Friday, October 30, 2009

NJKOs Top USCL with Win over Philly

Costigan - Shen
White to play

The New Jersey Knockouts gained sole possession of first place in the US Chess League Wednesday night by beating the Philadelphia Inventors 3.5-.5. With a tie for Boston and loss for Seattle, the Knockouts win the Eastern division and almost clinch the top ranking going into the playoffs (see Standings). With a win or draw next week, the Knockouts will have the best record in the USCL which means they get draw odds in the quarter- and semi-final matches and choice of color in the championship match.

I have annotated the games below, and you can download the PGN file.

GM Joel Benjamin returned to match play against GM Sergey Kudrin on Board One after his absence against Boston in Week 8. Benjamin has a perfect record against Kudrin, but playing Black on Board One he was amenable to a draw, so when Kudrin proposed it in an equal position (that was similar to positions they had contested to a draw twice before in tournament play over the years) Benjamin naturally accepted.

GM Boris Gulko continued his complete dominance of opponents by taking down FM Tommy Bartell on Board Two in just over 20 moves. Bartell never really seemed in the game, playing into an inferior line of the Queen's Gambit Exchange Variation as Black and then making a number of inferior moves to allow a speedy Gulko victory. I have seen Bartell misplay this line before as White without getting punished. But against Gulko, the slightest misstep -- especially as Black -- can be fatal.

The most difficult game of the night was definitely the match-up of young Victor Shen and Richard Costigan on Board Three. Costigan played a slow and rather closed variation of the Torre Attack that is not known for excitement. But Shen made the mistake of opening the a-file for White, when he came under some pressure. White definitely had the initiative and attacking chances. Costigan struggled, however, with time pressure, which probably caused him to miss a winning line: in the diagram at the top of this post, it appears that White might be in trouble because his Knight is attacked and cannot move without hanging the Rook. But Costigan could have played 41.Qd3! (41.Qg3 is also strong) forcing 41...f5 (41...fxe5? 42.Qxg6+ and Rc7 mates) when simply 42.Rxe6 leaves him with a won game. Instead, Costigan sacrificed the Knight, which gave him chances also but he was not able to capitalize in time pressure. Meanwhile, Shen defended carefully and eventually found a way to break through for a winning attack of his own. A lucky break for New Jersey, though we fortunately did not need it with the success on the other boards.

On Board Four, Sean Finn continued his excellent play against USCF Online editor and WGM Jennifer Shahade, who clearly was not well prepared for their game, managing her clock poorly and getting in time trouble. Meanwhile, Finn played an excellent attacking game. Though he used a line against Black's O'Kelley Sicilian frowned upon by theory (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 when Black can play e5 without having to face Nb5), he managed to get a clear advantage and eventually to develop a strong attack that he carried to victory with a number of impressively strong moves. I think we will be hearing a lot from this young man in the future. He had a chance at the upset prize but was beaten out by Amanda Mateer (who overcame a 300-point deficit on bottom board in Arizona's stunning win against Seattle).

The Knockouts play the Queens Pioneers to finish out the season next Wednesday. If they win or draw, they will go into the playoffs with the best record in the League.

Related Links

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chess Cheat Moves to Sudoku

In "First in Chess, Now Sudoku; 'Eugene Varshavsky' Focus of Cheating Allegations" at the NPR website, Mark Memmott discusses how the same man at the center of "Cheating Accusations at the World Open" in Philadelphia recently won $3,000 at a Sudoku tournament in the same city (update: prizes are frozen pending review). There have been commercial Sudoku solving computers since 2007, and there are now inexpensive models on the market, including the Illuminated Mega Sudoku Puzzle Game (see picture) which retails for just over $30. You can probably even get one for your i-Phone. So such a scandal was inevitable. The shocking thing is that the same man was involved in both cases and probably will suffer no consequences. What's next for Varshavsky? Checkers?

