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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Squares in the King's Indian

     While browsing the November 2011 Chess Life there was an interesting article on the US Open in which seven GMs tied for first: Nakamura, Gelashbili, Gareyev, Ramirez, Kacheishvili, Lenderman and Zapata. 
     The article featured some games with superb annotations by GM Alejandro Ramirez. What caught my attention was the last round game between Ramirez (2674) and GM Julio Sadorra (2561) in which Ramirez discussed a K-Indian position and the importance of squares and black's backward d-Pawn which is frequently seen in the K-Indian. 
     In his classic Zurich 1953 David Bronstein revealed the secret of black's backward d6-Pawn that often appears on the semi-open d-file. It should be weak, but it often proves a tough nut to crack and if white injudiciously captures it bad things can happen. 
     Very often white will have a N on d4 and it seems a simple matter to simply retreat it and take black's P, but as Bronstein pointed out, d4 is precisely where white needs the N to keep an eye on the squares b5, c6, e6 and f5. Sitting on d4 white's N also neutralizes the power of black's B on g7. The d6-Pawn can be captured, but only after white has taken precautions against all of black's possible attacks: ...a7-a5-a4-a3, ...Bc8-e6, ...f7-f5. Only then can the N be removed from d4, but in the meantime black has time to regroup. If the opportunity arises early in the game for white to capture the P on d6 a good rule of thumb is, "Don't." 
     Also, sometimes when the center is closed (white Ps on c4, d5 and e4 with black Ps on d6 and e5) you'll see black play ...Nd4. This often gives white the opportunity to capture on d4 and after black replies ...Pxd4 white may even be able to win the P. Often though white refuses to capture on d4. The reason is that black benefits substantially from his e-pawn's disappearance. The half-open file allows him to exert pressure against white's pawn, forcing some of white's pieces to awkward squares, and the lever ...f5 often threatens to demolish white's center. The open a1/h8 diagonal means that, assuming black can regain his P, his dark square bishop will be no liability in an ending. The recapture ...e5xd4 will also make the e5 square available to black's pieces. It's not all in black's favor though; white gets the d4 square. 
     What got me curious in this games was how the GMs opinions matched the evaluations of Stockfish 8 and Komodo 10, especially since engines, even today, do not often give correct evaluations of the K-Indian.
     When analyzing the below game, Ramirez gave very little analysis and mostly just gave his general impression of what would have happened if he had played a different move. The position after black's 19th move was especially interesting because the GM thinks black's position was "just awful", but the engines disagree, evaluating the position as almost dead equal. As I pointed out in my notes to the game, this is what makes modern engine-assisted correspondence chess such a difficult challenge...discovering which, if any, of several moves of nearly equal value might actually be better and is the engine evaluation always correct or is there something in the position that's over its horizon? Just to get some idea of the general course the game might take I ran some Shootouts from the position after 20.Nd5 at 17-25 plies using Stockfish 8 and Komodo 10.  Both engines produced identical scores of +2 -0 =3, so I think it's safe to say that the GMs opinion of the position is closer to the truth than the engine's equal evaluation.   

Monday, January 23, 2017

Two Different Players?

