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Friday, October 21, 2016

Szabo Gives a Lesson On the Blockade

     A blockade is when the opponent has a pawn that needs to be stopped. That is generally accomplished by putting a piece, usually a N, in front of it. Qs and Rs usually make poor blockaders because, as the strongest pieces, they shouldn't be tied down on this task. 
     The concept of blockade was aptly demonstrated by Nimzovich when he advised, "First restrain, then blockade, finally destroy!" In fact, he even wrote a book on blockading, Die Blockade. This little appreciated book was translated in to English over thirty years ago and a new translation was published a few years ago.  Even today it contains a lot of good instruction. 
    I have always been intrigued by the following game in which Gligoric had two passed Ps on the Q-side and what looked like an excellent position, but Szabo showed how to render them impotent. 
     The game, played at Helsinki Chess Olympics 1952 (OlympBase has a full article on this event HERE), is a good example of blockading by BOTH sides. Pachman presented this game as an example of blockade strategy and his light notes illustrated the points very well, but as is often the case, it wasn't the one sided positional shellacking that a casual examination would indicate. Engine analysis with Stockfish and Komodo turned up resources for both sides, but Pachman's general evaluation is correct. The line chosen by Gligoric left him struggling by move 13 and a couple of other games from the same position did not turn out well for white either.  As one might expect, it was a great game between these two titans and Szabo's play was very instructive.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Alekhine's Defense Four Pawns Attack Planinc Variation

     In the previous post I mentioned the possibility of examining the Planinc Variation with an engine and the results are shown in the following game between Gerog Tringov and Albin Planinc. Using Komodo 8, I looked at its top six moves, but eliminated a couple of them, 5.a4 and 5.Na3, because a quick check of those moves didn't look very promising. Chalk them up to obscure engine moves. 
     I didn't find much on Google about the Planinc Variation except that it's named after GM Albin Planinc, who championed it in the 1970s and then in the 1990s a German correspondence player named Michael Schirmer experimented with it. I was unable to locate any of Schirmer's games. 
     In the book The Alekhine for the Tournament Player by Lev Alburt and Eric Schiller they say that players of the white side who play the Four Knights Variation need to be prepared to meet 5...g5 (the Planinc Variation) because the right moves are not easy to find at the board and they amusingly added that this is the only thing that the variation has going for it.
     The only line I found that seems to offer black anything near equality is the following: 
1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. c4 Nb6 5. f4 g5 6. exd6 (This is white's most popular continuation, but engine analysis indicates that 6.Nc3 might actually be better.) cxd6 (Black almost always plays 6...Qxd6) 7. fxg5 Nc6 8. Nf3 Bg4 9. Be3 Bg7 10. Nc3 Bxf3 11. gxf3 O-O 12. f4 d5 reaching the position shown in the diagram. Using Stockfish I ran a Shootout from this position which resulted in all five games being drawn.

 My analysis did not discover anything that would indicate that this variation might have some hidden resources for black that would make it worth playing. In fact, it seems to confirm that if black plays 5...g5 he is taking a huge risk and it seems that unless white plays very poorly black will immediately be on the defensive...not what he wants when he plays a gambit! 
    As for the players, I did a post featuring one of Planinc's brilliant wins involving a Q sac a few years ago HERE.
     Georgi Tringov (March 7, 1937 – July 2, 2000) was a Bulgarian GM.  He was awarded the IM title in 1962 and the GM title in 1963, the year he won the Bulgarian championship. Tringov was active mainly during the 1960s and 1970s and qualified for the 1964 Interzonal where he finished fifteenth. 
     Tringov had numerous successes in international tournaments, including first place at Vrsac 1973. He placed fifth in the 1955 World Junior Championship and played for Bulgaria in five World Student Team Championships (1957 through 1960), winning the individual gold on board four in 1957 and 1958. Playing on board 2 in 1959 he scored +11=2−0. Tringov played in 12 Olympiads and in 1968 he won the gold medal with a score of +8=6-0 on board two. In 1978 he scored +6=5−0) on board three.
     Tringov was involved in a controversy in his game against Korchnoi at the Olympiad in 1972. Their game was adjourned after 41 moves with Tringov to seal. his next move. Sealed moves were written on a separate piece of paper, not the player's score sheet. But Tringov sealed his move by writing it on his score sheet. Upon resumption, when the arbiter opened the envelope it contained Korchnoi's score sheet but not Tringov's. The arbiter ruled the game a forfeit win for Korchnoi. Oleg Neikirch, the Bulgarian team captain, protested but the arbitration committee upheld the arbiter's ruling. After the Olympiad was over, it was learned that Tringov had accidentally placed his score sheet in his pocket. Tringov discovered his mistake several days after his forfeit but was too ashamed to admit his mistake to the organizers of the Olympiad. 
     If anyone is interested trying this variation I have made a pdf copy of this game that can be printed out for reference. Download from Dropbox.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Alekhine's Defense Four Pawns Attack

