Sunday, May 31, 2009

Zurich 1953: Yuri Averbakh, Endgame machine

Born February 8, 1922 in Kaluga, Russia, Yuri Averbakh got noticed in the chess scene when he won first place at the 1949 Moscow Championship. He became a grandmaster in 1952. I couldn’t find much more about his earlier chess life. He would have been 31 at Zurich. Becoming a grandmaster at age 30 was fairly common back in this period.

Looking over his games at Zurich 1953, it’s surprising he finished in 10th place ( tied with Boleslavsky) but this may be a result of the 17 draws, a lot of them being rather quick. His playing style was rather solid and may have contributed to the numerous draws because in his own words in commenting about his plus score against Nezhmetdinov :

“If Nezhmetdinov had the attack he could kill anybody, including Tal. But my score against him was something like 8½–½ because I did not give him any possibility for an active game. In such cases he would immediately start to spoil his position because he was looking for complications."

“No possibility for an active game” in this match meant a lot of drawn games with quite a few early draws. This solid style would flourish if his opponent would attempt to find complications. He’d transition the opening to a middlegame that targeted a favorable endgame where he was like a machine.

Paul Keres in round 2 fell prey to this advanced thinking style of play. It starts out as a Nimzo –Indian but Averbakh uses a slight move variation on move 9 that gears him up more for a solid endgame rather then dynamic middle game. White tries to break open the center and it costs him a pawn. That’s all it takes for Averbakh as he reduces the forces to a quick endgame of rooks and minor pieces with an imbalanced pawn network.

He beats Euwe twice. The first time in round 11 on the Black side of a Nimzo Indian. Here, the formula had Averbakh gaining some space on the queen side where he advanced the pawns as far as he could blocking in Euwe’s dark squared bishop before transitioning to an endgame. Euwe tries to counter with an attack on the king side but only gets forced into a series of major piece exchanges. With the more active pieces, Averbakh maneuvers the knights over to where he banked his pawns on the queen’s side, sacrifices a knight and facing 3 advanced passed pawns against a weak bishop, Euwe resigns.
He meets Euwe again in a later round ( 26) and plays the white side of the Nimzo-Indian. The struggle in the middle game is white’s potential of advancing e3-e4. Euwe managed to block in Averbakh’s dark squared bishop ( as payback for round 11). At a crucial point in the game, Euwe exchanges down but that actually leaves Averbakh with an endgame edge with better placed rooks and king position.

Round 21, against Taimanov shows us a different style of play from Averbakh. He shifts gear and goes after an uncastled king aggressively in this open Sicilian. He starts with a counter-attack on the queen’s wing and transposes it to a central attack with a surprising e4-e5 pawn gambit. It opens the position as he sacrifices a bishop only to get the material back with interest a few moves later.
His last win is the next round with Najdorf in a classic struggle with Averbakh’s style of play. By move 12-15, he has already got the position he wants for a favorable endgame with his knight versus Najdorf’s bishop. He fixes the white pawns on the color of White’s bishop all the while creating a great outpost. The queens are exchanged by move 16 and on move 21, Bronstein comments: “ White’s position is unbelievable” and remarks about the weak pawns, the passively placed bishop and the “gaping hole” for the black knight on c4.

Five wins, 17 draws scores him 13 ½ points placing him even with Boleslavsky.


In the following year, he wins the USSR Chess Championship ahead of Korchnoi and Petrosian to name only a couple. In 1956, he ties for first in the same Championship wuth Spasky and Taimanov but lost in the play-offs. He did qualify for the 1958 Interzonals at Portoroz but ended up in a tie for 7th place, half a point short of placing him in the candidates match.

It’s no surprise that Averbakh published over a 100 endgame studies, many of which have given notable contributions to endgame theory. In 1956 he was given the title of International Judge of Chess Compositions and in 1969 became an International Arbiter for FIDE. He edited a couple of soviet chess journals and a four volume anthology of endgames. He also published science and science fiction stories for the Soviet publication ‘Znanie-sila’ ( Knowledge is power).

His daughter Jane, marries Taimanov (after his divorce from Lyubov in the early ‘70s and before he later marries Nadya… but more on this stud later). He's still alive today at age 87.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Zurich 1953: Isaac Boleslavky, Assistant to USSR GMs

Born on June 9, 1919 in the small Ukrainian township of Zolotonasha, Isaac's chess career did not commence until the family moved to the nearby city of Dnepropetrovsk. Here he taught himself the game and then participated in local junior tournaments. He was the schoolboy champion of Dneprpopetrovsk in 1933. Three years later he came in third in the final of the All-Union Junior Championships of 1936 held in Leningrad.

In 1938 and 1939 he won the Ukraine Championship which qualified him to USSR Chess Championship and earn his national masters title at the age of 20. He also earned a degree in philology ( comparative linguistics). His hey-day came in 1945 when he took second place behind Botvinnik. He qualified for his first interzonal which left to the Candidates match in 1951 in Budapest . He was the only undefeated player for most of that match. At the half-way stage of the Candidates, Bolealavsky was in first place with 6 points out of nine games, ahead of Smyslov, Keres, Kotov and Flohr. With just two rounds left to play, he was still in first place a full point ahead of Bronstein. Boleslavsky drew his last two games, but Bronstein won both of his games and matched his score to tie for first. The tie was split by a match of twelve games which was drawn as well and had to extend to 14 rounds before Bornstein won and became the challenger to Botvinnik.

He earned his international Grandmaster title in 1950 during all the activities above. He became Bronstein’s trainer and second in 1951 in preparation to the match against the then world champion, Mikhail Botvinnik.

