Tuesday, August 8, 2017

National Day Presents 2017: Test your Trivia!

In case you're too bored during your National Day Holidays, here are 15 questions (+1 bonus puzzle) to test your trivia. How well do you know your chess history?

Image from http://thehoneycombers.com

Q1: Which year did Kasparov first defeat Karpov to emerge as the World Champion?

(a)    1984
(b)    1985
(c)    1986
(d)    1987

Q2: What was Kasparov’s age at the mentioned year in Q1?

(a)    20
(b)    21
(c)    22
(d)    23

Q3: Fischer had a 20 consecutive win streak in 1971. Which player put an end to that streak?

(a)    Tigran Petrosian
(b)    Boris Spassky
(c)    Mark Taimanov
(d)    Bent Larsen

Q4: How many years was Emanuel Lasker World Champion for?

(a)    24
(b)    25
(c)    26
(d)    27

Q5: “Always put the rook behind the pawn… Except when it is incorrect to do so”. Who is credited for this famous saying?

(a)    Aaron Nimzowitsch
(b)    Wilhelm Steinitz
(c)    Siegbert Tarrasch
(d)    Saveilly Tatakower

Q6: How about this one? “The tactician must know what to do whenever something needs doing; the strategist must know what to do when nothing needs doing.”

(a)    Aaron Nimzowitsch
(b)    Wilhelm Steinitz
(c)    Siegbert Tarrasch
(d)    Saveilly Tatakower

Q7: Which event did the following position originate from?

White to move

(a)    Botvinnik vs Capablanca, AVRO 1938
(b)    Carlsen vs Karjakin, World Chess Championship 2016
(c)    Anand vs Caruana, Sinquefeld Cup 2017
(d)    Fischer vs Taimanov, Candidates Match 1971

Q8: What was White’s move in the above position?

Q9: Who is the famous chess master in the following photo?

Image from Wikipedia

(a)    Joseph Henry Blackburne
(b)    Wilhelm Steinitz
(c)    Johannes Zukertort
(d)    Paul Morphy

Q10: Mikhail Botvinnik held the title of World Champion from most of 1948 to 1963. But his reign was interrupted briefly by two other grandmasters. Who were they?

(a)    Robert Fischer and Bent Larsen
(b)    Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky
(c)    Alexander Alekhine and Anatoly Karpov
(d)    Vasily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal

Q11: In 2017, Teimour Radjabov won his first major tournament in more than a decade. What was this tournament?

(a)    Sinquefeld Cup 2017
(b)    Geneva Grand Prix 2017
(c)    TATA Steel Chess 207
(d)    FIDE World Cup 2017

Q12: Who is the oldest living former world champion at the time of writing?

(a)    Tigran Petrosian
(b)    Anatoly Karpov
(c)    Boris Spassky
(d)    Garry Kasparov

Q13: Boris Gelfand currently plays for Israel. But which country was he born in?

(a)    France
(b)    Soviet Union
(c)    Poland
(d)    Hungary

Q14: What was unique about the World Chess Championship 2007?

(a)    It was tied all the way till the Armageddon game
(b)    It was suspended halfway without any result
(c)    The winner won the match by a large margin of 3 points
(d)    It was a double round-robin tournament, rather than the usual match format

Q15: Which of the following is usually classified as a strategic rather than a tactical concept?

(a)    Passed Pawn
(b)    Interference
(c)    X-Ray
(d)    Skewer

Q16: Bonus Question: White to move and win

Enjoy your holidays!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Positional Sacrifice

Many of us are happy to give up material if it means an unstoppable attack. How about sacrificing for the position? That’s where many players hesitate. For some reason it is particularly painful for us to part with a pawn or the exchange for some long-term positional gain.

That’s because by nature, we humans prefer immediate results. By sacrificing something that has been drilled into beginners as one of the most important assets of the game, of course we want something good to justify it. An unstoppable mate or an irresistible king hunt looks tangible enough. But something more abstract, like superior piece activity or a passed pawn, doesn’t look convincing enough to amateurs. So when it comes to sacrificing for the position, the verdict stands: We can’t do it!

Just take the leap, they said

Obviously we have to remove this rigor mortis, if we want to win more games. In his classic work “How to Reassess Your Chess (4th Edition)”, Jeremy Silman takes the bull by the horns by removing material advantage from its holy seat, and placing it alongside other positional factors known as “imbalances”. He explains the way to overcome this mental reluctance to part with material as follows:

“(The player) has to train himself to view each imbalance as something wonderful, and he has to view material as just another imbalance to be collected or rejected, depending on the nature of the individual position.”

 That means that while material advantage is important, you shouldn’t place it on a pedestal and lose sight of all other positional imbalances. Rather, it should be weighed alongside other factors such as the centre, pawn structure and piece activity, and treated equally.

Here is a simple example of how material can be given up for a huge positional advantage, again taken from Silman’s book:

White to move

White enjoys more space, and would love to put a piece on that inviting e6 square. But the only access point, the e-file, is contested by both sides, and Black has no intention of giving it up! So if White tries something like 1. Rxe7 Rxe7 2. Re1 Rxe1 Black trades off the rooks and White can never exploit his spatial advantage.

But now, armed with the knowledge that material is just an imbalance like any other positional factor, you might not take long to find the positional sacrifice:

1. Re6!!

And the reason for giving up the material becomes clear: After 1… Bxe6 2. dxe6, Black’s position is totally hopeless! True, he may be an exchange up, but if we analyze the imbalances of both sides we see a very different picture:

Position after 2. dxe6

Black:
  1. Up an exchange

White:
  1. Enormous central space, giving White’s pieces far more activity as compared to Black’s
  2. A strong, protected passed pawn
  3. Weak enemy pawns on d6 and f6 to attack
  4. An outpost on d5 for the knight
  5. Uncontested light-squares along the h1-a8 diagonal that can be used as an invasion route for the light-squared bishop.
  6. Superior minor pieces compared to Black’s rooks: Without any open files, the Black rooks are in fact worse off than any of White’s pieces!

From the assessment of the imbalances it is not difficult to tell that White is winning despite his material deficit. After something like Nd5 and Re1, the weight of White’s forces will crush Black underfoot.

A less extreme example can be seen in the following game, between Petrosian and Spassky in the 1969 World Championship. I must digress for a bit to talk about Tigran Petrosian, who was remembered not only for his impenetrable defensive style, but also his fondness for giving up the exchange to get a superior position. So if there is any role model to look for while studying the idea of the positional sacrifice… look no further than Iron Tigran!

Iron Tigran, the master of positional play

Spassky, Boris vs Petrosian, Tigran V
World Chess Championship 1969 (Round 11)
Position after 30. Nd2

Black has a position similar to our first example: More space on the queenside, and control over the c-file. But Petrosian is unable to use the c-file to invade Spassky’s position, since all the invasion points have been covered by White. 30… Rc7 followed by Rac8 doubling rooks on the file comes to mind, but White can simply reply Rdc1 and Rac1 trading off all the rooks, resulting in a drawish, closed position. Is there a way for Black to push forth his agenda of advancing on the queenside? Turns out there is, and if we remember what White did in our first example, the candidate move here shouldn’t be hard to find:

30… Rc4!

