31 August 2007


Strobek, Strobeck, Ströbek, Ströbeck.

Strobek, "Chess Village" (1:35) • German wartime color newsreel, November 1944

'Panorama was a quarterly color newsreel series that focused on "human interest" stories in 1944. It only lasted for that year, since the Third Reich fell in the spring of 1945, before another installment could be produced. The four reels that were made are a source for color images of the Germany and occupied Europe in the last full year of Nazi domination'

27 August 2007

Exchange Sacs Flow From a Positional Advantage

I've reached the last game in Smyslov's Sparklers. In the sixth game of their 1957 World Championship match, Smyslov varied from his usual 1.e4 and Botvinnik adopted his opponent's weapon: the Gruenfeld Defense, Smyslov Variation. This can be a risky proposition, since the habitual player of an opening knows its nuances better.

In the diagrammed position White has built up a commanding positional advantage and played 20.c6. This might look routine until you consider that White was ready to sacrifice the exchange with 20...Nd3+ 21.Kc2 Nc5 22.Rxd8+ Rxd8 23.Rd1 Rb8 24.Rd7!, when Nxd7 25.cxd7 Rd8 26.Bc8 c5 27.b4 wins.

Moscow 1957 (Game 6)
Botvinnik, Mikhail

Smyslov, Vasily
(After 19...Rab8)
[FEN "1r1r2k1/pBp1p1bp/6p1/2P1Pp2/1n3P2/4P2P/PP2N3/2KR3R w - - 0 20"]

The game continued 20...Kf7 21.Nd4 e6 22.Nb5 Nd5, when White ended all resistance with another exchange sac: 23.Rxd5. Since 23...Rxd5 loses to 24.Nxc7 Rc5+ 25.Kb1 and 26.Na6, Black tried 23...exd5. He was overwhelmed by 24.Nxc7 Rdc8 25.Bxc8 Rxc8 26.Nxd5 and resigned a few moves later.

With this win Smyslov tied the match at two wins each. He went on to win the eighth game and finally developed his lead to +3, winning the title. To play through the complete game see...

Vasily Smyslov vs Mikhail Botvinnik, World Championship Return Match 1957

...on Chessgames.com.

25 August 2007

Smyslov Seals

Continuing with the Geller - Smyslov game from the 1956 Candidates Tournament at Amsterdam, the diagrammed is about 25 moves after the position shown in Smyslov's Grandmaster Moves. Black is ahead an exchange, but White's Bishop pair and the unsafe position of the Black King have kept White in the game.

The game was adjourned at this point and Black sealed.

Candidates Tournament
Amsterdam 1956

Smyslov, Vasily

Geller, Efim
(After 41.Qh2-g3)
[FEN "5r1k/p5p1/1p5r/2p5/2q2n2/P1P1BBQ1/5PP1/2R3K1 b - - 0 41"]

What was Smyslov's sealed move?

23 August 2007

Smyslov's Grandmaster Moves

The next game in Smyslov's Sparklers, was one of those mentioned in the discussion of Nimzo Indian, Saemisch Variation. The diagrammed position occurred a few moves after the position in that previous post.

When I play through one of Smyslov's games for the first time, my first impression is almost invariably, 'What happened?'; I see no daring sacrifices or deep plans. When I play through the game a second time, my reaction is almost the same; Smyslov wins without any dramatic turning points. Then I remind myself that Smyslov chose the game for his collection of 'Best Games' and that Kasparov chose the same game for his exposition of Smyslov's style. As I play through it a third or fourth time, I start to see certain moves which I failed to notice the first time. The diagram position shows two of those moves.

Geller played 13.d5, and Smyslov wrote, 'A critical decision.White's center becomes less mobile and more readily exposed to attack. 13.Rc1 was preferable.'

Candidates Tournament
Amsterdam 1956

Smyslov, Vasily

Geller, Efim
(After 12...Ra8-c8)
[FEN "2rqnrk1/p2p1ppp/bp2p3/n1p5/2PPP3/P1PBB1N1/4QPPP/R3K2R w KQ - 0 13"]

Now Smyslov played 13...Qh4 and gave the move a '!'.

