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Thursday, April 28, 2016

An Amazing Benko Gambit by Lev Alburt

     Before arriving in the U.S. in 1979 Lev Alburt (born August 21, 1945 in Orenburg, Russia) was three-time Ukrainian Champion and subsequently won the U.S. Championship three times (1984, 1985 and 1990). Today he writes a popular column for Chess Life in which he annotates instructional games submitted by class players. Alburt is a long time advocate of Alekhine's Defense has a variation named after him and he did much to popularize the Benko (or Volga) Gambit. 
     His opponent in this game, Czech GM Vlastimil Hort, was one of the world's strongest players during the 1960s and 1970s he and qualified for the 1977–78 Candidates Tournament. "You know I am a chess entertainer. I want to entertain people. If they want to learn something I'm happy." 
     Writing about the Benko Gambit, Alburt stated that its lines do not require the intense study, exact and deep knowledge that is usually required of other openings. Understanding its underlying values and strategical considerations is much more important than memorizing specific lines. Albut became intrigued with it shortly after reading an article in Chess Life and Review by Walter Browne. He realized that the ending is better for black and was thus converted to a staunch supporter of the Benko. 
     In the following game, which I have been meaning to look at for a long time, Alburt developed a winning position with a timely Q-sacrifice. What makes the game remarkable is not only the Q-sac, but the position at move 29 where of Hort's own Q was “trapped” by its own pieces. It also demonstrates the importance of squares, diagonals, ranks and files and piece activity.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Selim Franklin

     Never heard of him? Neither did I, but his list of accomplishments is impressive. Selim Franklin, Esquire (1814–1884) was an American pioneer, auctioneer, real estate agent, chess master, and Canadian legislator. He is listed in The Society of California Pioneers as having arrived in San Francisco in October of 1849. The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The news brought some 300,000 gold-seekers, the "forty-niners", to California. It's believed Franklin Street in San Francisco is named for him.
     Franklin was born in Liverpool, England, the son of a banker and emigrated to San Francisco during the Gold Rush in October 1849 where he was joined by brother and two cousins. Another brother joined him in 1854. Franklin was one of the smart ones who joined the Gold Rush; he didn't try to strike it rich mining, he and his brother opened a store selling mining equipment and supplies. In 1851 they established Selim and Edward Franklin Real Estate and Auctioneers. Together they built a hotel, the Franklin House, on Sansome Street in 1852 which was one of the more upscale hotels in the city. The hotel housed permanent residents including physicians, attorneys and a judge. Their cousins relocated to San Diego and built the Franklin House there in 1855; it was the first three-story building in Southern California. 
     In 1858 Selim moved to Victoria, British Columbia where, with his brother Lumley, he opened Franklin and Company, Auctioneers and Land Agents. They listed real estate, furniture, cattle, and vehicles for auction. Because they were British-born, they were appointed as the first government auctioneers in Victoria and British Columbia. Selim also served as an adviser to Queen Victoria in the 1859 Oregon boundary dispute over the San Juan Islands. 
    In 1859 he was elected to the Legislature of British Columbia, becoming the first Jew to take a seat in any legislature in British North America. He achieved the title of Esquire and was a founding member of the Freemason lodge in Victoria. He was also Chairman of the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition of 1864. The Franklin River on Vancouver Island is named for him and he and his brother founded the Victoria Philharmonic Society. 
     In 1866 he resigned from the Legislature and returned to San Francisco. In 1879 he served as a Trustee of the Mineral Fork Mining and Silver Company of Utah and in 1881 he served as a Trustee for the Geographical Society of the Pacific. His nephew, Selim M. Franklin, was elected to the Arizona Legislature in 1884 and later became a founder of the University of Arizona.
     Somewhere in all his adventures and accomplishments Franklin managed to become recognized as a chess master. He played in the chess clubs in London, especially the Westminster Chess Club and Simpson's Divan Chess Room and 1857 he was on the Planning and Rules Committee for the first American Chess Congress held in New York. This was the tournament that propelled the 20-year-old Paul Morphy to fame. 
     In California, Franklin was President of the California Chess Congress of 1858 that established San Francisco as a world chess center. Three San Francisco chess clubs joined together to host the Congress: the Mechanic's Institute, the German Chess Club of San Francisco, and the Pioneer Chess Club. The Mechanic's Institute is still very much alive.   Of course, Franklin won the tournament and the first prize of an expensive gold watch.
     Franklin participated in several London chess matches from 1868–1871 and his last “serious” games were apparently against Johannes Zukertort.  First, in a blindfold simultaneous in San Francisco at the Mechanics' Institute Chess Room in 1884; Franklin lost. 
     A few days later, on July 21, 1884, Zukertort defeated Franklin in an individual game also played at the Chess Room of the Mechanics’ Institute. Zukertort was on a tour of the country giving exhibitions and he had stopped in such out of the way places as Wyoming (then a territory, not yet a state!). There was only one known chess player in Wyoming, but he was 300 miles away so Zukertort never met him. From there he visited Utah (also a territory) which did have a few chess players. From there he went to San Francisco. 
     Franklin died in San Francisco in 1884. 
     Not many of his games seem to have survived and the few that I found were not of especially high quality, but here is one of his losses to Zukertort; it's the one that was played on July 21. Zukertort wins in crisp fashion. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Nicolai Jasnogrodsky

