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. 

Kamsky-Shankland,

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.

Aronian — Van Wely, Wijk aan Zee 2014

Black to move and mate

Solution: 38...Bd4+ and White has no defense against the mate on the first rank. For example, 39. cd Qb1+ 40. Ne1 R:e1+ 41. B:e1 Q:e1 mate.

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. 

Chess strength

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. 

Location:

Tags:

Gaasland – Carlsen  Oslo 2001

Black to move and win

Solution

23.. Ne3!  Threatening the Queen on c4, R:d1 mate, and forking Rook and Queen. 24. R:d8+ R:d8 (still threatening both mate on d1 and Q:c4) 25. Qe2 Qc4+ and White resigned.

— From Peter Henner

Philadelphia Five: The Capital District team at the National Chess Congress, held in the City of Brotherly Love, included, from left, Patrick Chi, Phillip Sells, Peter Henner, and Zaza and Martha Samadashvili. 

Until very recently, American chess was largely centered in New York, with some secondary centers in California and possibly Chicago. However, in 2007, Rex Sinquefield, a retired billionaire financial advisor, best known for his contributions to conservative political causes, decided to provide major funding for the Chess Club of St. Louis.

Because of his substantial contributions to the chess center, Sinquefield has been awarded the Gold Koltanowski Award by the United States Chess Federation as the person who has done the most to support chess in the United States during the last four years, and St. Louis was designated Chess City of the Year in 2009 and 2011.  

Since 2007, St. Louis has hosted the United States championship the last four years, with the largest prize funds in history; hosted both the U.S. Women’s Championship and the U.S. Junior Closed Championship in the last two years; established a major club with 900 members; conducted weekly rated events; offered several levels of chess instruction for players of all standings; conducted a variety of high-level scholastic programs; maintained a full-time staff; and sponsored rotating “Grandmasters in residence.” (The current GM in residence is Ronen Har-Zvi, who lived in the Capital District for about five years, giving chess lessons to a group of local players.) 

In September, the Chess Club of St. Louis conducted the first Sinquefield Cup, a tournament with a total purse of $170,000 for a double round-robin tournament with only four players:

— Magnus Carlsen, the world champion, rated first;

— Levon Aronian, rated second in the world;

— Hikaru Nakamura, rated fourth in the world and one of America’s top two players; and

— Gata Kamsky, the other top American player, who lost a match for the world championship against Anatoly Karpov (7 ½ - 10 ½) in 1996 at the age of 22, before taking an eight-year break from chess.

The average rating of the four participants was 2793, making it the strongest tournament in history.

Carlsen won the tournament by winning his last-round game against Aronian.  With 3 ½ points, he needed only a draw to clinch first, while Aronian, with 2 ½, needed a win to force a three-way tie with Nakamura.

At first, Carlsen appeared to be content with a draw, but, by the time Aronian offered it on move 48, Carlsen turned down the draw, and the certainty of the $70,000 first prize because, he said, “It was a little bit of a gamble, but I thought winning the last game would be so sweet.”

Carlsen won to take first place with 4 ½ - 1 ½, ahead of Nakamura (3 ½ - 2 ½), Aronian (2 ½ - 3 ½), and Kamsky (1 ½ - 4 ½). It was the first time that Carlsen had played in the United States, and he also became the first person to achieve a USCF rating over 3000, a provisional rating of 3004.

After this tournament, Carlsen took a two-month rest, before his ultimately successful match against Anand for the world championship.

Nakamura said that he was very disappointed not to have won the tournament. However, last week, he demonstrated that he had fully recovered, by winning the prestigious London Chess Classic, this year conducted as a rapid chess event. Nakamura defeated former world champion Vladimir Kramnik in the semifinals, and Boris Gelfand, who lost the 2012 world championship match against Anand, in the finals.

Chess at Robben Island

South African President Jacob Zuma, who was imprisoned for 10 years, recently stated, “On Robben Island, chess provided a solace to us that we needed in those conditions of isolation and deprivation. It propelled our minds beyond the confines of the prison walls and allowed us to reflect and to position our thought strategically to fight the regime. Many comrades made chess sets out of soap and driftwood that allowed us to continue to play this great and noble game.” 

