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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Queen Sacrifice by Leonid Stein

Queen Sacrifice by Natalia Vetrova
     I have posted on Leonid Stein before, but his opponent is less known. According to Chessmetrics Nikolai Krogius (born July 22, 1930) achieved his best rating of 2686 in 1968 which put him just outside the world's best GMs. His ranking was in the teens which put him alongside players like Vlastimil Hort, Paul Keres, Svetozar Gligoric, Miguel Najdorf , Samuel Reshevsky and Wolfgang Unzicker; not bad company! 
     In addition to being a GM, Krogius is an International Arbiter, psychologist, chess coach, chess administrator and author. I have Krogius' book, Psychology in Chess published in 1976 in which he examines typical psychological oversights made by players at nearly every skill level. Some parts of it are quite interesting, but for the most part, I found it dry and uninteresting. 
     He won several tournaments, mostly in the Black Sea area and eastern Europe. Krogius played for the Soviet team in the World Student Olympiad in Oslo 1954, where he scored +7 =1 -1 on board three, and won team silver. A late bloomer, Krogius had several failed attempts at reaching the Soviet final and did not make his first one until age 27. His graduate studies were the priority until he finished his doctorate. Eventually he clawed his way up the Soviet hierarchy and participated in seven Soviet finals between 1958 and 1971. In the 1991 World Senior Championship he tied for 3rd-6th places and in 1993 he tied for first with Anatoly Lein, Mark Taimanov, Bukhuti Gurgenidze and Boris Arkhangelsky at the World Senior. 
     Krogius is a psychologists specializing in sports psychology and he coached Boris Spassky for several years, including Spassky's title match against Petrosian in 1969 and against Bobby Fischer in 1972. He has also served as chairman of the USSR Chess Federation, and co-authored five chess books. 
     Krogius scaled back his tournament play by the mid-1970s, playing only in occasional lower-level events and began important contributions as an author and at the same time moving into chess administration. He was captain of the USSR team for the USSR vs. Rest of the World match in 1984 and was the head of delegation for Anatoly Karpov's team for the 1990 title match against Garry Kasparov. 
     You can read excerpts from Krogius' biographical book, especially the Fischer match at Chess.com HERE
     The following game, won by Stein, appears in The World's Greatest Chess Games where it received a rating of 9 out of 15. In the game Stein played an inferior opening line and soon got into trouble and in desperation undertook a sacrificial attack that technically should not have succeeded. But, as is often the case, Krogius lost his way in the ensuing head whirling complications and allowed Stein to finish with a neat Queen sacrifice. 

     The game would have made good material for Krogius's book because it shows how difficult it is to conduct a defense against a prolonged and vicious attack as well as what happens when you make a mistake...another one is lurking in the background waiting to rear its ugly head. 
     It was very interesting to go over this game with Stockfish 9 and compare its moves to John Nunn's comments because in many cases the engine disagreed with his analysis. When the book was written the authors used Chessbase for analysis. Engines will be quick to point out tactics, but long range strategy is still something they cannot perform well, but it is the GMs forte, so I think Nunn's positional evaluations are more likely to be correct than Stockfish's purely mathematical evaluation as long as there are no tactics involved. 
     Sidebar: Kris Littlejohn, a second for Hikaru Nakamura, did the data gathering and analysis. No ordinary off the shelf laptop here! Littlejohn began by building a special computer for that purpose. He would begin work weeks or even months before a tournament as soon as the list of participants was known. Then databases are combed gathering information about lines opponents like to play and then a search to ferret out novelties begins. He uses branching to predict all the possible moves that could be played. The next step is to figure out which moves that opponent would be comfortable with given his historical games. The result is a report of possibilities. Of course it's also necessary to keep current on what opponent's have played to avoid surprises. Consideration will also be given to Nakamura's tournament situation and whether he needs a win or a draw. 
     When traveling with Nakamura, Littlejohn used his laptop to connect with the big computer back home and he also had a backup laptop available with a chess program just in case of Internet outages. 
     Littlejohn and Nakamura then go over the report together and Nakamura memorizes the 500-1000 moves, reciting it back to Littlejohn without looking at the board to ensure that he has all the information in his head when he goes into a game. And now you know why we aren't all Grandmasters!! 
     Engines can process more information faster than the human brain, but there are things computers can't do. Much of chess is intuitive and engines will miss those nuances. That's the reason GMs and top level correspondence players use engines as a starting point, but they are the ones who make the final strategic decisions. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Korchnoi on Curacao 1962