     Frank Norton is known as a problem composer who gained attention in the 1870s and he was proclaimed to have been a child prodigy, but that claim was probably an exaggeration. I could find only one problem that he composed and it did not seem to be particularly good. His games are scarce and I only found a couple of odds games mostly against very weak opponents. 
     Chess historian Jeremy Gaige wrote that Norton was born on November 1, 1866, possibly in England, with his date of death unknown. Other than that, not much is known. 
     The January 1878 Scientific American Supplement noted that Norton was 11 years old and had moved with his family, mother and father plus four brothers and two sisters, from Des Moines, Iowa to Council Grove, Kansas. 
     In a letter to Edward Winter who mentioned Norton in a couple of his books, Olimpiu G. Urcan wrote that his research indicated Norton was born in 1869 in Iowa. He served in the artillery in the Spanish-American War which took place in 1898. He was married to Lillian in November, 1904 in Des Moines where he worked for the city as an auditor. Later he worked as an insurance agent. Urcan reports that according to Iowa Deaths and Burials, Frank Norton died in Burlington, Iowa on October 19, 1930. 
     The problem with the birth date given by Urcan is that the November, 1902 issue of Checkmate, A Monthly Chess Chronicle and the November, 1882 issue of the British Chess Magazine both give his birth date as 1866, the same a Gaige. 
     I discovered some newspaper clippings on Ancestry about a Frank Norton who was born on November 1, 1866 in Braidwood, Illinois and died at his home in Marsing, Idaho the morning of September 27, 1938. This Frank Norton had been in poor health for the past five years and confined to his bed for nine months following a stroke. According to the obituary, he moved with his parents to Missouri for a short time and later to Council Grove, Kansas where he was married to Elizabeth. In 1918 they moved to Marsing, Idaho and bought a farm on which they grew sweet potatoes. 
     I am not sure what to make of this. One undated newspaper clipping on Ancestry (apparently from some time in the late 1930s) read, "Although Frank Norton could not play in the chess tournament in Boise this spring on account of his health nor go to Caldwell to play with the chess masters, his son Jack who took third place last year in the Boise tournament, played with both Mr. Taber and Mr. Stewart at Caldwell, winning his game in the simultaneous playing with Mr. Taber and also a game from Mr. Stewart. Both of these players have held the Nevada-Idaho state championship in recent years." 
     None of the newspaper clippings mentioned the fact that Frank Norton of Idaho had ever lived in Iowa. Were they two different people? 
     I only found one of Norton's problems which was a mate in two. I am not a problem solver, but from my understanding, because the problem started with a check, by today's standards it was not a very good one. In an 1876 American Chess Journal article a correspondent stated he had a lad of 10 from Des Moines, Iowa visiting him for two weeks and, for his age, was a "wonderful chess player" and who had also managed to solve most chess problems given him directly from the diagram without setting up the board. Norton's play was described as very deliberate and "His hand never wanders over the board, but when he is ready he seizes the piece firmly, moves at once, and takes his hand away." Norton's opponent in an attached game was obviously very weak and the game was scarcely worth a second look. 
     There was also a brief article in an 1875 issue of The Chess Journal which claimed that, "Near Des Moines, Iowa is a frail boy of eight years old that bids fair to become a wonderful chess player, if his mind is not destroyed by over exertion at this tender age. Master Frank Norton commenced chess a few months ago and is allowed to play but one game a day." It should be pointed out that "Master" here was a title in use in those days for boys were were too young to be referred to as "Mister." It was not a chess title! 
     The following game, which appeared in the January 1878 edition of the Scientific American Supplement, in which his father gave him odds of the a1-Rook is of much higher quality.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Napolean Marache...Another Player Who Deserves a Better Reputation

