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Monday, December 5, 2016

Susan Polgar's Suggested Changes to World Championship

     Ms Polgar has long been persona non grata with the United States Chess Federation because of a dispute dating back to 2008. 
     Also, in February 1996, Polgar won the Women's World Championship for the fourth time, but FIDE had difficulty finding a sponsor for her title defense in 1998 and in 1999 arranged it under conditions to which she objected. 
     She requested six months to recuperate and prepare after having her first child.  She also objected to the match was to be held entirely in China, the home country of her challenger Xie Jun. That last condition was against FIDE rules. 
     When she refused to play under those conditions, FIDE illegally stripped her of her title. Polgar sued in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, for monetary damages and the restoration of her title. In March of 2001 the court ruled in favor of Polgar, ordering FIDE to pay her $25,000 in damages. However, since a new World Champion was crowned, FIDE could not restore her title. She then retired from competitive chess. 
     As a result, as she herself, stated on he blog, "Without being involved with any national federation or FIDE, I am able to raise $1.5 – $2 million per year for many years for SPICE and Susan Polgar Foundation projects. Therefore, it is obvious that chess is marketable if it is being done the right way!" Speaking of the current world championship situation she says, "The current system is boring and does not attract adequate sponsorship." 
    Even the current champ, Magnus Carlsen, has long believed there should be a new system for the world championship except he proposed a knockout system.  I can't agree with that proposal because it's been done before and the result was a disaster. Alexander Khalifman took the title in 1999, Anand in 2000, Ruslan Ponomariov in 2002 and Rustam Kasimdzhanov won the event in 2004.   Three of those guys, while they are strong players, just can't be mentioned in the same breath as Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Tahl, Spassky and Fischer.
     Polgar's suggested changes calls for 24 games: 

8 games with a classical time limit where each win would result in 3 points (1.5 point for a draw) 
8 games with rapid time limit where each win would results in 2 points (1 point for a draw) 
8 games with a blitz time limit where each win would result in 1 point (.5 point for a draw) 

The total points for the match would be 48 and one needs 24.5 points to win and in the event of a tie, an Armageddon game will be employed immediately after the blitz format to decide the winner. 

     This last was match was probably the most boring I have ever seen. Carlsen and Karjakin are probably the first world championship players who have been born out of the computer era. Today's GMs have grown up with most of their training done with computers and as a result, their play is very objective...and boring. Spectacular play has all but been eliminated in favor of engine driven evaluations. As Murray Campbell so aptly put it, “If you’re interested in winning, then you play the right move, even if it’s an ugly move or a computer move.” He also added that the computer leads to preparation that can lead to draws.
     Campbell's observations are right on target and while Polgar's suggestions are distasteful, they seem to be the only way of spicing up the matches and at least making them interesting again. Besides, as Polgar says, she knows how to raise money for chess. I doubt the people running FIDE will be interested though.

