Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial Tournament

( A Preview of the Tournament report that will be published in the next issue of Chess Horizons.)

Two days before Massachusetts’s first prominent chess hero’s 139th birthday, 57 players gathered on December 3, 2011 in Leominster at the Veteran’s Center to play in the 2011 Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial. Why this is not listed as a Heritage event under USCF guidelines ( Tournaments Held for at least 25 years) is beyond me since I looked back on MACA’s tournament history for this event dates back to 1991 . Any records before that are archived with USCF.
In the world wide web, I have a chess blog ( and mirrored here at that is heavy on the historical perspective of chess, it’s players and major events. When asked to do the tournament report for this event, I was honored and could not resist tying in a little colloquial historical perspective to this event.

Harry Nelson Pillsbury

Born on December 5th, 1872, he was only 22 when he went to Hastings in 1895 and turned the European chess world on its head as he won the event. He learned to play chess in 1888 at the age of 15. His first chess teacher was Addison Smith, a member of the Boston Chess Club who lived in Somerville.

He moved to Philadelphia by the time he started taking this game seriously at age 17 years old. Pillsbury creativity and resourcefulness started to show up in 1890. Pillsbury played a series of Evans Gambits with the veteran Baltimore expert, H.N. Stone. He was one of the inventors of the Stone-Ware defense in the Evans. Our Somerville native smashed him 5-2.

Like Fisher, his knowledge of openings showed his resourcefulness to garnish older variations with his own added twists. This was especially seen at Hastings 1895 where he played a couple Evans Gambits against Schiffers and Bird. He played a variation not seen in Europe since the days of Kieseritzky and Mayet ( 50 years earlier). Having trained with this variation from local American players H.N Stone and Addison Smith, he had an advantage over his European contemporaries.

Though our event held in 2011, didn’t attract the European power houses of the day, we did have local GM Alexander Ivanov and two prominent local IM’s David Vigorito and Igor Foygel among the notable players in attendance in the open section. It was a quick draw in the final round of the 21 player open section that ended with GM Ivanov and IM Vigorito tied for first place with 3.5 points. Masters Vadim Martirosov and Avraam PIsmennyy followed with a 3.0 score. I was hard pressed to collect any score sheets from these games as IM David Vigorito commented that he stopped recording the last 15 moves of one of his games because of the time control.

One game I collected was from a friend and fellow blogger on Although local Expert, Robert King had not finished with any prize money, his final score of 2.5 points came after 1 win and 3 draws, one being against IM Foygel in Round 3. Below is the game he annotated. It appears, that IM Foygel has the spirit of Pillsbury as he plays an older line of the Benoni ( 3…e5) against Mr. King, transposing it to an old Indian defense.

The Under 1900 section had the largest attendance with 27 players. This was my rust breaker event as I had personal matters taking priority over my chess board. Lately, with life in all its complications, the only time I get to play chess is on a one day event. I used to loath such events because of the G60 time controls and how I needed all the time in the world against a much younger opponent brought up on bullet and lightning internet chess. But I have acclimated since my love for the game versus my time for the game are on two separate and seemingly opposing axis’s.

Given the G60 time control, it comes as no surprise then that an eleven year old, Nithin Kavi, was undefeated and won first place in the U1900 section. Yours truly came in a clear second, playing only the last three rounds. My last round game was a raucous Central variation of the Slav defense where Black chose to play a minor piece exchange for 3 pawns. Here is that game with my annotations.

The Under 1500 section had a total of 9 players and a three-way tie for first place from the Granite State as James Benway, Robert B Walton Jr, and Anson O’young all from New Hampshire, finished with 3 points each. I didn’t get a chance to collect any of these games from that section.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Playing 5.f3 against the Benko against an Expert

I mentioned back in June how I was searching for a new way to handle the Benko Gambit and essayed an alternative that played 5.f3. Not preparing for this since June, I was able to play a decent and fun game against an opponent who was a strong class A/ Expert hovering around 2000 USCF.

My long term mnemonic recalled the dialog of not allowing Black’s queen Bishop to head to a6 with the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 and instead play 5.f3 to immediately reinforce e4. What I forgot was that playing 6.e4 is the strongest line following 5…e6. Here I mixed ideas up and decided to “spike” Black’s position with 6.d6!?

I remember watching a video on pawn formations with advanced d-chains and the cramping effect d6 could have if allowed. So I went for it. It created a series of forced moves and an early Q exchange as I scrambled to equalize development.

The middle game quickly transposed to an endgame. Before that could happen I wanted to make sure he couldn’t castle and allow my kind to get to the Queenside before he could. I entered into an endgame with a pawn deficit and N versus Bishop. I had a plan to blockade with my King and knight, get my pawns and pieces on dark squares and keep him busy.

It almost worked… but I fell for an exchange and ended up losing a drawn endgame.

What I learned:

  1. 1) 5.f3 against the Benko ( Volga) Gambit is fun. I reviewed a few of Max Dlugy’s games (Dlugy Versus Lev Albert 1986; Dlugy vs Zofia Polgar, 1987 and Dlugy versus Gurevich in 1988) realized that following up with 6.e4 is the critical line. Nakamura versus Vachier in 2008 also shows up on the data base.
  2. 2) Though the spike line is interesting and sort of in tune with a d-pawn chain, the game really is about e4 and setting up a tactical king side attack.
  3. 3) Develop with a vengeance
  4. 4) Big Endgame lesson with N Vs B:

a. Had the right approach in blocking with the opposite color of his Bishop

b. Wrong Passed pawn ( Queening square wrong color)

c. K and knight can hold against the extra bishop. If opposite King waltzes toward other pawns, knight can block passed pawn while king defends.

d. Don’t exchange pieces when down a pawn.

Game Mnemonics learned:

On all of the games mentioned in 1 above, Allowing Black to get his Queen bishop to b7 ( a8-h1 diagonal) comes at a price to Black with a weakened queenside and a brick pawn fortress at e4 f3 and g2. White gets lots of space on the Queen side. The games are less about subtle maneuvering, which I attempted, and more about sharp tactics with a space advantage. I am going to spend some time going over these games in more detail for my own sake. I hope next time I encounter the Benko, I can explore a little deeper beyond the 6.e4 line.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Taking off the Rust at the Pillsbury Memorial.

