30 November 2009

The Geller Affair

In a comment to my post on The Vladimirov Affair, Michael Goeller wrote,

An interesting case of match-second-betrayal I recall was Geller's (likely Soviet-ordered) betrayal of Spassky before the 1974 candidates match with Karpov. Byrne (who lost a quarterfinal match to Spassky) documents this very well in his NY Times book on the matches.

Since I wasn't familiar with this story, I immediately obtained a copy of Byrne's book. In his chapter on that 1974 candidates semifinal, Byrne introduced the match with the following paragraphs.

It was a terrible blow for [Spassky] to learn that Efim Geller, the brilliant opening analyst who had worked with him on the championship match in Iceland [vs. Fischer 1972], had now gone over to Karpov's camp. It is difficult to understand how the Soviet Chess Federation could permit such a move, which allowed Spassky's deepest secrets and opening plans to be turned over to his opponent.

Spassky did make some attempt to accommodate himself to the dismal situation by trying defenses that run counter to his classical style, namely the King's Indian Defense of game 3 and the Dutch Defense of game 7. However he played like a duck out of water and was lucky to give up only 1 1/2 points in the two games.

Moreover, Spassky played do-nothing continuations against Karpov's Caro-Kann Defense in games 2, 4, and 6, undoubtedly fearing unpleasant theoretical surprises. Fighting a match like this with blunted weapons would be too much for anyone, but why didn't Spassky begin earlier and work harder on enterprising alternatives to the openings Geller knew him to favor?

Spassky is a fascinating personality, a mixture of strange contradictions. He told me afterward that after his easy win in the first game he became so overconfident that he could not concentrate for the rest of the match. But how could he reconcile that with his worry over Geller's fine opening work? Could he have been excessively optimistic and scared skinny at the same time? ('Anatoly Karpov: The Road to the World Chess Championship', p.81)

What did Karpov have to say about Geller's help? In 1980, co-author Aleksandr [Alexander] Roshal quoted Geller in a brief account of pre-match preparations.

It had been noted that, as regards the openings, Spassky did not prepare very thoroughly for matches, and so it was decided to adopt against him as many different unexpected schemes as possible. In order to successfully adopt such tactics, Karpov had to undertake an enormous amount of preliminary work. It is sufficient to recall that Efim Geller, an openings expert, wrote:
"As regards versatility, Anatoly Karpov is inferior to his opponent. This is noticeable, in particular, in his limited opening repertoire. As White Karpov plays only 1.e4 and as Black sticks to one or two defenses..."
At that time Geller had not yet become Karpov's second trainer, and could not have known that the young grandmaster was not at all what he appeared to be. Spassky judged Karpov exactly as Geller did -- and was wrong. ('Chess Is My Life', p.137)

There is nothing else about Geller during the match itself. He first appears as one of Karpov's seconds for the final candidates match against Korchnoi. 'Karpov on Karpov' mentions a few anecdotes related to Geller, but nothing on the 1974 match with Spassky. I've already used the same source for a post on The 'Clear Head' Theory, a first hand account by Karpov on Spassky's style of opening preparation.

Kasparov echoes much of the above in his summary of the match preparation. In the more than 30 pages he devotes to the match, there is no mention of Geller's contribution to Karpov's team.

The Spassky - Karpov match was that epochal event, after which the enormous significance of opening proficiency became clear to everyone. Spassky prepared for the match in the old fashioned way, and this method proved inadequate, quickly leaving him effectively 'without an opening'. Whereas, by contrast, for two and a half months Karpov and his trainers polished their planned opening systems, studying not so much variations, as the conceptual fundamentals of opening lines, their middlegame and sometimes their endgame positions. Karpov worked for 10-12 hours a day! Spassky had no conception of the strength of the grandmaster against whom he had been drawn.

On this occasion Karpov was helped by Furman and Razuvaev (there was no Balashov: Spassky had turned to him for help, not knowing that he was in the opponent's team, and Yuri decided to observe neutrality). Two major surprises were prepared: with Black, the Caro-Kann Defense, and with White, a partial switch to 1.d4. ('My Great Predecessors V', p.249)

What to conclude here? The Soviet sources don't confirm Byrne's account and they provide an alternate, plausible explanation of Spassky's difficulties in the match. Is that because Byrne got it wrong -or- because the subject is awkward for Soviet insiders?

