20 December 2014

An Unplayed Brilliancy

This was a betrayal of myself.
Mikhail Tal
There is a line of the Alekhine Defense in which the Black king strolls towards the center after White's knight sacrifice. The line resembles the Fried Liver Attack, but is more often played by Grandmasters.

In one game, Bent Larsen defended the Black side well and won a nice miniature against Mikahil Tal. In another game, Tal worked out the variations all the way to checkmate before sacrificing the knight. The Black king was driven to a1 where it was checkmated with White's few remaining pieces.

These games are fantasy variations that stem from a war of nerves in which Larsen scored an important victory against the master of attack, but still lost the Candidate's Match against the former World Champion. Tal spent fifty minutes contemplating the knight sacrifice, trusted his opponent's preparation, and opted for a safer route. He ended up in a worse position, but managed to salvage a draw in the endgame.

Yasser Seirawan's excellent recent lecture at the Chess Club of Saint Louis, "A History of Chess Openings," provoked my interest in this line of the Alekhine Defense. Near the end of the lecture, Seirawan indicates that he may have mixed up the moves of Tal -- Larsen, but goes on to make some general comments concerning opening preparation. He had spent several days been looking at "the conservative and the super sharp lines" of this opening. He goes on to predict that Alekhine Defense, like the early queen exchange in the Berlin Defense, could become a new hot trend in Grandmaster play.

Here is the game that Seirawan remembered.

Tal,Mikhail -- Larsen,Bent [B04]
Candidates Semi-Final Bled (4), 1965

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 dxe5 5.Nxe5 Nd7

Larsen offered Tal an opportunity to drive his king to the center with a knight sacrifice.

6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qh5+ Ke6 8.c4 N5f6 9.d5+ Kd6 10.Qf7 Ne5 11.Bf4 c5

White to move


12.b4 is the main line in my edition of Encyclopedia of Chess Openings.

12...a6 13.0–0–0

See the next game for 13.Rd1

13...g5 14.Bg3 Bh6 15.Re1

Seirawan does not offer 15.d6, which has been played in similar positions (after 13...g6 and no 14.Bg3).

15...g4+ 16.Kb1 Bf5+ 17.Ka1 Rf8 18.Bxe5+ Kd7

White to move

Unable to rescue his queen, it is time for White to resign.


In Attack with Mikhail Tal, trans. Ken Neat (1994), Tal explains his thinking after Larsen's shocking 5...Nd7.
My intuition insistently kept telling me that the sacrifice had to be correct, but I decided to calculate everything "as far as mate", spent some 50 minutes, but then in one of the innumerable variations I found something resembling a defense, and ... rejected the sacrifice. This was a betrayal of myself, I saved the game only by a miracle after the adjournment.

Here is the variation that Tal presents in the opening section of his book.

Tal,Mikhail -- Larsen,Bent [B04]
Candidates Semi-Final Bled (4), 1965

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 dxe5 5.Nxe5 Nd7 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qh5+ Ke6 8.c4 N5f6 9.d5+ Kd6 10.Qf7 Ne5 11.Bf4 c5 12.Nc3 a6 13.Rd1 g6 14.Bxe5+ Kxe5 15.d6 g5 16.Rd2 Bf5 17.Re2+

Black to move

17...Kd4 18.Re4+ Bxe4 19.Qe6

Black to move

Perhaps the defense that he found in his calculations was 19...Qd7, covering h3 or 19...Qb6, covering b3.

White threat, according to Tal is 20.Ne2+ Kd3 21.Qh3+ Kc2 22.Qb3+ Kb1 23.Nc3+ Ka1 24.Bd3 Bxd3 25.Kd2+ Bb1 26.Rxb1# 0–1

Here is the game that was actually played.