     I don't know why, but I have always been intrigued by Alekhine' Defense, especially the Four Pawns Attack. Some GMs, notably Nigel Short, do not rate the defense very highly and in his book Nigel Short's Chess Skills he lists it under black openings as one of the "Bad and indifferent"ones.  In his 1985 match against Lev Alburt, a leading proponent of the Alekhine, Short scored 3 wins out of 3 games against it. But, the difference in their strength at the time may have been more of a factor than any deficiencies in the defense because Short won the match 7-1. GM Nick de Firmian observed the game immediately loses any sense of symmetry or balance which makes the opening a good choice for aggressive fighting players. 
     Alekhine's earliest tournament games with the defense were at Budapest, 1921 against Fritz Saemisch and Endre Steiner but it was simply called "Irregular." 
     Chess historian Edward Winter writes that when annotating one of the games in BCM, Sir George Thomas wrote that this "novel" defense was introduced by Alekhine there and since then it had been subjected to further testing by other players. Thomas went on to say that it was tentatively named Alekhine’s Defense, adding that it was a "novelty of considerable importance and it opened up a new field for investigation." Winter also tells us that in 1922 in the first monograph on the opening, Die Aljechin-Verteidigung by Hans Fahrni, he called the opening "Alekhine’s Defense."
     It's popularity waxes and wanes but Vassily Ivanchuk and Lev Alburt championed the defense and made many contributions to its theory and practice. Shabalov and Minasian occasionally use it as do Aronian, Adams, and Nakamura. Fischer and Korchnoi also had it in their repertoire. 
     The strategy of Alekhine's Defense is to tempt the white Ps forward with the hope of then undermining white's expanded center. White has to prove that the extra space is advantageous and often uses his space advantage to attack the black K. For his part, black tries to use tactical means based on the weak squares and Ps that White has created. 
     White has several strategies: the Four Pawns Attack, the Exchange Variation, Modern Variation, Balogh Variation, Two Pawns Attack, Two Knights Variation as well as several sidelines. These days you'll mostly see white playing the Modern Variation (1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. Nf3) which was made popular in the 1972 Spassky-Fischer match.
     Today's game features The Four Pawns Attack which is white's most ambitious try, and the variation which perhaps illustrates the basic idea of the defense best: black allows white to make several tempo-gaining attacks on his N and set up an imposing P-center. White then must find a way to use his advantage in space before black succeeds in attacking and destroying it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

