30 October 2007

A Correspondence Exchange Sacrifice

Expanding on Petrosian's Exchange Sacrifice, the positional exchange sacrifice has been honed into a routine weapon since Petrosian's heyday, 40-50 years ago. I ran into a nice example yesterday.

Marc Geenen is an ICCF GM who qualified for the 22nd ICCF World Championship by winning a strong candidate section. He annotated the following game from that event in L'Echiquier Belge, October 2007. In the diagrammed position White has just sacrificed a Pawn. Geenen noted:

White obtains compensation since it is not easy for me to develop the Queenside. Since we are approaching the endgame, White has just decided to centralize the King in order to join the Rooks. Considering the continuation of the game, it was probably preferable to castle. How to liberate the Black Queenside? Certainly 16...Na6 is possible, but permits 17.Bxa6 bxa6 18.Nc5, while 16...Nd7 17.Bd5 does not solve all of the problems.


I was particularly satisfied with my solution, even more because it wasn't suggested by any analysis engine. At first glance impossible, the move is a prelude to an excellent positional sacrifice.

The possibility of 17.Bd5 makes the text look like a blunder.

Geenen, Marc

Barnsley, Tony
(After 16.Ke1-e2)
[FEN "rnb2rk1/ppB1ppbp/6p1/7n/2B1N3/4P3/P2NKPPP/1R5R b - - 0 16"]

The game continued 17.Bd5 Ba6+ 18.Kf3. Geenen: 'Forced, because 18.Kd1 can be answered with 18...Nc6 19.Bxc6 Rac8. 18...Nd7. Geenen: 'More convincing than 18...Nc6?! 19.Rhc1 Rac8 20.Rxc6 Bb7 21.Rbc1 which leads to enormous complications.'

19.Bxa8 Rxa8 20.g4 Geenen: 'Other moves leave the White King without a safe haven.' 20...f5 21.gxh5 fxe4+ 22.Kg2 gxh5. Geenen summed up the position this way:

Now Black has the advantage. There are not only two Pawns for the exchange, but also several very strong pieces. In particular there is an excellent Bishop pair that assures positional domination, as demonstrated by the following moves.

The game continued 23.Nb3 Rc8 24.Rbc1 Bb2 25.Rc2 Ba3 26.Nd4 Nc5 27.Bg3 Bd3 28.Rd2 Kf7, and Black won in 59 moves.

28 October 2007

Biographical Data for Soviet Players

I have only a short note to write today. I looked at the first few names on my database of Soviet Players, compared them to a few of my sources at hand, and checked the results.

I counted:-
50 names starting with 'A' or 'B' (e.g. Alekhine & Botvinnik), and found
46 listed in 'Chess Personalia' by Gaige,
42 listed in the Chessgames.com: Chess Player Directory, and
23 listed in 'The Oxford Companion to Chess' by Hooper and Whyld.

All 50 names are listed in at least one reference. That's an encouraging start!

26 October 2007

Alekhine BBC Interview

This 'video' is a radio interview set to a few photos, mainly of the fourth World Champion.

Alekhine Interview (4:25) • BBC 1938

The introduction is by Hanon Russell of ChessCafe.com, where you should be able to find a transcript of the interview buried inside a PDF document.

24 October 2007

An Obvious Positional Advantage

Continuing with Petrosian's Exchange Sacrifice, Petrosian evaluated the position shown in the diagram with 'White has an obvious positional advantage'.

Black has a backward Pawn e7, White the strong Knight on c6. The usual method for White is pressure by Rooks along the e-file to force ...e6. After the exchange on e6 Black has new troubles. Without hurry, through positional transformations, White increases his positional plus. The natural order of moves would be Re1 followed by Bf4 or Bg5, depending on Black's reaction, so as to exercise a lasting pressure which could grow step by step.

Instead, Portisch played 24.Bg5.

Now Black could have played 24...Bf6, 24...Nf6, or even 24...Nb8, protecting the attacked Pawn. The move Black cannot dream about is ...f6. But after White's inaccuracy, the idea of ....e5 fascinated me. If White takes en passant, Black can hold the position: he recaptures with the Rook, has the strong Bishop g7, another Rook goes to e8, and the Knights are good.

Petrosian trusted his intuition and played 24...e5.

