21 July 2015

Counting Tempi

During a lesson with one of my top students last week, he observed that a particular candidate move lost a tempo. I opined that tempi did not seem as vital in this variation of the Pirc Defense as in certain open positions. The conversation brought to my recollection something that I had read in John Watson's Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy (1998) more than a dozen years ago.

Later in the week, I pulled Modern Chess Strategy off the shelf to revisit the half-remembered passage. Watson's book drove me back into Aron Nimzowitsch, My System (1930). After spending idle moments of three days rereading Modern Chess Strategy and My System, I started digging through other books on the shelf. William Steinitz. The Modern Chess Instructor (1889) did not offer anything to my inquiry, although he mentions a move "losing time" as early as 1873 in The Field.* Seigbert Tarrasch, The Game of Chess (1935) was published after My System, even though it seems to precede Nimzowitsch theoretically.

In order to illustrate his point concerning tempi, Nimzowitsch presents a curious position that has arisen in very few games. Watson carries the position further through logical moves as a critique of Nimzowitsch.

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 Nf6

Black's third move does not appear in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO). My database does have three instances of this position prior to publication of My System. All three games were played in 1839 by William Davies Evans, inventor of the Evans Gambit. Evans had White against three different opponents, the best known of which was Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint-Amant. One of these games reached this position by transposition (1.e4 e5 2.c3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4).

Concerning this unusual 3...Nf6, Nimzowitsch states, "Black lets what will happen, and this is what every beginner should do in order to gain experience of the consequences of an advance in the center" (12).

4.e5 Ne4

White to move

"The knight can maintain himself here, for Bd3 will be answered by a developing move of full value, namely d5" (Nimzowitsch, 12-13). Nimzowitsch suggests that after 5.Bd3, Nc5 would be an error because the continuation 6.cxd4 Nxd3+ 7.Qxd3 "would yield an advantage of four tempi to White" (13). The resulting position appears once in my database--a seventeen move draw, perhaps one of those notorious arranged draws that plays out an obscure line from a book for a few moves.

Watson states concerning this advantage of tempi in Nimzowitsch's line:
Four tempi or not, 7...d5! leaves Black with two bishops and a healthy share of the centre (and it is White's 'good' bishop which has just been devoured). Most players would be quite content here as Black. (14)
After 4.e5, Captain Evans faced 4...Ne4 against George Perigal, 4...Qe7 against Saint-Amant, and 4...Nd5 against F.L. Slous.

Watson describes as "egregious", Nimzowitsch's assessment after 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5.

White to move

Nimzowitsch offers the continuation: 5.Qxd4 c6 6.Bc4 Nb6 7.Nf3. He states, "White has here six tempi as against two or one and a half, for the knight is not better placed at b6 than at f6, and the pawn at c6 is not really a whole tempo, since no move of a central pawn is here in question" (13).

Black to move

Watson asks, what has become of those valuable tempi after the logical 7...Nxc4 8.Qxc4 d5? Again, Black has the two bishops and is about to catch up in the number of minor pieces developed. He asserts that White is struggling for equality (15).


For his part, Siegbert Tarrasch claims that counting tempi originated with Semion Alapin and him.
It is a very good thing, from time to time at least, to balance an account of the tempi visible on the board. This tempi reckoning originated with Alapin and myself. To be sure Alapin, as indeed is quite correct, included in his reckoning such moves as a4/a5, whilst I include only the developing moves and ignore the others--a system which, in my opinion based on my experience, gives results of greater practical value.
The Game of Chess, 228-229
Tarrasch offers a diagram to illustrate.

From his discussion of earlier positions, we learn that center pawns that have cleared out of the way of the pieces can be counted even if they have been captured. In this position, however, he does not count the pawns because both players have advanced both center pawns, making matters equal.

He explains further that a queen that has moved off the back rank counts as one tempo, regardless of how many times it has moved or where it stands. A rook is counted only if it has some space to move. Both of White's rooks have squares in front of them, and so count. Black's rook on g8 has moved, but is blocked and so does not count. Tarrasch does not count the rook on a8 because it has not moved, although perhaps he might consider it developed if the a-pawn were advancing against some target. Knights are more valuable when further advanced. The knight on c3 is one tempo. A knight on the fourth or fifth rank would count as two tempi, and Tarrasch counts three tempi for the knight on e6. Each bishop counts as one tempo when developed no matter how many moves were required to reach its present post.

Tarrasch thus finds that in this diagram, White has nine tempi to Black's five.