NM Scott Massey Lectures on "How to Improve at Chess" Tonight

NM Scott Massey will be giving his lecture on "How To Improve at Chess" tonight at the Kenilworth Chess Club starting at 8:15 or 8:30 (depending upon when people arrive). Admission is $5 and non-members are welcome (at the same price). Hope you can attend.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Queen to Play

Queen to Play, a French film (with English subtitles) where chess is portrayed as a means to personal fulfillment, is set to be released November 24th on DVD. When it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, it was described by Genna Teranova as follows:
An inquisitive French Riviera hotel maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) becomes entranced by a vacationing couple (Jennifer Beals, Dominic Gould) as they play chess on the hotel balcony. Tired of her humdrum existence, she quickly cultivates her curiosity for the game into an obsession. Her working-class husband doesn't share her fascination with the game, so she employs the help of the American expat and retired doctor (Kevin Kline) whose house she cleans a few times a week. As her passion for the game increases, her natural talent and hard work (done mostly in secret) lead her to a chance at a championship and a new shot at life.
Bob Basalla, take note. See reviews by Rene Rodriguez and Frank Scheck. Hat tip:

Monday, October 26, 2009


It will only bother you for a couple seconds that they have the chessboard set up wrong. Hat tip ALCHEssMIST.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

USCL Week 8 Recap

US Chess League VP Arun Sharma recaps Week 8 action in the US Chess League at the USCF website and assesses the playoff scenarios. Meanwhile, the vote is in for Game of the Week, with New Jersey having two games (Gulko - Perelshteyn and Shen - Esserman) in the top three, but first place going to Bartholomew - Becerra (with its sustained kingside attack) from the Dallas vs. Miami match. New Jersey tops the charts in Bioniclime's Week 8 Power Rankings (see above), while the incredible Boris Gulko is second only to Seattle's Superman (from Smallville) Hikaru Nakamura in the Week 8 Player Ratings. See NJKO's Boston Sweep Analyzed for more links and commentary. This looks more and more like New Jersey's year.

Friday, October 23, 2009

NJKOs' Boston Sweep Analyzed

White to play

Due to a busy work load this week, I am only now getting around to posting my analysis of the NJ Knockouts' stunning sweep of the Boston Blitz 4-0 on Monday night in week 8 of US Chess League action. The victory gave the Knockouts first place in the Eastern division, for which they were tied with Boston going into the match. Though it was only Boston's second loss of the season, it was also their second 4-0 loss (the first to the Dallas Destiny in Week 3). New Jersey is now tied with Seattle (in the Western division) for the best record in the League at 7-1.

I have annotated the games below, or you can download my PGN file.

Fans were surprised that team captain and first-board anchor GM Joel Benjamin was not playing in the biggest match of the year. But the NJKO blog reports that GM Benjamin had a prior commitment that was known about since August. Fans could ask for no better substitute than GM Boris Gulko, who seems almost unfair to unleash on Board Two. He proved yet again that he is one of the strongest players in the League, beating GM Eugene Perelshteyn in a fascinating isolani position that was practically a text book illustration of how to deploy a Knight on the outpost squares c5 and e5 to provoke weaknesses or exploit tactical opportunities. The game also features a nice "GM Exchange sac," which is often found in Gulko's games. White had pressure throughout, and the "Gulko Garrote" eventually forced Perelshteyn to cough up a pawn, giving White excellent winning chances. In a failed attempt to generate counter-play, Perelshteyn sacrificed a second pawn, and eventually Gulko managed to get connected h- and g-pawns in a Rook ending that he marched down the board to force Perelshteyn to surrender. This was a brilliant game and a deserving candidate for Game of the Week honors.

