Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Zurch 1953: Paul Keres the Attacker

Paul Keres was born in Estonia on January 7, 1916 making him 37 at the time of the candidates match in Zurich. He grew up in Narva, Estonia, a town that had a scarcity of chess literature. He learned the game from his father and older brother and learned notation from the chess puzzles in the daily newspaper. He took it upon himself to compile a handwritten collection of about 1000 games. This probably helped him become three time Estonian school boy champion in the early part of the 1930’s. He learned about correspondence chess while attending high school. He attended the University of Tartu in 1937-1941 studying Mathematics and represented the school in several interuniversity matches.

In 1935 he was the Estonian champion and played on the top board for Estonia that same year at the Chess Olympiad. His sharp attacking style gave him some recognition which led him to pursue international events. In the mid to late 1930’s, he had several strong finishes in matches throughout Europe. In 1938, he tied with Reubin Fine for first in the AVRO tournament. He beat Fine in a tie breaker and expected to contest Alekhine for World Championship but World War II broke out and with the occupation of Estonia the match was denied. During the War, Estonia went from being annexed by the Soviet Union to being under Nazi control after the invasion in 1941. During the War, he was able to play in several Navi-sponsored events including Alekhine, but never got to contend the World Championship title and always seemed to finish just behind Alekhine. He played in other smaller events in the early 1940’s with strong results.

When the Soviets recaptured Estonia in 1944, Keres was unsuccessful in his attempt to flee and had to face harassment and threats by Soviet authorities. Keres managed to avoid deportation at the cost of being delayed coming back to international play. For Political reasons, he was excluded from the 10-player roster for the Soviet team for the 1945 Radio match against the USA and again in Groningen 1946. He played a few successful matches locally in Estonia. It wasn’t until 1946 where he returned to international play in the Soviet Radio Match against Great Britain.

Odd how Keres became a seed for the Zurich match as a result of the 1948 World Championship match in 1948, arranged to determine the world champion following Alekhine’s death in 1946. At the 1948 event, his performance was far from his best. Held jointly in The Hague and Moscow, the tournament was limited to five participants: Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Keres, Samuel Reshevsky, and Max Euwe. (Reuben Fine had also been invited but declined.) A player met each of his opponents five times. Keres finished joint third, with 10.5 out of 20 points. In his individual match with the winner Botvinnik he lost four out of five games, winning only in the last round when the tournament's result was already determined.

Since Keres lost his first 4 games against Botvinnik in the 1948 tournament, suspicions are sometimes raised that Keres was forced to "throw" games to allow Botvinnik to win the Championship. It’s speculated by some chess historians that the Soviet chess officials gave Keres strong hints that he should not hinder Botvinnik's attempt to win the World Championship. Botvinnik only discovered this about half-way though the tournament and protested so strongly that he angered Soviet officials. These are mere speculations and Keres probably did not deliberately lose games to Botvinnik or anyone else in the tournament.

So, let’s look at a few of his games at Zurich 1953, where he finished in second place ( tied with Bronstein and Reshevsky). We see in round 3 with Black against Szabo, he takes immediate advantage of a misplayed opening by Szabo. In this QGA, Szabo plays an early Qa4+ on move 5.

In Round 5 against Stahlberg, Keres turns a novelty of a QGD into a battle of isolated Queen’s pawns, first to himself with an advantage then to white to exploit the problems. He handles the initial IQP and transforms it to a positional advantage a little later by reconnecting with a pawn chain leading on e4. After White inherits the IQP, Black blockades it appropriately and the d-pawn eventually falls giving him a slight advantage in the endgame. This very difficult Q+P endgame could have been drawn under exact play but Keres finds the right plan: getting the King to the queen side and force an exchange of queens. This was a very instructional game on IQP’s.

In round 23, he tries the same Novelty out on Geller who has had a chance to prepare for this and basically wins with a series of little combinations. Geller prepared a sharper line that intended to open the position into a tactical game. The first mini combination allows Keres to castle against all odds because he has some good tactical shots in his position. A second combination evolves around a similar theme from a previous game
starting with Ne4. Then, a third combination allows Black winning simplifications. The final blow was made simple with a back rank threat.

Against Petrosian in round 16, we see a shuffling of a King’s Indian system. Keres plays Bf4 to stall e7-e5 and provoke Black to expand the queenside instead. Both sides tend
to make natural and necessary moves in hopes to draw the other player into a
weakness. Petrosian makes the first inaccuracy allowing Keres an attack up the

Lastly, we look at round 28 and another case where after a slight inaccuracy, Gligoric falls to Keres attacks. Gligoric makes five pawn moves in a row in the opening and was able to hold off the first wave of attacks at the cost of the queenside. This left the door wide open for Keres to come waltzing in with the queen.