US Champ Leaves for Moscow

S.S. Paris
     Back on October 17, 1925, which was a Saturday, Frank Marshall, then the US Champion, was the last of three players from the Western Hemisphere to depart for the international tournament in Moscow that was due to begin on November 5 when he set sail aboard the S.S. Paris of the French Line. For the interesting history of this ship see the Wikipedia article HERE
     Members of Marshall's family and of the Marshall Chess Club were on hand at the pier to bid him farewell. Upon landing, he was to proceed to Paris and obtain his Russian passport from the Plenipotentiary Mission which represented the USSR in Paris. From there, by way of Berlin and Warsaw, he would go to Moscow. 
     In the letter which accompanied his invitation, the chairman of the tournament committee had stated that Marshall was one of the most desired masters they hoped would attend. US players were happy to see Marshall accept his invitation because this tournament promised to be one of the strongest ever. 
     As for Marshal, he had shown that he had regained his pre-World War One form when he finished fourth at New York 1924 then shared fifth and sixth with Tartakower at Baden-Baden, 1925 and then shared third and fourth places with Carlos Torre at Marienbad, also in 1925. 
     Torre preceded Marshall to Moscow a few days earlier having sailed on the S.S. Lithuania for Danzig while Capablanca had left on Wednesday morning on the S.S. Mauretania. It was expected that between the three of them a large share of the prize fund would be brought back to the Western Hemisphere. 
     The tournament was organized by Nikolai Krylenko and was the world's first state-sponsored chess tournament.
     Krylenko (May 2, 1885 – July 29, 1938) was a Russian Bolshevik revolutionary and a Soviet politician who served in a variety of posts in the Soviet legal system, rising to become People's Commissar for Justice and Prosecutor General of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. 
     He was an exponent of the socialist legal theory that said political considerations, rather than criminal guilt or innocence, should guide the application of punishment. Although a participant in the Show Trials and political repression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, Krylenko was ultimately arrested himself during the Great Purge. Following interrogation and torture by the NKVD, Krylenko confessed to extensive involvement in wrecking and anti-Soviet agitation. He was sentenced to death by the Military Collegium of the Soviet Supreme Court in a trial lasting 20 minutes and executed immediately afterward.
     There were eleven foreign players and ten Soviet masters. World champion Capablanca and his predecessor Emanuel Lasker both participated and a race between them was expected, but Bogoljubow won a sensational victory. 
     The tournament aroused great interest among the Soviet citizens as hundreds of spectators followed the games in Hotel Metropol and ten of thousands watched demonstration boards downtown. Bogoljubow's win was regarded as a Soviet victory, but shortly after this in 1926 he left the Soviet Union and became a German citizen. Later Bogoljubow and Alekhine were called "renegades" in the USSR. Bogoljubov would never participate in another Soviet event. 
     The film Chess Fever used a number of scenes from the tournament, and even featured Capablanca. Watch Youtube video on this tournament HERE.

1) Bogoljubov 15.5 2) Lasker 14 3) Capablanca 13.5 4) Marshall 12.5 5-6) Tartakower and Torre 12 7-8) Reti and Romanovsky 11.5 9-10) Grünfeld and Ilyn-Zhenevsky 10.5 11) Bohatirchuk 10 12-14) Verlinsky, Spielmann and Rubinstein 9.5 15) Levenfish 9 16) Rabinovich 8.5 17) Yates 7 18-19) Saemisch and Gotthilf 6.5 20) Dus Chotimirsky 6 21) Zubarev 4.5

Monday, October 17, 2016

Shirov Analyzes His Evans Gambit Game

     Nobody plays the Evans Gambit much any more. My database has several games played by Evgeny Sveshnikov who has wins over the likes of Svidler and Short with it. Even Short himself once used it against Kasparov and drew. And, Kasparov used it to defeat Anand. Of course those games were played decades ago which in today's world is the equivalent of a hundred years. 
     There is plenty of theory: the Compromised Defense, Main Line with its main sub-variations, the Paulsen and the Potter. Then there are the variations, Leonhardt, Sokolosky, Sanders-Alapin and the Alapin-Steinitz; the attacks, Tartakower, Levenfish, Richardson and the Waller; and the Lasker Defense, to name a few. 
     The Evans was once popular, but then along came Wilhelm Steinitz who advocated a torturous defense against it. He was followed by Emanuel Lasker who employed a defensive plan that pretty much relegated the Evans Gambit to obscurity. 
     The main problem for white was that Lasker's Defense was so sound that it was considered a problem and white avoided it by playing 6.d4 and meeting 6...d6 with 7.Qb3, but even that offered little more than equal chances. 
     Though black has never refuted the Evans, modern play has uncovered lines that pretty much guarantee him easy equality. Of course white has to be prepared to meet the Two Knights Defense which involves delving into even more complicated territory where a lot of theory has to be digested. Still, the Evans can be fun to play on occasion. I don't recommend it in modern correspondence play though. I tried it a couple of years ago and even using Stockfish and examining a couple of dozen games looking for promising lines, the game soon fizzled out to a draw. 
     In the 1980s Jan Timman and John Nunn used it on rare occasions, but then in 1995 when Kasparov defeated Anand in the Tahl Memorial in Riga in 1995 the gambit experienced a revival. But, as you might expect, its popularity again faded and it's rarely seen these days. 
     I was going to analyze the game Shirov vs. Timman from Biel 1995 and in the process of doing some research on the opening I discovered that Shirov himself analyzed the game on Vimeo HERENaturally his analysis is better than anything I could do, but because he didn't give much analysis on the opening in the video, I will present the game with opening comments, then you can set across from Shirov and let him explain his play to you. Chessdotcom also has some interesting article on the Evans HERE.