One of the strongest players on Robben Island was Nelson Mandela.

Neville Alexander, a fellow inmate recently interviewed by PBS, described him as taking “his time with every move, [considering] it very carefully. He would sort of mislead the other person by pointing things, this way, that way, the other, and then making the move that wasn’t expected, and so on…. [Mandela] had that way of, as I say, it was a war of attrition, and he tended therefore to be victorious in most cases.” 

National Chess Congress

Five players from the Capital District — Patrick Chi; Phil Sells; Martha Samadashvili; her father, Zaza Samadashvili; and myself — traveled to Philadelphia over Thanksgiving to play in the National Chess Congress.

In the Premier section (limited to players over 2000), our home-grown master, Patrick Chi, held his own with a score of 3-3.

In the under 2200 section, Phil Sells gained 27 rating points to regain his expert rating (over 2000) with a score of 3-3.

Going into the last round, I had gained more than the 83 points needed to regain my expert rating, but blundered away a won game to finish with a score of 3 ½ - 2 ½, and a rating of 1985 (a gain of 68 points).

Martha Samadashvi, in her last tournament before traveling to the United Arab Emirates for the World Under-10 championship, scored 4-2 in the under-2000 section, to raise her rating 102 points, to 1861.

Zaza Samadashvili, troubled by a virus, and perhaps overwhelmed by his responsibilities, did not play the last day and finished with a score of 2-4 in the under-1800 section.

Local club championships

In Saratoga, a seven-player double round-robin, the favorite is Gary Farrell, with a score of 8-2, and two games left to play.

Defending champion Jonathan Feinberg is undefeated, with three wins and five draws for a score of 5 ½ - 2 ½, and has a chance of catching Farrell. Other scores: Bill Little, 4 ½ - 3 ½; Glenn Gausewitz, 3 ½ - 3 ½; Dave Finnerman, 3-4; Josh Kuperman, 2-5; and David Connors, 1 ½ - 7 ½. 

In Albany, a 14-player single round-robin, the leader is newcomer Jeremy Berman, with a perfect score of 3-0, followed by Timothy Wright, 5-1; Jonathan Lack, 3 ½ - 1½ ; Dean Howard, 2 ½ - 1 ½ ; Jason Denham, 2 ½ - 1 ½;  Glen Perry, 1 ½ - ½; Peter Henner, 2-1; and Michael Mockler, 1 ½ - 1 ½.

Joseph Jones ( 2 ½ - 2 ½) and  Gordon Magat (2-3), who were expected to be among the leaders, already have more than two losses, followed by Will Stephenson, 1-4; Art Alowitz,  ½ - 3 ½; Cory Northrup, ½ - 3½; and Chuck Eson, 0-3.

Schenectady, with a 13-player single round-robin, has been the most surprising tournament.

Jon Leisner, 3 ½ - ½, and Michael Mockler, 4-1, are leading, joined by Cory Northrup, 4-1, followed by Zachary Calderon, 3 ½ - 1 ½; Peter Henner, 3-2; Carlos Varela, 3-2; Junior Canty, 2-2; Carl Adamec, 2 ½ - 2½; John Phillips, 2-3; Matthew Clough, 2 ½ - 3½; Joel Miranti, 1-4; Richard Chu, 1-4; and Elihu Hill, 0-3.

There have already been five upsets of greater than 300 points: Clough - Henner, ½ - ½; Northrup – Henner, 1-0; Phillips – Canty, 0-1; Adamec - Clough 0-1; and Miranti - Clough 1-0.    

This week’s problem

Are you as smart as a 10-year-old?

Magnus Carlsen found an elegant way to finish off this game when he was 10. Can you see it?

White to mate in two moves

 

Magnus Carlsen, the strongest player in chess history, rated approximately 75 points higher than the second-highest rated player, Levon Aronian, decisively defeated World Champion Vishy Anand by a score of 6 ½ - 3 ½ in a match held in Chennai, India, to become the 16th world chess champion. 