Tal,Mikhail -- Larsen,Bent [B04]
Candidates Semi-Final Bled (4), 1965

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 dxe5 5.Nxe5 Nd7 6.Bc4

Black to move

6...e6 7.Qg4 h5 8.Qe2 Nxe5 9.dxe5 Bd7 10.0–0 Bc6 11.Rd1 Qe7 12.Nc3 Nxc3 13.bxc3 g6 14.a4 a6 15.Rb1 Qc5 16.Be3 Qxe5 17.f4 Qf5 18.Bd3 Qg4 19.Qf2 Be7 20.Bd4 0–0 21.Be2 Qf5 22.Bd3 Qg4 23.Be2 Qh4 24.g3 Qh3 25.Bf3 Rad8 26.Bxc6 bxc6 27.Be5 Qf5 28.Qe2 Bd6 29.Rd3 Bxe5 30.fxe5 Rxd3 31.cxd3 Rd8 32.Rd1 c5 33.c4 Qg4
White to move

34.Qxg4 hxg4 35.Kf2 Rb8 36.Rd2 Kg7 37.Ke3 g5 38.d4 Rb3+ 39.Kf2 cxd4 40.Rxd4 Kg6 41.Rxg4 Rb2+ 42.Kg1 Kf5 43.Rd4 Kxe5 44.Rd7 f5

White to move

Black must be better here with an active king and a pawn majority on the kingside.

45.Rxc7 Ke4 46.Rd7 Rc2 47.Rd6 e5 48.h4 gxh4 49.gxh4 Rxc4 50.h5 Kf3 51.Rd3+ Kg4 52.h6 Rc7 53.Rd6 e4 54.Kf2 a5 55.Rg6+ Kh5 56.Ra6 f4 57.Re6 Rc2+ 58.Ke1 Rc1+ 59.Kd2 Rh1 60.Rxe4 Kg4 61.Re6 Kg3 62.Rf6 f3 63.Ke3 Re1+ 64.Kd3 Re7 65.Rg6+ Kf4 66.Rf6+ Kg3 67.Rg6+ Kf4 68.Rf6+ Kg4 69.Kd4 Kg3 70.Rg6+ Kh3 71.Rg7

Black to move

71...Rxg7 72.hxg7 f2 73.g8Q f1Q 74.Qe6+ Kh4 75.Kc5 Qb1 76.Qc4+ Kg3 77.Qc3+ Kf2 ½–½

All three games are instructive. This is as true of the game played as of the two unplayed fantasies.

18 December 2014

Six Pawn Endings

Lesson of the Week

Thinking that my top students had already mastered these elementary endings, I put them before a couple of students this week as a quick review. It turns out to have been a good thing to review because not every student quickly knew the correct answers. Each diagram is two positions--White to move, and Black to move.

Most of my beginning students this week confronted the first diagram with White on move. First, they needed to assure the pawn became a queen, then they needed to checkmate me.

17 December 2014

Morphy's Fingerprints

...from this fingerprint, the associated game can be identified.
Rashid Ziyatdinov, GM-RAM
Since mid-summer, a handful of my students have been slowly working through eighteen games played by Paul Morphy. I printed the scores for all of his games from the First American Chess Congress 1857. These game scores become part of the work my students and I go through during our time each week. I encourage them to go through the games as homework, too. They have other chess homework to which they usually give priority--problem sets from my "Checklist of Checkmates", for example, and the problem sets I call "Checkmates and Tactics".*

As we go through the games, we look for critical positions, the key decisive errors, and improvements for both sides. My own understanding of these games is informed by annotations of some of them in Valeri Beim, Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective (2005), which has been in my chess teaching bag most of the past several months. In a few instances, my students and I also have looked at Philip W. Sergeant, Morphy's Games of Chess (1957).

Two of my students have been through all eighteen of Morphy's games from the American Chess Congress and are now working through a small selection of Anderssen's games, those selected by Rashid Ziyatdinov for inclusion in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Chess Knowledge (2000). Ziyatdinov's 120 middlegame positions all occur in the 59 games that he includes in the book. Ziyatdinov advocates mastery of 300 positions, but includes only 256 in his book. He states that each individual will have his or her own additions to the list.