Friday, October 14, 2016

2003 US Championship

Alex Shabalov, Street Fighter
     The 2003 U.S. Championship, held in Seattle, Washington, was a Swiss System event with 45 men and 13 women and determined both the Men and Women champions. This tournament was the third year the championship was played in the Swiss format. 
     GM Alexander Shabalov, won the event and the $25,000 first prize. Going into the final round, the 1992 emigre from Riga, Latvia, was tied with seven other players, but instead of following the example of a bunch of other GMs and taking he quick draw, he slugged it out with (then an IM now a GM) Varuzhan Akobian to take the title. Anna Hahn was awarded the Women's Champion title. 
     This tournament featured several new faces which included GM Maurice Ashley and FM Stephen Muhammad along with the then teenage sensation IM Hikaru Nakamura. Also included were the Mongolian couple, FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat and WIM Tsagaan Battsetseg. 
     Most of the favorites won in the first round, but the previous year's six-time champion Walter Browne was upset by 16-year-old Cindy Tsai.   In one first round incident, top junior Hikaru Nakamura faced defending women's champion Jennifer Shahade. When Shahade claimed a three-fold repetition Nakamura didn't believe it and, according to witnesses, threw a tantrum. Shahade was right; it was a draw. Nakamura's snit was hard to understand because his position was already worse. 
     Nakamura also had also raised some eyebrows when he had privately asked the organizers about "players like Akobian." There had been some controversy about the 18-year old Akobian's invitation because normally there is a waiting period before an immigrant is allowed to participate in the championship and Goldin had just finished his waiting period and the 2003 event was the first for which he was eligible.  An exception had been made for Akobian. 
     In other first round action IM Greg Shahade blundered and lost to the lowest rated player in the event, Julia Shiber who was rated 270 points below him.
     Shabalov thrives on wild games. Describing his play, he said, "If the position after my move becomes more complicated then the game is going in the right direction." Being from Riga, Shabalov and his contemporary Alexei Shirov studied with Tahl and as a result both inherited Tahl's style. The downside of his style is that Shabalov sometimes loses to lower rated players more often than would be expected from a player with his rating. 
     With a style that's been described as a street fighter, Shabalov rarely offers or accepts early draws and going into the last round eight players were tied for first with 5.5 points. After 15 minutes, thanks to short draws, the stage was almost empty. Shabalov's game against Akobian was the exception. It lasted six hours. The event's main sponsor, Erik Anderson, was so pleased with Shabalov's fighting spirit that he awarded both players an extra $5,000! Anderson, president of West River Capital, a private equity investment company based in Seattle, started The America's Foundation for Chess in 2000. 
     This was Shabalov his first outright US title. In 1993 he shared the title with Alex Yermolinsky and in 2000 he shared a three-way tie with Yasser Seirawan and Joel Benjamin. 

