Wednesday, June 24, 2009

World's Oldest Chess Club to Celebrate 200 Years

ChessBase today features "The World’s Oldest Chess Club: Part I (1809–1914)," by Dr. Richard Forster & Dr. Christian Rohrer, about the Schachgesellschaft Zürich. The club will be celebrating its 200th anniversary in August with some great tournaments and events to be attended by all of the legends of chess, including champions Kasparov, Anand, Karpov, Kramnik, Spassky, Ponomariov and Topalov. Besides presenting some fascinating history, the article says a lot about the important institutional role of chess clubs in supporting and promoting the game.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Black Fianchetto System in the Open Games, Part One

I have posted A Black Fianchetto System in the Open Games, Part One, which is the first of a projected seven-part series on a classical way of playing against 1.e4 with 1...e5 and an eventual g6.

The viability of a black fianchetto in the open games was demonstrated by Wilhelm Steinitz in the late nineteenth century (see, for example, Rosenthal - Steinitz, Vienna 1873 and Mackenzie - Steinitz, London 1883), and it has been played with success by the likes of Alekhine, Keres, Geller, and Smyslov. Black has had success with a fianchetto against many lines in the open games:
  • Spanish / Ruy Lopez, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6
  • Scotch Game, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 g6
  • Three Knights, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6
  • Scotch Gambit, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 g6
  • Italian Game / Giuoco Piano, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 g6
  • Ponziani Opening, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 Qe7!? 4.d4 d6 5.Bd3 g6
  • Center Game, 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 g6

Where a fianchetto system is not so successful is against lines where White can play an early f4, such as the Vienna, the Bishop's Opening, and the King's Gambit. But we will examine an alternative system against these lines where the Bishop is often developed to b4.

In this first of a planned seven-part series, we examine lines where White plays c3 followed by d4, striving to establish a classical center. This is one of the best places to begin our discussion because it helps us see the g6 system as a potential tabiya that can work across various opening lines that are typically treated quite separately in the opening manuals.

The Tabiya of the Fianchetto System

In subsequent articles, we will look at:

  • historical games with the g6 line
  • various gambit tries for White with d4 followed by c3
  • attacking tries with d4 followed by Bg5
  • lines with d4 and Nxd4
  • attempts to attack by h4
  • and various closed systems for White with d3
The Black fianchetto system in the open games fits very well into an opening repertoire that involves the King's Indian Defense or other fianchetto lines against the d-pawn openings. For ideas on how you can build an entire repertoire around these lines, see my earlier article, "Repertoire Renovations." As always, I welcome reader feedback.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Seventh Seal

Criterion's re-release of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, with its stark black and white compositions and famous chess game between Death and a returned crusader (played by Max von Sydow), will likely cause many to reconsider this classic film. Dennis Lim's review ("A Second Look: 'the Seventh Seal'") suggests that it still has power despite its many parodies and campily serious tone:
A heavily symbolic allegory of faith and doubt set in plague-ridden medieval Sweden, this seminal movie was the height of midcentury existentialist chic and ground zero for the cinephile golden age. It gave the cultural intelligentsia permission to take film seriously.

"The Seventh Seal" has since fallen victim to changing tastes and to its own popularity. (If anything, it is now more middlebrow emblem than highbrow badge of honor.) And it is precisely its unabashed seriousness, once so seductive, that has contributed to its somewhat diminished reputation.

Many of the film's images have passed into cinematic immortality, none more so than the recurring motif of a brooding knight locked in a mortal chess game with Death, assuming the form of a cowled, white-faced ghoul, and the final hilltop danse macabre, led by the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper. But the hooded figure of Death also has proved spoofable, popping up in such places as Bergman mega-fan Woody Allen's "Love and Death," Monty Python skits and "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey."

It might not be possible to liberate "The Seventh Seal," reissued in a new two-disc edition this week by the Criterion Collection in both standard definition and Blu-ray, from the historical baggage that surrounds it. But first-time viewers, and those revisiting it after many years, might be surprised to find a movie that feels at once dated and timeless: Its deadly earnest sensibility harks back to another era, but its stark iconographic power is undimmed, stubbornly resistant to parody. Read the rest online>

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saemisch Attack Again

Saemisch Attack, Alekhine's Defense
White to play.