Portisch thought some ten minutes, looking at me all the time. He couldn't decide whether I had sacrificed an exchange or blundered it away. Finally, after the game, he said he had decided that it was a blunder. Therefore he took the exchange and got a bad position.

How many players wouldn't have taken the exchange?

San Antonio 1972
Petrosian, Tigran

Portisch, Lajos
(After 23...Ne4-c5)
[FEN "4rrk1/1bqnppbp/1pNp2p1/pPnP4/2P5/4BB2/P4PPP/1NRQ1RK1 w - - 0 24"]

The game continued 25.Be7 f5 26.Bxf8 Nxf8.

The position has been changed radically in two moves. White has a Rook for a minor piece but no active play: all the files are closed, while Rooks are valuable only when they operate on open lines. The Black Pawn stands on e5, not e7, so the White Knight is very beautiful, but nothing else. Situations might arise where Black could have an extra piece in action. Unfortunately I failed to win this game, although Black undoubtedly had the edge.

[To be continued]

To play through the complete game see...

Lajos Portisch vs Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian, San Antonio 1972

...on Chessgames.com.

22 October 2007

Chess Product Odds & Ends

While working on my chess links for About Chess, I always have a few interesting links that, for some reason, aren't quite suitable for the published lists. This month's topic was Resources for Chess Products and Shopping, and these were my leftover links:

  • Home > Buy > Search: chess Selling Leads • www.alibaba.com • Import/export anyone?

  • Chess Mould kits by Prince August • www.princeaugust.ie • Make your own theme chess set?

  • Museum of Chess Programs • www.gambitchess.com • Download the executables.

  • ChessTheatre • www.dgtprojects.com • DGT sells good products, but this one's a mystery; whatever, it's free.

  • Russian Chess : Handcrafted by Russian Artists in St. Petersburg • wanspages.prodigy.net • One of a kind sets, many of them already sold.

I especially liked browsing the Alibaba.com offerings.

20 October 2007

Soviet Players

As I mentioned in my post on The Soviet School, I would like to concentrate more on the players than on the events, which have been well covered elsewhere. I decided that a good place to start was by identifying the most important players.

Analyzing my PGN file on the 58 Soviet Championships, with results mainly from the finals, I came up with the names of 304 different players who have competed in at least one event. While I'm not certain that this is complete or error free, it's a good start. It at least gives me several hundred names that I don't have to retype.

I compared this list with the names referenced in Kotov and Yudovich's book. The bulk of the book, called Part Two, has chapters on grandmasters (with sections of varying length on 19 players: Botvinnik, Smyslov, etc.), prominent masters (24 players: Alatortsev, Aronin, etc.), and women players (8 players: Bykova, Rubtsova, etc.).

Part One is an introduction to the Soviet School. It has full chapters on Chigorin and Alekhine, along with sections on other prominent masters -- Petrov, Grigoriev, and Ryumin to name a few -- who were deceased when the book was written in 1958. I counted 17 players, and added Bogolyubov, who is mentioned only in passing. He had not yet been 'rehabilitated' at the time of writing, but is nevertheless an important player who participated in two early championships.

At the end of the book is an appendix with the same 19 grandmasters and a fuller list of 110 masters, many of them unknown to me previously. The masters repeat the names of the 32 men and women mentioned earlier in the book, although one appears to have been misidentified in the appendix ('Sokolovsky' instead of 'Sokolsky'). Merging these names with those from the Soviet Championships gave me a list of 359 players for further investigation.

The Soviet lists of grandmasters and masters are *not* the same as those based on the FIDE titles. I wasn't able to pin down the exact criteria for awarding titles, which will have to wait for another day.

Women players, as usual, present special challenges. I don't have a good reference for Soviet Women's Championships and I'm not certain that one exists. I'll see what I can do as the project evolves.

Next step: Gather basic biographical data from various sources.

18 October 2007

Mongols, Russia, and Strobeck

While gathering various references on Soviet chess, I recorded the summary of a relevant chapter in Murray's 'History of Chess' (1913, 1962), p.366.