Keres plays in 3 more Candidates Matches in 1956, 1959 and 1962 only to place in second and cause more suspicion to being under pressure to NOT to win these events. He successfully led the Soviet team in the Chess Olympiads to seven consecutive gold medals and five board gold medals which broke a record when he had four straight board gold medals.
He continued to play strong in several events over the next couple of decades with championships earned in Beverwijk 1964, Buenos Aires 1964, Hastings 1965, and Bamberg 1968 to name a few first place finishes.
By the 1970’s, he was still placing in 2nd and 3rd place in various events up until the time of his fatal heart attack in 1975 where he dies in Helsinki while returning from a tournament in Vancouver which he indeed won.

He was one of few players to have a plus score against Capablanca as well as Smyslov, Petrosian, Karpov and Tal. He played 10 world champions beating nine of them from Capablanca to Fischer (he drew with Karpov).

His rival Samuel Reshevsky, while paying tribute to Keres' talent, tried to pinpoint why Keres never became world champion, and also complimented his friendly personality.
"Well, I believe that Keres failed in this respect because he lacked the killer instinct. He was too mild a person to give his all in order to defeat his opponents. He took everything, including his chess, philosophically. Keres is one of the nicest people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. With his friendly and sincere smile, he makes friends easily. He is goodnatured and kind. Yes, he loves chess, but being a human being is his first consideration. In addition to chess, Keres is interested in tennis, Ping-Pong, swimming, and

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Zurich 1953: Samuel Reshevsky, A child Prodigy grows up.

Paul Morphy was probably the first documented Chess Prodigy as he came of age in the Mid 1800’s . Half a century later it was Jose Raul Capablanca and not so well known Richard Reti. Born, November 26th, 1911 near Poland, Samuel Reshevsky learned to play at age 4, and by the time he was eight, he was beating masters and giving simultaneous exhibitions. His parents moved to the United States in 1920 so they could exploit his skills and make a living off an child’s simultaneous exhibitions. This made him the first chess prodigy from the USA since the days of Paul Morphy.

It’s no surprise that he went on to win several U.S Championships ( 1936, 1938, 1940-42, 1946) before playing at Zurich. He was not considered a professional chess player as an adult since he temporarily gave it up to attend college at the University of Chicago with an Accounting degree. He support himself and his family by working as an accountant. He married Norma Mindick and had three children.

He was seeded into the Zurich 1953 Candidates Match. He finished in Third place during the World Championship match competition in 1948. He was invited to the Budapest Candidates match in 1950, but because of the Cold war, the US refused to send him.( rumored and in an interview in 1991, Reshevsky claims the decision was his, though other NATO country players like Euwe, didn’t play) He was titled GM in 1951. His previous status and new title gave him a seat in Zurich 1953.

Let’s look at some of his Zurich 1953 games. Round 4 has Szabo attempting the Grunfeld Gambit. The game starts down a safe line of the Grunfeld until Szabo attempts the Grunfeld gambit. Reshevsky declines the offer but Szabo pushes and sacrifices both center pawns to keep White's King side undeveloped. Black's threats are too tame given the material loss. This allows Reshevsky to defend rather well. Szabo misplays the middle game where he should have exchanged bishops and get a rook to c8. A combination in the end forces an exchange of queens. This leaves White with too much material for Black to defend.

In Round 5, Reshevsky plays Black against Euwe. Euwe initially missed playing e4 early in the game which would have given him an attack. This gave Reshevsky a chance to recoil with a strong attack on the a8-h1 diagonal with a Bishop and Queen battery. White dodges the strong mate threat but it costs him hanging pawns and misplaced minor pieces. Black breaks through on the c-file. White's last ditch effort attempts a run for queen but too much material was lost.

In round 6, on a streak, he is paired against Stahlberg in a relentless pursuit of the center. The game starts down the path of a Tarrasch Variation of the QGD. Taken a little further down the path of the Swedish Variation makes Black target a Queenside pawn majority. Reshevsky takes immediate aim on the center and Black's pawn chain. White is relentless on the attacks and makes a series of forcing moves while inching his d-pawn closer to the eighth rank. Black chokes and gives up one of the queen side pawns despite Reshevsky being under time pressure.
After winning three games in a row, he draws in round 7 against Bolesavsky but picks it back up again in round 8 with nail biter with seconds left on Reshevsky’s clock avoiding a swindle from Kotov. The game starts down an old Indian defense but quickly turns into a King’s Indian defense. Black supports and puts pressure on d5 while White focuses on e5. White then pushes b pawn, putting more pressure on the Black center. Reshevsky trades off the good bishop for Black's bad bishop. Doing so, he immobilizes Black's knight on c8. Now, under time pressure, Kotov slings a last ditch swindle effort But Reshevsky keeps his cool and snaps up a piece with check instead. A note about Reshevsky’s time pressures, in his own words:

"By playing slowly during the early phases of a game I am able to grasp the basic requirements of each position. Then, despite being in time pressure, I have no difficulty in finding the best continuation. Incidentally, it is an odd fact that more often than not it is my opponent who gets the jitters when I am compelled to make these hurried moves."