A powerful reply: the Queen hinders the activity of the White pieces on the Kingside and indirectly attacks the c-Pawn. Bad was 13...Nd6 because of 14.e5 Ndxc4 15.Qh5 g6 16.Qh6 with the threat of 17.Nh5

In that variation, Smyslov (SMY) says nothing about 16...f5, which looks like the refutation of White's play. Kasparov (KAS) picks up where Smyslov stopped:

At first sight White seems to have gone mad: after the obvious 13...Nd6 the c4-Pawn can no longer be defended. However, after 14.e5 Ndxc4 15.Qh5 g6 16.Qh6 with the threat of 17.Nh5, Geller would have gained an excellent opportunity to demonstrate his tactical skill.
True, the Black King is not bound to drown in the sea of complications: 16...f5! 17.Bg5 Qe8 18.Bf6 Rxf6 (18...Rf7 19.O-O (19...exd5 20.Nxf5 gxf5 21.Qg5+ with a draw, or 19...Bb7 20.dxe6 dxe6 21.h4 with sufficient compensation) 19.exf6 exd5+ 20.Be4 Kf7 21.Qg7+ Ke6 22.Bd3 Qf7 23.Qh6 Kd6 24.O-O Rf8 25.Qf4+ Kc6 etc.
Nevertheless, Smyslov sensibly declines to play on his opponent's 'home ground'. While his subordinates are engaged with the c4-Pawn, the task of defending His Majesty is taken on by the Queen herself.

The game continued 14.O-O Nd6. This sets up the next move that impressed me only after I had played through the game several times.

SMY: The final link in the plan to surround the c-Pawn. Black has avoided 14...d6 leaving the square free for his Knight.


KAS: !; Applause for boldness! Geller had long ago written off the c4-Pawn, concentrating his efforts on creating a compensating attack on the Kingside.


SMY: Of course, the attacked Pawn could be taken.But Black prefers to limit the activity of the White Bishops. The weak Pawns on the Queenside will always be a source of trouble for White.
KAS: Taking the bull by the horns! Although 15...Bxc4 seemed save enough, White would have obtained precisely that which he wanted: 16.e5 Bxd3 17.Rxd3 Ndc4 18.Bc1 with fairly real threats. 15...f5 reduces White's attacking potential and prepares the ground for mass exchanges. This avoidance (already the third!) of complications came as a cold shower for White. The cruel reality is that his broken Queenside Pawns will transform any endgame into a nightmare.

White swapped off the center Pawns with 16.dxe6 dxe6 (SMY: '16...f4 was risky on account of 17.exd7 Rcd8 18.e5') 17.exf5 exf5 and tried to penetrate Black's position with a Rook. When this failed, he sacrificed the Rook for the remaining Black Bishop and obtained a Kingside attack with the two Bishops.

Smyslov played two superb moves -- 13...Qh4 and 15...f5 -- hindering White's attack and deferring his own plan until later. Even this wasn't enough to stop Geller, who came charging in with an exchange sacrifice to continue his dangerous attack. It took a few more superb moves to score the full point.

I'll continue with the game on the next post. To play through the complete game see...

Efim Geller vs Vasily Smyslov, ct, Amsterdam 1956

...on Chessgames.com.

21 August 2007

Nimzo Indian, Saemisch Variation

Returning to Smyslov's Sparklers, one of the striking differences between Smyslov's discussions of his games and Kasparov's discussions is the treatment of the opening. Where Smyslov usually gives a brief discussion of one or two of the opening moves, Kasparov often gives deep analysis. The diagrammed position is a good example. It shows the position after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 O-O 6.a3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 Nc6 8.Ne2 b6 9.O-O Ba6 10.e4 Ne8.

In fact, this position isn't found in the next sparkler, Geller - Smyslov, Amsterdam 1956. It is instead from Geller - Smyslov, Zurich 1953. Kasparov annotates both games and points out that Smyslov's success in the two Candidates Tournaments, where he twice qualified for title matches with Botvinnik, was partly due to defeating Geller, one of his main rivals in the events, by identical 2-0 scores.

