27 April 2011

The Active Rook

In 1941, Vasily Smyslov was no longer a teenager and was gaining lessons from many of the top players in the world. The second world war put an end to international chess competition for several years. For players in the Soviet Union, however, opportunities remained. The USSR had far more than its share of future grandmasters (a title FIDE created in 1949). Young Smyslov took some lumps in the Absolute Championship of the Soviet Union, played in March and April in Leningrad and Moscow.

Smyslov earned a reputation as an extraordinary endgame player. Perhaps this lesson from Paul Keres helped him develop such skills.

Black to move

Keres played 30...Ne4+.

After a sequence of exchanges, Smyslov found himself in a rook endgame where he was forced into passive defense. In time, Black broke through.

31.Kg2 Rxe7 32.fxe4 Rxe4 33.Rxe4 dxe4 34.Rxe4 Rb5 35.Re2 (White's rook takes a passive defensive position) ...Rb3 (Black's rook restrains the White king).

White to move

Black has slightly better pawn structure, an aggressively placed rook, and a mobile king. Does Black have a decisive advantage?

The entire game is replayable at http://blog.chess.com/view/the-active-rook.

25 April 2011

Mate in Ten

In the Absolute Championship of the Soviet Union, 1941, Vasily Smyslov has just played 40.hxg6. Mikhail Botvinnik found the mate in ten. Can you?

Black to move

10 April 2011

Playing Crazy

Jeremy Krasin demonstrated that he was a powerful adversary the first time we met in a tournament game. He grabbed a pawn and drove my pieces back almost before I got started, winning easily. Since then I've scored a couple of blitz victories against him, but I've beat everyone at the Spokane Chess Club in blitz. "Smoke and mirrors" is not real chess, as I've stated in the past. Robert Desjarlais grabbed my comment on blitz and rapid as not a "quest for truth" for his chapter "Blitzkrieg Bop" in Counterplay: An Anthropologist at the Chessboard (2011).

Last Thursday in the first round of our annual Taxing Quads, I faced Krasin for our second standard rated tournament game. Again I had White. Again he played some offbeat moves. Again he won a pawn early in the game. This time, however, I secured the initiative and pushed his pieces back. Securing the initiative, however, was largely a consequence of gifts from my opponent who missed several opportunities to end my plans for expansion in the center.

Eventually a tactical shot presented itself. I examined it for several minutes, concluded that it was risky, and played a waiting move. The same tactic was clearly winning after his next move and I played it. The rest was a matter of technique, as the grandmasters say, but we are not grandmasters and I spent a bit of time contemplating a sequence of crazy moves that could have lost it for me. Fortunately, I found the strongest move and played it instead.

Stripes,James (1839) - Krasin,Jeremy (1723) [D06]
Taxing Quads, Spokane 2011

1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Bf5 3.c4 Bxb1 4.Rxb1 c6 5.Qb3

Probably not the best move. 5.e3 seems better.

5...Qa5+N 6.Bd2 Qb6


During my longest think of the game, I considered positions beginning 7.Qxb6 axb6 8.cxd5 Rxa2 9.Bb4 (9.dxc6 bxc6 10.e3) 9...e6

7...Nf6 8.g3

8.e3 might have been better 8...dxc4 9.Bxc4 e6 10.a3

8...e6 9.a3 dxc4 10.Qxc4?

10.Ne5 Qxd4 11.Nxc4 =
10.e3 maintains initiative

10...Bxa3! Now, I'm one pawn down.

11.Qa2 Bb4 12.Bc3 Nd5 13.Qb3?

I considered the superior 13.Rc1.

13...Bxc3+ 14.bxc3 Nd7?

Lets me clamor back to equality. 14...Nxc3 and Black has the advantage.

15.Qc2 Qc7 16.Bg2 h6

I learned in our first game that Krasin likes to play this move, although then he played it much earlier, and when it prevented Bg5. I was a little surprised this time, and thought it wasted a valuable tempo.

17.0–0 0–0 18.Rb3


18...a5 gives White a problem.

19.e4 N5f6 20.c4 Rfd8 21.Nd2?

The immediate 21.e5 was neecessary.


21...e5 exploits White's error.

22.e5 Ne8 23.Qb2


Again, Black missed an opportunity to disrupt White's plans with 23...c5!

24.Ra1 Nc8 25.Ne4 b6

An inviting tactical opportunity presents itself. I examined it and rejected it.


26.Nc5! Rxd4 27.Na6


After the game we looked at 26...Rb7 27.Rb1 Ne7 28.Nc5±. Rybka likes 26...Rd8 with equality.

27.Nc5! Rxd4

Rybka likes Rbd8.