     Nicolai Jasnogrodsky was born on August 6, 1859 in Lubny, Ukraine and died on April 23, 1914 in New York. Jasnogrodsky began his chess career sometime around 1885 in Vienna and shortly after that moved to England. 
     In international competition he tied for 4-5th at Amsterdam 1889 in the B tournament and the following year he was awarded the “Master” tilte in Amsterdam. In 1891 he was a regular at Simpson's-in-the-Strand and was making a name for himself because of his skill giving simultaneous displays and as a blindfold player. 
     He took part in several London tournaments in the early 1890s, his best result being a tie 4th-5th in 1891 and in 1893 he drew a match with Henry Bird 7.5-7.5. 
     On August 11, 1893 Jasnogrodsky arrived in the United States to play in the Columbian Chess Congress, but the tournament wasn't held because of insufficient funds and Jasnogrodsky ended up remaining in the U.S. 
     The World's Columbian Exposition was the official shortened name for the World's Fair: Columbian Exposition, also known as The Chicago World's Fair. It was held in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World in 1492. The chess tournament was actually to be held in New York City though.
     The committee for the Congress met at the Manhattan Chess Club in mid-August, 1893 to make final arrangements for the tournament which was to begin in September. They had $2,800 in good subscriptions, but needed at least another $700. These amounts may not seem large, but in 1893 they would have had over $71,000 and another $18,000 was needed. 
    After careful consideration the committee decided that due to “the very threatening financial aspect of the country and the prospect of so much distress and want arising” that they would indefinitely postpone the tournament. Actually things were so bleak that they didn't bother to set any future meeting date. What they were referring to was The Panic of 1893, a serious economic depression in the United States that was caused by the overbuilding and shaky financing of railroads which resulted in a series of bank failures. 
     The failure of this tournament lead to what was known as the Impromptu Tournament which was held in New York City during early September to mid-October 1893. The final standing were: 

1) Lasker 13 
2) Albin 8.5 
3-5) Delmar, Lee and Showalter 8 
6) Hanham 7.5 
7) Pillsbury 7 
8) Taubenbhaus 6 
9-11) Pollock, Ryan and Schmidt 5 
12) Jasnogrodsky 4 
13) Olly 3.5 
14) Gossip 2.5 

    Remaining in the U.S., Jasnogrodsky won the New York State Championship in 1896 and tied for 10-11th at New York 1894. In 1895 he played a series of matches, losing to Eugene Delmar (1.5-5.5), but crushing an interesting fellow named Manuel Marquez Sterling by a score of 5-0. He also lost a match to David G. Baird by a score of 1-2. Apparently his play improved because in 1898 he drew a match with Frank J. Marshall (3.5-3.5) in New York City. According to the Chessmetrics site Jasnogrodsky's highest ever rating was 2492 in 1894 which ranked him number 64 in the world.
    He developed the Jasnogrodsky Defense against the Rice Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5 Nf6 6.Bc4 d5 7.exd5 Bd6 8.O-O Bxe5 9.Re1 Qe7 10.c3 Nh5). 
    Jasnogrodsky died at Montefiore Home, Hospital and Country Sanitarium for Chronic Diseases. He was buried in Union Field Cemetery for members of the New York City's Jewish community.
     The following game is an exercise in tactics that's worth setting up a board and trying to visualize all the possibilities. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Frank Anderson