The two key games with Geller as White both used the Saemisch Variation in the Nimzo Indian (4.a3 is the earliest that it can be played). Referring again to the diagram, the Amsterdam 1956 game differed from the Zurich 1953 game after 10 moves in that it had a White Knight on g3 and White hadn't castled. Smyslov writes of 4.a3:

Grandmaster Geller's favorite continuation. After the exchange on c3 White gets the two Bishops and a strong center. However, the doubled Pawns on the c-file provide Black with sufficient counterplay on the Queenside.

Kasparov writes:

The Saemisch Variation is the most direct attempt to cast doubts on the Nimzo-Indian Defense. By provoking the exchange on c3, White strengthens his center and plans an attack on the Kingside, exploiting the strength of his two Bishops. The drawback to the plan is the chronic weakness of the doubled c-Pawns, which is especially perceptible in a protracted positional struggle.

To understand the position correctly, it is important to note that White has a possible Kingside attack.

Candidates Tournament
Zurich 1953

Smyslov, Vasily

Geller, Efim
(After 10...Nf6-e8)
[FEN "r2qnrk1/p2p1ppp/bpn1p3/2p5/2PPP3/P1PB4/4NPPP/R1BQ1RK1 w - - 0 11"]

Of 10...Ne8, which is not an obvious move to play, Smyslov declines to discuss the positional underpinnings. Kasparov writes:

Both sides are aiming to exploit their trumps: White is laying the basis for an attack, whereas Black is focusing his attention on the c4-Pawn. The Knight retreat, which was introduced by Capablanca in 1929, enables the unpleasant pin Bg5 to be avoided and is an important part of Black's plan: he is ready to meet the dangerous advance f2-f4 with ...f7-f5, keeping the position closed and restricting the activity of the White Bishops.

The Capablanca game, Johner - Capablanca, Carlsbad 1929, also reached the diagram. The players continued 11.Be3 d6. Smyslov decided against playing ...d6, saving the square for the Knight to attack the embattled c-Pawn by ...Nd6.

Kasparov also mentions two other games. The first is the earlier game Botvinnik - Reshevsky, Hague/Moscow 1948, which reached a position similar to the diagram, but one move earlier: White hasn't yet castled O-O and Black hasn't yet played ...Ba6. That game, which Kasparov annotated fully in the Predecessors IV chapter on Reshevsky, continued 10.Be3 d6.

The second game is the later Yusupov - Karpov, Linares 1993, which reached the diagram. It continued 11.f4 f5 12.Ng3 g6 13.Be3 cxd4!, 'effectively putting an end to the history of the variation', according to Kasparov.

I had never understood the nature of White's compensation for the doubled Pawns. Kasparov's explanation is a good introduction to the theory of the Saemisch Variation.

19 August 2007

Geller and the World Championship

Kasparov's chapter -- it's really a book in itself -- on Smyslov has a long section on Geller (Predeccessors II, p.295). The 33 pages include nine games and a brief discussion of opening innovations. Kasparov introduces the section on Geller with these words:

Now is the time to break off and remember Efim Petrovich Geller (1925-1998), another chess legend, known for his academic opening erudition and bold attacking style of play. He played six times(!) in the Candidates events, but alas, he did not in fact get through to a main match for the crown. However, he had a positive or equal score against nearly all the World Champions!

The nine games are all examples of Geller's play against World Champions. Kasparov's introduction mentions two little known facts, which I checked.


First, here's an excerpt from my World Championship page, Index of players (A-G), covering Geller.

Geller E1952-54 Izt
1952-54 Cnd
1955-57 Izt
1955-57 Cnd
1961-63 Izt
1961-63 Cnd
1964-66 Cnd
1967-69 Izt
1967-69 Cnd
1970-72 Izt
1970-72 Cnd
1973-75 Izt
1976-78 Izt
1982-84 Izt

'He played six times(!) in the Candidates events' : Check!


Second, here's Geller's record against the World Champion as given by Chessgames.com. Their Geller page...

Efim Geller

... lists his earliest game as 1946 Odessa, so it's sufficient to start checking with Botvinnik.

Chessgames.com always warns that the stats are 'Based on games present in our database; may not be complete'. Whether or not it's complete, he certainly 'had a positive or equal score against nearly all the World Champions'. Spassky was his most dangerous opponent among the World Champions.