His streak stalls mid tournament with a string of draws coupled with a few losses. He comes back towards the later half in round 18 with Averbakh. Bronstein flames Averbakh for not playing an early c5 in the Nimzo-Indian. Instead, Averbakh choses a solid but passive line in the Nimzo-Inidan and gets a false sense of security with rote strategy. This allows Reshevsky to take his time to build a strong center and acheives d4 and e4. Then, he begins a king side attack by first weakening the pawns around it, followed by the battering ram on the h-file. Again, under time pressure. Bronstein felt that Averbakh could have at least created better complications later in the game with counter attacks on the queen side. Reshevsky felt that this was his best game of the tournament.

In round 22, against Boleslavsky’s King’s Indian defense, Reshevsky takes the more complicated Fianchetto variation and creates complications. Bronstein gets rather poetic with this game and states:
"Chess is a limitless game; to avoid losing his way in it, the chess player will use certain guideposts to orient himself in the evaluation of a position and the selection of a plan, such as weak pawns, open files, a lead in development, good and bad bishop, a poorly placed king, and so on." ( he goes on at length but to get to his point for this game Bronstein continues: ) "It is worth noting that one will not find in every game such guideposts as will allow one to compare a position's good and bad points and to choose a proper plan on that basis....In any event, one frequently finds the sort of game which must be played for quite some time on nothing more than gut feeling and calculation."
Again, Reshevsky was under tremendous time trouble, yet again, he takes on a complication that leaves him with a point.
Finally, in round 29, I will point to the game against Gligoric in which Gligoric gives Reshevsky a chance to regroup. He plays a Slav variation of the King's Indian and even plays an early c5 targeting the Reshevsky’s White pawn center before it has a chance to reach critical mass. Reshevsky plays cautiously and allows Gligoric to gain some space on the Queen's side. Playing to win d5 and getting a little impatient ( according to Bronstein), Gligoric hands Reshevsky the a1-h8 diagonal which he exploits rapidly. Again, under time pressure, Reshevsky missed a cleaner solution to the end. He still managed to win.

A little about the “self entitlement” persona given by the former Prodigy:

In the book, Bronstein comments about the Kotov game and the time pressure moments. Reshevsky blurts out “ How many moves do I have to go to make the first time control?” This is regarded as highly illegal under tournament rules and to top it off, a spectator responds. The event goes without any violations being claimed. It may have been because one of the games was played late at night to accommodate Reshevsky’s strict orthodox Jewish Observations about playing during the rise of the evening star. His Friday games had to be played during the day so as to finish before the rise of that star. Then, on Saturday, he started his games several hours after the other games after the rise of the evening star.
I hear anecdotal remarks about Reshevsky’s sharp sense of entitlement in the chess world. One has him asking a tournament official to disqualify Bent Larsen because he continued to play a game for a win after they agreed before the start to conclude with a draw.
I’m not sure of how many of these are true or embellishments. Having been a prodigy at such an early age, psychological studies on such prodigies reveals that there is a threshold they reach as adults once their peers “catch up”. After being the center of attention for so long, some can’t make the transition smoothly ( Fischer for one, Morphy may have been another). Add to that the notion that his parents moved to the USA when he was eight to pretty much put him on display like a freak. I don’t know, but that alone has got to mess up a kid. That’s my unsolicited opinion. My apologies to bring this into the essay for Reshevsky.

During his long chess career, Reshevsky played eleven of the first twelve World Champions, from Emanuel Lasker to Anatoly Karpov, the only player to do so (he met Garry Kasparov but never played him). He defeated seven World Champions: Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, and Bobby Fischer.
Besides playing is several U. S. Championships and the US team for the Chess Olympiads, following Zurich 1953, Reshevsky won some important tournament titles at events in New York 1956 (Lessing Rosenwald Trophy), Dallas 1957, Haifa/Tel Aviv 1958, Buenos Aires 1960, Netanya 1969, and the Reykjavík Open 1984 at age 72.

His legacy includes a few books: Reshevsky on Chess ( 1948), How Chess Games Are Won (1962), Great Chess Upsets (1976), and The Art of Positional Play (1978). He also wrote a book on the 1972 World Championship match between his great rival Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. He authored columns in chess magazines and The New York Times.

Reshevsky died at the age of 80 in New York on April 4, 1992

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Zurich 1953: Tigran Petrosian, The "Iron Tiger".