If White accepts the sacrifice with 31. Nxc4 dxc4, we see that Black gets excellent compensation after laying out the imbalances:

White:
  1. Up an exchange

Black:
  1. Two strong, protected passed pawns on the queenside
  2. An open diagonal for his light-squared bishop
  3. A backward e3 pawn to attack

This isn’t as clear as the first example where Black was totally cramped up, but the monster passed pawns on the queenside are more than enough to make White think twice about grabbing the material. Spassky wisely declined the sacrifice, instead finding other ways to keep the game complicated:

No article on the positional sacrifice would be complete without Petrosian’s classical defence sacrifice example. The next position is a famous one that some of you might find familiar, but such masterpieces never get too old to be shared:

Position after 25. Rfe1

Things are going badly for Black: White threatens Bf3 followed by d5, setting the central pawn mass in motion and wreaking havoc in Black's camp. If only Black could get his knight to d5 via e7, but moves like … Ra7 or ... Red7 don't work because of the pawn advance e6. This means Petrosian must find a move that can help set up a blockade on both d5 AND e6, which seems impossible unless some concessions can be made...

We have seen two fine works of art by Petrosian, but I cannot resist showing another one. I will cap off this article with another of his masterpieces, where he sacrificed the exchange to set loose a rampaging pawn army, eventually overrunning the enemy with its numbers:


Through these games we can see how material, at the end of the day, is just another positional imbalance. Weighed against other positional elements it definitely carries more advantage, but one must be prepared to let it go when you see an even better opportunity coming your way.

So don’t be afraid to make that positional sacrifice; even if it doesn’t work, at least you have overcome your mental block and learned much from it!

Sources:
“How to Re-assess your Chess: 4th Edition” by Jeremy Silman
https://www.chess.com/article/view/petrosians-exchange-sacrifices-explained
http://www.chessgames.com/player/tigran_vartanovich_petrosian.html
http://www.freepik.com/free-photo/cliff-vertigo_649755.htm

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Term 3 Tactics Part 2: The Discovered Attack

Today we will resume our tactical training with 4 (simple) puzzles revolving around the Discovered Attack Tactical Motif:






Have fun!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Knight to Remember: Geneva Grand Prix 2017

The Geneva Grand Prix 2017 has come to a close not long ago, with Teimour Radjabov scoring his first tournament victory in nearly 10 years. Today, we will look at one of the highlights of the tournament: Rising Indian GM Pentala Harikrishna, outplayed veteran GM Levon Aronian after a few inaccuracies from the latter.

Aronian (left) vs Harikrishna, Geneva Grand Prix 2017

The game, which took the form of a reverse Sicilian, was equal until Aronian (as White) decided to try and win a pawn... unknowingly giving Harikrishna a huge positional advantage. This allowed the Indian to centralize his pieces, and suddenly Black's knight was wrecking havoc in the kingside.

"Bishops are stronger than knights, they said"


Aronian, Levon vs Harikrishna, Pentala
Geneva Grand Prix 2017 (Round 6)

1. c4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Nf3 Nc6
4. g3 d5
5. cxd5 Nxd5
6. Bg2 Nb6
7. O-O Be7
8. d3 O-O
9. Be3 Be6
10. Rc1 f5

The position resembles what is called a Reverse Sicilian: Instead of White, Black is the one who is preparing for a kingside advance.

11. a3

While White counterattacks on the other wing.

11... Kh8 12. b4 a6
13. Re1 Qe8 (D)

Position after 13... Qe8

Preparing ... Qg6 letting the queen join in the subsequent attack.

14. Qd2 Bd6
15. Bxb6

Aronian must have sensed the impending danger to his kingside, and decides to liquidate some of his opponent's firepower, and damage the enemy pawn structure at the same time.

15... cxb6
16. d4 exd4
17. Nxd4 Rd8
18. Nxe6 Qxe6
19. Qa2

So far White has succeeded in trading off most of the pieces. If he can exchange into the endgame, he will have the advantage due to his better pawn structure.

19... Qh6

Obviously, Harikrishna doesn't want any of that! He rejects the trade and continues with the kingside attack.

20. f4

Restraining Black's dark-squared bishop, and preventing any unwanted opening of the f-file.

20... a5 (D)

Position after 20... a5

21. b5?

This looks like a winning move, pinning the knight to the hanging b7 pawn. But it gives Harikrishna a huge positional gift: Previously, his dark-squared bishop was staring into a wall of pawns on both wings, but with this pawn advance his bishop now has access to the queenside. After something like ... Bc5 this also opens the file for his rook. Simply put, a seemingly harmless pawn move has allowed Black to greatly improve the position of his pieces!

Aronian was probably worried that after 21. bxa5 bxa5 any advantage that he might have in the endgame would be lost, since Black undoubles his pawns. But he might have seen that 21. Nb5! solves his problems as well; in fact, it helps to push the battle further into the endgame after 21... axb4 22. Nxd6 Qxd6 23. axb4 Qxb4 24. Qb1! After which one of Black's queenside pawns will fall. The resultant endgame is about equal.

21... Bc5+
22. e3? (D)

Position after 22. e3

Allowing a neat tactic that activates Black's knight. But even after 22. Kh1 Bf2 23. bxc6 Bxg3 24. h3 bxc6 25. Red1 Bxf4 Black has 3 pawns for a piece, but his queen-bishop duo are generating huge problems on the kingside.

22... Ne5!

Threatening a fork on d3 as well as Ng4 piling pressure on the kingside.

23. Rcd1

Black cannot capture: 23. fxe5? Bxe3+ loses the rooks.

23... Ng4
24. h3 Nxe3

The potential discovered attack is threatening. But even deadlier is 24... Bxe3+! 25. Kf1 Nh2+ 26. Ke2 Bxf4 driving White's king into the centre. Black now threatens moves like ... Re8 or ... Qxf4 after the exchange.

25. Rxd8

White trades to the best of his ability to slow down the attack. But it isn't enough.

25... Rxd8
26. Kh2 g5! (D)

Position after 26... g5

Blowing open the kingside cover. 26... Ng4+ looks tempting, but after 27. Kh1 Nf2+ 28. Kh2 Black isn't making progress.

27. fxg5 Qxg5
28. Qe6

28. Nd5 might have been better, centralizing the knight and keeping watch over f4.

28... f4
29. Ne4 Qg7
30. g4 Nc2

White would love to swap off another pair of minor pieces on c6, but Black's monster knight gives him no breathing space to do so!

31. Rf1 Nd4
32. Qf6

At last, Aronian has found a way to trade queens and slow down the attack. Unfortunately, Harikrishna can afford to do this since he is a pawn up and has a firm advantage in the resultant endgame.

