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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Chess Champion's Winnings Confiscated

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle January 18, 1923...
Austrians Impound Prize Won by Rubinstein at Chess 
Akiba Rubinstein, who, as in 1912, is again getting the habit of monopolizing the best there is to be had in the way of cash emoluments at the tournaments in which he takes part, had a curious, not to say shocking experience after the conclusion of the recent international congress at Vienna. As his share of the booty distributed among the masters in the form of prizes, he had the snug sum of 8,000,000 crowns in Austrian currency – considerable luggage all will admit. 

NOTE: Vienna was a hard-fought event with only 32 draws in 103 games and this is not just due to the top players beating up the amateurs; there weren't many of them to beat up on! The tournament was a great success for Rubinstein, who scored 11.5 – 2.5 and finished a point and a half ahead of Tartakower, two points ahead of Heinrich Wolf and two and a half points ahead of Tarrasch, Maroczy and Alekhine who was probably the pre-tournament favorite. 

     Continuing from the article...Departing from that once gay city and arriving at the border, the great master, who established his chess reputation as a Russian, but now represents Poland, ran afoul of the frontier officials, who, it appears, took a livelier interest in his cash holding than in the rest of his belongings. At any rate, the net result of the painful interview was that the 8,000,000 crowns were impounded which, of course, meant that Rubinstein and his Austrian money parted company and he continued his journey alone, or with whatever foreign change he may have had in his pocket. The reason advanced for this strange procedure was that releasing these home made funds and permitting them to run amuck in strange hands would assuredly result in the further depreciation of Austrian exchange! At this writing and basing calculations on present New York quotations, the value of the amount involved, in American dollars is exactly $120. (NOTE: about $1,700 in today's currency) 

Evidently, Rubinstein must have procured a through ticket, for he finally reached Hastings safely in time for the opening of the chess festival there. He holds an official receipt for the money that he left behind, but the authorities clearly are not good correspondents for his letters of protest, so far, are without reply. At Hastings 1922, Rubinstein barely managed to finish first with an advantage of only half a point over Reti and Siegheim. This was due to the fact that he lost a game to J.A.J. Drewitt, former Oxford player in the sixth round. In addition, he drew three games. 

1) Rubinstein 6.5 – 2.5 
2-3) Reti and Siegheim 6-3 
4-5) Conde and Norman 5-4 
6) Yates 
7-8) Blake and E. Sergeant 3.5 – 5.5 
9) Drewitt 3-6 
10) P. Sergeant 2-7

     The third Hastings Christmas Chess Festival was held at the end of the year 1922. As with the previous installments of the event, more participants were invited to join the Premier tournament, with the roster increasing to ten in this edition. Among the notable participants this time around were Akiba Rubinstein and Richard Réti. The non-British participants dominated over their English opponents, with Rubinstein finishing clear first at the final with 6.5. As with other early editions of Hastings, the complete tournament game scores are not known. 
     Here is the first round game between Rubinstein and relatively unknown Siegheim who so well defended himself that after Rubinstein's attack failed he managed to draw by perpetual check. It was openings like this that lead to Capablanca declaring that chess was played out in his day.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Geller vs. Euwe Zurich 1953

     Reader Paul Gottlieb mentioned this game as being a long time favorite, so I decided to take a look at it.  Euwe won first brilliancy prize for this game. Zurich crosstable and games.
    Euwe's 22...Rh8 is a fantastic move, but it was possible only because of a rather quiet move he made 11 moves earlier! Euwe had traded off his dark squared B and 11...Ne8 served to protect the dark squares around his K and eventually prevented his own K from getting mated.  But, what makes the game fascinating to me is how Euwe was counterattacking on the Q-side but then switched over to a K-side attack. 
    Like most classic masterpieces this game was subjected to analysis by many of the world's greatest Grandmasters of the past and the general opinion was that Geller did, indeed, miss the chance to draw. And, when these games are analyzed by modern engines flaws and improvements can be found, but it's precisely for that reason, the great complications, that games like this one can still be considered great. 
     The games in Najdorf's great book Zurich, 1953: 15 Contenders for the World Title (which I prefer to Bronstein's book) was subjected to analysis by Taylor Kingston in a paper called Analytical Notes, Corrections, and Enhancements using ChessBase with analysis by the Rybka 3 engine. He discovered that, on the whole, Najdorf’s judgment was upheld much more often than not, but engine's sometimes prove him wrong. Kingston also noted that the differences for his paper had to be significant: not minor half pawn differences, but rather cases where an important tactical shot was missed, where a resource that could have changed a loss to a draw or win was overlooked, where a good move was called bad (or vice versa), or where a position was incorrectly evaluated. Also in some cases where there was no real mistake, but an especially interesting variation, or a much stronger one, was not pointed out. Excellent criteria! 
     In some cases he also checked Najdorf and Rybka against Bronstein’s book on the same tournament as well as Euwe's Schach Elite im Kampf and it was not unusual for Rybka to have found something all three of these great players had missed. Naturally this game was no exception, but that doesn't matter. Any of us would be happy to possess the ability of any of these players or for that matter, just play a single game in our lives as great as this one.
     After Geller played 22.Bh6, Stockfish 7, after 30 minutes, evaluated the position at about three quarters of a P in black's favor. That said, sad to say that after Euwe's heretofore acclaimed brilliant 22...Rh8 the evaluation took a tumble to 0.00. According to Stockfish he could have maintained the advantage with with 22...Rc3! 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Thrilling Days of Yesteryear and the Rise of Bent Larsen