The Amazing Zoltan Sarosy

     This Canadian chess Hall of Famer, inducted into the HOF in 2006 at age 99, was born in Budapest on August 23, 1906. 
     There was nowhere to play chess in his hometown and it wasn't until he attended the University of Vienna and joined the Vienna Chess Federation that he began studying and playing in tournaments. He quickly became one of the best players in Vienna and on one occasion even won the city championship. 
     When he moved back to Budapest in 1933 chess tournaments were frequent and he won a number of tournaments, beating the city's best players, including the Hungarian Champion, Geza Fuster. From then on, he went on to win several championships in the 1930s and was awarded the Hungarian master title in 1943. 
     Fluent in Hungarian and German, in 1944 he volunteered as a translator when other Hungarian men his age were drafted and sent to the Eastern Front. At the end of the war, worried that Russians might have him imprisoned for being a military translator, he fled Hungary. He left his wife and daughter behind and later sent for them when he was in Canada, but his wife refused to leave Hungary so they divorced. (He eventually remarried in Canada.) 
     Once he reached Austria, he managed to find a place to stay in Salzburg before moving to a refugee camp. Wondering across Europe, he ended up in Alsace, the German-speaking province taken back by France after the war. 
     In November 1950, he saw a newspaper article about how Canada had changed its immigration laws and realized he was eligible for a visa and two days after Christmas he was in Toronto. There he played in city tournaments and joined the local German chess club and YMCA where he once again met Geza Fuster whom he again defeated. 
     Soon afterward he took a break from chess in 1957 to open a business. He had been working at a job laying tiles but didn’t like working for other people so started selling cosmetics then began importing them himself. After several years, he bought a convenience store which he ran until the late 1970s. 
     After resuming OTB pay in 1963 he won the Toronto Championship. In the late 1960s, he decided to focus solely on correspondence chess, playing in international competitions and winning the Canadian Correspondence Champion in 1967. In 1988, he was named International Correspondence Master by the ICCF. 
     In 2000, at the age of 90, Sarosy was concerned that he would not be able to finish any new correspondence games via mail. However, he chanced to see a newspaper with a story about computer courses for seniors so he learned how to use a computer and bought computer books, familiarized himself with the new way of playing chess and at the age of 94 began entering email tournaments. He even managed to tie for 2nd place at a correspondence tournament at the age of 102
     In 2006, Sarosy was inducted into the Canadian Chess Hall of Fame. He has been called the oldest chess player in the world.
     Sarosy speaks five languages, one of which, Spanish, he taught himself in the 1980s. Sarosy celebrated his 110th birthday back on August 23rd. Today he lives in a seniors’ home and though he now uses a wheelchair to get around he has a sharp mind and not only remembers his life as a child but what he had for breakfast. 
     The following correspondence game is rather long, but don't let that discourage you from playing through it because it's a messy, fascinating slug fest filled with what Botvinnik called head-whirling complications. In fact, I don't guarantee the accuracy of my notes because I ran into a couple of positions where, thanks to horizon effect, Stockfish 8 had some difficulty reaching a clear conclusion. The position after 16.Bb2 was particularly difficult. Both players deserve credit for playing an interesting game and let's hope we can all play as good as Sarosy did in this game when we are 82 years old!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Spectacular Piece Sacrifice in a World Correspondence Championship Game!!

    Fake stories and headlines designed to titillate are proliferating on the internet, social network sites, newspapers and TV and they can do serious damage to whatever or whomever was the target. 
     The recent American Presidential race was a prime example of the political aspect of fake stories. Hillary Clinton, rightly or wrongly, was accused of series of crimes, there were claims she had health issues, and that she was in cahoots with shadowy global financiers. And, of course, the overwhelming majority of the media’s campaign coverage consisted of negative reporting, also rightly or wrongly, on Donald Trump. I saw a lot of memes on Facebook along with news stories concerning both candidates there and elsewhere that I simply could not verify by any research...makes me think a lot of it was made up. Shoddy analysis and reports that are often colored by bias, innuendo and prejudice seems to be the norm, but that's nothing new. See my posts on Political Mud Wrestling and the story about the time Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California. 
     That post came to mind when I read the new world CC champ, Leonardo Ljubicic (FIDE rated 2087 and ICCF rated 2602), managed to pull off a "speculative piece sacrifice" at move 32 (with help from Stockfish, of course) for a critical victory over German SIM Hans-Hermann Clever. I figured it had to be a "Man Bites Dog" headline and was eager to see how Ljubicic pulled it off.  It turned out that playing through the game was a disappointment because like a lot of news stories we see these days,  the claim was a boat load of crap. The truth is Stockfish 8 saw the sacrifice immediately in a position where it was already giving white a huge advantage.
     Everybody knows that it's impossible to achieve any significant result in today’s CC without engines and databases and good results require powerful computers, diligent opening research and lots and lots of patience. The result is a lot of very high quality, sterile games. In the last world correspondence championship 87 percent of the games in the finals were drawn, with two players drawing all 16 of their games. The point is that when I see claims that 32.Bh7+ was a spectacular sacrifice when Stockfish saw it instantly and white was already winning, it's hardly an accurate description. Far more credit should be given to Ljubicic for finding 28.g6 because, at least on my laptop, it wasn't even in the engine's top five moves.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Stunning Queen Sacrifice by Sergei Prokofiev

