30 July 2007

Wing Gambit Deferred

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4:

On another occasion I would probably have played 3.b4, a sacrifice for which White in this particular position has to my mind sufficient strategical reasons. - The Book of the Nottingham International Chess Tournament, with annotations and analysis by A. Alekhine

Thus spake Alekhine, annotating Alekhine - Botvinnik from the fifth round of the 1936 event. The former and future World Champion continued:

But playing for the first time with the Soviet Champion, for whose play I have the greatest appreciation, I did not like the idea of being accused of overweening confidence, undue boldness (and this independent of the result of the game), or of such things as 'under-estimating', 'bluster', etc.

I've played the Wing Gambit (1.e4 c5 2.b4?!; the '?!' is my opinion), both as White and as Black, but I can't remember ever seeing 2.Nf3 d6 3.b4 before. First question: Does it have a name? I would call it the Wing Gambit Deferred, which is indeed the name conferred on it by the Oxford Companion, my preferred guide to the names of chess openings. Second question: Who plays it? Searching ChessLab, I found about 30 games played since 2000. Only one game was conducted by a White player rated over 2500. This is not a solid reference and the W-L-D stats of 26%-55%-19% are even less solid.

Nevertheless, Alekhine, who was no slouch as an opening analyst, cited 'sufficient strategical reasons' to play the move. Did he ever play it himself? There are no games on Chesslab, but that is not conclusive. The first game is from 1937, and Alekhine was writing in 1936. Who else played it? Keres and Spielmann are listed in the early days of the opening, and Bronstein played it later. The stats in the pre-1991 portion of the database are 42%-42%-16%, not brilliant, but not as disastrous as the modern results either.

The main line appears to be 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.b4 cxb4 4.d4 Nf6 5.Bd3, followed now by 5...e6, 5...d5, 5...g6, or 5...Bg4. Is that enough information for a tournament test? Yes, I believe it is.

28 July 2007

Chess Torrents

While preparing the post for The Botvinnik - Smyslov Rivalry (III), I searched for 'Secret Matches -The Unknown Training Games of Botvinnik' by Jan Timman. One of the results of the search was a set of links to a collection of chess ebooks that I had never seen before. The collection was mentioned in several places, all with a common theme: Torrents. Here I had to admit ignorance.

A little more searching led to BitTorrent: 'A popular file sharing service developed by Bram Cohen that prevents people from downloading constantly unless they are willing to share in the overall transmission load on the network.' (www.answers.com). This explained the reason for my ignorance; I've never been interested in digital piracy.

Returning to the sites I'd found on the search for Timman's book, the '[www.underground-gamer.com] Chess Education Collection' (Warning: the ads on the page are XXX) boasts 461 files. Of these, 372 are PDFs and of the rest, more than 70 are decribed with nothing more than e.g. 'RUSSIAN 62 MB'. Total size: 4,857 MB.

A search for 'chess torrent' returned 'about 2,200,000' pages. Now I know the source of the eBay listings that offer a CD or DVD with hundreds of chess ebooks.

26 July 2007

The Botvinnik - Smyslov Rivalry (III)

In The Botvinnik - Smyslov Rivalry (II), I counted 100 tournament and match games plus six training games on Chessgames.com. Two of the six training games are the same as those marked 'training' on the GMchess.com collection of Smyslov games. The other four can be found on Secret Matches (PDF; Chesscafe.com).

The cover page on the Chesscafe PDF file says, 'Secret Matches: The Unknown Training Games of Mikhail Botvinnik'; Selected Games Annotated and Theoretical Section by Jan Timman; Edited by Hanon W. Russell'. There is also a Google conversion to HTML.

That makes an even 100 official games played between Botvinnik and Smyslov. I exclude the training games because I'm not sure about the conditions under which they were played. For example, they might have been games where the opening was agreed in advance.

Chessgames.com says, 'Overall record: Mikhail Botvinnik beat Vasily Smyslov 29 to 24, with 53 draws' (+29-24=53). Excluding the six training games (+3-2=1), the record in official games was +26-23=52. This was the second greatest rivalry after Kasparov - Karpov.

24 July 2007

The Botvinnik - Smyslov Rivalry (II)

How many games did Botvinnik and Smyslov play against each other? A count by year...


...totals 102. These include two training games in 1951. The Chessgames.com database adds another four training games in the 1951-2 period.

22 July 2007

Wikipedia Chess Is Google No.1 (Not!)

One of the standard bits of advice they give you for making presentations is, 'When you make predictions, don't give dates'. I should have remembered this in Wikipedia Chess the New Google No.1, when I wrote, 'Although [Wikipedia Chess] may bounce in and out of the top position over the near term, I expect it will eventually occupy that spot for years to come.'

