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Friday, August 31, 2018

Larsen at Wageningen 1957

     Bent Larsen, Fighting Chess With The Great Dane, is a followup to his Larsen's Selected Games of Chess 1948-69 and both books are classics by one of the greatest fighting players of modern chess. 
     Larsen was a candidate for the World Championship four times and became one of the most successful tournament players of his time. His uncompromising style and unorthodox play made him one of the most popular players of his day. An example of his play can be seen in the following game against Troianescu.
     Octavio Troianescu (February 4, 1916 - November 8, 1980) was a Romanian IM who was born in Chernivtsi which is today in western Ukraine. From the mid-1940s to the end of the 1970s he was one of the top Romanian players, winning the national championship nine times. In 1956 and 1960 he took part in the Olympiads and he finished 9th in the zonal tournament in Wageningen. 
     In 1957 one of the zonals was played in Dublin and you can visit the Irish Chess Union website to see photos from the event. For a complete list of all the zonal tournaments see Mark Weeks site
     In other 1957 chess news, Smyslov defeated Botvinnik to win the world championship, Fischer won the US Championship ahead of Reshevsky. A strong double round international tournament was held in Dallas, Texas and Reshevsky and Gligoric tied for first ahead of Szabo and Larsen. The field was rounded out by Larsen, Yanofsky, Olafsson, Najdorf and Evans. Bronstein had been invited, but he had visa problems and couldn't play. There was also a side match between local star Kenneth Smith and Pal Benko; it was no contest as Benko won 5.5-1.5.
  
     In the European Team Championship the Soviets won ahead of Yugoslavia and Hungary. The first Women's Olympiad took place in Emmen in Holland and the Soviet Union edged Romania on tiebreaks. Nine countries were represented.
     In world headline Russia tested its first ICBM missile and more importantly launched Sputnik, the first earth-orbiting satellite. It orbited for three weeks before its batteries died, then for two more months before falling back into the atmosphere. I remember the great excitement as people around the world were anxious to hear its radio signals: beep, beep, beep. It doesn't sound like a big deal today, but that wasn't the case in 1957! The Sputnik rocket booster also reached Earth orbit and was visible from the ground at night, while the small but highly polished sphere, barely visible, was more difficult to follow optically. There were even parties to try to spot it and catch a glimpse of the tiny light gliding across the sky. 
     Also that year in Little Rock, Arkansas the high school was integrated and President Eisenhower sent troops in to quell mob and protect the students after hard line segregationist Governor Orval Faubus defied a federal order. He served as Governor from 1955 to 1967 and tried but failed to get reelected in 1970, 1974 and 1986. In his last run he was defeated by future President Bill Clinton.
     At the Wageningen (in The Netherlands) Zonal, Larsen tied for 3rd–4th with Donner and as there were only three spots open for the Interzonal at Portoroz in 1958 they had a playoff at The Hague and Larsen won decisively 3-1. 
     Portoroz was a 21-player tournament with the top six players qualifying for the Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade Candidates tournament in 1959, but no more than four players from any one country could advance. The tournament was won by Tal with Gligoric second followed by Benko and Petrosian then Fischer and Olafsson who were the qualifiers. Former World Champion David Bronstein tied for places 7-11 with Averbakh, Matanovic, Sabo and Pachman and missed qualifying by half a point. Bronstein lost only one game, to 19th place finisher Rodolfo Tan Cardoso. 
     When he got to Portoroz in 1958 Larsen struck a snag and only finished 16th out of 21. After some ups and downs in tournament play after that he modified his style and began playing risky and unusual openings in some of his games and his results improved. 
     Larsen was known his highly imaginative play and he was willing to try unorthodox ideas and take risks. In Great Chess Upsets, Reshevsky wrote, "He is a firm believer in the value of surprise. Consequently, he often resorts to dubious variations in various openings. He also likes to complicate positions even though it may involve considerable risk. He has a great deal of confidence in his game and fears no one. His unique style has proven extremely effective against relatively weak opponents but has not been too successful against top-notchers.” 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

One Ugly World Championship Match

     In 1976 Viktor the Terrible defected from the Soviet Union and two years later at the age of 47 he was playing the 27-year-old Anatoly Karpov for the World Championship title in Baguio City. 
     When Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos offered Baguio as the site of the championship, a Sports Illustrated writer described the city as resembling a resort town in the Catskill Mountains of New York with its cool breezes and pine-scented air; modern, yet rustic. Raymond Keene, Korchoi’s second, called it a “Chess in a ghost town” and said that while millions were following the match no one dared go to Baguio. 
     The Soviets badly wanted their man to win. It would have been a political disaster if Karpov had lost to a defector. Mikhail Tal was one of Karpov’s seconds and later told Korchnoi, “...in Baguio, we were all afraid of you – if you had won the match, you could have been physically eliminated. Everything had been prepared for this.” 