17 August 2007

Her Brilliant Brain

Here is the recent documentary from Britain's ITV Five on Susan Polgar and her father's theories on teaching.

My Brilliant Brain (8:00) • Make Me a Genius (Part 1 of 6)

My Brilliant Brain – tonight at nine on five [16 July 2007]

15 August 2007

The World Championship Interregnum

The timeline I created to document The Botvinnik - Keres Rivalry reminded me of a related timeline I created a few years ago to document the 'Interregnum and the first FIDE World Championship cycle' in the thread FIDE Zonals on the About Chess forum.

  • 1945-05 • WWII ends in Europe
  • 1946-03 • Death of Alekhine
  • 1946-07 • FIDE Congress, Winterthur, Switzerland
  • 1946-08 • Groningen WCC qualifier, Botvinnik 1st
  • 1946-09 • USSR/USA match, Moscow (all 6 WCC invitees present)
  • 1946-10 • Prague WCC qualifier, Najdorf 1st
  • 1946-10 • U.S. zonal, New York
  • 1947-?? • Nordic zonal, Helsingfors
  • 1947-?? • Canadian zonal, Quebec City
  • 1947-07 • European zonal, Hilversum
  • 1947-07 • FIDE Congress, The Hague
  • 1948-03 • World Championship match tournament (WCC), The Hague/Moscow
  • 1948-08 • First Interzonal, Saltsjobaden (Stockholm)
  • 1948-08 • FIDE Congress, Saltsjobaden (Stockholm)
  • 1949-07 • FIDE Congress, Paris
  • 1950-05 • Candidates' tournament, Budapest; playoff 1950-07 Moscow
  • 1950-07 • FIDE Congress, Bellevue (Copenhagen)
  • 1951-03 • First World Championship match, Botvinnik - Bronstein, Moscow

I see there are still a few '??' to be filled in.

13 August 2007

The Botvinnik - Keres Rivalry

In My Great Predecessors II, Kasparov discussed the 1938 AVRO tournament (p.130) and wrote, '"[After AVRO, Paul Keres'] right to play a match with World Champion Alekhine became obvious" [Botvinnik] admitted nearly 40 years later.' (p.134)

This reminded me of a passage in Keres' Complete Games where Keres wrote, 'I had received an invitation to the World Championship Candidates Tournament, due to take place in autumn [1937] at Semmering, and naturally for this important event it was essential for me to elevate my form to the highest possible extent. In this tournament I was destined to meet such chess titans as Capablanca, Fine, Reshevsky, Flohr, and others, against whom I had so far played only a few isolated games.'

The events surrounding the Botvinnik - Keres rivalry for the right to challenge Alekhine have never been clear to me, so I constructed a timeline.

  • 1935-08 • FIDE Congress, Warsaw; 'rules on the selection of the challenger' [Winter]
  • 1935-10 • Alekhine - Euwe match
  • 1936-06 • Alekhine and Euwe confirm the return match [Winter]
  • 1936-07 • FIDE General Assembly, Lucerne; 'for the chess federations comprising the Assembly to take impartial decisions regarding the world championship' [Winter]
  • 1936-08 • Nottingham tournament; Botvinnik/Capablanca 1st-2nd, Keres did not play
  • 1937-06 • 'Dutch Chess Federation [...] in 1938 there should be a double-round candidates’ tournament bringing together the loser of the return match between Euwe and Alekhine, plus Botvinnik, Capablanca, Fine, Flohr, Keres, Reshevsky and possibly one other master.' [Winter]
  • 1937-08 • FIDE General Assembly, Stockholm; 'Dutch proposal for a tournament was turned down [...] Flohr was nominated [...] Flohr designated as the official challenger' [Winter]
  • 1937-09 • Semmering-Baden tournament; Keres 1st
  • 1937-10 • Alekhine - Euwe return match
  • 1938-11 • AVRO tournament (Netherlands); 'without the status of a candidates’ event' [Winter]; Keres/Fine 1st-2nd, Botvinnik 3rd
  • 1939-09 • Germany invades Poland
  • 1940-06 • USSR invades Estonia and Latvia
  • 1940-09 • 12th USSR Championship, Moscow; Keres plays for first time; Keres 4th, Botvinnik 5th-6th
  • 1941-04 • Match tournament for the title of Absolute USSR Champion, Leningrad/Moscow; Botvinnik 1st, Keres 2nd
  • 1941-06 • Germany invades the USSR


