Feb 152012
 

Continuing with the recent anniversary theme, today we acknowledge a recent significant birthday for one of the game’s true titans.

The 10th Chess World Champion, Boris Spassky celebrated his 75th birthday on the 30th of January. I’m not going to regurgitate his wonderous achievements or indulge in any sentimental recollections about the ‘good old days’ here – well, not much anyway! There are plenty of folks out there better qualified to do that than I. Chessbase being just one example.

Boris was disappointed to see that, once again, his wife had ordered a chessboard-shaped birthday cake with pieces for candles

What I will say is that I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Spassky and my feelings were reinforced when I saw the recent celluloid about Bobby Fischer. It seemed to me that Fischer was able to complete his match with Spassky in ’72 due in no small part to the Russian’s patience, generosity and sportsmanship. Spassky wanted to play that match and he put up with Fischer’s shenanigans despite the fact that they undoubtedly had an adverse effect on his psychological equilibrium and therefore his playing standard.

I could re-publish any number of Spassky’s great masterpieces. The one against Bronstein (Leningrad 1960) or the one against Larsen (Belgrade 1970) are the ones that most readily spring to mind and get trotted out whenever his masterpieces are considered. However, I’ll resist the temptation in order to bring you a less prominent encounter that may have escaped your attention.

Spassky’s 16th move of the first game in viewer at the bottom of this post was adjudged by Tim Krabbé to be the most fantastic of all “The 110 Most Fantastic Moves Ever Played” back in 1998. The game was played in the 1959 Russian Championship play-off in which Spassky and his opponent, Yuri Averbakh were competing with Mark Taimanov. I’ve put the whole game into the viewer but move 16 is the point at which Spassky (playing Black), after sadly reflecting on the misery of his situation, decided that 16…Nc6! was required. On his website Krabbé annotates this move as follows:

About his #1 greatest move, Spassky wrote to me: I have played 16…Nc6 because I did not see any other practical resources because my position was so passive. I was very surprised that Yuri Averbakh was thinking about 1 hour (!!) (55 min.) I considered that after 17.dxc6 bxc6 18.h6! Bh8 White would have two pieces up and they could manage the win very easy. Mark Taimanov: “I would rather resign the game than to make such a move…

 

It would be greatly amiss of me not to add that Spassky’s opponent in this game, Yuri Averbakh, was 90 on the 6th of February! I believe he is currently the oldest living Grandmaster. Chessbase also has a nice tribute and interview with him on their website.

To end this appreciation I would like to set straight a record that was recently made public by Vladimir Kramnik. I was listening to the Full English Breakfast podcast last week in which Macauley Peterson interviewed Vlad right after his win in the London Chess Classic. At one point in the interview Kramnik was talking about living in Paris (were Spassky also resides) and the fact that he hadn’t yet learnt French. He recounted thisanecdote about his illustrious countryman.

He’s been living in France since ’73 or’74 and actually his French is still not great. Once I visited him at his place and he had a big sign on the door of his bureau cabinet in Russian which was saying ‘Learn French idiot!’
— Vladimir Kramnik interviewed by Macauley Peterson for the FEB

Readers may think nothing of this apparently amusing story but, in yet another exclusive for this website, I can now reveal the true and rather more poignant origin of that handwritten note. At the beginning of last week I was alerted to the Kramnik interview by our erstwhile guest columnist, Lady Cynthia Blunderboro, who sent me this e-mail.

Dear Intermezzo,

Perhaps you will have come across the recent interview of Vladimir Kramnik by the chaps at the Full English Breakfast. In it he mentions a note stuck to Boris Spassky’s bureau cabinet that he naively assumes must have been written by Spassky himself and refers to his failure to learn the language of his nation of residence. 

Setting the record straight, Lady Cynthia Blunderboro

I say “naïve” because Kramnik clearer failed to consider some plain facts which point to the true origin and nature of the note, which I should add, I witnessed being written with my own eyes.

First of all, the note is, as I mentioned above, handwritten and if Kramnik had given it any more than a perfunctory glance he could not have failed to notice that the handwriting was not Spassky’s. Secondly, if he had taken a further moment to inspect the note he wouldn’t have missed the familiar size and stock of the paper which is clearly a score sheet from a chess game. Finally, if he had been minded to consider a potential alternate meaning for the three words in the note he might have deduced that the word “French” could in fact refer to the chess opening of that name and not the language.

