Monday, May 19, 2014

The Bird Defense (C61) of 40 Years Ago

I have been reading 40 Years of Friendship, 100 Games of Chess by Wayne Conover, Steve Pozarek, and Eugene Salomon (Smashwords eBook 2014), which I picked up mostly out of nostalgia for New Jersey chess: I knew all three players when I was a young member of the Westfield Chess Club from 1979-1984.  I also correctly predicted the book would contain some of former New Jersey champion Pozarek's games with the Bird Defense from the 1970s, which I have used to analyze the classic Bird line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4 4.Nxd4 exd4 5.O-O c6 6.Bc4 Nf6 -- last popular about 40 years ago, but perhaps due for a revival.  It was Pozarek who introduced me to the Bird Defense in a series of articles on this specific variation.  That series began in the Westfield Chess Club Newsletter of March 1980 (edited by UNIX inventor Ken Thompson), in the same number that featured Wayne Conover's annotated victory over an IM and the crosstable of a 5-minute tournament where Gene Salomon finished second behind future IM Mike Valvo -- and a 14-year-old unrated kid named Mike Goeller finished in the middle of the strong field.  

In retrospect, I think it was also Pozarek who introduced me to the idea that amateurs can make useful contributions to chess theory.  I am a collector of amateur chess memoirs and game collections like this one, and I find that I have often discussed in this blog the important contributions they offer to theory: Sidney Bernstein's Combat: My 50 years at the Chessboard shows ways of playing a New York approach to 1...Nc6 and ...h5 in the Dragon (among numerous other interesting ideas); Dr. Philip Corbin's Calypso Chess features games with the Smith-Morra Gambit and the Elephant Gambit; Asa Hoffmann's Chess Gladiator offers a game with Janowski's Brother Indian (among many other original opening ideas); Ariel Mengarini's Predicament in Two Dimensions: The Thinking of a Chessplayer illustrates the Albin Counter Gambit with Nge7; and Billy Colias's posthumous Midwest Master offers insight into the Grand Prix Attack for Black and White.  The spirit of chess amateurism is alive and well, and the present volume does not hesitate to offer up some opening novelties and insights of its own.

In the middle section of the book, Conover, Pozarek, and Salomon offer contributions to theory in the Leningrad Dutch, the Caro Kann Defense, the Averbakh Variation of the King's Indian, and the Alekhine Defense.  Though there should be fewer games and a little more theory in this part, it is still more than most readers would expect to find.  This part of the book is made up mostly of games from Conover and Salomon, who studied together and played many of the same openings, but Pozarek tries his best with the Alekhine (using mostly his co-authors' games).  Too bad he didn't think to write about the Bird.  I would have liked to see more off-beat openings like that one.  After all, amateurs tend to experiment more than the pros.

Steve Goldberg's "Stories from Grandpaat ChessCafe offers two useful critiques of the book.  I especially agree with his complaint about the number of diagrams, considering that, as an e-book, it would not have cost anything to add more.  I also agree with the implicit criticism in Goldberg's title, because the memoir part of the book seems less written for a general reader than, as Pozarek explicitly tell us, "first and foremost" for "families and friends."  However, there are definitely some very good games in these pages against a lot of quality opposition, including a whos-who of Northeast chess history: Pal Benko, Joel Benjamin, John Fedorowicz, Arnold Denker, William Lombardy, Steve Stoyko, Leroy Dubeck, Scott Massey, Mike Valvo, Orest Popovych, and Edgar McCormick. It even has some simultaneous games against such one-name luminaries as Korchnoi, Petrosian and Alekhine(!)  And practically none of these games will be found in the databases.  In fact, if it were not for this book, all of these games would vanish and remain unknown, like so many great master games.  

As with all amateur volumes, written as a "labor of love," it has something to offer those willing to take the time to look.  The following diagrams highlight some of the better moments enjoyed by these three players:

(1) Conover - Rozier
White to play and win.
(2) Zweibel - Pozarek (see game)
Black to play and win.
(3) Salomon - Watson
White to play and win.
Solutions: (1) 46.Nf5! (forcing mate in 9 moves or fewer); (2) 14....Bxf2+!; and (3) 61.Rc4!! (the only way to win)

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