28 March 2010

Vasily Vasilievich Smyslov, 1921-2010

In the art of chess there are no unalterable laws governing the struggle, which are appropriate to every position, otherwise chess would lose its attractiveness and eternal character.
Vasily Smyslov
Grandmaster Vasily Vasilievich Smyslov died Saturday. He was World Chess Champion 1957-1958. For several years after the end of World War II he was considered the second strongest player in the world behind Mikhail Botvinnik. Garry Kasparov states, he "was the strongest player in the world in the mid-1950s" (Kasparov, My Great Predecessors, vol. II, 263); in his three championship matches against Botvinnik, he scored +1. He placed second behind Botvinnik in the 1948 World Chess Championship tournament to choose a successor to Alexander Alekhine.

Smyslov was among the first group of players awarded the Grandmaster title by FIDE in 1950. He won the 1953 Candidates Tournament in Zurich, two points ahead of David Bronstein, Paul Keres, and Sammy Reshevsky. The next year he scored 12-12 (7 wins each) against Botvinnik in the World Championship match, so Botvinnik retained the title. In 1957 he defeated Botvinnik 12.5-9.5 (Smyslov won 6, lost 3) becoming World Champion. Botvinnik regained the title the following year with a score of 12.5-10.5 (Botvinnik won 7, lost 5).

Although his reign as world champion was brief, he continued to qualify for the Candidates' matches into his sixth decade. In 1983 at the age of 62 he lost the Candidates Final to Garry Kasparov, who went on to wrest the World Championship from Anatoly Karpov through two epic matches.

Smyslov became a professional chess player after he failed in his audition as an opera singer at the renowned Bolschoi Theatre. He often sang at international chess tournaments, accompanied by Mark Taimanov on piano, earning accolades for his voice from his fellow competitors. Fifty years after his audition at the Bolschoi Theatre, he performed there in celebration of Anatoly Karpov's birthday.

Search for Truth

Smyslov's chess style was worthy of emulation. Kasparov quotes Smyslov's own expression of his philosophy:
I am a staunch supporter of classical clarity of thought. The content of a game should be a search for truth, and victory a demonstration of its rightness. No imagination, however rich, no technique, however masterly, no penetration into the psychology of the opponent, however deep, can make a chess game a work of art, if these qualities do not lead to the main goal -- the search for truth.
Smyslov, as quoted in My Great Predecessors, 283
In the introduction to the English edition of Smyslov, My Best Games of Chess, 1935-1957, Peter Romanovsky emphasizes his skepticism towards dogma. Romanovsky draws attention to Smyslov's comments on the power of the bishop pair. The following position was reached in the game Euwe-Smyslov from the World Championship tournament.

Black to move

Smyslov played 19...Bxb2. He wrote in My Best Games of Chess (1958):
Outwardly simple, but in actual fact a major decision. Euwe undoubtedly considered this reply, but hoped with the help of his two Bishops to win back the pawn on b3 and obtain the better ending. So great is the conviction nowadays in the advantage of the two Bishops! Here it is interesting to recall that M.I. Tchigorin readily carried on the struggle with two Knights and obtained repeated successes. In the art of chess there are no unalterable laws governing the struggle, which are appropriate to every position, otherwise chess would lose its attractiveness and eternal character.
Smyslov, My Best Games of Chess, 78
Romanovsky observes Smyslov's penchant for unusual moves, but notes:
In the course of his daring denial of the routine and commonplace Smyslov does not in the least depart from classical principles and testaments; quite the reverse, he creates a deepening understanding of these principles, widens their effect and opens new avenues for their development.
Romanovsky, "Vassily Vassilievitch Smyslov," Introduction to My Best Games of Chess, xviii
In his fidelity to classical principles combined with resistance to dogma, Smyslov conscientiously followed the ideas of Tchigorin under whom his father, Vassily Osipovitch Smyslov, had studied. The Russian Chess School of Tchigorin trained the first Soviet masters, and they produced the innovations in training and theory that would dominate chess in the latter half of the twentieth century. Indeed, the upcoming World Championship Match between the challenger Veselin Topalov and the current champion Viswanathan Anand is the first WCC match since World War II that does not feature at least one protagonist that gained his early training in the Soviet School. As the Soviet School was gaining dominance, Smyslov was one of its leading proponents.

