Friday, April 28, 2006

Thematic Tourney Next Week

The Kenilworth Chess Club will host a Theme Tournament next week, May 4, 2006, beginning at 8:15 p.m., featuring the moves 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5. The line is sort of a Reversed Sicilian Dragon and typically called the English, Four Knights, Kingside Fianchetto (A22, A29). It was chosen, in part, because it was featured in the decisive playoff game between Steve Stoyko and Mark Kernighan which decided the club championship. You can find games with the line at Kotronias considers it at length in his book Beating the Flank Openings (which I have seen at Borders, and which you can see several pages from online at Google Books). I have not heard about entry fees or prizes but predict no more than $5 with 100% return to the winners. Unrated of course.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Two ICC Games with the Bishop's Opening


White to play and win.


What is White's strongest move?

The two positions above arose in recent ICC games that began with my favorite Bishop's Opening (C23), 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4. In the first game (see first diagram above), my opponent missed a chance to mate me after I tried to avoid a perpetual, then we ended up in the diagram above with White to move. I'll tell you that the first move is easy but the second is tricky (and very cute once you see the idea). The second game began 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.b4!? -- which is a lot of fun to play. You can find more analysis of this interesting line at my Bishop's Opening site.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Marketing Chess as Art

I have had some thoughts about chess and aesthetics that I've been mulling over, and while they still remain a bit unformed I thought I'd put them down and see where they lead. Always practically minded, I've been most interested in the ways that the beauty of the game might be used to help market it more effectively, which I think is a bit of a different take on the age old question of "chess as art" (which usually gets followed by "or science or sport?")...

"Thinking about chess beauty is not an idle indulgence," notes Jonathan Rowson in his interesting essay "The Difficulty is the Difficulty" (New in Chess 7-2005, pp. 85-91), "because understanding it better might help us to promote and popularise the game." Yet, the important paradox he observes is that, "this aesthetic satisfaction is inaccessible to most spectators." Unlike with many sporting events which have an immediate visual appeal, you actually have to understand the game at a rather sophisticated level to appreciate its beauty. In fact, enjoying chess "spectatorship" is such an active process that those viewing a game and enjoying it are, "in some sense, a participant" (85).

If you are not a participant, in fact, then the things you observe will seem absolutely boring or absurd. Rowson quotes at length from a marvelous passage from Julian Barnes's Letters from London (Penguin 1995) in which he describes the Short - Kasparov match as viewed by someone who does not understand the game. The passage begins: "It is a most curious form of theatre: austere, minimalist, post-Beckettian. Two neatly dressed men crouch attentively over a small table against an elegant greay and beige set..." and "there are only entrances and exits during these four to six hour matinees: one character will suddenly stand up as if offended and depart stage left..." and "Every so often, in an audacious device, both may be off stage at the same time" (quoted, 85). Only a fan of Brechtian theatre could enjoy such a spectacle.

Despite the "Catch-22" that Rowson points up, I think he is onto something when he suggests that the game's beauty may be useful to marketing it. In a discussion on "Marketing Chess in the 21st Century" (something about which he obviously knows a great deal, as evidenced by his work with Susan Polgar), Paul Truong makes a similar point, emphasizing that the aesthetics of chess are especially important for getting girls into the game. As he says,

"Most women do not like violence. Most women are not into brut force. Most women approach chess with a more friendly, artistic point of view... I’ve worked very closely with Susan Polgar in the past few years and we have known each other for about two decades. When we look at various chess positions, she will always look for the nicest, most beautiful, or most artistic way to win. In the meantime, I always look for the most brutal, most crushing way to win."

Yet there is always the problem of getting girls past that "males-only" aura so that they can discover the art of it. And they have to get to a certain depth before that can happen, though perhaps it is possible for the aesthetics of the game to be appreciated at a number of different levels?

The idea of levels in appreciating chess as art comes up in a conversation between artist Ugo Dossi and Vladimir Kramnik, in which Dossi suggests that many people study Kramnik's games at various levels of understanding, and "The deeper they immerse themselves, the more they can get out of it." Kramnik responds:, " is always conveyed on different levels. In order to penetrate the depth of the game, someone must have acquired a lot of knowledge. One needs much preparation, and also experience in playing. I believe a musician experiences this similarly. But the more there are in the audience, the more intense the effect of the concert will be on everyone. When I am in a concert, I know that I only reach a certain limited depth of the music. But to feel that it goes even deeper than that, has always fascinated me."

