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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.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

My Friend Elvis

This post has nothing to do with chess. 

     Several years ago we had a mutt of a dog named Brandy. As dogs go she was not very smart, but friendly and loveable. Brandy (now deceased) used to spend nice days lounging in the back yard and chasing away whatever critters attempted to venture out of the woods behind our house and into her domain: deer, racoons, possums and stray cats. 
     One day I noticed Brandy laying next to her food dish oblivious to an animal of some sort that was eating out of it. As I approached I saw it was a large gray cat that promptly scampered off when I got near. But, the cat kept coming around to eat whatever Brandy had left and I named it "Elvis." Over a period of time the cat let me approach and pet it. That's when I discovered that Elvis was actually a girl cat, but the name stuck. 
     For several years now when the weather is nice Elvis is in our back yard nearly every morning. A neighbor told me she actually belongs to an elderly lady who lives several houses down across the street. It would appear that sometimes Elvis spends the night in the woods and sometimes at home. Some mornings she shows up late, around 8 or 9 in the morning. Sometimes, like yesterday, she was sleeping on the picnic table at 4:30am.
     Whenever I walk out the door she runs to greet me and begins the most raucous purring I've ever heard and gets her belly-rub. Then, if she spent the night outside, she's ready for a hearty breakfast; if she spent the night at home, she doesn't want anything except her catnip treat. There are other times if I am outside and she sees me, she comes running...not for food, just for some attention. 
     Yesterday my wife left for work and called me to ask if Elvis was still in the back yard and when I looked, she was gone. That's when my wife informed me that there was a dead cat that looked like it could be Elvis lying in the street just around the corner. It was with a sad heart that I drove around the corner with the intention of bringing my friend back home for a proper burial. I didn't think it was right that she should be carrion for the buzzards. Imagine my relief when I found out it was actually a small raccoon that had been run over. The buzzards ate good yesterday! 
     After returning home I was out back watering the tomatoes when guess who came out of the woods and came scampering across the back yard? I sat down at the picnic table and she jumped in my lap and after some petting, she jumped down and headed back into the woods. What a relief! But, I wonder. Did she somehow sense that I had been worried about her and just wanted to let me know she was OK? 
     According to a recent poll from the Associated Press and Petside.com, two-thirds of Americans with pets say their pets have some unknown way of sensing things that we don’t. Forty-three percent say their dogs, cats, fish and other animals know when bad news is on the way. 
     There’s no question that animals are attuned to many things that escape our attention. Dogs can anticipate seizures and detect certain forms of cancer, low blood sugar and other medical problems, probably due to their remarkable sense of smell. See my post Dogs Bust a Grumpy Facing North
     And they can sense earthquakes by sensing subtle changes in the earth and atmosphere, but what about tsunamis where the quake can be thousands of miles away? When the big tsunami hit South Asia in 2004, much of the wildlife near the coasts had already begun heading for the high ground long before the wave came ashore. 
     In the Alps there is evidence that before avalanches the mountain animals come down and get out of the way. During the Second World War it was reported that a lot of dogs and cats in England gave their owners warning of German air raids at least half an hour before the bombing began when the planes would still have been 150 to 200 miles away. It couldn’t just have been hearing because the wind was often blowing in the wrong direction. 
     It must be that there is an element of precognition involved. Food for thought.

Friday, July 15, 2016

An Old Alekhine Game

     Like most players Alekhine was one of my earlier heroes, but it's been a long time since I played over any of his games. Lately I have been going through one of his old books, 107 Great Chess Battles 1939-1945, which, by the way, consists not of 107 games by Alekhine, but games played during that time period. Only about 30 of the games are his. I might also mention that his analysis, while instructive, is not particularly deep nor is it always accurate.
     The Munich 1941 tournament was, surprisingly, won by Gosta Stoltz by a margin of 1.5 points ahead of Alekhine. Another Swedish player, Erik London, also did very well by finishing tied for second with Alekhine.  Bogoljubow was something of a surprise; he finished fourth. Euwe declined his invitation, ostensibly due to obligations as manager of a groceries business. It is speculated that the real motive was the fact that Alekhine had written his now famous antisemitic articles that also contained mention of the "Jewish clique" that surrounded Euwe in their world championship match in 1935. You can read an excellent article on this tournament at Edward Winter's site HERE
     Alekhine's opponent in this game was Georg Kieninger (5 June 1902 in Munich – 25 January 1975 in Düsseldorf) who was an avid cigar smoker nicknamed "Eisernen Schorsch" (Iron Georgie) because of his fighting style. He won the German Championship in 1937, 1940, and 1947. In 1950, FIDE awarded him the IM title. 
     While playing over the following game I was impressed with the way Alekhine conjured up an attack out of nowhere. Kieninger's 9.d4 looks so logical that you wonder how it could be wrong, but Alekhine (and Stockfish) condemn it and the way Alekhine pushes white's Ns back into passivity and his subsequent attack, even it was not perfectly executed, is instructive. The final phase of the game is also instructive because it demonstrates how strong Alekhine's two Rs were against Kieninger's R and two minor pieces. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Shootouts in Unclear Positions