'World Championship Disorder' by Edward Winter

Semmering/Baden 1937 Crosstable [follow 'Tables 19xx' links for other events]

11 August 2007

Smyslov and Shenk

One of my favorite descriptions of the middle game is in 'The Immortal Game, A History of Chess' by David Shenk (p.136):

[The] middlegame's high-voltage zone: a multilayered dynamic of threats and counterthreats that is not easy to defuse and can at any time blow up in either player's face. Such dynamic tension is not a guaranteed component of middlegame, but is extremely common, and the lattice of active threats can quickly escalate to impossible-to-follow complexity. What emerges is the board-game version of that ever-repeated movie scene where the cop sneaks up on the thug, aims his gun, and says "freeze" -- only to find that a moment later, hidden accomplices point their guns at the cop and say, "No -- you freeze," at which point more cops come out from hiding and point their guns at the accomplices, and so on. With dozens of weapons cocked and aimed in every direction, no one knows whether to shoot first or try to de-escalate.

Cops and thugs, cowboys and bandits, the same theme has been used in countless movies and TV episodes. The next game in Smyslov's Sparklers reminded me of Shenk's analogy.

Moscow 1954 (Gm.14)
Smyslov, Vasily

Botvinnik, Mikhail
(After 9.Bc1-e3)
[FEN "r1bq1rk1/pp1n1pbp/2pp1np1/4p3/2PPP3/2N1BNP1/PP3PBP/R2Q1RK1 b - - 0 9"]

9...Ng4; Black attacks the Bishop, threatening to gain the Bishop pair and to mangle White's Pawn structure.

10.Bg5; White attacks Black's Queen.

10...Qb6; Black attacks White's b- and d-Pawns.

11.h3; White attacks the Black Knight.

11...exd4; Black ignores the attack, grabs a Pawn, and attacks White's Knight.

12.Na4; The White Knight evades capture and attacks the Black Queen.

12...Qa6; The Black Queen evades capture and threatens ...b5, trapping White's Knight.

13.hxg4; White grabs the Knight.

13...b5; Black attacks the trapped White Knight.

14.Nxd4; White grabs a Pawn and sets up new threats on the long a8-h1 diagonal.

14...bxa4; Black recovers the minor piece.

15.Nxc6; White grabs a Pawn, daring Black to recapture, when the Queen and Rook will be aligned unfavorably on the long diagonal.

15...Qxc6; Black accepts the dare and captures the Knight.

16.e5; The White Bishop attacks the Black Queen and skewers (xrays) the Rook. All Queen moves leave the Rook en prise without recapture.

16...Qxc4; The Black Queen dodges the Bishop and captures a loose Pawn.

17.Bxa8; White captures a whole Rook.

17...Nxe5; Black captures a loose Pawn, setting up threats on the a1-h8 diagonal, on the c8-h3 diagonal, and attacking various targets on the White Kingside.

18.Rc1; White attacks the Black Queen.

18...Qb4; The Black Queen dodges the attack and eyes the b-Pawn. A different sequence would open with 18...Qxa2 19.Bd5 Qxb2 20.Be7 Bxg4 21.Qxa4 Both players judged this as satisfactory for White.

19.a3; White attacks the Black Queen, encouraging a trade of the advanced a-Pawn for the b-Pawn.

19...Qxb2; Black accepts the trade of Pawns, planning a new sequence of threats and counterthreats.

20.Qxa4; Is the cops and thugs sequence over?

20...Bb7; No, Black opens a new series of tactics.

21.Rb1; The White Rook attacks the Queen and skewers the Bishop. Both Smyslov and Kasparov questioned this move, giving 21.Bxb7 Qxb7 22.Rc3 (protecting f3). Smyslov: 22...Nf3+ 23.Rxf3 Qxf3 24.Be7 Rc8 25.Bxd6. Kasparov (after Botvinnik): 22...h6 23.Bf4 Nf3+ 24.Rxf3 Qxf3 25.Bxd6 Rd8.