     Who are we going to believe?  In the last post I touched on the fact that it had been rumored that Korchnoi had been instructed to throw games at Curacao in 1962, so thought it would be interesting to see what Korchnoi himself had to say about the tournament.
     Korchnoi wrote that the Soviet delegation included a man who had nothing to do with chess...a KGB colonel in civilian clothes. On the player's return to the Soviet Union, the colonel wrote a report on Korchnoi's improper behavior by visiting a casino. By that time Korchnoi's personal file was already substantial. For example, at the European Team Championship at Oberhausen in 1961 he had been reported for behaving badly because he had asked a German lady to a movie. They didn't go, but it didn't matter; he had committed a sin by asking.  
     Korchnoi was also having problems with other Soviet players and officials. Although the organizers of the 1963 Piatagorsky Cup in Los Angeles had sent three tickets for Soviet players, the Soviet Chess Federation had arranged for only two, Korchnoi and Keres to play. However, Petrosian insisted that he be allowed to play so Korchnoi was out.  
     Korchnoi reached Curacao by tying for fourth place with Dr. Miroslav Filip in the Zonal.  He wrote in Chess Is My Life that had he known what was going to happen later he would have stepped aside and let Leonid Stein go in his place! He wrote that everything was arranged by Petrosian, who along with his friend Geller, agreed to play draws in all their games together and they then persuaded Keres to join them.  
     In the tropical heat it was important to conserve physical energy and the arrangement gave the conspirators an advantage over the other players. Korchnoi thought Keres made a mistake by agreeing to the arrangement because he was playing better than the other two and it wasn't to Keres' advantage to take draws against his main rivals. Korchnoi opined that a more crafty Keres, upon learning of the pact, would have sought out a separate alliance.
     Korchnoi claimed that at first he didn't grasp what was happening and when he saw a 10-move draw between Geller and Petrosian in the second cycle he asked Geller who he was intending to beat and Geller replied, “You!” 
     In the meantime fatigue was beginning to creep up on those not in on the Geller-Petrosian-Keres alliance. Dr. Miroslav Filip of Czechoslovakia started to play weakly.  Later Tal fell ill after the third cycle with kidney problems, was hospitalized and withdrew.  
     At the completion of the first cycle Korchnoi was in the lead, but then he began suffering the effects of fatigue. It was so bad that in one game he had a big advantage against Fischer, but then blundered away a piece. Even a week's rest on the island of St. Maarten didn't help. The tropical conditions were sapping energy. 
     By the time the last cycle rolled around Korchnoi lost to the three leaders and that's what prompted Fischer's claim that Korchnoi had been chosen as a sacrifice by the Soviet authorities. Korchnoi couldn't believe Fischer was serious because, as Korchnoi wrote, by nature he was incapable of being a sacrificial lamb. 
     It's well known Korchnoi didn't like Petrosian and as he was quick to point out, had he won those games Petrosian wouldn't have won the tournament. In the end, Petrosian finished ahead of Geller and Keres by a half point with the decisive game being Benko – Keres in the fourth cycle. 
     The position was adjourned with Benko having a slight advantage. Up until that time Keres had defeated Benko every time they had met and their individual score stood at 7-0 in favor of Keres; he had won four games in the 1959 Candidates and three at Curacao.
     According to Korchnoi, it was on the initiative of Petrosian's wife that Petrosian spent the night analyzing the game which Benko won. Later his wife bragged how she had made her husband champion. If Korchnoi's version of what happened is correct then Benko's claim, as mentioned in the previous post, is not true and he did accept the analysis offered him by Petrosian and Geller. 
Rona Petrosian