32... Qxf6
33. Nxf6 Bxa3
34. Bxb7 Bd6

And the passed a-pawn, supported by Black's minor pieces, will decide matters.

35. h4 a4
36. g5 a3
37. Kh3 Be5
38. Kg4 Nc2 (D)
0-1

Position after 38... Nc2

What can we learn from this game?

  1. Sometimes, going for a small material advantage is not always good especially if it gives the opponent a major positional advantage.
  2. When defending, exchange pieces to slow down the opponent's attack.
  3. Always seek to centralize your pieces so as to maximize their potential!

Sources:
https://www.chess.com/news/view/radjabov-wins-geneva-fide-grand-prix-2786
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXLAKl01vO4
https://en.chessbase.com/post/fide-grand-prix-geneva-harikrishna-joins-three-way-lead
http://www.historyeurope.net/category/teutonic-knights/

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Term 3 Tactics Part 1: The Pin

Today we shall go back to some basics, and look at 4 puzzles revolving around the tactical Pin motif.






Have fun!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Dominating the Two Bishops

For today's article, we will look at one of my friendly games that I played some time ago at the weekly Singapore Chess Meetup. Organized every Wednesday evening (6.30pm to 9.30pm) at Asia Square Tower 1, the Singapore Chess Meetup involves several players of varying strengths pitting their skills against each other in friendly games. A very good place to train and make new friends!

I found this game particularly instructive in the art of play against the bishop pair. Normally, we are taught that the two bishops are a powerful weapon in an open game. But in a closed position, their long-range advantage is restricted, as we had seen in my earlier Bishop Pair article series.

"Close those damn gates before them sniping bishops get us!"

Checkerboard 5 vs NN
Friendly Chess Game, Singapore Chess Meetup 2017

1. d4 Nf6
2. f4 g6
3. e3 Bg7
4. c3 d6
5. Nf3 O-O
6. Bd3 Nfd7
7. O-O e5
8. Bd2 f5?!

Exposing Black's king. This hands White the a2-g9 diagonal for free.

9. Bc4+ Kh8
10. Ng5 Qe7
11. Ne6 Nb6!

Black's only good move.

12. Nxf8 Nxc4
13. Nxg6+ hxg6
14. Rf3!? (D)

Position after 14. Rf3

With the h-file opened, I began to consider a kingside attack. But on hindsight it was not a very good plan: Only two of my pieces-- the queen and kingside rook-- were operational on that wing, while the other pieces needed some disentangling before they could be safely developed. But a bad plan is better than no plan, so the rook lift spelled the opening shots of the attack.

14. h3 followed by g4 was considered, but opening up my kingside for Black's light-squared bishop and queen (e.g. a possible ... Qh4) wasn't something which I desired.

14... Nxd2?

Alas, my opponent helps me with what was otherwise a poor attack. Why give up a good knight for a bad bishop, at the same time allowing me to develop my b1 knight for free?

14... Be6 developing normally was perfectly fine: 15. Rh3+ Kg8 16. Qf3 c6 followed by Bd5 taking over the centre. White still has to spend tempo bringing his dark-squared bishop to h4 before he can develop the b1 knight.

15. Nxd2 Be6
16. Rh3+ Kg8
17. Qf3 e4

Grabbing space and defending b7, but it closes the centre, which isn't very favourable to Black's bishop pair. Again,} 17... c6 followed by ... Bd5 could have been considered.

18. Qg3 Qf6
19. Rh4 Kf8

Despite the open h-file, there isn't a clear way for White to break through on the kingside: Al the invasion squares along the h-file have been covered! Moreover Black's king has smelt the danger and is preparing to evacuate the area.

20. Qf2

I decided to try another form of attack: Push h3 and g4 to open up the f-file, before bringing in the other rook with Rf1.

20. Qh3 If White persisted along the h-file, the result would have been something like 20... g5 21. Rh7 g4 22. Qh5 Bf7 23. Qg5 Nd7 Black solidifies the position, and the h7 rook is in danger of becoming trapped.

20... Nd7
21. Kf1

Since pushing the pawns exposes the White king, it had to be brought to safer waters as well.

21... Ke7
22. Ke2 Rh8! (D)

Position after 22... Rh8

Black has managed to extricate his king and bring out the rest of his pieces into the defence.

23. Rxh8

Effectively admitting that White's kingside attack has failed. Now both sides face a tough endgame ahead.

23... Bxh8
24. h4

To stop Black from pushing g5.

24... Nb6
25. Kd1 Qf8
26. Qg3 Qh6
27. Qg5+ Qxg5
28. hxg5 Nc4
29. Nxc4 Bxc4 (D)

Position after 29... Bxc4

Let's take a look at the position. White has a rook and extra pawn in exchange for Black's two bishops. In an open game the bishop pair would normally be advantageous, but in a closed position like this their strength is neutralized. Moreover, White still has the open h-file to play with: He has ideas like Rh1-Rh7 invading the seventh rank or Rh6 attacking the weak g6 pawn.

Additionally, I can also consider Rg1 followed by pushing g4 to be a viable plan, since exchanging on f5 leaves Black with another weak f5 pawn that White's rook can target.

30. Kc2 a5

Since the kingside is locked up, Black tries to open up on the other wing, hoping to get some space for his two bishops.

31. b3 Bd5

31... Bd3+ might have been better: The bishop cannot be chased away without great cost to White.

32. Rg1

Preparing to advance g4.

32. Rh1 was considered, but after 32... Bg7 33. Rh7 Kf8 followed by Bg8, Black's bishop pair covers the invasion squares and White must retreat.

32... b5
33. g4 c5?!

More accurate was 33... fxg4 34. Rxg4 Be6 35. Rh4 Bg7 where Black has managed to open some diagonals for his light-squared bishop. White has no quick breakthrough, for example 36. Rh7 Bg8 37. Rh1 planning Rf1 followed by g5, but Black simply repeats with 37... Be6 38. Rh7 Bg8 practically forcing a perpetual, with neither side giving way.

34. gxf5 gxf5
35. g6 (D)

Position after 35. g6

Now White has a passed pawn, and a target to attack on f5.

35...Bg7
36. Rg5 Kf6
37. Kb1 c4
38. Kb2 cxb3
39. axb3 a4
40. bxa4 bxa4

Black gets his own passed pawn, but White's king is there to stop it.

41. Ka3 Bb3
42. c4

The threat is to advance c5 creating a second passed pawn.

42... Bf8
43. Rg1 d5+
44. c5

It is important to keep the position closed when your enemy has the bishop pair!

44... Kg7
45. Rg5 Kf6
46. Kb2

Stepping out of the a3-f8 diagonal pin.

46...Bh6
47. c6 Bc4

47... Bxg5? 48. c7 Nothing can stop White from making a new queen.

