31 January 2011

Another 21 Move Brilliancy

The game R.Byrne - Fischer, U.S. Championship 1963 (see that post for background and a link to the first 21 Move Brilliancy in this series) is one of Fischer's most famous wins, partly because of the strength of Fischer's opponent, himself one of the leading American players; partly because of the sudden end (Byrne: 'at the very moment at which I resigned, both grandmasters who were commenting on the play for the spectators in a separate room believed that I had a won game!'); and partly because people often confuse it with the 'Game of the Century', Fischer's even more famous 1956 win over Robert's brother Donald.

As I pointed out in The Longest Analyses, Fischer devoted a full page to White's 14.Rfd1, calling it 'another of those melancholy case histories entitled "the wrong Rook"' and suggesting 14.Rad1, an assessment with which all subsequent analysts agree, Kasparov included. [Re "the wrong Rook", what other games are well known?] After 14...Nd3, the game reached the position shown in the diagram.

U.S. Championship 1963
Fischer, Robert

Byrne, Robert
After 14...Ne5-d3

Byrne played 15.Qc2, where Fischer commented,'There is hardly any other defense to the threat of 15...Ne4', and among other tries gave '15.Nd4 Ne4 16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.Bb2 Rc8 with a powerful bind'. Kasparov gave 15.Qc2 a '?' and commented, 'This loses the game, but it is not easy to find a more tenacious defense. The following variations are possible:', where he built on Fischer's analysis. After repeating the entire variation from 15.Nd4!? through 'powerful bind', he added, 'but Huebner rightly considers this to be White's best chance and he suggests 18.a4. However, here too after 18...Qg5 Black has an obvious advantage thanks to his powerful Knight at d3.'

In An Olympiad Bind, I already discussed the difficulties of using an engine to analyze a bind and won't repeat those points here. Kasparov might agree, because, unlike the Olympiad example, he gives no further analysis. There are alternatives to both 18.a4 and 18...Qg5, and the best continuation is not obvious. The computer wants to swap a pair of minor pieces on b2 and another pair on d4, then go after White's isolated Pawn on d4. A GM might prefer to torture White by leaving the minor pieces in play and building pressure with the Rooks on the c-file.

Whichever move loses the game, 14.Rfd1 or 15.Qc2, both moves were necessary to arrive at a hopeless position on move 21. It also took Fischer's genius to find the startling continuation that crushed his opponent. With this kind of form, it's little wonder that he finished the event with a perfect +11-0=0, a preview of his match whitewashes in 1971.

28 January 2011

The Fractals of Chess

This image reminds me of the first post I did in this series, Flickr Friday, although it was by another artist.

Infinite Double Chess © Flickr user The Celebrated Mr. K under Creative Commons.

More images courtesy Google: chess fractals.

27 January 2011

Austin and Eames

What's with all of these auctions for Austin Enterprises chess sets? My very first post in this fortnightly series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price featured one such auction and mentioned, 'I noticed six for aluminum chess sets by Austin Enterprises. Five of the sets sold in the range of $555 to $760.' Today I find that eight sets were offered over the last two weeks (one of them twice), with five selling in the range US $257.50 to $629.99. The one that sold for the least received the highest number of bids (19 bids).

The description on the set pictured second from the left in the top row (14 bids, winning bid $609.99) said,

Up for bidding is an Austin Cox Enterprises Aluminum Chess Set and Board dated 1962. In 1962, as part of a "space age" marketing program, ALCOA Aluminum commissioned designer Austin Cox to design several chess sets to be made completely out of aluminum.

This auction includes an original set, the original 30 inch walnut display case and an original aluminum and felt chess board. Each Pawn measures 33 /4 inches tall. The King measures 4 7/8 inches. The board measures 13 3/4 inches square.

An excellent example of 1960s "Modernist" design, each piece is cut from a formed bar of aluminum. From the face, the black and white pieces look the same. But the uncut sides of the black pieces are anodized black.

The set that sold for $257.50 came with a warning: 'This set DOES NOT come with a display case or chess board.' Are the case and board worth $350, or is the lower winning bid because 'This auction is available to U.S. bidders only'?

For more images, see a Google image search on 'chess set austin enterprises'. That same search without restrictions turns up pages like 1962 Austin Enterprises Chess Set ('This amazing modernist / Eames era chess set by Austin Enterprises from 1962 is swell!') with 45 comments.

The name Eames is frequently associated with these sets. As far as I can tell, it refers to Charles and Ray Eames [Wikipedia], 'American designers, who worked in and made major contributions to modern architecture and furniture. They also worked in the fields of industrial and graphic design, fine art and film.' As impressive as the connection might be, I don't believe they had anything to do with the Austin Enterprises set.