     Sergei Prokofiev (April 23, 1891 – March 5, 1953) was a Soviet composer, pianist and conductor. As the creator of masterpieces across numerous musical genres, he is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century. 
     After the Russian Revolution, Prokofiev left Russia with the official blessing of the Soviets and resided in the United States, then Germany, then Paris, making his living as a composer, pianist and conductor. 
     When he first arrived in the United States, in San Francisco, he was questioned by immigration officials then released; that was on August 1918. Because of delays in production of his operas he soon found himself in financial difficulties and in April 1920, not wanting to return to Russia a failure, he left for Paris.
     In Paris he had moderate success, but in March of 1922 he moved with his mother to the Bavarian Alps where for over a year he concentrated on an opera project. By this time his music had acquired a following in Russia and he received invitations to return there, but he decided to stay in Europe. In 1923, Prokofiev married the Spanish singer Carolina Codina (1897–1989) before moving back to Paris. They had two sons. 
     In 1927, Prokofiev made his first concert tour in the Soviet Union. Over the course of more than two months he spent time in Moscow and Leningrad (Saint Petersburg had been renamed), where he enjoyed success. In the meantime, Prokofiev came under the influence of the teachings of Christian Science. He began to practice its teachings and believed it to be beneficial to his health and so remained faithful practitioner for the rest of his life. His belief in Christian Science also caused him to turn against the style and the subject matter of some of his earlier work.
     The start of 1930 saw him touring the United States, but by the early 1930s, both Europe and America were suffering from the Great Depression which inhibited his opera and ballet productions. Having been homesick for some time, Prokofiev began to build bridges with the Soviet Union acting as a musical ambassador between his homeland and western Europe. In 1936 Prokofiev and his family settled permanently in Moscow after shifting back and forth between there and Paris. 
     After World War Two, in early 1948 following a meeting of Soviet composers, the Politburo denounced Prokofiev for the crimes of "formalism", described as a "renunciation of the basic principles of classical music" in favor of "muddled, nerve-racking" sounds that "turned music into cacophony." As a result, by August 1948, Prokofiev was in severe financial straits and deeply in debt. Also, earlier in February 1948 Prokofiev's second wife, Lina, was arrested for espionage when she tried to send money to her mother in Spain. After nine months of interrogation she was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor. She was eventually released after Stalin's death in 1953 and in 1974 left the Soviet Union.
     Prokofiev died at the age of 61 on March 5, 1953, the same day as Joseph Stalin. He had lived near Red Square and for three days the throngs gathered to mourn Stalin made it impossible to carry Prokofiev's body out for the funeral service at the headquarters of the Soviet Composers' Union. Usually Prokofiev's death is attributed to cerebral hemorrhage, but he had been chronically ill for the prior eight years. Lina Prokofiev outlived her estranged husband by many years, dying in London in early 1989.     
     Prokofiev was also enthusiastic about chess, frequently visiting the chess club in St. Petersburg, but during his last years his doctors forbade him to play. He was friends with both Capablanca and Botvinnik and he once met Lasker who gave him an open invitation to visit with him in Berlin. He was also on good terms with Alekhine. It was after he returned to Russia that Prokofiev and David Oistrakh became friends and played many chess games together. That lead to their match in 1937. Oistrakh, a First Category player (around 2100 Elo), was one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century. 
     Ten games were to be played at the Master of Art Club in Moscow, with Vladimir Alatortsev and Ilya Kan as the referees. The games were to be played two evenings a week with a time control of thirty-six moves in two hours and ten moves every hour after that. Only seven games were played.  
     The winner was to receive a trophy, but there was also a "behind the scenes wager." Both musicians were engaged for a concert tour, though only one was actually needed and the bet was the loser of the match would be the one that had to go on the tour. Oddly, only the score of one game (a draw) of the match, which was won by Oistrakh, is known.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Mark Taimanov (1926) died at the age of 90 in his hometown St. Petersburg on the 28th and 20-year-old Russian GM Urii Eliseev died after falling from the 12th floor balcony at his apartment. The incident reportedly took place on 26 November, Saturday, at 23.30 when Eliseev was relaxing with his friends and decided to jump from the apartment balcony to the balcony in the next apartment...his attempt failed.

How To Evaluate Threats

     C.J.S. Purdy founded and edited the magazine Australasian Chess Review from 1929 to 1944 when it became Check which morphed into Chessworld from 1946–1967. Anything Purdy wrote is valuable to amateur players...Bobby Fischer called him a great chess instructor and that is a pretty good compliment! 
     In one of his magazine articles on threats, Purdy wrote that assuming it's your move then a threat is a move your opponent could make if it were his turn to move that would be damaging to your game
      He pointed out a threat is a MOVE and to think of threats in words such as, "He threatens to win my Queen." or "He is threatening a mating attack." is not only vague, but is plain wrong!  In order to determine if the threat is real or imaginary, you must calculate what would happen if your opponent actually made the move. 
     A good example of what Purdy was talking about can be seen in the famous game Yates vs. Reti, New York, 1924. You can play over the whole game HERE, but I want to look at the position from Reti's perspective after 11.Re1 and apply Purdy's advice. So, in the below position, it's actually black's move, but taking Purdy's advice, we will pretend it's white's move and see if Bxe6 is a real threat.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