I have posted some analysis of a specific line in the Saemisch Attack vs. the Alekhine Defense beginning 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. Nc3 Nxc3 4. bxc3 d6 5. f4 dxe5 6. fxe5 Qd5, when White has to watch out for tricky tactics with Bf5 followed by Qe4+ and Qxc2. Recently, a reader sent me a game he played based on my advice in "The Saemisch Surprise," where I suggested sacrificing the c-pawn. I still think that is a viable option, but I now prefer simply 7.Nf3! followed by Be2 and O-O, avoiding the whole discussion. Those interested in learning more about the line should also see "Saemisch Surprise Revisited," where I analyze Smith - Yermolinsky, Washington D.C. 2008.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Chess in Concert" June 17 on PBS

Mark your calendar if you are interested in seeing "Chess in Concert" next Wednesday, June 17, on PBS's Great Performances. Vocalist Josh Groban headlines the cast, from a concert production last year at London's Royal Albert Hall.

Online Blitz

I have posted two of my best "Killer Games" from recent online play. They are really fun miniatures with the Tango and the Left Hook Grand Prix (respectively), which I have discussed here before.

Not finding time to visit the club or even do a lot of chess analysis, I have been able to find a few minutes here or there for online blitz play. I used to play mostly unrated games at ICC, but lately I have been trying out a bunch of different sites (where I feel less invested in my rating status) and am working up toward a review of the ones I have used and a survey of others. My current favorites are Buho21 (where I probably play the most and have broken through my 2200 ceiling on several occasions) and ChessCube (which has a very nice interface, if not the strongest competition). One side benefit of playing at Buho21 is that I am learning a lot of new Spanish curse words.... I welcome suggestions for sites I should try -- especially if I can try them for free.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Chicago and Lake Hopatcong 1926

Those of us who collect chess books often choose works as much for their rarity and beauty as for the games and ideas they contain. Dale Brandreth's Caissa Editions has long catered to collectors, supplying limited editions of truly beautiful books, complete with library bindings, high quality paper, very readable fonts, multiple diagrams per page, attractive layouts, rare photographs, excellent indexes, and careful editing. Yet Caissa books not only exhibit rare quality but also supply rare content, as is the case with Robert Sherwood's excellent book of the Chicago 1926 and Lake Hopatcong 1926 Chess Tournaments, which finally brings to light many games that had long been missing from the historical record.

I have posted a page of four Tactical Puzzles from Chicago 1926.

As Jeremy Silman mentions in his review, even his "database of over 3,850,000 games only has 27 from the Chicago 1926 event, while the tournament book we’re about to discuss has 78!" Why is it that, until now (for the databases are already adding them), we have only had access to about a third of the games? Because, as with many tournaments, the majority of the games were never published. Only the games of the tournament stars (especially Marshall, Torre and Maroczy) were of much interest to the public, and so only the best of their games and a few others ever made their way to print and subsequently into the databases. Frank Marshall was personally responsible for adding two to the record, analyzing his games with Kupchik and Maroczy (certainly among the best of the tournament) in his Marshall's Best Games of Chess. And Gabriel Velasco collected all of Torre's games from the event for his book on the Mexican GM. But we owe a debt of gratitude to author Robert Sherwood for returning to photostats of the original score sheets (some of which proved "impossible to decipher") to puzzle out most of the moves for the rest.

Ironically, despite Sherwood's efforts, I think my favorite games from the tournament remain those that have long been known, including Marshall - Kupchik, Marshall - Maroczy, Maroczy - Chajes, and Showalter - Torre -- the last of which features a truly challenging tactical idea from Torre (see diagram below and in the puzzles), who found not only a winning idea but also the only move to survive (a move you can forgive Showalter for having overlooked when he played 20.Qxg7?).

Showalter - Torre, Chicago 1926
Black to play and win.

Yet some of the long unkown games are of interest as well, mostly for their fascinating endgames, as in Marshall - Isaacs and Kashdan - Lasker. In fact, I would say that those who love to study endings will find much to appreciate in Chicago 1926, since all of the games were hard fought (every draw and win well earned) and therefore typically feature some endgame play. The openings, meanwhile, were the standards of the time, including the Queen's Gambit, Ruy Lopez, Caro-Kann, Colle-Zukertort, and the London System, as well as the surprisingly popular Alekhine's Defense. There are a couple absolutely classic Ruy Lopez attacks (most notably Ed. Lasker - Chajes and Chajes - Showalter with their queen sacrifices) and classic Queen's Gambits (especially Marshall's games cited above). But it is in the endings where the games have the most to offer those more interested in the theory of the game than its human history. Sherwood has done a marvelous job of annotating every game to maximize its value to us.