Not even six months have passed, and there is already a new Google no.1: Chess.com. The domain name is certainly a part of its success. Another part is that it has attracted a large number of people who are particularly savvy about Internet chess. How long will it remain no.1? No more predictions from me!

20 July 2007

Dean Martin and David Janssen

'David Janssen explaining the game of chess to Dean Martin using the Golddiggers as the pieces.' [Source: The Dean Martin Show, Broadcast date: 25 Sept 1969. (www.davidjanssen.net)]

Dean Martin & David Janssen (4:05) • The Dean Martin Show

Dean: 'What have you been up to? I haven't seen you around the golf club.'

David: 'I've been spending a lot of time indoors. I started playing chess.'

Dean: 'Chess?'

David: 'Chess! It's the best indoor sport in the world.'

Dean: 'The best?'

David: 'Second best!'

18 July 2007

The Botvinnik - Smyslov Rivalry

How many games did Botvinnik and Smyslov play against each other? I looked at four databases and received four different answers...

121 GMchess.com (Smyslov collection)
106 Chessgames.com
102 Chesslab.com
98 GMchess.com (Botvinnik collection)

...I'll look at the Chessbase online database when I have time. For a number of reasons, their data is harder to extract. In any case, further analysis is required. (To be continued)

16 July 2007

Fischer - Tal, 1960 Leipzig Olympiad

Source: 'Russians vs. Fischer' (p.61)

14 July 2007

Wo Ist die Wahrheit?

Wahrheit commented against The Alternative Winawer, 'I love it when World Champions disagree! It seems that the more you look into these games the more questions there are and the less clear it all becomes, which is the nature of chess and why we stay interested in it.'

The Winawer post mentioned the Fischer - Tal draw from the 1960 Leipzig Olympiad. This is one of my favorite draws of all time. Fischer included it in 'My 60 Memorable Games' (no.23), and Tal included it in 'The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal' (no.36). It opened my eyes to how two World Champions can disagree on the most critical moves.

Tal gave his 1...e6 a '!', and commented 'What is this, immodesty? [...] The choice of such a variation must have been an unpleasant surprise for Fischer, since positions of this type have occurred in his games very rarely, and a study of his games showed that the American Champion feels much less confident in unfamiliar positions.'

After 5...Ba5, he commented, 'Back in 1954 the 9th game of the Smyslov - Botvinnik match [...] created the firm opinion that the system with 5...Ba5 was unfavorable for Black. Five years passed, and in one of the 1960 chess bulletins a note by IM Konstantinopolsky appeared, in which new plans found for Black in this variation were described. I remember how, before my match with Botvinnik, Koblentz and I spent some considerable time playing through these variations, though at the time we were unable to test them, since in the 1960 match Botvinnik did not adopt this system.'

After 5...Ba5, Fischer commented, 'A dubious alternative to 5...Bxc3+.' Often a man of few words, he gave no further explanation.

The diagram shows the position after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Ba5 6.b4 cxd4 7.Qg4 Ne7 8.bxa5 dxc3 9.Qxg7 Rg8 10.Qxh7.

(After 10.Qg7-h7(xP))

Tal varied from Botvinnik's continuation by playing 10...Nbc6. Of Botvinnik's move he wrote, 'Botvinnik played more passively 10...Nd7, and fairly quickly found himself in a dificult position.'

After 10...Nbc6, Fischer played 11.Nf3 and noted that '11.f4 bolsters the center but shuts in the Queen Bishop and weakens the dark squares.' Tal: 'The analysis in Konstantinopolsky's article was devoted to the continuation 11.f4. We can refer directly to this article anyone wishing to "have a wander" through a maze of innumerable complications.' Fischer saw the positional drawbacks; Tal saw the tactics.

The game continued 11...Qc7 12.Bb5. Fischer: '!; Harmoniously pursuing development without losing time.' Tal: 'After this move White cannot count on obtaining an opening advantage.' Where is the truth?

To play through the complete game see...

Robert James Fischer vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad Final 1960

...on Chessgames.com.

12 July 2007

The Alternative Winawer

Returning to Smyslov's Sparklers, the next game is the ninth from the 1954 Smyslov - Botvinnik World Championship match. The diagram shows the position after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 (the Winawer variation) 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Ba5, which is how the game started.

My first question here was, 'Does anyone still play this?' I looked up the position in Chesslab and found more than 50 games with 5...Ba5, where at least one player was rated over 2600. The statistics indicate that Black is no worse than after the the more common alternative 5...Bxc3.