Chapter XVIII - Chess in Central and Northern Asia, and in Russia : Unclassified Varieties; Nomenclature; References to chess as played by the Tibetans, Mongols, and other Siberian races; Probable origin of the game; Chess in Turkestan, Armenia, and Georgia; The older chess of Russia; Its ancestry; Nomenclature; History; Pieces; Possible traces of Asiatic influence further West; Ströbeck [Stroebeck, Strobeck]; Conclusions

The mention of Strobeck, located in Germany and often called 'the chess village', caught my immediate attention. It was the subject of a YouTube video -- Strobeck -- recently featured on this blog. What is the connection between Strobeck and chess in Russia? A section in Murray titled 'Possible traces of Mongol chess in Central Europe' (p.388) provided more information.

Certain peculiarities of play that began soon after 1600 to appear in chess as played in different regions of the great Central Plain of Europe are identical with some of the special features that exist in Russian chess, or in the Asiatic games decribed in this chapter. These peculiarities of rule have generally been held to be due to an undercurrent of Mongol or Asiatic influences that was travelling westwards during the Middle Ages.

The rules were:

  • Both players can make two moves on the first turn.
  • Attack on the Queen should be announced.
  • A stalemated player wins the game (yes, wins!).

After describing some of the variations on these rules, Murray continued

Another variety of chess, exhibiting some of the special features just described, has long been associated with the village of Strobeck near Halberstadt in the Harz Mountains, which has been noted since the beginning of the 17th cent. for that fact that chess has maintained an extraordinary popularity among all classes of its inhabitants.

Murray then described other chess rules peculiar to Strobeck and summarized

The hypothesis that these German varieties of chess represent the western limit of a migration by way of Central Asia has this in it favour, that it enables us to to arrange the story so as to show an orderly and self-consistent development. [...] We are really thrown back upon the argument that the mathematical chances are so great against two peoples developing the same varieties of rule, that the existence of common rules must presuppose a relationship between the games in which they occur.

He discussed briefly the possibility that the Russian and Mongol rules were adapted as European rules moved eastward, but concluded, 'I am inclined to think that the other view is the more probable, and that these peculiarities of rule are of Eastern origin.' Murray's 'History' is difficult to read in sequence from the first page to the last, but his detailed treatment of hundreds of small subjects like Strobeck is always a fountain of obscure information.


Note: One of a half-dozen posts in Chess Carnival IV: December Edition. I don't think this idea is going to survive much longer. I wonder what the problem is. • In Carnival Reaction, J.C. Hallman, author of 'The Chess Artist', had a comment on the subject of my post.

16 October 2007

Blockaded Pawns Interfere with Rooks

The next position in the series on Petrosian's Exchange Sacrifice, again shows Petrosian sacrificing an exchange to escape from a difficult position. On the diagrammed position, he explained his reasoning for offering the sacrifice.

Petrosian: An experienced player could tell at once that White's position is rather difficult. Black's pieces are very active, and he has mobile e- and f-Pawns. If he advances his e-Pawn (e.g. after ...Rf6 and ...Raf8), White would be in great danger. Usually if one's opponent has hanging Pawns one should try to provoke the advance of one Pawn in order to blockade them by occupying the weak square in front of the rear Pawn (e4 here). But now the square e4 is beyond White's control because of the very favorable placement of Black's minor pieces.

Black continued 25...Ra6.

Petrosian: He could play 25...Rf6 followed by 26...Raf8. The text move is more inventive: Gligoric moves his Rook to f6 via the sixth rank and avoids any need of calculating the consequences of 26.d6.

Now the move 26.Bf3 took control of e4, but left d3 for Black's minor pieces. The control of e4 has tactical support.

Petrosian: White would seem to be making a mistake as now 26...e4 could follow with a gain of tempo. However, White's response would be 27.Qd4 when 27...Nd3 would be met by the same exchange sacrifice as in the game, but the Pawn e4 would hang. If 27...Qe7, then 28.Re2 with very sharp play.


Petrosian: White's position seems completely hopeless. Black intends to play 27...e4, possibly preceded by ...b6. White seems to have no way of taking control of e4 because his Rooks are misplaced and cannot be moved to the e-file: 27.Re2 Bd3, or 27.Re1 Nd3, apparently with dark prospects for White. But nevertheless I played 27.Re1!, a purely positional exchange sacrifice. Again White does not wait to make a decision. He makes it because he has foreseen eventual consequences and realizes what could happen.

