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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Martin McGrath

     McGrath was considered perhaps the strongest and most accomplished chess player in the South at the beginning of the 20th century. He won the Mississippi State Championship four times, tied three times and placed second twice: 1899, 1900 (tied), 1901, 1902 (tied), 1903 (tied), 1904 (2nd), 1905 (2nd), 1906 and 1907. 
     Prior to his first championship in 1899 he traveled to New Orleans to compete against Harry Pillsbury at the New Orleans Chess, Checkers and Whist Club which had membership of 1000 at one point and was the predecessor of the Paul Morphy Chess Club which formed in 1928. Pillsbury's tour, as reported in the Daily Picayune of New Orleans on Feb. 21, 1899, was considered to have an influence on the popular interest in the game greater than anything since the triumphal return of Paul Morphy from Europe in 1859 or Pillsbury's own return from Hastings in 1895. Pillsbury played 22 players during his exhibition, winning twenty and drawing two with two visiting players: Martin D. McGrath of Brookhaven, Misssissippi and William Fell of New York City. 
     McGrath, then 34, was considered one of Pillsbury's toughest opponents during his tour. McGrath would be featured a few months later in the August 1899 issue of the American Chess Magazine and the experience likely helped him win the first of seven victories or ties in the annual Mississippi Chess Association event later that year. 
     An eyewitness described Pillsbury for Picayune: "Remarkable it was to watch the American master's countenance while calculating the moves. Not a muscle moved on lip and eyelid; not an irritable or nervous tendency was anywhere exhibited; not a whisper stirred among the players, or in the interested gathering of spectators; and Pillsbury calmly and thinking deeply and smoking a cigar.  The beardless young man who can smile and ponder at the same time must have enjoyed the exhilarating pleasure of steadily gaining point by point on each player, forcing all but two, Martin McGrath and William Fell, to succumb to his great skill." 
     McGrath described Pillsbury:  "Harry is a marvel. His technique is superb, and he grasps in a moment a difficult situation, which takes others several minutes to figure out. He is undoubtedly a master hand at the game." 
     McGrath, at the age of 45, was honored in the August 1908 edition of The British Chess Magazine, describing him as one of the best known and probably the strongest player in the Southern states of America. 
     McGrath became interested in chess about the age of 17 and by study and persistent practice was soon able to play the local champion on equal terms. When he was about 21 he took up correspondence play and remained an ardent devotee today. 
     McGrath was born on November 15, 1865 and died on February 11, 1943. He is buried in the Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Cemetery in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Below is one of his correspondence games. The date is uncertain, but it was probably played around 1905 or 1906.

Friday, July 29, 2016

A True Brilliancy from Hamburg 1910

     In the summer of 1910 the Hamburger Schachgesellschaft celebrated it 80th anniversary with a tournament where masters from all over the world were invited that was to include as many sections in major and minor events as the number of entrants necessitated. There was also a problem solving tournament. The result was 17 players in the Master event, 15 in the Major A. 60 in the Major B and 49 players in the Minor section. The organizers put in a lot of effort and the participants were offered excursions, fancy dinners and a performance at the Thalia theater. 
     In his book Chess Secrets Edward Lasker wrote of some amusing incidents that supposedly took place at this tournament, but in the book Aron Nimzowitsch: On the Road to Chess Mastery, 1886-1924 by Per Skjoldager, Jorn Erik Nielsen the authors refute many Lasker's anecdotes and "facts." For anyone that's interested, you can read the details in Google books' preview feature starting at page 100 HERE.
     One interesting game, of many, from the tournament was Leonhardt's brilliancy prize against Tarrasch. Often when going over brilliancy prize games with an engine you'll find improvements for both players that may even render the brilliancy unsound. But, that's not the case here; Leonhardt's play could not be improved upon. In this game Tarrasch's forces, especially the Rooks become disconnected and white, by virtue of his well placed pieces, manages to pull off a stunning attack. 

Need A Chess Certificate?

If you need chess certificates that you can print out the following sites have several.  Certificates may not seem like a big deal, but they can be significant motivators if you work with children.  For some guidelines on motivating students with performance awards visit Certificate Street.  It also might be a good idea that rather than printing out the certificates on plain old paper you invest in some nice certificate paper at an office supply store.