     As a defector, Korchnoi was a man without a country. During the 1977 Candidates semifinal match he was living in The Netherlands and had recently won the Dutch Championship so asked to play under the Dutch flag. Florencio Campomanes, the organizer, refused the request because Korchnoi had not been living in The Netherlands for a year. Shortly afterwards Korchnoi went to live in Switzerland so he could not play under the Swiss flag either. A month before the match he said that if he could not play under the Swiss flag, he wanted a white flag marked Stateless. The Soviets agreed to a white Stateless flag, but the organizers decided that the only flags allowed on stage would be the USSR, the Philippines, and FIDE and no flags would be displayed at the board. 
     Karpov and Korchnoi were pretty evenly matched even though at the start Karpov's rating was substantially higher at 2725 while Korchnoi's was 2665. Up until that time Karpov only had a plus-1 in their individual encounters. Korchnoi wasn't intimidated; he bragged, “He was only four when I became grandmaster." and he later promised, “I will beat the little boy and prove once and for all the Soviet System produces only robots.” 
    Both players had teams of trainers and on Karpov's team was Dr. Vladimir Zukhar, a parapsychologist. During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union had been allies, but the relationship between the two nations was a tense one. Americans had long been wary of the Soviets and the Soviets resented the Americans’ decades-long refusal to treat the USSR as a legitimate part of the international community as well as their delayed entry into World War II, which resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Russians. After the war ended, these grievances grew into an overwhelming mutual distrust and enmity. It was during the Cold War era that the Soviets had become interested in the development of mind control techniques and one of the researchers was Dr Zukhar. 
     Korchnoi's seconds were the English players Michael Stean and Raymond Keene and the Russian-born Jacob Murey. Petra Leeuwerik was the delegation leader and one of her assignments was to interfere with Zukhar. According to Keene she was also a major problem. After his defection, Korchnoi sought his wife and son's release by petitioning governments for help. Also about that time began an affair with Leeuwerik, who had also been imprisoned in the Soviet Union years before allegedly for spying for the United States. After his family was freed, he got divorced and married Leeuwerik.  Later Korchnoi began to suspect that either his team was bugged or that Keene was secretly working for Karpov. You can read Keene's account of some of the problems in The Spectator Archive
Leeuwerik

    Supposedly Zukhar was there to assist Karpov with his daily habits, but Korchnoi thought his use was far more sinister. Soon after the start of the match Korchnoi realized that Zukhar was staring at him. According to New York Times chess columnist Robert Byrne, Zukhar's presence drove Korchnoi into a rage. Korchnoi became annoyed by Zukhar's presence and even began hearing voices telling him to lose because he was a traitor to the Soviet Union. After Korchnoi had sent a letter of complaint, Zukhar was constantly being moved around. An appeals committee met every day to argue how many rows back from the stage Zukhar should be seated; he was finally removed all together before game 20.
     Korchnoi took countermeasures against Zukhar when two yoga experts named Victoria Shepherd and Steven Dwyer who belonged to the American group of the Ananda Marga sect arrived. Korchnoi claimed they just showed up and wanted to help. The two were wanted in India for attempted murder of an Indian diploma. While there, their job was to counter-annoy Karpov by interfering with Zukhar and, also, to teach Korchnoi transcendental meditation.
     The Soviets countered by asking Campomanes to keep the couple, who were dressed in white garments and saffron robes, away. Karpov had been leading 5-2, but by the time the 32nd and last game was played the couple who had called themselves Dada and Didi were gone, but Zukhar was again sitting in the front row. 