Byrne mentioned that he discussed the Karpov match with Spassky in person. It's a pity that Spassky has written nothing about his many key matches. He would be the best witness to explain what really happened.

27 November 2009

Bobby Fischer Gone Mad

Chapa: 'It's really not about chess. It's more about the emotions and the mind of a genius who has gone mad, quote unquote.'

Bobby Fischer Live Premiere (8:49) • 'Damian Chapa's latest film Bobby Fischer Live premiered at the Beverly Fairfax Theater in Hollywood on November 10th to a sold out audience'; from La Costa TV & PKS Entertainmant LLC.

Chapa: 'Once he became the greatest chess player in the world, he realized it's not enough to be the greatest at what you do. You have to be happy first. There's an art to living life, and the art is to be happy in life. He wasn't happy, he became miserable, and he went down into the darkness and the depths of psychological anger that only this film can explain.' • Trailer: Damian Chapa's Latest Feature Bobby Fischer Live, 'They called him the outlaw biker of chess'. • IMDB: Bobby Fischer Live (2009).

26 November 2009

B+N vs. N

After the cooked study in Tablebase 1 - Roycroft ½ alerted me to the hidden possibilities in the elementary endgame of Bishop and Knight vs. Knight, I decided to investigate further, using the position in the diagram as a starting point. The White King and Bishop cooperate to keep the enemy King confined to the corner, although it is in no immediate danger of being checkmated. If the Black King moves to c8, attacking the Bishop, the Bishop goes to a5, when it will take the White King four moves to attack it again on a6. This gives White plenty of tempi to maneuver against the Black Knight.

As for the Knights, it's easy to vary the position of one or the other to see the effect this has on the optimal solution. For example, in the diagrammed position, with White to move (WTM), White wins in 34 moves; with Black to move (BTM), White wins in 62, in spite of the fact that the Black Knight appears to be out of danger.

Whoever is on move, White wins

WTM: win in 34; BTM: win in 62
[FEN "k2B4/8/2K5/3N4/4n3/8/8/8 w - - 0 1"]

A useful heuristic is to recall that with Bishop and Knight versus bare King, the forced checkmate takes about 30 moves, worst case. That means that in the BTM solution above, a win in 62 reduces to approximately 30 moves to trap and capture the Knight, followed by 30 moves to execute the checkmate. With WTM in the diagram, the optimal solution (wins in 34) starts 1.Kb6, when a possible sequence is 1...Nf2 2.Bc7 Nd3 3.Bd6 Nb2 4.Ka6 Na4 5.Ba3 Kb8 6.Ka5, and the Knight is trapped.

Moving the White Knight from d5 to other squares produces different effects. With the Knight on f3 and WTM, the win will take 62 moves; with BTM, it will take a few moves longer. With the Knight on g2, WTM takes 67 moves, BTM 76 moves. On h2, WTM takes 66 moves, BTM 92 moves, probably bumping into the 50-move rule. With its Knight on h1, with or without the move White can't win, because its own wayward piece is dominated by the Black Knight.

Returning to the diagram, moving the Black Knight to other squares produces similar results. On f3, WTM is a win in 66 moves, while BTM is a draw after ...Nd4+. On g2, WTM is a win in 51 moves, BTM in 61 moves. On h1, WTM is a win in 28 moves, because Bh4 traps the Black Knight immediately; BTM loses in 56.

Fine, in 'Basic Chess Endings', analyzed two positions in this endgame. No. 274a showed how the weak side's Knight could be trapped, while No. 274b demonstrated a mating attack.

  • 274a: [FEN "4n2k/8/8/4KN2/2B5/8/8/8 w - - 0 1"]; 1.Bf7 wins in 47 moves.
  • 274b: [FEN "7k/8/5NKB/8/3n4/8/8/8 b - - 0 1"]; 1...Nf5 loses in eight moves after 2.Bf8.

Fine underestimated the difficulty of this endgame. In 274b, he stated that the Knight on d4 'could draw if it were on one of a number of other squares: c6, c4, d3, h3, and of course any square from which a capture is possible'. He did not have the tools to see that with the Knight on h3, Black loses in 41 moves after 1...Nf4+ 2.Kf7 Ne6 3.Nd5 etc. Even with our modern tablebase tools, this endgame is not trivial.