     Frank R. Anderson (January 3, 1928, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada – September 18, 1980, San Diego, California) was a Canadian IM and a chess writer. 
     Anderson only started playing in his late teens after battling back from a serious illness that left him bedridden. He became very ill with rheumatoid arthritis in Toronto and was bedridden for five years. That's when he learned to play chess. At first played correspondence chess, quickly becoming a strong player. He graduated in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Toronto. 
     He was a computer expert by training and in the late 50s, along with Bob Cody, he wrote a program for the IBM 605 computer to play pawn endings up to a K+2Ps vs K and P. Their program was able to play these endings perfectly. When the program was demonstrated at the Canadian Conference of Scientists it played against more than 50 different opponents, each of whom was allowed to choose his own starting position, given the small number of pawns. In each case the program played perfectly. 
     Unfortunately, the strategy that enabled these endings to be programmed successfully was never documented and the programmers did not keep a written record, nor were they able to remember it. Anderson once confessed that even at the time he could not explain why some of their strategies worked. 
     His first noteworthy result was in the 1946 Canadian Championship in Toronto when he scored 10-3 in the preliminaries and just missed qualifying for the finals. Anderson won the Toronto Championship six times (1947-48-50-51-52-58).  He also played in a handful of tournaments in the United States, always doing well. In 1948, he tied for first place in the U.S. Junior Championship in Oak Ridge, Tennessee with Arthur Bisguier. He won the Ontario Open Championship in 1948, 1949, and 1951. 
     In the Canadian Championship his results were: 
1949 - tied for 3rd-4th behind Maurice Fox and Fedor Bohatirchuk 
1951 - 2nd behind Povilas Vaitonis 
1953 - tied for 1st with Abe Yanofsky 
1955 – finished 1st 
1957 - tied for 3rd-4th with Miervaldis Jursevskis behind Vaitonis and Géza Füster 

     Anderson played for Canada in three Olympiads (1954, 1958, 1964). He won the second-board gold medal at Amsterdam 1954, with a score of (+13 =2 -2). Leonard Barden wrote that for his “prize” he received a used copper or pewter jug about a foot high that had several dents in it. Barden, who described Anderson as one of the most likeable and pleasant players he had ever ever met, mentioned that due to his disability Anderson was on crutches, but he always made light of it. After the Olympiad on his way back to Canada he stopped over in London and visited Barden's home where he explained to Barden that he didn't like the jug and that it would increase his excess luggage charge if he took it home. He left it with Barden who kept in on his fireplace mantel for over 30 years. 
     He repeated the feat at the Munich 1958 Olympiad with a score of (+9 =3 -1). At Tel Aviv 1964, he scored (+4 =3 -5) on second board.  Probably the most notorious incident in Anderson's career happened at the Munich Olympiad in 1958. There he had the best percentage score on board two but became ill due to a reaction to an incorrect prescription and was unable to play his final round.  Anderson claimed that cost him the GM title because even if he had played and lost, he would have made the final norm necessary. According to the Chess Federation of Canada, a close examination based on the rules then in effect did not support his claim. Anderson was awarded the IM title in 1954 and became the first Canadian-born International Master. 
     He lost a transatlantic cable game to Igor Bondarevsky played over four days in February 1954, but won a return game when Bondarevsky visited Toronto a few months later in July 1954. Read the newspaper article HERE.
     Anderson scored 7-3 in the 1956 Canadian Open Championship in Montreal for a shared 8-12th place, drawing his game in the last round with 13-year-old Bobby Fischer. 
    He wrote a weekly chess column for the The Hamilton Spectator from 1955 to 1964 and was co-author of the tournament book of the Fourth Biennial World Junior Championship, Toronto 1957.  
     He moved to San Diego, California after the 1964 Olympiad where he lived with his wife Sylvia and operated a tax consulting business. He was inducted into the Canadian Chess Hall of Fame in 2001. His style was precise and positional, with an emphasis on the endgame, but he could also create clever tactics if the situation called for it. 
     I noticed many of his games were long and boring, but in the following game he struts his tactical stuff when at move 16 black, already with an inferior position, makes a seemingly logical attempt to plant a N on what looks like a good outpost. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Shirov's Best Game?

