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Friday, February 16, 2018

Hoped for Chess of the Future

A nightmare come true
     Mikhail Tal's trainer, Alexander Koblencs, described this game as one of the most complex in chess history on the theme of the sacrifice for the initiative and asked if it was the chess of the future. Back in 1998 British FM Graham Burgess responded “only if there is another Mikhail Tal born in the future.” Unfortunately Burgess was right; you won't see the heavyweights playing like this today. 
     Back in 1962 at the Candidates Tournament in Curacao the three top finishers (Petrosian, Geller and Keres) drew all twelve of their games against each other in an average of only 19 moves. Soon after the tournament Bobby Fischer alleged that the Soviets had colluded to prevent any non-Soviet – specifically him – from winning. His allegations were twofold.  First, that Petrosian, Geller and Keres had prearranged to draw all their games. Yuri Averbakh, who was head of the Soviet team, confirmed Fischer's claim in a 2002 interview. Reuben Fine had made the same accusation against Soviet players back in the 1940s.
     Fischer also claimed that Korchnoi was forced to throw games, but after he defected from the USSR in 1976, Dominic Lawson called the allegation "preposterous", noting that the main beneficiary of Korchnoi's losses was Petrosian, whom Korchnoi detested. Korchnoi also wrote that he was surprised by the short draws.

     There were also allegations that, in the ultimately decisive Benko-Keres game in the penultimate round (which Benko won), Petrosian and Geller (who were good friends) conspired against Keres by offering to help Benko. Benko has written that Petrosian and Geller offered to help analyze the adjourned position, but that he refused the offer. 
      As a result of all the allegations FIDE changed the format of the Candidates' Tournaments and in 1966 a series of elimination matches was instituted. Ex-Champion Botvinnik and Paul Keres (2nd place in the 1962 Candidates) were seeded into the matches, but Botvinnik declined and his place was taken by Efim Geller, who finished 3rd in the 1962 Candidates. 
     The following game was the last game of the match and the score was tied 4.5-4.5, so the situation was very tense.  In the game Tal went for broke with a speculative sacrifice on move 17 when he attacked Larsen's position which was basically quite solid. Larsen had a fleeting moment when he could have secured a good game, but has often happened with Tal's opponents, he missed his chance and Tal went on to score a brilliant win. 
     Tal made his sacrifice based on general considerations, but it put Larsen in the position of having to find some tricky tactics if he was going to hold the game.  It also demonstrates the necessity of finding the most efficient way to win after obtaining a superior position. 
     Tal was known as a great attacking player, but he was not a one sided genius; he could play positional chess and endings with the best of them, but his preference was tactical melees. His play was characterized by the following: 

* Keep his opponent's King in the center if possible 
* Breakthrough in the center 
* Get the initiative which enabled him to increase the assault ratio 
* Open files and diagonals 
* Secure outposts for his pieces 
* Eliminate defenders of the opponent's King 
* Weaken the opponent's King's position


Thursday, February 15, 2018

FIDE Bank Account Frozen

     Alert reader Daniel Belasco point out yesterday that FIDE's bank account has been frozen by its Swiss bank. The action was taken over alleged Assad links and sanctions by the US Treasury against FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who has unsuccessfully tried several times to be removed from the list. 
     Back in 2015 Ilyumzhinov, a Russian multimillionaire and politician, was added to a US Treasury Department sanctions list for allegedly materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the government of Syria. 
     Obviously this is going to severely damage FIDE's business activities and they will have some problems that will affect the international chess world. For the complete story visit Chessbase's website.
     I have to agree with a couple of comments on Chessbase regarding this development. As one poster pointed out, as far as we know the FIDE account is not Ilyumzhinov's personal account. He also asked, have any FIDE funds been misappropriated by Ilyumzhinov? And finally, what right does the US have to dictate how Swiss banks conduct business? 
     For details on the US sanctions against Syria you can visit the US Treasury Department HERE.
     Additional reading:  Banking in Switzerland  and How Swiss Bank Accounts Work