Carlsen won the match on Nov. 25, eight days short of his 23rd birthday. Garry Kasparov, who was only 22 years, six months and 27 days old when he won the world championship from fellow Soviet player Anatoly Karpov in 1985 holds the record as the youngest world champion.

Carlsen has been the top player or close to the top for several years; if he had chosen to compete in the 2010 world championship cycle, he might have been able to become the challenger in 2012, and might have become the youngest world champion in history.

Kasparov, who was still ranked number one in the world when he retired from chess in 2005 (he has since become very active in Russian politics, opposing Vladimir Putin), attended the 2013 match, and described Carlsen, as the “Harry Potter of Chess.”

The Nov. 25 match was surprisingly one-sided: After four draws, Carlsen won the fifth and sixth games in complicated games that Anand might have been able to draw with best play. After two more draws, Anand, desperately needing a victory, played a sharp attacking line in the ninth game, hoping to find a mating attack on the kingside.

Carlsen defended well, and the game should probably have ended in a draw but Anand blundered and lost.  Trailing 6-3, Anand would have had to win all of the three remaining games to tie the match to force a tiebreaker.

In the 10th game,  Anand, playing Black, offered to repeat moves on move 21, which would have enabled Carlsen to obtain a draw and win the match. However, Carlsen, feeling that he had a better position, declined the offer and played for a win, and the game was not drawn until the 65th move, when both players did not have sufficient mating material.

On a personal note, I was somewhat inspired by Carlsen’s action.

Last Sunday, in the last round of the National Chess Congress, my opponent, rated 250 points higher than I, offered me a draw, which, had I accepted, would have enabled me to achieve my long-standing goal of regaining my Expert rating.  However, I believed that I was winning, and rather than accept the draw, kept playing. Unfortunately, I lost.

All of the games from the championship match are readily available on the Internet: I recommend the site, chessvibes.com, but the official match site and the Wikipedia page of “World Chess Championship 2013” have them as well.

Carlsen said, “I would like to take some responsibility for [Anand’s] mistakes, that’s for sure. It’s been that way for me for a long time. I just play and…People crack under pressure, even in World Championships.”

Anand acknowledged, “My mistakes didn’t happen by themselves; clearly, he managed to provoke them.” Anand attributed his loss to his failure to execute his own strategy.

The match was sponsored by the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, at a cost of $6 million, including  prizes of $1.53 million for the winner and $1.02 million for the loser.  The match organizers were given high praise by everyone for the professional way in which the match was conducted.

GM and chess journalist Ian Rogers noted that the state chief minister, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, a former movie star, may be a future candidate for Indian prime minster, and that the sponsorship of a match featuring the Indian national hero Anand may support those ambitions.    

Although his qualification for the world championship match might seem to have been inevitable, Carlsen qualified for the match by narrowly winning a double round-robin tournament against seven of the strongest players in the world, winning the tournament on tiebreaks against former champion Vladimir Kramnik (see “Carlsen Wins Candidates, Will Challenge Anand,” Enterprise, April 4, 2013).

Even before the match, Carlsen was nominated by Time magazine as one of the 100 most powerful people in the world, a rare accolade for a chess player. This year, New in Chess produced a second edition of a 2004 book by Carlsen’s trainer,  International Master  Simen Agdestein: How Magnus Carlsen Became the Youngest Chess Grandmaster in the World.

The book has been highly recommended by the renowned chess teacher Jeremy Silman as an important book for recreational players to learn how to study and improve their game.

Anand was interviewed five days after the end of the match, and acknowledged that he had been completely outplayed. He said that he “could barely move a muscle” for three days after the match.

Although he said that he was not keen to retire, he talked at length about the fact that he would have more time to spend with his young son and said, “Chess will cease to be the thing that completely dominates my thoughts and … now I will be able to enjoy more time with my family, pursue my hobbies, do other things as well… So I think chess will find a new place in my life.”