     Napoleon Marache is probably best remembered for losing a famous game to Paul Morphy, but his accomplishments merit a better memory than that! 
     Marache (June 15, 1818 – May 11, 1875) was born in Meaux, France and at an early age he demonstrated an aptitude for music, especially the violin. He was so fond of it that it was not unusual for him to spend 12 hours a day practicing. 
     In the latter part of 1831, when he was 13, his parents emigrated to New York City where he continued his study of music, but gave up the violin for the guitar and became so proficient that he gained a reputation as bring one of the best guitarist in the country. 
     Before leaving France Marache was a skillful at the game of Polish checkers. Polish checkers is also called continental checkers and is a variation of checkers (draughts) most played in continental Europe. It is played on a board of 100 squares with 20 pieces on a side. The pieces move and capture as in checkers, except that in capturing they may move backward as well as forward. 
     After arriving in the US, in 1844 at the age of 26 (!), he learned to play chess and immediately began collecting all the chess books that he could find. Within four weeks after learning how to play he was giving Rook odds to his teacher whom at the beginning was giving Marache Queen odds. Not long after, Marache became acquainted with a Mr. D. S. Roberts, a well known Brooklyn player, who at first gave him Rook odds, then Knight odds, and soon they were playing on even terms. Marache credited Roberts for having developed most of his chess ability.
     Within a year of learning how to play Marache began composing problems, the first one was 11 moves and was published in the Spirit of the Times. His problems were originally published under the initials N.O.K. While composing he did not neglect his study of the game and in a series of games against Roberts he scored +8 -3 =0. Shortly after his defeat of Roberts he defeated Charles Stanley, one of the strongest players in the country, in a match. 
     In the mid-1800s he was one of America's first chess journalists as well as one of its leading players. In 1866 he published one of the country's first books on chess, Marache's Manual of Chess, which also contained instructions on backgammon, Russian backgammon and dominoes. 
     In 1846, he became the first chess editor in America when he began publishing The Chess Palladium and Mathematical Sphinx. At approximately the same time Charles Stanley started The American Chess Magazine. Marache and Stanley were constantly feuding in print, Stanley calling Marache's magazine "a most ridiculous jumble of unintelligible nonsense" and "sixteen pages of soiled waste-paper". Was it sour grapes on Stanley's part as a result of his lost match or was he really right? Only three issues of Marache's magazine were published. But, Marache was not done as an editor. In the 1850s and 1860s he served as the chess editor or chess columnist for the New York Clipper, Porter's Spirit of the Times, and Wilkes' Spirit of the Times. In 1865, Marache wrote the chess section for a new edition of Hoyle's guide to games. 
     Shortly after the end of the Civil War, Paul Morphy traveled to New York to work on an annotated collection of his games with Marache acting as secretary and Charles A. Gilberg helping Morphy. Charles Gilberg (Camden, New Jersey July 17, 1835 - Brooklyn, New York, January 21, 1898) is not very well known, but he was a problem composer. 
     A partner in a major import company, he devoted much of his free time to composing chess problems. In all he composed about 300, mostly two and three movers. He was president of many American chess clubs, including the Manhattan Chess Club, the Brooklyn Chess Club and the New York Chess Association, which he also supported financially. 
     At his own expense Gilberg published a collection of 200 its problems titled Crumbs From the Chessboard. The book is out of copyright and can be downloaded from various internet sources should anyone be interested...just Google the title. His other problems were published in the American Chess-Nuts, a 452 page work containing 2406 problems by American composers. It's also freely available on the internet. 
     Gilberg also wrote a book on the Fifth American Conference (New York, 1880, won by George Mackenzie). They liked BIG books in those days...this one had over 500 pages with biographies of the players, annotated games and problems of composition competition. I found one internet source where this book was available, but the site requited registration. There may be others.
     As for the Morphy book, it never got published because prospective publishers asked for more games than Morphy submitted and he refused to supply them. 
     In 1855-56 Marache won the championship cup of the New York Chess Club and in 1856 he finished first in a sixteen-player tournament. Marache was good enough that in August of 1856, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper published a challenge issued by Ernest Morphy to either Stanley or Marache to play a match against his nephew, Paul Morphy, but neither player accepted the challenge. 
     In 1857, Marache was one of the sixteen leading American players who participated in the First American Chess Congress which was won by Morphy. Oddly, this was to be Morphy's only tournament! It was a knockout event and Marache defeated Daniel Fiske in the first round then lost his match against Benjamin Raphael and was eliminated. 
     Marache and Morphy did play five games in 1857 in which Morphy gave odds of pawn and move.  Morphy scored +3 -0 =2. 
     Marache, who for the last nineteen years of his life held a position in the Union Bank, died suddenly of heart disease on the morning of Tuesday, May 11, 1875 at his home in New York City.
     His opponent in this game was Daniel W. Fiske (November 11, 1831 – September 17, 1904) a university librarian and professor. He helped organize the first American Chess Congress in 1857 and wrote the tournament book in 1859 and edited The Chess Monthly from 1857 to 1861 with Paul Morphy. His scholarly volume, Chess In Iceland was used as source material by H. J. R. Murray for A History of Chess. Another manuscript, Chess Tales and Chess Miscellanies, also published posthumously, is an anthology covering chess life of the period including articles about Morphy, problems by Sam Loyd, and the history of chess. The game was actually pretty well played considering the enormous tactical complications that begin around move 24.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Alekhine's Mystery Opponents