So we return to the problem as Rowson lays it out: one of the main draws of chess is its aesthetic qualities, yet you have to become quite immersed in the game before you can appreciate them?

Puzzling over this a bit, it occurred to me that perhaps we have rejected too soon the possibilities of the surface appeal....

After all, at the simpest level, there is always something beautiful about the pieces themselves, which have a lot more character than those found in most other games. The mystery of the pieces, in fact, may be a large part of what first fascinates young players and draws them to the game. How many of us can remember the first time we held a chess piece in our hands? For myself, I remember a very unusual, 18th-century style plastic set owned by my grandparents that always interested me long before I learned how the pieces moved. I have sometimes entertained the idea of making my own set (if only I knew something about woodcarving!) -- including one with which to play "Dracula Chess." And I know that I have always been fascinated by the lovely books, such as Gareth Williams's Master Pieces or Colleen Schaffroth's The Art of Chess, which show and discuss historical and artistic sets. The Noguchi Museum in New York recently completed a show titled "The Imagery of Chess Revisited" and the book by the same name captures some of the interesting modern chess piece designs that it exhibited. (If you are interested in seeing some, ChessBase ran a story earlier this year and the exhibit was first restaged in London -- and likely the show is going on the road to a museum near you.)

Is it possible that a new chess set design "for the 21st Century" is called for, as a vehicle for marketing the game anew among the young? Perhaps the feudal mythology overlaying the currently dominant Staunton design is not the most compelling for the young today? Just a thought.

In any event, the most successful ways of marketing the game will lend it a surface appeal that can be appreciated even by those who have no appreciation for the game's depths. Celebrity Chess Showdown. Beautiful women playing the game. Chess and boxing. Speed chess. The surface spectacle seems critical as a first step.... And I think anyone who values chess should not be put off by these more spectacular ways of generating interest in the game. It seems to me that ultimately they are a necessary first step....

"Beauty in chess is closer to beauty in poetry; the chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes throughts, and these throughts, although making a visual design on the chessboard, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem. Actually, I believe that every chess player experiences a mixture of two aesthetic pleasures: first, the abstract image akin to the poetic idea of writing; secondly, the sensuous pleasure of the ideographic execution of that image on the chessboard. From my close contact with artists and chess players, I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists."

--Marcel Duchamps

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The New Yorker's "Planet Kirsan"

If you have not had a chance to read anything about the way FIDE president and "king of Kalmykia" Kirsan Ilyumzhinov runs his country, then Michael Specter's article "Planet Kirsan: Inside a Chess Master's Fiefdom" (The New Yorker, April 24, 2006) makes an excellent starting point. Though Specter does not discuss at any length Ilyumzhinov's work as FIDE president or his ongoing battle with Bessel Kok in the upcoming election (as covered at ChessBase News), one has to wonder why this rich and crazy ideologue should be the international face of chess, predicted by some to easily win reelection. My only answer is that where the electorate is disengaged from politics (how many of us--myself included--have any idea or any interest in how FIDE elections actually work?), and the current president is doing everything possible to keep us disengaged (with a sudden flurry of work at reorganizing the championship and reunifying the crown), then it is easy to stay in power. Ilyumzhinov's focus in his country on building Buddhist temples and other religious institutions and giving chess training to all his citizen seems all part of the same design: to keep Kalmykians quiet and mollified so that they are not so interested in politics.

Though the game as we have it in the West depicts two warring feudal families, chess takes us outside of the political realm and, in fact, offers most players a refuge from conflict. As Alexander Cockburn writes in his book Idle Passion: Chess and the Dance of Death, reflecting on the parallel investment in chess by the former Soviet state:

"One great advantage of the game, though it may not have occurred to the policy makers initially, is that it is nonpolitical--in fact it is profoundly quietist. Chess, after all, is played at remote control, in correspondence chess, or one to one. It is silent. It is nonfigurative, in the sense that it is conducted purely in its own terms, not in generally current concepts or political or cultural ideas. Therefore...there was no possibility of bringing people collectively together in the expression of revolutionary ideas which might be subversive or discommoding to the political leadership" (Cockburn 149).