The match was tempestuous in many ways: 

     Korchnoi called Karpov ''the jailer of my wife and son,'' implying that Karpov could have obtained their release from the Soviet Union.  Karpov called Korchnoi ''immoral'' for leaving his family behind when he defected to the West. Korchnoi replied to the charge by screaming, “Filthy!” 
     Karpov refused the traditional handshake. When the two met again in their championship match in Merano in 1981, Karpov and the Soviet Chess Federation pretty much left Korchnoi alone when they realized that when he was enraged he played better. 
     Whenever Karpov offered a draw Korchnoi threw a tantrum and waved his arms in the air. Because the two weren't speaking Korchnoi considered these offers a direct violation of the rules and demanded that draw offers must be made through the referee. 
     During the 12th game when Karpov's chair-shifting resulted in the inevitable rustle, Korchnoi screamed a Russian epithet at him meaning roughly ''worm'' or ''little creep,'' This wasn't the first time molehills had become mountains in world championship matches. Back in 1894 when Lasker and Steinitz had met in Montreal, Lasker requested a separate table because Steinitz had the nasty habit of loudly sipping his lemonade. And Petrosian had a habit of wiggling his foot and bumping the table, most notably during his opponent's turn to move.
     Pacing is another way to annoy opponents, so eventually world championship matches included a pacing area offstage which also had tables to provide whatever it was the champ or wannabe champ desired to sip or snack on. The area also had an easy chair so that each player could sit for a few moments and collect his thoughts. 
      Taking a hint from Fischer in his 1972 match with Spassky, Korchnoi complained about noise from television cameras. He must have had Superman's hearing because nobody else could hear them. Or, maybe it was Zukhar who was putting the noises into Korchnoi's head. Remember the voices telling him to lose? In any case, to placate Korchnoi the cameras were removed. 
     Korchnoi showed up for the first game wearing mirrored sunglasses and continued to wear them for a while. Karpov claimed they “...were like two mirrors, and whenever Korchnoi raised his head the light from the numerous lamps on the stage was reflected into my eyes.” At one point a couple of visiting GMs duplicated the situation and found it not to be the case. After one of the games, at the request of the Soviets, the playing hall was examined by nuclear specialists to be sure that Korchnoi's glasses were not emitting any harmful rays; of course, they weren't. 
     Another issue was the chairs. Korchnoi brought his own chair, a $1,300 beauty with a hydraulic lift that would allow him to sit higher than Karpov. Evidently the idea was to incorporate power posing into his strategy. Power posing is the act of taking a posture of confidence to make yourself more dominant. In 2012 social psychologist Amy Cuddy gave a talk about the scientific evidence behind power posing. Her research showed that standing or sitting a certain way, even for two minutes, raises testosterone levels and lowers the stress hormone cortisol. These immediate changes in your body chemistry can affect the way you do your job and interact with other people. Korchnoi also demanded that the chairs could only rock, not swivel side to side. Karpov's chair was furnished by the organizers and being a small fellow, he needed a booster seat in the form of a cushion to raise him to Korchnoi's level. 

     Before the match Karpov requested that Korchnoi's chair be examined for extraneous objects or prohibited devices. The chair was dismantled, x-rayed at the Baguio General Hospital and cleared for sitting. Korchnoi's “no-swiveling” request had been denied and during game 14 Korchnoi complained that Karpov was swiveling. Karpov swiveled again during the next game and Korchnoi again complained. Karpov said he'd stop swiveling if Korchnoi took off his glasses. The next day a jury decided swiveling or standing behind one's chair was not to be allowed. Chalk up a psychological victory for Korchnoi! Karpov wasn't done though; in 1981 during a game against Korchnoi he swiveled. Korchnoi retaliated by calling him a “detestable worm.” 
     During the 25th game a waiter delivered a tray with yogurt to Karpov causing Korchnoi's team to complain that it was clear the way the stuff was arranged on the tray could convey a coded message. It was decided that Karpov could have his yogurt anytime, but it had to be violet or blueberry in color.
     Somehow they managed to play 32 games, but when game 32 was was adjourned, with Korchnoi at a clear disadvantage, the next day he refused to resume it. 
     He wrote to Compomanes, “I don't resume the 32nd game but I am not going to sign the score sheet of the game because it has been played under absolutely illegal conditions. I don't consider the game valid. The match is not finished. I reserve the right to complain to FIDE on the intolerable Soviets' behavior, a hostility of the organizers, a lack of activity of the arbiters.” Raymond Keene resigned the game for Korchnoi who had left Baguio without getting his money. One report stated Campomanes said he could have the money if he admitted the match was over, but Korchnoi never did. Another source said Keene collected the money for Korchnoi. 
     Final score: Karpov won with +6 -5 =21.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Stockholm 1962