(After 5...Bb4-a5)

The Smyslov - Botvinnik game continued 6.b4 cxd4 7.Qg4 Ne7 8.bxa5 dxc3 9.Qxg7 Rg8 10.Qxh7 Nd7. While Smyslov's 6.b4 is the most popular move, the alternatives 6.Qg4 and 6.Bd2 are also played frequently. Somewhat more popular than 7.Qg4 is the alternative 7.Nb5, but 8.Nb5 is far less popular than Smyslov's 8.bxa5. The moves from 8...dxc3 through 10.Qxh7 are forced.

Kasparov gave Botvinnik's 10...Nd7 a '?!', saying, 'It is more active to play 10...Nbc6', and mentioning the famous Fischer - Tal game from the 1960 Leipzig Olympiad. Smyslov's comment to 10...Nd7 was 'Black brings another piece over to the defense of his Kingside. This is very necessary, as White is already threatening to build up a formidable assault on the Kingside by Nf3 and Ng5.'

So which is right, Kasparov's '?!' or Smyslov's 'very necessary'? Since the move 10...Nd7 is never played by modern masters, it looks like Kasparov is right. After 10...Nbc6, White continues 11.Nf3 or 11.f4. After 10...Nd7, Smyslov played 11.Nf3, when Kasparov commented, 'Smyslov rejected 11.f4!? since "the scope of the dark squared Bishop is restricted".' Why is it restricted after 10...Nd7, but not after 10...Nbc6?

My little research raised more questions than it answered, and will require more investigation. As for my original question -- 'Does anyone still play this?' -- I could have answered it by reading Kasparov: 'At the end of the last century [i.e. the 20th century] a great contribution to the revival of the 5...Ba5 variation was made by grandmasters Vaganian and Lputian. It also began to be played in super tournaments: mention should be made, among others of two Anand - Khalifman duels, where instead of 11.Nf3, White played 11.f4 [...] with chances for both sides'; all of which I confirmed from my Chesslab sample.

10 July 2007

Parallel Opening Theory

One of the reasons to maintain this blog is to force me to spend some time analyzing chess positions. Solving tactical puzzles, reading books & magazines, and playing all have their place, but it's pulling positions apart and seeing their components that teaches me the most about chess. The position in the diagram is a game from WCCC29SF14.

The opening moves were 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 c6 4.f4 Qa5 5.Bd3 e5 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Be3 Nbd7 8.O-O Be7 9.h3 Bh5 10.Qe1 Bxf3 11.Rxf3 O-O. After Black's fourth move the game was already in a variation that I had never seen before. I used my usual trick in an unfamiliar opening; I followed theory until I found an improvement. In this game, theory ended at the diagrammed position.

Rudbeck, Juergen

Weeks, Mark
(After 11...O-O)
[FEN "r4rk1/pp1nbppp/2pp1n2/q3p3/3PPP2/2NBBR1P/PPP3P1/R3Q1K1 w - - 0 12"]

The game continued 12.a3 a6. I spent a long time studying the position after Black's 12th move. I looked at everything, but wasn't able to come up with a good plan. Black's position is hard to crack. The natural continuation looks like a Kingside Pawn storm and I finally played 13.Kh2. My reasoning was to get the King out the way in order to clear the g-file for a Rook and prevent any checks on the a7-g1 diagonal. I had the feeling that despite the time used, I hadn't really understood the position as well as I should. This feeling occurs frequently when I play higher rated opponents. It's one of the arrows in their quiver.

The continuation was 13...Qc7 14.Rd1 Rad8 15.Rf1 c5. At one point I found an interesting piece sacrifice that gave me winning chances in an endgame. After further study, I determined that Black had a path to draw and that the sacrifice was too risky to achieve only a draw. I found a more direct way to draw by sacrificing for a perpetual and I took it.

After the game ended I was surprised to see that my opponent had played the same opening against the top rated player in the section. I usually avoid playing the same variation twice in the same event. There might be a stunning novelty that upsets conventional theory. I've seen this happen to other players.

The other game continued 13.g4, the same as my idea, but more direct. White won after 36 moves. I should go back to my notes and recall why I decided against 13.g4. My overall results lately have been hurt by too many draws and I'm not sure how to tackle this problem. I might learn something from this example.

It turned out that there was a third game that reached the diagrammed position. That game continued 12.Rd1 a6 13.a3, which is a transposition into my game with 13.Rd1 instead of 13.Kh2. It also ended in a draw. Three parallel games, three master level players, three different continuations: chess is not mechanical.

08 July 2007


I finished my first, and possibly only, World Championship event, officially known as WCCC29SF14(WS). That's International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) shorthand for World Correspondence Chess Championship (WCCC), the 29th championship in the series, semifinal (SF), no.14. The '(WS)' tacked on at the end says that the event was played on the ICCF Webserver.