25 January 2011

Tablebase 1 - Levenfish & Smyslov ½

After writing Levenfish's Rook Endings, I set off to investigate some of the points raised at the end of that post about Levenfish and Smyslov's classic. My first action, as with all endgame books written before the computer age, was to check the analysis on positions with six pieces or less by comparing it with a tablebase. The first three chapters of Rook Endings,

  1. Introduction
  2. Rook and Pawn vs. Rook
  3. Rook and Two vs. Rook
i.e. two Kings plus two Rooks plus max two Pawns, lend themselves to this sort of analysis. As you would expect, the analysis was impeccable, until I checked the position shown in the following diagram. The authors wrote,
The diagram is very interesting. White's King is cut off from the Pawns, and maneuvers with the King and Rook fail to improve White's position, e.g.
  • 1.Rg8 Kh5, or
  • 1.Re5 Rg1 2.Re3 Kh5 3.Ke5, or
  • 1.Kd4 Re2 2.Kd3 Re1 3.Kd2 Re8 4.Rc5 Rg8 5.Rc3 Kh5 6.Ke2 Kg4 7.Kf2 Kh3 with a draw
Therefore, there is only one other possible winning try: 1.g4 [...]

The tablebase disagrees, saying that all 14 of White's legal moves, with the exception of the four moves that hang the Rook, are winning. The fastest win, in 40 moves, is indeed 1.g4, but the three others (1.Rg8, 1.Re5, and 1.Kd4) win in 42, 42, and 41 moves respectively. Furthermore, the authors' analysis of 1.g4 is faulty.

Levenfish & Smyslov no.101
White to Move

How to explain this total breakdown in evaluation by two of the world's leading grandmasters and endgame specialists of their day? Of course, it's impossible to say for sure, but I suspect they overlooked an important mechanism available to White. Here is the tablebase analysis of the variation starting 1.Rg8.

1.Rg8 Kh5 2.Rg5+ Kh6 3.g4 Ra1 4.Re5 Rg1 5.Rh5+ Kg6 6.Rg5+ Kf6 7.Ke4 Re1+ 8.Kf3 Rf1+ 9.Kg2 Ra1 10.Rf5+ Kg6 11.h5+ Kh6 12.Rf6+ Kg7 13.Rd6 Ra3 14.h6+ Kh7 15.Kf2 Ra5 16.Kg3 Rb5 17.Kh4 Rb1 18.Kh5 Rh1+ 19.Kg5 Ra1 20.Rd7+ Kg8 21.Kh5 Ra2 22.g5 Ra5 23.Kg6 Ra6+ 24.Kf5 Ra5+ 25.Kf6 Ra6+ 26.Ke5 Ra5+ 27.Rd5 Ra6 28.Rd6 Ra1 29.g6 Re1+ 30.Kf4 Rf1+ 31.Kg3 Kf8 32.h7 Ke7 33.Kg2 Ra1 34.Rd2 Ra6 35.h8=Q

To explain the winning procedure in words, the White King first chases the Black Rook from behind the Pawns (9.Kg2). Then White simultaneously advances all four pieces to push the Black King to its first rank (20...Kg8). Finally, White uses a bridge-building mechanism similar to the one used in the Lucena position (27.Rd5) to stop the Black Rook from checking on the side.

As for the analysis after 1.g4, Levenfish & Smyslov give 1.g4 Rh1 2.Rh5+ Kg6 3.Kd6 Rh2 4.Ke7(?) Kg7(?), with the comment 'the threat was Ke7-f8-g8 followed by Rh7'. The tablebase isn't intimidated by this 'threat', giving 4...Re2+! (only move), and if 5.Kf8, then 5...Rf2+ 6.Kg8 Rf4! (only move). Instead of 4.Ke7?, White wins with 4.Ke6, among other moves.

The rest of the section on K+R+gh vs. K+R is correct. When the authors wrote of no.101, 'The diagram is very interesting', little did they suspect how interesting it really was.


Later: There's a glitch in the analysis after the diagram. I gave 1.Rg8 Kh5 2.Rg5+ Kh6, which just repeats the diagrammed position, when the move 3.g4 is identical to 1.g4. Then I looked at the two other lines, starting 1.Re5 and 1.Kd4, and discovered that White also plays g3-g4 as soon as possible. These eventually transpose into the same optimal solution given after 1.g4.

24 January 2011

The Longest Analyses

While studying the current game, R.Byrne - Fischer, U.S. Championship 1963, in this series on 18 Memorable Games, I noticed that Fischer's notes to 14.Rfd1 were almost a full page. Is this the move that received the most attention in My 60 Memorable Games? Not by a long shot it turns out.

The move that received the most attention in Fischer's memorable book is shown in the following diagram. He devoted two full pages (including two diagrams) to it, trying to prove that, contrary to Botvinnik's analysis, he had indeed missed a win against the reigning World Champion.

1962 Varna Olympiad
Fischer, Robert

Botvinnik, Mikhail
After 51.Kg3-f3

The five longest analyses are shown in the following table, with links to the corresponding game at Chessgames.com.