    
     Depending on your interest, if you lived in Stockholm in 1962 there was a lot going on. Louis Armstrong was in town for a concert. Or, if jazz wasn't your thing, there was a big chess tournament. 
     The Interzonal had its roots in 1961. The completion of the world championship cycle from 1958 to 1960 put Botvinnik back on "his" throne thanks to a return match clause the wily Botvinnik had insisted on when FIDE took over the championship in 1948. 
     Bobby Fischer won his 4th straight US title in 1960-61 ahead of new GM William Lombardy. A surprising third was Raymond Weinstein, then a 19-year old Brooklyn College student. As this was a zonal year, all three qualified to play in the Interzonal tournament to be held in Stockholm in 1962. Neither Lombardy nor Weinstein played and their places were taken by Benko and Arthur Bisguier. 

     In Bled, Yugoslavia in the fall of 1961, the International Jubilee Grand Master Tournament held in commemoration of Alekhine's victory there in 1931. Mikhail Tal, who had just lost his title decisively to Botvinnik 12.5-8.5 earlier in the spring, won. But it was the 18-year old Fischer who was the only player to go undefeated and he defeated Tal in their individual game who was the moral victor. How did he fail to capture first? Too many draws against the middle of the pack players and draws with the two tailenders! 
     Then came the Stockholm tournament held from January 27 until March 6, 1962. Fischer had skipped the 1961-62 US Championship and it was won by Larry Evans. 
     The Stockholm tournament was a 23-player event with six players qualifying for the Curacao Candidates (1962) stage. Fischer won with a +13 -0 =9 and trailing him by two-and-a-half points were Geller and Petrosian. Tied for 4th and 5th with 14 points were Korchnoi and, surprise, Dr. Miroslav Filip of Czechoslovakia. 
     There was a three-way tie for sixth place: Gligoric, Benko and Stein. They played a double round playoff tournament to decide sixth place. Stein won with 3.0 ahead of Benko with 2.0 and had Gligoric with zero points. As a result of the scores final game between Gligoric and Benko was not played. Thus, Stein qualified, but there was a rule in effect that limited the number of players from one country participating in the Candidates tournament to three, so Stein was relegated to being a reserve in case somebody dropped out and Benko was the 6th qualifier for the Candidates to be held in Curacao. 
     Fischer's decisive victory made him one of the favorites for the Candidates Tournament in Curacao, which began soon afterwards, but there he bombed, finishing fourth with a 14-13 score. 

Final standings 
1) Fischer 17.5 
 2-3) Geller and Petrosian 15.0 
4-5) Korchnoi and Filip 14.0 
6-8) Gligoric, Benko and Stein 13.5 
9-10) Uhlmann and Portisch 12.5 
11-12) Pomar and Olafsson 12.0 
13) Julio Bolbochan 11.5 
14-15) Barcza and Bilek 11.0 
16) Bisguier 9.5 
17-18) Yanofsky and Bertok 7.5 
19-20) German and Schweber 7.0 
21) Teschner 6.5 
22) Cuellar 5.5 
23) Aaron 4.0 

     One of the most discussed games was Fischer's game against Korchnoi that featured a fight between white's attacking chances in the center and on the K-side verses black's Q-side chances. What made it interesting was the differing opinions of the players: Korchnoi believed he had the worst of it while Fischer asserted that white had no advantage at all. Eventually Fischer overreached and gave Korchnoi the chance to seize the initiative, but he later faltered and lost. 
 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Smyslov Wins World Championship

    
     I have been playing over the games from the 1957 World Championship match in which Smyslov won the world title. He and Botvinnik played three match: 1954, 1957 and 1958. All three clashes were between evenly matched opponents and were filled with tension. Botvinnik defended his title by drawing the first match in 1954, but Smyslov won in 1957 and Botvinnik bounced back with to win the third match. 

