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Saturday, December 9, 2017

asmFish...the new kid on the block

    asmFish is derived from Stockfish and uses a code that makes it faster. I have read that it's easy to make mistakes when translating a program to another language and the engine is much more power consuming than Stockfish so some computers are likely to crash.  I've not been running the engine much, but in a 5-minutes per game match against Stockfish 8 it didn't run into any problems. The score was +1 -1 =10.
     I am not familiar with any of the technical details of asmFish, but on the CCLR 40/40 rating list it stands out as the number one rated engine at 3425. Ratings for the remaining top 5 spots are:
2- Houdini 6 64-bit 4CPU (3412)
3- Komodo 11.2 64-bit 4CPU (3398)
                               4- Deep Shredder 13 64-bit 4CPU (3294) 
                               5- Fire 6.1 64-bit 4CPU (3286).

asmFish has the following very impressive scores against its rivals:
Houdini 6  (+6−2=38)
Komodo 11.2 (+11−1=37)
Deep Shredder 13 (+19−0=31)
Fire 6.1 (+26−1=23)
Against Stockfish 8 its score is: (+8−2=40)

     Not that it proves anything, but in the following position from the Spielmann-Chekhover game after white's 13th move, I let the engines run for 3 minutes and the moves and evaluations were:

SugaR PrO (13...b4 eval=0.35)
Stockfish 8 (13...b4 eval=0.88)
asmFish (13...b4 eval=0.70)
Komodo 10.1 (13...Qf6 eval=0.72)

I was able to download the engine at King of Chess HERE

Friday, December 8, 2017

Moscow 1935 – Lessons in Tactics (Part 4)

    This is the final look at the games from Moscow 1935 and we will be taking a look at a game Euwe didn't use an example in Strategy and Tactics, but he could have.
     The loser, Vitaly Chekhover (December 22, 1908 – February 11, 1965), was a Soviet player and chess composer; his day job was a pianist. In the beginning of his career he was an endgame study composer who often revised traditional studies of other authors trying to make them more sparse and economical form, often with fewer pieces. Later he developed his own style and composed a number of original studies and problems. He was considered a prominent specialist on Knight endgames, and wrote several books on the subject.
     The winner, Rudolf Spielmann (May 5, 1883 – August 20, 1942), was an Austrian of the Romantic School and chess writer. Spielmann was a lawyer but never practiced law. Reuben Fine described Spielmann's only passions in life as "drinking beer and playing chess". Known as "The Master of Attack" and "The Last Knight of the King's Gambit" his play was full of sacrifices, brilliancies, and beautiful ideas.
     In 1934, Spielmann, a Jew, fled Vienna due to rising pro-Nazi sympathies in the city and subsequently moved to the Netherlands. In 1938, he went to Prague to be with his brother Leopold, but the German army occupied Czechoslovakia only a few months later. Leopold Spielmann was arrested and died in a concentration camp a few years later. One of their sisters also perished in a camp, the other survived the war, but never recovered mentally from the ordeal and ended up committing suicide.
     Leopold (born August 5, 1881 in Vienna - died December 10, 1941 in Theresienstadt ) was a pianist and conductor. He was the eldest of the six children. Besides Rudolf, his siblings were the actresses Melanie (1885-1927) and Jenny (1889-1964), accountant and medical student Edgar (1887-1917) and the actress Irma (1894-1939). At first, the family lived in modest circumstances and changed apartments frequently. 
    When Leopold Spielmann was three years old, his mother recognized his musical talent and had him take lessons; he was soon recognized as a prodigy. The pianist Anton Rubinstein introduced Spielmann to the family of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, where he received patronage. He gave concerts in front of members of the imperial family and in 1891 he gave a concert in the Viennese Bosendorfer Hall.
     After a long break, Spielmann gave a concert on February 12, 1895, in which the maturity of his playing technique, his lecture, and his musical conception stood out. Accompanied by his mother he on a concert tour through Europe, which led them to Russia. He did not accept an off to tour the United States because he had to care for his siblings because his mother was seriously ill.
     Leopold studied at the Vienna Conservatory, at the Royal Academy of Music and finally in Berlin. He was a highly esteemed virtuoso. It was in Berlin that he married his piano student Gertrud Ludtke; they had five children.
     After the end of the First World War, the Spielmann family moved to Gothenburg , where Leopold worked as a conductor of the symphony orchestra. In 1928 the family returned to Berlin. In 1934 he left Germany with his family due to the Nazi persecution of the Jews and fled to Prague without valid passports. There he had to make a living through private lessons.
     Rudolf, who had left Austria since 1935 and stayed mostly in Holland, also arrived in Prague in 1938, after his passport had been invalidated by the Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich. Leopold planned to emigrate to Toronto, where he had a job offer from the conservatory. Leopold was hidden in Prague and could not leave the apartment. In the fall of 1939 he was arrested by the SS and was sent to the Flossenburg concentration camp in 1941. He died on December 10, 1941 in ghetto Theresienstadt. His siblings had managed to flee except sister Jenny who survived, but suffered all her life from depression.
     Rudolf managed to flee to Sweden with the help of a friend. He hoped to eventually reach England or the United States and to finance the move he played a lot of exhibition matches and wrote chess columns. He also tried to publish a book, Memories of a Chess Master. But, some members of the Swedish Chess Federation held Nazi sympathies and so disliked the Spielmann because he was Jewish that his book was never published. As a result, he suffered from depression and in August 1942, he locked himself in his Stockholm apartment and did not emerge for a week. On August 20, neighbors summoned police to check on him. They entered the apartment and found Spielmann dead; he was 59 years old. The official cause of death was heart disease, but it has been claimed that he intentionally starved himself. That's the story according to his close relatives. Another version is that he suffered from a Parkinson's disease-like illness, which rapidly progressed and he was admitted to the hospital, where he died. Official cause of death was high blood pressure and heart disease. He was buried in Stockholm, his tombstone reading “A fugitive without rest, struck hard by fate".
     Chekhover annotated this game in the tournament book and highly praised Spielmann's play, writing, “A brilliant crush! The game was awarded the 3rd prize for best game of the tournament.” Indeed it was a brilliant crush and kudos to the loser for acknowledging it!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Moscow 1935 – Lessons in Tactics (Part 3)