Most useful in Tarrasch's discussion, however, is the relationship of Time to Force and Space. "By good play tempi once gained are never lost," he asserts, "but rather are ultimately transformed into a gain in Space or Force" (231).

He is worth quoting at length.
These three factors of Force, Space and Time work together at every move. The whole art of the Opening consists in bringing into action pieces which are first shut in, in freeing pieces by a very few pawn moves, and in getting them to favourable positions and that as quickly as possible. Each tempo must be fully utilised for development, and one must advance one's game. (231)
Although Tarrasch is considered the dogmatist among classical chess theorists, I see the beginnings of modern dynamic chess in his discussion of the balancing of tempi with material and board control.

*See Sid Pickard, The Collected Works of William Steinitz (2003), CD for Steinitz's magazine annotations.

18 July 2015

The Pride of the Family

This position arose in a game between Aron Nimzowitsch and Semion Alapin. When the game took place and where has not been established (see "Nimzowitsch v Alapin" by Edward Winter [updated 1 January 2014]). Suggested dates have ranged from 1911 to 1914.

White to move

Nimzowitsch played the best move from this position and won a nice miniature.

15 July 2015

Side Checks

Even when down to a few seconds on the clock, I have drawn many rook endgames a pawn down. Because I teach the Philidor Position to young chess players, executing it in play is a simple matter. But sometimes checks from the rear fail and yet a similar idea succeeds.

White can draw this position.

White to move

I played 47.Rb8? and my opponent demonstrated that my king would never get to the pawn with 47...Rd4. I resigned a few moves later.

I could have played 47.Kc3 and after 47...Rh1 48.Rb5+ Kf4 49.Kd2 h4 50.Ke2 and it becomes clear that my king is close enough.

An even simpler draw was possible via 47.Rb5+ Kf4 48.Rb4+ Kg3 49.Rb5 (only move) Rh1

White to move

Here side checks save the game.

White has three possible moves that draw:

a) 50.Ka3

b) 50.Ka2

c) 50.Rc5

In each case, the point is that Black's king has no refuge from side checks except 50...Rf1, which drops the pawn.

I should have known this technique as well as I do checks from the rear. This blitz loss reveals that some practice may help reinforce the point.

14 July 2015

King's Gambit Lunacy

This was a blitz game with three minutes per game for each player. The game ended in less than half of that time.

Stripes,J (1728) -- Internet Opponent (2010) [C25]
Online Blitz 14.07.2015

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nc6 3.Nf3 exf4 4.Bc4 g5 

Black has mixed up systems to take the game down obscure paths.


Maybe as rare as Black's approach to the King's Gambit.

5.0–0 is common enough.

5...Bg7 6.d4

Black to move

In the slightly more than two dozen games that have reached this position, Black has done well.


This move is a novelty in the position, but transposes to two other games.




7...d6 8.Bb5 Bd7 9.Bxc6 Bxc6 10.d5 Bd7 11.Qd3 g4 12.Nd4 Be5 13.Bd2 a6 14.0–0–0 Qf6 15.Nce2 f3 16.gxf3 gxf3 17.Qxf3 0–0–0 18.Rdf1 Rh7 19.Bc3 Re8 20.Nf5 Ne7 21.Nxe7+ Qxe7 22.Bxe5 Qxe5 23.Nc3 b5 24.a3 a5 25.Qd3 b4 26.axb4 axb4 27.Qa6+ Kd8 28.Nb5 Bxb5 29.Qxb5 Qxe4 30.Qb8+ Kd7 31.Qb5+ Kd8 32.Qb8+ ½–½ Le Nezet,T (1980) -- Le Bailly,B (2102), Bretagne 2006


The position is equal, according to Stockfish



9.dxe5 Nxe5

9...f3 might be better.


10.Bxf4 Nxc4 11.Nd5 d6 12.Qd4±.


Black is better.

White to move



11...fxg2 12.Rg1 Nf3+

The best move, according to Stockfish

I was worried about 12...Qxh4+.

13.Kf2 Qxh4+ 14.Bg3 Qf6

White to move


15.Nd5! Qg5 16.Nxc7+ Kf8 17.Qd3 seems better for White.



16.Qxg1 Qf3+



After this forced move, White has a clear advantage despite a serious material deficit. The King's Gambit is about king vulnerability, not material advantage. Although the White king has been kicked around, it is now the Black king that is in trouble. Black's queen cannot win the game alone, and she is somewhat vulnerable.