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Stockfish 9

    I forgot to post that Stockfish 9 has just recently been released. The top five engines on the CCLR 40/40 rating list are:

1-Stockfish 9 64-bit 4CPU (3465)
2-Houdini 6 64-bit 4CPU (3441)
3-Komodo 11.2 64-bit 4CPU (3422)
4-Fire 6.1 64-bit 4CPU (3299)
5-Deep Shredder 13 64-bit 4CPU (3293)

     Several people have been pointing out that the default contempt setting has been changed from 0 to 20. One person thought it was because despite being the strongest engine, it missed the recent TCEC final because it drew many games due to the “0” contempt setting.
     I am not that familiar with all workings of engines, but one poster on one of the engine sites said that an engine can sometimes accept a draw because it has seen some lines which are slightly better for the opponent and as a result, it may start repeating moves in order to draw. To counteract this the contempt factor can be increased which tells the engine to play on. e.g. a setting of 50 means that the program will play for a win, even if it thinks its half a pawn down.  Download SF9 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Missing the Zonal by a Single Move

    In the very first ever Zonal tournament ever held, Ludek Pachman missed qualifying by a single move. At the time Pachman was not a top-rated player; according to Chessmetrics he would have been rated in the mid-2500's which put in down around number 80 on the rating list. By 1959 his assigned rating had climbed to near 2700, placing him number 14 in the world. That rating was sufficient to place him in a group that included Mark Taimanov, David Bronstein, Ratmir Kholmov, Yury Averbakh, Bobby Fischer, Lev Polugaevsky, Laszlo Szabo, Miguel Najdorf and Samuel Reshevsky.

     The Zonal held in Hilversum 1947 was the first Zonal to be held under the new FIDE-run world championship cycle. In 1946, at the first post-war FIDE congress after the war, it was discussed how the world champion should be chosen as Alekhine had died under mysterious circumstances in Lisbon a few months earlier. The congress decided that the world champion would be decided by a match tournament of the six strongest players of the day: Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Reshevsky, Fine and Euwe. Fine declined so the tournament was a 4-game round robin with five players. 
     At the same time a decision was made on a system of qualifying tournaments which would produce a challenger to the world champion two years after the match tournament. The flaw was that apart from the Soviet Union there was to be only one zonal tournament for all of Europe which meant that the countries with several strong players were at a disadvantage. But at least it was a better system than previously when the title holder, if he felt like it, played a match against whomever could meet his conditions. So, in a very hot July of 1947, the champions of fourteen European countries assembled for the first ever zonal tournament. The right to move on to the next stage went to the first place finisher only. Ties were to be broken by the Sonnenborn-Berger system. Later the number of qualifiers was increased.
     When Ludek Pachman arrived in Hilversum he didn't have a lot of international successes on his resume and so had nothing to lose by going for broke which he did by scoring six wins in the first 6 rounds. 
     In round seven he met O'Kelly and gained the advantage, but was unable to press home the win and had to settle for a draw. At the time nobody could know the effect this draw was to have on the final result. 
     A win in round 8 left Pachman with an impressive 7.5-0.5 score, but then he lost his next two games putting him at 7.5-2.5. He then regained his winning ways and made up ground by defeating Dr. Petar Trifunovic and Laszlo Szabo. 
     Going into the last round O'Kelly, who had been playing his usual solid game, and Pachman were tied for first with 9.5 while van Scheltinga and Trifunovic were tied for 3rd-4th a distant 2.5 points back. O'Kelly was playing a tailender, Doerner of Luxemburg, so Pachman knew he had to go all out for a win against the Bulgarian Champion Zvetkov even though he had the black pieces. It wasn't going to be easy because Zvetkov was well known for his solid play even though in this tournament he was badly out of form. And, if Pachman and O'Kelly tied, the tiebreaks favored Pachman.

