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Friday, December 30, 2016

Trifunovic Trounces Aaron

     Dr. Peter Trifunovic (31 August 1910, Dubrovnik – 8 December 1980, Belgrade) was an International Grandmaster and five-time Yugoslav Champion. 
     For many years Yugoslavia was the world's second strongest chess nation and so it is a measure of his strength that at the first and second Yugoslav Championships held 1935 in Belgrade and 1936 in Novi Sad, he finished third behind Vasja Pirc and Boris Kostić, then second behind Pirc, respectively.  Later he won the Yugoslav championship five times: 1945, 1946, 1947 (shared with Svetozar Gligorić), 1952, and 1961. 
     Trifunovic played in seven Olympiads between 1935 and 1962, the most memorable being Dubrovnik 1950 where his 10-3 score earned him the board 3 gold medal. 
     He obtained a Law degree in 1933, followed by a Doctorate. He received the IM title in 1950 and the GM title in 1953. 
     Originally, in the 1930s, he had a reputation as a fierce attacker, but like Flohr, he eventually began relying on positional play and defensive technique. As a result he became a drawing master. In his drawn match with Miguel Najdorf at Opatija 1949 the score was +1 −1 =10 and at Leipzig in 1965 he drew all 15 of his games. 
     Internationally he had a number of excellent results starting in 1945 and stretching to 1965 when he finished second behind Botvinnik, but ahead of Flohr, Larsen and Donner at Noordwijk. One amusing tournament on his US tour was at the 1962 Oklahoma City Open. He was expected to win, but draws with Senior Master Kenneth Smith and the Dallas Expert Robert Potter resulted in his ending up in a ten way tie for first! 
     The variation of Four Ps attack in Alekhine's Defense, 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4 Bf5, is the Trifunovic Variation. 
     Trifunovic contributed articles about happenings in Europe for Chess Review for many years and in 1962 he made a tour of the US. The Memphis Chess Club has an interesting article on Trifunovic's 1962 visit to the city HERE
     The following game demonstrates the ease with which a GM can often defeat even an IM. In this game Trifunovice uses positional assets (control of an open file, N outposts, weak square complex, good B vs. bad B) to gain complete dominance of the position and ends the game with a surprising tactic.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Weaver Adams Plays the Frankenstein-Dracula Variation

     Eric Schiller wrote a book on this variation in what has been called "the worst chess book ever written," but because I don't own the book I can't verify the truth of the claim. From reading the reviews it sounds like most people's complaints are about the publisher's poor printing, but one reviewer wrote, "...its value is primarily for entertainment, not so much analysis (there are only 30 or so very scant pages of opening analysis, followed by a poorly organized database dump of lightly annotated games. But for amusement purposes you won't be disappointed." You can take a look inside Schiller's book on Amazon HERE
     The Frankenstein–Dracula Variation ( 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bc4 Nxe4 4.Qh5 Nd6 5.Bb3 Nc6 6.Nb5) usually arises from the Vienna Game, but can also be reached from the Bishop's Opening. The opening involves a lot of complications and it's not seen much in top-level play although Ivanchuk once used it against Anand back in 1992 and drew. And, I even found a game where Alex Shabalov played it though it was in an open tournament against a "mere" 2400 player.
    The blurb for Schiller's book calls it "a monstrous thicket of complications which still have not been fully explored. The opening leads to fascinating positions which will bring enjoyment both in tournament and correspondence play. Although some theorists have treated the variation as dead and buried, experiments have managed to bring the monster variation back to life for Black, and it can now be considered fully playable."  Looking over this game with Stockfish and Komodo makes me believe that description is about right.
     In the following old game between Weaver Adams and Harry Lyman we seen Adams playing the Vienna, an opening which became closely associated with him. In his first book, White to Play and Win, published in 1939, Adams claimed that 1.e4 was White's strongest move and that if both sides played the best moves white ought to win. After 1...e5 Adams claimed the magic bullet was the Bishop's Opening.
     When the Bishop's Opening didn't produce the desired results, he switched to the Vienna Game, claiming a win with what is today known as the Frankenstein–Dracula Variation. When that failed he switched to the Adams Gambit where he played 6.d4 instead of 6.Nb5.  