Dean Ippolito's victory over Jorge Sammour-Hasbun on Board Two was, like the win on Board Four, a surprising bonus. Though Ippolito solidly defended an elite-theory line of the Catalan as Black, he had a passive position throughout the game, with Sammour-Hasbun controlling the c-file and pressuring Black's backward c7-pawn. Ippolito seemed forced into contortions to create a solid defense, and though he succeeded in doing so it seemed the most likely result would be a draw. But with trouble on the other boards, Sammour-Hasbun was not willing to split the point and so searched desperately for a winning idea, burning up time on his clock while doing so, which led to an eventual time-pressure blunder that lost a piece (his Bishop) to an interesting trap. Typically in this line, White's Bishop goes to a5 to pressure the c7 pawn, but that Bishop can get a bit out of play there. Ippolito blocked the Bishop's escape route by advancing a well-defended pawn to b4, which should have forced Sammour-Hasbun eventually to exchange his Bishop for a Knight at b6, allowing Black's pawn at c7 to escape the pressure along the c-file by capturing cxb6. However, in trying for the win, Sammour-Hasbun allowed a situation to arise where the Knight had moved to d5 and his Bishop had no way to escape when attacked by Rb5. After he lost the piece, there was simply not enough compensation, and Ippolito played carefully to gain the full point.

On Board Three, NM Victor Shen gave a brilliant demonstration of why the Italian Game is still going strong, using a line that has had a 100% success rate in USCL games (see my notes) to build a powerful and sustained attack that carried him to victory. The critical move of the game is a real stunner. You can challenge yourself to find it in the diagram at the top of this post.

The confident and strong play of Gulko and Shen eventually made it seem that victory was assured for the Knockouts, and the wins by Ippolito and Andrew Ng on Board Four were just the "icing on the donut."

Shen and Ippolito on Bioniclime's live BlogTV

No one expected Cadet Champ Andrew Ng to pull out a win against Andrew Wang on Board Four. In fact, until late in the game, I would have been surprised if he had been able to draw. But Ng has demonstrated in several games that he has a strong fighting spirit that more than makes up for occasional mistakes in the opening stages. Ng played a well known line against the Moscow Variation of the Sicilian (with 3.Bb5+ Nd7!?) that had been used even by Kasparov with success. But he could not find the best way to get his Nd7 into play and wasted critical tempi by playing Nb6 and then Nc8(?), which allowed White to force the win of a pawn. However, Ng never quit and forced his opponent to find strong moves at every turn, until late in the game, with mutual time pressure (both players were down to the increment at one point), when Wang could not sustain his otherwise excellent effort and faltered, allowing Ng a pair of Bishop forks that won the day.

Sweeping perennial league rival Boston in the most critical game of the season surely will boost New Jersey's already lofty spirits. I hope they can carry on this effort through the remaining two matches. Next up are the Philadelphia Inventors (who they beat in Week Two) on Wednesday, October 28th at 7:00 p.m. and then the Queens Pioneers on November 4.

Related Links

Monday, October 19, 2009

NJKOs Blank Boston 4-0 to Lead the East!

Fill in the blank... More in this space tomorrow. PGN here (no notes yet).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chess Skill That's Stronger than Steel

According to Gareth Williams's book Master Pieces: The Architecture of Chess, in the 18th Century "the turning of a chess set was an important part of an apprentice turner's course" -- so important that "a seal of the Hanover Turners' Guild...displays a chess knight, with a double headed horse as its symbol" (65). The manufacturers of automated metal lathes are doing the same thing as lathe turners in the 18th Century: demonstrating their skills by making chess pieces. There are several videos on YouTube (especially the one above) that most chess players will find hypnotic.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rex's Angels

Jennifer Shahade's "Glamour and Big Bucks Close the U.S. Women's" shows you just how far women's chess has come: strong players, interesting games, big prizes, great sponsors, a fantastic venue, and brilliant PR. Scroll down to see the glam shots of the contestants by Suzy Gorman. Great Betsy Dynako photos at the 2009 U.S. Women's Chess Championship website and at ChessBase ("Photo Impressions...," "Anna Zatonskih Wins...," and "US Women's Championship: jazz, blindfold and hula chess").