21...Nf3+; Black launches an attack on the castled King.

22.Kh1 Bxa8; Black gives up the Queen for three minor pieces.The minor pieces, supported by the Rook, will make life miserable for the White King and will force the win. White resigned ten moves later.

Is that too much to follow in your head? To play through the complete game see...

Mikhail Botvinnik vs Vasily Smyslov, World Championship Match 1954

...on Chessgames.com.

09 August 2007

The Exchange Sacrifice


The exchange sacrifice (provided it is a real sacrifice) belongs to the complicated weapons. It occurs in games by players of various strength. My opinion is that the main problem, when one makes such a decision, is first of all of a psychological character. Our knowledge of the relative strength of chess pieces is acquired at our very first steps in chess. A beginner is taught during his very first lessons that the strength of pieces is measured by Pawns.
When a player makes his choice [of move] this involuntary knowledge reduces his vision; he mechanically rejects moves which put a stronger piece under the attack of a weaker one. This is the greatest psychological difficulty in the course of a chess game. - Petrosian's Legacy, p.68


A key role in the reconsideration of the limits of the possible employment of the exchange sacrifice was played by Petrosian. Many made sacrifices -- one can name a whole galaxy of brilliant masters who have demonstrated the triumph of mind over matter. For example, Alekhine and Tal had a highly creative approach to the evaluation of the comparative strength of pieces on the board. But the combinations of Alekhine and Tal are usually associated with the rapid development of the initiative or a direct attack on the King.
Petrosian introduced the exchange sacrifice for the sake of 'quality of position', where the time factor, which is so important in the play of Alekhine and Tal, plays hardly any role. Even today, very few players can operate confidently at the board with such abstract concepts. Before Petrosian no one had studied this. By sacrificing the exchange 'just like that', for certain long term advantages, in positions with disrupted material balance, he discovered latent resources that few were capable of seeing and properly evaluating. - My Great Predecessors III, p.12

Both comments were made in the respective introductions to Reshevsky - Petrosian, 1953 Zurich Candidates Tournament.

07 August 2007

Tales of Hoffman (Notes)

Continuing with Tales of Hoffman, the critical position from the Nyman - Larsen game is shown in the following diagram. This is the same position that Hoffman appears to have reached in his simul game against Larsen.

Correspondence 1966
Larsen, Bent

Nyman, Sture
(After 8...h7-h6)
[FEN "r1bqr1k1/ppp2pp1/2nb1n1p/6B1/3P4/P2Q1N2/1PP1P1PP/RN2KB1R w KQ - 0 9"]

Nyman played 9.Bh4? (Larsen's '?'), and the game continued 9...g5! (My '!') 10.Bf2 Ne4 11.h3 Bf5 12.Qd1 Bf4. Black's pieces dominate the center. Now after 13.g4, Black continued sharply with 13...Nxf2 14.Kxf2 Be3+. In a correspondence game, sacrificial attacks can be calculated precisely.

In his notes, Larsen looked at 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 (Is this the move where Larsen 'studied the position for what seemed like ages'? If so, was he thinking about 9...gxf6?) 10.e4, which might have been what Hoffman played. Now Larsen gave 10...Bf5 11.Nc3, when Black recovers the sacrificed Pawn and gets a better position with 11...Qg6. The Danish GM also gave 10...Bg4, if Black wants to try for more.

The PGN game score for the complete game is here:-

[Event "?"]
[Site "corr"]
[Date "1966.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Nyman"]
[Black "Larsen"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A02"]

1.f4 e5 2.fxe5 d6 3.exd6 Bxd6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.d4 O-O 6.Bg5 Re8 7.Qd3 Nc6 8.a3 h6 9.Bh4 g5 10.Bf2 Ne4 11.h3 Bf5 12.Qd1 Bf4 13.g4 Nxf2 14.Kxf2 Be3+ 15.Kg2 Nxd4 16.gxf5 Nxf3 17.Qxd8 Nh4+ 18.Kg3 Raxd8 19.Nc3 Nxf5+ 20.Kg2 Rd2 0-1

By coincidence, while looking at chess blogs yesterday, I found this post by IM Mark Ginsburg: The Larsen Simul.

