Peter Henner, a lawyer from Clarksville, wrote an award-winning chess column for The Altamont Enterprise, "Chess: The Last Frontier of the Mind," for four years, retiring from the column in the fall of 2014 to resume his law practice on his own terms. His columns are archived here.
In the winter of 2015, Dennis Sullivan, a scholar and historian from Voorheesville, began his column "Field Notes."
Crossword puzzle lovers may have wondered about the frequent clue “Russian chess champion” (three letters). The answer is “Tal,” as in Mikhail Tal, who died on June 28, 1992. The “Magician of Riga,” as he was known, Tal became the eighth World Champion in 1960, at the age of 23.
The Soviet-Latvian Grandmaster, who had been terrorizing the chess world for the previous five years, particularly the relatively staid Soviet players, with his unorthodox style of play, was, at the time, the youngest player to win the world championship.
Tal was known as a brilliant attacker, a creative genius, who played intuitively and unpredictably. Today, with modern computers, we know that many of his speculative sacrifices were unsound and should have lost.
Tal himself said “There are two types of sacrifices: correct ones, and mine.”
However, it was not easy, even for the world’s best players, to refute these sacrifices over the board, and contemporary analysts usually were unable to show why or how Tal could have been defeated.
His style was a challenge to the Soviet school, exemplified by Mikhail Botvinnik, which preferred systematic logical chess, buttressed by hard work and study. Botvinnik, who, with one interruption, had been Champion since 1948, prepared carefully and methodically for the 1960 match.
Tal, in contrast, simply played a tournament in his hometown. Tal decisively won the match by a score of 12 ½ - 8 ½.
However, the Fédération internationale des échecs rules at the time permitted a rematch for a defeated Champion, which Botvinnik won, 13-8.
In the second match, Botvinnik, once again carefully preparing for the match, deliberately played for closed positions, leading to positional struggles and endgames, and avoiding the sharp tactical play that Tal loved.
During the rematch, Tal continued to play his favorite Nimzo-Indian Defense and the aggressive advance variation of the Caro-Kann, even as it became clear that these openings were not working for him. It was not until five years after the match that Tal, playing White against Botvinnik, abandoned the advance variation in favor of the more common Panov variation and won easily.
Tal had a great career, winning the USSR championship six times between 1957 and 1978 (when that tournament was probably the strongest tournament in the world), established a record in 1973 - 74 by playing 95 tournament games without a loss (46 wins and 49 draws), and tied with Karpov for first in the 1979 Montréal “Tournament of Stars.”
Although he continued to compete in world championship cycles, he never again played a match for the world championship. However, at the age of 51, he won the World Blitz Championship ahead of then world Champion Kasparov.
Tal died young: He suffered from serious health problems all his life, complicated by chain-smoking, excessive drinking, and partying. His wife, Salli Landau (they were married from 1959-1970), who wrote a biography of Tal, noted that, while some people thought he might have lived longer by taking better care of himself, if he had done so, he would not have been Tal.
She also commented that Tal “was so ill equipped for living… When he traveled to a tournament, he could even fact is on suitcase… He didn’t even know how to turn on the gas for cooking…Of course if he had made some effort, he could have learned all of this. But it was all boring to him. He just didn’t need to.”
In the spring of 1992, shortly before he died, Tal escaped from his hospital room to play in a blitz tournament. The following game, played against Kasparov, is generally regarded as his last game.
Tal –Kasparov 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 4. d4 Nf6 5. O-O a6 6. Bxd7 Nxd7 7. Nc3 e6 8. Bg5 Qc7 9. Re1 cd 10. Nxd4 Ne5 11. f4 h6 12. Bh4 g5 13. fe gh 14. ed Bxd6 15. Nd5 (a Typical Tal move! Houdini says the position now goes to -2.0 for Tal) ed 16. ed+ Kf8 17. Qf3 and Black forfeited on time.
The computer says Tal is losing, but it is not so easy to meet the threats on the board. And so Tal leaves the game as he found it, playing aggressively, speculatively, for the fun and joy of the game.
No column for the summer
I have been writing this column for more than four years, and am going to take a break for the summer, until late August.
In the last year, I have put a lot of energy into chess — playing, studying, writing about it — and I want to take some time to do some self-evaluation, decide whether I want to keep doing as many chess things as I have been doing.