     Smyslov was never among the most charismatic of players but was renowned for his positional play, his well-conceived strategy and his skill in the endgame. He once defined his purpose as "strict beauty and harmony, spontaneity and elegance, the faultless intuition of the artist, the absolute mastery of technique and therefore complete independence from it", adding: "In a chess game I always sought not only victory, but also the triumph of logic."
     Vasily Smyslov was born in Moscow on March 24 1921. His father, an engineer, was a gifted chess player who had once defeated Alekhine at a tournament in St Petersburg in 1912. Smyslov learned the game from his father at the age of six and the following year his uncle presented him with a book of Alekhine's games inscribed, "future world champion Vasya Smyslov". 
     In 1938 Smyslov won the USSR junior championship for which he received a chess clock and tied for first in the Moscow championship. Excused from military service on account of his poor eyesight, in the Soviet "absolute championship" of 1941 Smyslov finished behind Mikhail Botvinnik and Paul Keres and was awarded the Soviet GM title. Speaking of Smyslov, Botvinnik wrote, "His defects are chiefly psychological; sometimes he overestimates his possibilities during the actual game. After summing up the position he plays with great power."
     Smyslov won the Moscow championship in 1942 and 1943; in 1944 he was second, behind Botvinnik, in the USSR championship. In 1949 he shared first place in the Soviet championship. Smyslov won the right to challenge Botvinnik by winning the Candidates' tournament in Zurich in 1953. 
     His first match with Botvinnik was played from March to May 1954, and ended in a tie (seven wins, seven losses, 10 draws) and Botvinnik retained the title. They met agian in Moscow in 1957, and Smyslov won with six wins, 13 draws, and three defeats. He was appointed to the Order of Lenin, the highest civilian decoration bestowed by the Soviet Union. It is awarded to civilians for outstanding services rendered to the State, members of the armed forces for exemplary service, those who promoted friendship and cooperation between peoples and in strengthening peace and those with meritorious services to the Soviet state and society. 

    Under the rules Botvinnik was entitled to a rematch and a year later they played their third match and Botvinnik won easily. Botvinnik scored three wins in the first three games and went on to win by a score of +7 -5 =11. Smyslov later claimed that when he began the match he was suffering from flu and that by the time it was over this had developed into pneumonia. In 1984, at the unprecedented age of 63, he reached the final Candidates' match to determine a challenger to Anatoly Karpov, but lost to Garry Kasparov. In 1988 at the age of 67, Smyslov became the oldest player to compete in a Soviet championship. Three years later he won the world seniors' title. He finally retired in 2001, owing to failing eyesight.
     Smyslov's other interest was music. In 1950 he had auditioned as a baritone at the Bolshoi Theater and when he failed to get selected he decided to become a professional chess player. 
     A member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Smyslov never joined the Communist Party and was one of the few great chess players to have a religious faith. He believed in predestination and in the predictions of Nostradamus
     At the Zurich Candidates tournament in 1953 Smyslov was at the top of his game finishing first by a margin two points and losing only one game, to Kotov. Every leading player of the day except Botvinnik was playing and Smyslov's play was reminiscent of Capablanca at his best. When he met Botvinnik in 1954 most experts favored Smyslov, but three losses in the first six games seemed to spell his end. But then he recovered and even took the lead, but then Botvinnik managed to tie the score and retain his title. Smyslov had proved he was equal to any player in the world, but he still was not World Champion. 
     The last tournament before the Candidates was Moscow 1956 and Smyslov and Botvinnik tied for first. Botvinnik lost one game (to Keres) while Smysov was undefeated. And, this was no minor event; Taimanov, Gligoric, Bronstein, Najdorf, Keres, Pachman, Unzicker, Stahlberg and Szabo were among the 16 participants. In Candidates tournament in Amsterdam in the spring of 1956, Smyslov was again the favorite. But during the tournament the lead seesawed between Geller and Keres with Smyslov close behind. In the end, Geller and Keres collapsed and Smyslov emerged the victor, losing only one game (to Spassky). 
     The World Championship ended in a great 12.5-9.5 victory for Smyslov. It appeared that Botvinnik's age was telling against him, as he had visibly tired, but the following year he defeated an ailing Smyslov. 
     According to Leonard Barden in an article in the 2010 Guardian, “Smyslov understood chess more profoundly than his great rival Mikhail Botvinnik, against whom he contested three world championship matches with honours even.  But Botvinnik was the better psychologist, had a shrewd knowledge of chess politics and made wily use of rules where 12-12 kept his title in 1954 and his 1957 defeat gave him a return series where he caught the flu-stricken Smyslov at the start.” 
     In the same article Barden wrote, “His greatest strength was the endgame where he co-authored a classic book on rook endings, but he could also deal with opening surprises.” And, “Occasionally his intuition let him down, notably in the 1959 candidates where the rising star Mikhail Tal, whose play he had criticised, outplayed him with mazy tactics. But the energy-saving aspect of Smyslov's approach undoubtedly aided his achievements in old age. At 63, he reached the candidates final against Garry Kasparov, and at 70 he won the inaugural World Senior championship for over-60s. He would have continued to perform at a high level but for deteriorating eyesight. Even when nearly blind he was still a strong grandmaster.” 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Rubinstein's World Championship Matches That Never Happened