He qualified for the Zurich 1953 because of his finish at the 1951 Candidates match. Some argue that in Zurich his style changed to a positional rather than the some of the spark seen in the previous candidates cycle. Sure enough, he has a litany of 19 draws and only 4 wins.

Most of the draws were not that inspiring, many being very early draws. He was playing rather cautiously. He beats Kotov twice. The first time in round 3, as white, he gets an IQP position that allows him to grab an advantage over Kotov. After a flurry of exchanges, he gets his bishop 3 squares in front of Kotov’s knight which paralyzes it.

In round 18, he faces Kotov again in a King’s Indian defense. Bronstein feels that Kotov was a little too relaxed allowing Boleslavsky to grab the initiative. He wastes no time and provokes white to advance the e-pawn only to go after it with a vengeance. It turns out to be the key to the kingdom as he knocks it down.

In round 4, he beats Geller with the black side of a Queen’s Indian. He shows the power of the dual bishops against a pawn center. Geller targets potential weaknesses in Boleslavsky’s position on d6 and d7 but this “distraction” only gives Boleslavsky the initiative to launch an all out attack on the king, the pawns in the center and opening up channels to bring in the cannons.

His last win comes in round 30 against Euwe. As Black, he plays an old line of the King’s Indian. Euwe allows him to start a king side attack with the h-pawn. Euwe tries to compensate on the queen side but this turns out fatal. Left with a weaker position, Boleslavsky uses the same paralyzing technique with his bishop against Euwe’s knight as he did against Kotov in round 3.


Boleslavsky became assistants ( seconds) to Smyslov, Petrosian and Bronstein in other matches. He was captain of the USSR’s students team which won the World Championship in 1968. His legacy remains in his contribution to the King’s Indian Defense. Hans Kmoch in his book Pawn Power in Chess calls the Kings Indian configuration of black pawns on c6 and d6 (especially if the d-pawn is on a semi-open file) "the Boleslavsky Wall." He also has a variation in the Sicilian Defense named after him (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Be2 e5).

His daughter, Tatiana ( born in 1946), married Bronstein in 1984, She was 22 years younger than Boleslavsky’s long time friend. He died in Minsk on February 15, 1977, at the age of 57, after falling on an icy sidewalk, breaking his hip and contracting an fatal infection in the hospital.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Zurich 1953: Laszlo Szabo, Attack with Flair!

Most of you probably have not heard of Laszlo Szabo, the Hungarian Grandmaster unless you read about his name in the tournament book. More should be written about this attacking player. Born in Budapest on March 19, 1917 made him 36 at the 1953 Candidates match in Zurich. His early claim to chess fame was how he startled the world winning the 1935 Hungarian Championship at the young age of 18 ( At that time this was a remarkable feat). Some speculate that the young Laszlo studied under Maroczy.

Let’s look at some of his highlights at Zurich. In round 5 . He soundly beats Bronstein with a skewer tactic that follows a deflection of Black’s queen. This starts out as an Old Indian defense but Szabo early on takes him out of the comfort zone. Szabo begins a king side marauder run with pawns and finishes with some nice tactics.

The next round he plays the black side of the Open Defense of the Ruy Lopez against Gligoric. They pretty much follow a book line until about move 14 when Szabo takes advantage of white’s subtle neglect of a Queen’s side pawn advance. During the middle game, Gligoric was trying to force a win in a positional game that allows Szabo to offer a queen exchange and took it into an end game with a good bishop over a bad one. It was all a matter of simplification and technique ( I always wanted to say that!)

He beats Stahlberg in round 13 using good judgment in the Smyslov variation of the Grunfeld defense. He was well prepared for a line that allowed black the freeing move of c5 and regained the center. Stahlberg underestimated the weakness of his second rank and falls. One of the techniques that stood out in this game was how Szabo was able to taunt his opponent into advancing a pawn in front of his king with mere threats. Once the weakness was created, he was able to zoom in and exploit it.

There were several draws that were of no technical merit. An exception was round 19, his draw against Reshvesky. Unbelievably, both grandmasters miss this mate in 2 on move 21.

Szabo plays 21 Bxf6 Can you see a better move? A few moves later, Szabo missed another forced mate and ends up accepting a draw after a long contemplation. He was crushed and it probably affected his play for the rest of the match.
His draw in round 22 with Taimanov was interesting in that I think he had a win in this rarely seen double stonewall positional choreographic dance. Taimanov, resourceful as he was, had a perpetual check in hand to salvage the game with a ½ point after Szabo misses another forced win..

he rallies in the last couple of rounds. In round 29, his forth win came at the hands of Boleslavsky. As Black, he plays a pseudo Benoni-English and aggressively goes after the knight on c3. He exchanges queens early to grab a pawn and then the game takes on a Divide and Conquer aspect as the endgame with balck’s better placed pieces prevails.

Finally, in Round 30 he beats Kotov in a R+P endgame with possession of the more active rook. Despite Kotov finding a way to activate his rook, it was too late.

5 wins and 16 draws he places 12th.


He went on to represent Hungary in 11 Olympiads helping his team win the bronze in 1956 and ten years later in 1966. In the 1960’s and 70’s, Laszlo found some successes in international events placing first in Zageb 1964, Budapest 1965, Sarajevo 1972, Hilversum 1973, and Hastings in 1973/74 ( tied with Kuzmin, Timman, and Tal)

He wrote a couple of games collections in 1986 and 1990 before his death in 1998.

His family donated his entire chess library and papers to the Cleveland Public Library under the John G White Chess and Checkers Collection ( notably the largest chess library collection in the world with over 32,000 volumes of books and periodicals).