24 November 2009

Tablebase 1 - Roycroft ½

The diagrammed position is no.400 in A.J.Roycroft's 'Test Tube Chess' (1972), subtitled 'A Comprehensive Introduction to the Chess Endgame Study'. As the caption indicates, it is a 1960 endgame study by Roycroft himself. The solution given in his book is 1.b5 Nf3 2.b6 Ne5 3.b7+ Kd7 4.b8=N+ Kc8 5.Ka8 Bg1 6.Nc6 Nc4 7.Ne7+ and 'Draws; 7.Na7+ or 7.Ne5 also [draws]'.

Roycroft, Problem, 1960

White to play and ?

With the underpromotion on move four, resulting in Bishop and Knight vs. Knight, the study is very pretty, isn't it? Unfortunately, there's a small glitch. According to the trusty tablebase, the position after 7.Ne7+ is a win for Black in 94 moves. The moves 7.Na7+ and 7.Ne5 also lose in 50 and 58 moves respectively.

In fact, if we go back to the diagram, with best play it is a win for Black in 71 moves. Best play is 5...Nd3 instead of 5...Bg1, which is less than optimal by seven moves. Even after 5...Bg1 6.Nc6, the move 6...Nd3 is better than 6...Nc4, which is less than optimal by 22 moves.

It appears that Roycroft underestimated the danger of having the White King confined to the corner. It is not enough that the White Knight breaks free into the open board. The tablebase shows that, while the White King is under threat of checkmate, its Knight is eventually dominated by Black's minor pieces and left without moves. After that, the Black King strolls over and captures the hapless Knight, when the resulting position is an elementary mate with Bishop and Knight vs. bare King.

How sensitive is the defense to different positions of the White Knight? I didn't look at everything, of course, but after 7.Na7+ in Roycroft's solution, the main line is 7...Kc7 8.Nb5+ Kc6 9.Nc3. Although the White Knight is apparently out of danger on c3, Black wins it in less than 20 moves. Picking up the Knight from c3 and placing it on any other empty square also leads to eventual loss.

Roycroft's book has other examples of positions that have been completely solved by tablebases. Most of them were evaluated correctly, but like his own study, there are a few exceptions. I'll look at more of those in future posts.

23 November 2009

The Dorfman Affair

The Vladimirov Affair wasn't the only example of skulduggery during the Kasparov - Karpov matches. From the Chessgames.com page on Josif D Dorfman, here is a copy of an article by Bernard Cafferty, BCM, October 1993 [my comments in brackets are based on the two page article in Europe Echecs (September 1993, p.14), referenced by Cafferty]:

Dorfman in the Toils: Iosif Dorfman was the principal target of a very long accusatory article 'Chess in the Toils of Spying' which appeared in issue 28 [July 1993, written by Vitaly Melik-Karamov] of the Russian popular weekly Ogonyok [sometimes written Ogoniuk or Ogonek]. The allegation was strongly made by a former KGB employee from Azerbaidjan [Victor Litvinov] and by an associate of Kasparov [apparently his mother] that considerable leakage of information had taken place in the various matches between Kasparov and Karpov.

Dorfman, the article claims, had been approached in 1984 by an intermediary who had spun the yarn that he had contacts with a betting ring which could make big money if it knew such things as choice of openings, which sealed move had been made... At one stage the Ukrainian GM was promised a flat in Moscow within two days (a great prize, hardly attainable so quickly by senior figures) as well as a huge sum in roubles and foreign currency. Dorfman's rebuttal in the September issue of Europe Echecs does not contain a formal denial, merely a comment that no proof is given for the allegations. The Ukrainian, who now lives in Cannes, speculated that the article was to counter a comment he made that Etienne Bacrot played better at the age of ten than Kasparov did at 13.

It could also be a belated attempt at explaining why Kasparov had fallen 5-0 behind in the first match, or a riposte to Dorfman who might be suspected of feeding information to Fischer to support the American's project to write a book proving all the K-K matches had 'fixed' games. Dorfman was able to quote Clara Kasparov in the Ogonyok article to the effect that the second match was 'straight' as compared to the others. Asked about the article, Kasparov was quoted as confirming it as all correct. Karpov refused to comment other than that he would respond later.

The accusations against Dorfman were based on events around the early games of the first match, the 48 game affair played in 1984-85 that was finally annulled by FIDE President Campomanes.