Black to move


17...Qf6 18.Rf1 Qg7 19.Nd5 Ne7 20.Nxc7+


Black's queen is trapped

18...h4 19.Rxf3 gxf3 20.Bxc7+- Ne7 


21.Qg7 Rf8 22.Nd5 Nxd5 

White to move


23.Qe5+ Ne7 24.Bd6

23...Ke7 24.Qg5+


24...f6 25.Qg7+ Ke8 26.Bd6 1–0

09 July 2015

Giuoco Fortissimo

In Chess Informant 124, Mihail Marin examines the ancient history and recent practice in the so-called quiet game, or Giuoco Piano ("Old Wine in New Bottles," 82-94). He suggests that in the games of Gioachino Greco and in some recent games, the term fortissimo might be more appropriate than piano or pianissimo. Lines with 4.d3, advocated by William Steinitz and many players since merit the name Giuoco Pianissimo. But play in the spirit of Greco is anything but quiet.

Fortissimo is an apt description of Greco's miniatures and of a curious game in I.A. Horowitz, Chess Openings: Theory and Practice (1964). I know of two other books that contain this game: Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955),* and Leonard Barden and Wolfgang Heidenfeld, Modern Chess Miniatures (1960).

The game is said to have been played in Mar del Plata, Argentinia in 1946. Both Cesar Juan Corte (1914-1996) and Jacobo Bolbochan (1906-1984) played in a major tournament in Mar del Plata in 1946, but this game was not from that event. It may have been part of another event that year, or it could have been a off-hand game.

Chernev claimed that he went through 15-20,000 games in order to select the 1000 for his classic text (see Edward Winter, "Irving Chernev," http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/chernev.html [updated 14 December 2014]). However, he offered no documentation of his sources. I have not seen a copy of Barden and Heidenfeld, but would be surprised if it offers documentation of sources. It would likely take many hours of digging through late-1940s chess publications in order to locate a primary source for this game, and possibly more information concerning the circumstances of play.

It is an instructive game, nonetheless. It is no surprise that Horowitz saw fit to include it in his opening encyclopedia.

Corte,Cesar Juan -- Bolbochan,Jacobo [C54]
Mar del Plata, 1946

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5

I found four other games in which Bolbochan played the Black side of the Italian. He played 3...Nf6 in two of them. In the two other instances when he played 3...Bc5, one is an Evans Gambit, and in the other White played 4.d4.

4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nxe4 8.0–0 Nxc3

A few years later, Corte faced the line preferred by modern theory: 8...Bxc3 9.d5 (9.bxc3 d5 White lacks compensation for the pawn. Black's chances are better.) 9...Bf6 10.Re1 Ne7 11.Rxe4 0–0 Corte,C -- Martin,P, Mar del Plata 1949 was drawn in 67 moves.

9.bxc3 Bxc3 10.Ba3!

This move was recommended by James Macrae Aitken in an article in British Chess Magazine (1937). Horowitz mentions it as a suggestion of Aitkin, and opines that it is stronger than Greco's 10.Qb3.

Black to move


This reply is best.

A game in the Mar del Plata International Tournament of 1946 continued 10...Qf6 11.Qe2+
(11.Rc1 is better. 11...Ba5 12.d5 d6 13.dxc6+-)
11...Kd8 12.Rad1
For the cost of two pawns, White has all of his pieces mobilized. Nonetheless, Black went on to win after a long struggle, Reinhardt,E -- Maccioni Seisdedos,A, Mar del Plata 1946.

11.Bb5 Bxa1 12.Re1+ Be6 13.Qa4 

Stockfish 6 prefers 13.Qc2 Qd7 14.Ne5 Nxe5 15.Bxd7+ Nxd7 16.Rxa1.

Horowitz gives the moves to this point in practical variation 1, stating that White has a winning attack.

Black to move


13...Qb8 is equal according to my chess engine 14.Bxc6+ bxc6 15.Qxc6+ Kd8 16.Rxe6 fxe6 17.Ne5 Qb1+ 18.Bc1.

14.Ne5 Qc8 15.Bxc6+ bxc6 16.Qxc6+ 1–0

*See "My First Chess Book."

07 July 2015

The Spirit of Greco

Should aspiring chess players study the games of players who have been dead for more than a century? In an interview conducted while he was World Champion, Vladimir Kramnik answered in the affirmative.
I think that if a player wants to achieve much, he should live through the entire history of chess in his thoughts. I can't explain it from a purely logical standpoint, but in my opinion, you have to experience the entire history.
Vladimir Kramnik, 2004*
The interviewer probed further, asking whether it was useful to go back as far as Gioachino Greco. Kramnik did not think Greco was necessary because Greco's games are only the basics of chess, but he thought aspiring players should know the games of Philidor, Anderssen, and Morphy.