King's Gambit Wagenbach Variation

     The Waganbach opens with 1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 h5. It's rare and probably with good reason. The idea behind is to support the P on f4 with g5 and prevent white from playing h4 making it difficult for white to break up black's K-side. 
     I can't say much about its founder. He is the Hungarian emigre Janos Wagenbach who lives in England and is rated a little over 1900 Elo. He claims to have come up with 3...h5 in a blitz game. British correspondence Senior IM Jonathan Tait has also experimented with it.
     I thought it might be fun to take a look at it with Stockfish 8 and Komodo 10. According to Stockfish the evaluation after 3...h5 is only the "normal" half a Pawn for white while Komodo 10 is a bit more conservative, putting white's evaluation at only a small fraction of a P. 
     Clearly there is no outright refutation that results in mate or loss of material, but 3... h5 can't be good because it does nothing to further black's development or control of the center. As one person so aptly put it, when black wins it's either because white misplayed the opening or he got outplayed in the middlegame or ending. Of course with us amateurs that's the case even if we play the latest theory in the Najdorf. The real problem when you play weird or offbeat variations or gambits is that your opponent can usually not go far wrong by playing natural developing moves while you can easily find yourself in a situation where you are forced to find the only move (often an unnatural looking one at that) that avoids disaster. 
     My database has two games with it. The strongest players were Neil McDonald who faced it against a 2000-rated player named John Dive in an open tournament in London back in 1994. McDonald won in 19 moves. There's also a game, won by white, from a tournament in The Netherlands in 2002. White won that one in 35 moves. But, it looks like it might be a fun line in Blitz games and for us amateurs, even in a serious game provided one is familiar with some playable lines. If you meet a GM, I'd avoid it though.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Rothschilds and Chess

     Jacqueline Piatigorsky (November 6, 1911 – July 15, 2012), the French-born American chess and tennis player, author, sculptor, philanthropist, and arts patron, was a member of the Rothschild banking family of France. 
     The Rothschild family is a wealthy family descending from Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a court Jew to the German Landgraves of Hesse-Kassel, in Frankfurt, who established his banking business in the 1760s. Unlike most previous court Jews, Rothschild managed to bequeath his wealth and established an international banking family through his five sons, who established themselves in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Naples. 
     During the 19th century, the Rothschild family possessed the largest private fortune in the world. The family's wealth was divided among various descendants and today their interests cover a diverse range of fields, including financial services, real estate, mining, energy, farming, wine and charities. The Rothschild family has been the subject of conspiracy theories that claim world governments and economies are secretly controlled by the family. 
     It is not generally known but the Rothschilds were very able chess players. Anselm Meyer Rothschild, the founder of the house, was the strongest player in Frankfort-on-the-Main during his time and it was through his proficiency that he became acquainted with the Prince of Hesse, who during his term of Napoleon entrusted Rothschild with his money.
     Anselm's grandson, Albert Salomon Anselm Freiherr von Rothschild (October 29, 1844 – February 11, 1911) was a banker in Austria-Hungary and a member of the Rothschild banking family of Austria. Businesses that he owned included Creditanstalt and the Northern Railway. 
     Born in Vienna and educated in Vienna and Brno, he was known in the family as "Salbert." On his father's death in 1874, brothers Nathaniel and Ferdinand inherited most of their parents real estate and art collection, but the family business went to Albert, including the S M von Rothschild bank and the shares in the Northern Railway. 
     Albert was a chess patron who helped to finance the Vienna tournaments of 1873, 1882, 1898, 1903 (Gambit) and 1908. He was also President of the Vienna Chess Association 1872-1883 and a strong amateur player.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Rossolimo Brilliancy, Schmid vs. Rossolimo Heidelberg 1949