     The Massachusetts Chess Association has a very nice tribute to his opponent, Harry Lymam, HERE.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Benko Loses to Fischer

Pal Benko
     The following game against Benko in round 22 of the Curacao tournament was a lucky escape for Fischer. GM Jan Timman was an excellent analyst and his book Curacao 1962 - The Battle of Minds That Shook the Chess World is a great work, but many of the games were lightly annotated, as was this one, and in some cases he did not give any analysis to support his statements.  Benko also went over this game in front of an audience and claimed he could have won, but careful analysis with good engines like Stockfish 8 or Komodo 10 tells a different story. The days are long gone when simply having a title was sufficient to intimidate us non-GMs that a move was good or bad just because they said so! That still does not to take anything away from their accomplishments though. 
     Benko finished 6th (out of 8) with a score of +6 -9 =12 and was involved in a couple of controversies.  This was the tournament where he slapped Fischer in an argument over the use of the one second, Arthur Bisguier, that was available to the two U.S. players and he was also involved in a brouhaha involving Paul Keres who finished second with +9 -2 =12. 
     Benko played a decisive role in destroying Keres' chances of winning the tournament. Keres had beaten Benko 4-0 in the 1959 candidates and in Curacao he was on his way to repeating the performance.  Then came the 20th round (out of 28).
     Keres slipped up and came within a hair of losing, but managed to escape with a win in a mutual time scramble.  Benko, right when he had a perpetual check, knocked over a couple of pieces and exceeded the time limit while putting them back. That was the bare bones story, but it wasn't so simple. 
     Keres had been the hunt for first place for the whole tournament and his slide began with the Benko game. In horrible time pressure Benko incorrectly sacrificed a piece which left him with nothing better than the perpetual check. With only seconds left on his clock, Benko made the move that forced the perpetual, but his piece was sitting slightly off the square. After he made the move and punched his clock, Keres immediately punched it back and told Benko, ”Adjust your pieces! ” Surprised, Benko let his clock run a second or two before desperately trying to adjust his pieces, but it was too late; his flag fell and he was forfeited.
     Although angry, Benko didn't complain and wrote that he thought to himself that he was going to extract revenge by beating Keres when they met again. Then came their final game. It was one of the most important in Keres' career because he was still in the hunt for first. A draw would allow him to conduct a playoff against Petrosian to see who played Botvinnik for the World Championship; a win would make him the outright challenger. 
     In that final game between the two, the game was adjourned with Benko a bit better. Benko wrote in Pal Benko: My Life, Games, and Compositions that Petrosian and Geller secretly came to him with an offer to help him win the adjourned game against Keres. Benko claimed that he was disgusted by their actions and told them the game would be a draw with best play and demanded that they leave. However, when play resumed Keres made a mistake and lost. That was Benko's story. In Curacao 1962, Jan Timman told it a little differently. Timman reported that it was Korchnoi and Averbach ( one of the Soviet contingent) who had paid Benko the visit and given him some analysis. Benko didn't really need their analysis because he was already one of the world's foremost endgame experts.
     Then came the last round and Petrosian was white against Filip who was mired in last place while Keres was playing Fischer. Everything was in Petrosian's favor and it was generally conceded that he would be the winner, but he could only draw with Filip and Keres yielded a draw to Fischer. 
     There was one game left, Geller vs. Benko, and if Geller won he would tie with Keres for second place. In trying to win, Geller overreached and adjourned in a lost position. Play resumed the next day and Benko, again in time pressure, had to make three moves before the end of the time control and ended up losing on time. 
     As a result Keres had to play a match (which he won) with Geller to determine second place. Later, Keres claimed that Benko had deliberately lost, in Keres's words, "just to screw me.” Benko claimed that he would never had done such a thing, but Keres, after finishing tied for second with Geller only a half point behind Petrosian, was forever convinced that his one unlucky loss to Benko had cost him a chance for a world championship match. Add to that Keres' belief that Benko had thrown the game to Geller causing him to have to play the tie-breaking match and one can understand his animosity toward Benko. 
     Regarding this game, while looking at it with Stockfish 8 it appeared that Benko blundered on move 25 when he played 25...Nc3+, but that was not the case! After the reply 26.Kc1 Stockfish immediately gave the correct evaluation of about 6.75 Ps in black's favor. 