     Alekhine was not above publishing fake games, his involvement in political controversies is well known and even the exact details of his death are something of a mystery. In 1945 he won a small event in Sabadell, Portugal that also created something of a mystery. 
     After his match with Capablanca Alekhine returned to Paris and began speaking out against Bolshevism, the communist form of government adopted by Russia following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. 
     Nikolai Krylenko, a Bolshevik revolutionary and politician who participated in the political purges of the 1920s and 1930s, was known as the Father of Russian Chess, and at that time president of the Soviet Chess Federation. Krylenko published an official memorandum stating that Alekhine should be regarded as an enemy of the State and the Soviet Chess Federation broke all contact with him until the end of the 1930s. Whether by choice or not, Alekhine's older brother Alexei, with whom he had a close relationship, publicly repudiated him and his anti-Soviet stance. But then in 1939 Alexei is reputed to have been murdered, possibly because of his open support of the Nazis. As a side note, Alexei himself was also a chess player of some reputation. Justice finally caught up with Krylenko; he ended up getting arrested himself, confessed to numerous crimes under torture and after a trial lasting 20 minutes, was found guilty and immediately taken out and shot.  Kevin Spraggett has a great article on Krylenko.
     In the 1930s Alekhine was dominating the chess world, but in1933 Reuben Fine noticed that he was drinking heavily. Hans Kmoch wrote that his heavy drinking started during Bled in 1931 and continued through his 1934 match with Bogoljubow. He was also drinking heavily during his 1935 match with Euwe. In 1934 Alekhine married his fourth wife, Grace Freeman (nee Wishaar), sixteen years his senior. She was an American-born widow of a British tea-planter in Ceylon and retained her British citizenship to the end of her life and was Alekhine's wife until his death. 
     After the 1939 Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aries many participants decided to stay in Argentina or moved elsewhere in South America rather than face an uncertain future by returning to a Europe in the midst of a war. Alekhine stayed in Argentina for several months after the Olympiad, winning in a couple of tournaments and he could have remained there or even gone to the United States with his American-born wife. Instead, in January 1940 he returned to Europe and after a short stay in Portugal he enlisted in the French army as a non-commissioned sanitation officer. Owing to his knowledge of foreign languages, he was soon transferred to intelligence work as a lieutenant and became an interpreter. 
     After France fell in June 1940, he was demobilized and ended up in Marseille where he made several attempts to go to Cuba claiming he wanted to play a match with Capablanca. The request was denied because it was felt he wasn't serious about the match and only wanted a visa to get out of the country. That left him trapped in Europe and to protect his Jewish wife and her French assets (a castle at Saint Aubin-le-Cauf which the Nazis looted), he agreed to cooperate with the Nazis by writing several articles critical of Jewish chess players. Along with several other strong masters he also participated in several tournaments sponsored by the Nazis. 
     By late 1943, Alekhine was spending all his time in Spain and Portugal because economic conditions in Germeny were such that they were no longer sponsoring tournaments and book sales were almost non-existent. By this time his chess had badly deteriorated. In 1944, he narrowly defeated Rey Ardid in a match and won a small tournament in Gijon. In 1945 he scored first in Madrid, tied for second at Gij√≥n, won at Sabadell, tied for first in Almeria, finished first in Melilla and took second in Caceres. Alekhine's last match, which he barely won (+2 -1=2), was against Francisco Lupi in 1945. 
     After World War II his invitation to the London 1946 victory tournament was withdrawn when the other competitors protested. While planning for a world championship match against Botvinnik, Alekhine died at the age of 53 in his hotel room in Estoril, Portugal on March 24, 1946 under strange circumstances. Was it a heart attack, or as the autopsy stated, he choked to death on a three-inch long piece of unchewed meat that was blocking his windpipe, or was he murdered by a French death squad as his son claimed? Much has been written about this and Kevin Spraggett, a long time resident of Portugal, makes the case for murder claiming the crime scene was tampered with and the autopsy faked. You can read Spraggett's excellent coverage of Alekhine's death HERE
     The question has been asked why Alekhine's wife didn't offer him any help during his last days when he was living in poverty and suffering from health issues. No one knows, but it is speculated that he was separated, but not divorced, from her and she wanted nothing to do with him. 
     So, what were the mysteries at Sabadell? It concerned the 15-move game Alekhine vs. Munoz and some photographs of the tournament that didn't match up. You can read all about it in Edward Winter's excellent article HERE. Winter's article also brings up the question of exactly who was Alekhine's opponent the following game from Sabadell. Was it the local adult player Teodoro Terrazas Elizando or the 11-year-old Filiberto Terrazas? Although years later Filiberto Terrazas claimed he was Alekhine's opponent, it appears that it was actually the local player Teodoro Terrazas Elizando. 

1) Alekhine 7.5 
2) Vilardebom 6.5 
3-4) Perez and Lupi 6 
5-6) Valles and Medina 5.5 
7) Ros 3.5 
8) Mena 2.5 
9) Munoz 2 
10) Terrazas 0 

For more Soviet chess history you can download in pdf format the 400-plus page PhD dissertation by Michael A. Hudson that I posted about HERE.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Reshevsky the Tactician


 Many players unfamiliar with Reshevsky think he was a positional player; he wasn't. 