27 March 2010

Viswanathan Anand

Inasmuch as World Champion Viswanathan Anand defends his title in one month, it behooved me to install and begin examining the contents of a CD that has been on my shelf for the past few months: "The Best of Chess Informant, Viswanathan Anand." Anand's first annotations in Chess Informant appeared in 38/202. His win with White against Deen Hergott was played in the 1984 Olympiad in Thessaloniki. In the forward to the CD, Anand describes the circumstances of this early publication.
My mother travelled in [sic] me to Thessaloniki in 1984. This was the first time I was to play in the Indian team. When we saw that I would share the hall with other great legends, my mother was extremely proud that I was to play there. I casually mentioned to her that I would never even dream that my games could be published in the Informant. She chased Milutin and persevered until he agreed to have a game of that Indian boy who played fast. If I am not mistaken they carried a game of mine from Thessaloniki. The first game I did for them was with Deen Hergott.
Starting through this game immediately reminded me of a short draw I played on the Internet Chess Club in 1999. The opening moves:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5 (the Kalashnikov, which I played with some frequency in the late 1990s) 5.Nb5 d6 6.N1c3 a6 7.Na3 b5 8.Nd5 Nf6 9.Bg5 Qa5+ 10.Bd2 Qd8

My online opponent opted to repeat the position with 11.Bg5, and we drew after my move 13. Anand was less accommodating towards Hergott.

11.Nxf6 Qxf6 12.c4 Qg6 13.f3 Be7

14.cxb5 Nd4 the novelty. 14...Bh4+ appears in Chess Informant 22/408

15.Be3 O-O 16.Bxd4 exd4 17.Qd2 d5 18.Bd3 Bg5

Anand's annotations note the importance of playing 17...d5 before this move. 17...Bg5 leads to 18.Qxd4 with a strong advantage for White.

19.Qe2 dxe4

Anand's annotations reveal enthusiasm for Chess Informant's system of symbols. If 20.Qxe4 Qxe4 21.Bxe4 Rb8 and Black has compensation for the pawn due to the bishop pair.

20.Bxe4 Bf5 21.O-O

Anand gives explanation marks to Black's move and his own here. On the other hand, the variation beginning with 21.Bxa8 leads to a decisive advantage for Black as his bishops control msot of White's first rank from e3 and d3.

21...Be3+ 22.Kh1 Bxe4 23.fxe4 Qxe4 24.Rad1 axb5 25.Nxb5 Rxa2 26.Nxd4

The critical position. Here, according to Anand, 26...Ra4 leads to equality, but the move played is an error.

26...Qe5? 27.Nf5 Bf4 28.Qg4 g5 (box) 29.Rde1 h5 30.Nh6+ Kg7 31.Qxh5


The final error. 31...Qf6 offers more stubborn defense.

32.Nf5+ Kg8 33.Qg4 Qd2 34.Rd1 Qb4 35.Rd4 Qb8 36.h3 Kh7 37.Rdxf4 gxf4 38.Qg7#

19 March 2010


Readers of "Blitz Luck" had no difficulty solving the problem that I posted there. Consequently, they should find Karpov's move in this position from his game against Spassky in the 1975 Soviet Team Championship.

White to move

It was a happy coincidence that I examined this game briefly last weekend, then on Wednesday found myself in the blitz position posted that evening. The game appears in the list of Karpov's one hundred best games. I am going through them via the software The Best of Chess Informant: Anatoly Karpov.