Nevertheless, Anand, as the just dethroned champion, is automatically seeded into the qualifying cycle for the next world championship match, and he is likely to continue playing for some years. 

Anand’s seven-year reign as World Champion is reminiscent of the 15-year reign of Mikhail Botvinnik, from 1948-1963 (with two interruptions — Fédération internationale des échecs rules permitted Botvinnik to contest and win two rematches, after he had lost his championship to Vassily Smyslov in 1957 and Mikhail Tal in 1960).

Both Botvinnik and Anand, as champions, did not play in very many tournaments, choosing instead to focus their chess energies on the title matches. Such a strategy was more effective for Botvinnik, since there were fewer players of world-championship caliber in the 1950s, and he was not hurt by the lack of top-level competition.

Botvinnik was arguably the strongest player of his time, while Anand, rated 100 points lower than Carlsen, is ranked only ninth in the world today.

This week’s problem

Kenneth Howard’s 1962 book, One Hundred Years of the American Two-Move Chess Problem, characterized  “the ideal American  two-mover [as] an attractively set composition, illustrating an interesting strategic idea, introduced by a subtle keymove.”

By convention, these problems are White to mate in two moves, and the first move is neither a capture, nor a check. Although the possible moves are limited, a good problem is subtle and, after solving it, one appreciates the beauty and artistry of the composer.

The problem below, composed by a postal worker and famous chess composer named Otto Wurzberg, appeared on the cover of the inaugural issue of Chess Review magazine in 1933, which continued to run problems on its cover until 1941. 

Steinitz - Chigorin   Havana 1892 White to move and mate in 6 moves

Solution: 24. R:h7+ K:h7 25. Qh1+ Kg7 26. Bh6+ Kf6 27. Qh4+ Ke5 28. Q:d4+ Kf5 29. Qf4 mate  

Alexis de Toqueville is best known for his classic work, Democracy in America, which was published in 1835 after his two-year tour of the United States. Toqueville had persuaded the French government to send him to the United States on the pretext that he was going to study American methods of handling convicted criminals. He is reported to have said that the measurement of a society is the nature of its prisons.

It would be interesting to see what Toqueville would say about the Special Housing Units of New York State correctional facilities. About 5,000 inmates are locked in cells approximately 100 square feet, 23 hours a day, and are allowed out only for “recreation” in a small pen.

Although the inmates can communicate with other inmates by yelling across the cellblock, they are not permitted to participate in any programs, and access to the outside world is severely limited. Some of the inmates are sent to SHU for months, if not years; many of them have serious mental health problems, or develop them as a result of the stress of the solitary confinement.

Nevertheless, some inmates in SHU, known as “the Box,” play chess, usually for postage stamps as they are not permitted access to money. Although few, if any, inmates have ever played in formally recognized tournaments, the quality of play can be surprisingly strong. Some players demonstrate a keen sense of tactics, even though, at times, their knowledge of theory may be weak.

Some years ago, I played a correspondence game against an inmate whom I was advising on legal matters. Although he was not very good, he did persuade me to play a game against another inmate, Damian Coppedge, who goes by the name of Focus, who is a particularly interesting man and a very good player.

Focus was convicted of manslaughter in 1998, at the age of 21, and he is presently serving 19 to 22 years. In prison, he has become a committed Buddhist and an accomplished writer and poet.

Over the last two years, we have been playing four games: Although I have won two of them, and will almost certainly win a third, all of the games have been hard-fought, and Focus has demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the openings, imaginative and creative play, and a good fighting spirit. The fourth game, which is now in its 31st move, is an extremely complicated tactical game, and it is by no means clear who is winning. 

Focus was sent to the SHU in the Southport Correctional Facility as the result of a fight with another inmate, which he felt he could not avoid. Southport is one of New York State’s two “super max” facilities; all of the inmates are in SHU.