The last game in the list, Fischer - Shocron, is a game where Fischer spent a half page discussing a position in the Ruy Lopez Closed Variation. There are many analyses of similar length and this discussion happens to be slightly longer than the others.

21 January 2011

'The Queen of Katwe'

This clip, about Phiona Mutesi of Uganda, starts,

My father died of AIDS when I was three years old. My mother could no longer afford to pay my school fees. It was very hard to not be in school. I was in the slums alone. I did not have hope. Then I discovered chess.

For a written account of the same story, see Game of her life (espn.go.com).

Slum Queen (6:14) • 'Silent Images, while traveling with ESPN and serving Sports Outreach, has produced this trailer which tells the inspiring story of Phiona, the chess champion from the slums of Uganda.'

For a less charitable account of the same story, see ESPN Discovers a Chess Prodigy. Or Not. (gambit.blogs.nytimes.com).

20 January 2011

Levenfish's Rook Endings

The January 2011 issue of Chess Life featured a number of great articles, including an 18 page report on the U.S. performance at the recent 2010 Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Following this was a six page instructional article titled 'Vasily Smyslov's Opening Contributions' (USchess.org) by Russell Potter. Interspersed with specific examples of Smyslov's opening inventions were a number of sections documenting Smyslov's other contributions to chess. I especially liked the following.

Contributions To Endgame Strategy: Smyslov recalls that early in his life, he was taught a love of simple positions, endings and endgame studies from his father, who was a player of near master strength. Garry Kasparov and many other grandmaster authorities hold that during the 1950s, Smyslov had no equal in this phase of chess. A common piece of grandmaster advice is to study the endgames that Smyslov played in actual competitions.

One of the most important types of endings are rook endings, particularly those in which each side has a rook and one or more pawns. It is often noted that rook endings are so important because they occur more frequently than any other type of ending.

In 1971, Vasily Smyslov and Grigory Levenfish wrote a book on this very subject that was titled simply, Rook Endings. This book was published in a unique format. Instead of following the format of previous endgame books on rook endings, the authors put little emphasis on whether the pawns were on the third or fourth or fifth ranks, or whether they were on the knight file or the bishop file or the center files.

What was really revolutionary about this book was the emphasis that was placed on the properties of the rooks and kings themselves! The book’s classification schemes were both original and practical. How active were the two kings? How active were their rooks? Where were they in relation to their own passed pawns? To those of their opponent?

Positional draws, counterattacks, perpetuals and even mating attacks abounded throughout the book. Whereas the works of Berger, Fine, Euwe, Cheron and Averbakh had focused heavily on the precise squares, ranks and files that the pawns were on, Rook Endings forced the reader to pay a much greater attention to the dynamic interactions of the pieces. While completely sound instructionally, the difference in emphasis was as unmistakable as it was refreshing. It was at once a more fun read and a more instructive read as well.

To top it off, Rook Endings featured a unique set of 22 rules at the very end of the book. The authors referred to them as "General Conclusions." These well-selected examples could stand alone as an excellent summary guide of the proper way to play rook endings. These "General Conclusions" are so informative that I always urge all of my students to go to the back of their copy of Rook Endings and study these through several times before actually beginning to study the book at its front.

From a chess instructor’s perspective, Rook Endings stands as one of the great historical publications on the practical endgame. Countless American classrooms, Summer teaching camps, chess club study groups and individual American chessplayers have benefitted enormously from this book.

One reason I liked this excerpt was that I had just finished reading Russian Silhouettes by Genna Sosonko (New in Chess, 2009), a book in which each chapter presents an insightful sketch of a different Soviet player (plus a chapter on Capablanca and his Russian wife Olga). The last chapter, titled 'The Summing Up', is about Grigory Levenfish (1889-1961), co-author of Rook Endings. Although listed first on the title page of the book itself, his name is usually listed by others only second after Smyslov's, as in the excerpt above, or omitted entirely, i.e. Smyslov's Rook Endings. The introduction to Sosonko's chapter on Levenfish says,

In the chess history of the last century, with its wealth of events and personalities, his name can be found only in footnotes. Appreciated by rare connoisseurs, he stayed in the memory of only a few people, but not in the collective memory, and today his name is almost forgotten. [...] Lasker and Capablanca considered him to be the strongest player in the Soviet Union after Botvinnik. When remembering him, Smyslov, Bronstein and Taimanov, Korchnoi and Spassky use the epithets outstanding, remarkable, and eminent. Even today, looking back at events of more than half a century ago, they, the champions and vice-champions of the world, the strongest players of their time, speak of him as someone from their ranks. (p.190)

Later in the same chapter, Sosonko quotes Smyslov.