Friday, October 16, 2009

US Chess League Recap

In "US Chess League Nears Playoffs," USCL VP Arun Sharma gives a team-by-team recap of the year so far, with some games from Round 7. League Standings show Boston and New Jersey at 6-1 in the East and Seattle at 6-1 in the West. On Monday, October 19 at 7:00 p.m. on ICC, Boston plays NJ to determine who leads the East (expect previews from the Blitz Blog, NJKO Blog, and BCC Weblog). Meanwhile, at the NJ Knockouts Blog, IM Albert Kapengut annotates his game with Uesugi and Joseph Criscuolo discusses the victory over Baltimore ("Kingfishers Get Royally Plucked by Knockouts: NJ in Playoffs!").

Calculation Puzzle

queen sacBlack to Play and Win

Looking through Chess Review from 1956, I came across the forgotten amateur game Collins - Rankis, New York State Championship 1956 (PGN here). In the position above, Black is up a pawn and can eventually win by many means, but the puzzle really asks you to find Black's most stunning, artistic, and forceful method.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

NJKOs Beat Baltimore 3.5-.5

Gulko - Kaufman
White to play and win.

The New Jersey Knockouts beat the Baltimore Kingfishers last night 3.5-.5 in a match that was a lot closer than the score would indicate. Except for the bottom board, every game was quite tense and two games seemed to be decided by divine intervention (or just time pressure blunders). However, with donuts on deck the NJKO lucked out and won on Boards 2, 3 and 4. I have analyzed the games below and you can download my PGN.

GM Joel Benjamin has been a rock for New Jersey on Board One. Other than his loss last week against Ramirez (where he seemed to be holding the draw until an unfortunate blunder), he has won or drawn in every match this season. Against IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat, he certainly was at a disadvantage in a somewhat passive position, but he played a solid game to draw without many worries.

On Board Two, GM Boris Gulko's game with GM Larry Kaufman looked at first like a typical "Gulko Garrote," with constraint and slow torture. But Kaufman showed remarkable resilience and actually emerged from a difficult middlegame into a slightly advantageous endgame, at which point Gulko (who has a perfect record so far in the USCL) actually offered a draw. Since the match had already been decided, a draw seemed a foregone conclusion, but to the surprise of all spectators Kaufman refused the draw offer and proceeded to demonstrate that he indeed had a strong enough advantage that he could force the win of a pawn. However, with little time left on the clock, Kaufman soon allowed Gulko to equalize and then blundered in time pressure, missing a tactic for White that wins a Rook (see diagram above). So Gulko actually won the game, keeping his perfect record intact. Lesson? You don't decline a draw offer from Boris Gulko.

IM Albert Kapengut's game was the most difficult to call. Though it appeared that FM Shinsaku Uesugi's exchange of two pieces for a Rook gave Black the advantage, the position was far from clear. Eventually, Uesugi got two connected passed pawns on the queenside and in the final position it was really impossible to judge who was better. Most viewers assumed that Uesugi was even winning because Kapengut offered a draw despite his opponent's severe time pressure. In any event, Kapengut's draw offer was left on the table as Uesugi lost on time.

Anna Matlin's win against Jared Defibaugh on Board Four was probably the most assured and technically flawless game of the night. Playing a line of the Scotch right out of the Kasparov playbook (which is now serving Magnus Carlsen so well), Matlin eschewed snatching a dangerous gambit pawn and instead offered a queen exchange with 12.Qg5 headed for a more positional struggle. Black did fine in a previous game against that move by exchanging queens immediately, but Defibaugh hesitated (perhaps thinking he was gaining time) and suddenly was under pressure that probably required him to gambit a pawn. However, he tried to hold onto the material, and Matlin capitalized, building up a powerful position that eventually forced him to surrender a pawn anyway. She then played a superb ending to bring home the point.

With the win over Baltimore, New Jersey secures a berth in the playoffs. Next week, on Monday, October 19 at 7:00 p.m., they play their biggest match of the year against the Boston Blitz, with whom they are tied for first in the Eastern division. Let's hope they can be as lucky then as they were last night.