     Exactly what is an "unclear" position? The answer itself is unclear. What's unclear to me is likely to be very clear to a GM. What's unclear to a garden variety GM may be very clear to a super-GM. 
     In books, especially older ones, when you come across the term "unclear" in describing a position it usually means a) the annotator didn't feel like analyzing the position or b) he had no idea what the correct evaluation is, or c) the position really is unclear because both players have so many ideas that it's impossible to choose the best one. 
     With the help of engines there are a number of analysis tools you can use and in Fritz these are the Deep Position Analysis option and the Shootout option. I rarely use the DPA option though it has its advantages. The most important is that it will analyze moves that at first evaluation do not look too good, but may turn out to be best. Mostly I don't use it because getting good results takes time and most of my correspondence play is in "rapid" events where the time limit is 10 days plus 1 day per move and no vacation time is allowed. Most games are finished in 3-4 months. I just don't want to take the time to use DPA. 
     I love the Shootout feature though. It's especially helpful when an engine can't seem to come up with a clear evaluation. You start with a position of interest and then get one or more engines to play the position with set times or with increasing search depths. A couple of things to note: 1) in some positions where the evaluation is nearly equal, after running Shootouts the move under investigation actually does poorly and 2) at lower plies one side does well, but at the higher plies things may change. 
     While analyzing one of my games on LSS recently the engines (Stockfish and Komodo) evaluated the position as almost dead equal and recommended three moves that were separated by only a couple hundredths of a point. 
     The position and actual scores are not so important, but my best three moves were:

16...a4 (This move made no sense to me. Was, in the absence of any tactics, the engine just making aimless moves? They do that sometimes.) 
16...Bf5 (Developing a piece and attacking the white Pawn on d3, but it also allowed him to play Bxb7 attacking the R on a8.) 
16...Rd8 (This move attacked the white B that was shielding his d-Pawn and so seemed quite reasonable. And even though it was evaluated a wee bit lower than the other two I was tempted to play it.) 

     After a lot of tinkering with the position I wasn't able to come to any clear conclusion, so Fritz in the Shootout mode came to the rescue. I could have used the Deep Position Analysis to generate a tree of possibilities, but chose the Shootout option, letting Stockfish and Komodo play out the game. As usual, the ply settings were 13-19 plies which results in five games being played by each engine. 
     In the Shootout mode, when the games are finished the results will give you a pretty good indication of the likely outcome; in my game it will probably be a draw. After running a Shootout I play through the games quickly and look at the way the engine played. This gives me a hint of available ideas and to how the position should be played. By the way, this information is also useful for opening analysis, especially if you are doing research for OTB play. 
     The Shootout results were as follows (white's results are shown): 

Stockfish +0 -0 =5
Komodo +0 -0 =5 
Stockfish +1 -0 =4 
Komodo +1 -0 =4 
Stockfish +1 -0 =4 
Komodo +0 -0 =5 

    In the two 16...Bf5 games which white won it was because he got a better K position and his B was more active than black's in the ending. 
     In the case of 16...Rd8 white got a mobile Q-side majority and black was fighting to hold the draw. 
     So, the seemingly pointless (to me) 16...a4 was the best move after all, but I was curious as to why this was so. Playing through the games, I discovered the reason was that it allowed for the possibility of activating the a8R by the maneuver ...Ra5-b5 attacking the b-Pawn which tied up one of white's B as well as one of his Rs. This maneuver was not possible without ...a4 because a R-lift with the moves ..Ra3 and ...Rb3 was not playable. 
     It was not so much the individual moves that I found instructive, but the ideas that were apparent from the general direction the games took.  
     That's why I like doing Shootouts when things are not as clear to me as the engine evaluations make it seem and it's why you will occasionally see Shootout results in my game annotations.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

ROCE - A Good Engine To Practice Against

     The ROCE engine may be a flyweight in the world of chess engines, but it looks like it might be worth downloading and using as a practice engine. 
     ROCE stands for Roman's Own Chess Engine and the author states that it is yet another chess engine that probably no one needs, but adds that it's been a lot of fun for him working on it. 
     According to the author (Roman Hartmann) ROCE is a rather weak engine, but won't miss simple tactics. It will however play unsound moves in many situations. On the other hand it plays with a rather risky and attacking style and even mediocre players have a good chance to win or draw. 
     I read somewhere that ROCE is rated about 1880 in UCI Engines League and it's a very stable engine so it might make a good practice engine. I checked it out using Ftitz' Sparring Partner Mode with the engine moving fast on the "very hard" setting. I have to admit that in the first two games I played at lightning speed and lost due to some tactical oversights, so for the third game I had to slow down and actually spend a little time thinking and managed to win the following game.
     Analyzing the game with Stockfish showed I actually made more mistakes than the engine though. But, just like in real games between humans, it was the last blunder that mattered. Anyway, it looks like this may be another of those unheralded engines that you might find useful for practice.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dr. Ossip Bernstein