Smyslov remembers: 'Grigory Yakovlevich was a highly intelligent person, but he lived a poor life. A difficult life. In his last few years he came to me with a stack of paper, the manuscript of his book on Rook endings, and asked me to check it. We spent many days under a lamp made of Sèvres porcelain, analysing and talking. [...] I checked his analyses and made corrections in places, but it was he who did all the hard work.' (p.216)

At the risk of exceeding fair use by a country mile, here are the general conclusions in the last chapter of Rook Endings.

  1. The basis of all Rook endings is the endgame with R + P vs R. The inferior side must try to get Philidor's position, the superior side must prevent it.

  2. Having the Rook on the short side and the King, cut off from the Pawn, on the long side in most cases makes it more difficult to save the game.

  3. With the Rook on the short side, attacking the Pawn from behind saves the inferior side if the Pawn is on the 5th or beyond.

  4. The Rook is a long-range piece and can force the enemy King with checks right to the other end of the board. Use this method of defense in appropriate cases.

  5. The difficult ending with the BP and RP pair requires a knowledge of intermediate positions.

  6. A RP on the 7th, defended by a Rook on the 8th and attacked by a Rook from behind, does not win, even if there is a NP on the other wing.

  7. The possibility of sheltering the King from checks in the immediate neighborhood of the passed Pawn (the principle of the flight square) often determines the outcome of the game.

  8. It is better to have active pieces and be a Pawn down than to have passively placed pieces with material equality.

  9. When a Rook pins a King to the edge of the board by cutting it off along the 7th rank, this creates the conditions for tactical operations. Particularly dangerous is the combined action of the King, Rook, and passed Pawn when the King has shelter from checks. This shelter can even be provided by enemy Pawns.

  10. A Rook and two connected passed Pawns generally win against a Rook and passed Pawn. If the passed Pawns have reached the 6th rank there is the possibility of sacrificing the Rook for the Pawn, transposing into a won ending of two connected passed Pawns vs. Rook. However, if the inferior side has a far advanced passed Pawn vs. a RP + NP pair the drawing chances are greater.

  11. With two disconnected Pawns against one passed Pawn important roles are played by the bridge and diversion.

  12. Isolate the enemy's King from your passed Pawn so that he cannot obstruct its advance.

  13. If the King can blockade an isolated Pawn that is guarded by its Rook, this is a considerable achievement positionally. Centralization of the King is the usual strategy in the endgame.

  14. If one Rook attacks a Pawn while the other is doomed to passive defense, this creates a prerequisite for the actively placed side to win. It is not yet the end, but it may be the beginning of the end.

  15. A passed Pawn supported by its Rook from behind means poor prospects for the inferior side if he cannot blockade the Pawn with his King.

  16. A Rook must be behind its own Pawn to push it through to the Queening square and behind an enemy Pawn to hinder its advance.

  17. In the event of an opponent's far advanced passed Pawn being blocked by the Rook, playing for Zugzwang often becomes a factor.

  18. Isolate your opponent's King from his passed Pawn so that he cannot help its advance.

  19. Setting up a passed Pawn often constitutes the only correct method of defense.

  20. Having got the enemy Rook into a passive position, widen the bridgehead for the operations of your active Rook.

  21. If both sides have passed Pawns it is important to force the enemy King by means of checks to take up a position in front of its Pawn, thereby obstructing its advance.

  22. Simplifying a Rook ending with numerous Pawns into a simpler ending which lends itself to an accurate appraisal is an important strategem that must be skilfully exploited in Rook endings.

Each one of those bullets requires further explanation and, along with brief examples in the concluding chapter, there are numerous detailed examples in the body of the book. No.5, on the 'BP and RP pair', takes five full pages of explanation. No.8, on the value of active pieces, might very well be a valid guideline not just for the endgame, but for the entire game. In no.11, I'm not sure what is meant by 'bridge and diversion', so I'll come back to this and other points in a future post.


Later: One of the posts included in Chess Blog Carnival: Coney Island Edition.

18 January 2011

'We Have to Take Him as He Is'

A few weeks ago, when I started reading ENDGAME by Frank Brady (Crown Publishers), I posted on the subject and asked myself two questions (from Blitzing Fischer):

First, given the great mass of material that is already available, what can one say about Bobby Fischer that hasn't been said? Second, what can Frank Brady say about Bobby Fischer that he hasn't said in 'Profile of a Prodigy'?

I often end up doing things backwards and this time was no different. I answered the second question, 'what can Frank Brady say about Bobby Fischer that he hasn't said in 'Profile of a Prodigy'?', in The Brady Bunch, and now I'll tackle the first question, 'what can one say about Bobby Fischer that hasn't been said?' Brady starts to answer this himself in his Author's Note:

As Virginia Woolf observed in her one attempt at writing a life story, that of artist Roger Fry: 'A biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may well have as many as one thousand.' Many lives, and then second and even third acts, constitute the drama of Bobby Fischer, but my attempt here was to delineate just one of Fischer’s kaleidoscopic personalities — that of a genius, an inwardly tortured warrior — and within that framework to capture his shifting identities and roles.