     On the old television program, The Lone Ranger, the announcer introduced each episode with, “In the early days of the western United States, a masked man and an Indian rode the plains, searching for truth and justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!” 
     1956 was a thrilling year in chess. It saw Bobby Fischer beat Donald Byrne in the Game of the Century. There was the great Amsterdam Candidates Tournament that was won by Smyslov and the 23rd Soviet Championship, won by Taimanov in a playoff against Spassky and Averbach. Also in 1956, the chess program on a MANIAC I (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer or Mathematical Analyzer, Numerator, Integrator, and Computer), was designed and built by a team headed by John von Neumann and Nicholas Metropolis at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory.  Then there was the 12th Olympiad at Moscow
     After Larsen finished his course at the technical university he went to Hanko, Finland to play in a small tournament, but his play wasn't very good even though he shared first place with Ratanen. From there he went to Gijon, Spain where he won convincingly ahead of Klaus Darga, Albrec O'Kelly de Galway, J.H. Donner and some of the best Spanish players. After that he rushed back to Copenhagen where he played in a small training tournament and scored +7 -0 =2 to finish first ahead of the East German player Fuchs. From there it was on to Moscow for the Olympiad.
     Thirty-four countries took part in 12th Chess Olympiad held in Moscow and Soviet authorities treated the event with extreme seriousness because they wanted to prove the superiority of their Communist regime over the decadent West. There were 197 players, including 20 GMs and 35 IMs, from all over the world, including newcomers from Mongolia, Puerto Rico, Iran and India. The Red Army Central Theater was the venue.

      Denmark did well, qualifying for the “A” Final and Larsen himself was impressive. He had some winning chances against Botvinnik, but could “only” manage a draw. His final score of 14-4 was the top score on Board 1 and it earned him the Grandmaster title. Even Larsen himself was surprised at the result commenting, “This is the only tournament in which I have taken part in which I played better than I had previously expected or thought possible beforehand.” 
     As a result of his success he became popular in Denmark and traveled the country giving simuls and went back to the university. He also received an invitation to the important Hastings Christmas Tournament where, because of fatigue, he played risky chess, but still only lost one game (to Olafsson) and managed to share first with Gligorich ahead of Olafsson and O'Kelly. This victory cemented his reputation and confirmed that his result in Moscow had been no accident. 
     Thus, 1956 was an important year not only for Larsen, but the rest of the chess world.  Larsen (4 March 1935 – 9 September 2010) had become the first Western player to pose a serious challenge to the Soviet Union's dominance in chess.
     One of Larsen's finest efforts was his win over Gligorich. The game is instructive because it features pretty clear cut themes: control of the d5 square and it's becoming an outpost for white's N, and attack on fr and the advantage of an open file. Games like this, with few tactics, are very instructive. If only chess were as simple as Larsen makes it appear in this game.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rubinstein's Masterpiece