Born in Tbilisi, Georgia ( USSR) on June 17, 1929, made him 24 at the time of the candidates match of Zurich in 1953. He learned the came of chess at eight after entering a local chess school in his home town.

He had some impressive results at the age of 16, when he shared 1st-3rd place at the 4th USSR Junior championship at Leningrad in 1945. A year following, Petrosian won the title of Armenian Champion. At 17 he was already competing for candidates matches but didn’t quite make it in the big leagues until he moved to Moscow in 1949. In 1951 he won the Moscow tournament. In 1952, he was titled international Gandmaster and also got married to Rona Yakovlevna Avinezar.

He earned his nickname “Iron Tiger” because of his reputation of having impenetrable defenses which guaranteed safety above all else. This is most obvious in his solid and cautious style of play at Zurich. In round 9 against, Szabo, he plays a solid Orthodox QGD Tartakower variation. He slowly builds up a solid center and baits White with two central pawns. This causes white to exchange on the wrong square leaving white with a weakened knight and dark squares. The Tiger pounces as he builds a huge canon on the c-file and eats one of White’s pieces.

With white against. Euwe in round 10, he plays the Reti. Instead of playing to control c4, Petrosian shifts gear and focuses on e4. Euwe plays overly cautious and passive. This allows White to gain control of the center and, in particular, the d-file. After a series of exchanges, he finds a better endgame and wins.

In round 19, he plays white against Gligoric’s King’s Indian Defense. The game takes on a familiar kingside space advantage for Black versus a queenside space advantage for white seen in these KID positions. Around move 18, however, Petrosian lures Gligoric to open the King side. Gligoric plays a safer bet by dropping pawns on the queen side to open up for attacking potential but under time pressure, Gligoric didn’t play a sharp line involving a rook sacrifice in the position. This was all Petrosian needed to secure the point.

Gligoric played 37...Rda4. Bronstein saw this line 37...Rxe4 38 fxe4 Nxe4 39. Qe1 is necessary to stop 39...Nd2+ 40. Ka1 Rxa2+ 41. Kxa2 Qa8#

In round 24, facing Szabo again, but this time, with the White pieces, Petrosian uses a very contemporary approach in this Reti game. In the first 10 moves, he plays moves like Qa4+, h4 and Rb1 all to get to a favorable middle game. Szabo sacrifices the f-pawn to open up the file and keep White’s king on the center. This doesn’t slow down the Tiger. He manages to “entomb” Black’s bishop which Szabo tries to recover with a knight sacrifice to open the game up. No luck, the Tiger pounces on his wounded prey.

In round 26, Petrosian demonstrates his pioneering spirit and plays what appears to be the first instance of a King’s Indian Attack. Bronstein views this as “ an excellent illustration of Petrosian’s style: its highly individual positional pattern and its logical consistency combine to create a harmonious whole and artistic achievement.” Considering this was never really seen in competition before, it was truly a novelty sprung on an unsuspecting Stahlberg.

He score +6 -4 =18 to finish in 5th place.


He was a Candidate for the World Championship on eight occasions (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 1980). In the 1963 World Championship cycle, he won the Candidates tournament at Curaçao in 1962, then in 1963 he defeated Mikhail Botvinnik 12.5–9.5 to become World Chess Champion. Petrosian is the only player to go through the Interzonal and the Candidates process undefeated on the way to the world championship match. Petrosian defended his title in 1966 by defeating Boris Spassky 12.5–11.5. He was the first World Champion to win a title match while champion since Alekhine beat Bogoljubov in 1934. He lost it in 1969 (to Spassky). Thus he was the defending World Champion or a World Champion candidate in ten consecutive three-year cycles.

In 1968, he was granted a PhD from Yerevan State University for his thesis, "Chess Logic".
He was the only player to win a game against Bobby Fischer during the latter's 1971 Candidates matches, finally bringing an end to Fischer's amazing streak of twenty consecutive wins (seven to finish the 1970 Palma de Mallorca Interzonal, six against Taimanov, six against Larsen, and the first game in their match).

His legacy remains for being one of the best players pioneering the theory of prophylaxis, years after Aron Nimzowitsch. His style of play was often highly strategical, notable for anticipating opponents' possible attacks, and he based many of his games on avoidance of error, content with accumulating small advantages.

Petrosian died of stomach cancer in 1984 in Moscow. Petrosian is buried in Vagankovo Cemetery and in 1987 13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov unveiled a memorial in the cemetery at Petrosian's grave ( pictured here with Spassky)which depicts the laurel wreath of world champion and an image contained within a crown of the sun shining above the twin peaks of Mount Ararat - the national symbol of Petrosian's native Armenia.