Kasparov discussed the affair in a Chesscafe.com Interview With Garry Kasparov by Hanon W. Russell, which centered on the recently published 'Garry Kasparov on Modern Chess, Part 2, Kasparov vs. Karpov, 1975-1985':

On Monday, September 29, 2008, accompanied by Mark Donlan, we had the opportunity to interview Kasparov. In discussing his new book, Garry was candid about the sometimes painful lessons he learned from his first two matches with Anatoly Karpov, and how these lessons helped transform him into the person he is today.

Kasparov: 'I'm not paranoid'.

HR: The openings -- what information was given to Karpov about your opening preparation?

GK: We assumed that there was the regular recording of the information that was available in our rooms. That some of the staff there -- the maids -- were working for the KGB, which is normal behavior in Russia. Today some people say Garry Kasparov was paranoid. I'm not paranoid; I'm just giving you the harsh realities of the Soviet Union, which unfortunately are resurrected in modern Russia as well. They were doing their regular search and I'm sure the information landed in the hands of people who passed it to Karpov. But also the story about Dorfman's being part of this betting line and offering inside information. It was clear that in game eleven Karpov decided to avoid the Grünfeld by playing Nf3, which had no other explanation unless he knew...

HR: You think Dorfman passed information?

GK: He was playing this betting line. He confessed later that he was offered nice conditions at the betting line, and he was participating, and in game eleven he said the dark-squared bishop would be fianchettoed -- and Karpov played Nf3. There's only one explanation for a professional player.

HR: He knew what was going to happen.

GK: To make sure whether it was Grünfeld or not. If I want to play Tarrasch, Nf3 doesn't make any difference.

HR: On page 95, in the notes to the seventh game, after 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5, you write
"the time was spent hesitating, even though I had decided beforehand to play the Tarrasch Defence. Of course, Karpov was expecting this system: both in Niksic (1983) and in the Candidates matches (1983-84) I employed it with great success. In addition, as it later transpired, from the 1st to the 11th game one of my helpers, Iossif Dorfman, secretly played on the match totaliser, and before the 7th game he bet that in reply to 1 d4 it would be a Tarrasch Defense, but the totaliser was run by a man who was close to the Karpov camp..."
This paragraph by itself is very confusing to someone who doesn't have any information, so please explain what is the totaliser?

GK: There are many betting lines no matter what you do. There was a betting line on the openings, on the sealed moves, and Dorfman participated. He provided vital inside information.

HR: So what you mean is that in the seventh game of the match, he put his money on your playing the Tarrasch?

GK: Yes. Which, by the way, was not a big deal; Karpov could have anticipated the Tarrasch. It helps when you know the openings, but still there was an eighty percent probability that I would play the Tarrasch if I faced 1 d4. Actually, we prepared well. In game seven I had a very good position; we had an excellent opening novelty and I used it, but I spent too much time. After this horrible defeat in game six, my confidence was shattered. The problem is not game seven, the problems occurred later, especially game eleven, and other games where I assumed Karpov had very specific knowledge of the ideas. But that's not what happened in 1986 [the Vladimirov affair?]. In 1984-85 there was a general knowledge, but there was no access to my notebooks. After game eleven Dorfman stopped, because he recognized that it was a trap. He went to play the Soviet Championship, the first league, and he came back after game thirty-two.

Dorfman's transgressions, imagined or otherwise, must not have been too serious. He also served on Kasparov's team for the 1985 Moscow, 1986 London - Leningrad, and 1987 Seville matches.

20 November 2009

Umbrella Stand

All too often are the powers of the chess Queen hidden, waiting to be revealed to the creative mind.

Chess © Flickr user Roby Ferrari under Creative Commons.

Apparently taken in Salzburg, Austria.

19 November 2009

Chess X-files

While working on a recent post related to the origin of chess960 in 1996 -- Fischer Announces Fischerandom -- I was reminded of a long standing accusation by the 11th World Champion against the 12th and 13th World Champions.

Fischer also ridiculed the U.S. government for indicting him and issuing a federal arrest warrant in his name for his alleged violation of an executive order by then President Bush barring U.S. citizens from doing business with Yugoslavia. Fischer claimed one of the reasons the U.S. government has indicted him and issued the arrest warrant, which is valid all over the USA, was to prevent him from returning to the USA to get access to his enormous file on the first so-called world championship match between Karpov and Kasparov so that he could write a book proving that that match was prearranged move by move. [From the 1996 press release]

If the file was so important, why didn't Fischer have it sent to him? It appears that his paranoia let him trust no one. Or perhaps the file never existed.