By building a nation of chessplayers, Kirsan is, at least in part, working to discourage opposition. And "with as much as seventy per cent of the labor force unemployed" and a "a man-made desert" landscape that makes traditional farming and sheep herding more and more difficult (Specter 113), the super-rich Ilyumzhinov has practically built a feudal state where nearly everyone owes him peonage. His grip on power seems absolute.

I first read about Ilyumzhinov and Kalmykia in J.C. Hallman's rather rambling but interesting book The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World's Oldest Game (in the chapter "Illuminating Ilyumzhinov"). In Hallman's account, many citizens are not simply disengaged but openly fearful of speaking their minds. And with a man in office who is an open admirer of Saddam Hussein's ability to "hold it all together" in Iraq with the "Sunnis, the Shiites, the Kurds" (Specter 114), it's easy to see why. He is seeking to build a kingdom not much different from one of the Arab states with oil as his source of wealth and the citizenry dependent upon him for their livelihoods. Chess is both a symbol of and a tool for maintaining his king-like stature in an increasingly feudal order.

That chessplayers, who have always followed the money (even to Libya and other unsavory locales), should willingly allow themselves to become pawns in his game troubles me. Yet, surveying the current landscape of funding for the game, I can see why so many are willing to follow him....

Better Anti-Danish Line

Dennis Monokroussos (The Chess Mind) has some good commentary on Karsten Müller's Danish Gambit analysis, mentioned here yesterday. Today he offers a reader's interesting suggestion of 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 Ne7!? followed by ...d5 as a much easier way of meeting White's d4-gambits than the complicated and rather drawish Capablanca Defense. The 3...Ne7 line is endorsed by John Watson in his book (with Eric Schiller) "Surviving and Beating Annoying Openings," as he mentions in his review of Danish Dynamite and discusses at some length on the second page of that commentary. I have also posted a quickly compiled PGN file you can download, featuring two great wins by Johnny Hector (one of my "opening heroes") with this rather rare variation. Judging by the games, it seems to work much better against the Danish move order than against the Goring (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 Nge7!?) where White has a good winning percentage.

Update: the conversation continues today at The Chess Mind.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Danish Endgame Analysis

Karsten Mueller devotes today's Endgame Corner column at ChessCafe (permanent link to PDF here) to the interesting endgame that arises out of the Capablanca Defense to the Danish Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 d5!) This line is recommended by Nigel Davies in his book Play 1.e4 e5! as an easy way of avoiding the complications of the Danish and Goring Gambits. Mueller had examined these lines previously in his excellent book (with Martin Voigt) Danish Dynamite (which, by the way, discusses some of my work on the Urusov), so he has an interest in countering Davies. I have some interest too: after all, it is called the "Capablanca Defense" after the game Marshall-Capablanca, Lake Hopatcong 1926, which I have annotated in depth as part of my series on the Lake Hopatcong tournaments. Anyone interested in learning more about these lines would do well to read Mueller's column, which carries his previous analysis quite a bit further and updates it with recent games.

French Defense Repertoire, Part Two


White to play and win.

In our continuing survey of the Winawer (introduced in Part One), our French Repertoire Group looked at The Petrosian Variation, which is typically characterized by 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Qd7!? This odd-looking Queen move has a point, which is indirectly to protect the vulnerable g-pawn: Black can now answer 5.Qg4 (or more commonly 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 b6 7.Qg4) by ...f5! In this line, Black will typically exchange his Bishop for the Knight at c3 to double White's pawns and isolate the a-pawn, which often proves a long-term structural weakness (though he can also retreat the Bishop to f8, since the loss of time is not significant in a closed position.) He will then usually play to exchange the other Bishop by ...b6 and ...Ba6 (to eliminate the "bad bishop" while depriving White of the Bishop pair), though he can also keep his light-squared Bishop "at home" by playing ...b6 and ...Bb7!? followed by queenside castling. This latter idea is exactly how Petrosian himself played it in Olafsson-Petrosian, Bled 1961, where he keeps the Bishop to help protect his king and potentially to support an eventual kingside initiative.