     The legendary Samuel Reshevsky (November 11, 1911 - April 4, 1992) was the most famous prodigy since Capablanca and he was the link between the pre-War and post-War era: he played Lasker, Alekhine and Capablanca and after the war, every great player from Botvinnik to Fischer. He played almost a hundred games with eleven world champions! 
     Everybody remembers what Fischer did to popularize chess in the 1970s, but in the early 1900s Reshevsky accomplished the same thing when, as a child, he created a sensation with his national tours.  But when he stopped playing to complete his education, they stopped writing about him. 
     When Alekhine first met Reshevsky at the tournament in Pasadena in 1932 he wrote that his impression was most favorable. Reshevsky exhibited not a hint of arrogance and a quiet dignity. One wonders if Alekhine was as wrong about this impression as he was in his assessment of Reshevsky's play! 
     Alekhine observed that at that time, strength wise, Reshevsky was nothing special and was comparable to the "average American master."  But what struck him was Reshevsky's style which "exudes utter tedium" and lacked imagination and if it wasn't for his obvious gift, Alekhine would have considered him as having a lack of talent! Alekhine believed that was because of Reshevsky's childhood being spent playing chess, resulting in, at the age of 21, his being like an old man, tired, disillusioned and incapable of creative thinking. Of course Alekhine turned out to be wrong as Reshevsky demonstrated a few years later at the 1938 AVRO tournament. 
     Reshevsky's weakness was his openings which he played almost entirely by intuition. Reshevsky claimed to have never studied chess, but that was not true.   After Pasadena, for the first time in his life, he studied books on opening theory. 
     Botvinnik described Reshevsky's play as a forceful, active and impetuous adding that he evaluated positions in a routine, but unusual way.   His main strength was his calculating ability. Botvinnik claimed that Reshevsky calculated only 2-3 moves deep, but he looked at a lot of possibilities. He stated this calculation didn't always help because there was no "purity" (not sure what that means) and he often ended up in bad positions. Botvinnik added that Reshevsky "had no taste" because he was willing to play any position at any time, but he skillfully complicated play and was not afraid of dangerous positions. He also played on both flanks and when he played a "waiting move" it generally indicated that he had realized his original plan wasn't going to work and he was awaiting a mistake and a convenient opportunity. 
     Reshevsky also liked to make harassing moves and to force his opponents into difficult situations where he could use his imagination.  Also, he was always ready to go into the ending, especially those with a lot of pieces, because in those positions he had great skill.
     According to Botvinnik, Reshevsky's weaknesses were his weak positional feeling in complicated positions, openings and his routinely getting into time trouble.   In time trouble his play was "deft" but he did make oversights. 
     Reshevsky's serious battle for the world championship essentially ended in the 1953 Candidates Tournament. True, in 1968 he played a match against Korchnoi to see who would move on in a bid for the world championship, but by that time he was no longer truly a serious contender. 
     Even after the 1953 tournament he continued to unnerve the Soviet players for some time to come, especially after he inflicted a painful defeat on Botvinnik in the 1954 US vs USSR radio match. 
     In the summer of the following year when the US team was in Moscow for a return match.  Reshevsky, bypassing FIDE, actually proposed a match with Botvinnik for the world championship. Botvinnik told Reshevsky he would let him know, but Reshevsky never heard from him, adding in a 1991 interview that, "I have nothing against Botvinnik." 
     Bronstein wrote that Reshevsky was always sure that he played chess better than anyone in the world. He also revealed that after the Moscow team match the American ambassador held a reception at his residence and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushev was in attendance. Reshevsky boldly asked Khrushev to allow him to play Botvinnik a match for the championship and Khrushev replied that he wasn't the one who could make that decision.
     Nobody in the Soviet chess federation wanted to risk a match, but they did invite Reshevsky to play a 24-game match against Bronstein.  The match was due to take place in December, 1956 with 12 games in Moscow and 12 in New York with a $6,000 (around $53,000 today) prize fund. Unfortunately, the October, 1956 Hungarian revolt caused the match to be canceled. 
     Viktor Korchnoi wrote that in every game Reshevsky played you could sense his enormous desire to fight and win. While his lack of opening knowledge was a handicap, in the middlegame he was extremely confident and had enormous tactical talent and psossessed the ability to make original and non-routine (there's that description again) evaluations. Positional battles were not to his taste and he avoided positions where maneuverings and waiting were required. 
     Kasparov, on the other hand, made the observation that Reshevsky did have a high level of positional understanding or else he would never have maintained such a high level of play for so many years. 
     In the Match of the Century in 1970, Reshevsky was assigned 6th board in a secret vote by the other players. In that match he made an equal score against Smyslov, but had to sit out the last game for religious reasons. His replacement, Olafsson, lost to Smyslov which could have been the reason for the Soviet's narrow one point victory in the match.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Vladimir Zak

