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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cribbage, an Alternate to Chess, Poker, Go and Backgammon

    Besides chess a lot of players seem to like backgammon, Go and poker. Go is fun, but I never met many people who knew how to play it. The same goes for cribbage, but it’s my favorite card game. I learned it years and years ago from the same kid who taught me how to play chess. I ran into a couple of people who played it when I was in in the military, but almost no one since then.
    Cribbage has several distinctive features: the cribbage board used for scorekeeping, the crib or box (a separate hand counting for the dealer), two distinct scoring stages (the play and the show) and a unique scoring system. It's not difficult to learn and if you can force your wife, your kid, your neighbor to somebody at the chess club to learn, it's a worthy alternative to chess.

How to play
American Cribbage Congress
Play on line against the computer

Friday, October 24, 2014

Brilliant Sacrificial Attack by Ghizdavu

     Zvonko Vranesic (born 4 October 1938) is a Croatian–Canadian International Master both OTB and in correspondence chess. He is an electrical engineer, a university professor, and a developer of computer chess software. Vranešić was born in Zagreb. He won the Junior Championship of Yugoslavia in 1957 and immigrated to Canada in October 1958, settling in Toronto. He began competing with success in Canadian chess tournaments, soon after his arrival. Vranesic won the Toronto City Championship in 1959 (with a perfect score), and repeated in 1967, 1970, and 1972. He won the Ontario Open Championship in 1959 and 1963.
     Ghizdavu, originally from Romania, was born in 1949 and sometime in the early 70’s moved to the US where he lived in Cleveland, Ohio. I remember a small tournament sponsored by my chess business partner in which Ghizdavu was playing shortly after his arrival in the US. I got off work one Saturday and stopped by the venue and was surprised to see his name on the wallboard ranked number one with a rating of around 2450. Remember that at that time 2450 was an astronomical rating. I also remember that he used to annotate games for the old Chess Informants and he was very active in chess in the Cleveland area until abandoning the game a few years after moving there. He is an International Master.
     In the following game Ghizdavu’s 17.g4 set an ingenious trap and Vranesic fell for it, realized it too late the cleverness of Ghizdavu’s play and tried to back out, but by then his position was lost. He fought on and Ghizdavu began delivering one hammer blow after another that secured the win.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I Don’t Like Reti’s Games

     I don’t know why. I don’t like Nimzovich’s games either. Reshevsky, Botvinnik, Tartakower, Nezhmetdinov…I like their games, so why not Reti and Nimzovich? I don’t know. I like bread, all kinds of bread, but detest pasta. I like fruit, but not apples. I’m just funny about some things, I guess.
     Richard Réti (28 May 1889– 6 June 1929) was an Austro-Hungarian, later Czechoslovak player, author, and endgame study composer. His father was a physician in the the Austrian military and his older brother, Rudolph, was a noted pianist, musical theorist, and composer. Réti studied mathematics at Vienna. He was one of the top players in the world during the 1910s and 1920s at the start of his career he was a combinative, classical player, favoring openings like the King’s Gambit, but after WW1 he changed and became a proponent of the hypermodern school. Réti died on 6 June 1929 in Prague of scarlet fever and his ashes are buried in the grave of hs father, Dr. Samuel Réti, in the Jewish section of Zentralfriedhof cemetery in Vienna.

     I probably haven’t played over a half dozen of Reti’s games, but here is one that I liked. It shows a slight pressure gradually becoming stronger and stronger until Reti is able to cut loose a winning combination.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chess Players and Smoking

     Having done a post on Blackburne’s advocacy for whiskey, out of curiosity I did some research on chess players and smoking. Chick HERE for my post on Paul Morphy cigars. I knew Arnold Denker once appeared in ads for Camel cigarettes in the mid-late 1940’s:
Click to enlarge
     Starting in the mid-1960’s cigarette packages in the US started carrying warnings thanks to the efforts of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop (October 14, 1916 – February 25, 2013).