     Since the Rubinsteins have been the subject of a recent post I decided to take a look at Akiba Rubinstein's Immortal Game against Rotlevi.  Rubinstein is best known as a great endgame artist but this game shows he was also a superb strategist and tactician. This game has been annotated hundreds of times, but what interested me here was the fact that is contains an instructive combination of the kind Euwe described as a “compound combination.” 
     Euwe classified combinations as being mating, open-field, and compound and for each classification he had subdivisions. For example under mating combinations there are direct, break up, penetration and lateral. He observed that combinations (generally referred to as “tactics” today) seldom appear in absolute pure form because the pieces are almost always “connected” to each other. Usually a combination will be directed at the weakest point and if the opponent succeeds in defending against the attack, the second weakness can then be taken advantage of. That's what we see in this game: Rubinstein is presented with the opportunity for a mating attack and we see breakup, penetration, overload and lateral combinations in succession. To get the full enjoyment out of this game it should be played over with an actual board and pieces. 
     His opponent, Georg Rotlewi (1889 – 1920) was a Polish master and is probably most famous for his loss in this game. His best results were in 1909 when he finished 2nd behind Alexander Alekhine at Saint Petersburg in the All-Russian Amateur tournament, in 1910 when he tied for 1st with Rubinstein in Warsaw and won the Hamburg tournament which earned him the Master title and an invitation to Carlsbad 1911 where he finished 9th (Rubinstein won) with +7 -5 =8. In 1911 he finished 4th in Carlsbad (Teichmann won), tied for 2nd-4th in Cologne (Levitzky won) and 2nd in Munich (Alapin won). Rotlewi played two matches against Salwe, losing in 1909 (+5 –8 =5) and winning in 1910 (+3 –1 =6). A nervous disorder forced him to give up serious chess and he died in 1920 at the age of 31.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Warts are Beautiful

     Tahl was unlike any other world champion. His predecessor, Botvinnik, was cold and aloof, but Tahl was sociable. Botvinnik's play was precise, but Tahl's was unpredictable. With Tahl, when a stranger accosted him and started discussing chess he was agreeable. Botvinnik, or any number of other GM's for that matter, acting in this fashion would have been unthinkable. 
     Known as “The Magician from Riga”, Tahl was an attacking player known for his imaginative play. He often sacrificed material for the initiative...the ability to make threats to which the opponent must respond. The result was complications that many opponents found impossible to solve even though postmortem analysis often uncovered serious flaws in Tahl's play. Such a style was often deprecated by some. For instance, former World Champion Vasily Smyslov referred to Tahl's combinations as “nothing more than tricks.”
     The following typical Tahl game is one of the most complicated ones he ever played. It starts with a risky sacrifice and Koblents missed every chance he was offered and fell into all the traps and unfavorable variations that were on the board. Most of the annotations I have seen were done in the pre-engine days, things were missed in the annotations and, as it turns out, the play of BOTH players left a lot to be desired. Some writers have used this game as an example of how Pawn sacrifices can be used to open files for the Rooks in order to attack the enemy King, but in doing so they neglected to point out a lot of missed opportunities for both players. One writer even admitted that Koblents could have defended much better, but he was not going to point out the places where he could have done so because he did not want the reader to miss Tahl's flashy finish. Yes, the game IS exciting and a lot of fun to play over, but is not the brilliant game it was originally thought to be.
     Even after analyzing this game with Stockfish 7 and running a bunch of Shootouts from various positions, I am pretty sure that a few refutations and better moves were missed. If you really want to pull your hair out, try playing through this game on a real board and visualizing everything!  Like many of Tahl's games, it's still a great one even with the warts.  As for Koblents' play, he was not the only one that was ever befuddled by Tahl's genius. 


Chess Loses A Promising Grandmaster

     Russian Federation Grandmaster Ivan Bukavshin has died of a stroke at the age of 20. He was born May 3, 1995 in Rostov-on-Don and lived in Togliatti. Rostov-on-Don has been the home to many talented chess players, most notably Savielly Tartakower was born there. 
     In addition to chess he was studying mining at the Ural State Mining University in Ekaterinburg. His rating was 2658. 
     He died at a training camp in Tolyatti. One report said that in the evening he complained of a headache while his girlfriend said that the day before his death, he complained of stomach pain. Someone gave him an unknown medication and the next day he didn't come down for breakfast; his girlfriend went to his room and found him dead. The doctors later determined that he died of stroke 3-4 hours before his body was found. 

Article at Chess24 
Here is a 2013 interview in Azerbaijani.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The “Other” Rubinstein