The tragic truth behind that note must cause poor Spassky to suffer a pang of anguish every time he reads it. In 1977 he had qualified to play in the final Candidates Match of the World Championship cycle against Viktor Korchnoi, for the right to play Karpov. The match was played in Belgrade just a year after Korchnoi had defected from the Soviet Union. The bad blood between Viktor and the Soviet bureaucracy was just beginning. In fact some of the antics and psychological chicanery that distinguished the subsequent World title matches between Karpov and Korchnoi originated from the acrimonious dénouement of this Belgrade encounter.

The match started very badly for Boris who went five games behind. The main instrument of his agonies was Korchnoi’s use of the French Defence which Spassky for some reason found very challenging to overcome. In seven games across the match where Korchnoi played the French Spassky managed a score of only +1, =2, -4. Desperate for a break, in game 10 Spassky suddenly decided to consider his moves in his designated “relaxation box”, using a large demonstration board  to analyze his moves. He would only go to the board to play his moves, record them and press the clock and then return to his box. This tactic drew a protest from Korchnoi, but he was clearly unnerved and Spassky fought his way back almost to equality in the match winning games 11, 12, 13 and 14 by which time Korchnoi had begun mimicing Spassky’s behaviour to no avail.

Belgrade 1977. Spassky is the one in the sun visor!

The match descended into farce and relations between the two men had become very poor. By the time they played the 17th game Spassky had returned to consider his moves at the board but had taken to wearing a silver sun visor and sunglassed underneath a pair of goggles. He lost that game (probably because he couldn’t see properly!) and Korchnoi now needed only one more point to win the match. Fittingly, in game 18 (the second game in the viewer at the bottom of this post) Korchnoi deployed the French once more and Spassky tried the Advance Variation.

I was lucky enough to be sitting in the front row of the auditorium when this game was played and I can assure you the atmosphere was very tense indeed. Eventually Korchnoi overcame his opponent and when the formality of swapping and signing each other’s score sheets arrived I noticed Korchnoi turn his sheet over and scribble something on the back of it before passing it to Spassky. I saw that Boris took a look at the note and immediately turned pale with anger before leaving the stage humiliated.

Later on that evening, at a party held in honour of Korchnoi’s success, I got the opportunity to ask Viktor what he had written on that score sheet that had obviously distressed Spassky so deeply. Korchnoi chortled and said,

“Learn French idiot!”

I hope that this e-mail will go some way to redressing the inaccuracy of Kramnik’s statement which was in no way intentional on his part. How could he have known that this note of admonition was in fact a spur to drive Spassky’s opening studies and not his linguistic deficiency?

See you soon,

Cynthia

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Nov 092011
 

Kasparov takes on Korchnoi (notice Karpov lurking in the background) in 1982

Considering he was/is one of the greatest players of all time Garry Kasparov has featured surprisingly infrequently on this website. It’s time to put the record straight with a post dedicated to the ex-World Champion who is one of my chess heroes.

November the 9th is a date that Kasparov remembers with great fondness as I discovered recently when watching an interview clip with him on You Tube. There are two reasons for this. The first, and most prominent, is that he won the World title from Anatoly Karpov on the 9th of November 1985. Not only that but he won the match with a game that is considered to be a masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it, I’ve put it into the game viewer below. The annotation is Raymond Keene’s.

The second game in the viewer was also played on the 9th of November. This time Kasparov draws his happy memories from his famous victory against Victor Korchnoi at the Lucerne Olympiad in 1982. Kasparov was just a young man then and of course Korchnoi was persona non grata with the Soviets due to his defection and the acrimonious clashes he’d had with Karpov for the World title in 1978 and 1981. When the USSR were due to play Korchnoi’s adopted nation, Switzerland, Karpov immediately said he wouldn’t play in the match and that forced young Kasparov into the limelight to play on board 1 for his country against the defector.

 

I’ve added the link to the interview with Kasparov where he tells the fascinating story behind this game with Korchnoi – the passage about Lucern 1982 starts at 0:55. It’s really interesting and the game analysis is excellent. If you want to follow the analysis through for the whole game then you’ll need to watch parts 28 and 29 in this series as well. You’ll be directed to the next part at the end of each video.

Below is a later segment of the interview where Kasparov talks about and analyses the famous game with Karpov. This is a long video which is well worth watching in full. However, if you just want the segment about the final game of the 1985 World Championship then you should skip to 40:00.

So there you are. Two good reasons why Garry Kasparov will be smiling today!