48. Rg1 Ba6

48... Bb5 49. c7 Bd7 was better, after something like 50. Ka3 Bf8+ 51. Kb2 Bc8 Black is surprisingly holding out well against both passed pawns.

49. Ka3 Bc8?

Dropping the a4 pawn, Black's main source of counterplay, for nothing. Again, Black could have opted for 49... Bb5 50. c7 Bd7 51. Rc1 Bf8+ 52. Kb2 Bc8 53. Rg1 with the same fortress Black erected in the previous variation.

50. Kxa4 Bf8
51. Rb1 Ke7
52. Rb8

Now, the pressure from both passed pawns become too much for Black's bishops to handle. All White needs to do is to bring his king into the battle, and the game is effectively over from this point onwards.

52... Kd8
53. Kb5 Kc7
54. Ra8 Kd8
55. Kb6 Bh6
56. Kc5 Bf8+
57. Kxd5 Kc7
58. Kc4 Be6+
59. d5 (D)
1-0

Position after 59. d5

What can we learn from this game?

  1. When your enemy has the bishop pair, try to keep the game closed to neutralize their advantage.
  2. A bad plan is better than no plan.
  3. Learn the principle of two weaknesses: In this game, Black could hold out with one enemy passed pawn on the kingside, but when White created a second one on the queenside, Black's defences swiftly collapsed.

Sources:
"Closing the Gates at Hougoumont, 1815", 1903, Robert Gibb, http://waterloo200.org/200-object/closing-the-gates-at-hougoumont-1815/

Saturday, June 24, 2017

June Holiday Presents 2017: Part 2

Are you trying to escape the cruel reality that the holidays are coming to an end? Here's a good hiding place, with 4 bishop-themed puzzles to lose your mind in!





Have fun!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Diary of a Chess Patzer: Part 3

As promised, I have saved the best for the last. Today I will analyze one of my most spectacular disasters throughout my chess career. And it wasn’t some beginner game played 8 years ago; no, it was from the recently concluded Thomson Chess Fiesta 2017, which was (not) coincidentally where two of my other games from Part 1 came from.

Before that, let me digress with a small anecdote. On the first day of the tournament, there was a major stir, when a player—let’s call him NN—outplayed his opponent, who was rated 400 points higher than NN, and reached the following endgame:

NN vs Opponent
Thomson Chess Fiesta 2017
Position 1: White to move

White is completely winning in this endgame. True, the passed pawn might pose some trouble, but all White has to do is put his bishop on the h1-a8 diagonal (Bc6+) and Black can never hope to promote.

Instead, White “saw” a more direct path to victory: In his excitement, he played 1. Bxh3??, sweeping Black’s last pawn off the board… except that he couldn’t!

An imaginary free pawn (image from Chess Memes)

And so, FIDE’s newest illegal move rule claimed its next victim. Poor NN threw away what could have been a major victory for him.

Returning to the main topic, I soon found myself in a similar situation, gaining an advantage over my opponent who was, incidentally, also rated 400 points higher than me.

Opponent vs Checkerboard 5
Thomson Chess Fiesta 2017 (Round 7)
Position 2: Black to move

As Black, I had a clear upper hand here. After 1… Rf5+ followed by 2… Rh5, there is no stopping Black from making a new queen. In fact, even the simpler and more intuitive 1… Kg2, which I had intended, forces White to give up his rook to stop Black’s pawn. White may still give problems with his connected passers, but Black’s extra rook and second passed pawn should be sufficient to reel in the point.

Except that in the heat of the moment, when my hands flew to the king-pawn duo intending 1… Kg2, my fingers instead closed around the h-pawn…


1… h1=Q?? 2 Rxh1 and while the game was still a salvageable draw with correct play, my morale had already taken a hit from the missed opportunity. After several more mistakes I completely threw away the advantage and gave my opponent the full point.

A perfect tragedy, especially since the original game was highly instructive:

After the game, NN, who had been spectating, came up to me with a reassuring look: “Don’t worry bruh, I feel your pain”

Well, that doesn’t change the fact that I came so close to beating an opponent who was, by official statistics, way stronger than me. I can only find solace in the fact that I was not the only patzer who threw his games that day. *Cries*

With that I wrap up this 3 part series of what you SHOULDN’T do in a chess game. Granted, learning chess by myself was never an easy task, and analyzing these games proved that I still have a long way to go. Hope y’all have been entertained by looking at these games, and learn from all the mistakes you’ve seen!

The End

Links:
Part 1: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/05/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-1.html
Part 2: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/06/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-2.html
Part 3: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/06/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-3.html

Sources:
http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/kill-yourself
https://www.facebook.com/ChessMemes2371/

Sunday, June 11, 2017

June Holiday Presents 2017: Part 1

I don't need to say more... most of them should be simple enough.






Have fun!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Diary of a Chess Patzer: Part 2

In Part 1 all the comedies we saw came from rapid tournaments, where brilliancies and blunders are commonplace. So my mistakes should be forgivable, made under time pressure, right?. And this shouldn’t occur the same way in correspondence chess, where one has all the time in the world to calculate. Or could it?

I have selected three recent, memorable failures from my chess.com correspondence games. Once again, when you see them you cannot help but question what exactly was I thinking when I made those blunders?

I was... experimenting

We have seen showcases of tactical, strategic and endgame inadequacies in our first three games. What have we left out? Why, the opening, of course!

Maybe next time someone writes an opening book, the above can be a prime example of what happens when you neglect your development. Sobs.

But what can be more agonizing than having a completely winning position, only to blow it up with seemingly insignificant oversights? A game where one has two rooks on the seventh rank should be something that you can win with your eyes closed… unless you’re me, that is.

And not once, but twice! After the above game I had a rematch with my esteemed opponent, who again escaped defeat with some unintended help from me. Déjà vu, by yours truly:

Here we go, two instructive examples of how NOT to play with your rook on the seventh rank. A reminder that one should not be so afraid of non-existent ghosts, especially since it wasn’t even the Seventh Month when I played those games…

"Somebody called us?"

That’s not all that I’ve got! I’ve saved a couple of the most epic comedies for Part 3, so stay tuned (:

To be continued…

Links:
Part 1: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/05/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-1.html
Part 2: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/06/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-2.html
Part 3: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/06/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-3.html

Sources:
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/476889048014564082/
http://www.logodesignlove.com/ghostbusters-logo

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Diary of a Chess Patzer: Part 1

After months of puzzles and long, drawn-out series of articles, we should switch to something more lighthearted. So what better way to do it than to see some hilarious games by yours truly? Of course, after 8 years of competitive chess I might be seen by a few of my buddies as some “legendary” figure, but sorry to say I am far from that (and my obscenely low FIDE rating speaks as the proof).

For this series, I will be analyzing some of my own upsets, from what seemed to be simple wins transformed into draws or even defeats after a series of especially spectacular blunders. Perhaps after you have seen these you will inevitably question what in the world was I doing in my training, and hopefully you will not repeat the same mistakes as I did!

