Monday, March 31, 2008

Masters & Hustlers

"Masters & Hustlers" is an interesting new media website by Columbia University grad students Jennie Cohen and Radha Vij that tries to capture chess culture in New York City. It is a good effort for a school project and worth a look. Hat tip: Dylan Loeb McClain's Gambit blog. Note: some people have had trouble loading the site.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Urusov Gambit - A Rare Practical Example of 8...d5!? 9.O-O-O Be6 10.Nxd5!

White to Play: 10.Nxd5!

I have posted the fascinating correspondence game Legendre (Agashak)-NN (TheKing), France 2008, which offers a rare practical example of NM Victor Baja's idea 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. Qxd4 Nf6 6. Nc3 Nc6 7. Qh4 Be7 8. Bg5 d5!? 9. O-O-O Be6 10. Nxd5!

The real treat of this game, however, is in Black's wonderful improvement on my published analysis, by which he finds an incredible draw by perpetual check in what appears to be a completely lost position. You can see the original game online at the EchecsEm@il website. It was played at 5 days + 36 hours per move.

draw Black to Play and Draw

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Idaho's Scholastic Chess Initiative

"Idaho Turns to Chess as Education Strategy" by Dylan Loeb McClain (widely reprinted) reports that the "First Move" curriculum developed by America's Foundation for Chess will be adopted statewide for second and third graders.
Not only will this be good for education in Idaho, but it should significantly boost the average chess rating in the state by the end of the decade. According to the Idaho Chess Association website (one of the better state websites, by the way), a 1761-rated player won the 2008 Idaho Closed State Championship (more proof that "location, location, location" is the key to winning a state title).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fischer Photos

Fischer visits Tal in hospital (Curacao 1962).

Fabrice Wantiez has posted a wonderful collection of Bobby Fischer photographs at his website, many of which (like the one above) are completely new to me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wikipedia Again

I was gratified to read NM Tyler Cowen's "Cooked Books" (note the potential chess reference, as well as financial) in The New Republic, in which the well-known economist and blogger writes: "If I had to guess whether Wikipedia or the median refereed journal article on economics was more likely to be true, after a not so long think I would opt for Wikipedia."

I suspect that quote will soon be heard around the academic world--quoted most often derisively by those who are in deep denial about the value of collective knowledge. Yet I think any academic who has actually spent some time looking at Wikipedia would be forced to agree with Professor Cowen. What's more, anyone looking for relatively obscure information (as academics are prone to do) would have to admit that Wikipedia is sometimes the only available or useful source. This is especially true for biographical information about lesser-known chess players (as I mention in my first post on Wikipedia).

I am gratified by Cowen's article because whenever I reference Wikipedia in my blog, I will inevitably draw a comment about it, such as: "Wikepedia [sic] is suspect as far as information is concerned" or "'Wikipedia'?! that is a [sic] evil web site... The fact that you send people there to get information is all I need to know about you." All I want to say to such people is, "Get over it."

One thing I learned at a young age from studying chess theory is that you should never trust any source of information! Even GMs will make mistakes, and the opening line that many believe in today could be completely refuted tomorrow. A healthy skepticism regarding published information may be one of the most valuable lessons to be derived from chess study. And equally valuable today is the knowledge that web sources can sometimes be just as accurate or useful (and even more accurate or useful on occasion) as information you'll find in books.

The Delayed Marshall Gambit

In his article today at ChessBase, “A New Marshall Gambit,” Lars Schandorff discusses the line 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5,O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 d5!? which might be called the "Marshall Two-Step" or "Delayed Marshall Gambit." Schandorff writes: "For a traditional chess mind it doesn't make sense and probably some of the ancient masters would turn in their graves if they knew about it. They always played the normal 10...c5 with a typical Ruy Lopez game. But ...d5? Are you serious?" In the new age of chess realism, though, we must say, "If it works, it's good" and the games that Schandorff cites prove that Black is doing well.