     Zvetkov was at the top of his game in 1956-57. Chessmetrics puts his rating in the mid-2500's, placing him in the top 100 rated players. Alexander Zvetkov (October 7, 1914 - May 29, 1990) was Bulgarian Champion in 1938, 1940, 1945, 1948, 195, and 1951. He represented Bulgaria in four Olympiads.
     As expected, O'Kelly beat Doerner, but Pachman lost to Zvetkov.

1) Albrec O'Kelly de Galway 10.5
2-3) Ludek Pachman and Petar Trifunovic 9.5
4) Theo Van Scheltinga 9.0
5-6) Laszlo Szabo and C.H.O'D. Alexander 7.5
7-8) Nicolas Rossolimo and Max Blau 6.5
9) Vincenzo Castaldi 6.0
10) Alexander Zvetkov 5.5
11) Yosef Porat 5.0
12) Kazimierz Plater 4.5
13) Charles Doerner 3.0
14) Bartholomew O'Sullivan 0.5

     Pachman included the following game against Zvetkov in two of his books: Modern Chess Strategy (published in 1963) and Decisive Games in Chess History (published in 1972). Curiously, the notes were different. 
    In Modern Chess Strategy he gave 13...Qb4 a “!” commenting that the Q was actively placed as it would lead to an exchange of Qs should white play Nd5 in reply to ...c5. In Decisive Games he gives 13...Qb4 a “?” commenting that it was not very accurate as demonstrated by white's 14.Nb4.
    In MSC he comments that white's best move was 14.g4 followed by Ng3 which initiates operations on the K-side. In DGCH it's obvious from his comment about 14.Nf4 that it was the best move.
     In MCS he discusses this 18...Re8 explaining that three moves previously it went to the d-file to counter a possible ...e5 by white. In DCGH he gives 15...Rfe8 a “?” because it soon must return to the e-file.
     He also changed his opinion of Zvetkov's 19.g4. In MCS it was given a “?” without comment. In DGCH it was given a “?!” and Pachman said that psychologically his inaccurate play induced his opponent to abandon caution and initiate an attack that was not really justified and that he should have played 19.Nf4-d5 instead.
    In both MCS and DGCH Pachman gave his 29...Ne5 a “??” which is correct.  He explained that he saw the immediate win with 29...Rxe4, but suffered an hallucination at the last moment thinking that white could successfully play 30.Bxg7. His analysis of 30.Bxg7 turned out to be inaccurate in both books.
    In my notes I have decided to ignore Pachman's comments and let Stockfish and Komodo determine the best course of action.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Foul Weather Chess

    Friday morning's commute will be inhibited once again...there are school closings and delays with this system. Counties near the lake will have higher amounts with 2-4″ possible.
     With the worst of the foul weather we've been having coming during the morning commute my wife has spent a few days working in her home office and I've been busy keeping the driveway and sidewalks, both ours and the elderly neighbor's, clear, it's been a good time to play some online chess. 
     My preferred site is Instant Chess. Founded in February 1999, Instant Chess is a privately held software company based in Oxford, United Kingdom. Membership is a hefty $7.99 per month, but you can play for free. The only problem with playing for free is the limitation that your games are random opponents t a random time limit, but the “norm” is 15 minutes per game which is just about right for me. The other is that upon reaching a rating of 1700 they nag you to join, but at other times I have not been allowed to continue once my rating hit that benchmark. Very confusing! 
    My solution has been either to delete cookies, but the downside of that is that cookies for site I regularly use are also deleted. My preferred method is to simply sandbag and lose a few games. Maybe that's not right, but any rating on an online site is pretty meaningless anyway, so I am not really concerned.
     If one of the random games ha a time limit of anything other than 15 minutes, I just resign or cancel the game. For the 15 minute games, opponents are random and if you get one rated over 1800 they will often cancel the game, so most opponents are somewhere around 1600. The thing is, because most of them are playing as guests, a 1600 can be anywhere from a beginner to a pretty decent player. That's OK because the games are just to while away some time. But, every once in a while a game does turn out to be pretty interesting.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Gyula Breyer at Berlin 1920

The venue
    In the year 1920 a long forgotten tournament was the 10-player Berlin Masters played at the Cafe Kerkau which was owned by World Billiards Champion and chess lover Hugo Kerkau. From 1921 it was the meeting place of the Berlin Chess Society. 