     I am not sure why this is, but this is not the first time I have seen this happen. In any case, when analyzing it's a good idea to have another engine running as a kibitzer!!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Botvinnik vs. Fischer - Their Only Meeting

     The Varna (Bulgaria) Olympiad Final in 1962 featured the newly imposed FIDE regulation where players were forbidden to agree to a draw before 30th move. This had been a response to the plague of the fast growing number of quick draws. It didn't work; if the players wanted a draw they just played neutral moves in order to lengthen the game or played a threefold repetition. 
     The Soviet team consisted of Mikhail Botvinnik, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky, Paul Keres, Efim Geller and Mikhail Tahl. Tahl ended up in the hospital with kidney problems and so was forced to drop out. 
     On the US team, Reshevsky didn't want to be in Fischer's shadow, and because he couldn't play first board, refused his place on the team which was comprised of Bobby Fischer, Pal Benko, Larry Evans, Edmar Mednis, Robert Byrne and Donald Byrne. 
     As expected, the Soviets won the finals by a huge margin followed by Yugoslavia (Gligoric, Trifunovic, Matanovic, Ivkov, Parma and Minic), Argentina (Najdorf, Julio Bolbochan, Panno, Sanguineti, Panno and Foguelman) with the United States finishing a disappointing fourth. 
     The final round was a bitter disappointment for the US. Going in, they seemed a safe bet to medal, but Argentina had been on a roll: they had wiped out Austria 4-0, then beat Romania 3-1. Then in the final round, they crushed Holland by 3-1. 
     In the last round the US was playing Yugoslavia and a 3-1 win would gave them the silver medal while a 2-2 score meant a bronze medal. But, after two quick draws, a loss by Robert Byrne meant the US was losing 1-2 and that meant Fischer had to beat Gligoric to salvage a third place finish. He couldn't do it and lost and as a result Argentina finished a well deserved third instead. 
     Fischer and Botvinnik have pretty much slipped into obscurity as the chess world moves on and the chess understanding of today's top players has surpassed theirs, but at Varna in 1962, one of the most looked forward to games was the World Champion Botvinnik against the hopeful Fischer. At first it was rumored that Botvinnik would be given a rest day, but fortunately for the chess world he ended up playing. This game was the only one ever played between the two. 
     Both players collaborated on the postmortem and in Fischer's My 60 Memorable Games the notes were mostly Botvinnik's. In most cases neither player offered any moves to verify their differing opinions, so I decided to take a look at it with Stockfish 8 and Komodo 10. On the whole, the engines agreed with Fischer's opinions more than Botvinnik's. 
     Fischer gained an advantageous position in the middlegame, but gradually let his advantage slip. The ending after move 51 was interesting because both players reached different conclusions; In My 60 Memorable Games Fischer claimed that he had a win if he had chosen to play 51...Kd4 instead of the move he actually played. Some years later Botvinnik handed the problem over to one of his students, the 13-year-old Gary Kasparov, who claimed that he had found a draw as did Lev Zaitsev in independent analysis. Analysis with Stockfish seems to support the claim that the position was only a draw. 
     Back then overnight adjournments were common and the Soviet team did a good job finding the draw. The game was adjourned at move 45 the Soviet team went to work. Botvinnik was in a difficult position, and probably objectively lost. Tahl recalled how he, Boleslavsky and Spassky worked on it for hours. Botvinnik, Geller, Keres and Furman analyzed all night in another room. When Tahl went to the room of Donald and Robert Byrne to offer a draw in his adjourned game with Donald, he found the Byrne brothers working on the Botvinnik-Fischer game as well. David Levy wrote that it was Geller, who in the early hours of the morning, found the implausible drawing idea beginning with 47.Rxh7! where White allows his opponent two connected passed pawns. 
     You can watch the conclusion of the game when it was agreed drawn on Youtube HERE.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Importance of Openings

     Having had Edmar Mednis' old and unread book How to Play Good Opening Moves on my bookshelf for ages I decided to take a look at it. I have read some of Mednis' books in the past and found them pretty good because he had a knack for explaining things in plain English. But, I think this one wasn't one of his better books...at least I didn't learn much about how to play a good opening. I also understand the revised algebraic edition (mine is the old descriptive notation) is full of typos. 