17 November 2009

Not Everyone Likes Chess

A few years ago I posted a piece on About.com called The Not Everyone Likes Chess Department [Archive.org]. Here's an excerpt:

In 1997, one of the seminal battles between the human brain and artificial intelligence was fought and lost by the greatest chess player of all time, Garry Kasparov. In a contest of electrifying tedium, the Charles Atlas of mental arithmetic was soundly thrashed by a fridge called Deep Blue. [timesonline.co.uk]

It was intended to be an irregular series, but it was so irregular that I only wrote the one post. There just wasn't enough material. A recent SciAm article would have fit the bill perfectly : Hello Moon, Good-Bye Rennie, 'We look at the contents of the July issue of Scientific American magazine, the last under outgoing Editor in-Chief John Rennie'.

Podcast TranscriptionSteve: Welcome to Science Talk, the weekly Podcast of Scientific American, posted on June 26th 2009. I'm Steve Mirsky. This week, we'll take a look at the contents of the July issue of Scientific American magazine with Editor in Chief John Rennie, which includes taking a look backward. [...]

Steve: And, of course, one of my favorite sections in the magazine that we usually talk about a little bit. The 50, 100 and 150 years ago.

Rennie: Column.

Steve: Column, that's it.

Rennie: Steve, what was in the magazine?

Steve: A 150 years ago, here's a real indication of how cultural mores may change over time. 150 years ago we wrote,
"A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages. Why should we regret this it may be asked? We answer chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler requirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game. They require out of door exercises not this sort of mental gladiatorship."
Rennie: Wow.

Steve: Can you imagine, we came out against chess.

Rennie: Well, as you know, Steve it is well established that playing of chess leads to the playing of whist and mumblety-peg -- it's a gateway game.

Since that 1859 article, Scientific American has published other articles about the positive aspects of chess. I'll summarize them in a future post.

16 November 2009

The Vladimirov Affair

In Opening Preparation - Between the Lines, I remarked, 'We'll see in other World Championship matches that the problem of betrayal occurs frequently in match preparations'. Betrayal has always been a perception rather than an established fact. It is difficult for a player to prove that one of his trusted seconds has been less than faithful in serving the cause.

A case arose during the 1986 Kasparov - Karpov Title Match. Leading +4-1=11 with eight games to play, Kasparov lost the next three games -- the 17th, 18th, and 19th. The match was tied. Any player who had just lost three games could be expected to take a time-out, but the opposite occurred. Here's how Keene and Goodman introduced the 20th game.

After his elegant demolition of the Gruenfeld in game 19 Karpov took a surprise time out, postponing the 20th until the following Monday. The decision mystified observers who had expected the former champion to keep pushing against a weakened Kasparov, but grandmasters suggested that Karpov wished to use the weekend to prepare himself psychologically for the final phase of the match now that he had gained a real chance to win. Rumors that Karpov was ill were soon quashed that evening when Karpov was shown on Leningrad TV visiting an exhibition by the famous Soviet artist Ilya Glazunov with his girlfriend Natasha and close aide Vladimir Pischenko. ['The Centenary Match: Kasparov - Karpov III', p.112]

Kasparov gave more detail from an insider's point of view.

Before game 20 Karpov took his last postponement, and thus the match moved into the finishing straight -- the day of each subsequent game was now determined. Clearly, by his decision Karpov gave me time to "lick my wounds" and he lost the psychological initiative. Why did he do this? Later Karpov explained that he had problems in the opening, and perhaps this explanation will satisfy people who are remote from chess. [...]

Another factor, which gave rise to false rumors, should also be mentioned here. There were changes in [Kasparov's] training group, which was abandoned by Timoshchenko and Vladimirov. But whereas Timoshchenko's departure departure was 'planned', a serious conflict occurred in my relations with Vladimirov after the 19th game. To me he seemed to be behaving strangely -- copying out the analysis of openings employed in the match. I cannot assert anything, and I have no grounds for accusing him, but equally I can no longer trust Vladimirov as I used to. We parted company precisely the day before Karpov's postponement was announced. ['London - Leningrad Championship Games', p.112]

Even though Kasparov could not 'assert anything', he dropped enough hints to make his thinking crystal clear. This is from his introduction to the 19th game, where he discussed the choice of opening for that game:

A change of opening would have seemed more sensible. This was made in game 21, but there is reason to think that the employment of a new opening in game 19 would not have affected the opponent's preparedness. [p.109]

Karpov's prepared opening surprises in games 17 and 19, plus his 'amazing perception' and 'second sight' (Kasparov's words) in the analysis of the adjourned position in game 18, were enough to convince Kasparov that Vladimirov had to go.