 Hugo Kerkau
    The Kerkau-Palast had billiard 48 tables and was famous for chess playing also. The world championship between Emanuel Lasker and Dawid Janowski took place there. The house has been demolished in 1994. In the basement a book was found which describes the legendary match between Capablanca and Lasker in 1914 which has been believed lost.

    The winner was 28-year olf Gyula Breyer of Budapest. Although Breyer suffered defeats at the hands of Tartakower and Mieses he scored 6.5-2.5 and pocketed 3,000 marks. 
    During a period between 1918 and January 1924 the German mark suffered hyperinflation which caused considerable political instability in the country. German currency was relatively stable at about 90 marks per dollar during the first half of 1921. Because the Western Front was mostly in France and Belgium, Germany came out of the war with most of its industrial infrastructure intact, but the London Ultimatum in May 1921 demanded World War I reparations in gold or foreign currency to be paid in annual installments of 2 billion gold marks, plus 26 percent of the value of Germany's exports. The first payment was made when it came due in June 1921 and it marked the beginning of an increasingly rapid devaluation of the mark, which fell in value to approximately 330 marks per dollar. Since reparations were required to be repaid in hard currency, not the rapidly depreciating paper mark, one strategy that Germany used was the mass printing of bank notes to buy foreign currency, which was then used to pay reparations. That greatly exacerbated the inflation of the paper mark.
     Bogoljubow and Tartakower tied for second and third, splitting 3,000 marks. Reti finished 4th (800 marks). Maroczy, Mieses and Tarrasch split 1,100 marks. Spielmann's last place finish was said to have been due to his reporting on the tournament and other chess related work.
     Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) is not well known today, but as a teenager in 1912 he won the Hungarian championship. In 1921 Breyer set a new blindfold chess record by playing 25 games simultaneously. He also edited Szellemi Sport, a magazine devoted to chess puzzles, and composed at least one brilliant retrograde analysis study. A highly successful and imaginative player, he wasn't satisfied with just scoring point. He was first and foremost a revolutionary in his chess thinking and was concerned with the artistic side. He died in 1921 at the age of 28 in Bratislava. He was buried in Bratislava and after exhumation in 1987, was reburied in the Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest.

     Breyer's crush of Spielmann in the following game is most instructive because it shows the value of centralized pieces.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Local Chess Player Robbed and Murdered

    William C. Wilson, a prominent member of the Franklin Chess Club, owned a bookstore and the Philadelphia Circulating Library, a private, subscription lending library. The Franklin Chess Club was at that time located on the third floor above Wilson's library. Wilson was murdered in his store on the evening of August 16, 1897.
     Wilson was born in Rutland, Massachusetts on September 11, 1842 and after graduating with honors from high school he clerked for some time in a book store in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was during that time that he learned to play chess and soon demonstrated considerable talent. He defeated two college champions and was known for his blindfold ability. 
     At the outbreak of the Civil War he was preparing to go to college, but instead elected to recruit a company which then joined up with the 104th New York Infantry. At that time he was a first lieutenant. On the first day of the battle of Gettysburg he was captured by the Confederates, but refused parole.
     Parole was a rather unique thing. The release of prisoners of war on parole actually predated the Civil War. On February 18, 1861, after Texas seceded, Major General David E. Twiggs surrendered all Union forces in the state to the Confederates. The officers and men were soon on their way north, carrying with them paroles stating that they would not serve in the field until formally exchanged. On April 14, 1861, the opening shots of the war were fired at Fort Sumter and the entire Union garrison was not only paroled to their homes, but the Confederates also provided them with transportation.
Deep in the bowels of Libby Prison
     After refusing parole Wilson spent 20 months in Libby Prison and Charlottesville, North Carolina where he played chess to pass the time. While at Charlottesville he escaped and walked about three hundred miles and after many adventures, made his way to Union lines and returned to duty, was wounded in the leg in battle, recovered and went on to serve on the staff of, or command, three other regiments. He emerged from the Civil War with the rank of Major.

