Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sidney Bernstein's Dragon Ideas

Soltis - Bernstein, New York 1965
Position after 13...h5!
I have analyzed the game Soltis - Bernstein, Marshall CC Championship 1965, which features an interesting innovation from Sidney Norman Bernstein (1911-1992).  I have already written about Bernstein in these pages (see "Sidney Bernstein Plays 1...Nc6") and have long been impressed by the many original ideas in his book Combat: My 50 Years at the Chessboard (still in print thanks to Ishi Press).  It's a shame that not more of Bernstein's games have made their way to the databases. 

Reading Dan Heisman's "Learning from Andy" at ChessCafe, I was reminded that Bernstein had some interesting ideas in the Dragon, including a early ...h5 advance that he played against a young Andy Soltis.  The fact that Bernstein tried out his ...h5 advance against Soltis in 1965 is ironic because Soltis himself would go on to develop a similar idea which has since become known as the Soltis Variation of the Dragon.   In his wonderful history of recent opening theory, Revolution in the 70s, Garry Kasparov suggests that this line truly originated in Larsen - Westerinen, Halle 1963, though he acknowledges that it was clearly Soltis's use of the idea in the early 1970s in several high profile games that was the impetus for its widespread adoption.  Heisman shows, of course, that Soltis was clearly using it even before that in more local contests.  Is it possible that Soltis had a local inspiration for the idea in Bernstein?  You be the judge.  In any event, Bernstein had some interesting ideas in the Dragon, many of which seem to presage Simon Williams's approach in The New Sicilian Dragon (Everyman 2009).  There is nothing new under the sun.  But chess history has a way of ignoring the larger pool of players who contribute to new ideas.

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