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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Can White Win?

     I have a 1950 issue of Chess Digest Magazine. The magazine, at one time known as California Chess News, came out 10 times a year and the subscription cost $2.00 per year. 
     A short article described how the magazine's problem editor, A.J. Fink, walked into a storage room and picked up a copy of Berliner Schachzeitung from March of 1912. That afternoon there were a number of strong players hanging out at the Mechanics Institute and they set up the position in the diagram. 
     The position was from an actual game and Berliner Schachzeitung was offering a prize for anyone who could find a win for white. The guys at the Institute came up with 1. Qxf7 Qa5 2. b6 (The threat is 4.Rxe3+ Bxe3 4.Qc7mate.) Qxb6 3. Bb5 as their solution, but the next day a master named Charles Bagby came up with 3...e5 and nobody could find a win. Fink was unable to locate the issue that contained the solution, so they remained mystified as to how white can win and they were offering a book prize to any reader who sent in the right solution. 
     I let Stockfish analyzed this position for about a half hour and discovered that there is no win, but the position is amazingly complicated; in some variations there is only one move for both sides that avoids losing. It would be interesting to know if any readers, either in 1912 or 1950, discovered what they thought to be a win.
 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Dinge Gambit

     The December 1, 1886 issue of Spectator Magazine carried a brief article on the Pierce Gambit, a variation of the Vienna Opening.  According to the authors of the gambit it was "an attempt to graft the Muzio Gambit on the Vienna stem, like the Hampe-Allgaier and it is undoubtedly a beautiful and suggestive opening, and leads to an even game." The gambit can also be reached via the King's Gambit. 
     The name comes from brothers W. Timbrell Pierce (1839-1922) and James Pierce (1833-1892) and it was first mentioned in a January 1886 article in the British Chess Magazine for which the two brothers regularly contributed. It was first played in the game between Louis Paulsen and Berthold English in 1887. 
     Curiously, in a letter to the British Chess Magazine in 1898, Timbrell Pierce stated that when he played over the below game which was widely published claiming Dinge had employed a "new gambit" he thought Dinge's 6.d5 was new and stated it looked strong.
     However, Pierce discovered that he had actually published a short analysis on 6.d5 two years previously in Chess Monthly!  So, it appears that when this game was played in 1898, Dinge was following Pierce's brief, but flawed, analysis that had been published in Chess Monthly.
     I was unable to locate much information on Max Dinge except that, according to Edo Historical Ratings, he was born February 23, 1876 and the date of his death is unknown. Dinge is known to have played in three tournaments between 1896 and 1899 with a rating of around 2000. 
     Carl Walbrodt (November 28, 1871, Amsterdam – October 3, 1902, Berlin) was a German master who was very active in the 1890s. He gave simultaneous displays, taught chess, and played in many tournaments. Walbrodt also founded two chess clubs and wrote a chess column in the Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger from about September 1899 until February 1902. According to the Oxford Companion to Chess, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in the early 1890s. He died from that disease at the age of 30. Chessmetrics put his rating at over 2600. 
     Unfortunately for Dinge, Pierce's analysis was defective and Dinge's name has been associated with an unsound gambit that has never been played since even though he won thanks to Walbrodt's atrocious defense. 
     I don't remember where, but I recently read an excellent blog post in which it was pointed out that you can't always trust the analysis published in books and magazines.
 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Obscure Celia Neimark