     It seems doubtful to me that Petrosian would have invested a whole night's work if Benko had been unwilling to accept any help.  The only second Fischer and Benko had was Arthuir Bisguier. Also, remember that after one of the rounds, Bisguier was in Fischer’s room when Benko entered, looking for help from Bisguier. Fischer dismissed Benko’s request, mocking him, because Fischer regarded Bisguier as his personal assistant since he believed that he had the better chance to win the tournament. An argument ensued with Bisguier trying unsuccessfully to diffuse it. Benko ended up slapping Fischer and Bisguier stepped in to separate the two.  So it is conceivable that under the circumstances Benko would have welcomed some analytical help. 
     After the Soviet payers visited St. Maarten, Korchnoi's game collapsed and the rumors began spreading that he was involved in the plot. Writing in Curacao 1962, Jan Timman said that “a former World Champion” told him that Korchnoi had been told to lose his game as black against Petrosian in round 23. Petrosian's wife, Rona, had put great pressure on Korchnoi's wife, Bella and it was a telling detail that both women were Armenian, as was Petrosian. See that game and discussion HERE.
     In 2002, Korchnoi's explanation for the loss was that he simply did not understand the line of the English Opening well enough, but in a 2003 interview in New in Chess, Korchnoi was asked if the events at Curacao were like a scene from a novel. He replied, “I would say that the part played by my wife in this situation should not be underestimated. She was Armenian and in some ways she believed like Petrosian's youngest sister...When Petrosian was around, she always acted like a pupil, like a younger sister.” 
     In any case, Keres finished second in the Candidates matches again and Petrosian went on to defeat an aging Botvinnik in a titanic struggle in 1963 in which he exhausted Botvinnik with draw after draw in the first half of the match. In a fit of sour grapes, Botvinnik wrote that Petrosian was a player who destroyed the creative process. Korchnoi agreed, adding that the statement applied to more than Petrosian's chess, but you could not “help but admire the devilish determination of the man.” 
     The following game from round 5 in which Korchnoi defeated Fischer is one of the better known games from Curcao. Fischer was lost right in the opening and his play was so anemic that Korchnoi didn't think enough of the game to even bother including it in his best games collection.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Hoped for Chess of the Future

A nightmare come true
     Mikhail Tal's trainer, Alexander Koblencs, described this game as one of the most complex in chess history on the theme of the sacrifice for the initiative and asked if it was the chess of the future. Back in 1998 British FM Graham Burgess responded “only if there is another Mikhail Tal born in the future.” Unfortunately Burgess was right; you won't see the heavyweights playing like this today. 
     Back in 1962 at the Candidates Tournament in Curacao the three top finishers (Petrosian, Geller and Keres) drew all twelve of their games against each other in an average of only 19 moves. Soon after the tournament Bobby Fischer alleged that the Soviets had colluded to prevent any non-Soviet – specifically him – from winning. His allegations were twofold.  First, that Petrosian, Geller and Keres had prearranged to draw all their games. Yuri Averbakh, who was head of the Soviet team, confirmed Fischer's claim in a 2002 interview. Reuben Fine had made the same accusation against Soviet players back in the 1940s.
     Fischer also claimed that Korchnoi was forced to throw games, but after he defected from the USSR in 1976, Dominic Lawson called the allegation "preposterous", noting that the main beneficiary of Korchnoi's losses was Petrosian, whom Korchnoi detested. Korchnoi also wrote that he was surprised by the short draws.

     There were also allegations that, in the ultimately decisive Benko-Keres game in the penultimate round (which Benko won), Petrosian and Geller (who were good friends) conspired against Keres by offering to help Benko. Benko has written that Petrosian and Geller offered to help analyze the adjourned position, but that he refused the offer. 
      As a result of all the allegations FIDE changed the format of the Candidates' Tournaments and in 1966 a series of elimination matches was instituted. Ex-Champion Botvinnik and Paul Keres (2nd place in the 1962 Candidates) were seeded into the matches, but Botvinnik declined and his place was taken by Efim Geller, who finished 3rd in the 1962 Candidates. 
     The following game was the last game of the match and the score was tied 4.5-4.5, so the situation was very tense.  In the game Tal went for broke with a speculative sacrifice on move 17 when he attacked Larsen's position which was basically quite solid. Larsen had a fleeting moment when he could have secured a good game, but has often happened with Tal's opponents, he missed his chance and Tal went on to score a brilliant win. 
     Tal made his sacrifice based on general considerations, but it put Larsen in the position of having to find some tricky tactics if he was going to hold the game.  It also demonstrates the necessity of finding the most efficient way to win after obtaining a superior position. 
     Tal was known as a great attacking player, but he was not a one sided genius; he could play positional chess and endings with the best of them, but his preference was tactical melees. His play was characterized by the following: 

* Keep his opponent's King in the center if possible 
* Breakthrough in the center 
* Get the initiative which enabled him to increase the assault ratio 
* Open files and diagonals 
* Secure outposts for his pieces 
* Eliminate defenders of the opponent's King 
* Weaken the opponent's King's position