     Chess history has not been kind to Bernstein. He is best known for losing several well-known games to Capablanca. Edward Lasker said that Bernstein was of true world championship caliber and Harry Golombek called his style "massive and sparkling." 
     Bernstein was a player who according to Chessmetrics was ranked number 9 in the world 10 different months between the April 1904 and March 1906 and achieved a rating high of 2688 on the January 1906 rating list. His best individual performance: was 2716 at Ostend, 1907. 
     Born September 20, 1882 in Zhytomyr, Russian Empire to a family of Jewish heritage, Bernstein grew up in pre-revolutionary Russia. He earned a doctorate in law at Heidelberg University in 1906, and became a financial lawyer. 
     After the First World War, the October Revolution and during the Russian Civil War in 1918, he was arrested in Odessa by the Bolshevik secret police and ordered shot by a firing squad because he was a legal adviser to bankers. As the firing squad lined up, a superior officer asked to see the list of prisoners' names. Upon seeing Bernstein's name, he was asked whether he was the famous chess master. Not satisfied with Bernstein's affirmative reply, the officer made Bernstein play a game with him. If Bernstein lost or drew, he would be shot. With his hands shaking Bernstein won quickly and he, along with the other prisoners, was released. 
     After his narrow escape he, his wife and two small children fled on a British ship to Paris. As a successful businessman he had earned considerable wealth before losing it in the Bolshevik Revolution and in Paris he earned a second fortune that was lost in the Great Depression.  He then made a third fortune that was lost when France was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1940. 
     After the German invasion of France Bernstein and his wife left for Spain on foot, walking through the Pyrenees at night and hiding in caves during the day. Bernstein described the difficulty for two people in late middle age as they stumbled along in darkness, tripping over rocks and tortured by thirst before arriving in Spain with clothes torn and in a state of exhaustion. At the border Bernstein passed out with a heart attack and the Spanish guards arrested them and placed them in separate prisons. Through the intervention of some influential friends in Spain, his family was released and was allowed to stay in Spain where he played many friendly games with Alekhine. 
     He returned to Paris after the war and reestablished contact with a son who had been imprisoned by the Nazis for five years and was able to recoup some of his financial losses. After WW II he also returned to chess, usually doing quit well. 
     In 1954 at the age of 72 he tied for 2nd-3rd with Miguel Najdorf, behind René Letelier, at Montevideo. Nadjorf had been so confident of winning the tournament that he convinced the tournament organizers to double the first prize money at the expense of reducing the payouts for the lower prizes. Najdorf claimed, "That guy (Bernstein) is much too old to participate in such a tournament!" The plan backfired when Bernstein routed him in a 37-move game that won Bernstein the Brilliancy Prize. 
     In 1954 the 44-year old Najdorf was no spring chicken, but according to Chessmetrics his rating was over 2700, placing him number 7 in the world and sometimes it's good to youth get their comeuppance. It reminds me of the time I was playing in a weekender and during the last round was out in the hall when a young teenager who was playing an elderly fellow long past his prime came out and in a mocking manner began bragging to his friends about how "that old man" didn't know (expletive deleted) about chess and he was beating the (expletive deleted) out of him. Then he started telling his audience how many rating points he was going to gain and how much prize money he was going to pocket. Shortly after that, back at my board, the kid returned to his game and banged out a move. A few seconds later everybody heard him moan, "Awww, (expletive deleted)." Then came a long pause before he mumbled, "I resign" then fled the room in tears (no, it wasn't Bobby Fischer). The old man looked around and said, "He hung his Queen." and the whole room erupted in laughter. 
     When FIDE introduced titles in 1950, Bernstein was awarded the GM title. He died in a sanatorium on November 30, 1962 at St. Arroman in the French Pyrenees. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Confusion Over a Najdorf Game

     Recently when I played over a game from Arnold Denker's The Bobby Fischer I Knew it caused me some confusion. Denker gave the game as Najdorf vs. either Frenke or Sapiro, stating that is was played in either Warsaw 1927 or Lodz 1939 adding that while Najdorf had a flawless memory for moves he rarely paid attention to such niggling details as places and dates. 
     The game that Denker was referring to was the one in Edward Winter's post titled Najdorf against the French Defense. See the Chess Review article reprinted in the post.  Relevant posts are:

Najdorf against the French Defense 
Polish Immortal
Najdorf vs. Gliksberg 
Glucksberg vs. Najdorf

     Some how or other looking through all this lead to me digging up the Najdorf vs. Frenkle game from Warsaw 1926 which is also a miniature, but a Sicilian Dragon, that is given below. 
     When we think of Najdorf we usually think of a risk-taking tactician, but Denker claimed that was not the case at all.  Najdorf won many "mixed" tournaments, including at least a dozen Mar del Plata events, Amsterdam 1950 (ahead of Reshevsky), Havana 1962 (ahead of Spassky and Smyslov), that included world class GMs as well as lesser masters because he had a knack for mowing down players in the bottom half of the tournament. 
     Najdorf himself helped perpetuate the myth that he was a gambler, but he usually won his games against the lower half of tournaments by by taking a positional approach that Denker described as half Capablanca and half Lasker. And, it's usually forgotten that he also won deep positional victories over world class players like Botvinnik and Spassky.