     Celia Neimark Ginsberg was born in the small town of West Austinville, Ohio on July 11, 1914 and died in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 1, 1998 at the age of 83. Visit her grave. Although it appears the town was frequently referred to as "West Austinville" by locals, it was actually "West Austintown", an unincorporated community started in 1869 when the railroad was extended to that point. A post office called West Austintown was established in 1872 and remained in operation until 1929.  
     Irving Spero, the Ohio State champion was the chess editor of the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator, and in 1921 planned a tournament, open to boys and girls fifteen and under and among the early entries were Celia and Fanny Neimark. It was presumed Fanny was Celia's sister, but no further information on the tournament seems to have ever surfaced. It is known that the famous chess and checker champion Newell W. Banks gave a simultanous against 21 players at the Youngstown club and he was held to a draw by Celia. About that time Sammy Rzeschewski (later Reshevsky) gave an exhibition in Cleveland, Ohio and one of his opponents was Louis Neimark, but it's not known what relation Louis was to her. 
     The seven year old Celia was a farm girl and was described by the papers of the day as being "as sturdy a specimen of a child as one would wish to see."  She was quite well known in the area and was elected to an honorary membership in the Youngstown Chess Club. 
     Spero referred to her as a chess prodigy and believed she was destined to make a mark in the chess world. On the occasion there was a picnic on her father's farm for the benefit of the Youngstown Relief Society and Celia played a simul against ten opponents. It was outdoors on a hot day and after an hour and a half her parents made her quit and the unfinished games were adjudicated. Her score was +6 -2 =2. The strength and identity of her opponents is unknown. 
     Celia also played a simul at the City Club of Cleveland against six opponents selected at random. In order to protect her from undue strain she was only allowed to play for about one hour and the games were adjudicated by Edward Lasker. She scored +3 -1 =2. 
     Her only known game is the one she played against Spero and nothing more was ever heard of her. 
     I did discover a Las Vegas company called The Star Auxiliary of Southern Nevada that was registered on December 29, 1971 with Celia Ginsberg listed as president. It was described as a domestic non-profit corporation, but I was unable to determine exactly what the purpose of the company was. It appears to have been an educational endeavor and at some point its exempt status was permanently revoked by the IRS for failure to file the required forms for 3 consecutive years. 
     It would be interesting to know what happened to her and her chess career and how she ended up in Las Vegas, but an internet search didn't turn up anything further. Another promising player lost to the realities of everyday life, I guess.
 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Openings and Average Players


    In the last post I gave a link to an article by Jim Schroeder and today I went back and re-read it. Unless you are a master, I suggest following his advice because it was right on!
     The best moves aren't in the books. My mind went back to a 1972 game I played in the finals of the US Open Correspondence Championship (Chess Review's Golden Knights) in which my opponent was a Senior Master and former US Championship competitor. I had lost a game against him two years previously in the semi-finals and was determined not to lose when I met him again in the finals...fat chance of that happening, but I was hopeful. 
     I was playing white against his Najdorf Sicilian and was using an opening booklet on the Najdorf and following a line that was supposed to be equal for white. After my 17th move, according to the book, black was supposed to play 18...Nc5 with equality, but my opponent played 18...Ne5 and quickly got the advantage. A couple of moves before I resigned 10 moves later he asked if I had been been using that particular booklet and when I said yes, he commented that he thought so because there was a mistake in the analysis! I had already figured that out, but it was a valuable lesson. It suggests that Schroeder was right when he said the best moves are not usually in the books. 
     Curiously, I found one OTB game played in 1975 where we followed that postal game and I played the same 17th move! My opponent also found 18...Ne5, but fortunately he didn't follow it up correctly and ended up losing. 
     That got me to thinking. In my OTB games during that period how far did the average game get before one of us left the book? The sample was about 30 games against opponents ranging from about 1300 to master. In two games we left the book at move three thanks to offbeat openings (like 1.c3, for example). The longest were a Dragon Sicilian and five Najdorf Sicilians where we left the book at move 12 or 13. The average was 9-10 moves (not plies).
     The average chess player usually can't remember reams of analysis and as this little experiment showed you are usually playing book moves whether you know it or not for maybe a quarter to a third of the game. 
     I also noticed that even when we left the book, with a couple of exceptions, the moves played were not "bad" as evaluated by an engine. The blunders came, but rarely in the opening. 
     As Schroeder observed, we are weak because we tend to study openings long before we can comprehend them and we should first become knowledgeable of 1) how to checkmate, 2) understand the endgame, 3) know all kinds of tactical patterns and 4) play through at least a thousand games. Only then should we study openings.
     It's as Schroeder said, authors and even many coaches pander to their readers and students. Pander. I like that word! It means "provide gratification for others' desires." GM Alex Yermolinsky commented that chess coaches are often put in the position where they have to pander to their students...if they don't give the student what they want, they just quit or find another coach. And, students often think they know more about what they need than their coach and what they usually think they need is...opening knowledge. That's why the best sellers are opening books.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Colorful James R. Schroeder