Sep 072011
 

I’ve been light heartedly toying with the idea of referring to club members only through the medium of amusing pseudonyms during the course of the forth coming season. I probably won’t do it but it for a few minutes I enjoyed brain storming a few ideas. One idea came very quickly to mind and that was a ‘handle’ for one of our club’s newest members, Pete Leonard. Pete joined us last year and quickly made a name for himself by scoring 6/7 for the ‘C’ team during the latter half of last season and ending it with a new Yorkshire rating of 158. Quite a debut!

Over the summer months I’ve had the chance to play a few games against Pete and chat to him about his ‘first’ chess career back in the 1970’s and 80’s. After an analysis evening at the club he mentioned that he’d once played in a simultaneous event against one of my chess heroes and member of the true all time greats, Mikhail Tal. When my jaw dropped open in amazement Pete proceeded to dumbfound me even further by telling me that he secured a draw against the former World Champion with the Black pieces and using Alekhine’s Defence! Now I was really impressed and asked him if he would send me the moves for publication here on the blog. Today I am delighted to be able to present Pete’s draw with Mikhail Tal.

As Pete himself points out the game was not particularly in keeping with the great man’s usual modus operandi. In fact it’s pretty dull and all those who attended the analysis evening that Pete was asked to host at the beginning of August to replay this historic game were probably a little surprised to spend most of their time analysing a technical endgame rather than a labyrinthine, tactical, atom bomb. Never mind. I did at least manage to dig out some further details of the simultaneous display itself with help of the chess historian par excellence, Edward Winter from Chess Notes.

I sent Mr Winter an e-mail and asked if there was any good way to find out about the details of the simultaneous display which, at that point, Pete thought had been played in 1977. Mr Winter kindly and politely responded that he couldn’t really help because if he did then he’d open the flood gates for similar requests that he simply didn’t have the time to deal with. But he did say that he’d had a cursory glance through some reference material and wondered whether I had provided him with the right date because the only simultaneous display he could find that had been played by Mikhail Tal in Luton was given in 1973.

Of course Mr Winter’s brief research turned out to be completely accurate and Pete later confirmed that on closer inspection of his handwriting it turned out his game had indeed been played in 1973. I was therefore pleased to be able to tell him that both Tal and Svetozar Gligoric participated in that simultaneous event at Stockwood High School in Luton on the 16th of July, 1973. Tal’s score that day was +39 -0 =3!

Now I truly am impressed because achieving one of only three draws out of 42 games played that day is a fantastic effort. In fact, ever since I found out about Pete’s back story I have been jokingly referring to him as “The Man Who Drew With Mikhail Tal” or, palendromically, as “T.M.W.D.W.M.T” for short. Maybe we’ll use that acronym to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies next season for if we can deploy “T.M.W.D.W.M.T” in the lower reaches of our ‘A’ team then how good must the rest of the side be?

Feb 012011
 

Hebden Bridge Chess Club members will be well acquainted with my passion for digging up chess curiosities from across the ‘interweb’. Recently I came across the perplexing puzzle below. It’s White to play and mate in 1.

White to play and mate in 1

Yes, in 1! Try putting that one through your computer and it will fry it’s chips before it finds the answer. If I told you that the solution is a VERY unusual move that is no longer strictly within the bounds of the rules of the game then that might help you a little bit. The solution will be revealed at the bottom of this post.

Anyway, the legend around this particular problem is shrouded in mystery. No-one knows who composed it, nor do they know when, but it is evident that this puzzle pre-dates the publication of FIDE’s official rules of the game (another little clue there).

As usual, I was not satisfied with this lack of provenance and so, having tried to cultivate a lead from the internet and failed, I turned to this blog’s old friend and oracle on chess history, the Duchess of Blunderboro, to see if she might be able to provide me with a clue. So, last week I sent her an instant message with the problem attached. Here is how our chat developed:

Intermezzo: Hi Duchess. Any idea who composed this problem?

Duchess: Oh yes! That one is one of Grand Fathers. It’s a funny story actually.

Intermezzo: Wow! Care to elaborate for me? How about a blog post?

Duchess: Certainly!

So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to the Duchess, who will explain all.

The Duchess of Blunderboro

“I first encountered this position in June 1937 and I was 15 years old. It was a warm summer’s day. I had taken my chess set out to the conservatory and was thumbing through one of my Grandfathers old score books in a bid to convince my Father that I was taking my chess education seriously. I had idly played through several games without taking too much time to consider the ideas behind the moves when I reached the final stages of the game in which the position in question appeared. Noticing that the game lasted only a few moves more I paused for a moment to visualise them as I couldn’t be bothered to play them out over the board. As I did this a voice from just behind me said “There’s an amusing story behind that position”.