  Koop was a pediatric surgeon and public health administrator, vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and served as the Surgeon General of the United States under President Ronald Reagan from 1982 to 1989. Koop was known for his work to prevent tobacco use, AIDS, and abortion, and for his support of the rights of disabled children. According to the Associated Press, Koop was the only surgeon general to become a household name. Even though warnings are required, did you know the United States has one of the smallest, least prominent warnings placed on cigarette packages? They have cleverly used small type placed on the side of the package and use colors and fonts that blend in with the rest of the package.  Got to love ad executives!

     Nowadays of course you can’t smoke most places, but I remember when almost everyone smoked and chess players were no different. As a 16-year old junior player, I was playing in a tournament that was held in on old YMCA building. It was in July and it was HOT! There wasn’t any air conditioning and the tournament hall in that creaking old building was stifling. When I sat down to play my third round opponent on Saturday evening he was rated 1500-1600, but later went on to establish a 2300+ rating, but that’s another story. 
     Soon after we started play he pulled out a corn cob pipe and I didn’t think too much about it because smoking was so common. But after he lit up and began huffing and puffing huge clouds of noxious blue smoke I started getting queasy and throw in the fact that it was hot and stuffy in the room, I felt like puking for most of the game, which I lost.
     I didn’t complain because in those days it would have been unthinkable. Maybe he was using Lasker’s old trick: In 1927, M.L. Lederer accused Lasker of unfair tactics by smoking foul cigars and exhaling the smoke towards him. Later Lasker wrote, “If my cigars are terrible and I blow the smoke in my opponent’s face, why do my opponents never object at the time of blowing. If my cigars were of inferior quality, they would destroy the subtle, inimitable fabric of my own game. Those who have seen me play and watched the smoke curve will bear witness that it curves away from rather than toward my opponent.” In the 1940s, Botvinnik had his training partner, Ragozin, smoke so that Botvinnik could get used to having smoke blown in his face. If Botvinnik couldn’t complain about smoke, who was I to do so?
     In the old days watching players like Tahl,  Korchnoi, Lein, Reshevsky and Donner chain smoking during a game never raised an eyebrow. In those days complainers were the odd ones. After all cigarettes calmed one’s nerves and ‘everybody’ was doing it.
     Fortunately things are different now. Did you know that in the 2013 Norwegian championship none of the 10 participants smoked?

English wood and brass 1910 era cigarette holder…only $285!
     Back in 2009 at the World Cup held in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia, two Chinese GM’s, Wang Yue and Li Chao, showed up late for their third-round tiebreak games because they had been on a smoke break and had to forfeit their games and got sent packing back to China. Wang said Li had started smoking in order to keep Wang company. Seems like a strange reason to me. Asked if he would give up the habit, Wang said: “I don’t think so. After such a shock, you only think to take a long smoke.”
     Factoids: In the 1850s, Louis Paulsen was a tobacco merchant in Dubuque, Iowa, but oddly, he did not smoke. Bill Goichberg was the first tournament director to ban smoking from his tournaments. In 1990 FIDE banned smoking from all FIDE events.
     None of this would be an issue if everyone did like James Mason…he was a tobacco chewer.  Speaking of chewing tobacco, I tried it once in the Marine Corps.  We were out in the field and it was very hot and humid and I was drinking water from my canteen when a fellow named 'Big Harry' told me that instead of wasting my water, I should chew tobacco which he assured me would keep me from getting so thirsty.  He then cut me off a piece of his Browns Mule Chewing Tobacco which I willing accepted. After a lot of gagging and spitting, I ended up using half a canteen of water just trying to rinse the horrible taste out of my mouth. Can't say as I recommend Mason's habit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Joseph Henry Blackburne on Whiskey

   From an 1898 the American Chess Magazine article:

     "Mr. J. H. Blackburne, the British chess champion, was recently interviewed by a representative of the Licensing World, one of the anti-temperance journals of England. The champion alleged to have advocated the cause of the 'red-eyed monster' in terms most eulogistic.  'I find that whiskey is a most useful stimulus to mental activity, especially when one is engaged in a stiff and prolonged struggle. All chess masters indulge moderately in wines or spirits. Speaking for myself, alcohol clears my brain and I always take a glass or two when playing.'
     Mr. Blackburne with great frankness proceeded to dilate further upon the joys of the bowl and the misery of its depravation. This little speech of Mr. Backburne seems to have created no small sensation among our English contemporaries and their columns have not failed to express their disapprobation of his sentiments and to comment rather severely upon his want of judgment in thus venting his opinions through such a medium.
     The Pall Mall Gazette, it is evident, is not in sympathy with Mr. Blackburne’s views upon the subject and says, “Chess and alcohol are very antagonistic to each other. In fact, we might go further and say they are mutually destructive; as chess players consume alcohol, so, in proportion, alcohol destroys chess players. There are few branches of intellectual activity which have to show a sadder record in this respect than chess. It may be, perhaps, that men given to outdoor exercise take less harm by the alcohol habit than those devoting themselves to a sedentary pastime. It is a well known fact that out of about forty or fifty noted chess players who have arisen during the last thirty years those who have been drinkers of alcohol to any extent have, generally speaking, failed, whereas those who have achieved fame and success have, with very few exceptions, been moderate drinkers. Lasker, Tarrasch, Steinitz and Zukertort may be classed in the latter category. On the other hand, what a sad tale we could tell if it were necessary to give particulars of brilliantly gifted chess players who have gone to an early grave, and of others, equally talented, who have pined away n middle age, and a few more who have might done far greater justice to their abilities – all owing to the habit of taking too much alcohol. The testimony in this respect, as far as chess is concerned, is overwhelming.” – Times-Democrat.
     In referring to the alcoholic interview with Mr. Blackburne recently the Hereford Times says, “Whiskey and chess, when taken together, agree with very few. We have never seen Lasker or Pillsbury or Tarrasch , or any other player of the very front rank sip whiskey when engaged on games to which they attached any importance. Steinitz occasionally consumes a small quantity of brandy while playing a match game, but the quantity of water which he consumes the while completely drowns the spirit so as to leave little else than flavor. With most chess players the imbibing of spirits, during serious play would almost certainly be productive of blundering. And even Mr. Blackburne himself seldom takes anything but coffee in the early stages of a match game, although he may take a little whiskey toward the finish, This, no doubt, is what Mr. Blackburne wished to convey, when he told his interviewer that whiskey sometimes clears his brain. It would be a grievous error to let it go forth to the world that chess playing encourages an appetite for strong drink. The majority of chess players, expert and amateur alike, and the great majority of them much prefer coffee or tea, while playing their favorite game, to alcohol. We are moreover convinced that in a contest for supremacy at chess all other things being equal, the coffee or tea drinking player has in the long run the advantage over the consumer of alcoholic stimulant.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jackson W. Showalter and Baseball

     I couldn’t resist this old photo with Jackson W. Showalter (left) seated across from Frank Marshal at the 1926 Western Open.

     Also, I came across this interesting tidbit from the Pinstripe Press: Most baseball fans don't know that Jackson Showalter, who is credited with inventing the curve ball, was also a U.S. chess champion in the late 1880's or that Henry Chadwick, "The Father of Statistical Baseball" published a number of articles on the contemporary chess scene in the nineteenth century. They are also unaware that chess and baseball both established their first national organizations in New York City only a few months apart. The American Chess Association started in October 1857, while the National Association of Baseball Players began in March of 1858. One of the earliest baseball clubs was even named after chess hero Paul Morphy. In fact, between 1857 and 1860, both contests enjoyed national popularity and set a precedent for future sports in regards to game coverage and statistical analysis…Read entire article.
     An excerpt from Showalter’s obituary in the March 1935 issue of Chess Review read: Mr. Showalter was famous as a baseball player and was an ardent fan up until the latter part of his life, when bad health kept him at home. He was the first man in Kentucky to pitch a curve ball and one of the seven men who discovered the curve.
     Here are some more interesting articles to browse: Everybody’s Magazine article The Race for Chess Championship, Astonishing Memory Feats of the Chess Masters (pages 495 to 502)
     Indianapolis Journal February 13, 1890 has an OCR text of an article on the visit of Showalter and Lipschutz to the city HERE.