Or else the Darwin Award awaits you

Today we will go through three of my games from recently concluded rapid tournaments. The first is a quiet English game where my opponent blundered an exchange just after the opening, only for me to return the favour a few moves later:

Seems it is time to add to the old adage “loose pieces drop off” with the words “trapped pieces get crushed” :(

That was a display of tactical inadequacy, but how about other areas? Well, the next game is an example of what happens when you don’t revise your endgame basics:

The game in its entirety was an interesting struggle, given the numerous strategic errors that both sides committed. But alas, the loser is the one who blunders last, and the misgivings of 25… g6 are a reminder of how seemingly complex endgames can be decomposed into simpler patterns… if your endgame foundation is solid enough!

I have saved the best for the last. In contrast to many players my age, I feel more at home defending as compared to attacking. That feeling when you achieve strong counterplay against a determined attack is something that cannot be described in mere words. Unless you botch up your own defense together with your opponent…

Maybe I should go back and relearn from my previous self, who so exhaustively penned an entire series on the Greek Gift sacrifice!

At this point you may say: “But these are rapid games, anything can happen!” Yes that is true, so when it comes to standard or correspondence games I won’t make such epic screw-ups, right?

Well, we shall see what happens with these more “perfect” games in Part 2…

To be continued…

Links:
Part 1: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/05/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-1.html
Part 2: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/06/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-2.html
Part 3: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/06/diary-of-chess-patzer-part-3.html

Sources:
http://imgur.com/gallery/OMRV9

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Post Mid-Year Exam Presents 2017

Ready to resume your tactical training?






Have fun!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Fischer's eccentric brilliancies: Part 5

For his whole adult life, Robert James Fischer was fiercely dedicated to the game of chess, waging war against the might of the Soviet Chess Empire. His high water mark came in the historic 1972 World Championship Match, where he defeated Boris Spassky to reach the summit.

Then he vanished.

Fischer refused to defend his title in 1975, following disagreements with FIDE over the match format. He forfeited the crown, and went into self-imposed exile. True, he did hang out with old friends every now and then and crush them in a hundred games of blitz, but the chess world did not see a single competitive game from him for 20 years.

Until a fateful conversation took place. Fischer remained close friends with his old adversary, Boris Spassky, and met up with him often. Spassky recalls how the idea of a rematch between them popped up unexpectedly:

"I often meet Fischer. Recently I was at his place and I asked whether he would agree to play a match with me after such a long interval. Fischer replied: ‘Although you are constantly playing, whereas I haven’t appeared for twenty years, I’m still stronger than you.’ Time passed. One day Fischer phoned me and suggested playing the match. He explained in detail – when and where, what conditions. Yugoslavia was immediately mentioned. And he asked: ‘Alright?’ I replied: ‘Excellent, Bobby!’ "

Before long, the news of a return match between the two chess titans surfaced, scheduled to begin in September 1992. The chess world was in a state of frenzy not seen since 1972: Bobby, the reclusive legend, was returning to the board! And there was a handsome prize fund of $5 million, of which $3.5 million would go to the winner!

All seemed well, except for one thing. As Spassky mentioned, the match was to be held in Yugoslavia, which at the time was under heavy UN sanctions due to its involvement in the Balkan wars. Naturally, the US government was unhappy with Fischer’s choice of location; how could a patriotic American support the oppressive Yugoslavs by playing in their homeland? So the Land of the Free wrote to Fischer, warning him not to participate in the match or else.

A gift from the Land of the Free (image from memecentre)

But telling Bobby to stop playing chess was like telling the Soviets to willingly give up their World Championship title. Allegedly, Fischer spat on the US order during a press conference, stating “This is my reply”. In response to his defiance, the American government issued a warrant for his arrest, threatening a fine of $250,000 and ten years in prison if he were to return to the States.

Effectively, the 1992 rematch marked a twilight period for Fischer, both in his chess career and his relationship with the United States.

The 1992 event was different from the original 1972 edition in many ways. It was held in the format that Fischer had championed in 1975: Instead of first to 12.5 points, it was a first to 10 wins, with draws not counting. In the event of a 9-9 tie, the prize fund would be spilt equally.

The match also heralded the usage of “anti-time-trouble” chess clocks with increment, a revolutionary design patented by Fischer (today, increment is used in almost all top-level games). The time format was 1 hour 51 minutes for the first 40 moves, with one minute added after a player made his move. After 40 moves both players received 40 extra minutes, after 60 moves, 30 minutes and after 80 and each succeeding 20 moves, 20 minutes.

And so the day finally arrived. Two long-time rivals, with greying hair but nonetheless solid playing strength, sat opposite each other across the chessboard, ready to cross swords again after 20 years.

Spassky (left in both pictures) vs Fischer, 20 years on

Many spectators lauded this as a great victory by Fischer, and some even speculated that the king was back to dominate the chess world again. But alas, the momentum that had carried Bobby through the 1970s did not last here. He threw away a winning endgame in Round 2 after a horrible blunder:

The blunder prompted Jeremy Silman to comment: “Since Fischer’s technique was (in his prime years) second to none, this flub laid the truth on the table – old age and lack of practice so far hadn’t robbed him of all his strength (as far as could be seen at this point), but it did rob him of his stamina.”

And it did seem that both players were no longer the juggernauts they were in 1972. Fischer “played like a lamb” (Silman) in Games 4 and 5 and got crushed, allowing Spassky to catch up and even become the leader. But the Russian returned the favour by blundering a winning endgame in Round 6, before losing his next three games in a row!

The trend continued for the rest of the match, with hard fought battles between both players punctuated by moments of slip-ups. Game 25 was another one worth mentioning: It was one of Fischer’s last great games, featuring a thematic kingside attack in the Sicilian Scheveningen:

In the end, Fischer won the match 10-5. Andrew Soltis lauded both players, describing the games as having “a fairly high quality particularly when compared with Kasparov’s championship matches of 1993, 1995 and 2000, for example.”

Old rivals turned friends

But others were less forgiving. When asked to compare the 1992 match with the 1972 edition, Botvinnik, the patriarch of Soviet Chess, commented:

“I will say one thing—this is not the Fischer that we knew and who staggered us all with his play. That Fischer is no longer and cannot be,”

Kasparov was also highly critical of the match (and perhaps, a little salty after Soltis’s comments!):

“The match showed that the two players were still in the romantic era of 1972. Although the struggle itself was interesting and Fischer displayed enormous practical strength in a number of games, in general his play was already that of yesterday. I think that, despite his displaced state of mind, Fischer understood perfectly well that he would not achieve anything with such play. Against any young player with a rating of over 2600 (in 1992!), he would have found things touch. Therefore in general the ‘return match’ bears no relation to Fischer’s play. It was simply an attempt to earn some money and at the same time test himself. The test convinced Fischer that he would do better to play no more.”

