Tuesday, 30 September 2008

London Chess Tournament: Latest News

Readers may remember this posting:


GM Keene's letter was reprinted in this month's CHESS Magazine.

Today, we have a news update!

Ray Keene is delighted to announce that Kate Hoey has contacted him now and expressed her enthusiastic support and that of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, for a major chess event. Watch this space for further details.

This is major progress! Stay tuned for further developments.

Monday, 29 September 2008

CHESS Magazine Articles

The current issue of CHESS Magazine (October 2008) includes my article on the Staunton Memorial Tournament and a lengthy interview with Grandmaster Raymond Keene OBE.

When I asked GM Keene which modern (from the last 10 years) chess books had impressed him the most, he nominated three volumes of merit and has since been in touch with an important 'PS', which is quoted here:

'One thing I would like to add is that in my comments on modern books I failed to mention the Kasparov series. I simply took them for granted as being superb - ie beyond comment as it were.

When I read the interview I realised I had probably given the impression that I didn't rate them highly simply by not mentioning them; in fact I regard the entire Kasparov series collectively as probably the greatest contribution to chess literature that there has ever been.

The insights are often first hand and the combination of a towering genius, a great back up team and fabulous use of the computer has produced a masterpiece which will be read as long as chess survives.

In particular I liked his new book on the first to matches v Karpov. At last we have from the horse's mouth as it were the closest to the truth we are ever likely to get about the games and also about the notorious stopping of the World Championship by Campomanes and the KGB in 1985.

Kasparov deserves his due meed of praise for having produced an immortal masterpiece. To slightly paraphrase virgil: HOC OPUS HIC LIBER EST!!'

Here's some links to my own reviews of the most recent Kasparov books:

Garry Kasparov on Modern Chess (Part 2) Kasparov vs. Karpov1975-1985

Revolution In The 70s By GM Garry Kasparov

My Great Predecessors Volume 5: Korchnoi & Karpov by GM Garry Kasparov

A little bit about the books and a reaction to the news of Kasparov's chess retirement.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Chess Reviews: 63

Albert Beauregard Hodges
The Man Chess Made

By John S. Hilbert and Peter P. Lahde
McFarland & Company

Who was Albert Beauregard Hodges, and why is he deemed a worthy subject for such a detailed biography? His name isn’t so well known outside of America.
In the opinion of the authors,

‘Few men owe as much to chess, or gave as much to chess, as Albert Beauregard Hodges’.

The Introduction sheds considerable light on the matter, highlighting key moments from his life and whetting the appetite for the considerable amount of material to follow.

The book is split into two main sections. The first part covers his life and the second features his chess games.

The life story is a long one, running all the way to page 328, and is covered over the course of 10 chapters.

‘The Tennessee Morphy’
Ajeeb and the ‘Snugs’
New York, 1890-1892
1893: A Year of Achievements
1894: A Year of Champions
1895: A Year of Team Play
Anglo-American Cable Matches
Domesticated Play
Tournaments - Too Late
Towards an Ending
The Final Years

Hodges was born during the American Civil War and his early life shows typical features of the time; his middle name was chosen after a Confederate army General, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard and the Hodges household had a black slave.

His early chess life included an odds match with the great Zukertort. Hodges won the match, but a surviving quote refers to a game in which he wasn’t successful:

‘When Zukertort started play, he placed his hat on the window casing. I remarked that was a big hat. Zukertort told me he had brought it from England, that it was size 9.5 and that it would be difficult to find one here large enough to fit him. Then and there I thought how absurd it was for me to try to win from a man with a head like that. I was right - he beat me.’

His early chess games were played in Nashville and his growing reputation led to two matches with Max Judd. This, in turn, led to a spell as the operator of the chess ‘automaton’ Ajeeb. The famous touring chess attraction, was of course a fake. Hodges was the hidden operator for a while but it was only later that he officially revealed his involvement. His own reminiscences are repeated in this book and make delightful reading. Sometimes being tucked away out of sight had its dangers:

‘…and how often the expressions of the visitors amused me, except on one evening, when a very hilarious party of wild western men came in, and one of them said he would pay the damage if his friends would let him shoot a hole through the dummy, reaching for his hip pocket as he shouted his contempt for ignorance of the onlookers. I did not feel at ease until his friends forced him to leave the room.’

American chess received a big boost during the rise of Paul Morphy but entropy set in after his early retirement.