Q-sac by Rossolimo

     Rossolimo once bitterly complained that by FIDE rules in effect at the time that he had become listed as ‘inactive’ which made it almost impossible for him to get invitations to tournaments. He also complained that despite his many previous successes in international tournaments, many brilliancy prizes and Queen sacrifices, that when he went to publish a book of his best games, he was told by publishers that they were not interested because he ‘did not score points.’ Rossolimo was so frustrated that he added he thought that in each tournament a committee should be formed to judge the games and award points based on ‘beauty.’ He added that in some cases it may be possible for the loser to score more points than the winner if he played ‘more beautifully.’
     The following game contains one of Rossolimo’s Q-sacs that was played in a game listed as being played in New York, but no further information about the tournament or his opponent is known. According to chess historian Edward Winter, B.H. Wood first published it in his Illustrated London News column in 1961. Winter adds that Chess Life did not list any New York tournaments in which Rossolimo played in 1961. Of course, Chess Life went through some pretty rough times where it was nothing more than a useless rag, so that means nothing and they did not publish news on every event that was played.  Winter also points out that it is possible the game the game was not played in a serious event. Nobody knows. It could have been a local tournament or, possibly, even from a simultaneous held at Rossolimo’s Chess Studio at the corner of Sullivan and Bleeker Streets in Greenwich Village. Here are a couple of views of the location of his chess club, but since it’s has been 50 years I can’t be sure of the exact location of the Studio. I think it was in the store front on the right in the looking north view.
Looking South

Looking North 
    I analyzed the game with today’s engines which are all in agreement that the Q-sacrifice was not white’s best and it was, in fact, unsound. But because of the unbalanced material situation I was not entirely convinced that black really stood better. I let Houdini 2, Stockfish 5, Komodo 8 and Critter all analyze the position for several minutes after 18.c4 and they all were in agreement that the Q offer was a poor move. A blitz shootout resulted in a win for black.  So it seems that Rossolimo’s Q-sac appears flawed. Another but…the subsequent play after black’s 21…c5 leads to positions where it seems the engines are not able to reach a clear cut opinion regarding the result. 
     I am sure that if one had the time to devote to a thorough analysis with several engines and a strong enough computer a clear opinion might be reached, but a casual analysis such as I did does not do the position justice. 
     That said, even if Rossolimo’s Q-sac is flawed and the subsequent play is not perfect, it does not take anything away from the enjoyment of playing over the game.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Antique Chess Set Collections

Staunton sets by Jaques, European, Chinese and Indian sets...you name it. Interesting sets from the 1600s to the 1920s. There is also a page on chess set restoration plus links to other sites. Fun browsing. Antique Chess Shop

Chess Hall of Fame chess set exhibition from the Jon Crumiller collection:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tim Sawyer’s Blog

     I sometimes surf Blogger and other places looking for interesting Blogs and every once in a while I find one. Read 40 years of chess stories by correspondence master and BDG author by Rev. Tim Sawyer; that’s what the Blog heading says.  
     I never heard of Mr. Sawyer, sorry to say, but I recently discovered his excellent Blog which he has been writing since 2011. He is also author of a book on the Blackmar published in 1999, but I don’t think you’ll want it…new costs $360 and used $61!!! It’s out of date anyway.
     He has also authored a couple of other books, A Patzer’s Story, which is no longer available and A Patzer's Journey: Applying the rules from A Patzer's Story.  He is also the author of some self-help books. See Amazon HERE.
     In addition to covering the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, he’s posted on the Benko Gambit, Bird’s Opening, Budapest, Colle, Elephant Gambit, Goring Gambit, Grob Attack, Jerome Gambit to name a few as well as a host of ‘legitimate’ openings and defenses. Be sure to check out his Blog HERE!