     One of the outfits Wilson served with was the Tenth Indiana Regiment and in a letter to Brigadier General W. S. Rosecrans, Wilson's Commanding Officer describing the Battle of Rich Mountain wrote, “The officers and men under my command behaved with a great degree of coolness and courage during the entire engagement. I would call especial attention to Major William C. Wilson, who gallantly led forward the left wing, although severely wounded...”
     Wilson played no known match or tournament games, but in simuls he defeated Steinitz, Zukertort Chigorin, Blackburne, Gunsberg, Weiss and Bird. Had he devoted more time to chess no doubt he would have progressed further. It was Wilson who did most of the analysis that helped the Franklin club beat New York in a correspondence match in 1886. For several years prior to his death Wilson was vice-president of the Franklin Chess Club
     Wilson moved to Philadelphia about 1875 and started his circulating library which at the time of his death was one of the largest in the country. A circulating library was a business with the intention to profit from lending books to the public for a fee. They offered an alternative to the large number of readers who could not afford the price of new books in the nineteenth century.
     On the evening of August 16, 1897, shortly after 7pm, while working on his books in the front room on the first floor while his friends were waiting for him to show up at the club, he was brutally murdered at his desk with a hammer or other blunt instrument and the desk, cash drawer and closet were broken open and ransacked. Wilson's watch and money were taken.
     About a half an hour later a patrolman found the store gate open and the door to the store ajar. Upon investigation the policeman found closets, drawers and trunks had been broken into and the contents scattered on the floor. He also found a blood-stained hammer lying on the floor. Near the front of the store was a pool of blood with a trail of blood leading behind the showcases where the policeman found Wilson's body with his skull crushed. Wilson's face was nearly unrecognizable and his pants had been almost pulled off and the pockets had been turned inside out. There was a towel around Wilson's neck which apparently had been used to strangle him.
    Wilson was last seen alive at about 6 o'clock when he left his boarding house to return to his store. The men who killed him were evidently familiar with his habits and apparently forced an entrance to the store while he was out and waited for his return. Wilson was supposed to keep a large sum of money in the store. There were no clues as to the identity of the perpetrators.
     Enter William Harris. On the night of October 4, 1897 Harris turned himself in to Philadelphia police, claiming he was one of three men who had murdered Wilson. Harris said he accompanied two men to Wilson’s store with the object of robbing him then beat him to death. Another account indicated Harris claimed they had beaten Wilson to death with a hatchet and that Wilson’s missing watch could be found in a potato patch in New Jersey two miles south of a town named Gloucester.
     Detectives couldn’t find the watch and believed that other parts of Harris’ confession could not be corroborated. Philadelphia’s District Attorney and Director of Public Safety considered Harris not to be of sound mind and not guilty. They had also discovered that Harris' real name was John Tittemary and that was that. 
    Then in February, 1898 a fellow known as “Big Bill” Mason, who was reputed to be a well-known crook, somehow became a person of interest.  One anonymous source claimed that Mason had Wilson’s watch in his possession. 
    “Big Bill” was William Mason, described as one of the most desperate criminals in the country.  He was arrested in July 1898, along with three others: George“Red” Spencer, Thomas Reilly and Jim Coffey. Big Bill had been arrested in New York City on Monday night, July 11, 1898 and was extradited to Pennsylvania on a murder charge within four days of his arrest. Police had the serial number on Wilson's watch, but Big Bill wasn't carrying it.
     On September 7, 1898 on an unrelated charge of carrying burglar tools, Red Spencer was sentenced to nine months in the penitentiary and Thomas Reilly was given a year. 
      After that the trail goes cold and nobody knows whatever happened to Big Bill Mason because he and the Wilson murder case just vanished from newspaper accounts!  Even such a prominent researcher as John Hilbert couldn't dig up any further information.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Alekhine – Euwe Matches