Max Euwe expressed a similar view of the importance of chess history. He asserted in The Development of Chess Style (1966) that an individual player's development and chess history follow parallel courses. The longest and most difficult is the first stage, which Euwe characterizes as "excursions with the pieces" (1). Players succeed when they take advantage of the opportunities presented by opponents, "such as winning a piece" (1). Greco embodies this first stage, he suggests.

Euwe annotates two of Greco's games. In another 300+ volumes in my library, I look in vain for annotations of Greco's games. Several books make passing reference to his collections, usually by noting that some tactical idea or opening move "has been known since Greco." Garry Kasparov, My Great Predecessors, Part I (2003) is a notable exception. On the first page of chapter 1, he presents a synopsis of Euwe's argument (without attribution) and four Greco games. In two of the games, he offers a small number of suggested improvements. But Kasparov offers no verbal annotations, no detailed analysis.

Euwe also offers one game by Andre Philidor. Philidor's games, too, are mostly absent from other books. In Philidor's case, however, many more writers mention his contribution towards understanding the centrality of pawns to chess strategy. Kasparov offers one game fragment from Philidor with annotations. His views align well with Kramnik's concerning the merits of Philidor.

Last week, however, DHL brought an exciting new book hot off the presses that offers fresh annotations of the second of the two Greco games featured in Euwe's classic. This new book is Chess Informant 124. In this volume is the tenth installment of Mihail Marin's column, "Old Wine in New Bottles."**

Marin sets out to contextualize the explosion of information that we observe in this era of computers. He challenges a common belief that this explosion is without precedent. He recalls similar claims in opening monographs of the 1970s and 1980s. Even the first systematic opening reference, Handbuch des Schachspiels (1843) describes an explosion of information in its day.

Marin does not stop at simply challenging perceptions that our age is unique due to a massive increase in the information available to us. He also traces the development of new ideas with the point of showing that they are not so new after all. Tracing the continuities between old and new offers an affirmation of the value of studying classic games.
In every game, there comes a moment when a novelty inevitably pops up, but one cannot be sure that the idea behind it has not been played before.
Mihail Marin, Informant 124, 82.
Marin's focus in Informant 124 is the Italian Opening, particularly the Giuoco Fortissimo. He begins with Nakamura -- Giri, Khanty-Mansiysk 2015.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+

White must either Block the check or move his king. Greco blocked with 7.Nc3 and these days 7.Bd2 is preferred. Nakamura, however, played a relatively rare move: 7.Nbd2, which sacrifices a pawn. I can find approximately one hundred instances of this move in my database.

Black to move

After 7...Nxe4, Nakamura shows that he is playing in the spirit of Greco with 8.d5, "fighting for space and an advance in development" (83).

After Nakamura -- Giri, Marin offers analysis of one of Greco's best games. Then, there is another game from Khanty-Mansiysk. Jobava -- Grischuk featured 6.e5 d5, which the author notes is reminiscent of several games played by Morphy and Anderssen. Jobava repeated his opening experiment in a later round of the same event, and Marin refers readers to the column by Sarunas Sulskis, where that game in analyzed in depth.

"Old Wine in New Bottles" continues with an instructive game when Marin lost on the Black side of the not so quiet Italian Game, and then a World Championship game where Karpov employed the quieter line with 5.d3 for the purpose of torturing Korchnoi. But this quieter line still permitted fortissimo in Bologan -- Marin, Bucharest 1990 (a friendly blitz game). Marin finishes the article with a third game of his own and then Dubois -- Steinitz, London 1862, which had been one of my study games a few months ago (see "Some Miniatures").

Marin's column offers a good mix of old and new, of famous games and those less well-known. His ongoing column builds the logical argument that Kramnik deferred in his 2004 interview.

*The interview in Russian in available at e3e5.com. There are several English translations online. Because the English is smoother, I have employed the one posted by Spektrowski on Chess.com.

**Marin's column first appeared in Informant 114 and has appeared in every issue except 121 since.

01 July 2015

Solve This

As I am working through Anderssen -- Paulsen, Vienna 1873, which is in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge, I came across a reference game from a simul conducted by Alexander Alekhine in 1933.

White to move

Alekhine found the winning tactical shot here.