Lately, with life in all its complications, the only time I get to play chess is on a one day event. I used to loath such events because of the G60 time controls and how I needed all the time in the world against a much younger opponent brought up on bullet and lightning internet chess. But I have acclimated since my love for the game versus my time for the game are on two separate and seemingly opposing axis’s. Time for two or three day events doesn’t fit in well with my busy schedule during school season as I teach part time.

That’s why the mnemonic memory training is important. With a little effort, I can now recall the basic tabias of my repertoire as well as some key middle game ideas based on the themes from pawn structures. This way, during a G60 gamer, I am not wasting time doubting my short term memory’s recall of move orders during the opening. I visualize a tabia I would like to reach, and prepare for the first branch away from that. Then when I am faced with the first branch, the ideas behind the pawn formations are handy to finding candidate moves. Its very efficient and maximizes my time for complex middle game positions. I found I had on average a 10 minute surplus over my opponent going into the middle game which afforded me the opportunity to complicate things on his time.

Now, where the rust was show was my tactical calculations and depth of analysis during the games. The following two games are embarrassments that I managed to get lucky. The first two games won’t go in for publication when I do the report. My last round game might.

The first game is an advanced C-K I played as Black against a teenager. He played a passive line that allowed me to free up the position. I took an unnecessary risk move 17…Nxd4. What I saw was the potential for pinning his knight ( after he recaptures) and winning back the piece with interest. Where my rust came in was that I missed the fact that White covered a key square (c5) as long as the knight on e4 remained. On a side note, IM Igor Foygel, walked by my game right when I made that move and winced. By the time he circled back around, my opponent didn’t play the strongest continuation and I was able to get what I had intended , my ROI of the material. Igor had that look of surprise. Two days later, he asked me “ Did you plan 17…Nxd4 ?” I knew I was busted, I remarked that I had chose the complicated line to take off some rust as I miscalculated White’s best move. Then he told me how some masters choose difficult lines on purpose in the first round to “wake up”. I like Igor, he’s a nice guy and very much encouraging for even us mortals.

The following round, the teenager’s dad was seeking to avenge his son’s demise at the hands of Blunderprone! Let me just comment that even at a USCF rating of 1890, he was 16 years out of practice in events. I had White and took him into a Botvinik line ( 6Bg5) of the Saemish variation of the KID with ease. This is a pawn structure I seem to be really comfortable with. Though I missed a subtle weakness on Black’s early e5 advance and could have played for a significant advantage had I played dxe4. But the long term memory KNEW the nuances of the more positional game of an advanced d-pawn chain formation over an open center with more tactical requirements. I think I chose correctly given the G60 event, and better recall of positional ideas of this variation. Black then proceeded to not challenge the Bishop on g5 and made a slow plan to advance f5. This allowed for White to complete development, castle long, and open the game up on the kingside. By this time I had a growing time surplus of 20 minutes and decided to complicate the game. Here I allowed myself to experiment with the idea of a temporal advantage ( two more pieces developed than my opponent) and sacrifice a couple pawns for a power play with pieces. One pawn opened up the King side for my pieces and the other deflected his strongest defending piece. He resigned after I snared his rook.

The last round, I was warmed up and played White against another minor. He played the slav, I challenged him into the central variation that puts the question to Black on giving up a Bishop for three pawns. I’ve had good success in the past with this line and its actually fun… as long as my tactical skills aren’t too rusty… so this was a big risk going into the last round. No guts no glory. Sure enough, my opponent remembered his moves right up until he was supposed to capture with the Bishop. Instead he captures with the knight. This avoided the other complications int eh main line. Black was able toe recover the 3 pawns for the knight but I was able to freeze his king in the center. I gave up a rook to gain initiative while I had the double bishops bearing on the centralized king, a centralized knight and Queen ready for action. Black was trying desperately to exchange Queens off the board, but I wanted it on my terms. I got my rook back which equalized material but gave me more active pieces going into a tricky endgame. Black suffered from cramps towards the last few moves as my boa constrictor started to squeeze in.

I am still working on the tournament report for the Pillsbury Memorial. I am collected some annotated games from some players in the top section. This will take some time. MY publication deadline is early January. I will post the article here on line. Until then, I am renewing my games studies with emphasis on expanding the mnemonic process. I will post on my first attempts next time.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

How I rust proofed my training

As indicated on my last few sparse posts, chess had taken a back seat as life challenges were my utmost top priority. Not that I am completely out of the woods, there is some clearing in my forest which has allowed be to jump in on a couple of recent one day events.

Back in September, I attended a one-day event in Rhodes Island where I ended up tied for first place. Since December 5th marks the 139th birthday of a famous Massachusetts player, the Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial was an event I could not miss. My score of 3.5 had me take home a clear second place winnings as well as bump my rating up over 1800 USCF for the first time in my life.

I hadn’t been studying seriously since July. I hadn’t been playing regularly since then either. So how did I manage to have a couple of good tournaments and not lose rating points? I’m not entirely sure but I think I can explain.

For years, especially if look through the archives of my blog, I struggled with inconsistent results. As with most class players, I had a fairly good base of chess knowledge. Meaning, I had some theoretical understand, tactical ability and some base of positional understanding. The problem was that I was caught up in REMEMBERING move orders for openings and positional concepts. I call it the “If he goes here I go there” stuff. This process relied heavily on my short term memory and I am like an old computer from last century with only limited access. If I had life events, most of my deep lines were popped off the stack. My long term recall was hindered as I didn’t have a good “filing system” as it was all related to lines of move orders instead of better mnemonics.

Let me elaborate a little. I am sure all of us have struggled with opening preparation from time to time. It’s probably safe to say that most of us can probably remember at least the first 4 moves in our repertoire comfortably but once the branching effects of the various responses occur, we start to fall into move order issues or place pieces on squares without much thought as to why for the sole reason that you may have recalled it being placed there in another line. For me, the problem was trying to rely on a move like “7…Nbd7” as a mnemonic.

The other aspect is that once you get thrown off your horse, while the clock is ticking, how do you evaluate the position that you got yourself into? Where my previous training was based on move order and Kotov’s “tree of analysis” , too much reliance still on short term memory which was problematic. I read reams of various methods from Nimzovitch to Silman and tigers and zebras. There was no silver bullet and I proceeded as best I could depending on which topical positional book I read recently.