It will surprise no one that Fischer's main identity revolved around chess. Here I can easily identify over a dozen roles that Fischer played during his tumultuous career.

Fischer the chess player: the beginner -- the prodigy -- the U.S. champion -- the openings researcher -- the participant with endless demands -- the psychologist -- the World Championship candidate -- the World Champion -- the World Champion who refused to defend his title -- the World Champion who attempted a Rip Van Winkle comeback.

While Brady touches on all of the above, the first two and last two topics receive particular scrutiny. Since that list doesn't quite make a dozen, here are a few more topics related to Fischer's chess.

Fischer the chess author: Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess -- Boys Life -- My 60 Memorable GamesFischer the chess inventor: Fischer clock -- Fischer Random

I have a particular interest in Fischer Random chess, aka chess960, and posted about the subject in Brady on Fischer Random. While it's often remarked that Fischer died when he was 64 six years old, it's less often noticed that his life was divided into two halves, the first 32 years covering his chess years and the last 32 covering his anti-chess years.

During the first half of his life, Fischer had chess and chess had Fischer. His obsession made him World Champion, and becoming World Champion made him famous. During the second half of his life -- except for the second match with Spassky, nevertheless the source of serious future problems -- he shunned chess and became infamous. The same odd dichotomy of self-evident contrasts can be seen in other aspects of his life.

Fischer the fatherless; the boy with two fathers: Gerhard Fischer and Paul Nemenyi • Fischer the genius; the idiot savant: an IQ in the stratosphere • Fischer the half-Jew; the anti-Semite: and, as it now seems likely, the full-Jew • Fischer the fearless; the spritual searcher; the paranoid.

On that last point, Brady sketches a memorable image of young Fischer.

Bobby continued to twist the dial searching for other broadcasts and shows. Sometimes he'd settle for pop music, which if the volume was turned down low, still allowed him to concentrate on his board analysis. At other times, he'd hear late-night preachers, often of a fundamentalist bent, giving sermons and talks, usually about the meaning and interpretation of the Bible.

Intrigued, Bobby began listening more and more to religious radio programs, such as the revivalists Billy Graham's Hour of Decision, which featured sermons calling for listeners to give up their lives and be saved by Jesus Christ. Fischer also followed The Lutheran Hour and Music and the Spoken Word, a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that contained inspiring messages. (p.119)

An older Fischer is equally memorable, for completely different reasons.

He thought he needed protection from the U.S. government, which just might have him assassinated instead of extraditing him and bringing him home for a costly and unpopular trial. He was worried about Israel as well. because of his statements finding fault with Jews, he believed that either the Mossad or an inflamed pro-Israeli patriot might also try to kill him. And he'd always thought that the Soviets wanted him dead, because of the international embarrassment over the 1972 match, and his accusations of Russian cheating.

To protect himself, he bought a heavy coat made of horse leather that weighed more than thirty pounds; he hoped it would be thick enough to deflect a knife attack. It's also likely that he wore a bulletproof vest. (p.259)

There is much more material in the same vein.

Fischer the cold warrior: the hero of a nation; Fischer the stateless: the man without a country • Fischer the homeless; the penniless; the well-off: he was afraid of being exploited, died a millionaire, but left no will • Fischer the bachelor; the married; the father: or, as it now appears, not a father • Fischer the universally respected; the friendless.

That last point is the saddest dichotomy of them all. Fischer ultimately turned on everyone: his teacher Collins, his collaborator Evans, his negotiator Edmondson, his saviors the Icelanders.

By the fall of 2007, Bobby's disillusionment with Iceland was fixed. He called it a 'God-forsaken country' and referred to Icelanders as 'special but only in the negative sense'. If his Icelandic benefactors knew of his expressions of ingratitude ('I don't owe these people anything!' he spitefully proclaimed), they didn't discuss them publicly, a characteristic of many Scandinavians. Those who directly experienced his thanklessness were saddened but stoic. 'Well, that's Bobby', one Icelander observed. 'We have to take him as he is'. (p.313)

Good philosophy, that last remark; 'We have to take him as he is'. That's what we've always done and what we always will do. That's what Frank Brady has done in writing what is undoubtedly his last book on Fischer. Brady was fortunate to have known Fischer, and we are fortunate to have such a skilled observer and writer recounting the life of a most unusual chess player.

17 January 2011

R.Byrne - Fischer, U.S. Championship 1963

Just like the previous game (see Fischer - Benko, U.S. Championship 1963) in this series titled 18 Memorable Games, Fischer beats a top American GM (*) in 21 moves. Here he does it with the Black pieces. The game is no.48 in Fischer's 60 Memorable Games and no.71 in Kasparov's Predecessors IV. Once again, the PGN is given here with the punctuation of both Fischer and Kasparov.