‘After the Morphy phenomenon, extensive public interest in chess in the United States rapidly declined, the Civil War’s hardships replacing the game’s joys. A return to peace brought with it, in time, a resurgence of interest in leisure activities, and as the country tried to heal, signs of chess life increased. But the development was slow.’

Part of the resurgence was due to the visits to clubs by chess superstars. Steinitz was already in residence in America and ambitious chess clubs would often invite other top players for a variety of exhibition matches and other events. The knock-on effect would be increase local interest and club membership. For the star players it was an opportunity to boost their (usually meagre) funds. Hodges faced Emanuel Lasker in three exhibition games in 1892 and even managed to win the first one.

Later in life, Hodges would claim it as his ‘best effort’.

‘I did not start this game with very much confidence, as Dr. Lasker won the toss for choice of pieces, and, at the twenty-second move, one my friends ‘encouraged’ me by informing me that Steinitz, who was one of the onlookers, had just remarked that I had ‘a lost game’! As the combination I began three moves later was being finally analysed by me, I retorted ‘tell him I shall win’; I rather think that Dr. Lasker heard this remark, and believe that if it did not help me win, it at least disturbed him for a little time.’

Lasker took revenge in the next two games and even defeated Hodges again in a simultaneous display.

The authors comment:

‘Although his best years as a chess player were almost on him, one can hardly imagine a better reminder for Hodges than this loss against Lasker in simultaneous display that he was wise mot to attempt to enter the ranks of professional players’.

Fortunately for Hodges, he had forged a career as the Secretary of Sailors’ Snug Harbour and was thus able to avoid having to rely on chess for his living.

His status as an amateur player didn’t mean he ended up as weak player. The book charts his considerable number of tournaments and matches, which include a battling 4-4 contest with Adolf Albin (another chess hero recently spotted at Marsh Towers; see review column 61). Steinitz and Lasker were in the audience for part of the match.

When Hodges defeated Showalter in match in 1894 it may or may not have been for the title of American Champion. Controversy raged at the time as to whether or not the title was Showalter’s to play with. The various arguments are given full coverage by the authors.

It is clear that the emphasis is placed mainly on the subject’s early chess career. He was a past his prime when he finally broke into major international tournaments, such as Cambridge Springs 1904, but latter events are nevertheless still covered in some detail.

There are 351 games and each one includes contemporary annotations from a very wide range of sources. The annotators include Hodges, Steinitz, Gunsberg, Lasker, Pillsbury and many others.
Hodges played a large number of chess giants, including Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Pillsbury, Chigorin, Marshall and Janowski. The vast majority of the games - and annotations - will be fresh and new to all readers (only 130 are included in ’Big Database 2008‘).

There are so many fascinating encounters that I had trouble selecting just a small number to whet the appetite. Three vignettes must suffice for now otherwise this review could end up book-sized.

Steinitz - Hodges
Blindfold Game, 1891

Not the best game from the point of view of Hodges, but it features a typically picturesque finishing stroke by the First World Champion.
17 Qxh6+ 1-0

Lasker - Hodges

This position is from his famous win against the future Second World Champion.
34 …Nxh3+ Black lights the touch paper and gains a decisive advantage (0-1, 43)

Hodges - Halpern
New York, 1893

Here’s another well-calculated finish:

48 Rxe6+ Qxe6 49 d7 Qxa6 50 d8=Q+ Kg7 51 Qee7+ 1-0

Hodges died aged 82 in 1944, with an angry war burning away just as there was when he was born. His life was long and - chess wise, at least - very eventful. ‘The Man Chess Made’ is indeed a very accurate subtitle to his life story.

As usual with McFarland books, extra space is devoted to special features. There are four appendixes featuring a variety of material, including a full tournament and match record, the chess problems of Hodges, three obituaries and a small feature on ‘The 1897 Staats-Zeitung Cup Fiasco’.

Six indices complete an extremely fine work. The Selected Bibliography lists close to 150 sources, many of them obscure newspapers. The authors have dug very deep indeed and their efforts are highly commendable.

John S. Hilbert and Peter P. Lahde are ideal authors for such heavyweight historical chess biographies. Both have proven track records and the latter has a book on another American chess hero, Isaac Kashdan, due out very soon (published by McFarland, of course).

Production-wise, this book displays all the hallmarks one has come to expect from McFarland: beautiful hardback binding, quality paper (with that special McFarland smell), large page count (542) and extremely good attention to detail.