When I got to the playing hall, I noticed the boards were all set up so that his opponents would all have the black pieces. But I wanted to play white! In a rather bold "move", I asked Bent if it would be OK if I got the white pieces. I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but I got my wish. Perhaps he alternated W and B on all the boards of the simul (which was probably in the 30-50 range) - that is the part I don’t know. The important thing is that I got to move first. What a nice guy!

This is indeed more like the Larsen I remember, unlike the Hoffman caricature, where you can imagine the steam coming out of Larsen's ears.


My copy of Larsen's 50 Udvalgte Partier is inscribed to Jan [translating from the Danish]:

Stay home with me and have fun with chess, instead of going to the [club] 'Capablanca', for I love you so. - Your Elsie

I found the copy a few years later in a used book bin and have often wondered whether Jan ditched the Capablanca or ditched Elsie.

05 August 2007

Tales of Hoffman

The year 2007 is turning out to be one of the best years ever for chess non-fiction. After Michael Weinreb's The Kings of New York and Howard Goldowsky's Engaging Pieces, the chess world can look forward to Paul Hoffman's King's Gambit, subtitled 'A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game'. An excerpt from the book is available at...

Paul Hoffman - the pH Test

...where 'pH' are the initials of the author of the 'bestselling biography' of mathematician Paul Erdös, The Man Who Knew Only Numbers. After filing the link to Hoffman's excerpt in my bookmarks for a few weeks, I finally found the time to read it carefully. Instead of being awed by a top class writer treating my favorite subject, I came away scratching my head. The excerpt, which builds on the story of a 1970s simul where Hoffman played Danish GM Bent Larsen, contains several inaccuracies.

The most glaring error is the description of how a simul works. If you've never played a simul, you might not be familiar with the mechanics: you wait until the chess master arrives at your board, you make your move, the master makes his (or hers), and then he moves on to the next board. This lets the master see your current move and gives you time to think about your next move before the master returns. A few weeks ago I assembled a list of links to YouTube videos showing top chess players -- Fischer, Kasparov, two of the three Polgar sisters, and others -- in action at simultaneous exhibitions: Chess Simuls on About.com. You can see the mechanics for yourself.

The sequence described by Hoffman doesn't work that way. Larsen arrives at Hoffman's board and makes his move; after Larsen leaves, Hoffman makes his move while the grandmaster is elsewhere: 'I reached out and made the move I intended and waited for Larsen to return.' How do we explain this? A one time violation of the ground rules of a simul? The faded memory of an adolescent moment that took place 30 years ago? Unfortunately, there are other discrepancies.

The surname of Romanian GM Florin Gheorghiu is misspelled five times ('Gheorgiu'). Perhaps this is taken from the tournament book of the 1970 Siegen Olympiad, where Gheorghiu's name appears twice in a quoted passage, spelled incorrectly both times. At least Hoffman gives Gheorghiu's name. IM Sture Nyman is only described as a 'little-known Swedish master'. How do I know it's Nyman? Hoffman wrote:

A month before the exhibition, I decided to study every published game of Larsen's I could find in which he played Black. [...] Larsen and I duplicated move for move a From's Gambit that he had played against a little-known Swedish master. The Swede had played passively and was ferociously vanquished. His trouble, I believed, began with his ninth move, which put him on the defensive, from which he never recovered. I had come up with an improvement that I planned to unveil if Larsen made the same eighth move.

The simul was played in the 1970s, two decades before the availability of large chess databases. It's easy to determine now that Larsen played the Black side of From's Gambit (1.f4 e5) in one recorded game, a correspondence game from 1966. As it happens, the game is no.35 in my copy of Larsen's 50 Udvalgte Partier 1948-69. The book was translated into English as Larsen's Selected Games of Chess, 1948-69, and was most likely the primary source of Hoffman's studies. In his notes, Larsen questions White's ninth move ('?') and suggests an improvement. Was this the same improvement that Hoffman played?

I reached out and made the move I intended and waited for Larsen to return. He arrived and, just as I hoped, he paused. He studied the position for what seemed like ages and then looked up at me, smiling. "That's a better move," Larsen said, "but no matter." The smile disappeared and his voice became grim. "I shall crush you anyway, like I crushed him."