     How important is a good opening? Depends. Mednis said there is a German expression to the effect that a good opening means the game is half won. That's really true in high level play. Most of my games these days are "rapid" games on LSS where many opponents have a lot of games going and play quickly (sometimes 2-3 moves a day) and I have gotten away with some openings that wouldn't stand a chance in serious play...moves like 2.a3 and 2.Bc4 against the Sicilian and the Urusov Gambit. But in OTB play, how important are openings for those of us who are rating-challenged? Obviously, coming out of the opening with a good position is better than coming out of it with a bad one, plus it does give us a psychological boost to know we stand better. 
     Capablanca considered the main principle to be rapid and efficient development. That sounds simple enough, but he also added that the pieces have to be put in the right places. That last little statement, put in the right places, probably means that most of us are going to play the opening like we play the rest of the game. 
     The great Hungarian GM Lajos Portisch probably gave the best advice for non-masters when he said the only task in the opening was to reach a playable middlegame. That's something we can hope to accomplish. 
     Mednis was of the opinion that non-masters don't have to play the latest theoretical lines and advised playing whatever opening one likes and understands. He also gave good advice when he said it's foolhardy to voluntarily choose a line where, if your opponent plays correctly, you hand over the advantage. That would eliminate a lot of openings and gambits known to be unsound. 
     He also said that the ultimate key to successful play is understanding chess. That knocks a lot of us out when it comes to reaching a high level! It takes a fair amount of specific knowledge to play any opening and, as we all know, it's of greater practical value to understand how to play good opening moves than just memorizing a lot of variations. 
     There are three areas of significance in opening play: 1) King safety 2) piece development and 3) control of the center. The first two areas are self-evident, but the value and importance of the center is not sufficiently appreciated. The importance of center control has been known to average players since the days of Steinitz and the Hypermoderns deepened our understanding by demonstrating that what mattered was control, not necessarily occupation. 
     What are the best moves according to Mednis? White has five: 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, 1.Nf3 and 1.g3. 
     What if you don't want to play any of them? Mednis recommends playing any of the three "mediocre" moves. These are moves that have positive features, but also have inherent deficiencies. These are: 1) 1.b4 with the plan of 2.Bb2 aiming at d4 and e5. 2) Nc3 which influences the center, but precludes utilizing the c-Pawn. 3) 1.f4 which does nothing for development and slightly weakens the K-side, but it does control e4. Don't play anything else! 
     As black, good moves against 1.e4 are: 1...e5, 1...c5, 1...c6, 1...d6, 1...Nf6, 1...g6 and 1...e6. Against 1.d4 you can play: 1...d5, 1...c5, 1...c6, 1...d6, 1...d5, 1...Nf6 and 1...g6. 
     If you want to take your opponent out of the book, and probably yourself along with him, you can play mediocre moves:  Against 1.e4 you can play: 1...Nc6 and 1...d5. Against 1.d4 you can play 1...Nc6 and 1...f5. 
     Mednis believed that if you play according to opening principles you should be fine, but as play develops the position gets more complicated and move selection requires concrete thinking. But even then most opening moves that are unmindful of opening principles are probably inferior. Remember, he was talking about average players, not GMs. I got a good chuckle out of one post where some guy claimed 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 was playable because Nakmura has successfully played in on occasion. First he played it in blitz games for fun and second the guy is rated well over 2700, so what would you expect?
     Chapters 5 and 6 cover the Sicilian but space precludes an in depth look here. Chapter 9 was quite interesting: Bad Moves: How Not to Play Them. Because the Sicilian Defense is so popular, one sample game, Karpov vs. Korchnoi from their 1974 match, involving the Yugoslav Attack was instructive. Karpov and Korchnoi played two matches, 1974 and 1978.
     It was well known that Karpov had excellent results against the Dragon, so why did Korchnoi play it? Possibly because the previous year Korchnoi had defeated Karpov in a Dragon and believed he might not be up on latest theory. That wasn't the case though and after the game Korchnoi didn't want to talk about it, saying it wasn't a real game, but a result of home preparation. Sour grapes! Korchnoi had as much opportunity to do his homework as Karpov.