Tabias and pawn formations:

About a year ago, I started to really concentrate on using a better mnemonic to recall positional ideas. I knew I could not get around SOME level of memorization for opening preparation. I made it a priority to at least get myself to the point where I could recall the main line tabias of each of my openings. What this means is following the main line to the first MAJOR branching point. It meant resisting the urge to memorize anything further.

Once I got the tabias for each of my openings, I then approached UNDERSTANGING them from the perspective of pawn formations. If you look at my side bar, I have links to some of these. I created mnemonics from the pawn formations and filed the effort into long term memory after much practice. I made it a habit of reaching an early position and saying to myself the type of pawn formation. It’s not a perfect process as some pawn formations are easier to retrieve than others due to frequency I encounter them and other aspects. But when I see an IQP position, I KNOW what I need to do. I understand the goals. When I reach an ADVANCED CENTRAL QUEEN PAWN Chain, I also know what needs to be done and the candidate moves present themselves.

This year, I want to advance my understanding this game and try to apply mnemonic training to recall complete games. Yes, entire games. I believe I can continue down this path and recall master games by naming them like Pillsbury Vs Tchigoran Hastings 1895. The mnemonic will recall the initial tabia of the opening, the fact that Pillsbury played an early Ne5 ( as white) and proceeded with a Kingside “Pillsbury attack” as Tchigoran countered with a Queenside attack. I am not there yet, but just those statements starting with the top folder and opening up the subsequent folders of the position I draw visions of the game and could actually place pieces on a board to show them. Top level players have that ability. They set the bar I wish to reach.

And now I leave you with a parody of Alice Cooper’s song “ I’m 18”

I’m 18(hundred)

Lines form from my openings

Lines form from my positions

I’ve reached 1800 but not that much faster

I’m not a novice and I’m not a master

I’m 1800 and I still want a higher rating

I’m 1800 and I wish I got “master discounts”

I’m 1800 and I am a Class A player

I’m 18 18 1800!!!

Stay tuned, I'll be doing a formal tournament report for the Pillsbury Memorial for Chess Horizons and will post here as well.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My personal exchange sacrifice

Life mirrors chess in more ways than you can imagine. However, life isn’t meant to be a game to start over if things don't turn out the way you'd like them. Rather, it requires proper attention to fully understand the position life tends to throw at you. My readers have been amply aware of my absence in the chess improvement blog community and I appreciate all the well wishers who reached out and really appreciate everyone’s understanding.

A certain series of events happened over the course of the summer starting around mother’s day concerning the most important people in my life. The perfect storm of events placed me in an untenable position where I had to chose one unfavorable solution over another and it was overwhelming.

To put it in a chess metaphor parlance, it was as if I had to exchange my queen for an unclear position in order to get out from under a very cramped situation. I’m making very careful moves as I settle into a new position which looks favorable for a minor piece assisting a pawn promotion (biological imperative overriding others). I hope to get my queen back as sometimes sacrifices are only temporary.

The dust is beginning to settle but I still have a great deal of work ahead of me. Chess is still calling me and I am barely staying afloat with occasional online games and rarer cameos at local OTB one day events. I still have that chess improvement story to complete and journey to blog. For now, it will remain a sporadic periodic update and possible chess musings. Someday, I will be back to the “time machine” and my magical history tour.

Until then, study your tactics, understand your positions, and above all, don’t sacrifice your queen for an unclear position unless you really know what you are doing.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Under constriction

Sorry about the sudden lapse in posts. I am taking care of some tough personal matters and chess is far from them. Not sure when I'll be back.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tuesdays with Bisguier

Tuesday night is my chess club night. The Metrowest Chess Club in Natick, MA has a strong membership. The players range from all skill levels and on any Tuesday we have 80 players on a regular basis. Our club has been the home for some of the strongest players in the area ( though Boylston CC does seem to have the strongest top section.) It is also where Arthur Bisguier has settled in our area for a regular chess club and we are honored. This former US champion, 3 time winner of the US Open championships, interzonal contender for world championship plays folks like me on a regular basis at the young age of 81. A much more approachable GM than my recent experience with Jann Elvhest

Since the world open, I’ve been preoccupied and consumed with other pressing things outside of chess but I do take the time for once a week to attend this great chess club and take my lumps with these old lions. The second round in this month’s tournament had me paired against the former US champion. I hadn’t been practicing since my warm up to the world open and, like I said, an outside issue has me a little preoccupied. I played black against his 1.e4 and played a new line of the C-K advanced variation I’ve been trying to get a better grip on. I play 3…c5 which at fist looks stupid because it ends up like a French defense with a tempo down. But I forgot what I was trying to accomplish. At one point I thought of reverting back to a more standard line with 3…Bf5 but I told myself that the only to get better is to dive onto this variation and take my lumps against the strong players so it leaves a more lasting impression. And what in impression it left. Arthur’s remark was “ When you play the opening that poorly, you can’t expect too much.” I thought that was funny.

Here this crappy game. Yes, it’s not spectacular but I’m not afraid of showing some of my weaker games. I get a lot of good feedback from the comments and grow stronger from the experience.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Day four into the 39th World Open.

Typically my performance at the past World Open events had me too nerved up in the first few rounds to pull off any wins until round 4 or 5. This year, it seems to be different. I am meditating just before each round and staying as centered as possibly knowing that my months of preparation is adequate to play some decent chess in the U1800 section of this major event.

Yes, it would be nice to win money. However, I see to many folks like myself before, all worked up and with r/e next to their names as they re-enter ( and pay even more money) to have a shot at the big prize. Not me…not this year.

My goal is just play some decent chess, have some fun and click my rating up 16 more points to reach my next milestone at 1800! I am well on my way. At the half way point I won 2 games and drew two games. I took a bye for the evening round 5 and spent the time with my wife and a night out on the town recuperating after a grueling 6 hour marathon game that ended in a draw.

The timing of the rounds is not good for someone who is used to eating at certain times of day. At about hour 5 into the Saturday marathon, I decided to buy a couple of hot dogs that were being offered by the hotel just outside the playing hall. These things were sitting around most of the day in lukewarm water way past freshness date. Needless to say, I awoke in the middle of the night, sick and sweating. Not a good start to day four. I was still peaked by the start of the round and my insides were raw. I suffered my first loss and it wasn’t pretty. I just wasn’t myself. The good news is that I had plenty of time to revive myself before the next round. Food poisoning is not fun at a chess event.