1) Alexander Shabalov 6.5 
2-8) Gregory Kaidanov, Alexander Goldin, Boris Gulko, Joel Benjamin, Alexander Stripunsky, Alexander Ivanov and John Fedorowicz 6.0 
9-17) Yasser Seirawan, Nick De Firmian, Larry Christiansen, Alex Yermolinsky,Varuzhan Akobian, Hikaru Nakamura, Gennadi Zaitshik, Ron Burnett and Justin Sarkar 5.5 
18-24) Ben Finegold, Gregory Serper, Boris Kreiman, Alex Fishbein, Dmitry Gurevich, Igor Foygel and Stephen Muhammad 5.0 
25-38) Sergey Kudrin,Yury Lapshun, Walter Browne, Michael Mulyar, Jesse Kraai, Greg Shahade, Tegshsuren Enhbat, William Paschall, John Donaldson, Anatoly Lein, Larry Kaufman, Irina Krush, Jennifer Shahade, Anna Hahn 4.5 
39-44) Maurice Ashley, Eugene Perelshteyn, Aaron Pixton, Dean Ippolito, Elena Donaldson and John Watson 4.0 
45-49) Camile Baginskaite, David Pruess, Gregory Markzon, Tsagaan Battsetseg and Julia Shiber 3.5 
50-54) Stanislav Kriventsov, Marc Esserman, Esther Epstein, Laura Ross and Elina Groberman 3.0 
55-56) Allan Bennett and Cindy Tsai 2.5 
57) Olga Sagalchik 2.0 
58) Anna Levina 1.5 

     No GM norms were made, but both FM Stephen Muhammad and FM Igor Foygel scored their third and final IM norm. WIM Jennifer Shahade scored both her second IM and second WGM norm. 
     The following first round win by Shabalov is impressive, especially his 20th move and the way he built up his position which just seemed to keep growing. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Karpov - The Boa Constrictor

     Karpov, the reigning World Champion from 1975 to 1985, was never my favorite player.  At the time considered unbeatable, his style was described as that of a boa constrictor. Famous for minimizing risk, Karpov described his playing style by saying, "Let us say the game may be continued in two ways: one of them is a beautiful tactical blow that gives rise to variations that don't yield to precise calculation; the other is clear positional pressure that leads to an endgame with microscopic chances of victory.... I would choose the latter without thinking twice. If the opponent offers keen play I don't object; but in such cases I get less satisfaction, even if I win, than from a game conducted according to all the rules of strategy with its ruthless logic." 
     Not very appealing! In fact, one time I received a book of Karpov's best games in the mail from a National Master friend with a note that said. "Boring! Maybe you'll like the games." I didn't. 
     Karpov, born on May 23, 1951 in Zlatoust in the Urals region of the former Soviet Union, learned to play chess at the age of four and he was a Candidate Master (2200-2300 Elo today) by age eleven. At twelve, he was accepted into Botvinnik's chess school. At the time Botvinnik said, "The boy does not have a clue about chess and there's no future at all for him in this profession." Karpov acknowledged that his understanding of theory was confused and wrote later that the homework Botvinnik assigned greatly helped him, because it required him to consult chess books and work diligently. As a result, he improved so quickly that he became one of the youngest Soviet National Masters in history at fifteen in 1966, tying the record established by Boris Spassky in 1952. 
     In his day Karpov was considered to be one of the greatest players of all time. Besides a ten year reign as World Champion, over 160 first-place finishes confirms his status as one of the all time greats, but his games...boring!! And, his monumental struggles with Kasparov for the World Championship was one of the most tedious ever. 
     The big question was, how would he have fared in a match against Fischer? When Karpov won the right to challenge Fischer in 1975, Fischer objected to the best of 24 games format that had been used since 1951. His claim was that it encouraged whoever got an early lead to play for draws. Fischer demanded the match winner would be whoever won 10 games, except that if the score reached 9–9 he would remain champion. Eventually FIDE (and just about everybody else) got tired of Fischer's demands and made Karpov the new champion. Fischer went into seclusion until 1992 when he and Spassky played a rematch. By that time, even though the match attracted a lot of media coverage, the general chess public's attitude was, "Who cares?" The idea of two great players on the downhill slide from their prime playing a match for the "World Championship" was ridiculous. 
     The following game between Karpov and Tahl was different than expected. Karpov played like Tahl!