     He did not think it was, but the Rook maneuver and three successive sacrifices at h5, f5 and d5 make it a fan favorite. After Chernin's mistake on move 23 which was the move that allowed Shirov to unleash his barrage of sacrificial moves, Shirov wrote that the rest of the game gave him "some aesthetic pleasure, which is not often the case in chess." That comment speaks volumes, but I don't know if it's about chess as it's played today or if it's just Shirov's opinion. That's why I prefer games played in the pre-engine days...they offer a LOT of aesthetic pleasure! This game does, too, so I am mystified by Shirov's comment...his attack was brilliant. 
     Also, I seriously doubt that most of today's players would even bother playing if they had to play for the paltry prizes offered in the tournaments of days gone by. Reshevsky once spoke of winning a tournament and his “prize” was “a few cordial words.” Or, how many kids today would play if the prizes were those once available to Fischer? 
     The Marshall Chess Club first refused to admit Bobby Fischer because Frank Marshall’s widow, Carrie, who ran the club, considered him a brat, but she finally gave in. At a tournament in New Jersey, Fischer won 1st prize, a good piece of luggage. He took one look at it and said, “I don’t need that!” and he won the U.S. Junior championship twice and both times, the prize was a typewriter. 
     In 1957 the Junior Championship in San Francisco on the morning before the tournament started Fischer was nowhere to be seen. Even in those days he was a mysterious character who would appear and disappear and no one had seen him since his unexpected win of the 1956 tournament. Even so, nobody thought he would win the 1957 championship because Gilbert Ramirez (a kid with a master's rating...a rare thing in those days!) was the overwhelming favorite.
     As an indication of things to come, when the first round started Fischer still had not shown up and rumors were flying that he wasn't going to defend his title, but 10 minutes after the clocks had started Fischer made his dramatic entrance wearing blue jeans with holes (which, unlike today, were not popular back then), two different colored tennis shoes, his signature flannel shirt and his head was shaved (again, not a popular style in those days).
     When some of the participants greeted him they were ignored as Fischer stormed up to the tournament director, George Koltanowski, and asked him, "What's first prize?" Koltanowski showed Fischer the table with the prizes sitting on it and guess what first prize was? An electric typewriter identical to the one he he had won the year before. A furious Fischer stomped his feet and screamed, "I don't want another typewriter!" 
     Ivan Vegvary, Fischer's first round opponent, snickered and told him not to worry because he wasn't going to win it. Fischer told him, "You don't know me." 
     After the first round Ramirez was outside the tournament hall playing 5-minute games when Fischer walked up, observed for a moment then walked away. After the second round Ramirez offered to play some 5-minute games against Fischer who, again, shook his head and walked away commenting, "Too weak." Finally, after the 4th round Fischer, who was tied with Ramirez for first with four wins, created a lot of excitement by finally agreeing to play Ramirez some blitz games. One of the interested spectators happened to be the legendary Miguel Najdorf. It's estimated that Ramirez and Fischer played 25-30 games and Fischer won all of them while using almost no time. Najdorf commented, "It's like angels are moving his hand!" Fischer went on to win the title and the story, true or not, is that the typewriter he won was the one he used to author My 60 Memorable Games.
     Where was I? The Shirov game...the game was played in a Professional Chess Association qualifier and for those too young to remember, the PCA was in existence between 1993 and 1996. It was created by Gary Kasparov and Nigel Short as a rival to FIDE and to market their world championship. 
     In 1993 Short won the Candidates Tournament and qualified to challenge Kasparov and under FIDE regulations the bids for their match should have been decided by FIDE and the players. According to Kasparov and Short, FIDE president Florencio Campomanes broke these rules when he determined on his own that Manchester, England would be the site. 
     As a result of Campomanes' one-sided decision Kasparov and Short formed the PCA and played their world championship match at the Savoy Theater in London under the sponsorship of The Times. Kasparov won easily with a score of 12.5–7.5 and was the PCA World Champion. 
     The result was that Kasparov was stripped of his FIDE World Champion title and FIDE held a match between Anatoly Karpov and Jan Timman, the two players Short had defeated. Karpov won that match and became FIDE World Champion. For the first time in history there were two “World Champions.” 
     Between 1993 to 1995 the PCA held their own tournaments for the world championship as did FIDE. Things were a mess with many of the same challengers playing in both and Karpov and Kasparov were both claiming the title. 
     In 1996 the PCA lost its main sponsor, Intel. Some speculated Intel pulled out because Kasparov boosted IBM's reputation, an Intel competitor, when he played a match against IBM's Deep Blue. Kasparov disputed this, claiming Intel withdrew their support some weeks prior to the initial planning of the Deep Blue match. 
     Without any sponsorship for qualifying events, Kasparov hand picked his challenger, Vladimir Kramnik against whom he ended up losing. That match was sponsored by Braingames. Finally, in 2006, a re-unification match between PCA Champion Kramnik and the FIDE World Champion Veselin Topalov, which was won by Kramnik, took place.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hollywood 1952, A Long Forgotten International Tournament