Enough of the unpleasant news, here are a couple of my earlier round victories. One is against a player by the name of Dragan and as my name is George… my patron saint is St. George the Dragon slayer! I won with a pawn mate! The second game I won because my opponent blundered away his queen. Been there done that.

That’s all for now, I thought I’d blog from the front lines. I am enjoying watching the “big games” Gata Kamsky , Elvhest, Lendermann and many others showed up for some chess. A quick note about Jann Elvhest. I was getting my usual breakfast sandwich at this corner market a block away from the hotel ( because its much better for the price than the over priced stale hotel offering) and ran into Jaan Elvhest. I say hi to him. He just looks at me, winces and looks back at the menu. Not a word from the grandmaster. Getting snubbed by a GM…I am so honored!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gearing up for the World Open.

When I tell my co-workers what I am about to do for vacation next week, the common response I get “ You call that a vacation?” For the uninformed, the American chess scene that lacks sponsorships like our European cou

nter parts, attracting the masses of amateurs with a hefty prize does draw a crowd. However, the time table is a grueling 6 hours per game at 2 games a day during the peak. So when they hear I am signing up for 12 hours a day while holding my head as if I am in agony staring at 64 squares and a few little wooden pieces scattered about, they tend to go “ I you say so”. I call that fun.

I’ve been ramping up my preparations for this event. Because I am not a big named GM nor am I any way near the level of play of a GM, I have no “second” helping me train. Rather, my “second” is of the silicon base and add to it a very good chess club that has strong players who I can get a “lesson” from when I play against them. I’ve shared some of those lessons recently.

What I’d like to share about is how I am using my “silicon second”. Years ago, I signed up for pieces of software called Bookup, spent the money they Mike Leahy updated the software on several occasions almost to the point where it annoyed me as the next version always meant “ for a little more money” . At one point I emailed him back and told him flat out “ look, I paid for this earlier version and I use it, I don’t want to have to pay more for something that does the same thing.”

Mike was very receptive to this feedback and provided me with the registration code for the new stuff with no strings attached. That was two years ago. I finally got over myself and installed the new version called Chess Opening Wizard.

First, I must say that I used to use it purely as a memory drill exercise putting the tool in “training” mode where I would select an opening and play through variation after variation without thinking too much. Problem with this is that I have a horrible memory to retain such rote responses. I needed to augment the learning experience by verbal queues. This led me to barking at my computer screen cursory positional values but it was somewhat successful. The problem was that the database I used would drill each variation down to the last move of the game before cycling to the next branch causing me to start and stop the training at various points.

Then, I discovered the feature of “speed learning” . The COW tool will take a starting position of your choice in your database and create a set of flash card like problems from that line. You can select how far down the rabbit hole you want to go, select whose side to move for the positions and voila! You have a canned batch of exercises specifically out of your repertoire! I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. I’ve been trying to do this with ChessBase but its so cumbersome. Mind you CB has its merits …much for another post later.

Mike Leahy has a nice chess improvement tool out there and he’s been doing this for quite a while. It’s worth checking out the “light” versions to get an idea.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Baffled by the Benko

Because I play 1.d4 with the White pieces, I am constantly challenged to recall a dozen or so different responses like QGD, QGA, Nimzo-Indian, King’s Indian, Grufeld, Benoni, Dutch, Pirc, etc… I try to find a “system” for my insanity and steer the game towards a familiar pawn structure or position I am somewhat comfortable with. For the most part, I have been able to steer most of the games to an advanced d5 pawn chain, a palatable IQP or a Minority attack.

The big exception, has been the Benko Gambit.

At the last World Open, I was prepared for most of the above variations against 1.4 except for the Benko because I hadn’t run into all that much at the club. I was out of my game early as I declined the gambit and tried like hell to steer it into a more familiar positional territory. After the game, Dan Heisman spoke with me and gave me sage advice: “always accept the gambit , make them prove its merit”.

That’s all I remembered. I never looked at it again because I haven’t run into all that often, until recently. Once again, in the lion’s den at the club, I was faced with another Master. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 I thought I was getting ready for a Benoni… but then 3…b5 was played. I took the pawn 4.cxb5 a6 and took again 5 bxa6 Bxa6 and then asked myself “now what?”

My game is too embarrassing to post here as it quickly went down hill fast from this point as I tried to avoid Black taking my Bishop on f1 and ruining my chances of castling…only to leave me in a horribly undeveloped position with Black on the attack.

Not all is lost. I asked my opponent to go over the fine points of this wretched opening and help me come up with a better plan that suits my style. Accepting the a6 pawn is a line but not for the faint of heart. It requires castling manual after the Bishop exchange on f1. It is very sharp tactically with open lines and lots of swashbuckling. I am more of a boa constrictor than a venomous viper I asked for a different way.

When I described my Samisch pawns and the d5 advanced chain he had a great suggestion: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.f3! and I can play e4 next.

( diagram) It doesn’t give Black the a6-f1 diagonal so early. Black will attempt to control the dark squares as they are weak with a Queen on b6 and B on c5. But that means playing …c4. White can grab Black’s c-pawn and hold on to two pawns fro compensation.

Black’s best response then is to go after the head of the snake and play 5…e6 6.e4 exd5 7.e5 Qe7 8.Qe2 Ng8 9.Nc3 Bb7 10.Nh3 c4 11.Nf4

This is an attacking line that can be very dynamic. I am still exploring this and not sure I am comfortable with a piece exchange for initiative and two pawns:

11..Qc5 12. Nxd5! Bxd5 13. Be3 Qb4 14.a3 Qa5 15.Bd2 Be6 16 Nd5 ( discovered attack) Qd8 17. Qxc4 Ra7 18. Rc1

White has a two pawns, lead in development, initiative and an easier position to play in exchange for the knight.

My alternate choice is 5.e3 a quieter line still under review.