17 March 2010

Blitz Luck

Lunch in a cafe with an internet connection and I played a handful of three minute games with a chap from the Netherlands. The last one evened the score after a couple of blitz errors near the finish. He outplayed me through the middlegame and earned a two to one pawn majority on the queenside. This majority became a dangerous passed pawn that I struggled to stop.

Black to move

I played 25...Qb3?? (25...Rb5 would hold).

My opponent replied with 26.Rb1?? when 26.Re1 wins easily.

I found the winning move, the only move that does not lose.

Black to move

13 March 2010


I've heard far too often the statement that the knight differs from other pieces because it can fork, when in truth every piece can fork. An example of a king fork appears in the correct line of play from this position from the endings section of Chess Informant 23.

Black to move

Black played 1...Ke6, and the game continued 2.Kb5 Kd5 3.Kb6 Nb8 4.Nf6 Kd6 5.c7 1-0.

Black missed an easy draw.

10 March 2010


Looking through some games because I'm playing a French Defense thematic tournament on Chess.com, I came across an instructive example of simplifying into an elementary endgame. This game was played in the United States Championship in 2007 and appeared in Chess Informant 101.

White to move

The players were Julio Becerra and Varuzhan Akobian. According to my database, this game was the third French Defense played by Akobian against Becerra. Becerra won the first game and this one, while the intervening game was drawn. Seven months later, Akobian won with Black and the French (a game I tried to follow in my game against Becerra on Chess.com--I lost). In their next two meetings, Akobian had White, scoring a win and draw to even the score over their six encounters.

From the diagram, the game concluded:

43. e8Q Bxe8 44.Rxe8 Kg6 45.Rc8 Kf5 46.Rxc4 dxc4 47.c3 Kf4 48.Ka3 1-0

Now what is left is a simple king and pawn endgame that an amateur should be able to win against either of these grandmasters.

05 March 2010

Evergreen Game: Critical Position

This diagram is #146 in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge. The book neither states the player to move, nor presents any analysis.

Anyone familiar with the Evergreen Game: Anderssen-Dufresne, Berlin 1852 instantly recognizes it as the position just before 19.Rad1. Was Anderssen's move the best in the position?

Dufresne responded with 19...Qxf3, threatening checkmate in one, but it is a losing move. Anderssen's stunning sacrifice first of the exchange, then of his queen earned the game's nickname. But, Dufresne had other, better moves.

19...Qh3 is hard to find, but forces 20.Bf1.
19...Bd4 offers a bishop to create interference in White's plans.

Addendum: 8 March 2010

Saturday morning, during check-in for a scholastic tournament I ran, I wrote down this game from memory up to the position after 19.Rad1. I had two purposes: check my memory (I made one error), and present a problem to a sixth grader to mull over after she finished her warm-up game with her father. With the help of a seventh grader, she analyzed the game and found an answer to my question: How can Black's play improve over the 19...Qxf3 played by Dufresne?

The two girls offered 19...Ne5.

Another coach and I spent a few minutes at the start of round three looking at their idea. We failed to find the refutation, which consists of three consecutive only moves by White. I found the first move, but not the second, and thus rejected the first in favor of 20.Be4, which fails to three separate alternatives for Black.

The Evergreen Game is well named not only for the stunning finish, but for the complexity of unplayed variations. Black's position has an abundance of resources. If not for the single game losing error on move 19, the result might have been quite different.

03 March 2010

Chessmaster versus Fritz: Footnote

From Ubisoft's forums for Chessmaster


Q: Is it possible to play online with people who have other versions of Chessmaster?
A: No. Due to the use of different protocols, you can only play against others who are using Chessmaster Grandmaster Edition.

The Playchess server, on the other hand, permits players with any version of Fritz or associated software to play in the same environment. Chessmaster's online play is not worth talking about. As a practical matter for the serious player, it does not exist.

Also see my "Chessmaster vs. Fritz: Analysis".