Most people outside of ICCF would call the event a quarterfinal, because it preceded a real semifinal, which ICCF calls a 'candidates' event. The winners of the candidates earn the right to play in the ICCF World Championship. The terminology is an improvement over the 'three-quarters final', an older name for the candidate events.

Since the World Championship 21 final started in Summer 2005, my guess is that World Championship 29 will start somewhere around the year 2020. Correspondence events are not known for their speed, and ICCF conducts the slowest events in a crowded field of correspondence organizations.

I earned the right to compete in WCCC-29-SF-14 by winning EM-M-174 (email master class tournament 174) a few years back. Although the semifinal crosstable currently shows one game open, I requested a win on forfeit because my opponent hadn't responded in 40 days. The reason he didn't respond is because he was about to lose a Queen for a Rook and decided to let his time run out.

My final score of +4-3=5 isn't particularly impressive, but it might have been a little better. I could have won another game on forfeit when my opponent failed to respond in 40 days. His move arrived a few hours after the notice of forfeit. The game was already in a deep endgame that I had calculated far enough to be convinced that it was a theoretical draw, a fact I later confirmed in a tablebase search. I decided to be a sport and I offered him a draw -- time forfeits aren't automatic, they have to be requested -- which he accepted, although he appeared to think he had a win.

If I understand the ICCF rules correctly, I needed a final score of +3 to qualify for a second semifinal event. With +1, I qualify instead for an ICCF 'preliminary' event, a relatively new stage that seeds winners into the semifinals. It's also the event where winners of master class tournaments are now seeded, so it's probably the right place for me.

I don't know if I'll take advantage of the qualification. There are a number of drawbacks to ICCF events which make them less attractive than those of competing organizations, like the International Email Chess Group (IECG).

Now that my participation in the semifinal is finished, I might discuss some of my games in future posts. In particular, I'm not sure I understand the reasons behind the three losses.

06 July 2007

Dzindzi's Instructional Videos

If you search eBay for GM Roman Dzindzichashvili's instructional videos -- e.g. Search eBay.com for 'chess roman dvd*' -- the chances are good that you'll find some on offer. If you want to know how good they are, you can judge for yourself, thanks to some samples on YouTube.

Roman's Lab 14 (01) : Part 1 (8:38) • Combinational Preparation

I guess that 'Roman's Lab 14' is the 14th in the series of videos, but I'm not sure what '(01)' means. Has volume 14 been split into multiple pieces before being split into parts? Whatever '14 (01)' means, here are links to the rest of the clips on YouTube, identified as Roman's Lab 14 (01) parts 1 to 9.

04 July 2007

Notes on the World Championship 'Return Match'

From Predecessors II (p.215, on Botvinnik):

In 1956, soon after Smyslov's second victory in the Candidates tournament, an event occurred that was to have a strong influence on the entire modern history of chess: FIDE granted the World Champion the right to a return match [Kasparov's italics]. This decision was adopted together with the aforementioned 'Botvinnik rule' [a limit in the Candidates tournament on the number of participants from one country; p.186 & p.214], and also not without the participation of Botvinnik (his friend Ragozin was a FIDE Vice President). Although earlier, in the late 1940s, in his plan for the contesting of the World Championship, he had rejected the idea of the return match, since 'its organization would disturb the periodicity of the system, and in the interest of chess this must not be allowed', and he had gained the right for a defeated champion to play a match-tournament with the champion and the challenger three years later (this FIDE rule operated in the 1951 and 1954 matches).

From Predecessors II (p.336, on Smyslov):

In the 1956 FIDE Congress, the exotic right of an ex-champion to join as a third player in a match of the next cycle was replaced by the right of a return match. The FIDE President Folke Rogard was generally opposed to match-tournaments, fearing agreements between participants.

FIDE abolished the right of the return match before Botvinnik lost his 1963 match to Petrosian. It is curious that it was invoked in both of the World Championship cycles (1955-1957 and 1958-1960) where it was in effect. • Note also that FIDE's fiddling with rules on a cycle in progress is not exclusive to the Ilyumzhinov administration.

02 July 2007

Two Bishops vs. Two Knights

Continuing with Smyslov's Sparklers, the interest in the current game stems from a battle of two Bishops vs. two Knights. In the diagrammed position Black played 19...Bxb2. Smyslov explained the move with the following:

Outwardly simple, but in actual fact a major decision. Euwe undoubtedly considered this reply, but hoped with the help of his two Bishops to win back the Pawn on b3 and obtain the better ending.So great is the conviction nowadays in the advantage of the two Bishops! Here it is interesting to recall that M.I.Chigorin readily carried on the struggle with two Knights and obtained repeated successes. In the art of chess there are no unalterable laws governing the struggle, which are appropriate to every position, otherwise chess would lose its attractiveness and eternal character.'

