31 March 2011

Tales of Tripoli

I can't think of a tournament book that was published for Tripoli 2004, which I recently nicknamed The Worst World Championship Ever, nor can I think of a tournament book that was published for any of the other four FIDE World Championship Knockouts. There have been books written for just about every other World Championship event, but not for the five KOs. Maybe there's an opportunity here, but I rather doubt it.

A few years after Tripoli, a first rate chess book appeared that discussed the Libyan event: 'King's Gambit: A Son, A Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game' by Paul Hoffman. Three chapters of the book (ch.8-10, around 90 pages) focus on Hoffman's experience accompanying Canadian GM Pascal Charbonneau (an IM at the time of the tournament) to the Libyan capital.

In the first round of the knockout, Charbonneau faced French GM Etienne Bacrot, world no.27 in April 2004, and lost both games. The account of the two games occupies only a small place in Hoffman's narrative, which spends far more time on Charbonneau's career, on Hoffman's mostly unpleasant encounters with Libyan security, and on two games Hoffman played during his last day in Tripoli -- one with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and one with Bulgarian GM Antoaneta Stefanova, the 2004 Women's World Champion.

After losing to Bacrot in the first game, Charbonneau had a must win situation in the second game. Here's what happened.

Tripoli 2004
Bacrot, E.

Charbonneau, P.
After 11.Nd4-b5

After 11.Nb5, the game continued 11...O-O 12.Bxb6, where White undoubtedly expected an automatic recapture of the Bishop. Hoffman wrote,

'When I played Nb5', [Charbonneau] said, 'I was happy but not completely happy. I thought it was my only real chance to do something interesting. But I also knew that my position was risky and might turn out badly because my Kingside was a little weak.' Live by the sword, die by the sword -- Pascal had mixed things up to give himself winning chances.

'Then came the shocker', he continued. 'Bacrot banged out 12...Bh3 and I froze. I thought, "Oh my God, I'm lost immediately." I sat there in a state of denial. The Bishop move was so unusual, and he played it so quickly, that I suspected he had not found it at the board. I felt so dumb that I had fallen for some preparation trick. I couldn't think straight or calculate, so for a moment I just looked at him. He was expressionless, but I sensed he was smugly satisfied because I knew he had me.'

The Canadian struggled on, but resigned on his 23rd move, a devastating loss with the White pieces in a clutch game. For the full score of both games, see Game 1: Bacrot - Charbonneau and Game 2: Charbonneau - Bacrot on Chessgames.com.

When I first encountered King's Gambit, just prior to its publication, I panned it -- Tales of Hoffman and Notes -- based on a highly dubious excerpt from Hoffman's own site ThePHtest.com. I was concerned that we were faced with another book like 'Idle Passion: Chess and the Dance of Death' by Alexander Cockburn, the worst chess book I've ever tried to read.

A few months later, after reading the entire book, I wrote a favorable review: King's Gambit (Paul Hoffman). Now, after rereading the chapters on Tripoli, I'm even more convinced that it is one of the best books in the genre chess-for-the-(very)-casual-player. The PHtest excerpt has since been replaced by another, more representative, section.

During the Tripoli tournament, Chessbase.com posted an article on Hoffman and Charbonneau's last day in Libya: Postcards from Tripoli. The photo of Magnus Carlsen ('Commotion ensues when a small child is evicted from the simul because the organizers believe he is too young to play.') is worth the click.

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