123 Certificates 
Creative certificates 
AAA Certificates 
Professor Chess 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Strange Match and An Exciting Game

     The 1910 match between Lasker and Schlechter was unusual. Was it for the world championship or not? If it was for the championship, did Schlechter need to win the match by two points to claim the title? Why did Schlechter, who had an unusually solid style, play for such great complications in trying to win? Did he miss the draw at one point? Beside all this, there were, no doubt, a lot of psychological factors involved as well as physical fatigue, especially in the last game. Several of the annotations I looked at were based on generalities and engine analysis disproved some of them, but that's not the point. The thing is, these two guys produced a game that was a seesaw battle with enormous complications and it was a truly titanic effort on the part of BOTH players.     
      This was (possibly) the first ever drawn world championship match, the shortest and also one of the historically most controversial because of the debates just mentioned. The match is generally regarded as having been for the World Championship, but some sources have doubted this in view of its strange outcome. According to J.R. Buckley in the American Chess Bulletin the match wasn't for the World Championship and the result suggested that a match for the World Championship between the two should take place. Al Horowitz, Nicolas Giffard and Fred Wilson all agreed that a two-point margin was required while researcher Graeme Cree wrote that there are still doubts. Some argue that it's unlikely that Lasker would have risked his title in a short match without the protection of the two-point clause. They also point to the fact that negotiations for a Lasker–Capablanca match broke down the next year over the same two point clause. 
     Another historian wrote that Schlechter went to Berlin in November 1908 and challenged Lasker to a title match and they issued a joint statement stating that the match would last 30 games and the winner would need a two point score. Schlechter biographer Warren Goldman wrote that the conditions for the 10-game match were never published, but noted that Deutsches Wochenschach stated that the victor would be the one who won the most games and if necessary the referee would decide the title. Some point out that two days before the tenth game Lasker wrote that with the match nearing its end, it appeared likely that he would be the loser and that "a good man will have won the World Championship."
     On the other hand, a report shortly after the end of the match speculated that Schlechter threw the last game because a narrow victory would not have been in the financial interests of either player, as they would have had to play another match if Schlechter won narrowly and they already had not been able to get adequate financial backing for the 1910 match.  That Schlechter would throw the match sounds preposterous though. In the end, who knows? 
     In any case, even though only two games (games 5 and 10) were decisive, the match was a scrappy fight with some hair raising draws and the games themselves averaged over 50 moves. It's the last game that is the most famous because going into it, Schlechter led by a point and achieved a complicated but won position where he could have forced a draw, but instead made uncharacteristic winning attempts and lost. 
     The match began on January 7, 1910 in the Vienna Chess Club with Georg Marco the director. The games usually began at 5 pm and lasted until 8 pm. After a break of an hour and a half play was resumed until 11 pm and then adjourned if necessary. The time control was 15 moves per hour. Game 10 lasted 3 days and more than 11 hours. 
     Although a draw would have given him the match victory Schlechter played actively and got a promising position and decided to play for the win, but drifted into a worse position and Lasker finally converted his advantage. Analyzing this game with Stockfish revealed just how crazy the complications got. An exciting game! 

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Decent Game By a Couple of Patzers

     It's fun, and embarrassing, to play over my old games. This one from 40 years ago is no different. I don't remember ratings, but I think mine was somewhere in the mid-1600s and my opponent was in the 1200s. My final score in the tournament was +3 -1 =1 and I remember it because the game I lost, crushed actually, was against an opponent rated over 2300 who eventually became an FM; the game was a 27-mover that got published. The other reason I remember it was because one evening in the hotel restaurant a couple of us were served by a transvestite "waitress" who was badly in need of a shave.
     I also remember my opponent, a young teenager, because a short time later we met again in another small weekend tournament where I won when he badly mishandled a Dragon Sicilian and lost quickly. Things got worse; I met him again for the third time, again as white, and won a 9-move King's Gambit when he overlooked an elementary mate. 
     In this game, as often happened, I was so intent on playing "positional" chess that I overlooked some tactics. On the plus side I did see the 5-move tactic at move 24 that resulted in the win of a piece. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