I am now assembling diagrams from these eighteen Morphy games. These diagrams, like the middlegame positions in GM-RAM, are fingerprints that should provoke recollection of the entire game from which each is extracted. My students have not yet set out to memorize Morphy's games, but each of these positions should be reasonably familiar. We discussed each one in some detail. In some cases, the position is where Morphy's tactical skills led him to a decisive blow. In other cases, they represent the moment where his opponent began to self-destruct. In one case, Morphy missed the best plan.

In each case, the idea of the diagram is to understand how both sides should play the position. Is the position one of equality or does one side have a clear advantage? The first set of four positions are from Morphy's three games against James Thompson, his first round opponent at the American Chess Congress.

Perhaps these are not the most important positions from these three games. Perhaps there are better fingerprints.

White to move

White to move

White to move

Black to move

I will select positions from the remaining fifteen games at a later date.

*An award certificate structured curriculum gives structure to many of my lessons with students receiving individual instruction and school clubs. Students work through "Checklist of Checkmates" as part of the Bishop, Rook, and Queen Awards. There are seven sets of problems for a total of 139. The "Checkmates and Tactics" worksheets begin with six checkmates in one move for the Pawn Award and culminate in sixty problems, only a few ending in checkmate, for the Queen Award. There are 150 problems in five sets.

15 December 2014

Elementary Rook Ending

In this diagram, if it is White's move, it is an elementary Lucena Position. But what if is is Black's move?

Black to move

13 December 2014

Mate in Ten

In the International Chess Tournament, London 1851, Adolf Anderssen prevailed over all of his opponents. Through play of casual games, he and József Szén determined that one of the two of them would win the event. The two met in the second round, which Anderssen won 4-2. This position occurred in the fourth game of their match. Anderssen won the game with a strong attack on Szén's king. However, his play was far from perfect.

Anderssen missed a forced checkmate in ten moves.

Black to move

It should not come as a surprise that this position is one of two from this game that appears in the "Essential Middlegame Knowledge" section of Rashid Ziyatdinov, GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Chess Knowledge (2000).

12 December 2014

An Unsound Sacrifice?

In a game that permitted too little time for thinking. I gave up a knight to expose my opponent's king. As is the norm in blitz, we both misplayed the continuation.

This position arose via the Ponziani.

Stripes,J (1792) -- Internet Opponent (1832) [C44]
Online Chess Site, 12.12.2014

White to move


28.Nh2 is objectively better.

28...hxg5 29.Qxg5+ Kh8? 

After 29...Kh7 30.Nh4 Rg8 31.Qf6 Nc4 32.Qxf7+ Rg7 33.Qf6 Bd3 34.e6 Qd6 35.h6 Rgg8 36.Qf7+ Kh8 37.Qf6+= White can abandon his lunacy with a perpetual.

White to move


30.g4! Bxg4 31.Qf6+ Kh7 32.Bc2+ Bf5 33.h6 Rg8 34.Qxf7+ Kh8 35.e6 with continuing pressure. White should win back the sacrificed material and more. 35...Qd6 36.Qf6+ Kh7 37.Bxf5+ Nxf5 38.Qxf5++-

30...Kh7 31.Nh4 Qe6 32.Qg5?? 

32.Nxf5 Nxf5 33.Bc2 Qxf6 34.exf6 Kh6 35.Bxf5+-.

Black to move

32...Rg8 33.Qd2 Nc4 34.Qc1 b5 35.Bc2 

35.Nxf5 was White's last hope for a playable position. 35...Nxf5 36.Bc2 and Black is only slightly better.

35...Bxc2 36.Qxc2+ Kh8–+ 

White is lost, but Black is terribly short on time.