Line drawings and photographs augment the text, depicting a plethora of chess personalities, some famous and some more obscure.

2008 has been a good year for chess books but very few can hold a candle to this one.

For further details about all McFarland books, please visit:


Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:


Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Chess Reviews: 62

Books from the German publisher Olms first caught my attention over 20 years ago when I discovered their reprints of classic tournaments.

I’d like to welcome them to Marsh Towers with reviews of three of their most recent books. I’ll return to Olms in the near future, when three of the famous Dvoretsky range will go under the microscope.

222 Opening Traps
After 1. e4
By GM Karsten Müller and GM Rainer Knaak
Edition Olms

The two main stated objectives of the book are:

The student should master the traps in the openings he plays, in order to avoid disasters

He can also systematically try to expand his opening repertoire, in order himself to set traps

The authors start with a short discussion regarding the nature of traps and the associated risks.

‘…there is a clear minority of cases in which a player really gambles and voluntarily assumes the risk of a bad position if the trap does not work. We sometimes then speak of a ‘genuine trap’.

Then it’s straight into the action, with nearly all of the traps being ‘genuine’. This is important; it’s not the intention of the authors to present a jumble of early Queen excursions hoping to spring a quick checkmate on the unwary.

The traps are spread across the following categories:

Semi-Open Games - Minor Variations
Alekhine Defence
Caro-Kann Defence
Sicilian Defence
French Defence
Open Games - Minor Variations
Italian Opening
Ruy Lopez

It’s good to see the game scores continue to the end and not cut off once the trap has been sprung.

The authors often quote number of times a trap has been successfully used. For example, The Siberian Trap, 1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3 dxc3 4 Nxc3 Nc6 5 Nf3 e6 6 Bc4 Qc7 7 0-0 Nf6 8 Qe2 Ng4 …has been sprung almost 200 times in ‘Mega 2005’ (the authors’ database of choice). The game given in the book concludes swiftly, after 9 Bb3?

Tesinszky - Magerramov
Budapest 1990

9 …Nd4! 0-1

That trap is quite well known and can occur in other openings. Some of the examples feature much rarer lines of play and show some astonishing touches.

1 e4 c5 2 c3 d5 3 exd5 Qxd5 4 d4 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bg4 6 Nbd2 Nf6!? 7 Bc4!? 'White sets a trap which brings him an advantage if Black does not know how to refute it.' 7 …Bxf3! 8 Qa4? 'This is the trap; however, the alternatives are not very promising,'

Tseshkovsky - Istratescu
Niksic 1997

In the illustrative game, Black now played 8 …Qg5? when the remarkable rejoinder 8 …Bd1! would have been the refutation of White’s play (the key point being that g2 drops).

One would imagine that 1 e4 offers more chance of an opening trap than the closed openings but the evidence presented in the companion volume would appear to suggest that plenty of traps lie in wait no matter what the first move may be.

222 Opening Traps
After 1. d4

By GM Karsten Müller and GM Rainer Knaak
Edition Olms

In fact, there are more chapters here than in the 1 e4 volume, as shown by the list of contents:

Trompowsky Attack
Indian Sidelines
Volga Gambit
Modern Benoni
Dutch Defense
Queen’s Pawn Game and Queen’s Gambit
Grunfeld Defence
Catalan Opening
Black Knights Tango
Queen’s Indian Defence
Nimzo-Indian Defence
King’s Indian Defence

The shortest game in either book must surely be: 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5 c6 3 e3? Qa5+ 0-1 Djordjevic - M. Kovacevic (the authors comment: ‘White breaks all records!’). This game is included as a note to a main trap; there’s a sprinkling of such minor games throughout the books, technically bumping the number up beyond 222.

One would expect to find traps in tricky lines such as the Budapest and Modern Benoni, but Müller and Knaak provide numerous examples traps in the quiet openings also.
1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 cxd5 exd5 5 Bg5 Be7 6 e3 c6 7 Qc2 Ne4?

Kotov - Petrosian
Moscow 1949

'It is really astonishing how many strong players have chosen this move. In addition there are also those who have done so when the moves h6 and Bh4 have been inserted - this makes no difference at all.' 8 Bxe7 Qxe7 9 Nxd5! and White has large advantage (even Petrosian couldn’t last beyond move 13).

Here’s another thunderbolt from an apparently clear sky:
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 f3 0-0 6 Be3 Nc6 7 Bd3? e5 8 Nge2?!