One thing was true: The 1992 match was Fischer’s last official competitive event. After that, he retired from the tournament circuit altogether, cut off from his homeland and forced to live abroad as an émigré. Meanwhile, the demons of his past were catching up with him; he made no effort to hide his anti-American and anti-Semitic views during interviews, and felt that both the Soviet and Western worlds had conspired against him.

Eventually, he was granted asylum in Iceland, the same country where he made history in 1972. He lived a reclusive life, and died of renal failure in 2008.

To say that Fischer left a lasting legacy on chess would be an understatement. I need not describe the impact that he has left on the chess world, for that has already been done by so many grandmasters:

Larry Evans: “The most individualistic, intransigent, uncommunicative, uncooperative, solitary, self-contained and independent chess master of all time, the loneliest chess champion in the world. He is also the strongest player in the world. In fact, the strongest player who ever lived.”

Karsten Muller: “Fischer, who had taken the highest crown almost singlehandedly from the mighty, almost invincible Soviet chess empire, shook the whole world, not only the chess world, to its core. He started a chess boom not only in the United States and in the Western hemisphere, but worldwide. Teaching chess or playing chess as a career had truly become a respectable profession. After Bobby, the game was simply not the same.”

Mikhail Botvinnik: “Fischer’s tragedy was probably that he was fighting not only with his opponents at the chessboard, but also with his unreal impressions of the outside world. But until Fischer concluded the last game of the match in Reykjavik, in this fight he was the winner. His chess talent was enormous. Already in the years of his youth it could be predicted that Fischer would become World Champion…”

Boris Spassky: “Fischer always made a particular impression on me by the integrity of his nature. Both in chess, and in life. No compromises. Bobby’s strength, apart from anything else, was that after the opening, he very carefully worked out a plan. At the same time he is a computer like player. There is a kind of computer-like monumentality in him…”

Anatoly Karpov: “Fischer returned sharpness to chess, made it even more uncompromising, and took the competitive aspect to the limit: he battled on to the ‘bare’ kings. He raised universalism still higher, demonstrating amazing technique in converting an advantage, and splendid combinative and positional play. But it was the competitive mettle that was most characteristic of him: making use of every chance, right to the last one.”

And finally, a statement from Garry Kasparov that sums up the perfect tragedy of the American genius:

“Fischer’s departure from the stage was a great tragedy both for chess, and for himself. He defeated the best grandmasters in the world. He achieved the aim of his entire life. He became a legend in his own lifetime. But his last, main battle—against chess itself—he lost. You must love something beyond the bounds of your profession, and apart from chess, Fischer had nothing. The chequered board and the wooden pieces conquered him completely! After becoming world champion, Fischer could not play anymore. This was the danger: He achieved perfection, and everything after this was already less than perfection…”

...

And this is the life of a troubled man who, in defiance of all odds, struggled all the way to the pinnacle of the chess world, only to be defeated by his inner demons. Regardless, the legacy that Robert James Fischer left behind has ensured that chess will never be the same again. It is a perfect yet tragic story of what many consider to be the greatest chess player who ever lived.


The End

Links:
Part 1: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/02/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-1.html
Part 2: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/02/fischers-eccntric-brilliancies-part-2.html
Part 3: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/03/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-3.html
Part 4: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/04/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-4.html
Part 5: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/05/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-5.html

Sources:
“My Great Predecessors” by Garry Kasparov
“Bobby Fischer Rediscovered” by Andrew Soltis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjAY1ZF_6Xc
https://www.chess.com/article/view/fischer---spassky-1992
https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Bobby_Fischer
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1289634/Bobby-Fischer-body-exhumed.html
http://sports.inquirer.net/229300/chess-pieces-of-history-board-in-1972-battle-up-for-auction
https://www.memecenter.com/fun/18456/democracy-will-come-to-you
https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-epic-pictures-of-chess-players

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May the 4th be with you (2017 Presents)!

Yes, I know it's one day late, but who cares :P

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... a war rages on between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. All hope seems lost for the rebels, who only have a few Jedi Knights and Clerics to deal with the mighty Queen of the Empire. Unless... they can turn the tables using tactics?

Note: You are playing on the side of the Rebels in all 4 puzzles (yeah because everyone loves the good guys). Play to win in the first three, and play to draw in the fourth.



Note: White to play and draw in the last puzzle

Have fun! May the force be with you!



Sources:
http://wallpapersafari.com/w/Vicgnz/

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Fischer's eccentric brilliancies: Part 4

So here we are. After steamrolling his way through the Interzonals and the Candidates, Fischer was one step away from clinching the ultimate crown. Before him stood the tenth World Champion, Boris Spassky, who won the title in 1969. A clash of the titans was about to take place.

Soviets are red, Allies are blue, Fischer is here to slaughter ya

And it was not just the chess world that was hyped up over it. The battle between an American and Russian grandmaster was touted as an extension of the Cold War. To the Reds, their 24-year monopoly over chess was key to demonstrating their intellectual superiority over the corrupt Western Imperialists. Yet now they were thrown into panic mode, having witnessed one Soviet master after another get demolished by the American juggernaut (and no, there were no Suicide Chess Championships to save their a_ses). Naturally, their expectations of Spassky were enormous, for he was the only one who could stop the tide of the Fischer machine and protect their beloved crown.

The expectations on Fischer were no less either. Being the first Westerner in 24 years to challenge the World Title, the Americans were all looking forward to him overthrowing the cruel yoke of communism (and perhaps give justification to their involvement in the ongoing Vietnam War, which was already gaining strong public opposition). But Fischer couldn’t care any less about what both sides of the Atlantic thought of him. He only had one goal in mind: Defeat Boris Spassky.

After much heated discussion between both players and FIDE over the match arrangements, the World Chess Championship 1972—dubbed the “Match of the Century”—kicked off in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Things got off to a bad start for Fischer. He threw his first game with an unexpected blunder (29… Bxh2??), and further disagreements with the tournament organizers led to him refusing to turn up for Game 2, forfeiting the point to Spassky.

Position after 29. b5. Here Fischer played 29... Bxh2? 30. g3 losing the bishop

Fischer vs Spassky, Game 1

 But in the subsequent rounds, it was Spassky’s turn to falter. A string of defeats allowed Fischer to catch up, and even surge ahead by an astonishing 3 point lead!

The first game we shall look at today is Game 6 of the match. It was dramatized in the movie Pawn Sacrifice, but the backstory is still the same: Fischer surprised everyone by deviating from his trademark 1. e4, playing the English for the third time in his competitive career. Spassky employed his favourite Tatakower variation, which he had never lost a tournament game with. Still, it was not enough to stop the menacing American machine from scoring a home run:

After the game, Spassky was so impressed that he joined the audience in applauding Fischer's win (Fischer himself was greatly honoured and called Spassky a "true sportsman"). It was a well-deserved ovation, as Bobby had performed the miraculous feat of defeating a strong opponent in his own territory!