Keres – Kotov Budapest 1950 featuring a Sac on e6

     After the 1948 World Championship was held FIDE began a series of cycles that would select Botvinnik’s challenger. The first Interzonal was held in Saltsjöbaden in 1948 and nine players qualified: Bronstein, Szabo, Boleslavsky, Kotov, Lilienthal, Bondarevsky, Najdorf, Stahlberg and Flohr.
     Bondarevsky later withdrew due to illness. Smyslov, Keres, Reshevsky and Euwe were also supposed to be included as they had been participants along with Botvinnik, who had won the World Championship match-tournament in 1948. Euwe declined his invitation and Reshevsky did not participate. Some reports say it was because the US State Department refused his request for a visa, but Reshevsky once said in an interview that it was his decision alone not to play.
     Bronstein and Boleslavsky tied for first with 12 points and Bronstein won the playoff. In an interesting side note, in 1984 Bronstein married Boleslavsky’s daughter 7 years after the death of Boleslavsky.
     Smyslov was clear third with 10 points followed by Keres with 9.5, Najdorf, 9.0, Kotov 8.5, Stahlberg with 8.0, with Lilienthal, Szabo and Flohr all at 7.0
     The following game between Keres and Kotov appears in Vukovic’s Art of Attack in Chess though he failed to give it much analysis or comment. The game was also annotated by Keres in his The Complete Games of Paul Keres. The opening was Keres’ home preparation, but Kotov's 9th move varied so the N-sac, 10.Nxe6, was found by Keres over the board. The game itself is instructive because it shows a common theme of a sacrifice on e6.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wesley So

    Wesley Barbasa So is a Filipino-American chess grandmaster and a former chess prodigy. So's Facebook Page.
     In October 2008, So became the youngest player to break the 2600 Elo barrier, breaking the record previously held by Magnus Carlsen. In early 2013, So broke into the "elite" with a 2701 FIDE rating after winning the Reykjavik Open. So was born in 1993; both his parents are accountants. He attended the Jesus Good Shepherd School and went on to St. Francis of Assisi College.
     At age 6 his father taught him to play chess and was 9 when he started to compete in junior tournaments. As a junior player, So won the Philippines U-10s Championship in 2003 and various sections of World Youth Chess Championships. So made his tournament debut at the Nice International Open in August 2005, finishing in shared eighth place with 5/7. He also completed three IM norms in the space of four months, becoming the youngest Filipino to achieve that status. So got his second GM norm at the 2007 World Junior Chess Championship in Yerevan. He achieved his third and final Grandmaster norm in December 8, 2007 at the Pichay Cup International Open (Manila, Philippines), thus becoming the youngest Filipino grandmaster at the age of 14.
     January 2008 saw So finish fourth with 7/11 at the ASEAN Chess Circuit event held in Tarakan, Indonesia. In April 2008 So shared first place at the Dubai Open, scoring 7/9. He also finished in third place with 7/9 at a blitz tournament held during the rest day. So then defeated Susanto Megaranto 4-2 in a six-game match as part of the JAPFA Chess Festival held in Jakarta, won the "Battle of Grandmasters tournament" with 8½/11 (+6 =5 -0) in Manila, came tenth with 7.5/11 in the Philippines Open followed immediately with second place at the Subic Open with 6.5/9.
     At the age of 16, So became one of the stories of the 2009 Chess World Cup held in Khanty-Mansiysk after progressing to the fourth round before being knocked out by Vladimir Malakhov after rapid
     In 2012, So began full-time study at Webster University in St. Louis under the SPICE program, founded by former women's world champion Susan Polgar. As a young player, his aggressive and tactical style of play caught the attention of former Philippine chess champion, Rodolfo Tan Cardoso. Cardoso said, "The young lad...would sacrifice a queen or any other pieces in his arsenal to get a winning attack." Also, according to Cardoso, "He cannot afford decent training given by well known GM-coaches and has to rely on his pure talent...before competing." So commented during an interview with Alina l'Ami in 2009 "So far I play aggressively. I would like to play a solid game with a solid opening. This is what I want. I think my style is close to Vishy Anand. Of course we have different level. His current FIDE rating is 2755 placing him number 14 among active players.

Wesley So Wins Millionaire Chess

Chessdom has a full report.