      Rubinstein has been called the strongest player never to have won a world championship. He tried to get matches with both Lasker and Capablanca, but circumstances intervened and the matches never came off. 
     Lasker held the World Championship from 1894 to 1921. He defended the title several times against players who were not in his league: Frank Marshall, Siegbert Tarrasch and Dawid Janowski. In 1910 he managed to to hold on to the title by drawing a match against Carl Schlechter. 
     Lasker's negotiations for title matches from 1911 were extremely controversial. In 1911 he received a challenge from Capablanca and in addition to making heavy financial demands, he proposed some novel conditions: the match should be considered drawn if neither player finished with a two-game lead; and it should have a maximum of 30 games, but declared over if either player won six games and had a two-game lead. Theoretically such a match might go on for ever so Capablanca objected to the two-game lead clause which put Lasker in a snit and he broke off negotiations. 
 
Rubinstein
    Rubinstein then challenged Lasker for a title match in August 1912 and the match was scheduled for the fall of 1914. Lasker's terms for the match with Rubinstein also included a clause that if Lasker should resign the title after a date had been set for the match, Rubinstein would become world champion.

     When Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, war broke out on August 1, 1914 and the Capablanca – Rubinstein match was canceled. 
     After the war, Capablanca considered himself, Lasker and Rubinstein to be the strongest players and he began negotiations with Lasker in January 1920. That's when he published My Chess Career to convince the public of his right to challenge Lasker. But, Rubinstein still had the contract that was unfulfilled and as a compromise he suggested a triangular tournament to determine the champion, but there was no interest. Unfortunately for Rubinstein the war had caused him to lose his financial backers and so that left Capa as Lasker's chief rival. 
     After the war, Lasker resumed dealing with Capa and still insisted on a clause that if he resigned the title after the date had been set for the match, Capablanca would become world champion. 
Capablanca

     On January 23, 1920 Lasker and Capablanca agreed to a title match to begin sometime in 1921. But Rubinstein was not forgotten. Capablanca promised that if he won the match he would accept a challenge from Rubinstein.
     Then on June 27, 1920 Lasker resigned his title and named Capa the new World Champion. Some people questioned Lasker's right to name his successor. Amos Burn, for one, objected to Lasker's naming his successor even though he was happy to see Lasker go. 
     Capa's argument was that if Lasker abdicated, it would be unfair to him as the challenger not to named Champion. Capa was not happy with getting the title handed to him though. The issue was resolved when Lasker, who insisted he was the challenger, agreed to a match against Capa in 1921. At that time he announced that if he won he would resign so the title could go to one of the new generation of players. 
     The match was held in Havana from March 15 to April 27, 1921. The winner would be the first to score 8 wins, draws not counting. If neither player reached 8 points the one with the most wins after 24 games would be the winner. Lasker would receive $11,000 and Capablanca $9,000 and after five games somebody donated an additional $3,000 to the winner $2,000 to the loser. When the score reached +4 -0 =10 in the Capa's favor, Lasker resigned the match. 
     So, what happened to Capa's promise that he would accept a challenge from Rubinstein? At the big London tournament in 1922, which was won by Capablanca ahead of Alekhine, Vidmar and Rubinstein, Capa offered to play him in a match if he could raise the money.  
     Rubinstein had several good tournaments in 1922 and at Vienna (held from November 13 to December 2, 1922) he captured first place in brilliant style, scoring +9 -0 =5. When he was returning home Austrian border guards impounded most of the prize money he had won.  As before, he was not able to raise the money to challenge Capablanca. 
     In tournament play Rubinstein's record against Capablanca was +1 -1 =7, so a match between the two would have been most interesting. By 1932 Rubinstein was suffering from a pathological fear of people and abnormal social behavior. He died in March of 1961. You can read about his final years at Edward Winter's site HERE.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Did the Russians Really Cheat?