Related Links

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is the World Chess Hall of Fame History?

KCC member Don Carrelli reports at the Kenilworth Kibitzer blog that he recently tried to visit The World Chess Hall of Fame only to find that it was closed. Does anyone have any information on the future of this chess institution and the relics it housed?

Anna Zatonskih Wins 2009 U.S. Women's Championship

Anna Zatonskih has won the 2009 U.S. Women's Championship with the incredible score of 8.5/9, allowing only a draw to her closest competitor, Camilla Baginskaite, who finished two points back at 6.5/9. Last year's playoff challenger Irina Krush and rising star Alisa Melekhina finished tied for third and fourth at 5.5/9. Zatonskih won the championship last year in a controversial "armageddon" playoff with Krush, but this year demonstrated conclusively that she deserves the championship title. I recommend that you explore the excellent 2009 U.S. Women's Championship website (part of the excellent website of the Saint Louis Chess Club), where you will find every game annotated by GM-elect Ben Finegold in both java replay (an excellent deployment of Palview) and PDF bulletins. I was especially impresed by Zatonskih-Krush from Round 3 and the hard fought game Goletiani - Krush from Round 2.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Paul Morphy vs. Mephistopheles

Retzsch's Die Schachspieler (1831)

In Die Schachspieler and the Morphy Anecdote, Part I and Part II, Sarah Beth Cohen reproduces multiple interpretations of a fascinating painting by Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch depicting the familiar theme of a chess game with the devil. She then goes on to reproduce the interesting Paul Morphy anecdote that became attached to that painting by a series of articles in the Columbia Chess Chronicle (which can be found online at Google Books). According to the "Anecdote of Morphy" (August 18, 1888, p. 60), the American chess champion joined a dinner party at a home in Richmond, Virginia, where a copy of Retzch's painting hung on the wall. After studying the painting for some time, Morphy said that he could "take the young man's game and win," which he proceeded to prove several times to the other dinner guests in turn. The story provoked some controversy in the Chronicle, and Ms. Cohen reproduces the letter exchange that followed in its pages. She neglects to include, however, the letter of Charles Gilberg (see below, from September 22, 1888) which purports to reproduce the game position that Morphy defended.

Of course, a comparison of the position with the painting should prove to anyone that Gilberg's rendition is completely incorrect. Just for starters, he does not notice that all of the devil's remaining pieces stand on dark squares (since he represents the dark side, of course). In fact, the one thing he could get right about the position -- which is the situation of the pieces -- he gets completely wrong.

However, while it seems possible to reconstruct the situation of the pieces (see below), a close examination of the pieces themselves quickly reveals that no definitive statement can be made about the chess pieces they represent. After all, the pieces are intended to depict a battle between the seven (or eight) virtues and the seven deadly sins, and chess seems to function in the painting mostly as a metaphor. However, in my opinion, the fact that no definitive statement can be made about the chess pieces depicted only lends credence to the "Anecdote of Morphy," since it seems entirely possible to construct a chess position (and probably several) that would be quite competitive or even winning for White using the situation of the forces given in the painting.

Unfortunately, the only view of the painting I have available is the one online at ArtFact that Ms. Cohen references and reproduces with her article. But even from this rather limited view I think I can reconstruct the situation:

The situation of the pieces

We can say only a few things definitively, however, about the pieces depicted:
  • the board is set up correctly, with a light square on the right;
  • the small pieces are clearly intended to represent pawns;
  • since all of the Black pieces remaining stand on dark squares, the piece that the young man has captured must be the light-squared Bishop;
  • and the painting does not depict a full set of pieces and pawns for both sides.
Here is one possible way of rendering the position on a chessboard:

Morphy vs. Mephistopheles?

I think from that position, Morphy would have offered his challengers a sporting chance (Fritz thinks Black still has a slight edge after 1.Qxd4+). And he might even have held that "Modern Mephistopheles," the chess computer, to a draw. Below is one possible continuation (or see PGN) with best play for Black--something Morphy would certainly not have encountered in Richmond.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Amp Can" Takes Washington Square

What GMs have to do for money these days.... Shades of "the Turk." Hat tip Lizzy.