This week’s problem
Here Tal finds a neat mating attack against former world champion Vasily Smyslov, who had also defeated Botvinnik for the world championship (in 1957) only to lose a rematch the following year.
After the crucial first move, White mates in no more than four moves.
As those of us who are Red Sox fans know all too well, sometimes the favored competitor that has a history of winning somehow finds a way of winning, even when it appears that he or she does not deserve it.
Defending Champion Gata Kamsky and four-time, and twice defending Women’s Champion Irina Krush both came from behind to become part of three-way ties for first place in the 2014 United States Open and Women’s Championships, and then went on to win their playoffs.
Although Kamsky was undefeated after 10 rounds, he had only won twice, and never been leading the tournament, and had a score of 6-4. Earlier in the tournament, he had predicted there would be a new champion this year.
However, the two leaders, Alexsandr Lenderman and Varuzhan Akobian, had scores of 6½ - 3½, and were scheduled to play each other. Both played hard, continuing to play for a win even as the game simplified into a drawn rook and pawn ending.
Lenderman, the early leader of the tournament, playing White, said he had no idea how the playoff worked because he wasn’t planning on drawing the game. Meanwhile, Kamsky managed to win a difficult game against Josh Friedel to force a three-way tie at 7-4.
Kamsky had the best tie breaks, and was therefore designated to play the winner of an Armageddon playoff game between Akobian and Lenderman. Akobian, playing Black, needed only a draw to advance to the final game against Kamsky.
He found a pretty Bishop sacrifice, which led to a forced win. The finals consisted of two games played at a time control of 25 minutes for game with a five second for move increment. After drawing the first game with the black pieces, Kamsky won the second with White, to claim the championship.
Krush, like Kamsky, went undefeated in the tournament. However, she complained of a mild fever during the tournament, and had given up three straight draws going into the penultimate eighth round, where she defeated her main rival, four-time champion Anna Zatonskih.
In the last round, Tatev Abrahamyan, with 5½ - 2½, won her game early; if either Krush or Zatonskih, both with 6-2, won, she would have been eliminated. However, both drew, setting up a three-way tie at 6½, 2½ .
In the Armageddon playoff, Abrahamyan, playing Black, forced a draw by perpetual check against Zatonskih, to set up the final against Krush. Krush won the first game with White, then held on for a draw in the second game with Black to win the title.
After achieving an even score after five games, Ashritha Eswaran faded to finish with 3½ - 6½.
It is still unprecedented for a 13-year-old girl to play in a U.S. championship, and she certainly demonstrated that she can compete with the best women in the country.
Although a poor start disqualified Sam Shankland from a chance of winning, he had the distinction of defeating the tournament leaders on two occasions: Lenderman in the sixth round and Akobian in the ninth round, to ultimately finish with a score of 6-5.
Lenderman – Shankland
St. Louis 20141. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O! 6. e3 Nbd7 7. Qc2 Shankland usually plays 2…c6, and Lenderman seemed a little surprised by the opening 7. c5 is more common.
7... c5 8. Rd1 cxd4 9. Rxd4 Qa5 10. Rd1? Lenderman thought a long time before this move, which leaves him with an inferior position. GM Finegold commented that 10 Bg3 is the only move played in top-level play. 10..Nb6 11. Nd2 Bb4 12. a3 Bxc3 13. Qxc3 Qxc3 14. bxc3 Bd7. Black has a slight edge due to White’s weak c pawns.
15. Be5 Ba4 16. Rb1 Nfd7. Black’s Bishop is strong, his Knight threatens e5 and he is about to seize the c file and win a pawn. 17. Bd6 Rfc8 18. cxd5 exd5 19. Nf3 The pawn on c3 will fall anyway, so White decides to develop his Knight.
19... Rc6 20. Be7 Rxc3 21. Bb4 Rc7 22. Be2 Nc4 23. Nd4 Nf6 24. Rc1 Rac8 25. Nf5 Nd6 Black has a clear advantage: in addition to the pawn, his rooks are doubled, his Knight is well posted, and his Bishop is annoying, Here, Shankland accurately calculates how to simplify the game to an easier win. 26. Rxc7 Rxc7 27. Ne7+ (27. Nxd6 Rc1+) Kf8! (better than Rxe7 28. Bxd6) 28. Ng6+ Ke8 (28... hxg6?? 29. Bxd6+ )29. O-O. Excellent play by both sides! But Black is still a clear pawn up.