In any case, if I face this at the World Open, I will enjoy playing it knowing a little more about this gambit and what to avoid.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Into the Lion's den: How I beat a Candidate Master

First A quick check in with the Knight’s Errant. Looking across the interweb, and the Knight’s Errant Revival seems to have lost some steam with exception to the energizer bunny otherwise known as Empirical Rabbit ( . I see he’s still sharpening his tactical skills through scientific analysis. As for myself, I shifted from doing exercises from CT-Art to Convektica’s Strategy 2.0 puzzles and do about 10 a day. These are more along the lines of “find the right strategy” but are mostly tactical in nature.

I’ve been working more on understanding Pawn structures and looked at several videos here on as well as picked up an out of print copy of Andy Soltis’ book Pawn Structure Chess and devoured it.

I am training for the upcoming World Open in Philly at the end of the month. Since I can’t afford lessons from a master, I decided to do the next best thing, play in the open section at my club for the Month of May and June. Every week is a lesson.

My first encounter with a Master in the Open section came at the hands of a 2300 player. It was an advanced Caro Kann, and I played a little too timid not understanding the advanced e-pawn chain structure fully. Had I known then, what I know now, I would have played 6…Qb6 to begin putting pressure on White’s d4. Then I failed to castle and chased ghosts instead. But hey, I got a good lecture after the game from my gracious opponent. Here is this sloppy game.

Fast forward to last week, by this time, I had played 3 games in May against strong players ( masters and experts) and absorbed their wisdom following post game analysis. I was also doing my background activity of learning the pawn structures most common in my games. I made notes and diagrams with ideas behind them. I set up positions and played against the computer to practice playing these positions so I could be comfortable “knowing” the position enough so I wouldn’t chase ghost. I did my daily exercises with the strategy CD and signed up for the open section again at my strong local chess club.

My goal was to reach a playable and familiar position I understood coming out of the opening and into the middle game. My opponent was a Candidate Master( at one time in his life he was beyond USCF 2200). He had a history of playing slightly odd opening s with move orders out of whack to throw people out of the comfort zone.

I had Black and played 1..c6 following his King pawn advance. He plays an odd variant of the Panov-Botvinick attack with 2.c4. My head was like “ I must support d5… Can I play it? Usually the knight comes out” ..and I played first mistake on move 2…Nf6.

I never played the Alekhine Defense before but I soon had a feel for what this defense was like. After moving my knight for the 4th time off to a6, I was finally able to advance the d-pawn.

“ Ok, so much for familiar positions” I thought. But I looked again and realized that White was about to play an advanced e-pawn structure like my previous game. THIS TIME, I knew a little more about how to handle it. I got Qb6 in early and it made the master think for a long time. I had a plan of putting pressure on d4 and controlling the c-file. It helped in looking at his threats and prioritizing where I needed to play. Since I had more energy in the center and open file, I was able to follow through with my plan before my opponent had a chance to execute his. At one point he sacrificed a pawn to gain activity on the King side but I was able to see through this and defend well. As he started to run into time trouble, he gave me opportunities and I found myself actually up the exchange!

That is not to say I went without blundering. By move 40, my opponent’s clock was running REALLY low and I found myself getting caught up with the “quickening” where had I used my time and slowed down, I would have trapped his knight . At one point I put myself in a position where he could have equalized with a knight fork but he missed it too much to the amazement of some onlookers.

Bottom line, a point is a point. A point from a master is my first victory against such a strong opponent.

Lessons to walk away from this include:

-take my time, what’s the rush.

-Knowing pawn structures and what plans work best helps when traveling in unchartered territory.

-Keeping the pressure on a weakness causes more problems than actually taking that pawn or square.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

New York, New York… an Historic chess Legacy

New York has a rich chess history of Super tournaments. Back in 1857, The first American Chess Congress was held. Paul Morphy won the event but refused the hefty prize of $300 ( estimated worth about $7000 today). Instead, he accepted a silver service consisting of a pitcher, four goblets and a tray! The event invited the top 16 American players shown below in the lithograph. Louis Paulsen was one of the players who came in second behind Morphy.

The Fifth (held in 1880 won by George Henry Mackenzie) and sixth ( held in 1889 and tied for first place by Mikhail Chigoran and Max Weiss,) American Chess Congresses were also held in New York Where this later event seemed to be the first to open the invitations to the greater International community. Gunsburg, Blackburne and Amos Burns finished 3-5th in the cross table. The top American , Lipschutz, game in sixth place. Because of such strong players at the sixth congress, challenges were made to then World Champion, Steinitz. Steinitz supported the idea that once a clear winner was determined that he must face a challenge from the second or third place competitor within a Month. IN a playoff match, Max Weiss and Chigoran remained tied. Weiss was not interested in playing a championship match. Ginsburg, however, challenged Chigoran and drew a match with him in 1890.

Fast forward 34 years and in 1924, we see ANOTHER great super tournament. This time at the site of the Alamac Hotel from March 6 to April 18th, we see an event organized by the Manhattan Chess Club ( A friendly rival to the Marshall Chess Club). This invited another group of strong international players. I mentioned in my last post that Dr. Em Lasker, at age 54, wins first place in this event and $1500 (worth $19,000 in today’s dollars). Richard Reti was one who broke Capablanca’s winning streak incidentally. ( I did a whole series on this event a couple years ago). The top American was Frank Marshall. He came in fourth.

Funny I should mention, Frank Marshall. Inspired by the great coffee houses of the past that supported this great game, like Café De La Regence and Simpsons in the strand, he decided to form a chess club that rivaled the Manhatten Chess Club (no longer in existence since 2002). His objective was to establish a meeting place for chess lovers and provide instruction for young players.

So with this long winded somewhat historical thread, I present the next big New York strong tournament. The 4th Annual New York International will be held on June 17th-21st. Top prize is $5000 in the open, and $4000 in the top B and C section ( U2200 and U1800). If you win, you could do what Morphy did and demand a silver set instead of the cash! Maybe you can throw the gloves down and challenge a World Champion. One thing is for certain, there will be opportunities for IM and GM norms because of such a strong event. The main event will be held at St. John’s University. You can register on line at the Marshall CC :

So if you are in the spirit of playing in a historic chess town, in a strong event sponsored by a historic chess club, you owe it to yourself to come on down to New York in couple weeks and get your game on.