Typical Schroeder chess books
     James R. Schroeder, now retired from chess, was a colorful and sometimes controversial character. His name is pronounced Sch-A-der with a long a, NOT Sch-roader! On his website (now defunct) he described himself as "a renown chess author, editor, critic, master, historian and constant student of the game. He was the Ohio Chess Champion of 1950 and 1985 and the winner of fifty consecutive USCF rated games." Schroeder founded and operated The Prison Chess Fund. He was also a seller of books and chess equipment.
     Schroeder was born on November 30, 1927 and as far as I know is still alive and living in Washington state. I knew him quite well when he lived in Cleveland, Ohio and was active as a tournament director and was known for visiting the John G. White chess book collection at the Cleveland Public Library where he would meticulously hand copy games from famous tournaments, type them up, mimeograph them and then sell them for fifty cents apiece at tournaments. I even helped him on one book by proofreading the games and I think he gave me a book (a real one) of Karpov's games for my efforts. 
     One day he approached me at a tournament and asked if I had a car and could I give him a ride to his apartment to pick up some chess books to bring back and sell. His apartment was in an older building and was sparsely furnished with a small portable black and white TV with a coat hanger antenna. Chess books were piled all over the place. On the way back we stopped for lunch at an out of the way Chinese restaurant where we were the only non-Chinese in the place, but Schroeder seemed to be pretty well known. 
     According to his "Confidential Chess Lessons," a typewritten and mimeographed booklet of miscellaneous "instructions", Schroeder learned to play chess around 1945. Originally from Michigan, he moved to Ohio where he became active in promoting chess everywhere he could. While serving in the Army during the Korean War his pocket chess set was always with him and he played a lot of postal chess during that time. After the war he returned to Columbus, Ohio and later moved to Dayton, Ohio. While living in Dayton he never once visited the home of the poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, or went near the internationally famous Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, or visited the Wright Brothers Memorial. At some point he ended up in Springfield, Ohio, where in 1957 he got married and the Schroeders had one daughter. 
     In the 1950’s he studied the game and players extensively and became editor of the Columbus YMCA Chess Bulletin and became an active tournament player. He founded the Tru-Test Company, which sold chess books and supplies. In Cleveland he was founder of the “Cleveland Chess Foundation" and published the “Mini-Might Chess Bulletin." He also founded the Prison Chess Fund which supplied chess books to prisoners and encouraged people to play postal chess with inmates. 
     One lesser known incident in Schroeder's career was when he was selected by the controversial Nestor Farris to be the editor of The Chess Correspondent. According to Bryce Avery in Correspondence Chess in America, it was the "most catastrophic blunder in Farris' entire CCLA career." 
     Avery wrote that when he got the job, Schroeder had been given enough material for a couple of issues, but he wouldn't use it, choosing to write his own material instead and got the CCLA board's dander up by complaining in the magazine that they had not given him enough material. He also changed the design that had been used by the previous editors, Isaac Kashdan and William Wilcock. Schroeder's cover was too dark and the font hard to read. He also used filler that included drawings of maggots, photos of Elizabeth Taylor dressed as Cleopatra and a cartoon of a woman wearing only a towel. Sounds like the January, 1975 issue of the magazine, Schroeders' only issue before getting fired, was a forerunner of Kevin Spraggett's blog! An excerpt from that January, 1975 issue by Schroeder can be seen HERE.
     At the 2012 US Open, held in Vancouver, Washington where Schroeder was then living (and probably still does), the USCF Executive Board (Ruth Haring, Greg Walters, Allen Priest, Mike Nieman, Mitchell Atkins, Jim Berry, Bill Goichberg) voted not honor him with an award. Schroeder's reaction: "Look in your Funk and Wagnalls for words to express my opinion of them. Invectives, derogatory, vituperative, caustic. Being a gentleman of refined habits, I never employ such language and decline to lower myself into their midden-heap." 
     Schroeder declared the following game, published by Al Horowitz in Chess Review where he was referred to as Shredder Schroeder, was his first brilliancy prize game, adding that he was not a good attacking player, but nobody could miss his sacrifice.
 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Little Known Reshevsky - Fischer Game

     1957 was the year of the big breakthrough for Bobby Fischer when he went from a promising master to one of the best players in the country culminating in his winning the US Championship. He didn't play much in the first half of the year because at that time he was still attending school. He did tie for places 6 -14 in a 61-player Log Cabin Open in February. In that tournament his losses were to masters Herbert Avram and Anthony Santasiere. 
     In June, the Manhattan Chess Club won the Met League championship and held a celebration, part of which included an exhibition by Samuel Reshevsky. He played ten blindfold games, one after the other, at ten seconds per move against some pretty strong opposition. Reshevsky defeated lady champion Gisela Gresser and the strong master Walter Shipman. Players named Guala, Rowe and Saxon also went down to defeat. Reshevsky lost four: to master Charles Heitner, Arthur Bisguier (who was awarded the GM title that year), Arthur Feuerstein (a strong master and US Championship competitor) and Fischer. 
     I have never seen this Reshevsky - Fischer game, so here it is. In a tricky position where he stood better, Reshevsky lost the thread of the game and let Fischer off the hook. Then he miscalculated an equally tricky ending.
 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