Cooke - Zimmerman
Budapest 2001

8 …Ng4! Unleashing the powerful King‘s Indian Bishop gives Black lots of pressure on d4. It‘s difficult for White to avoid falling quickly into a very bad position. (0-1, 20)

Production-wise, the books are up to the usual Olms standard. The layout is crisp and clear, the material is well organised and there’s an index of openings, names and games.

Both books will provide plenty of entertainment and the attentive reader should be able to make their existing repertoires sharper and trickier by remembering the traps and unleashing them when the appropriate moments arise.

The Spanish Exchange Variation
By GM Stefan Kindermann
Edition Olms

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6 has always had a certain amount of controversy attached to it. The majority of Spanish adherents are happier to preserve the Bishop and spend the rest of the game ‘milking the cow’.

GM Kindermann’s introduction reveals how his desire to play less theoretical lines first led to his interest in the Exchange Variation.

There are two very appealing factors behind 4 Bxc6; Black’s main defences are ruled out and White gains a potentially major strategic advantage.

‘The didactic worth of employing this variation should not be undervalued either, since it is not very often that White can emerge directly from the opening with such a clear strategic plan: to mobilise his own pawn majority on the kingside, at the same time as devaluing the opposing pawn-mass on the other wing!’

The author then goes on to highlight the use of the variation by some of the strongest players, most notably World Champions Emanuel Lasker and Robert James Fischer. Rustam Kasimdzhanov used it in his successful assault on the FIDE World Championship in 2004 and some of games are included, even though they had to be added just as the book’s deadline was reached.

Armed with historical insight, the reader is then introduced to the basic themes of the classic pawn endgame position.

This is what White is dreaming of, and will spend the whole game trying to achieve. Conversely, this position represents Black’s nightmare scenario and what he must avoid at all cost.

‘To begin with, this fundamental defect in the black pawn structure is compensated for by his pair of Bishops, but only too often Black subsequently finds he has to give up the Bishop pair on concrete grounds. After that however Black’s basic problem becomes horribly apparent: he is unable (if White plays it right!) to create a passed pawn on the Queenside, whereas on the Kingside White can do pretty well whatever he wants.’

White’s chances of winning don’t rest entirely on the endgame. The author presents typical middlegame positions in which the first player can also push for an advantage in the centre and the Queenside.

The bulk of the book is a careful analysis of a number of key games in each of the relevant variations. The coverage is not encyclopaedic; ‘The aim is rather to enable the White player to use the Exchange Variation with success as quickly as possible!’

All of Black’s sensible lines of play are covered in detail. Of particular interest is the analysis of the critical: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6 dxc6 5 0-0 Bg4 6 h3 h5!

The author recommends this as Black’s best line. Indeed, there are ways for White to go wrong and lose quickly (hint: don’t take the Bishop just yet) and according to the author only 7 d3 allows White to play for the advantage. After 7 …Qf6, GM Kindermann gives two playable options, namely 8 Nbd2 and 8 Be3!? Both sides need to know their stuff from then on.

If it forms part of your main repertoire preparation for White, you should know the lines better than Black players who won’t necessarily be expecting the Exchange Variation.

Alternatives to 3 …a6 receive only a brief mention so there will be a need for further reading to concoct a full Spanish repertoire. If you already play the main lines of the Spanish then adding the Exchange Variation to your repertoire will add a significant string to your bow and this book will be your ideal guide to all of the plans, ideas and nuances you need to know.

The index of variations runs to 17 pages and includes diagrams at key stages. This makes navigating the material especially easy. Players’ names and complete games are also indexed and there’s a useful bibliography.

For further details of these and all other Olms books, please go to:


Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:


Saturday, 20 September 2008

Chess Reviews: 61

Adolf Albin in America
A European Chess Master’s Sojourn, 1893-1895

By Olimpiu G. Urcan
McFarland & Company

I’m delighted to welcome McFarland books to Marsh Towers. I recently received four of their new works to review; three are covered in this article and the final one will follow very soon.

The first impression of a McFarland book is ‘quality’. This volume is no exception, enjoying, as it does, a fine black hardback binding beautifully augmented by gold lettering.

The 278 pages are split into the following sections:

Foreword by Neil Brennen
Part 1: Albin in America
Part 2: The Chess Games
Appendix A. Adolf Albin: Master of Opening Innovation
Appendix B. Albin’s Results in America, July 1893 to June 1895
Appendix C. Albin’s Lifetime Tournament and Match Record
Select Bibliography
Index of players, openings, illustrations and a general index.