13 November 2009

Monster Match

A few weeks ago, Flickr Friday (or is it Photo Friday?) featured King Kong vs. Godzilla. This week Video Friday (or is it Film Friday?) features Frankenstein vs. Dracula (or is it Dracula vs. Frankenstein?). 'Their very presence weaves a spell of mystery and horror.'

Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi Film Stars Frolics (0:57) • 'Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi play a game of chess to determine who leads the parade at the Film Stars Frolics'

P.S. Black moves first?

12 November 2009

A World Championship Fortress

An unusual example of an endgame fortress occurred in the fourth game of the 2000 Braingames World Championship match. A tablebase confirms that the following position, where White has the advantage of a Knight and Pawn, is drawn with best play.

2000 World Championship Match (game 4)
Kasparov, Garry

Kramnik, Vladimir
(After 56.Rf7-g7(xP))
[FEN "8/2N3R1/Pk6/4r3/8/8/8/3K4 b - - 0 56"]

The game continued 56...Ra5 57.Kd2 Ra1 58.Kc2, which is still a theoretical draw, but now Kasparov erred with 58...Rh1. The draw requires keeping the Black Rook on the a-file. With 59.Rg8, Kramnik could have forced a win, but he played 59.Kb2, allowing Kasparov to escape the loss with 59...Rh8. After 60.Kb3 Rc8 61.a7 Kxa7, the position simplified into the well known and easily drawn Rook and Knight vs. Rook endgame.

To play through the complete game see...

Vladimir Kramnik vs Garry Kasparov; World Championship Match 2000

...on Chessgames.com, where there are lots of comments on the missed opportunities of the two players plus explanations of the drawing maneuvers.

10 November 2009

ECO B33 & B44

A couple of small, related questions about the first game of the 1971 Fischer - Petrosian Candidates Final have been on my mind for some time, so I'm going to spend two blog posts to address them. The first question involves the difference between the line played in that game and the Sveshnikov variation (see Sveshnikov or Chelyabinsk? for some background on the moves and the name of the variation). I often play against the Sveshnikov as White and have remarked on the similarity between it and the opening of the Fischer - Petrosian game. What exactly is the difference?

The Sveshnikov goes like this: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5. Fischer - Petrosian went like this: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 (2...e6 and 4...Nc6 can be interchanged) 5.Nb5 d6 6.Bf4 e5 7.Be3 Nf6 8.Bg5. The following graphic compares side-by-side the resulting positions in the two variations.

The most significant difference between the two positions is that the players have taken an extra move pair in the position on the right, but White has played one move less (Nc3) than in the position on the left. How did this happen?

A comparison of the moves shows that, in Fischer - Petrosian, Black's e-Pawn took two moves to advance to e5, while White's Bishop took three moves to get to g5. That accounts both for the extra move pair and for White's lost tempo. As I've noted in the diagram, the Sveshnikov is ECO B33. Fischer - Petrosian is ECO B44.

If only all questions about openings were so easy to answer. I'll tackle the second of my two questions in a future post.

09 November 2009

Opening Preparation - Between the Lines

Continuing with World Championship Opening Preparation, in The Choice of Seconds I gave Korchnoi's account of how in the 1974 match against Karpov he was outmaneuvered in building a team to assist him in match preparations. Let's continue with his account of the effect this had on the early stages of the match.

In the first eight games the advantage was clearly on Karpov's side. As Black against me, he made a very subtle choice of opening. It should not be forgotten that his chief adviser was Furman, a man with whom I had worked for years and who knew all my weaknesses. This greatly hampered me in the match. On account of the nature of my chess style, I found it difficult to refute one unexpected scheme chosen against me. We played three games with this opening [Korchnoi as White: games 1, 3, & 7], and despite my prepared analysis, I was forced to give way. For my play as Black I had several prepared schemes, and I did not know which of these would prove the most effective. It occurred to me that I should try out the most dubious of them, the Sicilian Dragon, at the start of the match. And that is what I did in the second game.

Korchnoi blamed the loss in game two on Karpov's superior opening preparation. For those remarks, see my first post titled World Championship Opening Preparation.