More on Taking Advantage of Weak Squares

     Steinitz established the principle that Pawns were strongest on their original squares, especially those on the wing that is under attack. A P-advance is often an effective attacking weapon, but when on the defense, a Pawn move can create a serious weakness. 
     The previous game was a good example of the importance of a single square. This game was decided by Euwe's brilliant exploitation of a weak square...f6 and is very instructive.
     Euwe needs no introduction, but his opponent, Salo Flohr, is not too well known today.
     Salomon Flohr (November 21, 1908 – July 18, 1983) was a leading Czech GM of the mid-20th century, who became a national hero in Czechoslovakia during the 1930s. His name was used to sell many of the luxury products of the time, including Salo Flohr cigarettes, slippers and eau-de-cologne.  See Edward Winter's article on chess and tobacco.
     Flohr dominated many tournaments of the pre-World War II years and by the late 1930s was considered a contender for the World Championship. However, his patient, positional style was overtaken by the sharper, more tactical methods of the younger Soviet echelon after World War II. Flohr was also a well-respected chess author, and an International Arbiter. 
     In 1937 FIDE nominated him as the official candidate to play Alekhine for the World Championship, but with World War II looming, it proved impossible for Flohr to raise the stake money in Czechoslovakia, so the plans were dropped. The next year Flohr was one of the eight elite players invited to the AVRO tournament in 1938. He finished last and that put an end to his chances of a match with Alekhine. 
     The German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 meant Flohr, as a Jew, was in serious personal danger so he stayed in The Netherlands for a while until he and his family fled, first to Sweden, and then, with the help of Botvinnik, to Moscow where he became a Soviet citizen. 
     After the War he was still considered a contender for the World Championship and played in the 1950 Candidates Tournament in Budapest. However, he finished tied for last with 7 out of 18, and never entered the World Championship cycle again, preferring to concentrate on journalism. 
     The evolution of his style of play was interesting. When he came into prominence after Bled 1931 his play was inventive and showed great imagination to the point that he was called a master of tactical play. Gradually a noticeable change took place. He began to evade tactical play in favor of quiet positional play and endings where he tried to win on sheer technique and as a result, he began producing dull games that lacked any imagination. This style allowed him to grind out wins against weaker players, but against world class players, it was not enough and he drew most of his games against such opponents. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

It's All About Squares

     We all know that the creation and exploitation of weak squares in the enemy position is an important element in modern strategy.  However, the weakness of a square is not an absolute factor.  Sometimes a weak square is of primary importance, other times its influence is negligible.  Everything depends on the character of the position, material, position of the pieces, etc. To recognize when a weak square is a real weakness and can be exploited calls for good strategic judgment because it's not a real weakness if it can't be exploited. For a good example of a strong N outpost see my discussion of the Smyslov vs. Rudakowski game here
     The following game is a good example of the importance of recognizing weak squares and how to use them and because learning by example is one of the best ways to learn anything, a close examination of the play of both players is sure to be helpful. In this game the battle is around Bisguier's attempt to advance his c-Pawn and Feuerstein's efforts at preventing it by controlling the c5 square. 
     First, a little background on the opening. At the Interzonal in Zagreb, 1955 Bisguier used his own variation against the advance ...e5 by black in the Sicilian against Gligoric, Udovcic and Barcza, all of whom met it with their own prepared lines, but without success. He was still using the variation successfully in 1957 when in the Manhattan Chess Club Championship Arthur Feuerstein put Bisguier's system to yet another test; he almost, but not quite, succeeded. Not long after this tournament Bobby Fischer invited Bisguier to play his system against against him in the US Open in Cleveland, Ohio.  Bisguier declined the invitation because he had an alternative prepared and managed to hold the draw. 
     Now for the game. Observe the struggle for control of c5.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Live Chess Ratings - 2700 Chess