[Event "US Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1963.??.??"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Byrne, R."]
[Black "Fischer, R."]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D71"]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 c6 4.Bg2 d5 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.e3 O-O 8.Nge2 Nc6 9.O-O b6 10.b3 Ba6 11.Ba3 Re8 12.Qd2 e5 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Rfd1 {FIS: '?'; KAS: '?'} 14...Nd3 {FIS: '!'; ; KAS: '!'} 15.Qc2 {KAS: '?'} 15...Nxf2 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 16.Kxf2 Ng4+ 17.Kg1 Nxe3 18.Qd2 Nxg2 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!!'} 19.Kxg2 d4 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 20.Nxd4 Bb7+ 21.Kf1 Qd7 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 0-1

Except for a '?' on White's 15th move and an extra '!' on Black's 18th, Kasparov has reused Fischer's punctuation. For my next post in the series I'll look at 15.Qc2 {KAS: '?'}, which Kasparov says was the losing move, rather than 14.Rfd1, given by almost all other commentators, Fischer included. To play through the complete game, see...

Robert Eugene Byrne vs Robert James Fischer; US Ch. 1963

...on Chessgames.com.


(*) Did Benko ever take American nationality? If so, what year?

14 January 2011

Escher Chess

Escher * Mundo Mágico * CCBB Brasília © Flickr user laudokn under Creative Commons.

CCBB = Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil • Here's another shot of the same structure: Escher no CCBB; and here are tons of images ('about 21,100') on the theme chess Escher.

13 January 2011

Engine Block Chess

For this next edition of Top eBay Chess Items by Price, I didn't want to feature another chess set just after the Janos Kadar Chess Set, but I didn't have much else to choose from. The item pictured in the photos was titled 'Audi V8 Engine Block Table and Chess Game'. It's certainly unique.

The description said,

This is a table I made from a spare engine I had. The engine was removed from a 1990 Audi V8 Quattro. The block is aluminum, so it can easily be picked up by one person. The chess game is made from valve train parts from the same engine. I am gauging interest on the idea. If it sells for what I would like I will consider making more.

The item received two bids and sold for US $500. It turns out that both bids were by the same bidder who was apparently trying to find the reserve price. My guess is that the seller will be making more.

11 January 2011

Players Missing from FIDE Ratings

Once in a while I like to load FIDE rating data into my database software and look at the numbers. A few years, while I was still with About.com, I presented some results in a post titled Ratings of Titled Players (see entry for 17 February 2008). Later I presented other results on this blog, as in Growth of the FIDE Rating System and Useless Stats/Qs about Ratings.

Since that last post was written two years ago using the January 2009 rating list (I use the January lists as a proxy for the preceding year), I downloaded the January data for 2010 and 2011, and started looking at the numbers. One of the first things I noticed was that the number of GMs had declined from 2010 to 2011. How, I asked myself, is this possible? A little investigation revealed that entire countries were missing from the list for January 2011.

Combining the data for all players for the four years 2008 through 2011, I counted 163 different federations (countries) on the list. Of those, 42 had no players listed in 2011. Of those, there were almost a dozen that had more than 100 players listed in 2008.

Is this because the federations haven't paid their dues? Whatever the reason, any statistics using this first 2011 rating list will be completely useless and misleading. Why try to promote chess when you are constantly watching out for its political establishment? Thanks, FIDE!

10 January 2011

A 21 Move Brilliancy

The diagram shows the critical position from the game Fischer - Benko, U.S. Championship 1963. The game continued 15.Qg3 Kh8 16.Qg4 c6 17.Qh5 Qe8 18.Bxd4 exd4, when Fischer stunned Benko with 19.Rf6. Kasparov called the last move 'A spectacular zwischenzug' and awarded it '!!'. Benko resigned two moves later.

To beat a world class GM in 20 moves takes some luck and the notes of both Fischer and Kasparov indicate that the luck came on the 15th move. The move 15.Qg3 threatens 16.Bh6 Ne6 17.Bxg7 Nxg7 18.Qxe5, winning a Pawn. Black took the easy road out of the pin with 15...Kh8, but the main question is what would have happened after 15...f5.

U.S. Championship 1963
Benko, Pal

Fischer, Robert
After 14...Ne8-d6

Fischer wrote,

On 15...f5 16.Bh6 Qf6 17.Bxg7 Qxg7 18.Qxg7+ Kxg7 19.exf5 N6xf5 20.Rae1 Rae8 21.Ne4 with a comfortable edge, but no forced win.