    This game from Euwe's book looks at another game featuring a compound combination, Spielmann vs. Pirc. The striking feature of this game is the prolonged K-hunt as black's King is driven from h8 to b8 that culminates in six checks while white's own King is in danger. King hunts are fun, but as GM Daniel Naroditsky observed, they “demand mental composure and ultra-precise calculation. The slightest misstep will nullify hours of hard work, leaving your opponent with a decisive material advantage.” These days with all the advances in opening theory, the higher level of play and defensive techniques, King hunts are rare. Had the King hunt disappeared from the modern game, Naroditsky observed, “Mikhail Tal would have never become world champion.”
     Writing in The Art of Sacrifice, the winner of this game wrote that object of a K-hunt sacrifice is to “chase the King out into the open on a full board. The problem composers speak of the sacrifice which draws the King into a mating net. If it did not sound so incongruous, the King-Hunt sacrifice might be termed the 'driving-out' sacrifice...To bring this about, it is permissible to offer big sacrifices of material...The attempt to bring the King into a dangerous situation can be made in two ways : either the forces protecting him are eliminated or decimated, or the King is compelled to leave his stronghold and to wander forth alone into the wilderness.”

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Moscow 1935 – Lessons in Tactics (Part 2)

    For one example of a compound combination, Euwe used the famous Lilienthal - Capablanca game where Lilienthal played a brilliant Q sacrifice. Another example of a compound combination was the following Capablanca – Kan encounter.
     In his book The Art of Attack in Chess, Vukovic also discussed compound combinations only he used the term “creation of preconditions” to describe maneuvers necessary to build up to the final blow. These conditions come about in a variety of ways: slowly improving one's position, some happen by surprise and others are the result of risks taken by one of the players.
     Vukovic advised that of all the preconditions for an attack on the King one should first create those that entail the least degree of commitment. i.e. those that also strengthen one's own position. By that he meant positional play that includes finding good posts for one's own pieces, a strong center, a space advantage and K-safety. After these conditions are met one can then induce weaknesses around the opponent's King. One caveat that CJS Purdy hammered on was that tactics can happen at any move due to peculiarities in the position, even those where one has all the positional advantages. Therefore, the position must combed for tactics at EVERY move.  Another handy piece of advice from Purdy was that if no sound tactic is available and you aren't sure what to do, look for your worst placed piece and find a way to improve its position. This last piece of advice is in line with Soltis' statement that “planning” often involves a maneuver of only 2-3 moves.
     Now would also be a good time to ask the question, “How much should you calculate?” Sometimes you simply must, but other times it just isn't worth it. Some claim that you must try to find the best move every turn otherwise you will end up playing second or third best moves for which there will eventually be a price to be paid. On the other hand, some think the search for the best move is worthwhile only a few times during a game. Even if there is only one “best” move sometimes the time and effort required to find it isn't worth it because the variations are so numerous that calculating everything is out of the question.
     Of course, there are times when you must calculate. Andrew Soltis gives a simple rule: You must calculate when you suspect there is a move that forces a concrete result as opposed to the times there is a solid but relatively small difference between moves. For example, in this game at black's 20th turn Stockfish's top three choice are 20...Bg4 (-0.37), 20...Kg8 (-0.45) and 20...Kh7 (-0.47). For a human that's not much of a difference and any one of them would have been a reasonable choice.
     In this game we see Capablanca building up a series of preconditions for an attack on Kan's King without making any moves which committed him to it. However, with move 19.h4 Capa undertook a premature attack when Kan's King wasn't ready to be stormed. At the time, Capa's Q was not in its best position and Kan could have used that small point to gain time for defense. Fortunately for Capablanca, his position was strong enough that he managed to get away with it. Capa received the Brilliancy Prize for his victory in this game. 
     All brilliancies require some cooperation from the loser and that is the case in this game.  Some annotators give the impression that this game was a one sided crush of what Alex Yermolinsky called a “tomato can", but that is not the case.  Kan put up tough resistance and it wasn't until he got into time pressure that his game was finally lost.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Moscow 1935 – Lessons in Tactics (Part 1)

    For opening day over 5,000 tickets were sold and for subsequent rounds it was necessary to limit the number of spectators.
     Botvinnik wrote that for the first 12 rounds in this tournament he played extremely well, but then tired and Flohr caught up with him and they tied for first ahead of Lasker, Capablanca, Spielmann, Kan and fourteen other famous players.
     At the time, Botvinnik was a postgraduate student at the Leningrad Polytechnical Institute and his success warranted his being given a car and the title of Soviet Grandmaster. In spite of his success Botvinnik wrote that he did not consider it a real test because there were a few (in his opinion) “relatively weak players.” He therefore wrote a letter to Nikolai Krylenko suggesting a 10-player double-round tournament and his suggestion was accepted.  The result was Moscow, 1936.

The final results were:
1-2) Botvinnik and Flohr 13.0
3) Lasker 12.5
4) Capablanca 12.0
5) Spielmann 11.0
6-7) Kan and Levenfish 10.5 
8-10) Lilienthal, Ragozin and Romanovsky 10.0
11-14) Alatortsev. Goglidze, I. Rabinovich and Riumin 9.5
15) Lisitsin 9.0
16-17) Bohatirchuk and Stahlberg 8.0
18) Pirc 7.5
19) Chekhover 5.5
20) Menchik 1.5

     In his book Strategy and Tactics, Euwe included six game from this tournament as examples of different kinds of tactics. In breaking down tactics into types, Euwe adds that it seldom happens that all tactics occur in pure form and that often there will be compound tactics that contain elements of two or more of the situations listed below.

Material gain - based on limited mobility, or the unprotected position of a piece
Focal point – based on weakness of several pieces and their connection to one another
Pins – based on a pinned piece
Unmasking – based on a piece that can be attacked by moving an intervening piece
Overload – based on a piece that is performing too many functions simultaneously
Obstruction – two pieces belonging to the same player are standing in each other's way
Desperado – based on a piece which is certain to be lost, but in exchange the player tries to get as much as possible for it
Cumulative – all the above tactics are characterized by a quick and forceful continuation with a clearly visible purpose. Cumulative tactics need preparation in that they consist of forcing the opponent into making certain moves where he is kept busy answering threats until the finishing blow is delivered.