Jumping with the shock of the sudden interruption, I turned to see that Daddy had sneaked up behind me and was smiling at the recollection of some long distant memory. “It looks like a perfectly straightforward position to me. Black should really have resigned long ago” I observed a little put out that I was being spied upon.

“I’d have to agree with you,” said my Father as he moved round the table to sit down opposite me. “But how about if I told you that Granddad had missed a very unusual and extremely witty mate in one in this very position?”

A cursory glance at the board told me that there was no such mate in one. “Impossible!” I announced. There is no way for White to mate in one move, even by some such sneaky means as an under promotion.”

“Again, I agree with you,” my Father beamed back, “and so did Granddad. But when you’ve been told that there is a mate in one by non-other than the great Adolf Anderrsen, you have to take it seriously.”

“What? “ I spluttered. “Anderssen saw this game and found mate in one?”


The Cafe de la Regence


“Indeed he did,” confirmed my Father. “Your Granddad played this game in Paris at the Café de la Regence in 1878. It was a casual game against a fellow of no particular consequence but, as was his habit in those days, he recorded the score so that he could study the game at a later date. It just so happened that there was a big international tournament taking place in Paris at that time and consequently several of the world’s best were taking their leisure in the café which was renowned as a venue for chess playing. Anderssen, who was nearly 60 years old at that point and competing in what turned out to be his last tournament, happened to be one of small group kibitzing Granddad’s game right at it’s very end and had had a joke with him at it’s conclusion saying

Adolf Anderssen in later life

“Did you know that you missed a very amusing check mate in one a couple of moves before the end?”

Your Granddad had been dumbstruck as he well knew who Anderssen was but was totally convinced that no such mate existed so he didn’t know how to respond. Anderssen had quickly set up the crucial position on the board again and then said.

“The solution really is most unusual. In fact I’d say it would make a striking problem. Check mate in one move. Can you find it?”

Your Granddad told me that he, his opponent and the growing group of kibitzers stared in stunned silence for a couple of minutes trying to find the answer. After a while it became evident that they couldn’t do it so, quietly, Anderssen reached across the board and pushed the White pawn to b8. He then picked it up and replaced with… a black knight!”

As he said these words my Father replicated the great man’s actions, under promoting the pawn to a black knight. He chuckled merrily as he did so. I starred open mouthed in amazement for it was, undeniably, checkmate.

1. b8=N (black) and check mate!
“But, surely that’s illegal,” I stammered.



“Yet again, I must agree with you,” laughed my Father. “But in fact, at the time this game was played there was no specific rule stating that a pawn had to be promoted to a piece of the same colour!”

So, this then is the story behind the position which has since become known a chess problem of unknown origin. For myself I like to think that the origin was Anderssen himself for he was a renowned composer to chess problems and had said himself that the position would have made a striking puzzle. Being as he died not long after the Paris tournament I often imagine that this position might have been found amongst his documents after he died unpublished and uncredited. This is fanciful of me perhaps, but it’s plausible.”

Thanks, as ever, go to the Duchess for bringing us this ‘exclusive’ story. As a final note on this, the hardest of chess problems, I should add that FIDE’s official rules require that a pawn on the eighth rank must promote to a piece of the same colour



Nov 182010
 

Did Lenin and Hitler face off over this chess board?

Like many chess enthusiasts I was interested to see some news coverage (just over a year ago) about an etching from the 1900’s of Hitler and Lenin playing chess together. Well, the story has now been resurrected from the bowels of the internet by Telegraph journalist, Guy Walters. Evidently both the etching, and the chess set that the two men are supposed to have contested said game upon, are being auctioned by Mullocks in London today. If you have a spare £10,000 or so, you might fancy bidding.

For the historians out there I suppose that the debate about the provenance of these artifacts is all very interesting but as a chess player what I’m really interested in is the missing piece of the puzzle. I am talking of course about the scoresheet for the game which would surely refute any lingering doubts about the authenticity of the other items. Not only would the missing scoresheet add exponential value to the board and the picture it would also answer the crucial questions that every chess player really wants to know the answers to. “Who won the game and what moves were played?”

Fortunately for you dear reader the answer to these tantalising questions is close at hand for, in the year or so since the story first came to my attention, I have been conducting my own investigations into this fabled over-the-board encounter. I must confess that for a long time my best efforts were totally ineffectual but then, quite by chance only a few weeks ago, after a pleasant exchange of banter with someone I played a game against online, I stumbled across our humble blog’s first exclusive scoop!