Apparently, despite the desperateness of the inmate’s situations, there is still an active chess culture. Focus sent me two games that he played against another inmate — one that he won and one that he lost — and a third game, against an inmate named Foots, who introduced himself by asking, “Do you know anything about chess?” This was followed by a boast that he would “crush” Focus in any "book games."

Mr. Foots claimed to have been a very successful player in New York City’s Washington Square Park and to have memorized the standard reference work, Modern Chess Openings.

Focus – Foots,

Southport C.F.

October 6, 2013 

1.e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 de 4. N:e4 Nd7 5. Bd3 Ngf6 6. Ng5 e6 7. N1f3 Bd6 8. Qe2  h6 9. Ne4 N:e4 10. Q:e4  Nf6 11.Qe2 c5 12. dc B:c5 13. Bd2 Qb6 14. O-O-O. 

All of the moves up to now have been played by strong players, and the game is still within Houdini’s book lines: somewhat remarkable for a game played between two inmates without formal chess training.

Now Houdini indicates at least four master games with 14.. Bd7 15. Ne5, and White has a small advantage. However, Mr. Foots wisecracked, “Let me gobble up this pawn you don’t want,” and played 14..B:f2?. This is a mistake. 15 Rhf1 Bc5. White’s lead in development and open lines now give him a significant advantage, even a pawn behind.  

16. Bb5+? and Focus gives it away. 16 Ne5 would have maintained White’s advantage. 16.. Bd7 17. B:d7 N:d7.

Houdini says the position is equal, but now Focus tries an unsound sacrifice, which should have lost.  18 Ba5?  Q:a5  19. R:d7 K:d7 20 N:e5+. This kind of hyper-aggressive chess is not unusual for prison chess — sometimes, as here,  it actually works. If 20.. Kc8, 21 N:f7 Rf8 22. Q:e6+ Kb8, White would be down a Rook for a pawn and could resign, but Mr. Foots played 20..Ke8. and lost after  21. N:f7 Rf8? (Kd7 or Ke7 would have kept the game going) 22. Q:e6+  Be7 23. Nd6+ Kd8 24. R:f8+ B:f8 25 N:b7+ Resigns.

Focus won 10 stamps, and the satisfaction of shutting up someone he described as “full of bombastic b.s.”

Club championships

The three largest local chess clubs — Albany, Schenectady, and Saratoga — have all commenced their championship tournaments.

Thirteen players are competing in Schenectady, which will be directed by Phil Sells, including former champions Carl Adamec and John Phillips. Two of the participants from last year, Carlos Varela and Zachary Calderon, are now established Class A players, and are legitimate contenders, along with Jon Leisner, Mike Mockler, and myself.

Albany, like Schenectady, has adopted a round-robin format for its 16-player tournament. The highest rated player is 2012 champion Dean Howard, an Expert who will be challenged by seven A players: last year’s co-champion Mockler, Gordon Magat, John Jones, Tim Wright, John Lack, new member Jeremy Berman, and myself, as well as tournament director Glen Perry, whose rating is now just below the Class A threshold at 1782.  The Albany tournament also features two new unrated players, Mahmoud Ramadan and Will Stephenson.

The Saratoga championship will be a double round-robin tournament with seven players, including defending Champion Jonathan Feinberg, last year, Schenectady Champion David Finnerman (who could not play in the Schenectady championship this year due to scheduling conflicts), Gary Farrell, Glen Gausewitz, Bill Little, Josh Kuperman, and David Connors.

This week’s problem

Wilhelm (later William) Steinitz (1836 -1900) was the first undisputed world champion, winning the title either in 1866 against Adolph Anderssen or in 1886 against Johannes Zuckertort, before losing it to Emmanuel Lasker in 1894.

He took breaks from competitive chess, and his career as a chess journalist was sometimes marked by controversy due to his bluntness, but he made a modest living as a chess professional, both before and after he moved to the United States in 1883.

He played two matches for the World Championship against the Russian Mikhail Chigorin in Havana, in 1889 and again in 1892. One of the more famous games of the second match is the 4th game, where Steinitz has an obvious forced mate after a hard to find first move. 

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