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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Winning Streaks by Steinitz and Fischer

    Older readers will remember and younger ones will have read about Bobby Fischer's incredible 20-game winning streak. It began on December 2, 1970 when he defeated Jorge Rubinetti at Palma de Mallorca. After that he mowed down Uhlmann, Taimanov, Suttles, Mecking, Gligoric and Panno. Then there followed matches where he defeated Taimanov six straight, then six more wins over Larsen and one more, on Setptember 30, 1971 over Petrosian. Fischer's streak finally came to an end on October 5, 1971 when Petrosian defeated him in game two of their Candidates Match in Buenos Aires.
     But, before him came Steinitz who had a winning streak of 25 games. Admittedly it's not as impressive as Fischer's because Steinitz' was over a nine year period! It started on August 5, 1873 when he defeated Rosenthal at Vienna. In that event he beat Rosenthal a second time, Paulsen, Anderssen, Schwartz, Gelbfuhs, Bird, Blackburne and Heral twice. Then at London in 1876, he scored seven straight wins over Blackburne in a match before defeating him again on May 10, 1882, again in Vienna. His last win in the streak was over Noa, also at Vienna, on May 11, 1882. His streak was finally ended by Preston Ware in a marathon 113-move game. 
    Although he doesn't get much press these days, we owe a lot to Wilhelm Steinitz (May 17, 1836 – August 12, 1900), the Austrian and later American player who was the first undisputed World Chess Champion, from 1886 to 1894. He was also a highly influential writer and chess theoretician and even Bobby Fischer found something of value in his play.
     Steinitz was the first occurrence of a scientific theory. For example, he wrote, “In fact it is now conceded by all experts that by proper play on both sides the legitimate issue of a game ought to be a draw, and that the right of making the first move might secure that issue, but is not worth the value of a Pawn.”
    According to Steinitz it is the loser that determined the outcome by committing an error. He wrote, “Brilliant sacrificing combinations can only occur when either side has committed some grave error of judgment in the disposition of his forces.”
     Early on Steinitz had a sharp style filled with aggressive play and plenty of sacrifices, but after he developed his principles based on scientific theory he opted for defensive play. Some of his principles were:

1. The point of any opening is to develop the pieces and at the same time prevent your opponent from doing so. If your opponent is behind in development, it is essential to harass him by creating threats. You need to attack as quickly as possible on the side of the board where he is the most vulnerable.
2. You also need to take care of your King’s safety.
3. Pay attention to the center. Occupy the center with either Pawns or the pieces. Strong pawn center will provide space and give an opportunity for attack.
4. Exercise care in moving Pawns because their unnecessary advance will weaken position of you own King.
5. When developing pieces you have to have an exact plan and what role each piece will play and where it should be positioned. The master develops with a specific purpose while a beginner develops them just for a sake of developing.
6. The side who possesses an advantage must attack, otherwise risk losing it. You should identify a weakness in opponent’s position and to exploit it.
7. If defending you must know what your opponent is about, deflect the threats, predict his moves and look for a possibility of a counterattack.
8. If a position is nearly equal, then maneuver to achieve some sort of an advantage then attack. With correct defense the game should remain equal and be drawn.
9. An advantage may consist of one big advantage or several smaller ones. There are two types of advantages: permanent and temporary.

    Permanent advantages consist of material, weak squares, passed Ps, weak Ps, open files and diagonals and the B pair. If you have these advantages take your time, don't rush and with a careful play you will win.
    Temporary advantages are a lead in development, position of pieces, control of the center and space. These advantages require you to attack as soon as possible since it is possible for your opponent to recover if you don’t act quickly enough.
    How many books have been written expounding Steinitz' ideas? The first one I had was Znosko-Borovsky's The Middle Game in Chess in which he demonstrated how to win games using the basic elements of space, time and force. I enjoyed the book, but honestly have to say it didn't help much because chess isn't quite that simple. 
     A little later I picked up Larry Evans' New Ideas in Chess only to discover the ideas weren't so new...he wrote about P-structures and, you guessed it, space time and force. Evans' book didn't help much either for the same reason Znosko-Borovsky's book didn't... chess isn't quite that simple.
     I can't say that these books, or any chess book for that matter, were totally useless because I did learn something by reading them...just not enough to break the 2200 barrier; close maybe, but not quite. Close doesn't count in chess. If you want to score points for coming close, play horseshoes.
     Let's take a look at a Steinitz win and he how simple he made chess look. His opponent, Alexander Sellman (January 15, 1856) died at the early age of 32 on October 7, 1888. Sellman authored Games of the Vienna (1882) tournament, a selection of the best and most brilliant games, with critical analysis by Alex. G. Sellman, together with a short account of the Tournament. He also served as the chess editor of the Baltimore News American between 1880 and 1886 and later for the Baltimore Sunday Herald for 1886 and 1887.

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