The Smith-Morra Gambit's Siren Call

A small wave of nostalgia for the Smith-Morra Gambit has been building in me of late, culminating in my finding an old scorebook from 1981 where it featured in at least half my games as White. I have posted analysis of two of the better ones I unearthed in "Youthful Smith-Morras" (along with a PGN to download). I am impressed by the creativity in these games, and playing them over (even the ones with too many errors by both sides to show) I am surprised by how well I was doing as White in every game. In fact, I would say that none of my losses were due to the opening, while it gave me many quick wins.

Goeller - Boudreaux, NC GP 1981
White to Play and Force a Draw

I had been thinking about the Smith-Morra since I saw a series of lectures by GM-elect Alex Lenderman at ICC back in late 2007. The recent game Esserman - Bartell, USCL 2009 revived my interest to some extent. Then last week I stumbled upon a super Smith-Morra webliography at The Bishops Bounty (a great blog by the way). And today I came close to buying The Modern Morra Gambit by Hannes Langrock. I didn't buy it, though (not yet, anyway). You'd think Tim McGrew's "The Power of Ideas" and "A Little Learning" would have convinced me that the Smith-Morra is not just some youthful indulgence. Maybe I've grown old and curmudgeonly in my attitude, sort of like IM Mark Ginsburg (author of "Defending the Smith-Morra") who analyzes the Esserman game at his blog, under the title "The Smith-Morra, again?" (you can just feel his exasperation). I should just dismiss the thought. But it is hard to resist the Smith-Morra Gambit's siren call.

Goeller - Glickman, NJ Junior 1981
White to Play and Win

Sunday, October 11, 2009

King Kong Chess Set

You can get an impressive King Kong Deluxe Chess Set for $129.99 from Toynk. Based on the classic 1933 film, it contrasts an art deco city with a savage island (ruled by Kong as its King.) Daryl has great pictures from his collection (hope he didn't buy it at $475.) I'd be tempted to invent a special chess variation to match the set (along the lines of Dracula Chess), in which the object of the game is for black to capture Ann Darrow and white to rescue her. Oh, wait, isn't that Donkey Kong?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday, October 09, 2009

Carlsen Wins to Finish Nanjing with 8/10

Phenomenal 18-year-old Super-GM Magnus Carlsen finished the Nanjing Spring tournament (games at Chessgames) with a win to give him an unbelievable 8 / 10 score for the event, leading his nearest competitor, world number one Veselin Topalov, by 2.5 points. With the win, Carlsen broke 2800 on the Live Ratings List, making him one of the few in chess history to have done so. He is now less than 8 points back from Topalov and has an opportunity to surpass him before the year is out.

Next up is the Tal Memorial (Moscow, November 5-14, 2009) where he will have a much greater challenge, facing nearly the rest of the top 20 in the world: World Champion Viswanathan Anand, Levon Aronian (who is a fantastic tournament player), former champion Vladimir Kramnik, Peter Leko, Vassily Ivanchuk, Boris Gelfand, Alexander Morozevich, Peter Svidler, and Ruslan Ponomariov. If he passes that test, then he should have an easier time in the London Chess Classic (Kensington, December 8-15) facing Kramnik again, Hikaru Nakamura, Ni Hua, Nigel Short, Michael Adams, Luke McShane, and David Howell. There's lots of good chess to look forward to in the coming months!

Below are links to annotations of Carlsen's games from Rounds 6 - 10. I will try to add more as they appear. I previously posted links to annotations of Rounds 1 - 5.

Carlsen - Jakovenko, Round 10
Radjabov - Carlsen, Round 9
Carlsen - Wang Yue, Round 8
Topalov - Carlsen, Round 7
Leko - Carlsen, Round 6
Please use the comments area below to alert me to any I have overlooked.