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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Me and Howard Staunton

Staunton was the most profound opening analyst of all time. He was more theorist than player, but nonetheless he was the strongest player of his day. Playing over his games, I discover that they are completely modern; where Morphy and Steinitz rejected the fianchetto, Staunton embraced it. In addition, he understood all of the positional concepts which modern players hold so dear, and thus - with Steinitz - must be considered the first modern player. - Bobby Fischer

     I was aware of Fischer's opinion a long time ago and, in fact, I knew about Staunton before Bobby Fischer ever mentioned him. But, here's a little secret: until yesterday I had NEVER played over a Staunton game.
     Apparently Fischer had a higher opinion of Staunton's play than some of his contemporaries. Thomas Beeby didn't like Staunton, claiming after he beat a couple of players Staunton gushed 'offensive flattery' because his real objective was to inflate himself. On the other hand, when he lost it was never because of his lack of skill but rather because of carelessness, inattention, fatigue or he got bored during the game or some such. Beeby claimed Staunton was so eaten up by self-conceit and his opinion of himself so exaggerated he could not be a safe guide as to the real ability f other players.
    From 1840 onwards he became a leading chess commentator, and won matches against top players of the 1840s. In 1847 he entered a career as a Shakespearean scholar. Ill health and his two writing careers led him to give up competitive chess after 1851. In 1858 attempts were made to organize a match between Staunton and Morphy, but they failed. It is often alleged that Staunton deliberately misled Morphy while trying to avoid the match, but some claimed he was simply afraid to play Morphy. Come to think of it, maybe Staunton and Fischer were kindred spirits and that's why Fischer liked Staunton so much. 
     I think Fischer lost a lot of skill in a hurry after he became world champion. His second match against Spassky for the "world championship" was a joke and nobody was really too interested in the games. By the way, I did a review on the fascinating book on this match by Nenad Nesh Stankovic HERE. I have to tell you, Mr. Stankovic handled Fischer better than I would have because even if I was being paid to babysit him, I could not have stomached Fischer's antics.
     I remember hearing one of Fischer's absolutely insane radio rants where he claimed the games from the first Karpov-Kasparov match were made up with the help of a computer because they played so well. Fischer simply did not understand the games...proof that in his absence chess had simply advanced to the point he didn't understand the games of the two best players in the world. That's why he tried to level the field by inventing a new version of the game.
     Back to Staunton...unlike most players of the day, he was not an all-out attacking player but he was known for accurate attacks when his preparations were complete. Here's one of his games I played through.


  1. Good morning,

    Actually sir, B. Spasskij backed Fischer up in that the Karpov-Kasparov games were "perhaps" made up. Spasskij said some games looked very suspicious.

  2. Good morning again,

    When you say "the match was a joke," are you referring to the quality of the games? Fischer displayed a mix of rusty stuff with genius reminiscent of his glory days. The legend returned, beat Spasskij convincingly and the match really happened, it was no joke.

  3. Very few players showed much interest in the match...nothing like the first one.

    It was a match between a couple of has beens who were nowhere near the top any more and most GMs pretty much agreed the games were not top quality, and to claim it was for the “world championship” was laughable.

    GM Maxim Dlugy said, "Spassky is playing a lemon every game” and Kasparov told him Spassky's lack of strength made the match a joke. Fischer's play was spotty and Dlugy claimed that on occasion Fischer showed “a loss of perception of what to do." Spassky was ill during the match and he stated, "I think my future's in the past,"

  4. Hi Mr. Tartajubow,
    and thank you for replying.

    I have played over all the F-S games ever and I absolutely agree: the 1992 games are decent, some even great but they don't compare to their games of '72. It just makes me a little uncomfortable when some people make fun of that match.

    Even GM's will have their negative opinions about it but I absolutely don't care. E.g.: Kasparov- "The match of '92 holds very little significance in WC history in my opinion." To him I say: Well that's just fine Mr. Kasparov, In my book, your match of 2000 was of little significance, you call that a title defense? And your Deep Blue '97 match was so disgraceful, the only way out you could see was to accuse the brilliant people of IBM of cheating.

    By the way Mr. Tartajubow, I respect and admire GM Max Dlugy very much.

    Best wishes,

    C.J. Moc

  5. Agree. As I have stated before, engines have demonstrated many brilliant games from the past, like some of the players, were flawed. But, it doesn't take anything away from the fact the games themselves were great battles and the players were fascinating people. Oh, by the way, does anybody think those ridiculous knockout matches early in 2000 were worthy of the title? Khalifman, Ponomariov and Kasimdzhanov were strong players, but how do they compare along side Capa, Botvinnik, Tahl, Spassky, Fischer, Kasparov, etc, etc?

  6. Ridiculous, of course. I always found it distasteful that they included the word "knockout" in those tournaments. The FIDE "Knockout" Championship. It makes one believe they were trying to quickly eliminate the players. And that FIDE wanted a new champion every year. I'm glad they stopped that system of "championship" and life got back to normal.

    But of course most of the world, as myself too, considered the classical world champ, Kramnik to be the real McCoy in those messy times.

    1. Classical...

      Now that title sounds much better. So authentic, genuine, believable.

    2. Yes, The Classical World Chess Championship. I love it.

      Who wants to be "knockout" champion?

      "Hello, I'm the Knockout champion. Respect me."
      Pssst, Calm down rocky balboa.

  7. My top 5 classical champs of all time:

    #5. Karpov or Kasparov, either one.
    #4. Lasker

    #3. Between Fischer and Aljehine. tough choice.

    #2. J.R. Capablanca

    #1. Definitely and forever Botvinnik.

    Thank You,
    C.J. Moc

  8. My personal favorites:
    1) Botvinnik – I wore the cover off his One Hundred Selected Games
    2) Fischer – having the benefit of “living through” his career was frustrating, fascinating and exciting. I ran into him in Dr. Albert Buschke's used chess book store in New York City in the mid-1960s. I was too intimidated (probably a good thing) to speak, but surreptitiously observed him until he and Buschke disappeared into the back of the store to look at some special stock that had been reserved for Fischer.
    3-Alekhine-One of my first chess books were the collections of his best games.
    4-Dr. Max Euwe-probably because I met him once as a kid and was impressed.
    5-Tahl-his brief reign was nothing short of exciting.