It was only at Game 11 that Spassky put a halt to Fischer's momentum, returning the favour from Game 6 by defeating the American in his favourite Sicilian Poisoned Pawn variation. After employing a counter-intuitive novelty, the Russian trapped his opponent's queen and finished off with a crushing attack:

Game 12 was drawn, and it appeared that Spassky had good chances to catch up. Then came a closely-fought Game 13, where Fischer avoided the Sicilian (following his "wake-up" call in Round 11!) and switched to the Alekhine's Defence. In this nerve-wracking battle, Fischer was up a pawn, but made inaccuracies that allowed Spassky to gain a strong counterattack. The tides swung back and forth before being adjourned at move 42:

Game 13, Position after 41... Bd5

Here, both sides performed their own extensive analysis, before concluding that the position was a dead draw.

At least, a dead draw with CORRECT play:

Fischer's unexpected victory dealt a shock to the Soviet team, who could not believe how a position they analyzed so exhaustively and concluded to be drawn, ended up as a defeat. Spassky himself was stunned, and remained glued to his seat for a long time after the game, trying to figure out where he went wrong. He remarked: "It is very strange. How can one lose with the opponent's only rook locked in completely at g8?"

It was one of Fischer's greatest feats of the match. Botvinnik called it "the highest creative achievement of Fischer", and that "Nothing similar had been seen before in chess."

David Bronstein gives an even more memorable description: “Of all the games from the match, the 13th appeals to me most of all. When I play through the game I still cannot grasp the innermost motive behind this or that plan or even individual move. Like an enigma, it still teases my imagination.”

From then on, it seemed that the match was as good as over. Both sides held each other to draws for seven more games; Fischer appeared content to just inch his way to the title since he had a comfortable 3 point lead, while Spassky seemed resigned to his fate. Bobby’s dream came true in Game 21, when he triumphed again in another difficult endgame, pushing him over the required 12.5 points.

And on that fateful day, 31st August 1972, Fischer became the first non-Soviet in 24 years to become World Champion.

Spassky (left) vs Fischer

His victory made him an instant celebrity. Bobby, the giant slayer, had finally defeated the mighty Soviet Chess Empire. The Americans were ecstatic, and then-US President Richard Nixon called upon Fischer to congratulate him.

American humour columnist Art Buchwald penned a hypothetical conversation between Fischer and Nixon. It is a tongue-in-cheek parody of Fischer’s numerous demands for absolute silence during his Championship Match, as well as his disdain for the United States:

"Hello, Bobby, this is President Nixon. I just wanted to call and congratulate you on your victory in Iceland."

"Make it short will you? I'm tired."

"This is a great day for America, Bobby."

"It's a greater day for me. I won $150,000 and I showed these Icelandic creeps a thing or two."
"You know, Bobby, I almost made the chess team at Whittier College."

"Big deal."

"But I went out for football, instead."

"Is that what this call is about?"

"Now wait a minute, Bobby. I always call anyone who wins a championship for America. I would like to give you a white-tie dinner at the White House when you come back."

"How much will you pay me to come?"

"Pay you? I don't pay people to have dinner at the White House."

"Then what's in it for me?"

"I'll invite the cabinet, the Supreme Court, the leaders of Congress, and every rich Republican chess player in the country. I'll get Guy Lombardo to play after dinner. It's the least I can do for someone who beat the great Spassky."

"All right, I'll come, but these are my demands: You send the presidential plane to Iceland to pick me up. You personally meet me at the plane, and provide me with a limousine, a suite of rooms, a private tennis court, my own swimming pool and 10 Secret Service men so I'm not bugged by the press."

"I think I can do that, Bobby."

"And no television cameras."

"No television cameras?"

"I hate television cameras. They send me into a frenzy. If I see one television camera at the dinner, I'm walking out."

"Don't worry, Bobby. There won't be any television cameras."

"And no talking while I'm eating. I can't eat when people talk."

"It's very difficult to hold a large dinner at the White House and not have anyone talk."

"That's your problem. If I hear noise of any kind, you're going to have to get yourself another world champion chess player."

"Anything you say, Bobby. It's your dinner."

"What time is this shindig of yours going to take place?"

"I thought about 8 o'clock."

"I'll be there at 9. I don't like to stand around and make small talk with a lot of stuffed-shirt politicians."

"I understand, Bobby"

"And I'm bringing my own chair. I can't eat when I'm using someone else's chair. And you better know this right now. I don't like bright lights when I'm eating. If the lights are too bright, I don't start the first course."

"No bright lights. I got you, Bobby. I just want to add how proud we all are of you. You're an inspiration to the young people of America."

The President hangs up and calls Richard Helms of the CIA. "Dick, I'm sending the presidential plane to Iceland to pick up Bobby Fischer. Do me a favor. After he's on board, will you see that it's hijacked to Cuba?"

Kasparov mentions the parody in “My Great Predecessors” with the following comments:

“A joke's a joke, but here Fischer's character is guessed with striking accuracy: that predatory directness, that uncompromising and pragmatic nature, and at the same time that simple-mindedness and awkwardness of the ‘boy from Brooklyn’—persistent complexes, extending from a childhood full of anxiety and deprivation...”

Uncompromising indeed. Fischer just couldn’t get enough of having disagreements with FIDE. When he was scheduled to defend his title in 1975, his request to change the match format (from first to 12.5 points into a first to ten wins) was denied. As a result, the American refused to defend his title, and his challenger—rising Soviet star Anatoly Karpov—was declared the new World Champion. The Soviets had their beloved title back in their hands.

How about Fischer? Well, he vanished. Not totally, but he did not play a competitive game for a long time. After his long struggle with the Russians, and his tooth-and-nail fight to the pinnacle of the chess world, he had been thought by many to be invincible. Yet now he slipped into obscurity, at the very height of his career.

Is that the last we would see of him? Many would love to remember him in this way: The invincible Robert Fischer, slayer of the Soviet Chess Empire. Perhaps this is how it would end… or would it?

The end?

To be continued...

Links:
Part 1: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/02/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-1.html
Part 2: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/02/fischers-eccntric-brilliancies-part-2.html
Part 3: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/03/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-3.html
Part 4: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/04/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-4.html
Part 5: http://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/05/fischers-eccentric-brilliancies-part-5.html

Sources:
"My Great Predecessors" by Garry Kasparov
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzUC8-5K794
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUapL6yIO5k
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uoTaroXG28
https://www.chess.com/blog/NimzoRoy/spassky---fischer-1972-wch-game-11-b97
https://www.chess.com/blog/NimzoRoy/fischer-spassky-1972-wch-game-13-b04
http://robert-lafleur.blogspot.sg/2011/03/beginnings-6world-chess-championship.html
https://en.chessbase.com/post/breaking-news-fischer-loses-first-game-to-spaky-in-reykjavik
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chess.pl?tid=54397

Friday, April 21, 2017

Pre-exam April Presents 2017: Part 2

I'm nowhere near to finishing my next Fischer article, so here's some puzzles to keep y'all entertained first:






Have fun!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Pre-exam April Presents 2017: Part 1

Just some bit of fun before your exams start. Enjoy!