Foot note: alright, guys at Brooklyn 64, if this gets you the Blunderprone Bump you seek… all I ask for in return is a Marshall CC tee-shirt in return ;)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Part 6 ( Finale): Dr. Emanuel Lasker; Old Lions still have sharp teeth.

In 1911, Lasker was challenged by an up and coming star, Jose Raul Capablanca. Having witnessed Steinitz decent into poverty as a former chess champion, Lasker was reluctant because of the stipulation of “first to win ten games”. The match could last well over 6 months and the expenses to endure such a match were not prevalent. He made a counter-proposal. If neither player had a lead over 2 points by the end of the match, that it should be drawn AND the match be the best of 30 games. He had more stipulations but the gist was to favor the existing Champion. Capablanca didn’t like these rules ( especially the 2 point lead) and refused the match. Lasker took offense to the objections and broke off negotiations.

In 1912, Akiba Rubinstein and Lasker entered negotiations for a world title match. Rubinstein actually had a better tournament record than Capablanca. Again, Lasker pushed the envelope with asking for the challenger to come up with funds. Rubinstein didn’t have the funds and the match was never played.

In 1914, the St. Petersburg tournament saw a great collection of strong future players :Alekhine, Rubinstein, and Capablanca . It also had extended the invite to a couple of Master’s past their prime. Lasker was considered one in the corner ( as well as Blackburne). The tournament committee decide to hold two events. The five winners of the preliminary event would go on to the second. The event saw Rubinstein, Nimzovitch and Bernstein fall short of qualifying for the second event. Lasker was strong in the first event which qualified him for the second event. Despite a loss to Berstein and a draw to Nimzovitch, he managed to land in the finals a full point and half behind Capablanca. Here is a game against Rubinstein in the first section where he uses the rule of two weaknesses to land a favorable R and P endgame against an up and coming endgame genius.

The five winners of the first section were, Capablanca, Alekhine, Marshall, Tarrasch, and Lasker. Not on speaking terms with Capablanca, Lasker couldn’t afford any losses or draws. He had to win EVERY game in the second event. Indeed, he does this, with the deciding game in the second to last game against Capablanca. On Lasker’s 12th move, he demonstrates a better understanding of the position by playing a move that seems to create a nice hole for Black… only to allow a king side attack by White.


At the event, Capablanca proposed a new set of rules for the World Championship match which all the leading players accepted. But, World War I broke out and any talk about a World Championship match was on hold for the near future. During WWI, Lasker only played in a couple events.

An agreement was signed in 1920 between Capablanca and Lasker to play a much anticipate World Championship Match in 1921. In August of 1020, it was reported that Lasker had simply resigned the title of World Champion in favor of Jose Raul Capablanca mainly because he was concerned there was not enough funds. He couldn’t justify spending nine months on a match . He was not aware that Chess enthusiast in Havana had actually raised the money for the match ( provided it was played there). Upon hearing of Lasker’s resignation, Capablanca went to Holland to let him know that the money was there. In a letter dated in August 1920 confirming this agreement, it also stated that he would resign even if he beat Capablanca so that younger masters could compete for the title. (

The match was played between March –April 1921. The deciding game was really in game 5 where Lasker appears to blunder in an equal endgame.

Here is the game where on Black’s 34th move ( sealed move of an adjournment) he was quoted as saying:

“It is usual to attach a "?" to this move. "31...Kg6 was better. Then if 32.hxg5 Ne4 33.Qd3 Qg4+ 34.Rg2 Qh4 35.Qb1 Kg7, the Pawn at g5 falls and Black has a good position"

At first sight here it is indeed impossible to convert the exchange advantage: the White King is exposed, and Black's Queen and Knight dominate. And yet White has a way to gain an advantage: 36.Qd1 Kg6 37.Qf3! (threatening Qf4) 37...Nxg5 38.Qg3, with good winning chances. So that 31...Kg6 was by no means better than the move in the game.”

After 27 years of the title of second World Champion, he passes it on to Capablanca. His next to last tournament before he retired from public chess events, was New York 1924. Here, at age 56, he demonstrates that old lions still have teeth and wins the event. He shows he has what it takes to go against the hyper-modern school of the young masters. Here is a game against Alekhine.

After finishing second place in Moscow in 1925 he bowed out of serious chess activity.

I will end this series on this triumph. Lasker’s life encompassed many triumphs. With a PhD in mathematics, he had papers published that formed the basis of modern game theory. He and his brother wrote a drama ( “History of Mankind”) that was performed in Berlin ( but not critically acclaimed).

Late in life, he returned to competitive chess for the money. He finished fifth in Zurich 1934 and third in Moscow in 1935 at the age of 66!

Lasker’s influence on chess was profound. Max Euwe put it plainly “It is not possible to learn much from him. One can only stand and wonder.” He was a practical yet attacking player . He delivered several “ Lasker’s variations” to chess opening theory. Some may argue the peculiar way he demanded more financial support for match play as contrary to his professionalism in the chess world. However, raising the standards paved the way for the rise of full time chess professionals. Lasker also fought for the copyrights of the games to be owned by the players.

So this ends this series. I hope you all enjoyed this. For me, this was nice public study of the second World champion who’s 27 year reign on the top has yet to be matched. I like these stories of old lions who still can leave a mark!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Part 5 Dr. Emanuel Lasker: Defending his World Title

In the last post, we saw how Dr. Lasker, while multitasking, was able to maintain his World title and still have strong finishes at top tournaments. After the Cambridge Springs event in 1904, Lasker’s appearance at tournaments became increasingly more infrequent.

With Frank Marshall’s first place victory at Cambridge Springs in 1904, it only stood to reason that he challenge Lasker for the World Championship. In 1907, this match finally took place but it became clear early on that the American master was far from Lasker’s equal. Despite his aggressive style(…or perhaps because he was too aggressive?) he lost games and drew seven against the World Champion.

Below is one of the games where Lasker has an incredible endgame combination.

Following this Match, Tarrasch challenged Lasker for the title. Reading the accounts of the banter that went back and forth, I could not help think of the similarities of two World Wrestling Federation trash talking each other before a “fixed” match. Tarrasch, who firmly believed that chess was governed by a precise set of principles, viewed Lasker merely as a “coffee house” player who wins solely by his dubious tricks. At the opening ceremony of the match, Tarrasch commented: “ Mr. Lasker, I have only three words to sat to you: check and mate!” Lasker’s best response was winning the match against his arrogant rival. Here is one game which showcases that Lasker is more than a coffee house trickster.