28.Na6 Qd8 29.Nxb8 Rxc4 30.Bf1 Rd4 31.Rxa7 Rd2 32.Qc3

32.Qxd2! Qxd2 33.Rxe7 Kf8 34.Nxc6 Qd5 35.Rxb6+-

32...Rd5 33.Ra8?!

33.Nxc6 Nxc6 34.Qxc6+-

33...Kh7 34.Rba3 Nc7



35...g6 36.Nxc6 Qd7 37.Nxe7 Rd2 (37...Qxe7 38.R3a7+-)

Here I considered the crazy idea of taking the knight with my queen, reasoning that my rooks on the seventh and eighth ranks would have been decisive. I failed to see that after 38.Qxc7 Qxc7 39.R3a7 Qc5 wins for Black. Rybka assures me that 38.Qxc7 is still winning, but that 39.R3a7 is a blunder. 39.R8a7 would maintain a decisive advantage. Luckily, I contemplated long enough to find the correct move.

38.Ng8! Rxf2

38...Rxc2 39.Nf6+ Kg7 40.Rg8#.
38...Kg7 39.Nf6 Nxa8 40.Rxa8 Qd8 41.Rxd8 Rxd8 42.Qc7+-.
38...h5 39.Nf6+ Kg7 40.Rg8+ Kh6 41.Rh8+ Kg7 42.Rh7+ Kf8 43.Nxd7+ Rxd7 44.Ra8+ Ne8 +-.

39.Qxf2 1–0

08 April 2011

12th Soviet Championship: Smyslov

I am poring through the games of Vasily Smyslov from the beginning. My iPad has an old database of his games that I downloaded from Guenther Ossimitz's megasite several years ago. There are some available games missing from this database, and the game scores are not always reliable. ChessBase's newest database--I have Big Database 2011 (the full database without annotations)--is also missing some games. Some gaps can be filled by games from RUSBASE 1920-1994.

Smyslov emerged upon the chess scene on the eve of World War II when he won the national junior championship in 1938 and then tied for first in the Moscow Championship. In his first Soviet Championship, he placed third behind Andor Liliethal and Igor Bondarevsky. His games from that event concern me today. We start with his games as Black.

Isaak Boleslavsky missed an opportunity to maintain the advantage when he played 35.Kf1 from this position.

White to move

Smyslov's king appeared vulnerable after Peter Dubinin sacrificed material for an unsound attack. The attack failed, but Black's inaccurate 25...Rd8 let White escape with a draw.

Black to move

25...Qh1+ wins decisively.

Against Alexander Kotov, Smyslov invested a knight to remove a defender and win a pawn. Demonstrating fine technique, he systematically worked his isolated queen pawn towards promotion.

Black to move

18...Nxh2! 19.Bxh2 Nxd4

Vladimir Makogonov handed the young future World Champion his only loss in the event. Makogonov found the strong 24.Re5! from this position.

White to move

Smyslov's extra pawn was of no value against Vladas Mikenas after 51.Rg7 from this position.

White to move

Smyslov's Dragon prevailed over Vasily Panov's Yugoslav Attack. Of course, the name Yugoslav Attack, or Velimirovic variation, would not acquire that name until Dragoljub Velimirovic began playing it in the 1960s. After 22...Nd7, Panov's king strolled over to the kingside in search of security.

White to move

Later Smyslov sacrificed the exchange and a pawn to maintain pressure.

Black to move

The game ended 41...Qg3 42.Qe7 Rd2 43.Qe8+ Bf8.

White's defenses failed when Smyslov found 27...Nxf2! This victory came from one of his several efforts with the Nimzo-Indian Defense in this event. Iosif Rudakovsky defended well after this move, but when the smoke cleared, Black was two full pawns ahead. With three connected passed pawns on the kingside, pawns on both wings, and Black's bishop against a knight, there was no reason to make young Vasily grind it out.

Black to move

Smyslov gave endgame lessons to Mark Stolberg in this finish from a Caro-Kann.

Black to move

36... Kf5 37.Kc2 f6 38.Kd3 e5 39.Ra1 g4 40.fxg4+ hxg4 41.Ra2 Rc8 42.Nxa4 e4+ 43.Ke2 Rh8 44.Kf2 e3+ 45.Kg1 Rb8 46.Ra1 Nxa3 47.Nc5 Nb1 48.Na4 g3 49.hxg3 Kg4 50.Kf1 Kxg3 51.Ke2 f5 52.Ra2 f4 53.Kd3 Nd2 54.Nb2 Re8 55.Ra1 Kxg2 56.Re1 f3 0–1

This game is replayable on the Chess.com version of my blog.

03 April 2011

Endgame Problem

This position comes from an endgame published in Chess Informant 50.

Black to move