37.b3 Nb6 38.Re3 Nd7 39.Rf3 Rg5 40.Re1 Reg8 41.Ree3 Rxh5 42.Rf4 Black forfeits on time 1–0

11 December 2014

Training with Anderssen

Imbalances are the doorway to planning.
Jeremy Silman, How to Reassess Your Chess, 4th ed. (2010)

In Adolf Anderssen's well-known miniature against Carl Mayet, Anderssen missed the best move. Many ambitious players study this game because it is the first in Rashid Ziyatdinov, GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Chess Knowledge (2000).

Mayet,Carl -- Anderssen,Adolf [C64]
London, 1851*

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.0–0 Bg4 7.h3 h5 8.hxg4 hxg4 9.Nxe5

Black to move


9...Nxe4 is clearly winning.

10.d4 Nxe4 11.Qg4?

White needed to play 11.fxg3, when the critical line appears to be 11...Nxg3 12.Re1! Rh1+ 13.Kf2 Qh4 14.Nf3+ Ne4+ 15.Ke2 Qe7 when Black has nothing to show for the sacrificed knight.

11...Bxd4 12.Qxe4 Bxf2+ 0–1

After 9...Nxe4! 10.Qxg4, we have one of the positions that I put in front of a group of scholastic players last week (see "Sacrificial Attack", problem 2). The answer I expected from the students was 10...Bxf2+ 11.Rxf2 Rh1+ 12.Kxh1 Nxf2+ 13.Kg1 Nxg4 and Black has won White's queen, regaining the sacrificed material with interest.

White to move
Analysis Diagram After 13...Nxg4
Of course, White will capture the knight leaving Black with a queen and pawn for three minor pieces.

How should Black then convert the advantage?

14...Qh4 is forcing. 15.Nf2 seems the only sensible move. 14...Qh4 is also the computer's choice.

Starting from the resulting position, I played out the game against Stockfish. I maintained the advantage until White's pieces became active. Then, my position began to deteriorate. Small human errors against a silicon monster eventually concedes the advantage.

I tried the second best move: 14...Qd3

White to move
Analysis Diagram After 14...Qd3
The imbalance that seems easiest to play against is White's underdeveloped queenside.

Rather than frustration stemming from failure against the computer, I quickly provoked the machine's resignation.

Stockfish -- Stripes,J

15.Ne3 f5 16.g3 g5 17.b3 f4 18.gxf4 gxf4

White to move


I expected 19.Ng2 and planned 19...Kd7 when I have a rook and queen against a knight. Pieces that cannot join the fight are not part of the material count.

19...fxe3+ 20.dxe3 Qc2+ and Stockfish resigned. 0-1

*ChessBase's database has Berlin 1859 for this game, matching how the game is presented in David Levy and Kevin O'Connell, Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games, Vol. 1 1485-1866 (1981), 280. However, Levy and O'Connell cite Leopold Hoffer and Johannes Hermann Zukertort, eds., The Chess Monthly 3 (1882), which states the game "was played during the London International Tournament of 1851" (212).

09 December 2014

Lesson of the Week

Most of my advanced students this week will see a position from Anderssen -- Staunton, London 1851. Focus, however, will be upon an unplayed variation. I used a position from late in this game as the week's lesson early in 2014 (see "Find the Best Move").

Anderssen,Adolf -- Staunton,Howard [B40]
London knockout London (3.1), 1851

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.Nf3 e6 4.Nxd4 Bc5 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 Ba7 7.Bd3 Ne7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Qh5 Ng6 10.e5 Qc7 11.Rae1 b5 12.f4 Bb7 13.Ne4

Andressen is beginning to build an attack that will punish Staunton for his poor handling of the opening that a century later would begin to be called the Kan variation of the Sicilian Defense.

Staunton decided to eliminate Anderssen's centralized knight with 13...Bxe4. Had he played 13...Nc6, however, how would Anderssen continue the attack? See diagram below.

White to move
Theoretical Position

My beginning students were shown the second position from Saturday's problem solving contest (see "Sacrificial Attack"). After explaining the solution, they were given a worksheet containing the first five problems from January's "Creating Knight Forks". They needed and were given lots of help.