Because there is too much material in this series, I will briefly touch on the Match against Janowski. This started with a short drawn match in 1909 ( 2 wins and 2 losses). Several months later, it was followed up with a longer, more decisive match in Lasker’s favor. Lasker was more prepared for Janowski’s attacking style. More prepared, the attacks proved to be premature and left him vulnerable. There is a historical debate whether this was truly a World Championship match. In 1910, Lasker agreed to a “revenge” match under the guise of World Championship Match in Paris. Lasker won this with 8 wins, three draws and no losses. Next victim please.

Now we enter the period of one of the most dramatic trial of Lasker’s World championship. Carl Schlechter challenged the Champion in 1910 but limited the event to only 10 games. It is argued that Lasker agreed under the premise that in order for Schlecter to declare World Title, he MUST win by two points. This meant that both players were desperately playing for wins with sharp aggressive lines. Despite that, the first few games of the match played in Vienna were drawn and Lasker actually lost on the fifth game. When they reconvened in Berlin, four more draws followed. This meant that in order for Lasker to retain the title, he HAD to win the last round. Schlechter also had to play for a win in the final game though in the book,Lasker’s Greatest chess games, by Reinfeld, he cites only a draw was required by Schlechter to win the championship casting some doubt on the two-point rule. The following game is not with out positional blunders from both parties. Schlechter’s final misstep is what enabled Lasker to take this final match game to full point.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Part 4: Dr. Emanuel Lasker: Multitasking

After a convincing World Championship rematch victory against Steinitz in 1897, Lasker seems to disappear from chess for a couple years. In that time same period, he managed to publish his book in 1897, Common sense in Chess, based on his 1895 lectures. In 1895, while recovering from Typhoid fever I must add, he published two mathematical papers in the Nature journal as he finished in 3rd place at Hastings.

The turn of the century sees Lasker finishing strong in a couple of major events after he took a couple of years off. We first see him in London in 1899, where he was in first place by a clear 4 ½ points! Georg Marco, a Romanian Chess master who came in 2nd place in the event ( and finished 17that Hastings a few years earlier), remarked: “ Lasker was there, Lasker I, Lasker the Unique!”

In this game against Tchigoran at the London 1899 event, we see Lasker not phased by White’s odd opening of 2.Qe2. Instead, he calmly maneuvers the came to a favorable position for Black where by move 26, he has a clear advantage and begins a forceful series of moves to close the deal.

The following year, he has another convincing victory in Paris (1900) with a 2 point lead ahead of Pillsbury. This game against Amos Burns, is a masterpiece of how Lasker took a slight lead in the opening and pressed on through the entire game.

In 1900, David Hilbert, a world renowned German mathematician of his day, became aware of Lasker’s published mathematical articles and encouraged him to register for his doctorial studies. Lasker attended the University of Erlanger-Nuremberg in the period of 1900-1902. He presented his thesis in 1901 and was awarded a doctorate in mathematics in 1902. His contributions to the academic world are now regarded as fundamental importance to modern algebraic geometry.

After accomplishing his doctorate, he appears back on the chess scene in 1904 and plays at the Cambridge Springs event. He doesn’t come in first place, rather, he ties for 2ndplace with Janowski. Frank Marshall came in first place. In this game here, Lasker ties with the first place winner. Marshall “the swindler” plays a gambit with a pawn down and manages to keep the edge against the World Champion to get the draw.

In another game at Cambridge Springs, the American ( with British roots) William Napier will most likely be remembered for this tough game he lost against Lasker for its tactical acumen by both parties. Lasker comes out of the opening with an inferior position as he didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking at opening variations and relied more on his tactical and positional skills to win the game. This causes the world champion to spend a considerable amount of time coming up with the right moves.

By move 21, Lasker only had 3 minutes left on his clock to make time control for the next 9 moves. This happens at one of the sharpest points in the game. The notes in the embedded chess game are transposed from Georg Marco’s through Fred Reinfeld. It’s simply amazing that Lasker can come from behind after an opening misstep and find just the right tactical play to restore balance. Lasker mentioned to the 26 year old: "It is your brilliancy, even though I won it." The young Napier was impressed at how Lasker kept his composure under such time pressure.

As a footnote: The Cambridge Springs 1904 event was where the Cambridge Springs Defense ( Pillsbury contribution) was debuted by several masters at this event. Lasker was not one of them so I chose not to showcase that defense.

Next time we will look at Lasker defending the world title.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Part 3: Em. Lasker; The Champion returns to Europe.

In the last post, we explored the ramp up to Emanuel Lasker’s becoming the 2nd official World Champion following Willhelm Steinitz. He returns to Europe in the later part of 1894 on the heels of his new title but was seriously ill with typhoid fever and had a very long recovery. His brother, Berthold, kept vigil the whole time. He was invited to play at Hastings in the spring of 1895. While he was convalescing, he gave a series of lectures in Europe which later became the material for a book, Common Sense in Chess. This series focused on some of the basics and I found a CBH version available on line for free. So if anyone is interested in this and can’t find it, drop me an email and I might be able to help.

Lasker really needed to finish strong at Hasting’s to dispel the doubts of critics who were still unconvinced by the match with Steinitz. Here is one of his wins against Pillsbury who went on to win the event despite this loss.

This turns into a day at the races. Even though Lasker placed third, Tarrasch, who was his biggest rival admitted that at Hastings “ Lasker has proved for the first time that he is a strong player.”

Shortly after this event, Lasker dominated the St. Petersburg event in 1895/96 in the famous Quadrangular Tournament. His victory was decisive as well as his games were on the ”high artistic plane” ( so claims Fred Reinfeld). Here is a game against Tchigoran where Lasker takes his opponent to task after a premature attack.

After St. Petersburg, he had another convincing victory at Nuremberg in the summer of 1896 where he took an early lead in the event never to have any of his rivals catch up. Here is a game against one of his biggest rivals, Tarrasch. He gets an early lead with a massive and mobile pawn center that soon becomes unstoppable.