White's 'comfortable edge' stems from Black's isolated e-Pawn and the nice square e4 in front of it, where White can park the minor pieces and make threats all over the board. Kasparov, repeating Fischer's analysis, wrote,

Benko fails to exploit a chance opportunity -- 15...f5. After this Fischer gave 16.Bh6 Qf6 17.Bxg7 Qxg7 18.Qxg7+ Kxg7 19.exf5 N6xf5 20.Rae1 Rae8 21.Ne4 'with a comfortable edge', but after 21...Nd6 it is still possible to defend. In addition, 19...N4xf5! is more accurate, with good chances of equalizing.

I don't see much difference between Fischer's 'no forced win' and Kasparov's 'still possible to defend', so it looks like the ex-World Champions agree. As for 19...N4xf5, I don't see much difference with 19...N6xf5, the square e4 still being weak. After 19...N4xf5, White also has the additional possibility of 20.Rf3. Kasparov mentioned that 15.Rad1 was stronger than Fischer's 15.Qg3, an assessment the computer agrees with. If that move had been played, there would have been no brilliancy.

Chessgames.com notes that Fischer beat Benko +9-3=7 over his entire career. The score was +3-2=5 going into 1962 Curacao, +2-1=1 in that candidates event, and +4-0=1 thereafter.

07 January 2011

Polish Chess History

'Part one discusses the origins of chess in Poland, and the rise of world class masters such as Szymon Winawer and Johannes Zukertort. The segment concludes with a discussion of Gerz Salwe and his good pal, Akiva Rubinstein.'

Akiba Rubinstein and Polish Chess (1/3) (14:27) • 'This series examines Polish chess history from the Medieval period to the end of the Second World War.'

More chess history: YouTube - jessicafischerqueen's Channel.

06 January 2011

The Brady Bunch

In Blitzing Fischer, I wondered how much of Frank Brady's latest book on Bobby Fischer, 'ENDGAME' (Crown Publishers), overlapped his previous work 'Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy'. I have a copy of the 1989 edition of 'Profile of a Prodigy' (Dover Publications), which purports to be

an unabridged and unaltered republication of the 1973 revised edition of the work first published in 1965 by the David McKay Company, Inc., New York, under the title Profile of a Prodigy: The Life and Games of Bobby Fischer.

I also have a copy of the 1965 David McKay edition, making it easy to compare all three books by Brady. Since both editions of 'Profile of a Prodigy' lack a table of contents, I created them myself and appended them to the bottom of this post (the chapter summaries are mine), along with with a copy of the contents of the new book 'ENDGAME'. You can see immediately that the first eight chapters of the 1965 edition of 'Profile of a Prodigy' match the first nine chapters of the 1972/1989 edition. Indeed, substantial portions of the two editions are identical.

I calculated that a page of the 1965 edition has approximately 400 words per page, while the denser 1972/1989 edition has about 500 words per page. This implies that chapter two of the 1972/1989 edition has about 50% more material than the earlier edition. This is just a rough estimate and not to be taken too seriously. Consider those per page estimates together with my calculation that 'ENDGAME' has about 400 words per page and you can get a good idea how much new material there is in 'ENDGAME'.

Since all but the last chapter of 'Profile of a Prodigy' (257 pages) overlap the first ten chapters of 'ENDGAME' (205 pages), it's clear that 'Profile of a Prodigy' has more detailed coverage of specific tournaments in Fischer's career. In fact, 'ENDGAME' sometimes mentions an event only in passing where 'Profile of a Prodigy' has a round by round description of the same event. The most important event in Fischer's career, the 1972 title match with Spassky, was reduced from five chapters and 28.000 words to one chapter and 12.000 words.

As a balance to this reduced material, the last third of 'ENDGAME' covers material which transpired after the finish of the 1972 match. The most important were the 1975 default against Karpov, the 1992 return match with Spassky, Fischer's detention in Japan, and his final years in Iceland. 'ENDGAME' also has substantial fresh material from Fischer's early years. This, along with new angles on Fischer's life in other chapters (e.g. money, the Church of God), made for a particularly pleasurable read.

Back to my original question on overlap, the two books have enough differences that they complement each other nicely. Both are worthy elements of any serious chess library.


[Chapter, start page, description]

Profile of a Prodigy (McKay, 1965):-
-- --- Introduction (December 1964)
01 001 Early years
02 017 Thru Zurich 1959
03 028 Thru Leipzig 1960
04 042 Thru Ginzburg 1961
05 057 Thru Curacao 1962
06 074 Thru Varna 1962
07 079 Thru end-1963
08 084 Thru end-1964
09 092 Psychology & future
-- 101 75 games [last is Fischer - Benko, U.S. Chp 1963]
-- 249 Index of players
-- 251 [last + 1]

