result the players had to buy food on the black market, often trading cigarettes for food. Players also began to suspect that the offered prizes which had never been specifically spelled out would not be available. 
     Halfway through the tournament a number of the stronger players refused to play the fifth round unless their demands were met: they wanted an advance cash allowance, cheese issued to the players, an increase in their bread ration and cigarettes. Alekhine, who was living at home in Moscow with his parents, did not sign the protest, but said he would act in solidarity with the strikers because did not think it right to play against hungry opponents. In order to save the tournament, Ilyin-Zhinevsky acquiesced to the demands except for the cheese; there wasn't any in Moscow. 
    The winner was Alekhine with Romanovsky second and Levenfish third. However, there was another nasty surprise in store for the players...the promised prizes were missing! Instead the organizers handed out various items that had been confiscated from emigres who were considered “enemies.”  As the winner Alekhine got first choice and chose a huge vase. The top three were also awarded handwritten certificates on cheap paper. 
     Ilyin-Zhenevsky, who had an old war injury, played the final games lying in bed and the players' rebellion damaged his political reputation and placed him in a compromised position. 

1) Alekhine 12.0 
2) Romanovsky 11.0 
3) Levenfish 10.0 
4) I. Rabinovich 9.5 
5-7) Grigoriev, A. Rabinovich, Kubbel 8.5 
8) Blumenfeld 8.0 
9-10) Ilyin-Zhenevsky and Daniuszewski 7.0 
11-12) Zubarev and Pianov 6.5 
13) Tselikov 5.5 
14) Mundt 4.5 
15) Pavlov 4.0 
16) Golubev 3.0 

     Peter Romanovsky (July 29, 1892, Saint Petersburg – March 1, 1964, Moscow) was an IM, International Arbiter and chess author. During the Siege of Leningrad in winter of 1941–42, a rescue party reached his home and found him half-conscious from starvation and cold. The rest of his family, his wife and four daughters, had frozen to death. All the furniture in the house had been used for firewood. 
     Romanovsky was considered one of Russia's greatest chess luminaries and taught several generations of Leningrad and Moscow players. A very hospitable man, many young chess players would visit him and he would read them lectures about chess history, development of chess ideas, chess schools and great masters of the past. An accomplished balalaika (a Russian three-stringed musical instrument with a triangular body) player, Romanovsky sometimes performed classical music for his students on it. He also wrote poetry. 
     He was awarded the IM title in 1950 and the International Arbiter title in 1951 and in 1954 the Soviets withdrew their application for him to receive the GM title for political reasons. The application was based on his first place in the 1927 USSR championship. But, because anti-Stalinist Fedor Bohatirchuk had shared the title in 1927 and he was no longer recognized in the USSR as the result of his having defected to Canada, the USSR Chess Federation did not want to give the GM title to Bohatirchuk, so they withdrew the application for Romanovsky as well. Romanovsky published two books on the middlegame which were translated into English in 1990. 
     Abram Rabinovich was born in Vilnius, Lithuania and had several success in international tournaments. During World War I, he moved to Moscow where he also enjoyed considerable success. According to Yuri Averbach, Rabinovich was a short man who wore pince-nez on his big red nose. In summer, he would wear a canvas blouse. Before the war, he was the editor of chess column for a newspaper. In his last years, he would study theory extensively. In 1941-42 he was living in poverty and hunger Moscow where he died of starvation in 1943. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Real Humdinger by Spassky

     Bobby Fischer called this game one of the ten greatest of all time. Pachman called it a modern masterpiece, Soitis ranks it number 32 on his top 100 list, a poll of readers by Shakmatny Bulletin ranked it as one of the very best games of the 1960s and in his book on Spassky, Bernard Cafferty called it one of the finest games he had ever had the pleasure to review or to analyze. Everybody agrees that it is of the most amazing games ever played and one of the more famous games of the modern era. 
     The game is Spassky vs. Bronstein from the 1960 USSR Championship. It's the game that was featured in the classic James Bond movie "From Russia, With Love" as being played by Kronstein against McAdams. I never saw the movie because I am not James Bond fan and rarely go to movies, but I am not sure how it took me 57 years to discover this game!
     Spassky's 15.Nd5, threatening Qh7+, has received the accolades of a lot of fine players. But, it has also been criticized on the grounds that 15. Rf2 would have given him an excellent game whereas the move he actually chose leads, with correct play, to an unclear position.
     That's true, but as Soltis pointed out, chess isn't always about finding perfect moves. (That is unless you're a modern correspondence player seeking perfection by using a bunch of engines and a powerful computer.) In OTB play chess is about making pragmatic choices. In this game Bronstein was short on time and the complications as a result of Spassky's sacrifice resulted in, as Botvinnik used to put it, head whirling complications. 
     If you haven't seen this game, you'll enjoy it.  If you have seen it before, enjoy it again!