     Everybody knows there are dangers in capturing the b-Pawn with the Q (aka a Poisoned Pawn), but at some point everybody has done it. Sometimes it's safe, sometimes it isn't. The best known example is probably the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Sicilian: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2. A video on the Poisoned Pawn Variation GM Denes Boros can be watched on Youtube HERE.
     The decision as to whether or not to take the b-Pawn is always a difficult one and because even Grandmasters have erred badly in making the decision, probably the best advice is, “Just say, No!” For a story behind this game which took place in the very first round and what “really” happened see the comments at Chessgames.com HERE

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Thrilling Finish at Moscow 1936

     The were three great tournament in Moscow with the first being held in 1925. Then there was Moscow, 1935. In that tournament eight foreign masters, including two former World Champions, were invited to pit their skills against twelve Soviet masters. Botvinnik and Flohr tied for first. Botvinnik's feat was all the more remarkable in that he suffered two defeats, to sixth place Kan and Bohatirchuk who finished in 16th place. The 1935 tournament was filled with so many great games that in his book Strategy and Tactics, Dr. Max Euwe, World Champion at the time it was published, used seven games as examples of various tactical motifs. Although I did a brief post on Moscow 1935 back in 2011, I am considering preparing a series of posts featuring each of the games that Euwe used as examples because they are so instructive.
     No doubt it was unbeknownst to the players, but besides the tournament, a lot was happening in Moscow. After the second half of the 1920s, Joseph Stalin had set the stage for gaining absolute power by employing police repression against opposition elements within the Communist Party. The murder of Sergei Kirov, a prominent early Bolshevik leader, on December 1, 1934, set off a chain of events that culminated in the Great Terror of the 1930s.
     Over the next four-and-a-half years, millions of innocent party members and others were arrested, many of them for complicity in the vast plot that supposedly lay behind the killing of Kirov. During the Great Terror, which included the notorious show trials of Stalin's former Bolshevik opponents in 1936-1938 and reached its peak in 1937 and 1938, millions of innocent Soviet citizens were sent off to labor camps or killed in prison. By the time the terror subsided in 1939, Stalin had managed to bring both the party and the public to a state of complete submission to his rule. In Soviet society people were so fearful of reprisals that mass arrests were no longer necessary. Stalin ruled as absolute dictator of the Soviet Union throughout World War II and until his death in March 1953. Even the organizer of this tournament got caught up in the purges. 
     The year 1936 marked two great victories by former World Champion Jose Capablanca, who by then has been relegated to the ranks of players whose best days were behind them and no longer capable of great accomplishments. Speaking of Capablanca's results, which of course did of fall off towards the end of his career, Samuel Reshevsky once told an interviewer that he didn't think Capa's play deteriorated, but the level of play was, in general, higher and so his results were not as spectacular. 