Profile of a Prodigy (Dover, 1989; 26 photos):-
-- --- Introduction (October 1972)
01 001 Early years [Chapter intro: 'When I was eleven, I just got good.']
02 015 Thru Zurich 1959
03 030 Thru Leipzig 1960
04 041 Thru Ginzburg 1961
05 048 Thru Stockholm 1962
06 053 Thru Curacao 1962
07 064 Thru Varna 1962
08 068 Thru end-1963
09 074 Thru end-1964
10 083 Thru Havana 1965
11 092 Thru end-1965
12 095 Thru prelims Santa Monica 1966
13 100 Thru Santa Monica 1966
14 108 Thru prelims Havana 1966
15 117 Thru Havana 1966
16 121 Thru Monaco 1967
17 128 Thru Skopje 1967
18 133 Thru Sousse 1967
19 142 Thru end-1968
20 151 Thru end-1969
21 158 Thru Zagreb 1970
22 168 Thru Siegen 1970
23 174 Thru Palma 1970
24 182 Thru Taimanov 1971
25 189 Thru Petrosian 1971
26 201 1972 Negotiations I
27 213 1972 Negotiations II
28 221 1972 Will he play?
29 230 1972 Arrival in Iceland
30 241 1972 Spassky match
31 258 Psychology & future
-- 269 90 games [last is 1972 g.21]
-- 403 Tournament & Match Record
-- 406 Index of players
-- 409 Crosstables of major tournaments
-- 425 General index
-- 436 [last + 1]

[Chapter, start page, title (my description)]

ENDGAME (2011)
-- ix Author's Note
01 001 Loneliness to Passion [chapter titles from book]
02 019 Childhood Obsession
03 038 Out of the Head of Zeus [thru 1957 U.S. Chp (zonal)]
04 080 The American Wunderkind [thru Portoroz 1958]
05 109 The Cold War Gladiator [Yugoslavia 1959, Church of God]
06 123 The New Fischer [money, Mar del Plata 1960, Leipzig 1960]
07 134 Einstein’s Theory [thru Curacao 1962]
08 150 Legends Clash [thru Santa Monica 1966]
09 162 The Candidate [thru Petrosian 1971]
10 172 The Champion [1972 Spassky match]
11 205 The Wilderness Years
12 231 Fischer-Spassky Redux
13 259 Crossing Borders
14 279 Arrest and Rescue
15 295 Living and Dying in Iceland
-- 320 Epilogue
-- 329 Acknowledgments
-- 333 Notes
-- 379 Bibliography
-- 385 Index [not present in the advance copy]

04 January 2011

Time/Life Archives

Some months ago I posted about LIFE Magazine on Google with pointers to find copies of complete articles. If you're just looking for photos, don't miss Life.com: 1170 results 'chess'. Also worth knowing is Time.com: 1397 results 'chess', which highlights 'Covers' (for sale if you want to frame a copy) and 'Photo Essays' (just one, published at the time of Fischer's death). You can restrict the search to include, for example, only articles from 1972.

Similar results for Sports Illustrated are available at SportsIllustrated.cnn.com: 1348 results 'chess', although even when you sort by 'relevance', you get many articles on other sports where chess is used as a metaphor. First on the relevant list is currently 'Nadal is Federer's greatest foil'.

As long as I'm posting about mainstream news and photo archives, I might as well mention Google News Archive Search. It starts with a graphical overview of all articles from 1880-2011, then lets you drill down by period. The all time peak chess news coverage was in 1972, and I doubt this will ever change.

03 January 2011

Fischer - Benko, U.S. Championship 1963

Like the two previous games -- Unzicker - Fischer, 1962 Varna (26 moves) and Fischer - Najdorf, 1962 Varna (24 moves) -- the next game in this series titled 18 Memorable Games is a short, sharp win by Fischer over a world class GM. The game Fischer - Benko, U.S. Championship 1963, is no.46 in Fischer's 60 Memorable Games and no.72 in Kasparov's Predecessors IV. As usual, the PGN is given here with the punctuation by both Fischer and Kasparov.

[Event "US Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1963.??.??"]
[Round "10"]
[White "Fischer, R."]
[Black "Benko, P."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B09"]

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.f4 Nf6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Bd3 Bg4 {FIS: '?'; KAS: '?!'} 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Nc6 9.Be3 e5 {KAS: '?!'} 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.f5 gxf5 12.Qxf5 Nd4 13.Qf2 {KAS: '!'} 13...Ne8 14.O-O Nd6 15.Qg3 {KAS: '?!'} 15...Kh8 {KAS: '?!'} 16.Qg4 {KAS: '!'} 16...c6 17.Qh5 Qe8 {FIS: '?'; KAS: '?'} 18.Bxd4 exd4 19.Rf6 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!!'} 19...Kg8 20.e5 h6 21.Ne2 {FIS: '!'; KAS: '!'} 1-0

The only real point of disagreement between the two former World Champions involves the 15th moves for both sides, which Kasparov believes is a double inaccuracy: 15.Qg3 {KAS: '?!'} 15...Kh8 {KAS: '?!'}. To play through the complete game, see...

Robert James Fischer vs Pal Benko; US Ch. 1963

...on Chessgames.com.