Thursday, February 15, 2018

FIDE Bank Account Frozen

     Alert reader Daniel Belasco point out yesterday that FIDE's bank account has been frozen by its Swiss bank. The action was taken over alleged Assad links and sanctions by the US Treasury against FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who has unsuccessfully tried several times to be removed from the list. 
     Back in 2015 Ilyumzhinov, a Russian multimillionaire and politician, was added to a US Treasury Department sanctions list for allegedly materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the government of Syria. 
     Obviously this is going to severely damage FIDE's business activities and they will have some problems that will affect the international chess world. For the complete story visit Chessbase's website.
     I have to agree with a couple of comments on Chessbase regarding this development. As one poster pointed out, as far as we know the FIDE account is not Ilyumzhinov's personal account. He also asked, have any FIDE funds been misappropriated by Ilyumzhinov? And finally, what right does the US have to dictate how Swiss banks conduct business? 
     For details on the US sanctions against Syria you can visit the US Treasury Department HERE.
     Additional reading:  Banking in Switzerland  and How Swiss Bank Accounts Work

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Stockfish 9

    I forgot to post that Stockfish 9 has just recently been released. The top five engines on the CCLR 40/40 rating list are:

1-Stockfish 9 64-bit 4CPU (3465)
2-Houdini 6 64-bit 4CPU (3441)
3-Komodo 11.2 64-bit 4CPU (3422)
4-Fire 6.1 64-bit 4CPU (3299)
5-Deep Shredder 13 64-bit 4CPU (3293)

     Several people have been pointing out that the default contempt setting has been changed from 0 to 20. One person thought it was because despite being the strongest engine, it missed the recent TCEC final because it drew many games due to the “0” contempt setting.
     I am not that familiar with all workings of engines, but one poster on one of the engine sites said that an engine can sometimes accept a draw because it has seen some lines which are slightly better for the opponent and as a result, it may start repeating moves in order to draw. To counteract this the contempt factor can be increased which tells the engine to play on. e.g. a setting of 50 means that the program will play for a win, even if it thinks its half a pawn down.  Download SF9 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Missing the Zonal by a Single Move

    In the very first ever Zonal tournament ever held, Ludek Pachman missed qualifying by a single move. At the time Pachman was not a top-rated player; according to Chessmetrics he would have been rated in the mid-2500's which put in down around number 80 on the rating list. By 1959 his assigned rating had climbed to near 2700, placing him number 14 in the world. That rating was sufficient to place him in a group that included Mark Taimanov, David Bronstein, Ratmir Kholmov, Yury Averbakh, Bobby Fischer, Lev Polugaevsky, Laszlo Szabo, Miguel Najdorf and Samuel Reshevsky.

     The Zonal held in Hilversum 1947 was the first Zonal to be held under the new FIDE-run world championship cycle. In 1946, at the first post-war FIDE congress after the war, it was discussed how the world champion should be chosen as Alekhine had died under mysterious circumstances in Lisbon a few months earlier. The congress decided that the world champion would be decided by a match tournament of the six strongest players of the day: Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Reshevsky, Fine and Euwe. Fine declined so the tournament was a 4-game round robin with five players. 
     At the same time a decision was made on a system of qualifying tournaments which would produce a challenger to the world champion two years after the match tournament. The flaw was that apart from the Soviet Union there was to be only one zonal tournament for all of Europe which meant that the countries with several strong players were at a disadvantage. But at least it was a better system than previously when the title holder, if he felt like it, played a match against whomever could meet his conditions. So, in a very hot July of 1947, the champions of fourteen European countries assembled for the first ever zonal tournament. The right to move on to the next stage went to the first place finisher only. Ties were to be broken by the Sonnenborn-Berger system. Later the number of qualifiers was increased.
     When Ludek Pachman arrived in Hilversum he didn't have a lot of international successes on his resume and so had nothing to lose by going for broke which he did by scoring six wins in the first 6 rounds. 
     In round seven he met O'Kelly and gained the advantage, but was unable to press home the win and had to settle for a draw. At the time nobody could know the effect this draw was to have on the final result. 
     A win in round 8 left Pachman with an impressive 7.5-0.5 score, but then he lost his next two games putting him at 7.5-2.5. He then regained his winning ways and made up ground by defeating Dr. Petar Trifunovic and Laszlo Szabo. 
     Going into the last round O'Kelly, who had been playing his usual solid game, and Pachman were tied for first with 9.5 while van Scheltinga and Trifunovic were tied for 3rd-4th a distant 2.5 points back. O'Kelly was playing a tailender, Doerner of Luxemburg, so Pachman knew he had to go all out for a win against the Bulgarian Champion Zvetkov even though he had the black pieces. It wasn't going to be easy because Zvetkov was well known for his solid play even though in this tournament he was badly out of form. And, if Pachman and O'Kelly tied, the tiebreaks favored Pachman.