There are two points in this passage that bother me. The first point is that anyone who knew enough about chess to collect and study Larsen's games would be naive enough to expect the Danish GM to forget his published analysis, particularly the opening of a correspondence game.

The second point is more troubling, and concerns 'Larsen's aggressive outburst', which is Hoffman's phrase. When I lived in Copenhagen, I played against Larsen three times in simultaneous exhibitions. He was always generous with the time he gave to local clubs, and preceded each of his exhibitions with a short talk about his recent chess activities. The Larsen described by Hoffman is not the Larsen that I remember. The story in King's Gambit presents the grandmaster in an unflattering and, in my opinion, an unfair light.

On the same page as the excerpt Hoffman has 'A Quick Q & A with Myself'. There he describes his father as 'a pathological liar and con man -- a fact that I did not allow myself to realize until late in college.' I trust that the rest of Hoffman's new book is more accurate and better balanced than the excerpt he has chosen for his site. If not, professional chess historians, who know far more about the details of chess history than I do, are going to have a field day with it. They might even give us nasty reminders about the distance that apples fall from trees.


Note: Chess Blog Carnival – 1

03 August 2007

Det Sjunde Inseglet

I bet a lot of blogs are pointing to this trailer or similar this week, but it's timely and hard to resist.

Det sjunde inseglet (1:19) • Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal

Ingmar Bergman (Wikipedia)

More from YouTube:-

Is this the best chess movie ever?

01 August 2007

Tactics -> Positional Advantage -> Tactics

After three weeks of digressions, I'd like to move on with Smyslov's Sparklers. The last game I looked at -- The Alternative Winawer -- revolved around an opening inaccuracy by Botvinnik. Isn't there anything to say about Smyslov's play?

It turns out that his play in the game is a good example of tactical precision mixed with sound positional judgement. The reasons for the moves are well explained in his notes. Since Kasparov used them almost verbatim, I'll do the same. In the diagrammed position, White played 15.Nd4! (the '!' is Smyslov's). He noted:

Now the Knight is centralized; the threatened 15...Rc4 is met easily by 16.Qe3 Ra4 (16...Nf5 17.Nxf5 Re4 18.Nd6#) 17.Rb1 Rxa3 18.Nb5.

At first I wondered what was so bad about 18...Bxb5 19.Bxb5+ Nc6, but then saw 20.Bxc6+ bxc6 21.Rb8+ Kd7 22.O-O. Black is helpless on the dark squares.

Moscow 1954 (Game 9)
Botvinnik, Mikhail

Smyslov, Vasily
(After 14...Ra8-c8)
[FEN "2r1knr1/pp1bnp2/4p3/q2pP1B1/7P/P1pQ1N2/2P2PP1/R3KB1R w KQ - 0 15"]

After 15...Nf5, Smyslov played 16.Rb1!.

Black does not want to exchange 16.Nxf5 unnecessarily, as then Black's pieces would become more active: 16...exf5 and 17...Ne6. The text move prevents the exchange of the light squared Bishops, which would be to Black's advantage, and forces him to look to the defense of the b-Pawn.


Black embarks upon a variation involving an exchange sacrifice, which though attractive is not completely sound. He ought to content himself with 16...b6 17.g4 Nxd4 18.Qxd4 Qxa3 19.Bd3, when White has the better prospects though Black is not without his.

17.Nxf5 exf5

Not 17...Re4+ 18.Qxe4 Rxg5 (18...dxe4 19.Nd6#) 19.Nd6+

18.Rxb7 Re4+

An inadvertent transposition of moves which loses immediately. Botvinnik had intended to play 18...Rxg5 19.hxg5 Re4+, but even then White should be able to ward off the attack.For example: 20.Be2 Ng6 21.Kf1 [...]

After 19.Qxe4!, the game continued 19...dxe4 20.Rb8+ Bc8 21.Bb5+ Qxb5 22.Rxb5. Black resigned a few moves later. With three '!' moves out of five, this is the sort of play we expect from World Champions.

To play through the complete game see...

Vasily Smyslov vs Mikhail Botvinnik, World Championship Match 1954

...on Chessgames.com.