Our French Repertoire Group looked at Petrosian's game by way of introduction to the system and will probably return to consider this line in greater depth, especially since we are now convinced that Black can sidestep the supposed "refutation" of this system by 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 b6 7. Qg4 f5 8. Qg3 Ba6 9. Bxa6 Nxa6 10. Ne2 Nb8 11. Nf4 Nc6? (see diagram above) 12. Nxe6! Qxe6 13. Qxg7 with a huge advantage for White once he extracts his Queen (as discussed in the notes to our game).

We will likely return to examine the "sidesteps" more closely in future installments. But one thing to consider is that you can learn a lot about the French by studying the Petrosian lines, since there are times when very similar positions are reached out of other variations. Case in point: consider the game Anand-Ivanchuk, Dortmund 1997 (annotated at ChessCafe by Yasser Seirawan), which began 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Nf3 h6!? 8.Bd3 b6 9.O-O Ba6 with play very similar to the Petrosian.

Monday, April 17, 2006

One word for why you play chess....

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, who some unfairly have called the "Kournikova of chess," is interviewed by Misha Savinov at ChessCafe (permanent link here). One memorable exchange between them goes as follows:

AK: Generally, justice is very important to me in everyday life. In chess justice can be obtained, and this is wonderful.

MS: But can justice really be obtained in chess? The game often turns chaotic, when it can hardly be controlled.

AK: Well, this is a global question. Maybe our life is an illusion, who knows? For me there is more justice in chess than in everyday life.

This theme of "justice," which first gets raised in this exchange, becomes a recurrent motif in the interview and seems to get to the heart of her motivation for playing. I wondered if other chessplayers have tried to express in a single word what is most compelling for them about chess? Certainly Lasker famously said that it is a "struggle," and perhaps that word captured his motive. I remember once telling a friend that what attracted me to chess was "truth," since you often can learn the truth of a particular position in chess through close analysis, while in much of life the truth remains always a bit beyond our grasp.

If you had to use one word to capture what interested you in the game, what would it be?

Friday, April 14, 2006

"The Mad Genius of Bobby Fischer"

Last night at the Kenilworth Chess Club we watched a tape of the GSN documentary "The Mad Genius of Bobby Fischer" (which is part of their interesting series titled Anything to Win). Chessplayers were alerted to the program, which aired Sunday night, by several bloggers (including Susan Polgar, Mig, BCC Weblog, Delaware Chess Weblog, etc.) Thanks to club member John Moldovan for taping it.

I was not expecting much of the film and so was very impressed by the great range of archival footage (some of which I had not seen previously) and the very impressive interviews (including Shelby Lyman, Robert Byrne, Asa Hoffman, the former president of the Icelandic Chess Federation, and practically every Bobby Fischer biographer of record). They covered his entire story, from childhood to the present, touching on all the salient and crazy facts. They also did not shy away from some of Bobby's most troubling statements about the United States or "the Jews," and it was certainly an eye-opener for several Fischer fans in the audience who had never confronted his specific statements before (which are typically not broadcast in the American media). I was especially impressed that they interviewed a friend of his from the Worldwide Church of God, which shed some new light for me on that part of Bobby's troubled history. The only voice not represented was that of the Russians, which would have made a nice addition. But it is a very good short film (about 45 minutes total without commercials) and a great record of the testimony of many who participated in the events surrounding the 1972 match who may not be with us the next time somebody wants to make a Bobby Fischer documentary. It would be well worth keeping an eye out for when it is inevitably rebroacast.

Dept. of Amusements #2

I recently received the following e-mail from a disgruntled plagiarist:

Subject: I like to tell you one thing in your site.
From: Rajmahendra <A">>
Date: Saturday, April 8, 2006 14:02

Hi michael.
This is Rajesh from India. Short time back when i am browsing the net if found that my websites link ... is available your site :

"1.E4 NF6 by Robyourcontent
An Indian chess plagiarist and pirate who deserves no traffic."