     This game is game two of their 1974 match. I am giving it with a slightly abridged version of Mednis' explanatory notes plus a few observations by engines. Mednis was mainly concerned with the opening while Stockfish and Komodo answered a few questions on alternate lines. Also, Yasser Seirawan's analysis on Youtube HERE is really good and I recommend you spend about 45 minutes watching it. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Square Off

     I just discovered this contraption yesterday and find it intriguing. It's a Rube Goldberg-like device that allows you to play chess against people all over the world just like online. That's assuming they also have purchased the device. 
     Just hook up the box to your smartphone and when you play, you make your move by actually moving a real chess piece. When your opponent moves, a two-axis robotic arm with a magnetic head beneath the board moves the magnetic pieces. You can also practice against it at different user selected levels. 
     The attraction is that you can sit in the comfort of your living room and challenge a player anywhere in the world and then play on a real chess set...even if it is kind of small; at least that's they way they look in the photos. 
     The cost varies. The plain old Kingdom Set will sell for $375, but if you order today it can be yours for $249...plus shipping, of course. The Grand Kingdom Set will sell for $450 but order now and it's only $299...plus shipping, of course. There are also huge discounts if you order in quantity; you'll have to pay shipping. 
     An outfit from Mumbai, India called Infivention Technologies ran a campaign on Kickstarter to fund the project and claims to have gotten more than enough funding and if you pre-order, your chess contraption should ship in June of 2017. Think I will wait, but if you want to pre-order you can do it on Kickstarter HERE.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Flummoxed by Charles G. M. Watson

     While browsing one of Prudy's books the other day I came across his description of the play of this rather obscure (to most of the chess world) Australian champion and was curious to find out more about him. 
     According to Purdy, Watson was one of those players whose tactics were far superior to their strategy. Watson studied chess books, but he never bothered with general principles and preferred to revel in sheer calculation.  Purdy speculated that he probably whipped through a dozen variations almost every move and saw far more, and far more quickly, than most of his opponents. Purdy added that he still had a plus score over Watson in their individual encounters, mostly because Purdy, as he put it, "...had some faith in principles, and discarded quickly many of the lines Watson took the trouble to calculate out for many moves ahead." 
     Purdy concluded that because Watson despised general principles he suffered for it. According to Purdy, the moral is that even though seeing tactics is absolutely essential, studying strategy is beneficial and is of practical value in that it will often save a lot of time on the clock. Purdy suggested that he looked at fewer lines than Watson, but discovered sounder ones sooner than he did. 
     Charles Gilbert Marriott Watson (October 22, 1878 – March 5, 1961) was an Australian national chess champion. Born in Buninyong, he started playing chess with his father at the age of 10 and, also, at the local club. He later joined the Melbourne Chess Club, winning the Melbourne Chess Club championship for the first time in 1898, then in 1902, 1904, 1905, 1914, 1921, 1931 and 1936. He won the Australian Championship in 1922 and a second time in 1931.
     Watson only played one international tournament, and was soon overshadowed by younger players like Purdy, Koshnitsky, Steiner and so he is unknown outside of Australia and even there, his career wallows in obscurity. Watson retired from chess many times, but always reappeared and was known for his uncanny ability to win lost games. 
     He competed in the championship of the province of Victoria 12 times, won it on his first attempt in 1898 and last won it in 1936. 
     When he won the won the Australian championship in 1922 the British Chess Federation had reserved a place for the winner of the Australian title in the International Masters tournament to be held later that year. The 1922 London International Congress, won by Capablanca ahead of Alekhine and Vidmar, was Watson's only international tournament. He finished 15th out of 16, scoring +4 -1 =10. However, he did mange to defeat many time British Champion H.E Atkins and Richard Reti in a 92-move ending. 
     Watson also had a brief soccer career and played 11 games for the Melbourne Demons in the inaugural season of the Victorian Football League Australian Football competition in 1897. Later in life became a big fan of bridge. 
     The following game has been described as worthy of Tahl. I have to admit that when I saw 10...h4 it left me plumb flummoxed! In the Dragon isn't white supposed to storm the K-side while black seeks counterplay on the Q-side? In this game we see black attacking on the K-side while white is reduced to passive defense. Tinkering around with Stockfish 8 and Komodo 10.1 didn't yield any refutation to Watson's idea though!