     According to Chessmetrics, in 1921 after winning the World Championship he was ranked number 1 with rating of over 2800. By the end of 1927 after losing his match against Alekhine, Capa was ranked number 2 with rating of 2789. His rating slipped in 1936 and at one point he was ranked number 9 with a 2679 rating. But, by the end of the year his rating was back up to 2755 and he was back to the number 2 spot. Shortly before his death in March of 1942, on Chessmetrics September, 1941 rating list Capa was rated 2670 and ranked only number 14. By that time Botvinnik, Fine, Reshevsky, Keres, Euwe, Alekhine, Stahlberg, Smyslov, Eliskases, Flohr, Lilienthal, Boleslavsky and Najdorf all ranked ahead of him.   
     But in 1936 Capablanca's critics were silenced after after two great triumphs: Nottingham where he tied Botvinnik for first place and lost only one game, to 7th place finisher Salo Flohr. This tournament in Moscow was a 10-player double round affair and Capa finished undefeated ahead of Botvinnik against whom Capa scored a win and a draw. It was Botvinnik's only loss. After these two tournaments nobody could deny that Capablanca was still one of the world's greatest players.
     In the 1936 event organizer Nikolai Krylenko wanted an even more rigorous test for the Soviet players. The lineup was impressive with Capablanca and Lasker being invited back to Moscow for a third time as well as the previous year's winners, Botvinnik and Flohr. At the age of 67 Lasker, started out strongly, but his performance suffered during the second cycle when fatigue began taking its toll. 
     The tournament was held during May and June to commemorate the birth of Wilhem Steinitz. Five foreign masters and five Soviet masters were invited. Capablanca, Lasker, Flohr, Lilienthal and Eliskases were the foreign contingent while Botvinnik, Kan, Levenfish, Riumen ans Ragozin were the Russian players. 
     Capablanca's first place was to be one of the last successes against the Soviet hegemony until Bobby Fischer arrived on the scene 36 years later. It was also the last success for Krylenko. He was arrested in January 1938, tried and shot later that year. For complete details see Kevin Spraggett's article HERE.
     There was a lot of enthusiasm as evidenced by the turnout of over 2,000 spectators on opening day. The first round began on May 14 and in a surprise result, Kan held Capa to a draw; in fact, all five games were drawn. After six rounds the leaders were Capa and Botvinnik with 4.0 followed by Lasker with 3.5. 
     In the seventh round the paring was Botvinnik vs. Capablanca and Botvinnik completely outplayed Capa only to lose because of an unsound sacrifice. In the next round Capa tightened his hold on first when he downed Lilienthal and Botvinnik could only draw Ragozin. After nine rounds the tournament was half over and the leading scores were: 1) Capa 6.5, 2-4) Botvinnik,, Lasker and Ragozin 5.0, 5-6) Kan and Levenfish 4.5.   
     In round 10 action Lasker blundered a piece against Botvinnik and lost in 21 moves and Capa beat Kan. After that, Capa kept his lead for the next several rounds and he and Botvinnik were paired again in round 16. Botvinnik nearly lost in trying to win, but managed to salvage a draw. Capa was still in the lead by a full point. 
     In the 17th (next to last) round Capa drew with Lilienthal in 21 moves and Botvinnik defeated Ragozin to come within a half point of Capa.  
     The final round pairings were: Capa vs. Eliskases and Botvinnik vs. Levenfish. If Botvinnik won and Capa only drew they would tie for first place. It seemed Botvinnik had the better chances because Levenfish was in bad form. Levenfish opened with 1.e4 and Botvinnik played the Sicilian and a hard battle ensued. Capablanca was also playing for a win and defeated Eliskases in a magnificent game. Botvinnik could only draw and so Capa finished first by a full point.   
     The following game is his last round win which demonstrates his classic style. The position after black's 41st move is quite an odd one.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Ventnor City 1940