Vladimir (Walter) Pafnutieff
     Herman Steiner was well known for his connection to Hollywood and his popularization of chess among movie stars. Steiner was also the driving force behind a number of tournaments held in Hollywood and this one has been long forgotten. 
     Chessmetrics lists the strongest tournament held between 1952 and 1953 as being the Soviet Championship held in Moscow in 1952. It included six of the top ten players in the world and the next strongest tournaments were Budapest 1952 and Havana 1952. So, this tournament in Hollywood hardly compares, being a very minor one, but I was surprised to find that even the California chess magazine gave it scant attention. A supplement was published with all the games though. Still, it had Gligorich and Pomar as participants. 
     This event was held in Hollywood from April 26 to May 8, 1952 and was won by Svetozar Gligorich from Yugoslavia with 6 wins and 4 draws by a half point over Arturo Pomar of Spain. On his way home Gligorich stopped in New York to play a match against Samuel Reshevsky who won with a score of +2 -1 =7. On the Chessmetrics April 1952 list Gligorich was ranked as number 11 in the world with a rating of 2705. The 20-year old Pomar weighed in at 2385 which placed him number 337 in the world. 
     Chessmetrics observed that 1952 was a great year for Reshevsky. He was the most dominant player that year, spending 7 months ranked number one on the site's rating list. The best individual event performance between 1952 and 1953 was by Alexander Kotov with a Chessmetrics Performance Rating of 2832 in Interzonal at Saltsjobaden in 1952. The next-best individual event performances were achieved by Mikhail Botvinnik (2808 performance) in Moscow (a USSR Training tournament) and by Samuel Reshevsky (2807 performance) in Najdorf-Reshevsky Match of that year. 
     The other players in the event were Arthur Dake of Portland, Oregon, Lionel B. Joyner of Canada who was living in Long Beach, California at the time. Joyner (1933-2001) was Canadian Champion in 1961 and represented Canada in the 1958 Olympics and the First World Junior Championship in 1951. He was also a very strong correspondence master, winning the Golden Knights Postal Championship in 1961-62.
     James B. Cross (born 1930) from Glendale, California was US Junior Champion in 1950 and the 1957 California State Champion. During the decade of the 1950s he was one of the state's strongest players ranked only behind Kashdan and Steiner. On the USCF's 1959 rating list (the 13th such list) he was ranked number 10 with a rating of 2425.
     Showing the effects of age (50 years old) and lack of practice Isaac Kashdan, then living in Tujunga, California, played poorly. Chessmetrics puts his 1951 rating at 2463, ranked number 231, which was a far cry from his peak rating of 2742 in 1931 when he was ranked number 2 in the world behind Alekhine. 
     Vladimir (Walter) Pafnutieff of San Francisco, California, passed away in San Mateo, California on May 22, 1999 at the age of 86. He authored a book of his best games which also served as an instruction manual titled How To Create Combinations which was published in 1986.  He was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States in the late 1920s, settling in San Francisco where he quickly became one of the best players in the state. In the early 1970s Pafnutieff and his wife moved to Kirkland, Washington where she opened a Russian restaurant. During the next few years he played in three Washington State Championships; his best finish was sharing second in 1978. 
     Ray Martin of Santa Monica, California (born November 7, 1924, died August 31, 2001 at the age of 76) won the 1969 American Open. Sonja Graf Stevenson of Los Angeles brought up the rear. The tournament was sponsored by Jacqueline Piatigorsky and Philip C. McKenna.