Chess Historian Neil Brennen pens a very nice foreword, setting the scene for what is to come.

‘The ‘American Dream’ has become the stuff of legend and clichés. How many times have the familiar images of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island been used indiscriminately in novels, television, and films to provide a warm glow of patriotism to the immigrant experience? And how often has the same plot been recycled, varied as the dramatists dictate, leading to the same happy ending of the foreigner’s succeeding in his new life in the United States?’

Chess players dream as much as anybody, but the nature of their work makes turning their dreams into reality very difficult. Brennen goes on to list numerous players who ended up being only temporary American residents. Adolf Albin was there for two years and it is this short phase of his life which is scrutinised in this book.

Urcan continues to set the scene in the introduction, shedding the first light on how the Romanian Albin came to be tempted to travel to America.

‘The aim of the present book is to unravel Albin’s American experience by bringing to life as many specifics as I can: previously unpublished data, tournament reports, newspaper articles, and offhand, simultaneous, blindfold or consultation games played by Albin against American or European masters found stateside.’

One of the great strengths of McFarland books is the way they are apparently very willing to publish top-quality books on relatively minor chess personalities and to afford each subject an abundance of space, care and attention.

I’m sure most players will have heard of Albin, thanks, of course, to the existence of the Albin Counter Gambit, but I feel certain that the vast majority of games and information in this book will be absolutely new and fresh to nearly every reader.

Few people exist in complete isolation. Another great McFarland strength is the way they typically devote the space necessary to construct a picture of the whole chess world of the time, bringing in a plethora of personalities and events to provide a vivid backdrop for the main subject.

It’s important to put the reasons for Albin’s journey to America in context with the chess world of the time. In America, there was still a wave of Morphy-based enthusiasm and the successful series of American Chess Congresses looked set to continue. Urcan describes all of this in detail. He then goes on to discuss the drive for a seventh American Congress, to be held in Columbia. This is what attracted a number of European masters to America, but they were destined to be disappointed as the congress was cancelled.

However, there was still much chess excitement to be had in America, especially with the presence of such giants as Steinitz and Lasker. Indeed, they played a match for the World Championship in 1894 and Albin enjoyed analysing the games.

The chapter titles of the first section give an explicit implication of Albin’s activities from arrival to departure:

A Tale of Disenchantment: The Columbian Chess Congress, 1893
Sailing to America, July 1893
The Match with Albert B. Hodges, August 1893
The Impromptu International Tournament, September-October 1893
The City Chess Club Tournament, December 1893
The Match with Eugene Delmar, February 1894
The Staats-Zeitung Cup, August 1894
Another City Chess Club Tournament, October-November 1893
The Match with J.W. Showalter, September 1894
A Guest of Philadelphia, February 1895
Three Months in New Orleans, March-May 1895
Sailing Back to Europe, 1895

The depth of research is very impressive. For example, even the passenger list of the steamship Columbia, clearly showing Albin’s name, is reproduced and the text is augmented by numerous quotes from Albin himself, from the very start of his adventure.

‘Around 20 July I embarked on the Columbia with a ticket in second class and by 30 July I have already reached New York as one of the leading masters of the Old World. This innocent introduction I owe to my heroic act of defeating Goliath at Dresden’.

This is a reference to Albin’s famous victory over an almost invincible Tarrasch. Albin’s account of the spectators crushing around the board to witness the dénouement is reproduced here too, along with an abundance of other quotes from Albin and his contemporaries.

Albin was a dangerous, tactical player, capable of causing problems for event he very best players. In the City chess club of New York International tournament he defeated the great Steinitz, although the end to the game was unusual.

Steinitz - Albin

Steinitz lost on time, but there was controversy and it led to a small war of words. Albin’s letters to the newspaper are reproduced here and they make very interesting reading.

As an opening innovator, Albin will be remembered forever thanks to his ambitious Albin Countergambit (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e5).

Some of his games feature ideas which have become more popular in recent times. One particularly eye-catching lunge came in the following position:

Hanham - Albin
Manhattan 1893

Albin now anticipated the trends the distant future with the undermining thrust
11...g5! ...and went on to win.

Other games see him anticipating two other fashions: the trendy …a6 in the Slav and the pawn sacrifice 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e5 Nfd7 6 h4 in the French.