     I did not know that Akiba Rubinstein had a son who was a decent player. Salomon (Samy) Rubinstein, (born March 19, 1927 - died June, 2002, 75 years old) was the son of Akiba and Eugenie Rubinstein. He was born in Antwerp, Belgium and grew up in Brussels where his mother ran a restaurant that was right below the Rubinstein's apartment.  
     In a 1985 interview, Samy said that his brother Jonas taught him chess when he was ten years old. Jonas was nine years older than him. His father had retired from the game in 1931. 
     In 1943, deportations in Nazi-occupied Belgium began and he fled with his mother into the Wallonian countryside. While his father stayed hidden in a hospital in Brussels and Jonas went into hiding in Brussels, they found a shelter in a castle in the Ardennes with other Jewish refugees. In the fall of 1943 the castle was raided by the Nazis and everyone was arrested. His mother, however, managed to escape. Samy survived a year in the concentration camp of Mechelen/Malines doing forced labor. He was liberated by British troops in September 1944 and the Rubinstein family reunited. That was when Samy became more interested in chess. He joined a chess club and played in Belgian tournaments from 1948 onward. 
     I had always thought his father, Akiba, was not much more than a vegetable, but that was not the case.  Although Akiba remained withdrawn and lived mostly in his room, he did receive visitors, read the papers and kept up with chess.  Samy practiced with his father (see more on Akiba and chess below) and became champion of Brussels in March 1949. Later that year Samy went to the United States where he played at the Marshall Chess Club in New York. He returned to Belgium in 1951 and studied art at the École des Beaux.
     In 1954 his mother his mother died and he spent three years in a psychiatric institution. However, he returned to tournament play in 1956 and became a member of the CREB (Cercle Royale des Échecs de Bruxelles), winning the CREB championship many times. CREB magazine later reported him to be a very good rapid player. 
     Rubinstein also lived in the Netherlands at some point where he won the Amersfoort Championship. In his later years, he was a regular at chess tournaments in Brussels. In 1980 and 1985 he won the Championnat individuel de la Francophonie. He was noted for his speed of play, often using less than half an hour for the entire game. His last FIDE rating was 2380. 
     He painted Bronstein’s portrait for Tom Furstenberg’s book The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. He died in Brussels, aged 75. 
     I might add that Akiba Rubinstein retired from chess in the early 1930's and lived out his life in isolation suffering from anthropophobia (a fear of people) and traces of schizophrenia (abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real), but, as mentioned above, that did not mean he was out of touch with chess. In his autobiography Chess the Hard Way, Abe Yanofsky wrote, “From Copenhagen, I traveled to Amsterdam to pick up my remaining luggage at the Keesing's homes, and early in February (of 1947) I started on my journey back to Canada via Brussels, England, and Iceland. In Brussels, I was introduced to the veteran Akiba Rubinstein, whom I found to be looking fit and not so old. We sat down to play a skittle game in his home, but we soon became so absorbed in the game that it stretched out to 3½ hours and proved to be as tough as any tournament game I ever played." Also, Samy recalled how he and his father analyzed games from the 1957 Smyslov vs. Botvinnik match for the world championship. Chessgamesdotcom has a number of training games played between father and son. 

Also of interest on YouTube is 
Rubinstein and Polish Chess – Part 1 
Rubinstein and Polish Chess – Part 2 
Rubinstein and Polish Chess -  Part 3

The Boylston Chess Club has an interesting page on the history of the Rubinstein family in photos. 

In this game his opponent, Josef Boey (born May-16-1934 in Antwerp) was awarded the IM title in 1973 and the Correspondence Grandmaster title in 1975 as a result of his second place finish in the World Correspondence Championship.  The opening is one of the most complicated in chess and the end of the game is rally messy with a lot of tactical errors. Some no doubt were the result of time pressure and a couple were, I think, only moves that could be seen by an engine.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Bobby Fischer, the Curt Flood of Chess