     What impressed me in this game was that Graf was cruising along with the better position, but missed a winning tactical shot at move 23. Even then she was doing well when, suddenly, at move 29 she failed to notice that her P at e3 needed extra defense because when Pafnutieff captured it, the recapture 30.fxe3 left her N on g3 hanging and black's Q lurking way back on b8 was able to capture the N with check.  After that the floodgates were opened against her K.  A very instructive game. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Exciting Bisguier Game

     These days when young players see a gregarious 87 year old fellow whose rating is at its floor of 2200 they know he is an International Grandmaster. They probably also know that in 2005 the USCF proclaimed him "Dean of American Chess" but I wonder how many realize how good he was really was in his heyday. 
     Arthur Bisguier (born October 8, 1929) is a two-time U.S. Junior Championship (1948, 1949), three-time U.S. Open Champion (1950, 1956, 1959) and the 1954 U.S. Champion. He played for the United States in five Olympiads and two Interzonal tournaments (1955, 1962). 
     In 1950 at Southsea, England he tied for first with Tartakower in his first international success which resulted in his receiving the IM title. Mandatory Army service interrupted his career during 1951 to 1953, but he managed to get leave so he could play in two European events. He played at the Helsinki Olympiad 1952, and then won the third annual Christmas tournament at Vienna 1952 with a 9–2 score.  After a poor performance in the U.S. Open in 1953, he entered the Philadelphia Candidates' Tournament for the U.S. Championship and finished first with an over-2600 performance. 
     His meteoric rise culminated with his winning the 1954 U.S. Championship at New York. He also won the 2nd Pan American Championship at Los Angeles 1954. In 1956 at Oklahoma City, he added the U.S. Open Championship title to his U.S. Championship. 
     Bisguier became a Grandmaster in 1957. He tied with Bobby Fischer for first–second places at the U.S. Open at Cleveland 1957, but Fischer was awarded the title on tiebreak. Bisguier also served as a second to Fischer at several international events.  Most of Bisguier's play after the mid-1960s was limited to U.S. tournaments where he won many events. 
     His list of elite victims is too numerous to mention and his results might have been much better had it not been for his sometimes risky play and love of tactics. Another thing that probably hindered his tournament results was the fact that he truly enjoyed life outside the tournament room. 
     At the 1975 US Championship at a meet and greet with the players, Bisguier asked a couple of spectators where the nearest bar was and he was informed that alcohol was not sold in the college town. He immediately pulled out his wallet and handed the two young strangers he was talking to some money and asked them to drive to the nearest town saying, “Bring me a fifth of Jack Daniels.” In that event he scored +0 -0 =13!
     A short interview with Bisguier can be seen on Vimeo HERE
     His opponent in the following game was Dr. Orest Popovych (born Jan-18-1933) who is a FIDE master. Popovych won the championship of New Jersey in 1959, 1961, 1985, and 2001. In 1970, he tied for 1st place in the North American Central Open. He is a professor emeritus of Analytical Chemistry at Brooklyn College and has a PhD in chemistry.  His highest USCF rating was over 2400. Popovych was elected President of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in New York in 2006 and he has also translated the Ukrainian poet Vasyl Makhno into English. 
     In this game Bisguier comes close to trapping his opponent's Queen. Popovych managed to extricate it, but it cost him material. Still, the game wasn't over because later Popovych, using his B, N and Q, set up an attack against Bisguier's King, at one point threatening mate in one. Then Bisguier launched a counterattack, which after some excitement, culminated in a Q-sac that won the game.