I first saw the line in Charbonneau - Benjamin, USCL 2007, which I annotated as part of my coverage of the New Jersey Knockouts. Later I saw mention of it at the ever-popular Streatham & Brixton CC Blog under "My Favourite Moves V." Most players point to Kuznetsov - Gajewski, Czech Open 2007 (annotated by Tony Kosten) as the first example, but Carlsen - Adams, World Cup 2007 (annotated by Goran Urosevic -- also at must be the most significant. In any event, I'm sure it's not the last we have seen of it.

February BloGGGgs

Mark Weeks of does his usual monthly summary of the top stories in chess blogs by focusing on the GGGg controversy at the U.S. Amateur Team East this year -- see "Elsewhere on the Web: February BloGGGgs." His conclusion: "In the future the event should be called U.S. Amateur Team East." Hat tip: Jim West on Chess.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Benjamin's Classical Hippopotamus

classical hippopotamusThe Classical Hippopotamus

I have annotated the game Raset Ziatdinov - Joel Benjamin, Philadelphia (World Open) 1999 as part of my continuing series on GM Benjamin's opening innovations. Previous posts discussed The Brooklyn Defense and the Nimzovich with ...e5.

In his book American Grandmaster, GM Benjamin says he was surprised to be approached at a tournament by a young chessplayer who said she was a great fan of his opening ideas in the Pirc -- especially the line he calls "the Classical Hippopotamus" beginning 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 O-O 6.O-O e6!? Why he should be surprised to be associated with this line, though, is beyond me since he annotated several of his games with it for Informant #74 and was clearly its most prominent originator. The move has since been used by such well-known Pirc aficionados as GMs Tiger Hillarp Persson, Jonathan Rowson, and Ruslan Ponomariov. Like other versions of the Hippopotamus, it is currently quite fashionable, but games like Ziatdinov-Benjamin did a lot to inspire the trend.

One reason Benjamin calls it a Hippopotamus is because Black could easily set up a standard Hippo formation, as in Weemaes-Horvath,Val Thorens 1999 which went 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Be2 0-0 6.0-0 e6 7. Re1 Nc6 8. h3 a6 9. a4 b6 10. Be3 h6 11. Qd2 Kh7 12. Rad1 Ne7 13. Qc1 Bb7 14. Bd3 Nd7! (see diagram).

true hippopotamus

The Classical Becomes a True Hippo

Like its spiritual cousin the Hedgehog, the Hippo is above all a flexible formation that waits to respond to White's aggressive advances by seizing whatever squares or lines the attacker surrenders. You might thus see it as a type of jujitsu stance, ready to absorb whatever blows White might throw while striking back at whatever weaknesses his attack exposes. Black can also consider striking some blows in the center himself with any of the center pawns. The Hippo is especially effective out of the Classical Pirc where White has committed his Knight to f3 and therefore foregoes the possibility of a quick f4-f5 push, which is one way of attacking the Hippo that I find effective as White.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fischer Birthday Remembrances

Several celebrations of Fischer's legacy were held on March 9th to coincide with the former champion's 65th birthday. At the Marshall Chess Club, site of "The Game of the Century," Fischer was remembered by biographer Frank Brady and talk show host Dick Cavett, who has commented on his blog about his regret over not having reached out to Fischer (see "Was It Only a Game?" and "Bobby and You"). Caroline Jackson's article "Cavett and chess buffs replay Bobby Fischer story" (The Villager, March 12-18) describes the memorial and captures many of the basic contradictions in Fischer's life represented there. For example, why did a man so obsessed with making money from chess forego millions of dollars to be had after he won the championship?

The memorial was held on what would have been Fischer’s 65th birthday. Brady recalled when he and Fischer’s friends tried to throw him a party for his 20th birthday but the often-reclusive Fischer was reluctant.

“Finally, he said, ‘I’ll come to my birthday but you’ll have to pay me,’” Brady said. “That’s really, truly what Bobby was about; he knew chess players should be paid for what they do.”

Asa Hoffman, Fischer’s friend and a prominent chess champion himself, said Fischer dreamed big, talking about buying a big house with a spiral staircase in the shape of a rook, but his demanding nature inhibited him.