The third, fourth, and fifth games were, after strong pressure from Karpov, all drawn. In the sixth game I again adopted an experimental opening which I prepared all by myself just before the game. Already I did not particularly trust my seconds (Osnos and Dzhindzhikhashvili [Dzindzichashvili]). [...] Though few remember this game in the Petroff and practically no one pays it serious attention, I can testify that Karpov really earned his victory at the board.

It was good that I finally settled on the French, a defense which Karpov and I could have analysed together without him ever gaining an advantage. In view of Karpov's lead, it was already dangerous to experiment by choosing another opening, especially at a time when I had no confidence in my seconds. [...]

Beginning with the ninth game, I sensed that Karpov was finding it difficult to stand the strain. In this game, for the first time in the match, he offered a draw in the middle game. From the tenth game until the end of the match, I held the initiative in my hands. [...]

It was the seventeenth game that proved fatal. I remember that for the first time I played the Catalan Opening. I untypically offered my opponent a Pawn sacrifice. Karpov did not bother to hold the Pawn, and without thinking made another move. Equally untypical of Karpov, especially without thinking! I recall at the board I sank deep into thought: who could have betrayed me?

From Korchnoi's 'Chess Is My Life' (p.107). His remarks reveal several important points that help to understand the match strategies of the top players.

  • paragraph 1: 'We played three games with this opening' [Korchnoi as White: games 1, 3, & 7]; 'For my play as Black' • A useful way of looking at the openings in a match is to consider the games a weave of two separate matches: one match with player A as White in the even numbered games, the other with player B as White in the odd numbered games.

  • para.2: 'I did not particularly trust my seconds'; para.3: 'I had no confidence in my seconds'; para 5: 'who could have betrayed me?' • Although Korchnoi's writings consistently show him to be a deeply suspicious person, we'll see in other World Championship matches that the problem of betrayal occurs frequently in match preparations.

  • para.2: 'Karpov really earned his victory at the board' • This is in contrast to game two, where Korchnoi attributed his opponent's victory to pre-game preparation.

Other commentators, including Karpov, offer different explanations for the match's twists and turns.

06 November 2009

Marcel of the Field

'"Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess" at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York, through Oct. 30, 2009'

Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess © Flickr user '16 Miles of String' under Creative Commons.

For more in the same series, see the set "Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess" at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art.

05 November 2009

Counting Down to the 2010 FIDE Election

In yesterday's post on Who Owns the World Championship?, I noted that the bullets in Stan Vaughan's press release were all provocative and controversial. With the next Chess Olympiad and the 81st FIDE Congress scheduled for September 2010 in Khanty-Mansiysk, the next FIDE election is somewhat less than a year away. It might not be too early to review FIDE's performance to date, using the topics behind Vaughan's bullets as an introductory guide. This would help to identify issues which are likely to face the candidates in the forthcoming election.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the 2010 election will center on Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's bid for re-election, especially the team surrounding him that is responsible for day-to-day FIDE operations. First elected by a special vote in 1995, the current FIDE president was re-elected in 1998, 2002, and 2006. The account of his first year as FIDE's top official is covered in chapter ten ('Paris, Elista, Yerevan...') of his autobiography, The President's Crown of Thorns [PDF], available for download on Fide.com.

Another summary of issues facing the world's best players is a recent questionnaire that I covered in Top Players on the Top Issues. It mentioned at least two topics on Vaughan's list -- time controls and ratings -- as well as a few other critical issues that should not be overlooked, some touching on the current World Championship cycle.

03 November 2009

Serial Draw Offers

One of the things I will never understand about correspondence chess is why some opponents continue to offer draws even though earlier offers have been refused. Here's an example from a few years ago.

I had Black and the game started with a Scheveningen Sicilian: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Be3 Be7 7.f4 O-O 8.Qf3. Here I realized that with 8...Nc6, we would transpose into the famous Tal - Larsen encounter, game 10 of the Candidates Semifinal, Bled 1965. Although Tal played 9.O-O-O and won, I studied various notes on the game and concluded that Larsen's line was worth a try. After I played 8...Nc6, my opponent might not have recognized the transposition and played 9.Nxc6 instead of 9.O-O-O. I managed to achieve equality after a few more moves.

We eventually reached the position shown in the diagram.