The game annotations are taken from a large number of sources, including Albin himself and a whole host of magazines and newspapers.

Albin’s relatively short spell in America was brought to an end when he set sail for the famous Hastings tournament of 1895, together with Pillsbury and Steinitz. All three were representing America, with high hopes of taking major honours against the best players in the world.

‘Albin’s results from the previous two years empowered him to be one of the chess experts representing America at Hastings. He joined the veteran Steinitz and the Wunderkind Pillsbury in an attempt to achieve a great success for America - success that confirm not only the high quality of the chess activity that took place in the United States in those years but also the hopes for another Morphy-like era.’

Pillsbury won the tournament but the other two ‘Americans’ weren’t at their best. Albin decided not to return to America; the specific reasons are still unclear.

Urcan covers the rest of Albin’s life succinctly before concluding that the period covered by the bulk of the book marked…

‘…the peak of his chess life; he arrived in the New World as an advocate of new, ingenious and daring chess’.

The games ably support the opinion of Albin’s style. Here’s a few snippets to whet the appetite.

Albin - Showalter
24 Rxh7! (1-0, 45)

Allies v Albin (Albin was blindfolded)
11...Bxh2+! 12 Kxh2 Rxd5!! (0-1) 37

The book is very well indexed and the bibliography clearly indicates the amount of research done. Enhanced by numerous drawings and photographs, this is well up to McFarland’s high production standards.

Chess history can be an acquired taste and books such as these might not to appeal to all players, especially those looking to add a quick opening fix for their next tournaments. However, this is a real treasure trove for anyone interested in the chess world of a bygone era, a world populated by pioneers, giants and fabulous events. This is definitely one of the best chess books of the year.

Chess Results
1941 - 1946
Gino Di Felice
McFarland & Company

Chess Results
1947 - 1950

Gino Di Felice
McFarland & Company

Gino Di Felice is clearly a man with a mission: to preserve a consistent archive of definitive chess tournament crosstables and match results.

The events are all regular, men’s tournaments and matches, but that is not to say that others have been completely forgotten:

'Women’s and correspondence competitions have both been excluded in the present volume, with the thought that they can be the object of separate works. '

The author makes the point that Jeremy Gaige’s famous volumes went only as far as 1930, leaving nearly 80 years to catch up with.

The tournament tables include, with very few exceptions, the full names of all of the players, relevant dates and sources. The material is indexed by the name of event and the names of the players.

The 1941 - 1946 volme presents a record of 810 tournaments and 80 matches and runs to 366 pages. The Second World War obviously had an impact on the amount of chess played but there was still much of interest going on. It’s particularly interesting to trace the movements of the top players during this period, particularly with the controversy attached to the likes of Alekhine and Keres, whose lives would never be the same again.

1947 - 1950 is an even bigger volume, with 485 pages featuring the results from 980 tournaments and 155 matches. The growth in the strength and numbers Russian players becomes more apparent as the years tick by.

Although the material is split into chronological years, the events within the years are listed alphabetically. I don’t think this was necessary and would much prefer the criteria to remain chronological; the index provides a perfect alphabetical listing as it is.

Although these two books are (rarely, for McFarland) paperbacks, production values remain very high. The layout is very clear and the spines are relatively sturdy.

The two volumes covered here are the sixth and seventh in the series. Gino Di Felice has his work cut out to bring the story completely up to date but he is clearly the ideal man for such a labour of love.

These books will attract a much a smaller readership than most. They are good books for browsing and chess historians should welcome the completeness and standardisation of players’ names.

For further details about all McFarland books, please visit:

Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Chess Reviews: 60

Garry Kasparov on Modern Chess
Part 2

Kasparov vs. Karpov
Everyman Chess

Grandmaster Garry Kasparov may have retired from competitive chess but there’s no doubt that his connection with the great game is still extremely strong. His most recent books have all proved to be very popular.

This new volume, in which his attention is switched from his great predecessors and modern opening developments firmly on to his incredible rivalry with the 12th World Champion, Anatoly Karpov, is unquestionably one of the most eagerly awaited chess books of all. Their titanic 1984 clash saw Karpov take a stunning 5-0 lead, only to be eventually pegged back to 5 -3. The match was then called to a halt in very strange circumstances. A rematch the following year saw Kasparov become the youngest World Champion. Who better to guide readers through the extraordinary events - on and off the board - than the man who played a starring role?