     A mediocre teacher expounds. A good teacher explains. An outstanding teacher demonstrates. A great teacher inspires. And this, of course, applies to him. Vladimir Grigoryevich Zak was a great chess teacher. - Genna Sosonko in Russian Silhouettes 

     We had a joke: anybody who survives the "training method" is guaranteed a bright future! The important thing was to leave Zak before frustration sets in and you decide to quit chess. Valery Salov and Gata Kamsky left early and became stars in their teens...Zak religiously believed in the dogma of the classical school. In his opinion, everything young chessplayers needed to know was written in stone many years ago. - Alex Yermolinsky in The Road to Chess Improvement

     Mark Taimanov said he did not think that Zak was a high-class teacher or a strong player but it was noteworthy that he did develop a lot of players with different styles and of very high class, so he must have had secret. Zak himself said he was lucky. In 1958 he was awarded the title Honored Trainer of the USSR. According to Chessmetrics when the below game was played (in which Lilienthal was absolutely destroyed by the way) Lilienthal's rating was around 2580 and in 1947 Averbach's rating was around 2470, so it's not like Zak was a non-master!

     Vladimir Grigoryevich Zak (February 11, 1913 - November 25, 1994) was a Ukrainian player and one of the most famous coaches of the Soviet Union. In the 1920s the family moved to Leningrad and his named was changed from Vulf to Vladimir and he abandoned his Jewish heritage and became Russian by culture and education. 
     He served in the front with the Army during the Second World War and was awarded the Order of the Second-class Patriotic War, medal for service in battle and a medal for victory over Germany. After the war was over he settled in Leningrad and worked there for over 40 years as a chess coach. His best-known pupils were Boris Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi. Most of Zak's students were appreciative of his help, Yermolinsky being an exception. Zak adopted much of his teaching technique from his hero, Pyotr Romanovsky, who had made a great impression on him and with whom he had studied before World War Two.
     Zak received the title of Honored Trainer of the Soviet Union in 1958. Although he himself was never able to win the title of master, his strength was the recognition of talent and its early promotion and his pupils later turned to other coaches who could develop their chess further. It should be remembered that in those days before the Elo system, you became a master in the Soviet Union only by defeating an established master in a match.
     The Elo system rating distribution follows the Bell curve and because the Soviet Union had millions of players as compared to a mere handful in the US for example, they had hundreds, if not thousands of players, who by today's standards were of master strength.  And, Zak did qualify to play in the semi-finals of the Soviet Championship. In 1947 he lost a match to Yuri Averbach for the master's title. In all fairness, Averbach was much more than a master, he received his GM title shortly after the match. Zak also lost a match for the title in 1948 against Viktor Vassiliev (5.5 to 7.5). Vasiliev was a strong master and analyst and an invalid due to war wounds. 
     Gennadi Sosonko, the Soviet-born Dutch GM, wrote that at the age of 12 he first met Zak at the Leningrad Pioneers Palace when he played Zak in s simultaneous that was designed to single out kids with potential. He remembered Zak as a stern man with Assyrian facial features (I had to Google this! - Tartajubow) and with staring unblinking dark eyes who had the habit of flexing of his jaw muscles, especially when analyzing a position.
     Sosonko once asked Zak to analyze a game he (Sosonko) had won and when they arrived at the critical position and Sosonko explained that he stood worse, but his opponent was nervous and when Sosonko got into time trouble, his opponent began playing carelessly and lost. Zak got angry and called the whole affair disgraceful. 
     All the kids were afraid of Zak and he frequently chastised them when they wrote analysis on a sheet of paper but didn't transfer it to their notebooks in an organized fashion. Zak had a difficult personality and Sosonko believed the reason was that his life was difficult. Korchnoi, who grew up without his father who died in the war wrote that in many ways Zak replaced him and molded him as a person. 
     Zak was very upset when Spassky left him for Tolush; Sosonko later expressed regret that he didn't do the same thing! Still, Spassky admitted that Zak had taught him a great deal, saying he didn't think that Zak was a difficult person, but rather that he was firm in his principles. 
     One of Zak's questions to the youth was always who was the strongest player at the end of the 1800s. After they rattled off all the names like Steinitz and Chigorin, Zak would announce that it was James Mason and they were advised to study his games.
     Eventually at the age of 73, Zak was forced to leave the Palace where he had worked for more than forty years. By that time he was also on bad terms with his colleagues, some of whom were his former pupils. In the end he suffered from senility and was moved to an old persons' home. Even then, he was interested in the latest news, looked at chess magazines and sometimes played through a game on the board.