Varna Olympiad 1962
Gligoric, Svetozar

Petrosian, Tigran
(After 25.Kg1-h1)
[FEN "r4rk1/1pp5/6bp/p1nPp1q1/2P2p2/2N5/PP1QBRPP/5R1K b - - 0 25"]

27.Re1 How many players would walk voluntarily into the Knight fork? 27...Nd3 28.Rfe2 Nxe1 29.Qxe1

Petrosian: The Pawn e5 hangs. If Black gives it up White would have a Pawn as compensation for the exchange.

29...Re8 30.c5

Petrosian: Yes, Black has the exchange extra, but if you have some time to consider the position attentively, and try some lines, you should feel that the material plus means nothing. Gligoric failed to find something better than 30...Rff8 31.Ne4 and he offered a draw.

1/2-1/2. To play through the complete game see...

Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian vs Svetozar Gligoric, Olympiad 1962

...on Chessgames.com.

14 October 2007

The Soviet School

With this post I'm starting a new series on the somewhat neglected topic of the Soviet school of chess, with an emphasis on the players. My objective will be to identify and explore resources, whether Web or whatnot, that I haven't explored sufficiently and perhaps to add some info that is not already on the Web.

The title 'Soviet School' is misleading. I don't want to exclude pre-1917 or post-Soviet events and players, but I can't think of a better name. The title 'Russian School' is worse, for obvious reasons.

Eventually I'll pick a fixed day to give this little project some priority, Like Video Friday and World Championship Wednesday. Maybe it will be when I post on the weekend.

My resources at hand are skimpy:-

  • 'The Soviet School of Chess' by Kotov and Yudovich
  • 'The Soviet Championships' by Cafferty and Taimanov
  • 'Chess Personalia' by Gaige
  • 'The Oxford Companion to Chess' by Hooper and Whyld
  • PGN file of Soviet Championships (no.1 to 58)

I'll add to those as I identify opportunities. Since I don't want to clutter the sidebar with too many links, I'll keep track of them in this post:-


Later: A few more titles at hand:-

  • 'The Younger School of Soviet Chess' by Soltis
  • 'Soviet Chess' by Grekov
  • 'Soviet Chess' by Richards


2009-09: Titles acquired since I started this series on Soviet chess:-

  • 'Soviet Chess 1917-1991' by Soltis
  • 'Soviet Chess' by Wade

All biographical material is useful, although certain biographies are more useful than others. Books that are mainly a collection of annotated games tend to be less useful; when they have an introduction summarizing the career of the player, they become more useful. Here's a list of titles that I've found useful:-

  • '100 Selected Games' by Botvinnik
  • 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' by Bronstein and Fuerstenberg (esp. '50 Games with Comments')
  • 'Women in Chess' by Graham
  • 'My Great Predecessor' series by Kasparov
  • 'The Complete Games of Paul Keres' by Keres
  • 'Life and Games of Mikhail Tal' by Tal
  • Multiple titles by Karpov and by Korchnoi
  • See also Fizkultura i Sport Black Books and Black Books Revisited

Titles on different World Championships, including candidate events and other qualifiers, are more useful when they discuss the careers of the players.

[To be continued?]

12 October 2007

Bobby's Parents

The title of this clip is not well chosen, but it does describe the content. Warning: Contains offensive material.

Bobby Fischer - His hatred for Jews (4:31) • 'Anything to Win' [GSN]

Left: Bobby Fischer
Right: Paul Nemenyi

10 October 2007

A Bit About About

Interview with Scott Meyer, CEO About.com

'paidContent.org, flagship of the ContentNext Media network, provides global coverage of the business of digital content.' • Unfortunately, the interviewer is a bit of a mumbler, but the discussion is interesting if you're interested in digital media.

About.com Management

About.com From Wikipedia

08 October 2007

Label BlogCarnival

Journal entry for Posts with label Blog Carnival: I'll add the link to the carnivals as a Note to each post.

06 October 2007

A Fischer Botch?

My current bedtime reading is 'The Day Kasparov Quit', a New in Chess book by Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam. Nearly every interview has several points worth pursuing. Most have them have to do with chess politics, World Championship politics in particular, but there is an occasional item relevant to a famous game.