1996 US Championship

Tal Shaked
     The US Championship only became an annual event in 1983 and after the 1995 Championship it was only 8 months later that the next one was held in Parisappany, New Jersey. 
     In this tournament the generation that had dominated the championship for 15 years was starting to fade; even six-time winner and fixture since 1973, Walter Browne was missing. Plus most of the tournament participants were former Soviet players. In addition, Craig Crenshaw, the patron of brilliancy prizes and other awards since 1981 had died. As an aside, I played a correspondence game against Dr. Crenshaw, a civilian scientist working for the Army, in the 1971 Golden Knights and won an interesting game on the black side of a K-Indian. 
     There were only four players in this tournament who had not been born in the Soviet Union and three of them Joel Benjamin, Nick deFirmian and Larry Christiansen were former champions. The other was Tal Shaked. 
     The tournament began with a surprise. At the age of 18, Shaked was the youngest player in the event and he had turned in a minus score in the US Junior a few weeks earlier, but he started off in this tournament with three straight wins. At the half way mark he was in first place with Alex Yermolinsky trailing him by a half point. Then Shaked, who was starting the toughest part of his schedule, lost to Shabalov and scored only two draws in his final six games. 
     While Shaked was losing to Shabalov, Yermolinsky lost to Gregory Kaidanov, but after that, Yermo took off on a winning streak. He knocked Boris Gulko out of his chances of winning the event by defeating him in a double-edged endgame followed by wins over Shaked and Igor Khmelnitsky. 
     An aging Larry Christiansen, 40 years old, was poised for a strong finish in after defeating Kaidanov in the sixth round and despite following that up with four straight draws he was in third place with three rounds to go. But, his time scramble loss against Alexander Ivanov knocked him out of the running. 
     At the end of 12 rounds Gurevich, who had never finished better than a tie for fourth place, found himself in second place a half point behind Kaidanov and Yermolinsky. That meant the key game of the tournament was the last round match-up between Gurevich, playing white, and Yermolinsky. Yermolinsky likely would have accepted a draw around move 30, but it appeared Kaidanov was losing to Lev Alburt.  Yermo, not sure if he needed a full point or just a half point, kept playing. Kaidanov ended up losing, but in the meantime Gurevich made some mistakes that allowed Yermo to score the win, giving him first place by a full point. 
     What happened to Tal Shaked? He gave up chess, except for blitz chess on the internet, in 1999 to go into a business career. Shaked received his masters in computer science from the University of Washington in 2004 and went to work as a software engineer for Google. His website is HERE. He has a wide variety of interests, but barely mentions chess! 

1) Yermolinsky 9-4 
2-3) Gulko and Kaidanov 8-5 
4) D. Gurevich 7.5-5.5 
5) A. Ivanov 7-6 
6-11) Alburt, Benjamin, Christiansen, deFirmian, Dzhindzikashvili, Shabalov 6-7 
12) Shaked 5.5-7.5 
13-14) I. Ivanov and Khmelnitsky 5-8 

     Here is Shaked's nice fourth round win over Dimitry Gurevich who was playing in his 12th championship since arriving in the US in 1980. 
 

Monday, February 13, 2017

The van Geet: An Opening with more Gambits that you can shake a stick at...

     Battambang Variation, Berlin Gambit, Billockus-Johansen, Damhaug Gambit, Dougherty Gambit, Duesseldorf Gambit, Dunst-Perrenet Gambit, Gladbacher Gambit, Hector Gambit, Hergert Gambit, Hulsemann Gambit, Jendrossek Gambit, Kl├╝ver Gambit, Laroche Gambit, Liebig Gambit, Melleby Gambit, Napoleon Attack, Novosibirsk Variation, Nowokunski Gambit, Pfeiffer Gambit, Sleipner Countergambit, Reversed Nimzovich, Reversed Scandinavian, Sleipner Gambit, Tuebingen Gambit, Twyble Attack, Warsteiner Gambit