“He said he wanted the money, but he would turn down these big tournaments,” said Hoffman. “He could have lived the fantasy but he changed his mind.”

At another Fischer memorial service at the 2008 Reykjavik Open, Boris Spassky was among those to visit Fischer's grave. After the service, the former Fischer rival turned friend and supporter was heard to ask, "Do you think the spot next to him is available?"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Benjamin's Games with the Nimzovich Defense

nimzovich defenseNimzovich Defense - 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5

Continuing my series on GM Joel Benjamin's unorthodox openings, I have posted an article on his games with the Nimzovich Defense, focusing on Christiansen - Benjamin, Seattle 2000.
I was surprised that this excellent game (one of my favorites) receives only passing mention in his recent biography American Grandmaster (Everyman 2007). After showing an early round loss to Boris Gulko at the 2000 U.S. Championship in Seattle, Benjamin writes: "The next day I took on Christiansen in a Nimzovich Defense. Improving on a game I lost to A. Ivanov the year before, I quickly achieved a dominating position. It wasn't Larry's day" (211). That's the entire comment. I was even more surprised upon finishing the book to find not a single additional reference to the Nimzovich, let alone a game with it, when I think Benjamin has made important contributions to the theory of that opening.

Benjamin seems to follow in a long line of New York players not afraid to open with Black's "right Knight" and to typically follow it up with ...e5 rather than ...d5 (as Nimzovich himself favored). After writing about 1...Nc6 intending ...e5 in previous articles (especially "Sidney Bernstein, Opening Innovator," "The Panther," and "1...Nc6 or The Kevitz System Bibliography"), I have come to see this as practically a native opening tradition which I like to call "The New York System." I hope my article helps to add Benjamin to the family tree of New York System innovators.

I will be posting more articles in this series in the coming weeks, along with a full review of American Grandmaster (which received a very favorable notice from Bruce Pandolfini in Chess Life). And, by the way: happy birthday wishes to GM Benjamin (born March 11, 1964).

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Brooklyn Defense

Position after 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Ng8!? 3.d4

I have posted some analysis of the game Robert Gruchacz - Joel Benjamin, New York 1980 which features the surprisingly interesting Brooklyn Defense (1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Ng8!?) You have to see it to believe it, but I think this is a fully viable system and one with lots to teach us about opening play!

As GM Benjamin and Eric Schiller note in Unorthodox Openings (1987), it's "not nearly as dumb as it looks" and can even be "psychologically devastating." Most opponents will be insulted by such a cheeky retreat and will expect to obtain a big edge, which may lead them to over-reach. Yet Black's position remains fundamentally sound (he has introduced no weaknesses, after all!) and so any premature attack is bound to fail. In fact, it may be White who is most in danger since his center pawns have ventured forward and can be attacked or exchanged in typical hypermodern fashion.

This is the first in a series of opening articles inspired by GM Joel Benjamin's American Grandmaster: Four Decades of Chess Adventures. While I enjoyed the book very much and recommend it, I was disappointed not to find more analysis of the numerous unorthodox opening systems that Benjamin has helped to popularize--and by which he has probably had the most lasting influence on other chess players. These articles are my own attempt to fill in the blanks, and to highlight the important contributions that GM Benjamin has made to opening theory.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Nigel Davies on The Modern Defense

GM Nigel Davies offers an inspiring introduction to The Modern Defense (basically 1...g6 and 2...Bg7 against most any White opening) at the Chessville website, featuring his own games with the system. If you have ever thought of trying the Modern, this would be a great place to start. You might also play through some of IM Mark Ginsburg's games with the line, posted at his blog under "Some Interesting Modern / Pirc Games" (with PGN.) If you feel inspired, I recommend reading Joe Gallagher's Starting Out: Pirc / Modern (2003), Jon Speelman and Neil McDonald's Modern Defence (2000), or Tiger Hillarp Persson's Tiger's Modern (2005)--the latter of which is usefully reviewed at Chessville by Rick Kennedy.