The latest passage that caught my eye was a remark by Korchnoi (p.238):

Even a splendid chess player is capable of producing negligent or botched work! Like Fischer with the analysis of this game [Fischer - Korchnoi, Stockholm Interzonal 1962] in 'My 60 Memorable Games'. He must have thought the public would be happy with anything he did.

Having no idea what Korchnoi was talking about, I turned to Chessgames.com:

Robert James Fischer vs Viktor Korchnoi, Stockholm Interzonal 1962

One kibitzer wrote, 'In his new book, Korchnoi shows how Fischer has quoted his (VK's) comments in his own (RJF's). And gives some more analysis. Better moves he suggests are: 21.Bd2 or 21.Re2; 23...g6; 35.Qf4; 36...Rb7; 37.Rc6 or 37.Bd3. And of course the crucial ...g5 on 38. and 39.' • Fischer contradicted Korchnoi's opinion on several of these moves. Did he overlook something in his own analysis?


Here's a memorable quote by Bronstein (p.237): 'Just because you didn't become World Champion everything you've ever done is put in a completely different perspective. There are many strong grandmasters, but apparently none of them can compare to these great champions.'

04 October 2007

Label Tablebase

I find tablebase positions so intriguing that I added a new label: Posts with label Tablebase. Now that six pieces positions are solved, how long will it take to complete the tablebase for seven pieces? Given theoretical constraints like storage issues or the computational complexity of creating a tablebase, what is the upper limit on the number of pieces that can be solved for all positions using tablebases?

02 October 2007

Tablebase 2 - Botvinnik 0

In Tablebase 1 - Botvinnik 0, I pointed out some incorrect analysis which Botvinnik published on an endgame of K + 2N vs. K + P. The correct solution can be found by looking up the position in an endgame tablebase. The 2N vs. P analysis wasn't the only elementary endgame that Botvinnik botched in his published notes. The diagram shows a position from Botvinnik's 'Best Games 1947-1970' (p.65). The sixth World Champion played 57.Qxe6 and wrote

So we have a Queen ending with a NP, the second time I have had such an ending, the first being vs. Ravinsky in the XIII U.S.S.R. Championship 1944 which was apparently only the second time in master praxis.
In the game vs. Ravinsky I didn't play convincingly and Keres in a long analytical article in 'Chess for 1947-49' criticized my play. As the reader will see from what follows, my play in that game really did deserve criticism as I simply did not understand this ending at that time.

Botvinnik doesn't say so in that comment, but his preceding and subsequent notes indicate that he considered the position a win for White. A five piece tablebase, however, shows that the position is a draw.

Olympiad, Amsterdam 1954
Minev, Nikolay

Botvinnik, Mikhail
(After 56...Kb4-a5)
[FEN "8/8/4p3/k6K/6Q1/6P1/8/q7 w - - 0 57"]

Botvinnik wrote, 'The Pawn gets to g6 pretty quickly', and the next few moves, showing accurate play by both sides, bear that out: 57...Qh8+ 58.Kg6 Qc3 59.g4 Qd2 60.g5. Here Minev played 60...Qd4. Botvinnik said nothing, but the move loses in another 65 moves. Black has five moves to hold the draw, one of which is 60...Qh2.

Now 61.Kh7 is the only move to win. Botvinnik played instead 61.Qf5+, reverting to a theoretical draw. The game continued 61...Ka4 62.Kh5 Qh8+ 63.Kg4, when 63...Ka3, among other moves, keeps the draw. Minev continued 63...Qh1, which should lose in 39 moves.

For the next 14 moves, White kept the theoretical win in hand, although without making real progress. After Black's 76th move, White's win in 39 had become a win in 60. On the 77th move he stumbled into another theoretical draw. This was quickly reversed as Black in turn blundered into a win in 35 for White. Botvinnik was able to hold this, scoring the full point on the 91st move.

In case there is any doubt, my purpose in writing this is not to ridicule Botvinnik. It is rather to point out that even the world's greatest players can conduct elementary endgames like blind people in a snowball fight. Is this perhaps a statement on humankind's general ability to conduct a game of chess?

To play through the complete game see...

Mikhail Botvinnik vs Nikolay Minev, Netherlands 1954

...on Chessgames.com. There the kibitzers point out that the Botvinnik - Ravinsky game is covered in Fine's 'Basic Chess Endings'. Did Fine understand the Q + NP vs. Q ending better than Botvinnik?