    The string of tournaments held at Ventnor City, New Jersey from 1939 to 1945 were marvelous events that featured almost all the prominent American masters of the day. Originally it was hoped that the tournaments would rival Hastings, but it wasn't to be. World War Two broke out in Europe in September of 1939 so getting foreign masters presented a problem. Then the United States entered the war after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. There was no 1946 event because of various difficulties and in 1947 it was changed from an invitational to an open event, but only 20 players showed up and that was the end of it.
     The 1939 tournament proved to be not just enjoyable because of the resort surroundings, but tournament expenses were low so the prizes were good. It so successful that the organizers wanted to make the 1940 event even better. Held from July 6-14, the second Ventnor City Invitational was even able to award prizes to the players who didn't finish in the top places.
     One innovation in this event was, for the first time in history, the use of electric clocks which were designed and manufactured by Gerald Phillips, one of the tournament officials; the clocks worked perfectly.
     Shortly before the tournament was slated to begin Fred Reinfeld and Jacob Levin withdrew citing business reasons. They were replaced by Jeremiah Donovan and L. Walter Stephens.
     The last two rounds were the most exciting. Eight players were statistically able to share first and ten of the players could share in the first four prizes. As it turned out, both Bernstein and Hanauer had to win their last rounds games to finish first. The most surprising player was Donovan who reinforced the impression he had made in the recent Marshall Chess Club Championship. In the end, Hanauer and Bernstein shared first prize and possession "of the Challenge Trophy, six months each." Frank Marshall was there award the trophy. Marshall also gave a 10 board simul, scoring +8 -0 =2.