     Those are just some of the lines, variations and gambits, not to mention transpositions into respectable openings, I found while looking at the Van Geet Opening, also known as the Dunst Opening here in the United States. We are talking about 1.Nc3. 
     Dirk Daniel van Geet (March 1, 1932 - April 29, 2012 at the age of 80 years) of The Netherlands was awarded the IM title in 1965 and the correspondence GM title in 1986). He specialized in off-beat opening variations and his name is associated with 1.Nc3. In 1952 he was junior champion of The Netherlands. 
     The van Geet Opening operates on a different principle than most openings where white can, to some extent, control the direction the opening takes. Not so with the van Geet where black is invited to play just about anything that seems reasonable and understanding is more important than memorized lines. 
     The opening has been largely neglected which seems a bit odd because it is sound enough...it doesn't neglect the center or throw good opening principles to the wind. A few minor masters have analyzed it, but very few top players have been willing to play it. Apart from correspondence GMs such as Ove Ekebjaerg and van Geet himself (who drew Spassky in an over-the-board game with it), several other leading correspondence figures have investigated 1.Nc3 Often, 1.Nc3 will transpose into a 1.e4 opening: the Scandinavian, the Sicilian Grand Prix, the French, the Vienna and the Caro-Kann are all possibilities, not to mention the above weird stuff. In his book Taming Wild Chess Openings John Watson actually list 1.Nc3 under the heading of good openings for white. 
     Maybe one reason why it's not seen very often at the top level is because it's almost impossible to prepare any opening lines if you play 1.Nc3 and GMs generally like to have their openings prepared. Play the van Geet and you don't know where things are headed and many lines result in non-standard positions that force both players onto their own resources. Most of us amateurs know deep down that we don't understand much and so try to keep things under control by memorizing opening variations we are reasonably sure we might actually be able to reach. 
     This game features the van Geet Opening, Myers Attack...or is it the Modern Defense, Anti-Pirc Variation?
 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Capablanca Classic and A Classic Bishop Sacrifice.

     Emmanuel Lasker wrote “…the chess student should not trust an analysis merely because he sees it in print. He must examine, he must do his own thinking and by conscientious work he must form his own judgment.” 

The Classic Bishop Sacrifice... 
Chessdotcom has a good three part article by Jeremy Silman on this sacrifice: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3. Jon Edwards has even written an entire book on it, Sacking The Citadel: The History, Theory, and Practice of the Classic Bishop Sacrifice 
     This classic Capa game is a good one to put Lasker's advice in practice, but if you are interested in improving it should be done using actual pieces before checking it out with an engine. I am long past the point where I want to put in that kind of work, but it was enjoyable spending a couple of days, off and on, trying out various moves with engines. I can see where this would be a good game to try and work through with a board then compare your analysis to an engine's. 
     The game is a well known consultation game by Capa against Molina and Ruiz. Lizardo Molina Carranza was the president of the Argentine Chess Club and a strong amateur. 
     In their book on Capablanca (The Unknown Capablanca) Hooper and Brandreth state that Capablanca took these exhibition games very seriously because was trying to build a reputation as a worthy challenger to Lasker. When the game was first published it was proclaimed a brilliant example of the Classic Bishop Sacrifice, but subsequent cold-blooded analysis proved that Capa was not infallible as his opponents missed the best defense. In his early years Capa frequently played attacks as seen in this game, but as he matured they became less frequent. 
     In his classic The Art of Attack In Chess, Vladimir Vukovic set down some practical criterion for the sacrifice to be successful. Vukovic (August 26, 1898, Zagreb – November 18, 1975, Zagreb) was a Croatian chess writer, theoretician, player, arbiter and journalist who was awarded the IM title in 1951. 
     Before playing the sacrifice the basic condition is that the defender should not be able to reject the sacrifice unscathed. In addition, white (for discussion purposed, we will consider white to be the attacker) must have the light squared B, his Queen and a Knight on f3. In addition, he will require supporting pieces in one of various configurations. 

Pawn at e5 and Bishop on c1 
Pawn at e5 and Bishop on f4 
Pawn at e5 and Bishop on d2 
Pawn at e5 and Knight on c3 
Pawns on e5 and h4 
Rook on e1 and Bishop on f4 
Rook on e1 and Bishop on c1 

     Additionally, black normally would have Pawns on f7 and g7 (but not always) and his Queen should be on d8 and his Rook on f8, but that does not guarantee the sacrifice will be correct. What's important is that black's N should not be able to reach f6 and neither his Queen or Bishop should be able to occupy the b1-h7 diagonal. White must also be careful to examine the different escape squares for black's King: the normal ...Kg8 and the scary looking ...Kg6 and ...Kh6.
     It was fun taking a look at the game with Stockfish. Not because a lot of published analysis can be refuted by the engine, but because, as if often the case, the position is really complicated and not as clear cut as some annotators have suggested. The books may sometimes suggest that positions like this are easy to play, but analyzing the possibilities OTB is not so easy...mistakes are likely to be made.