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Monday, August 10, 2015

The Russians Play Chess

     The Russians Play Chess by Irving Chernev is a collection of 50 sensational attacking games from the years 1925-1945 (in my 2nd edition there are 6 games additional games by Bronstein, Smyslov, Tahl and Petrosian, from 1951-60). 
     Most of the games are short, spectacular sacrificial affairs and many are by lesser-known, or long forgotten, players of a bygone era. There is a diagram every few moves, so you can read it without a board. This means you could use the book for an unsystematic book on tactics, but the best thing is just playing over he games for enjoyment. Chernev also makes frequent comments, so you aren't left in the dark about what's going on for long stretches of the game.  Chernev tends to focus on threats more than anything else which also helps in making it a good way to study tactics. 
     One review complained that the games are not of the same quality as those of better players, say Alekhine, Tahl or Fischer. Maybe, maybe not.  But that's the beauty of them! Not many of us will be playing world championship contenders very often so when playing over games by players of lesser caliber, we will see more of the mistakes, sometimes crude ones, that we will run into...or make ourselves. I really like this book. 
     Here is one game I especially enjoyed. The winner, Sergey Belavenets (8 July 1910 – 7 March 1942) was a Soviet master, theoretician, and chess journalist. Belavenets was born in Smolensk to a noble family. He and Mikhail Yudovich, known as the Smolensk twins, had been close friends since meeting in a school match in 1925. Over the next few years they studied with Belavenets's uncle, Konstantin Vygodchikov. Vygodchikov was a master who enjoyed success in many very strong local Soviet tournaments. He was awarded the Soviet Master title in 1929 after tying with Botvinnik in the preliminary round of the USSR Championship.
     Belavenets was in the Soviet Army and was killed in action while fighting at Staraya in 1942. His daughter Liudmila (born 1940) held the title of women's world correspondence champion from 1984 to 1992. 
     What I liked about this game is that white chose a line that allowed black to seize the initiative. Defining the initiative is, sometimes, a little slippery. It's usually defined as an advantage belonging to the player who can make threats that cannot be ignored. The advantage is that it puts the opponent in the position of having to use his move to respond to threats rather than executing his own plans. The advantage of having the initiative is that the one who possesses it can maneuver his pieces into more and more aggressive positions which will ultimately result in a strong attack. Natalia Pogonina discusses it on Chessdotcom here. In this game, Belavenets gives us a good example. 
     Note: this was NOT the famous Moscow 1936 event that was won by Capablanca ahead of Botvinnik and Flohr. Following the enormous success of that tournament, Nikolai Krylenko scheduled another event in Moscow to consist of 5 Soviet players and 5 foreigners in a double round robin competition. Capablanca and Lasker being asked back a third time along with Botvinnik and Flohr. It was the last of Krylenko. He was arrested in 1937 and purged in 1938. For more on Krylenko a must read is Kevin Spraggett's outstanding article on his Blog HERE.

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