ICCF 1st Webchess Open
Weeks, Mark (2374)

Sanchez Carol, Jesus (2080)
(After 25...Re8-f8)

White played 26.Rxf8+ and offered a draw that I declined with 26... Qxf8. The response was 27.Qxe5 'Draw?', 27...Rxb3 'No!', 28.Qc7 'Draw?', 28...Re3 'No!'. After falling silent for a few moves, my opponent offered another draw, lost a Pawn, repeated the offer, lost a piece, and repeated the offer a last time. A few moves later he resigned.

Here's the PGN game score.

[Event "1st Webchess Open Tournament - Group 16"]
[Site "ICCF-webchess.com"]
[Date "2005.02.01"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Sanchez Carol, Jesus"]
[Black "Weeks, Mark A"]
[Result "0-1"]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Be3 Be7 7.f4 O-O 8.Qf3 Nc6 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.Be2 Qa5 11.O-O Ba6 12.Bxa6 Qxa6 13.Rad1 Rab8 14.b3 d5 15.e5 Nd7 16.Qg3 f6 17.f5 Nxe5 18.fxe6 Rfe8 19.Na4 Qc8 20.Qh3 Rb7 21.c4 dxc4 22.Bd4 cxb3 23.Bxe5 fxe5 24.axb3 Qb8 25.Qh5 Rf8 26.Rxf8+ {Draw?} 26... Qxf8 27.Qxe5 {Draw?} 27...Rxb3 28.Qc7 {Draw?} 28...Re3 29.Qxc6 h6 30.Rf1 Qd8 31. Kh1 Qd3 32.Rg1 {Draw?} 32...Kh7 33.Qc1 Qd4 34.Qc2+ Qe4 35.Qd2 Qxe6 36.Nc5 {Draw?} 36...Qe5 37.Nd7 Re2 38.Qc1 Qe4 39.Qc3 Bd6 40.Qb3 Re1 41.Nf6+ gxf6 42. Qf7+ Kh8 43.Qxf6+ Kg8 44.Qd8+ Bf8 45.h3 Rxg1+ 46.Kxg1 Qe1+ 47.Kh2 Qe5+ 48. g3 a5 49.Qd3 Qe6 50.Qb5 {Draw?} 50...Qa2+ 51.Kg1 a4 52.Qb6 a3 53.Qg6+ Kh8 0-1

What's the point of all the draw offers? Why bother playing in the first place?

02 November 2009

The Choice of Seconds

The subject of World Championship Opening Preparation is not just about players working with their seconds to prepare a repertoire. It's also about choosing those seconds. In recounting his preparations for the 1974 Final Candidates Match against Karpov, Korchnoi related several inside stories.

Faced with the likely refusal by Fischer to play the subsequent title match in 1975, the 1974 match was de facto for the World Championship. In case Fischer should decide to play, the Soviet federation considered Karpov the better bet to defeat the American and reclaim the World Championship lost by Spassky in 1972. Korchnoi wrote,

I already had one second, the master Osnos, and I didn't want to break with him, since we had worked together for the two previous matches [vs. Mecking and Petrosian]. I had to find someone who was insensitive to public opinion, and to the 'blows of fate' which could result from this opinion. There was no such volunteer among the grandmasters. My choice fell upon the inexperienced Dzhindzhikhashvili [more commonly spelled 'Dzindzichashvili'], a player with an 'indifferent' reputation in the world of officialdom. [...] I knew at least that, if the Party should ask him, Dzhindzhikhashvili would not betray me. But all kinds of weapon were to be used against me. [...] They very much wanted me not to trust my own seconds, who in any case were not all that strong. In the end they got their way.

By the efforts of the All-Union Chess Federation, a powerful staff was set up to help Karpov. Apart from the main trainers, there were Petrosian, Averbakh, Tal, and Botvinnik. Yes, Karpov persuaded even Botvinnik to give him advice. I was told a story of how once Tal and Vaganian arrived back from the Yugoslavia - USSR match. A car from the Communist Youth Organization Central Committee was awaiting them by the airport entrance. 'We're going straight to Karpov', said the executive, 'he's having trouble against the French Defense'. And they both went.

It is not surprising that for the match with Karpov I was weaker in the opening. After all, I was essentially alone. [...] One who made his sympathies for me well known was Smyslov. For this reason, when he returned to Moscow after the USSR First League championship, much as he resisted he was immediately sent off to a tournament in Venice.

From Korchnoi's 'Chess Is My Life' (p.105).