     It has long been speculated that the Soviets coerced Paul Keres into throwing games to Mikhail Botvinnik in the 1948 World Championship Match-Tournament, held in The Hague and Moscow. 
     Keres's native Estonia, had been annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, invaded by Germany in World War II, and retaken by the Soviets. Keres found himself controlled by the Nazis during the war and was forced to participate in German tournaments and they used him for propaganda purposes. After the war, Keres may have escaped execution and he may have been playing for the Soviets under duress. Who knows the real story? 
     Reuben Fine, who declined to take part in the tournament, said,"I don't want to waste two months of my life watching Russians throw games to each other." All the Soviets needed to do was fix a few results to ensure that Botvinnik became champion. 
     In an article titled "The Russian Have Fixed World Chess" which appeared in Sports Illustrated in 1962, Bobby Fischer complained that the Russians prearranged draws against each other in order to conserve energy for play against him. He also complained that in their games against him the Russians audibly gave advice to his opponents. 
     There was enough suspicion of collusion that FIDE scrapped the old system in favor of a series of elimination matches. Years later after his defection Viktor Korchnoi accused Soviet players of cheating by ganging up on Westerners in tournaments and throwing key games when necessary. Or, was Korchnoi, who had no great love for the Soviets, just saying that to make them look bad? 
     I recently ran across a 2006 (revised in 2014) paper by Charles Moul and John V. C. Nye of Washington University in St. Louis titled Did the Soviets Collude? A Statistical Analysis of Championship Chess 1940-64. They examined whether the Russians intentionally drew against one another in order to focus their efforts on non-Soviet opponents in order to maximize the chance of a Russian winning. Read entire paper.
     They used statistical data from candidates' tournaments and USSR national tournaments for their study. The conclusion: “The likelihood that a Soviet player would have won every single Candidates tournament up to 1963 was less than one out of four under an assumption of no collusion, but was higher than three out of four when the possibility of draw collusion is factored in.” 
     Regarding Curacao 1962 in which Fischer accused the Soviets of colluding and later supported by Korchnoi, the authors opine that Fischer’s rating suggests that he was not the favorite “even if his rating/performances put him a few points shy of the leaders. Even if his true rating were higher (because Fischer had been improving rapidly in the year or two previous to the tournament) Fischer’s poor form/performance in the early rounds of Curacao meant that he had no realistic chance of winning. The Monte Carlo simulations do suggest, however, that he would have suffered from any collusion since his no-collusion probability of winning was 19 percent and it dropped to 3 percent with collusion. We did assume that all the Soviets were colluding and did not model the specific claim of Korchnoi that collusion was a private arrangement of Keres, Petrosian, and Geller.” In other words, Fischer wasn't yet strong enough to win at Curacao.
     They concluded that over the course of the Candidate tournaments the player most hurt by Russian collusion was Samuel Reshevsky. He was the favorite in the Zurich 1953 Candidates’ Tournament and his second place finish in the tournament was strong enough that even small collusive effects might have meant the difference between success and failure. 
      As the authors point out, all this is no surprise, but their paper provides “strong statistical evidence in support of this result.” 
     Back in 2005 Tim Krabbe disagreed with charges of collusion at Curacao, claiming there was no conspiracy at all. See his post number 299 HERE
     Let's take a look at the game in question, a 14-move draw between Keres and Petrosian that was played in round 25 (out of a total of 28). 
     It's significant because the game was one used by Fischer in Sports Illustrated and Life International to prove his point. His claim was that Petrosian agreed to a draw in a winning position. In the his book Curacao 1962, Jan Timman reached the same conclusion. I wanted to see if today's chess engines had anything to suggest, so I left Stockfish running on the final position for 90 minutes while I went out to cut the grass. Stockfish determined that black's advantage was about 1.25, probably enough to win at the GM level. 
     As a result of this game Keres and Petrosian remained in first place. Geller needed a win to stay in the hunt, but barely managed to get a draw in his game against Dr. Miroslav Filip.   Benko managed to convert his advantage against Korchnoi in a hard fought game. Fischer had the bye because Tal had withdrawn due to illness. 
     Timman's analysis of the final position was faulty, but that's not important because he didn't have a strong engine to check his analysis. Besides, I can imagine that writing a book where you have to analyze a hundred plus games doesn't leave a lot of time to spend on any one position. What is important is that his instinct was correct as was Robert J. Fischer's...black is winning, if not in Stockfish's world, at least he is in the real world. 
     My only question is if the Soviet players were colluding why wasn't Keres encouraged to lose this game? On the other hand Petrosian was pretty much assured of first place and at this stage of the tournament he didn't really need a win. Besides, it was his nature to accept a lot of draws and win only when he had to. 
     The real question is, did the Russians (as we called them in those days) really cheat?