It’s a sizeable volume, completely in keeping with the series so far. The 424 pages are split neatly into four chapters:

On the Eve of Battle
The First Match: 1984/85
The 49th Game
The Second Match: 1985

Kasparov starts the story of his greatest chess rivalry with his first over-the-board meeting with Karpov; in a simultaneous display back in 1975. The 12th World Champion managed to beat Kasparov’s Sicilian Defence on that occasion. Little did the world know that Kasparov and 1...c5 would eventually lead to Karpov switching from 1 e4 virtually permanently.

Three draws then follow in their personal encounters before the almighty clash that started in 1984. It' surprising how many years have gone by. Kasparov promises a completely new look on the whole rivarly.

‘Since I have already concluded my chess career and am armed with powerful analytical programmes, my commentaries have become more frank, and far more accurate.’

The preamble to the match covers the basics background of the 1983 Candidates cycle, with the almost catastrophic defaults of Kasparov and Smyslov to Korchnoy and Ribli respectively. Eventually, of course, the matches were played in London and the cycle was back on track. Kasparov is adamant that the whole thing was an attempt to stop him being able to battle his way to an inevitable title match with Karpov. The disadvantaged challenger facing the ‘golden boy’ champion is a recurring theme of the whole book.

This is the first time that Kasparov has annotated the games of his first match with Karpov.

‘The tension was so great and prolonged, and the psychological background so dark, that I had no desire to tackle this work.'

Every single game is annotated; even the short draws in the first match are given due attention. There’s plenty of new analysis and old opinions are often overturned.

For example, I’ve always had in mind that game 6 of the first match was a thoroughly controlled and impressive victory for Karpov, but Kasparov claims that things could have been quite different if he’d acted correctly at a critical moment.

Kasparov, playing White, opted for 25 Qd4? in the game and went on to lose. He firmly believes there was a much beter way of proceeding.

‘One of the critical moments from the initial stage of the match. Here it would have done no harm for me to remember that in my childhood I liked arbitrarily to divide the chess board into right and left halves, and see what the balance of forces was in each of them. In the given instance all Black’s pieces are bunched together on the queenside, having left their lone king to its fate. The evaluation is obvious: White has an irresistible attack.’

He then analyses 25 Qf3!? and 25 Qh5!, both of which could have led to a winning position.
Such moments abound throughout the book.

The Tarrasch Defence to the Queen’s Gambit is still very much under a cloud following Karpov’s 2-0 success in the first match. Prior to that, Kasparov had won games with it against several of the world’s top players and relied on it throughout his Candidates matches. In a critical position, thought to be just bad for Black, he now offers a new resource.

Now, instead of 17...Be6?!, Black should try 17...d4! There are brain-twisting variations after the critical 18 Rad1 but Kasparov thinks Black is fine.

‘To all appearances, 17...d4 gives Black sufficient counterplay and is the best reply to Karpov’s plan. But this move has still not won general recognition. The point is that or first match was not properly analysed, and my defeats in the 7th and 9th games created the impression of being opening failures, after which the Tarrasch Defence lost its popularity and the development of its theory was clearly retarded.’

There was a lot more than pure chess going on. Kasparov freely admits being helped by a parapsychologist after going 0-4 down. Given the relentless battle over the board, the political machinations away from the board and all the other extras it’s astounding that the two players came away from the experience sane and still willing to play more chess.

Chapter 3 - 'The 49th Game' - refers to the ‘game that never was’. The match was (in)famously brought to a halt after the 48th game, following two successive Kasparov wins, dragging the challenger kicking and screaming back into what had, for a very long time, seemed like a completely lost cause.

‘Who remembers now, after nearly a quarter of a century, why the match was stopped?! And if they do remember, who will they consider to have come off worse?’

This chapter, lasting just over 30 pages, includes a full transcript of the infamous press conference in which Campomanes, Karpov and Kasparov all played their part in a an utterly bizarre affair.

It’s a good idea to present the transcript just as it is. Not only does it preserve a very important historical document but it would be extremely difficult to paraphrase or condense it without losing the feel of the astonishing occasion. Kasparov then writes about the fall-out from the decision and covers the period between the two matches. To show he was still in great shape he defeated Hubner and Andersson in matches.

However, Karpov was by no means a completely spent force between during the hiatus; he won the 1985 OHRA Amsterdam tournament without losing a game. So Kasparov’s comment about Karpov losing three games in a row (following his victory in game one of the second match, added to the last two games of the first match) isn’t accurate.