Saturday, April 1, 2017

The rise and fall of suicide chess

DISCLAIMER: The following article was written as an April Fool's story, and all events that occurred are purely fictional. Any resemblance to actual historical events or characters, dead or alive, is purely coincidental.

...

Today, we are experiencing the resurgence of many interesting chess variants, from bughouse to chess960 and even the occasional crazyhouse tournament on chess.com. One particular variant, Suicide Chess, remains a popular but curious variant that many of us play as a break from regular chess. But how many of us ever paused to think about how such a weird variant was created, and why did it come about?

To uncover the truth we need to return to Part 3 of our Fischer series, where Robert James Fischer was dominating the chess world in the 1970s.

Fischer (right) vs Petrosian, Candidates Match 1971 Game 6

After Fischer’s rapid and unexpected victory in the 1971 Candidates, the Soviet Chess Federation was in pure panic mode. Two of their finest grandmasters—Taimanov and Petrosian—had been crushed by an outsider, and their beloved world crown was in danger. Despite Spassky’s confidence, and predictions that it would be a close fight, results from the earlier Candidates Matches were proof that anything could happen. Former World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik describes it quite accurately:

“In general Spassky is now superior to Fischer. That is my firm conviction. But how the match between them will end, the character of it and the result, I will not venture to predict, since in recent times in the chess world miracles have been occurring.” 

The Reds realized that they could not simply sit and cross their fingers, hoping that Spassky would save the day. They had to prepare for the worst, and come up with something to mitigate the situation if things got ugly. Some suggested organizing separate world championships for blitz and rapid chess, so that even if the Russians lost the main crown they would still have a chance to retain the others. But the idea was quickly shot down: Fischer had proven himself to be equally successful in shorter time controls, and creating more championships would only give him more titles to win!

It was then that Mikhail Tal came up with a bright idea: Creating a new chess variant that would throw Fischer’s preparation off guard. He proposed a variant where, instead of capturing pieces and checkmating the king, the aim was to lose all your pieces before the opponent did. Indeed, it was in line with Tal’s daring, sacrificial nature in classical chess!

And so, modern day suicide chess was born.


The initial rules were simple: Both sides were given a set amount of time to play as in normal chess, but the player with fewer pieces at the end of the time control would be the winner. Then the authorities realized that either player could decline captures and dance their pieces around till the end of time, so they added a new rule: Any capture available on the board would be a forced move (unless there are two or more captures present, in which the player MUST choose one of them as his next move).

The proposal was submitted to FIDE who, in their eagerness to make chess more appealing to the general public, accepted it. Before long, it was declared that alongside the World Chess Championship, a new and separate World Suicide Chess Championship would be introduced, alongside its own Interzonal and Candidates Tournaments.

Which came about just in time; the 1972 World Championship match had just concluded, and Fischer was the new World Champion. The Soviets, desperate to take a new title and prove to the world that they still had something to boast about, urged FIDE to kickstart the new Suicide Chess Championship cycle.

The Russians’ plan worked like a charm. Their new confidential training program, designed to convert current grandmasters into suicide chess experts, was reaping results. Top Soviet players like Petrosian, Korchnoi and Smyslov were dominating the Interzonals, sweeping their way through games as their pieces fell off the boards rapidly.

How about Fischer? The American, drunk over his recent conquest of the chess world, saw an opportunity to add another feather to his cap. So he entered the Suicide Chess cycle, confident of knocking aside the Reds as he did in mainstream chess.

But he was in for a rude shock. While standard chess had trained him in the ways of spotting piece-winning tactics or looking out for enemy threats, it was the absolute opposite this time round. He simply could not get used to the fact that he had to spot threats from his own pieces, and maneuver his way out of tactics rather than into them!

Bobby scraped his way through the Interzonal, barely qualifying for the 1973 Candidates Matches. Incredibly, for his first match he was paired against Spassky. In a reversal of history, the Russian defeated the American 6.5-3.5, with six wins, three losses, and one draw. It was reported that at the end of the 6th game, Fischer was seen storming out of the playing room cursing under his breath when he played what he thought was a brilliant piece-winning windmill, only to remember that they were playing suicide chess!

Fischer's agonized expression after realizing his mistake

The following game was taken from the critical 10th game, where Spassky scored his 6th win that pushed him over the 6.5 point margin.

1.e4?? b5 2.Bxb5 Nf6 3.Bxd7 (D)

Fischer, Robert James vs Spassky, Boris
World Suicide Chess Candidates 1973 Game 10
Position after 3. Bxd7

3... Nxe4 4.Bxe8 Qxd2 5.Qxd2 (if 5.Bxf7 Qxc1 6.Qxc1 Nxf2 7.Kxf2 Rg8 etc.) 5...Nxd2 6.Kxd2 Rg8 7.Bxf7 c5 8.Bxg8 g6 9.Bxh7 e5 10.Bxg6 e4 11.Bxe4 Nc6 12.Bxc6 Bb7 13.Bxb7 Rc8 14.Bxc8 a6 15.Bxa6 c4 16.Bxc4 Ba3 17.Nxa3 0-1

Just like that, the American genius, favourite of the press, and the greatest standard chess player of all time, was knocked out of the Suicide Chess Championship cycle. The 1974 World Suicide Chess Championship was eventually won by Mikhail Tal; not surprising, considering that sacrificing pieces was already second nature to the Magician from Riga!

Following his defeat, Fischer realized that there was no way he could let suicide chess overtake standard chess in popularity. So he proposed a new chess variant, which follows the rules of standard chess only that the initial position of the pieces on the 8th rank is randomized. Today, this is known to us as Chess960.

What about Suicide Chess? Well, the Reds were happy to keep their new title, and finally beat off the American Imperialist that menaced them for so long. After Fischer forefeited his title in 1975 due to yet more disputes with FIDE, Anatoly Karpov was declared the world champion. The Soviet authorities, having the treasured crown finally back in their hands, saw no reason to continue holding any alternative title, and stopped sending their players to subsequent Suicide Chess Championship cycles.

As a result, FIDE found themselves lacking sufficient funding for suicide chess, since the absence of the Reds meant that the great support they received was no longer present. Slowly, the popularity of suicide chess declined. After Kasparov broke off from FIDE to form the Professional Chess Association (PCA) in 1993, the World Suicide Chess Championship was cancelled.



Today, we might enjoy a short game of suicide chess, and laugh as we rush to let our pieces fall off the board. But hopefully, through this interesting story you will get to appreciate how such a variant arose, and that the war between Fischer and the Russians was not all that bad after all!

Sources:
https://kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/photos-of-fischer-vs-petrosian-1971/
https://en.chessbase.com/post/breaking-news-fischer-loses-first-game-to-spaky-in-reykjavik