06 January 2016

Guioco Siciliano

In The Chess-Player's Handbook (1847), Howard Staunton extols the Sicilian Defense as Black's best reply to 1.e4.
In the opinion of Jaenisch and the authors of the German "Handbuch,"* with which I coincide, this is the best possible reply to the move of 1.P. to K's 4th, "as it renders the formation of a centre impracticable for White and prevents every attack." This defense is found in the earlier Italian works, and has been analysed by Philidor in the second edition (1777) of his treatise. In the appendix to Sarratt's translation of Damiano, Lopez, and Salvio, mention is made of some games at this opening, which the author had received as an extract from an old Italian MS. Sarratt has given us neither the name of the writer nor the date of the MS., but merely says: "These games are extracted from a scarce and valuable MS., which has been obligingly communicated to the editor by E. Morris, Esq., M.P., indisputably one of the ablest chess-players of the present day. This opening is called the 'GUIOCO SICILIANO'." (371)
It should come as no surprise, then, that Staunton employed the Sicilian Defense in his match against Adolf Anderssen at the First International Chess Tournament, which Stanton organized. I am reviewing the five games of this match this week. Two of them are the source for five middlegame positions in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge.

Late in 2014, I began systematically working through the games in GM-RAM at the rate of one game per week. As with every year long plan, I shifted study emphasis to other things mid-way through 2015. I have resolved to restore balance in 2016 between time spent on current Grandmaster games (mostly reading Chess Informant) and investing time with classic games (see "Year in Review 2015").

Monday morning I reviewed the first several positions from the middlegame section of GM-RAM. I created flash cards of the first 48 for this purpose (see image). The first card is from Mayet -- Anderssen, Berlin? 1859? (see "Training with Anderssen"). In a matter of seconds after glancing at the card, I saw both the end of the game and an unplayed variation. Checking the unplayed variation with Stockfish revealed that my line was the top computer choice for both sides several moves deep.

Through the next five cards, I knew how the games had proceeded at a glance and understood why Anderssen's position was best, but my analysis of variations was less sure. Reviewing these games seemed apropos. But, why review only the two games selected by Rashid Ziyatdinov? Why not review all five games of the match?

After running through all five games a couple of times rather quickly, I watched Kingscrusher's video on the first game "Evolution of Chess Style, #16." He makes the point that Staunton's fourth move is unusual, but probably playable.

The game began:

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.Nf3 e6 4.Nxd4 Bc5

The first four moves of Anderssen -- Staunton, game 1 are identical to the first game of the Paul Morphy -- Louis Paulsen match at the First American Chess Congress (1857). Moreover, three later games in this short match reached the same position after Black's fourth move. 4...Bc5 may be unusual today, but was it so in the 1850s?

I checked Staunton's Handbook to see whether he recommended 4...Bc5. He does not, but the variations that he offers seem even more strange to modern eyes. Nonetheless, it is interesting to observe that both the Grand Prix Attack (2.f4) and the Alapin (2.c3) are among the choices he lists for White on the second move. He also states that Jaenisch had favored 2.Nf3 as best, but had recently altered his view to embrace 2.d4.

As a consequence of studying this game and the first Morphy -- Paulsen game, I have been employing 2.d4 in many of my blitz games. Sometimes I continue with the Smith-Morra Gambit, but most often the game reaches a normal Sicilian via an offbeat move order.

In my study of Anderssen -- Staunton, I was able to correctly play through the whole of the first game of the match from memory this morning.

Staunton's comments harshly on his own play in The Chess Tournament (1852). Concerning the position after the tenth move (see image), he notes:
The opening of this wretched affair is a sufficient indication of how utterly unfitted Black was by suffering, to maintain his reputation in these encounters. Already he has permitted his antagonist to bring nearly every Piece into action, while his own are almost all locked up at home. (110)
This position is Ziyatdinov's second diagram. The author of GM-RAM suggest that the student should know at a glance the plans for both sides. Glancing at that card, thus, should include the memory that Staunton missed a chance to equalize six moves later. Kingscrusher wonders whether the game score is correct, however. It was Anderssen's play of 16.g4 before 17.Kh1 that presented this opportunity. With 16.Kh1 and 17.g4, the game would still proceed much as it did.

*C[arl] F. de Jaenisch, Jaenisch's Chess Preceptor: A New Analysis of the Openings of Games, trans. George Walker ([1843] 1847); Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa, ed., Handbuch des Schachspiels (1843).

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