Kupchik - Capablanca,
Lake Hopatcong 1926

Position after 19.Rf3? h5!

The section on Lake Hopatcong 1926 is also very well put together, with many notes in addition to those in the original tournament book by Herman Helms and C.S. Howell. Readers of these pages will likely recall my own fascination with the two Lake Hopatcong tournaments of 1923 and 1926. Comparing in a few places my own annotations to those of Mr. Sherwood, I am impressed by how much he adds to my understanding of these games.

My favorite game from Lake Hopatcong 1926 is probably Kupchik - Capablanca, where Capablanca's 19...h5 (see diagram above) long puzzled me, so that I was only too happy to accept C.S. Howell's fascinating explanation that the move was part of a deep-seeded plan to distract Kupchik's forces by luring them over to the kingside, thus strengthening his own queenside attack. I am still convinced that something like that happens in the game. But Sherwood's explanation of 19...h5! is even more persuasive. Having pointed out that 19.Rf3? was in error because the superior 19.Rg1 planning a g4 push would have given White some kingside chances, Sherwood notes that Capa's 19...h5! "takes advantage of the now blocked d1-h5 diagonal to forever preempt White's g2-g4, thereby freeing himself to operate unhindered on the other wing." This note is simply one of many that offer a deeper insight into these excellent games.

My only regret is that author Sherwood and editor Brandreth did not conceive of a separate volume devoted to the Lake Hopatcong tournaments of 1923 and 1926 -- creating coherence of geography rather than chronology. Most of the 1923 games had long been lost to the historical record and are only now making their way into the databases. I was able to uncover 42 from Herman Helms's Brooklyn Eagle chess columns -- though I now discover that Phony Benoni (a.k.a. David Moody) has posted even more at in an excellent page devoted to the event. And clearly Brandreth knew the event well, since he includes a great photo of the 1923 players (one of many photos that alone repay the cost of the book).

I think the combination of the two Lake Hopatcong events would have been at least as interesting as the current volume. My favorite game from 1923 is the long known Kupchik - Marshall, which Marshall annotated in his collected games. But there are many more of value, including the interesting game Kupchik - Chajes, which offers what I called "An Opening Novelty from 1923." Though the Chicago 1926 tournament (which takes up only 152 pages) likely needed something more to fill out a book, perhaps there were other events that could have done it. Most of the action in 1926 was in Europe, of course, but there was a Chicago-London cable match and I see tantalizing hints in the game records of a New York 1926 event from which comes Maroczy - Tenner. I certainly understand the choice of Lake Hopatcong 1926, and I probably appreciate more than most the additional information on this historic New Jersey event; I simply regret the missed opportunity for a fascinating separate volume.

As I hope is clear from this review, I heartily recommend the Chicago 1926 and Lake Hopatcong 1926 Chess Tournaments, which can be had by sending a check for $40 plus $4 for shipping and handling to:

Dale A. Brandreth
Caissa Editions
P.O. Box 151
Yorklyn, DE 19736

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Labourdonnais - McDonnell Attack

I have posted analysis of what I call The Labourdonnais - McDonnell Attack against the French Defense, with 1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3. It is a fascinating line well worth reviving, as Igor Glek recently argued in SOS #8.

Though theory clearly prefers the name Labourdonnais Variation for the line that begins 1.e4 e6 2.f4 and McDonnell Attack for 1.e4 c5 2.f4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.e5, I think that even a glance at the historical record should convince anyone that McDonnell deserves credit for both. I suppose Labourdonnais gains the name on the strength of his attractive game De LaBourdonnais - Lecrivain, Paris 1837. But this example is clearly preceded by McDonnell - De LaBourdonnais, Match 1834 which began with the French move order, let alone the more than a dozen additional games with the line between these two unofficial rivals for the "world championship." My favorite game with this opening between the two, McDonnell - De LaBourdonnais, London Match 1834, shows what an exciting and hard fought series of contests it was. It seems fitting that the opening be named after both of them, as they are forever linked in the annals of chess history and even lie in nearly adjacent graves in London's Kensal Green.