29... Nde4 30. Ne5 b6 31. Ra1 a5 32. Be1 Nc3 33. Bd3 Nfe4 34. Nf3 Bb5 35. Bxb5+ Nxb5 Forcing the trade of White’s most active piece. 36. a4 Nbc3 37. Nd4 Rc4 38. f3 Nc5 39. Bxc3 Rxc3 40. Nb5 Rxe3 41. Nc7+ Kd7 42. Nxd5 Rb3. Although Black has not increased the material advantage, he has used his better piece position to reach a 2 versus 1 on the Queen side and the Black’s a pawn is very weak. Houdini says Black is up 2.1 and White is lost.
43. Rd1 Kc6 44. Ne7+ Kc7 45. Rd4 Ra3 46. Nd5+ Kc6 47. Ne7+ Kb7 48. Rd8 Rxa4 49. Rf8 Rd4 White resigns (Black will easily Queen his a pawn).
New York State Open
The Tiki in Lake George is the kind of motel that gives tourism a bad name. It features fake Polynesian décor, mediocre food, and has seen better days. Still, it is an excellent venue for a chess tournament the week before the main tourism season starts on Memorial Day weekend, and the Continental Chess Association, the largest sponsor of tournaments in the United States, does well by chess players to negotiate a discounted rate for chess players.
The New York State Open is an excellent opportunity for Capital District chess players to play against players from outside the region.
The Open section was won by Boston GM Alexander Ivanov with a 5-0 score; two local players, Albany club champion Jeremy Berman and Mike Mockler, had the opportunity to play him.
Twelve of the 32 players in the Open section were from the Capital District, including Martha Samadashvili, who drew a master and an expert on the way to a score of 2½ - 2½.
For the second year in a row, the Senior section (limited to players over 50 with a rating under 1910) was won by a local player: Alan LeCours, who tied for first with 4 ½ - ½, ahead of 20 other players, including five locals.
Thirty-four players, including five locals, competed in the under-1610 section; Albany player Thomas Clark tied for second with 4-1, raising his rating over 1600.
This week’s problem:
Cherchez la femme
In the problem below, White has doubled rooks on the e file threatening Rxe8, which would lead to mate except for the fact that the Black rook on e8 is defended by both a rook and a queen. How does White win?
Readers may reach chess columnist Peter Henner by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
On April 1, Chessvibes.com reported that United States President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement announcing that they would meet later this month to play a game of chess.
Although President Obama stated last month that the United States does not see the current situation “as some Cold War chessboard,” he now acknowledges that “the game of chess goes beyond any possible conflict… between the United States and Russia. This is an expression of hopes and aspirations of people in every country to solve all conflicts between us between the boundaries of the 64 squares.”
President Putin added, “The stakes are very high. The game will be of utmost importance for the new world order.”
Although both Obama and Putin have some experience with chess, they both will be assisted by famous grandmasters. Obama is expected to be assisted by three-time U.S. Champion Hikaru Nakamura, and former world Champion Garry Kasparov, a Russian opponent of Putin who characterized Putin as “a decent calculator [who] likes to attack, but… lacks… positional judgment.”
Another former world Champion, Anatoly Karpov, currently a member of the Russian Parliament, is expected to assist Putin.
(Editor’s note: Yes, this is an April Fool’s Day joke.)
Anand wins Candidates Tournament,
earns rematch against Carlsen
Many people believed that Vishy Anand would withdraw from high-level chess competition after losing the world championship last year. However, Anand, at 44, the oldest competitor, won the eight-man double round-robin Candidates tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, and will play Magnus Carlsen for the championship in November.
Anand was undefeated, scoring 8 ½ - 5 ½, to place first by a full point over Sergey Karjakin who was second with 7 ½ - 6 ½. Anand won his first-round game against Levon Aronian, ranked number two in the world. Aronian recovered to tie Anand after 7 rounds, but lost his last two games to finish in a tie for 6th-7th, with 6 ½ - 7 ½.