My site description is given in such a way the its the utmost way of insulting a chess lover. An Indian chess plagiarist and pirate who deserves no traffic. I like to tell you one thing. I never got any intimation that somebody in your blog is going to descriptor my site in this way in your blog. If you check my site not even a single place in my site i mention that article are my own article. i took some info from WikiPedia which is online free open source site. I never expected some good Chess lovers will refer another chess site like this manner. Please don't take that i am harsh but. At least the person who added the info like above can intimate me before. That's all i like to say bye. --Thank you, With warm regards, Rajmahendra R Hegde (Raj)

"Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework."
-Thomas Alva Edison (1847 -1931)

Perhaps I was a bit harsh....

Dept. of Amusements #1

A friend of mine suggested that I add the chess discussion forum at Craig's List to my annotated chess links. I checked it out and saw the following item requesting a clarification of the rules:

checkmate? 03/03 11:22:58
I placed my opponent in checkmate and he then punched me in the face, stating that, much like in baseball when a runner is coming home he can attempt to knock the ball from the catcher's mitt, that if he can dislocate my jaw it renders the checkmate invalid. Is this true?

Perhaps I'll add the forum to "Just for Fun."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Recent Annotations and Analysis on the Web

There are a number of recent articles on the web featuring game annotations and opening analysis that I thought I'd alert you to:

1) There has been lots of excellent coverage of the Topalov - Nisipeanu match, especially at ChessBase, which has recruited "ChessCafe Book of the Year" winner Mihail Marin to do its annotations (which offer a wonderful advertisement of his talents). Here are the four games from that match with links to at least two articles with annotations:

Game 4: Topalov - Nisipeanu (Sicilian Defense), 1-0
Mihail Marin at ChessBase, with excellent photo-report (or go right to the java version with notes).
Mikhail Golybev annotates, in Russian at ChessPro.

Game 3: Nisipeanu - Topalov (Sicilian, Najdorf), 1/2-1/2
Mihail Marin at ChessBase (also with java board)
Mikhail Golybev annotates, in Russian at ChessPro

Game 2: Topalov - Nisipeanu (Queen's Gambit, Orthodox), 1-0
Mihail Marin at ChessBase (also with java board)
Jose Luis Fernandez at InforChess in Spanish
Mikhail Golybev at ChessPro in Russian

Game 1: Nisipeanu - Topalov (Ruy Lopez / Spanish, Berlin Defense), 1/2-1/2
Mihail Marin at ChessBase (also with java board)
Mikhail Golybev at ChessPro in Russian

2) Tim Harding's Kibitzer #119 analyzes the Evans Gambit and looks at several very recent GM games in the critical lines while giving a review of Jan Pinski's recent Italian Game and Evans Gambit.

3) Derek Grimmell gives a positive review of Chess for Zebras, which I have discussed on these pages. If you have not yet gotten a copy, this thoughtful review may convince you it's worth nearly $30.

4) The premiere issue of The Underground Review is available online as a PDF. The work of Chess Underground blogger Petros Karagianis, it features an article by life master Brian Wall about GM Ivanchuk that analyzes some of his shorter wins; an interesting story and transcript of a Karagianis chess lecture; an essay on style in chess; and a personal essay of a "chess hobbyist." It also has quite a bit of chess-related art and photography, all with the same edginess as the prose, which should appeal to a hip college-age male readership.

5) Aronian - Anand, Amber Rapid 2006, annotated by Boris Schipkov. Excellent notes on a wild and wide open game. It begins 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 Bc5 4. f4?! and features very sharp play by both sides ending in a draw.

6) Last week I annotated the game Spraggett-De La Villa, Dos Hermanas 2006. I find that there are some excellent notes on that game by FM Antonio Torrecillas at the InforChess site.

7) Also at InforChess you can find Nisipeanu - Prie, Montpellier 2006 annotated by Hector Leyva. It's a very recent and nice attacking game against the Scandinavian by Topalov's challenger.