     Zvetkov was at the top of his game in 1956-57. Chessmetrics puts his rating in the mid-2500's, placing him in the top 100 rated players. Alexander Zvetkov (October 7, 1914 - May 29, 1990) was Bulgarian Champion in 1938, 1940, 1945, 1948, 195, and 1951. He represented Bulgaria in four Olympiads.
     As expected, O'Kelly beat Doerner, but Pachman lost to Zvetkov.

1) Albrec O'Kelly de Galway 10.5
2-3) Ludek Pachman and Petar Trifunovic 9.5
4) Theo Van Scheltinga 9.0
5-6) Laszlo Szabo and C.H.O'D. Alexander 7.5
7-8) Nicolas Rossolimo and Max Blau 6.5
9) Vincenzo Castaldi 6.0
10) Alexander Zvetkov 5.5
11) Yosef Porat 5.0
12) Kazimierz Plater 4.5
13) Charles Doerner 3.0
14) Bartholomew O'Sullivan 0.5

     Pachman included the following game against Zvetkov in two of his books: Modern Chess Strategy (published in 1963) and Decisive Games in Chess History (published in 1972). Curiously, the notes were different. 
    In Modern Chess Strategy he gave 13...Qb4 a “!” commenting that the Q was actively placed as it would lead to an exchange of Qs should white play Nd5 in reply to ...c5. In Decisive Games he gives 13...Qb4 a “?” commenting that it was not very accurate as demonstrated by white's 14.Nb4.
    In MSC he comments that white's best move was 14.g4 followed by Ng3 which initiates operations on the K-side. In DGCH it's obvious from his comment about 14.Nf4 that it was the best move.
     In MCS he discusses this 18...Re8 explaining that three moves previously it went to the d-file to counter a possible ...e5 by white. In DCGH he gives 15...Rfe8 a “?” because it soon must return to the e-file.
     He also changed his opinion of Zvetkov's 19.g4. In MCS it was given a “?” without comment. In DGCH it was given a “?!” and Pachman said that psychologically his inaccurate play induced his opponent to abandon caution and initiate an attack that was not really justified and that he should have played 19.Nf4-d5 instead.
    In both MCS and DGCH Pachman gave his 29...Ne5 a “??” which is correct.  He explained that he saw the immediate win with 29...Rxe4, but suffered an hallucination at the last moment thinking that white could successfully play 30.Bxg7. His analysis of 30.Bxg7 turned out to be inaccurate in both books.
    In my notes I have decided to ignore Pachman's comments and let Stockfish and Komodo determine the best course of action.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Foul Weather Chess

    Friday morning's commute will be inhibited once again...there are school closings and delays with this system. Counties near the lake will have higher amounts with 2-4″ possible.
     With the worst of the foul weather we've been having coming during the morning commute my wife has spent a few days working in her home office and I've been busy keeping the driveway and sidewalks, both ours and the elderly neighbor's, clear, it's been a good time to play some online chess. 
     My preferred site is Instant Chess. Founded in February 1999, Instant Chess is a privately held software company based in Oxford, United Kingdom. Membership is a hefty $7.99 per month, but you can play for free. The only problem with playing for free is the limitation that your games are random opponents t a random time limit, but the “norm” is 15 minutes per game which is just about right for me. The other is that upon reaching a rating of 1700 they nag you to join, but at other times I have not been allowed to continue once my rating hit that benchmark. Very confusing! 
    My solution has been either to delete cookies, but the downside of that is that cookies for site I regularly use are also deleted. My preferred method is to simply sandbag and lose a few games. Maybe that's not right, but any rating on an online site is pretty meaningless anyway, so I am not really concerned.
     If one of the random games ha a time limit of anything other than 15 minutes, I just resign or cancel the game. For the 15 minute games, opponents are random and if you get one rated over 1800 they will often cancel the game, so most opponents are somewhere around 1600. The thing is, because most of them are playing as guests, a 1600 can be anywhere from a beginner to a pretty decent player. That's OK because the games are just to while away some time. But, every once in a while a game does turn out to be pretty interesting.