After 20.Rxb2 Rxa3 21.Kd2, Smyslov continued the train if thought:

Both players were aiming for this position: White has a strong center and two Bishops, but Black has an extra passed Pawn.The question is whether he can keep what he has won. The whole struggle, in which the Knights show great resourcefulness and activity, revolves around Black's passed Pawn. GM Keres suggests that the needs of the defense were most simply fulfilled by 21.Bd1 which does not allow Black to consolidate his Knight on c5. However, in the variation 21...Nc5 22.Bxc5 Rxc5 23.Rxb3 Rxb3 24.Bxb3 Rc1+ 25.Bd1 Nd7 Black preserves an indisputable advantage.'

Kasparov, who agreed with most of Smyslov's analysis, wrote, 'Although after 26.Kd2 Ra1 27.Kc3 and 28.Kb2 the most probable outcome is a draw.'

Moscow 1948 (Rd.24)
Smyslov, Vasily

Euwe, Max
(After 19.Nb5-a3)
[FEN "1nr3k1/1p1nppbp/6p1/3P4/r3P3/Np2BP2/1P2BP1P/1R2K2R b K - 0 19"]

The game continued 21...Na6 22.Rhb1 Nac5 23.Bd4. Smyslov:

It seems that it is not so easy to win back the Pawn. After 23.Bb5 Ne5 24.Bxc5 Rxc5 25.Rxb3 Nxf3+ 26.Ke3 Rxb5 27.Rxa3 Rxb1 28.Kxf3 f6 29.Rc3 h5 30.Rc7 Kf8, Black keeps his extra Pawn and with it his winning chances. • 23.Bd1 is now answered by 23...Ra2 24.Rxa2 bxa2 25.Ra1 Ra8 26.Kc3 e6 27.dxe6 fxe6 28.Bc2 b6 and if 29.Kb2, then 29...Ne5 and Black once again preserves his positional advantage.

A comment quoting Rybka analysis on Chessgames.com mentioned that 23.Bb5 Ne5 24.Be2 is better, but failed to give a plan. Indeed, it is not obvious how Black makes progress. Bringing the Black King to the Queenside looks best. At some point White will play Bxc5 Rxc5 followed by Rxb3 Rxb3, Rxb3 Rc7. This is similar to the analysis after 21.Bd1, where the Pawn count is equal, but Black has an outside passed Pawn that is difficult to convert.

Now Smyslov continued 23...e5, and gave himself a '!'. After 24.dxe6, he discredited Keres' analysis:

One should not reproach too severely for this exchange. Against 24.Be3 Black could continue 24...f5 25.exf5 gxf5 26.f4 exf4 27.Bxf4 Ra4 28.Be3 f4 (or 28.Bh6 Kf7). All Black's pieces are in play, while the White Rooks are tied up by the blockade of the enemy Pawn.
Keres recommends 24.Be3 as a satisfactory continuation for White, giving the variation 24...f5 25.exf5 gxf5 26.d6. Keres now asserts that "the White Bishops suddenly begin to show great activity". In fact after the simple 26...f4 27.Bc4+ Kg7 28.Bxc5 Nxc5 White has already had to part with his proud Black-squared Bishop. If 29.Bxb3 then 29...Rc6 wins the d-Pawn in return.
The move 24.Bc3 which the analysts have examined, also does not give White full equality. After 24...f5 25.exf5 gxf5 26.Bb5 26...b6 White must still labor under difficulties, and for all that Black preserves his extra Pawn. For example: 27.Bxd7 Nxd7 28.Rxb3 Rxb3 29.Rxb3 Rc5.

After 24...Nxe6 25.Be3 Ndc5 26.Bxc5, he criticized Keres' analysis again, starting:

So White gives up one of his Bishops and goes over completely to passive defense. The White Bishops did not show any superiority in the fight against the Knights, so it is understandable on psychological grounds that Euwe should decide on this exchange, which frees the square e3 for the King.

Euwe resigned on his 39th move. Why were the Bishops unable to show any advantage over the Knights. I would say because the fight occured on one side of the board only. In close quarter, hand-to-hand combat, Knights have certain advantages over Bishops. Only when the play ranges over the whole board do the Bishops' powers prove superior to the Knights'.

To play through the complete game see...

Max Euwe vs Vasily Smyslov, World Championship Match Tournament 1948

...on Chessgames.com.