8) In his Washington Post column of two weeks ago, Lubomir Kavalek annotated the excellent game Najer-Shirov, Siberia 2006, which featured a great tactical win for Black in the Rubinstein Variation of the Four Knights. This past Monday's column featured some great games by Pawel Blehm, first board for University of Maryland Baltimore County from the recent College Team competition. The first features an attack as White against the Scandinavian that may be better than Nisipeanu's above. I hate playing against the Scandinavian and am always glad to see it get crushed like this.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Kopec's Chess Camp Offers Adult Classes

Chess camps are not just for kids anymore! Starting this year, FM Steve Stoyko will be directing the new Adult sessions at Danny Kopec's Chess Camps. I can tell you from my own experience that there is no better coach or mentor than Steve, and regular readers of this blog will need no introduction. The long-running Kopec camps also have a sterling reputation, so it sounds like a great program in the making. Steve's Adults-Only camp runs from June 22-25 at The Lawrenceville School (near Princeton, NJ), which offers a very attractive venue. Contact IM Kopec for more information and registration by email at or call (516) 867-4031 or (603) 668-8368. The standard camp for younger players runs from June 25-July 2 at the same location. Dr. Kopec also runs camps at The White Mountain School in Bethlehem, NH (July 16-23) and The Stony Brook School in Long Island, NY (July 31-August 5). Visit their website or see their ad in Chess Life for more info.

Monday, April 10, 2006

French Defense Repertoire, Part One

FM Steve Stoyko on the French

FM Steve Stoyko on the French Defense

A group of us at the Kenilworth Chess Club, led by FM Steve Stoyko (above), decided to develop a Black repertoire around the French Defense. We chose the French since it makes a good fit with the 1.d4 d5 Black Repertoire that Steve lectured on last year. For one thing, it allows Black to play 1.d4 e6!? inviting the French, which some 1.d4 players may go into "on principle" without knowing the lines very deeply. Steve pointed out several other advantages to the French combined with 1.d4 d5, including the way it allows you to transpose to familiar lines from the Veresov (1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 e6!) and to stick it to Blackmar Diemer Gambit players (with 1.d4 d5 2.e4 e6!) There are also some similar structures between the two, including the IQP positions that can arise from both the Queen's Gambit Declined and from the Tarrasch French. So the combination of the French and 1.d4 d5 makes a lot of sense.

At our initial meeting (depicted above) we set forth some territory for discussion and picked a starting point, which will be some specific line of the Winawer. Steve said it was important when learning a new opening to start with your core line, since you have to have something complex that you are shooting for and that you know you can play for a win if necessary. Once you feel solid on that core line, you can add the peripheral ones.

Since we are still at the exploring stages, we decided to look first at one of the most fashionable lines, which is 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. Qg4 O-O. This line was the subject of a fantastic German book a few years back titled Französisch Winawer (Chessgate 2001) by Stefan Kindermann and Ulrich Dirr, and is also well-covered in all French books that followed, including John Watson's 3rd Edition of Play the French. At our last meeting, we spent some time looking at the game Riordan-Hummel, US Amateur Team Championship 2006 by way of introduction to its main themes.


Riordan - Hummel, after 26.Bg4.
What is Black's thematic move?

Riordan - Hummel made a nice starting point since it not only featured some nice handling of the line by Black, but it also had some symbolic significance. After all, one of the goals of our work together is to improve our results at the US Teams next year, so it's nice to contemplate the Black side of the championship game....

The main game and Charbonneau-Pelletier (mentioned in the notes) also illustrate how players as White will go into these extremely sharp lines despite only having a hazy recollection of the theory. After all, even the most active players may only encounter the French a handful of times each year (unless they play it themselves), so it is not part of their first tier of preparation. Charbonneau admits as much in his blog Pascal's Thoughts, where he discusses his game, noting that he could not remember the theory on his opponent's move and so did not go into the sharpest line. And Riordan shows in his time-wasting Bishop moves that he was not certain where the Queen's Bishop best belonged.

After our discussion, Steve expressed some doubts about this line as a main choice in the Winawer, and so we will likely look at some more. Though I won't be able to share all of our analysis and ideas in the blog (you'd have to come to the club or play 1.e4 against one of us for that!), I will be giving some general coverage of the lines that our study group reviews.

ICC Puzzle


Black to play and win.

Here's a fun puzzler from a game I played today on ICC. The solution is relatively easy (it involves only Black's developed pieces) -- but try to do it in under 15 seconds! I have posted the game online for the solution.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Urusov Miniature

I noticed that IM Ben Finegold was able to record almost all of his games from memory after playing in a blitz tournament. I, on the other hand, can only reconstruct one: a cute Urusov miniature.