Chess has come a long way in the last hundred years: The prize fund for the tournament was €420,000, with Anand, as the winner, receiving €95,000, and even Veselin Topalov, who finished eighth with 6-8, receiving €17,000.
Deepak Aaron scores big
at Eastern Class Championship
Deepak Aaron, the strongest player to grow up in the Capital District, came home on spring break from Georgia Tech, where he is studying chemical engineering, to play in the Eastern Class Championships in Sturbridge, Mass.
He defeated Grandmaster Alexander Fishbein and drew GMs Alexander Ivanov and world champion contender Gata Kamsky, and raised his rating 35 points, to 2465.
Kamsky placed first with 4 ½ - ½, ahead of GMs Sam Shankland and Aleksander Lenderman, who tied with Deepak and Victor Shen for 2nd – 5th, with 4-1 and Ivanov and Fishbein with 3 ½ - 1 ½.
Other Capital District players: in the Expert section: Dean Howard 1 ½- 1 ½, Peter Henner 1 ½ - 2 ½. Class A: Dilip Aaron 2 ½ - 2 ½, Martha Samadashvili 2 ½ - 2 ½, Scott Boyce 1 ½ - 2 ½. Class B: Zaza Samadashvili 3 ½ - 1 ½, Jonathan D’Alonzo 3-2, Sandeep Alampalli 2 ½ - 2 ½. Class D: Joseph D’Alonzo 3-2.
Sam Shankland is a senior at nearby Brandeis University, and is establishing himself as one of the strongest players in the U.S. His uncle, my endodontist, is happy that his nephew may have found a career doing something where he may be one of the best in the world.
Shankland was undefeated when he met Kamsky in the fourth round. Kamsky sacrificed a piece for an attack in a game that drew a crowd of spectators, including me.
Sturbridge, Ma. 3-16-14
1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 d5 3. e3 e6 4. Nd2 c5 5. c3 Nc6 6. Ngf3 Bd6 7. Bg3 O-O 8. Bd3 Qe7 9. Ne5 Nd7 10. Nxd7 (f4 is more common) Bxd7 11. Bxd6 Qxd6 12. dxc5 Qxc5 13. Bxh7+!? Kxh7.
14. Qh5+ Kg8 15. Ne4 Qc4 16. Ng5 Rfd8 17. Qxf7+ Kh8 18. Qh5+ Kg8. The crowd of spectators was at its thickest at this point, at least 10 of us. Kamsky thought for a long time, at least 10 minutes here, obviously looking for a win rather than a draw by perpetual check. Looking at the position, I saw that Kamsky had an attack, but I didn’t see how he could win, and thought he might have to settle for a draw since he was behind in material.
19. Rd1! e5? After this move, Houdini downgrades Black’s position from - 2.4 to -3.3 20.Qf7+ Kh8 21. e4 Ne7 (Black must give the piece back to prevent Rxe5) 22. Qxe7 Bb5 23. Rd2 Qxa2? (desperation, but Black is lost anyway). 24. Qf7 Qa1+
25. Rd1 Qxb2 26. Qh5+ Kg8 27. Qh7+ Kf8 28. Qh8+ Ke7 29. Qxg7+ Kd6 30. Rxd5+ Kc6 31. Qf6+ Black resigns.
This week’s problem
As a young man, future world champion Wilhelm Steinitz was known as the “Austrian Morphy.”
The American Paul Morphy was perhaps the most brilliant chess player of the 19th Century — he traveled to Europe in 1857, defeated all the best European players, and then retired from chess, reputedly because there was no one strong enough to compete with him.
Here Steinitz finds a neat mate in 3.
There is an old story about a lively debate that supposedly took place at the Marshall Chess Club in New York City in the early 1960s. One of the debaters vociferously argued that chess players were obviously smarter than the general population.
However, the discussion ended suddenly when his adversary simply responded, “Then how do you explain Bobby Fischer?”
I am not aware of any studies showing any correlation between chess strength and I.Q. I don’t know anyone who admits to being a member of Mensa, but I suspect that very few of them are actually strong chess players.
Conversely, I know of many chess players rated over 2000 who have never distinguished themselves in any other intellectual activity.