    Everybody knows that Alekhine and Euwe played two matches for the world championship, but few realize they actually played three matches. In 1921, Alekhine left Soviet Russia and emigrated to France. In 1926, after a four-month stay in South America, he returned home in December and a week later was in The Netherlands to play an exhibition match against Euwe which had been arranged a year earlier.
     For Alekhine, he was playing for the first time with the new time control of 40 moves in 2-1/2 hours which he felt was strange. Because of the new fast time limit, Alekhine committed a lot of mistakes. Even so, he took the lead by two points then Euwe equalized but lost the last game. Alekhine squeaked by with a score of +3 -2 =5.
     Like Emanuel Lasker, who was World Champion for 27 years from 1894 to 1921, Alekhine has also been criticized for avoiding his most dangerous challengers and avoiding a rematch with Capablanca. However, Alekhine was only asking for the same conditions that Capablanca had wanted for their match: the challenger had to provide a stake of $10,000 (that's about $150,000 today). At the time though poor worldwide economic conditions made it impossible for Capa to raise the money.
     During his Easter break from his teaching duties in 1928 and the Christmas break in 1928-29, Euwe lost two matches to Bogoljubow, both by a single point. Then in 1931, he lost a match to Capablanca (=0 -2 =8). According to Wiener Schachzeitung they were playing for the right to play a title match against Alekhine. The following year Euwe defeated Spielmann and drew Flohr in matches. Remember that Flohr's playing ability peaked in the mid-1930s and he became one of the world's strongest players and a leading contender for the World Championship.
     Like Lasker, Alekhine has also been criticized for avoiding his most dangerous challengers and avoiding a rematch with Capablanca. With his old opponent, Bogoljubow, no longer a viable challenger, if he ever was one, Alekhine picked Euwe, possibly thinking he'd be an easy opponent because Euwe had lost two matches to Bogoljubow. The fact is, as Arnold Denker pointed out, as late as the 56th game between the two the score was even. 
     It was only when Alekhine won game 7 of their second match that Alekhine went ahead and their final record was 44-36 in Alekhine's favor. If Alekhine thought Euwe was going to be an easy mark, he was wrong because after 30 hard fought games, Euwe won the match. The match was close; after the 24th game the score was tied, but then Euwe won two games in row and Alekhine was only able to win one more. In the last game Euwe agreed to a draw in a winning position only because a draw was all he needed.
     In 1937 Alekhine challenged Euwe to a rematch and always a gentleman and sportsman, Euwe agreed. The match was played in the Netherlands from October to December in 1937 and this time Alekhine did not underestimate his opponent and scored an overwhelming win, winning 10, losing only 4 with 11 draws. 
    Of Alekhine's play Euwe wrote that Alekhine exhibited perfect technique and combinative talent, his conduct of the endgame was shining and he admired most how he finished the adjourned games. Euwe wrote that he had great admiration for how Alekhine created ingenious ideas and finished them in unexpected ways.
     What of Euwe's play? Alekhine himself wrote that the general chess playing public as well as the critics realize that Euwe almost never made an unsound combination even though he occasionally failed to take them into account for his opponent. Alekhine also wrote that when Euwe had the initiative in a tactical situation his calculation was impeccable. Reti probably put his finger on Euwe's weakness when he wrote that Euwe believed, perhaps a little too much, in immutable laws. Euwe may have had a dry and uninspired style, but he was a formidable opponent who was only a shade beneath Alekhine and Capablanca.
     The following game is not widely known, but Fred Reinfeld called it a titanic struggle in which Euwe successfully withstood one of Alekhine's dangerous attacks. Alekhine lost because he tried to win the game at all costs, but it demonstrates Euwe's cool and resourceful defensive play. Also, in analyzing the game with Stockfish, it discovered some endgame errors by both sides that nobody seems to have mentioned before.