Goeller - NN, KCC Blitz 04.06.2006
1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 Nxe4 4.dxe5 Bc5


White to play and win.

I said to my opponent: "Don't you ever read my blog?" This basic motif had appeared not once, but twice in the puzzle positions I had posted from the recent Club Championship.

5.Qd5 Bxf2+ 6.Kf1 0-0 7.Qxe4 Bb6 8.Nf3 d6 9.Ng5 g6 10.Qh4 h5 11.Qf4 dxe5? 12.Bxf7+ Kg7 13.Qxe5+ Kh6?? [13...Qf6+ 14.Qxf6+ Kxf6 15.Bb3+-]


Mate in two.

14.Ne6+ Kh7 15.Qg7# 1-0

Blitz Tourney

NM Peter Radomskyj

Players in the Five-Minute Tourney

NM Peter Radomskyj

FM Steve Stoyko vs. NM Mark Kernighan

Last night's blitz tournament attracted a dozen players for a Game-5 round robin. FM Steve Stoyko had a perfect score until he met NM Mark Kernighan in the last game, when Mark (who had lost only one game in the event) managed to checkmate our club champion despite being down a piece. The opening of their game (depicted above) was basically a repeat of their playoff for the Club Champion title. The two shared first and second, with perennial blitz champ Mauricio Camejo finishing a close third.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spraggett-De La Villa, Dos Hermanas 2006


Spraggett - De La Villa
Black to play and win.

To look at the first ten moves of the game Spraggett-De La Villa from the ongoing Dos Hermanas Open tournament, you figure Black is getting blown off the board. But De La Villa's home preparation clearly went much deeper than Spraggett's, and though the Canadian GM wins the exchange he loses the initiative and ends up getting stung by Black's swarming Knights (see diagram above). A very interesting win for De La Villa!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Celebrity Chess Showdown

I must confess that I first became interested in poker (which I play occasionally, as does practically every chessplayer I know) when I watched the first season of Celebrity Poker Showdown on Bravo. Yeah, I know, pretty embarrassing. Sure, I had watched the pros on ESPN2 from time to time, but they were intimidating and made it difficult to imagine myself winning. But Celebrity Poker made me feel a bit superior and confident in my abilities, no matter how lame I really was. I also liked the format, with pro Phil Gordon offering critical commentary on the action while a novice host cracked stupid jokes and kept the action lively. So I was happy to read at the end of Julie Bick's interesting article "Low-Cost Workouts for Young Minds" (NY Times, April 2, 2006 - hat tips to Mig and Susan Polgar) that a similar show is planned for chess:

"Following on the heels of television's "Celebrity Poker" and "Dancing With the Stars," ESPN has signed a deal to produce a televised celebrity chess tournament featuring Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and others. "This is a charity tournament, but we hope to grow televised chess with sponsors and prize money," said Giovanni James, who is producing the show with Penny Marshall."

Now here is an idea that might actually spark some widespread interest in this complex game of ours. And the beauty of it is that, unlike poker (where it takes secret cameras to see the full action), with chess it is all there in front of you waiting to be seen (if you are just smart enough to see it). There are also a lot of celebrities with an interest in the game, including the popular and talented Jamie Foxx. If the producers can use celebrities to draw in an audience, keep it lively with fast play and fun commentary, and show the audience just how badly these famous actors and comedians are playing so that viewers become over-confident in their own chess abilities by comparison, they might actually spark a revolution....

The Grand Prix with a3

One of the main lines of the Grand Prix Attack against the Sicilian goes 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 (to avoid the messiness of 2.f4 d5!) 2...Nc6 3.f4 g6 (3...e6 is also played, with a "delayed French set-up" as Gary Lane calls it) 4.Nf3 Bg7. White now typically develops the King's Bishop, generally with the tactically minded 5.Bc4 (which Lane discusses in Opening Lanes #60 at ChessCafe) or the more sound and positional 5.Bb5 (which is discussed in two wonderful archived articles by Zoran Ilic, titled Grand Prix Attack with f4 and Bb5, Part One and Part Two from the defunct Inside Chess site). White can also transpose to the standard Closed Sicilian with 5.g3 and 6.Bg2, likely side-stepping some of Black's best lines against that system. But there is one other move that is occasionally seen: 5.a3!? I have posted some analysis on The Grand Prix with a3 on the Kenilworth site, but it requires some introduction to appreciate.