     Rossolimo once complained bitterly that when he tried to publish a book of his games, publishers weren't interested because he "didn't score enough points," meaning he did not have any major tournament success and was never quite among the world's top players. It's a shame a book of his best games was never published. Rossolimo did write one book, Les Echecs au coin du feu, a collection of his studies and endgames with a preface by Savielly Tartakower, published in Paris in 1947. Good luck trying to find this book! It is in the John G. White collection in the Cleveland, Ohio Public Library and the Royal Library of the Netherlands. 
     Wikipedia says that in 1970 he self-published Rossolimo's Brilliancy Prizes, but that does not appear to be the case. According to Sam Sloan what Rossolimo actually did was make photocopies of magazine articles from various chess magazines which contained the games and commentaries for the 12 brilliancy prizes that he had won. Sloan claimed that he looked through him as well as the letter Rossolimo had written to the USCF asking them to publish the games in a book. Sloan said that he realized that just recopying old magazine articles by other authors would not make an acceptable book and that Rossolimo would also have had to write something. Sloan added that the games were good and Rossolimo had great stories to tell, but then he died and after that, when Mrs. Rossolimo died in 1995 all her papers disappeared.
     According to Rossolimo's son, his mother showed him her autobiography (which included much information about his father) in 1975, shortly after his father's death. She had typed it in Russian and wanted to have it published. Shortly afterwards, it was borrowed by a visitor to the Rossolimo Chess Studio by someone who promised to have it translated into English and published, but he disappeared and the manuscript was never returned.      
     At the time of his death Rossolimo was one of the country's 12 GMs and for more than 20 years had been running his chess studio in Greenwich Village. He died on July 25, 1975 after he fell down a flight of stairs outside of a chess student's apartment on 10th Street not far from his studio. He laid unconscious for several ours at the bottom of the stairs and after being found was taken to St. Vincient's Hospital where he remained in a coma for several days. After the autopsy police ruled the fall accidental, but there has been speculation that he may have been pushed by muggers. 
     He lived in Moscow during the mid-1920s, and moved to Paris with his Russian mother in 1929. In 1938 he finished second behind Capablanca in Paris and won the French Championship in 1948. He was Paris Champion a record seven times, and drew two matches in 1948 and 1949 with Savielly Tartakower. In 1955 he won the U.S. Open Championship on tiebreaks ahead of Samuel Reshevsky.
     Rossolimo played for France in the Chess Olympiads of 1950 and 1972, and for the United States in 1958, 1960, and 1966. In 1952, he moved to the U.S. with his wife Vera and son Alexander to rejoin his mother and Greek father in New York. When I met Rossolimo at his chess studio in New York City his wife was there; she was a very elegant lady that reminded me of royalty. His son, Alexander N. Rossolimo, is an American think tank executive, entrepreneur, and corporate director.
Alex Rossolimo
     According to the book Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America by Chris Hedges, Rossolimo and his family were confined by the communists in a basement before fleeing to France in 1919. When he arrived in the U.S. in 1953 and opened his chess studio he worked as a taxi driver and often slept amid the tables in the studio. It was hard for him to make enough money to even pay the rent on his studio, especially given his love for drink and frequent traveling. 
     Then along came a German named George Frohlinde who had arrived in New York in 1958, claiming he had spent the war years playing chess at his local club in Wismar on the Baltic Sea and had been unable to find work as a carpenter in Germany after the war. He started working in Rossolimo's chess studio checking out boards and sets and managing the inventory.
     Rossolimo was often away and in 1963, nostalgic for France, moved to Paris and put Frohlinde in charge for a year. According to Frohlinde he got 75 percent of the income with Rossolimo getting the remainder.  They didn't make much money; according to Frohlinde income the first week was only $50 (about $400 today). That's when Frohlinde decided to start selling chess sets and they started making more money, but then Frohlinde said, "Rossolimo came back from Paris and threw me out." 

     Frohlinde and his wife then opened a rival shop nearby and took many of the clients and most of the inventory which, he claimed, left Rossolimo destitute, no longer playing chess and trying to manage on his own.   They never spoke to each other again. After Rossolimo's death his widow ran the studio briefly, but it closed down in just a few months. Frohlinde stated that he did not learn of Rossolimo's death for a while and didn't have any particular feelings about it, commenting, "He was old and drinking heavily." 
     Rossolimo had wins over the likes of Bogoljubov, Bronstein and Euwe, against whom he had a lifetime plus score. He also scored draws against Capablanca, Fischer and Smyslov. According to the site Chessmetrics, his best world rank was 23rd in 1950 and his highest ever rating was rating 2663 in 1951.

Heidelberg 1949 
1) Unzicker 7.0 
2) Rossolimo 6.0 
3-5) O'Kelly, Kieninger and Paul Schmidt 5.0 
6-8) Niephaus, Wade and Lothar Schmid 4.0 
9-10) B.H. Wood and Witkowski  2.5

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Chess 24 site in English, Spanish and German has been around since January 1, 2014 and  guys like Viswanathan Anand, Peter Svidler, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Artur Jussupow, Jan Gustafsson and Francisco Vallejo were associated with it. The site provides live coverage of major international tournaments, free online games, videos and analysis. It also includes a tactics trainer and chess news with reports on tournaments, interviews and more. OK, so I'm a little behind the times, but I just discovered it...if you haven't been there, check it out!