Still, chess players, especially strong chess players, tend to be capable of mental feats that appear miraculous to the general public. For example, most chess players rated over 1800 can play “blindfold” chess, where the player is told the moves, and plays without actually having a board and pieces in front of him.
My wife is amazed that I do not write down possible entries in Sudokos; I keep the possibilities in my head until I am sure of the number to enter in a particular square.
The newest world Champion, 23-year-old Magnus Carlsen, solved complex jigsaw puzzles before he was 2, built advanced Lego models at the age of 4, and knew the area and population of all of Norway’s 430 municipalities at the age of 5. Although he worked very hard to become a Grandmaster by the age of 13, and ultimately to become world champion, Carlsen clearly had tremendous talent, both for chess, and for other intellectual activities.
Training, a supportive family, and hard work alone could not have produced a champion; consider the talented Polgar sisters whose father set out to train them to be chess wizards. Although Sofia became an International Master, and Zsuzsa a Grandmaster, only Judit had the talent to reach the highest levels of international competition.
Gates – Carlsen
Recently, Carlsen played an exhibition match against Bill Gates on Norwegian television. Gates is obviously a very successful businessman, and, while the extent to which intelligence is necessary for such success is another question, he is obviously not stupid.
Carlsen needed all of 12 seconds and nine moves to checkmate Gates (who played White) (a video of the game is on Youtube). 1. e4 Nc6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Bd3? (this move shows that Gates knows nothing about chess openings) Nf6 4. ed Q:d5 5. Nc3 Qh5 6. 0-0 Bg4 7. h3 Ne5 (Carlsen would normally not play a move like this — he described it after the game as “a cheap trick,” but he correctly believes that Gates will fall for the trap by taking the Bishop) 8. hg Nf:g4 9. N:e5?? Qh2 mate.
If native intelligence is not the sole, or even the main, determinant of chess strength, what is? There are many players who study very hard and very long and whose ratings never change.
In the Capital District, there are about 20 players, including myself, rated over 1800, who have been playing a long time, who were or are experts at one point, but who have not made it to master. Why not?
The current issue of Chess Life has an article by a man in his early 40s, describing his efforts to become a master over the next few years (he has also established a blog, ontheroadtochessmaster.blogspot.com.) In 2011, when he was rated in the 1500s, he established a goal of a rating of 1800, by the end of 2012, an expert rating of 2000 by 2015, and to become a master by 2020 (a rating of 2200).
He achieved a rating of 1721 in 2011, but, in three years, he has yet to break 1800. I would not be optimistic for him.
When I closed my law office last year, I decided to seriously attempt to become a master.
First, I spend about an hour a day solving tactical and endgame problems on a website, chesstempo.com, that I would highly recommend.
Second, I carefully analyze all of my games, with the aid of a computer, to see what I did right and what I did wrong.
Third, I do “solitaire chess” or “guess the best move” exercises, where I play over a Grandmaster game trying to guess the moves made.
Fourth, I try to review three to five high-level chess games a day.
Fifth, I try to do some formal study, some of openings, some of endgame theory, and some through books of general instruction. If I had more time, I might review some theoretical texts that have been written by great players over the years.
I would like to study 20 to 30 hours a week, but rarely do that much. Certainly, there is enough material to study 50 to 60 hours a week for the next few years. But, even if I do spend this time and effort, it is by no means clear that my rating will improve. Although I still believe that I have the ability to improve, it is possible that I have reached my maximum strength.
Tata Steel (Wijk aan Zee)
The 76th Wijk aan Zee (Netherlands) tournament (now known by its current sponsor as the Tata Steel Chess Tournament), one of the strongest annual chess events, was won by Levon Aronian, who is the only player in the world to be rated over 2800 besides Carlsen. Aronian clinched first place before the last round by scoring eight points in the first 10 rounds.
The American Hikaru Nakamura, ranked third in the world behind Aronian and Carlsen, tied for 8th-9th place with a score of 5-6.
This week’s problem
In the 11th and last round of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, Aronian played the strong Dutch player and hometown favorite, Loek Van Wely. Aronian described the game as his most interesting game in the tournament.
Although he had clinched first place, he was playing hard for a win, had broken through Van Wely’s Dutch Defense, and had missed forced wins on moves 35 and 37, before making a time pressure mistake on move 38, which permitted Van Wely to force mate.