He follows up this event with a return match With Steinitz. This time Steinitz’ games are less strenuous for Lasker. Rather than show a game where a strong up and comer takes over a Legend who’s prime has passed, I will take a play from Lasker and offer a tribute to Steinitz’ genius through the eyes and words of Lasker (from his book ” Lasker’s Manual of Chess” where he writes in great detail on this legendary genius):

“Another circumstance, a weakness of Steinitz, handicapped his style. He was obstinate.
Naturally, he wanted to follow his maxim and beat those who did not follow it,;
but thereby, though he was not aware of it, his Chess style became provocative.
He provoked his antagonists into playing to win, by giving them an excuse or at least a pretext for doing so. To this end he made the most unusual moves. Then, as a punishment for their presumption, he would beat them. That by his new methods he manifested his desire not to play to win from the start was entirely lost on his opponents, because their
experience had taught them to expect just the contrary. This whole process was
subconscious with Steinitz, and no logical necessity brought it about, but it
was the outcome of Steinitz’s Psychology.”

Sounds like Lasker took a lead from his greatest predecessor as it is said that Lasker emulated the very obstinate nature o f this in some of his “unusual moves” as a psychological ploy.

Next, Lasker’s brief break and triumphant return to chess into the new century.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Part 2: Dr. Emanuel Lasker World Champion contender.

In part 1, I brought you up to speed on how Emanuel Lasker first came on the chess scene along with his brother Berthold. This took us into the dawn of the 1890’s with a nice finish in Berlin.

He traveled to London and did rather well at a couple of tournaments in the spring of 1892. The first event landed him a seat in the much stronger event, Quintangular Tournament, in 1892 where he met the British contemporary players of the day Bird, Blackburne, Gunsburg and Mason. Bird was a little passed his prime ( at 60) but Blackburne, the Black death ( I prefer the nickname “drunken Master” for his partiality for scotch whiskey and anecdotal tales of his drinking and playing), was still considered rather strong at 51. Regardless, Lasker amazed the chess world winning this stronger event. He had a decisive victory over Blackburne and Bird. Lasker’s placement among the foremost players of the day could not be denied.

He further demonstrated his ability to several individual matches with the strong players of the time. Two in particular, were matches with Blackburne and Bird. In both of these games against Blackurne and Bird in 1892, Lasker demonstrates how to attack the uncastled king quite convincingly.

With this game against Blackburne, on move 5 we see a novelty by the young Lasker. Blackburne, unaccustomed to the new idea, plays a slow move which creates disharmony with the White pieces. By move 10, Black is ready to build an attack. On move 16, Black doesn’t really sacrifice a Bishop. Instead he trades it for 4 connected passed pawns against a king whose pieces can’t coordinate to stop the incoming attack.

In this game against Bird, Lasker plays a novelty against the Bird opening that later became the strongest continuation for Black. As white tries to retain the extra pawn, he gets a weak position that Lasker begins to take advantage of. In this game as well as the previous, I see Lasker intentionally making moves and plans that leave his opponent either immobile or pieces so uncoordinated that he can do WHATEVER HE WANTS! In the later half of this game, he begins a 13 move combination that includes a rook sacrifice, calculated because he had gained so much tempo!

After his head-turning successes in both tournament and match play in England, Lasker heads to America where he continues to shock the world. He plays in the New York 1893 event and wins all 13 games despite the participation of Pillsbury, Showalter, Hodges and Albin. Here is a game against Pillsbury at this event. It’s a Ruy Lopez where Lasker exchanges the Spanish Bishop on c6 and a long positional closed game ensues. He whittles down Pillsbury by fixing all of Black’s center pawns on Dark squares rendering his Bishop useless. Then, he exchanges his own bishop for a couple pawns on the Kingside that allows him enough of an edge to make a run for it.

At the age of 26, Lasker was now ready to challenge the World Champion. Lasker challenged Tarrasch to a match but Tarrasch refused to play him in a match, stating that Lasker should first prove his mettle by attempting to win one or two major international events.

Fine, the young and up and comer turned his energy to challenging the then World Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, for his title. Initially Lasker wanted to play for $5,000 a side and a match was agreed at stakes of $3,000 a side, but Steinitz agreed to a series of reductions when Lasker found it difficult to raise the money. The final figure was $2,000, which was less than for some of Steinitz' earlier matches. Although this was publicly praised as an act of sportsmanship on Steinitz' part, Steinitz may have desperately needed the money. The match was played in 1894, at venues in New York, Philadelphia, and Montreal. Steinitz had previously declared he would win without doubt, so it came as a shock when Lasker won the first game. Steinitz responded by winning the second, and was able to maintain the balance through the sixth. However, Lasker won all the games from the seventh to the eleventh, and Steinitz asked for a week's rest. When the match resumed, Steinitz looked in better shape and won the 13th and 14th games. Lasker struck back in the 15th and 16th, and Steinitz was unable to compensate for his losses in the middle of the match. Hence Lasker won convincingly with ten wins, five losses and four draws. Lasker thus became the second formally-recognized World Chess Champion, and confirmed his title by beating Steinitz even more convincingly in their re-match in 1896–1897 (ten wins, five draws, and two losses).

Here is the 11th game of the match played in Philadelphia. Steinitz makes a subtle miscalculation closing in his QB. Had this been any other player at the time, the former World champion could have recovered just fine. Not against Lasker, he saw well into the endgame with this misstep and went into the mode of making sure Black’s pieces could not find harmony. By move 18, Black’s pieces are so badly placed that he could not formulate a plan.

Contemporary critics of the time were very harsh on Steinitz, who in his 1870’s heyday was passing his prime. They were more focused on castigating Steinitz rather than praising the young Lasker. The common thread in these evaluations were that Steinitz had lost the match rather than Lasker won it.

Bardeleben commented on the match

“ Lasker lacks Steinitz’s profundity, but he makes up for this by his extraordinary self possession. His play is quite free from oversights, and that is the main cause of his victory over Steinitz. Another interesting characteristic of Lasker’s play is that when he has a bad game he defends himself with serenity and circumspection, thus making his opponent’s task as difficult as possible; whereas most players lose hope in such positions and make blunders which hasten the end. Lasker’s play in the opening is generally correct but never forceful and occasionally he passes by blunders of his opponent without exploiting them.”

Next up, Lasker returns to Europe as the new World Champion.