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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Michael Stean, Grandmaster Accountant

Stean these days
The most important feature of the chess position is the activity of the pieces. This is absolutely fundamental in all phases of the game. Opening, middlegame and especially endgame. The primary constraint on a piece’s activity is the Pawn structure. Michael Stean 
     Chess strategy is a forgotten subject these days and pretty much has been ever since somebody latched onto the phrase “chess is 99 percent tactics” but consider this: Let’s say a game lasts 40 moves. Further, let’s say the first 10 moves are book...that may be too many for average players, but it’’ll do for illustration purposes. Let us further say that both players make five serious tactical errors in the game, so that accounts for 10 moves. So, you have 20 moves, fully half the game, in which no sound tactics are possible; this means you have to play moves that, as Jeremy Silman puts it, the position demands to be played. Any old move won’t do; you have to play a move based on positional factors. On what basis are these moves played? That requires some positional understanding. Simple Chess by Michael Stean provides you with exactly that. Naturally you have to be alert for tactical shots at every move; strategy takes a back seat to mating your opponent or winning material! 
     The author of this great book, one that will actually teach you something, is British GM Michael Stean (born September 4, 1953). He also authored Sicilian Najdorf (Batsford, 1976).
     When Dutch GM and author J.H. Donner wrote about British players he said their style was characterized by a great show of brilliancy. No idea is too bizarre for them, no concept too fantastic. They are hard workers, to be sure, but rather bent on finding new sensational effects than on constructing something useful. For the main characteristic of the British School is its total lack of reliability. He singled out Michael Stean, one of Korchnoi’s seconds in his World Championship match with Karpov, as an example who according to Donner, “stands out for the boldness of his ideas and for the sort of onslaughts that may be highly successful against second-rank players but are bound to fail hopelessly at world-championship level.” 
     Stean learned to play chess before the age of five and developed into promising talent that led to him capturing the London under-14 and British under-16 titles. In 1971 he finished third at a junior event in Norwich behind Gyula Sax and James Tarjan. In 1973 he won a tournament in Canterbury ahead of Andras Adorjan and that victory put him in the race to become England’s first modern day GM. Also, in 1973 he participated in the World Junior Chess Championship in Teesside and finished third behind Anthony Miles and tournament winner Alexander Beliavsky, both of whom Stean defeated in their individual games. 
Stean in 1978

     He was joint winner of the British Championship in 1974, but lost the play-off to George Botterill. In the first of his five Chess Olympiads at Nice in 1974, he won the prize for best game of the Olympiad, for his effort against Walter Browne. His next Olympiad was even more of a success; individual gold and team bronze medals at Haifa 1976. 
     Stean also had success in a number of international tournament in the late 1970s to early 80s. He was one of Viktor Korchnoi's team of seconds for world championship matches in 1977-78 and 1980-81. Stean's role was mostly involved with opening preparation and he and Korchnoi became good friends. He also served for a while as Nigel Short’s manager. 
     So, whatever happened to this promising player? In 1982, at the age of 29 right in his chess playing prime, Stean retired from chess to become a tax accountant. 
     Currently he has an office in London\providing tax services, corporate tax compliance, private client and family wealth and tax investigations in the sectors of real estate and construction, private equity, media and technology. He deals with both corporate and non-corporate taxation for clients spanning a wide range of companies as well as high net worth individuals. 
     As a member of the large business and international tax sub-committee of the tax faculty of the Institute of ICAEW, Stean was an active contributor to the consultation and development of the so-called 'GAAR' (general anti-abuse rule) law enacted in 2013. 
     In the King’s Gambit Declined, after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 d5 we have what is generally called the Bledow Countergambit. It’s named after Dr. Ludwig Erdmann Bledow (1795-1846). He was the strongest player in Berlin in the 1840s and in 1845 he beat a 27 year-old Aldof Anderssen in a match by either 5-0 or 4.5-0.5, depending on the source. 
     Bledow, a mathematics professor, was in favor of rule changes concerning Pawn promotion and the touch move rule. Although the current rules of chess require a pawn that reaches the eighth rank to be promoted to a different piece, that was not always the case. 
     Steinitz, in his 1889 work The Modern Chess Instructor, endorsed the Code of Laws of the British Chess Association of 1862 in which Law XIII stated, "When a Pawn has reached the eighth square, the player has the option of selecting a piece, whether such piece has previously been lost or not, whose name and powers it shall then assume, or of deciding that it shall remain a Pawn." This could result in an odd situation! Take the following position, white to move: 
      If white plays 1.Bxg2 black mates in 6 moves and if he plays 1.bxa8 and promotes to any piece, black has 1...gxh3 2.any h2 mate. But what if white could play, as was possible under the old rules, 1.bxa8 and the Pawn remains what was called a Dummy Pawn? 
     In that case 1...gxh3 or 1...Kxh3 stalemates and any other move allows 2.Bxg2, with a drawn endgame. Bledow was one of those who denounced the Dummy Pawn rule. 
     By the way, today if the promoted piece is not physically available, FIDE rules state that the player should stop the clock and summon the arbiter for the correct piece. Under USCF rules an upside-down R may be used as a Q, but don’t try it in international play...you’ll have to settle for a Rook. 
     Law XIII also appeared to allow promotion to any piece (including a King!) of either color which lead to many amusing problems being created. 
     Bledow founded the first German chess association, Berliner Schachgesellschaft, in 1827 and in 1846, he founded the first German chess magazine, Deutsche Schachzeitung. He co-founded and was the leader of the Berlin Pleiades, a group of seven top Berlin players who had a major role in the development of German chess. He was the first person to suggest an international chess tournament, with the winner being titled World Champion.
     He was a chess book collector and when he died, he had over 14,000 volumes of chess books, the largest private chess library in the world. The library became part of the Royal Library in Berlin. 
     Here’s a game in which Stean faced the Bledow Countergambit as played by Martyn J. Corden, another promising junior who abandoned chess for a career in computers. 
     Corden was Under 18 British champion in 1969 and played for England in the Siegen Olympiad in 1970. Eventually he ended up working at Florida State University as a member of the high-speed computing group and then went to work for the Intel corporation in Portland, Oregon, where he lives today.  Interesting fact: there are no known pictures of Martyn Corden!

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