     I just discovered this site. The ratings of top players are updated daily, you can view the highest FIDE ratings of every player over 2700+, the top-20 players in any month starting from June 1967 as well as the greatest historical players, various rating charts, games, receive daily e-mails that advise you of changes in live ratings, world rankings and games links for your favorite players, plus more. 
     For example, the site has available for download 2,072 games by Magnus Carlsen dating back to 2002. Want to know how many games he won as white against the Najdorf Sicilian? It's 325. 
     Who are the top inactive players? (1) Kasparov 2812 (2) Polgar J 2675 (3) Zoltan Gyimesi. He is a 39-year old GM from Hungary. (4) Lautier 2658 and (5) Vladimir Afromeev, a 62-year old Russian FM rated 2646.   It's something of a surprise though that the database does not have any of his games. 
     Afromeev is a businessman who was born in the city of Tula which is located about 75 miles from Moscow. He is, in addition to a player, an International Arbiter. Afromeev gained spectacular, apparently miraculous, improvements in his FIDE rating which made him the only player in the top 100 FIDE list without the GM title. 
     Some players, like GM Alexander Baburin, feel that Afromeev's rise to the world's elite in middle age is a little too spectacular. They consider his rating achievement as a fraud and called Afromeev's rise to the top an abuse of FIDE's rating system. 
     Writing in Chess Today, Baburin said that it is completely unheard of and almost ludicrous to think that someone could suddenly reach the top 100 list in middle age.  He points out that Afromeev organized many of the tournaments he also play in, which in itself is not all that unusual, but apparently it makes some people suspicious.
     Afromeev successfully sued IM Igor Yagupov, also from Tula, in 2001 for defamation and won his case by presenting the scoresheets, game reports, hotel receipts etc. According to Baburin, Afromeev's previously unrated driver gained an Elo rating of over 2440. According to Baburin, Afromeev once stated that if he wanted, his cat would have a similar rating. See Susan Polgar's article and a New York Times article  It was also discussed on the English Chess Forum here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Black Rook's Gambit

     In his early years Paul Keres successfully played some correspondence games with it, but when you are a Keres you can win against lesser mortals with just about anything. The Gambit is not sound and most sensible defensive plans will enable black to get out of the opening with at least equal, if not better, chances. 
     While the first analysis of the gambit appeared in 1825 and was published in Barcelona, the New Orleans player Otto Tennison was instrumental in popularizing it. When he first published his analysis in 1891, he called it the Black Rook’s Gambit. Today it's known as the Tennison Gambit and it begins with the moves 1.Nf3 d5 2.e4. 
     Otto Mandrup Tennison was born in Copenhagen on December 8, 1834 and at the age of 20 graduated from Heidelberg University in Germany with a degree in engineering. He then moved to Richmond, Virginia where he was employed as a surveyor. The year 1854 found him in Kansas Territory surveying the area around the city of Leavenworth. 
     Tennison served with the Union forces in the US Civil War as Lieutenant Colonel in the 1st Kansas Infantry Regiment and after the war in the 1890s he was living in New Orleans when he published his analysis on the gambit. 
     In May, 1863, Tennison decided he could no longer support the Union cause and resigned his commission. As a result he was to face a court martial but managed to escape to a Confederate camp in Kentucky. He was not allowed to join the Confederate Army and was instead taken as prisoner and held captive for 16 months. 
     Thinking he was a Union spy, the Confederates had sentenced him to hang. Ultimately his sentence was reprieved when the Confederates were finally convinced he was not a spy. They then gave him the rank of Captain in June, 1863. Nearly a year later he was later wounded at the Battle of Pleasant Hill and served out the rest of the war as a drill master before leaving the army in June, 1865 and moving to New Orleans where he worked as a civilian in the commissary. 
     In 1873 in New Orleans, Tennison was involved in an armed insurrection against the New Orleans Reconstruction government and over the several years he was involved in other military commands and participated in the Louisiana Militia, the Continental Guards, the German Battalion, the Orleans Light Infantry, and the Louisiana National Guard, in which his unit was known as the “Tennison Rifles.” 
     In the 1880 Tennison was a charter member of the New Orleans Chess, Checker, and Whist Club and from the 1880s through the 1890s served as a reporter for the Republican newspaper and was a court reporter at the House of Representatives of the State of Louisiana. 
     I also discovered that a US Patent (577433) was granted to one Charles B. De Lamarre in 1897 for a door alarm that was assigned to Tennison, but was unable to discover what, if anything, Tennison did with it. The alarm consisted of a bellows attached to a "whistle pipe." My feeling is that this alarm was probably less successful than his gambit...the gambit is still around, but you can't find the alarm anymore. 
     He died in the Confederate Soldiers’ Home in New Orleans on June 10, 1909 at the age of 74.