The contestants:

Milton Hanauer (1908-1988), had a law degree but never practiced law. He had also earned a PhD. in French Literature and taught French in Haarlem. He later became a high school principal and promoter of chess in schools. He authored a few beginner books: Chess Made Simple, Chess Made Easy, Chess Streamlined, Checkers Made Simple, Chess and Chess For You and Me. As a sidebar, Chess Made Simple is still a pretty good book. See HERE.
Anthony Sanatsiere - (1904 – 1977) was among the top US players from the late 1920s into the mid 1950s. He never earned an international title in chess, and had very little international competition. In addition to chess, he wrote extensively on non-chess topics and was a middle school mathematics teacher. He wrote three novels, 13 books of essays, 14 collections of short stories, and 30 volumes of a personal journal. And, according to Arnold Denker, a lot of bad poetry. Santasiere won the 1945 US Open, four New York State championships, and six Marshall Chess Club championships. He also played in four US Championships. As a chess writer he was colorful and highly opinionated. I once had a copy of an old chess magazine in which Santasiere annotated the games from the Reshevsky-Kashdan match and he was highly critical of both players for their choice of openings. Both were criticized for failing to give chess fans Romantic chess! In the 1970s he and Larry Evans engaged in a war in print and Evans severely criticized Santasiere when he asked, "Where are the glorious games which qualify Santasiere as the darling spokesman of Romanticism?”
Olaf T. Ulvestad – see HERE
Harry Morris (1905-1966) was a president of the Mercantile Library Chess Club of Philadelphia and a four-time State Champion. He was a procurement officer in the Air Force until he retired at age 55. 
Harold Burge (1896-1979) was the New Jersey state champion in 1938 and in 1939.
Edgar T. McCormick (1914-1991) earned a mathematics degree from Princeton in 1935. He enlisted in the Army in 1941. Stationed in Iceland, he served as a cryptologist. A chess promotor, he was two-time New Jersey champion and Virginia champion once. He won the US Amateur Championship twice and at the time of his death was the reigning Amateur Champion.
Sidney Bernstein- see HERE
Weaver Adams - see HERE
Jeremiah Donovan - (Dates of birth and death unknown.  A search online yielded several people named Jeremiah F. Donovan.  The most likely candidate was born on July 24, 1921 and died at the age of 67 on January 23, 1989. He had been residing in West Palm Beach, Florida. No other information was available and it's pure speculation, but the age is about right.) was a star player, along with Herbert Seidman, on the Brooklyn College chess team when he played in this tournament. He soon enlisted in the US Army where he obtained the rank of sergeant.  Donovan was a member of the Marshall Chess Club and participated in several US Opens. A feared opponent in New York chess circles, he was especially good at blitz.
Herbert Seidman (1920-1994) won the Marshall Club Championship in early 1942 where he was undefeated. He graduated that year and also enlisted in the Army. He won the Marshall Club Championship in 1944, 1945, tied with Hanauer in 1946, and was the club champion again in 1955. Seidman also played in the 1945 US-USSR Radio Match where he lost both of his games against Ragozin. After earning his MBA degree he was employed by the American Cancer Society where he rose to the position of Vice-President of Epidemiology and Statistics. His papers on smoking-related cancer were widely published.  In 1961 Seidman was co-champion of New York with Pal Benko and won the State title in 1971.     
Philip Woliston disappeared after this tournament only to pop up again, this time known as Philip Geffe to finish second in an open tournament in Nevada. see HERE
L. Walter Stephens (1883-1948) had served as captain of the Princeton chess team and earned a MA in education from Columbia in 1915. Stephens also served as TD in many tournaments and served as secretary of the Manhattan Chess Club from 1924-1941. After his retirement, his wife replaced him from 1942-1954. Arnold Denker wasn't a fan of either of them. It was Stephens who mistakenly forfeited Denker in the 1942 US Championship when Reshevsky exceeded the time limit.  Stephens refused to change his decision even when spectators pointed out his error.  His decision allowed Reshevsky to tie with Kashdan for the title. Reshevsky went on to defeat Kashdan in a match for the championship.