SO Wesley-ROBSON Ray-YU Yangyi 6.0 points
AZAROV Sergei-NARODITSKY Daniel-ZHOU Jianchao 5.5 points
BU Xiangzhi-DREEV Aleksey-NAJER Evgeniy-SHANKLAND Samuel-GAREEV Timur-ORTIZ SUAREZ Isan Reynaldo-SADORRA Julio Catalino-KAIDANOV Gregory-KADRIC Denis-BERCZES David-ABEL Dennes 5.0 points

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Times Chess Column is Dead…Maybe

    The New York Times chess column has been published since 1962 but at the end of Monday’s column there was a note reading, “This is the final chess column to run in The New York Times.” with no explanation given. Gary Kasparov Twittered that ‘few would mourn.’ Guess he didn’t think much of the column, or perhaps he was just being realistic and pointing out that it wasn’t widely read. I don’t know.
     However, there was apparently enough protests that the Times is thinking about changing their mind. A Times spokesperson said they were considering eliminating the chess column in order to keep freelance costs in line and a final decision for the column hasn’t been. So, the decision as to whether or not to keep the column is based on money.
     That and the perception (or is it the reality?) that chess isn’t like basketball, tennis, golf, or for that matter, online poker. Most non-chess players don’t enjoy watching chess. This is different than, say, golf. I’ve never played and don’t want to, but I watch it on television sometimes. The same for a program like Dancing With the Stars. I don’t dance and don’t know anything about it, but my TV remote privileges have been revoked when it’s on, so there isn’t much choice…watch it or do something else. So, I watch it and while I don’t understand the difference between a foxtrot and samba and don’t know ballroom dancing terminology, I do enjoy the competition.
     I doubt the same thing would ever happen if a non-player were to sit watching a couple of guys think for a long spell then finally move a piece and slump back into a thinking pose…there’s just no action. Non-players look at chess like they do mathematicians and scientists. Nobody wants to watch astrophysicists at work.
     Right now it looks like the print-run is ending, but the column's online future is still an open question. In 1897, Adolph S. Ochs, the owner of the Times, created the famous slogan 'All the News That's Fit to Print,' which still appears on the masthead today. He wrote the slogan as a declaration of the paper's intention to report the news impartially. I guess they figure chess news isn’t fit to print. They won’t be alone. The newspaper of the town I grew up in, the New London Record, doesn’t print any chess news either.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Couple of Butchers at Work

I played this one on Instant Chess the other day and we both butchered the game. Before I made my 19th move I was hallucinating! I was sure I was up a piece and when I realized I wasn’t, it took me several moments trying to figure out what happened to it…it never had existed! The whole incident left me plumb flummoxed! Strange.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Speaking of Bad Bishops

Here’s a nifty little game where a bad B wiped out a whole opening variation.

QGD Chigorin Defense, a Bad B and the Minority Attack

     These were factors in this online G30 game played on Instant Chess. One of the most misunderstood pieces is the Bishop. Which piece is it better to have, Knights or Bishops? The answer is, of course, it depends. As a general rule, Bishops are good in open games while Knights are better in closed games, but not always. Then there is the ‘good’ Bishop vs. ‘bad’ Bishop concept. In the middle game, a player with only one bishop should generally place his pawns on squares of the color opposite the Bishop. A Bishop which is impeded by its own Pawns is referred to as a bad bishop, unless of course it is outside its own Pawn chain. Then again, even if the bad bishop is passively placed, it may serve a useful defensive function; GM Mihai Suba wrote "Bad bishops protect good pawns."
     In this game I played an old favorite against the Queen’s Gambit, The Chigorin Defense. As John W. Collins said of it, it is chancy, unorthodox and probably better than its reputation because it develops with a direct effect on the center. Indeed, Black usually gets good piece play, but he often has to be prepared to exchange a B for a N, but Chigorin had no prejudices against making such an exchange.
     With the Chigorin Black ignores fight for the d5-square and plays for a counterattack against the d4-pawn and seeks to play ...e7-e5. White's most reliable reaction is to cover the e5-square. I mention the Minority Attack which white failed to play here. Good explanations of this strategy can be found at Chess Café and Exeter Chess Club. As it was, white’s passive play allowed me to gradually get control of the center and his bad B ultimately resulted in his downfall.