You see, the person I had been playing against turned out to be none other than Lady Cynthia Blunderboro whose Father, Horace (the 4th Duke), was instrumental in organising the game and was actually present when it was played. Most importantly of all however, he kept Hitler’s copy of the score sheet! A player of no little ability herself, Lady Cynthia has kindly agreed to re-tell the story of the game and provide some commentary on the moves exclusively for this blog.

I must confess that I was rather surprised when Intermezzo mentioned the sudden appearance of the Lenin and Hitler etching and chess set during the course of our online chat. I say this only because I had hitherto assumed that the encounter was common knowledge. Daddy first told me the story when I was a teenager and I remember the morning vividly. It was the 31st of January, 1933 and Adolf Hitler had just swept to power in Germany. Daddy had almost choked on his toast when he read the story about it in that morning’s newspaper.

“Good God!” he spluttered “who would have thought it possible?”

Naturally, I had enquired as to the nature of his outbourst and he quickly explained that “young Addy” had been an acquaintance of his during his time at the British Consulate in Vienna during the early 1900’s. He went on to recount that they had met at a chess club (he forgot which!) and played a few friendly games. Despite the fact that Daddy described the then 20-year-old as “an uncouth and loutish layabout with absolutely no class whatsoever” the two of them became regular playing partners. In fact I suspect that Daddy only tolerated Hitler’s company because he was rather easy to beat.

On one such night of contemplation Hitler prevailed upon my Father on the subject of political dogma which, even then, was a favourite hobby horse of his. At some point, quite inadvertently, Daddy found himself proclaiming that some of his “best friends” were political thinkers. By the end of the evening (and, I fancy, rather too much schnapps!) Daddy found that he had agreed to introduce Hitler to Lenin the next time the latter was in town. Never one to let anyone renege on a promise, Hitler pestered my Father remorselessly until the meeting had been arranged, the more so when he discovered that Lenin was a keen and very proficient chess player.

Finally, and after much pulling of strings, Daddy managed to arrange for the pair to meet and play a game of chess as the pretext to an “intellectual discourse” on the merits of Bolshevism. I should add that in order to achieve this he had to considerably over-inflate both Hitler’s chess playing strength and his intellectual regard for Lenin. The two men met at the home of a prominent Viennese Jew who knew Lenin well and who owed my father several quite large favours. Daddy described to me that on the night of the encounter, after the exchange of some brief and rather stiff pleasantries, it was agreed that the game of chess should take place immediately.

By means of a closing remark I should mention that Daddy only saw Hitler once more after that night in 1909 and on that occasion Hitler went so far as to cross the street to avoid having to talk to him. Daddy later told me that he didn’t even recall having kept Hitler’s scoresheet from that night until, many years later, he was turning out the pockets of a very old smoking jacket in search of a telegram from the King that he had misplaced. His search for the telegram was unsuccessful but he did turn up two fluff covered lemon drops, a saucy picture postcard and Hitler’s scoresheet.”

Oct 112010
 
The Lewis Chess Men at The British Museum
Over the weekend I was in London and had the opportunity to visit one of my favourite places – The British Museum. I’ve been hankering after a visit ever since the ‘History of the World in 100 Objects’ series started on Radio 4 at the beginning of this year.
Of course I took in all of the sites but the artifacts that always capture my imagination the most are the Lewis Chessmen. For me they are the most iconic set of chess pieces in existence (at the very least in Europe anyway!) I first saw them when I visited the museum as a child and, even though I couldn’t play the game then, those little walrus ivory pieces were so full of character that they burned themselves into my memory banks. I suspect that my romanticised notions of the medieval era and the game of chess, which played such a big part in spurring my interest in the game when I did learn to play it properly in my late teens, probably originated from that first visit to the British Museum all those years ago.

On this trip I learned something new about the Lewis Chessmen. Evidently some of the pieces used to be stained red in colour and it appears that, in the medieval period, it was common practive to have white and red pieces and a white and red checkered board. Black and white evidently only become the norm in more modern times.

Anyway, any visitor to our Hebden Bridge Chess Club website can’t help but notice that I have a passion for these particular chess men and I do urge anyone of you planning a visit to London to try and squeeze in half an hour or so to visit the display in The British Museum – it’s free! If you aren’t going to London any time soon then you can download or listen to the 15 minute episode of the ‘History of the World in 100 Objects’ about the Lewis Chessmen on the BBC website.

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