    Originally this post was going to be solely about Booby's exploits at the Interzonal of 1970, but I got to thinking about how, in some ways, he was like baseball's Curt Flood.
     Curt Flood (January 18, 1938 – January 20, 1997) was a Major League baseball center fielder who spent 15 seasons in the major leagues playing for the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, and Washington Senators. Flood was an All-Star, Gold Glove winner and batted over .300 seven seasons. At various times he led the National League in hits, singles, putouts as center fielder, in fielding percentage and he retired with the third most games in center field in NL history. 
     Flood became one of the pivotal figures in baseball history when he refused to accept a trade following the 1969 season, ultimately appealing his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although his legal challenge was unsuccessful, it brought about additional solidarity among players as they fought against baseball's reserve clause and sought free agency. He believed that Major League Baseball's decades-old reserve clause was unfair in that it kept players beholden for life to the team with which they originally signed, even when they had satisfied the terms and conditions of their contracts.
     It cost Flood his baseball career. And, although by all accounts, Flood was, unlike Fischer, a genuinely nice guy, he ended up sacrificing his career, but his sacrifice made it possible for future professional athletes to make the kind of money they make today and the right to peddle their talents to whomever is willing to pay for them. Prior to Flood, the owner's kept almost all the money they raked in and lorded it over the players. Fischer was a snot, but his personality and unending demands made chess popular and paved the way for multi-million dollar prizes so that today good players can actually make a living playing chess.
     Everybody familiar with Bobby Fischer is aware of his phenomenal success on his way to his world championship victory over Spassky when he mowed down Mark Taimanov in Vancouver by a score of 6-0, then Bent Larsen in Denver by the same score, and, finally former World Champion Tigran Petrosian in Buenos Aires by a score of 6.5-2.5 before going on to defeat Spassky. What may be less remembered was his huge success that got him there...the Interzonal at Palma de Mallorca in 1970. 
     The 1969 U.S. Championship was a zonal qualifier with the top three finishers advancing to the Interzonal. For 13 years the tournament had come to be a matter of would Fischer even play and if he did, how large would his winning margin be? Before the 1969 championship Fischer wrote a letter to the USCF president Ed Edmondson in which he accused Edmondson of lying about the previous championship. In 1968 Fischer had voiced his opinion that the championship should be 22 rounds just like it was in the Soviet Union, Hungary, Rumania and other East European countries. If this wasn't changed, Fischer vowed he would never again play in another U.S. championship. His reason was that 12 rounds was "too chancy." 
     By passing up this tournament Fischer would not be able to qualify for the 1970-72 cycle and would have to wait until 1975. Fischer implied that the bureaucrats were denying the country a world champion. By the way, this was the last championship where Fischer's participation was even considered. But, Pal Benko, one of the three qualifiers, agreed to give up his spot in the Interzonal in order to give Fischer a shot at the World Championship. In order for that to happen FIDE and the other players in the U.S. Zonal (Championship) had to agree. Some reports said it was Edmondson's idea, but Benko insisted it was his because he felt Fischer had a realistic chance at the title. In any case, Edmondson convinced FIDE to allow Fischer to play and Benko received a reward of $2000 which equals about $12000 today. 
     After all that, an ungrateful Fischer still threatened not to play in the Interzonal because he didn't think the money was enough.  What were the offers? 

Interzonal - $4000 
Candidate's Match Quarter Final - $3000 
Candidate's Match Semi Final - $3000 
Candidate's Match Final - $4000 
World Championship Match - $5000 
That's a total of $19000 which amounts to about $116000 in today's currency. 

     This was in addition to any prize money he collected. In addition Edmondson also guaranteed Fischer's pocket money would be twice what the other guys got, he would be put up in the most luxurious hotels and the conditions at every stage would meet Fischer's standards.  Finally, Fischer agreed. Fischer's demands also included glare-free fluorescent lighting and a schedule that accommodated is religious practice at the time of observing a sundown Friday to sundown Saturday Sabbath. 
     All this was enough to tick off Bent Larsen who declared that many players had decided that this was to be the last time Fischer got such special treatment...”What he wants, he gets, but no more!” 
     Fischer won the Interzonal with a score of 18.5 of 23, three and a half points ahead of the 21-year old sensation Robert Huebner of West Germany, Bent Larsen and Yefim Geller. Huebner entered the tournament as a “lowly” International Master and so his success was a huge surprise. 
    Players who might have expected to qualify in this event were guys like Lajos Portisch and Vasily Smyslov who tied for places 7-8. Gligorich and Polugayevsky (places 9-10), Vastimil Hort (13th) Mecking (11-12 with Panno) and, possibly, Reshevsky who finished in 17th place. Fischer lost only one game, to Larsen, and won his last seven games!
     Fischer's streak also included one incident involving Oscar Panno who was scheduled to play Black against Fischer, but Panno refused to play. The games of the last round were scheduled for 4:00pm Saturday, but Fischer and Reshevsky were allowed to start at 7:00pm for religious reasons. Panno felt this was unfair in the last round because some players might have an advantage from knowing the results of earlier games. Panno himself was the only player who could have benefited from that information, but no matter...he refused to play even after Fischer urged him. Fischer played 1.c4 and when Panno wasn't there he hunted Panno down who showed up at the board and resigned. IF Panno had played and IF he had won, he would have tied Portisch and Smyslov for a chance at a playoff spot. Read the article in the Sun-Sentinel.
     Fischer's score might have been even better were it not for draws against the tailender Eleazar Jimenez and Renato Naranja and Tudev Uitumen who tied for places 20-22 with Miroslav Filip. You can read excerpts, including tidbits on this tournament in the great book Bobby Fischer Goes to War HERE.