What's the point of this apparent waste of time? Well, one idea is to play a sort of Delayed Wing Gambit by 6.b4!? - trying to exchange Black's c-pawn for the b-pawn (or even for the d-pawn if Black foolishly plays 6...d6? 7.bxc5 dxc5 8.e5 with advantage). And if Black mistakenly accepts the proferred pawn, he is going to get in big trouble following Ba3 and Nb5!


The Delayed Wing Gambit
Can Black safely win the b-pawn now?

But if Black is smart and declines the gambit, you have a completely different game. I noticed that in the very recent game Halpen-Moylan, City of Sidney Ch 2006 (documented at The Closet Grandmaster site), Black smartly declined by 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. a3 e6 6. b4 b6! ("Why give him what he wants?") 7. Rb1!? d6 8. bxc5 bxc5 9. Bb2 Nge7 = and the game eventually ended in a draw, though likely White could have played differently.
A secondary idea of the early a3 is to prepare a retreat square at a2 for the Bc4, a concept that was well illustrated in the game Menashe-Quant, Jersey 1997 annotated by Hans Ree where this light-squared Bishop becomes entombed at a2 only to emerge later with significant effect along the b1-h7 diagonal. One idea you can take away from this game, which actually began 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.f4 a6 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bc4 e6 6.a3, is that White might be able to exploit an early ...a6 and ...d6 by Black by playing the a3 and Bc4 set-up, when White has made no more wasteful pawn moves than Black has.
In any event, there is still plenty of room for your own explorations in this line and, as White, you are bound to catch lots of opponents out in blitz (where, in my experience, 4 out of 5 opponents cannot resist the pawn). Meanwhile, if you play these lines as Black, be warned about the Grand Prix with a3 and prepare accordingly....

Monday, April 03, 2006

US Amateur Teams Final

I have posted the ICC Games from this weekend's US Amateur Team Finals (also in PGN), won by the East's "My G-8 Predecessors." I previously posted links to the US Amateur Teams East (including the PGN file). The Boylston Chess Club weblog has made a triumphant post to celebrate the victory by its members and promises some analysis and commentary.

The members of the winning team were:
1. Charles Riordan 2276 (Captain)
2. Alex Cherniack 2252
3. Lawyer Times 2174
4. Charles Mays 2039


It is nice to see that their ratings profile matches that of the Kenilworth Team, so we may have a chance next year.

The Conquest Attack in the Evans Gambit Declined

Speaking of restoring "Lost Openings": I remembered a little analysis I did a few years back on an odd line of the Evans Gambit Declined that I'll call "the Conquest Attack." I thought I'd share it before it gets lost again among my many odd .pgns. I had been doing a little preparation of the Evans Gambit as a fun tactical weapon for White and was frustrated that the Evans Declined seemed to spoil the fun by turning things into a positional battle. Then I saw a note by Michael Rhode in his little book The Great Evans Gambit Debate on a forgotten line tried once by Stuart Conquest. It goes 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bb6 5.a4 a6! 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.d4!?!?


Position after 7.d4!?!?

It seems crazy at first (as do a lot of gambits) until you look closely at the lines and realize that Black's pieces are kept from getting into play while White's develop easily and even his queen's Rook swings into action via Ra1-a3-g3 (since the Knight at f3 generally gets exchanged at d4 or leaps to e5). That seems worth a pawn to me. And best of all, Black is forced to deal with a wild tactical battle, which seems exactly what he is trying to avoid. As Steve Stoyko asks: "Why give him what he wants?"

The idea of the d4-sac a move earlier, as tried by Zukertort (included in the same game file), does not seem as attractive, but it is also worth a look. I actually have not had a chance to review Conquest's own notes in Informant #67, but I think I have identified at least one critical moment where White could have gotten real winning chances. Let's see if you agree:


White to play after 16...Ng6