I’ve read a lot about the K v K matches over a long period of time but there was plenty of new information for me here. I didn’t know that Petrosian had offered to help Kasparov in the match. It seems a little bit out of character for one so compliant with Karpov’s reign.

Nor was Petrosian the only one siding with the young challenger. Botvinnik was clearly a supporter and apparently so was Tal. After analysing with Kasparov the game in which he suffered his fifth defeat (leaving him 0-5 down in a ’first to win six games’ match), Tal offered some parting advice: ‘Young man, consider that the train gas left, and all you can do is loudly slam the door in farewell’.

It took some time to start the slamming of the door but I’m sure that even Tal would have underestimated the exactly how loud the bang was to be.

Game 15 started with 1 Nf3 by Karpov and he continued the trend further into the match. Kasparov presents his theory as to why the reigning champion avoided the more direct 1 d4. Apparently Dorfman, a member of Kasparov’s team, was secretly playing on the match ‘Totaliser’ and predicted that the Black King’s Bishop would be developed on g7. 1 Nf3 doesn’t stop a King’s Indian but it makes life difficult for a Grunfeld. At that time, the Grunfeld wasn’t a part of Kasparov’s repertoire. However, he reveals here that GM Adorjan, an acknowledged Grunfeld expert, had flown in the help Kasparov and that he had indeed intended to switch his opening against 1 d4. This is quite a revelation, as the Grunfeld became a surprise weapon later in their matches and became one of their main battlegrounds.

Kasparov’s passion, perseverance and paranoia in the 1984-5 matches are all vividly brought alive in this classic book. Over the course of the two matches he takes a journey through the full spectrum of emotions and this comes across very strongly.

The layout is very good and clear and it’s a solid hardback just like the previous volumes. Games and openings are indexed but a bibliography would have been a valuable addition, especially as numerous players are quoted throughout the book.

Kasparov has, of course, moved on from World Chess Championships to fight more dangerous battles. When he spent a few days behind bars he was touched by Karpov’s (unsuccessful) attempts to arrange a visit. In the introduction that: ‘…his good will gesture outweighed all the negative factors which had accumulated during our long years of confrontation’. Following what must have seemed like a lifetime locked in a struggle with a bitter opponent that strikes me as a very interesting comment indeed.

I’m sure that most readers will be left hungry for more and further tomes are obviously in the pipeline. There’s far more drama to come; this volume covers ‘just’ the first 76 games of the massive 181-game rivalry between these two giants of chess.

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Saturday, 13 September 2008

Chess Reviews: 59

My Career
Volume 1 & Volume 2
GM Viswanathan Anand

GM Anand begins his two-volume life story by trying to clear up the confusion regarding his name. He explains that the correct version is Anand Viswanathan but admits that the confusion is understandable and made even more so by his nick-name of Vishy Anand (coined by GM Daniel King). He goes on to say that he intends to skip right past his unsuccessful title bid against GM Kasparov in 1995 and to concentrate instead on the more enjoyable moments of his career.

The introduction is short but it serves its purpose. The World Champion comes across as a genuinely nice gentleman with a relaxed style of presentation.

Prior to watching these DVDs, I didn’t know very much at all regarding Anand’s background and early chess development, so I was able to learn a lot about him.

He starts with his very first steps in chess: being taught the moves by his Mother at the age of six, joining a chess club a year later and losing the first three games of his first tournament. He was further inspired by a series of television programmes in his new home in the Philippines, directly after the 1978 Karpov - Korchnoy World Championship match. His Mother recorded the shows while he was at school - on pen and paper! - and they played over the lessons together.

On his return to India a year later, he spent many hours practicing blitz at the chess club (from mid-morning to late evening). Playing in as many tournaments as possible proved to the spur for a major boost in strength and suddenly GM Anand was winning everything in sight.

The first few video presentations provide several examples from games at the early stages of his career.

Suddenly his rise through the ranks accelerated. International Norms and title in 1984, and a place in the Indian Olympiad team and then the Grandmaster title three years later.

Always a speedy player, his first win against a Grandmaster came in 1985 when he crushed GM Mestel’s famous Dragon, using something like just 25 minutes on the clock.

Black resigned after 25 g6! As 25...hxg6 loses to 26 Rg1 when despite Black’s apparent attack, White will crash through first with 27 Rxg6+ very much on the agenda.

He expresses pleasant surprise that the loser was very polite and willing to discuss the game; he was expecting anger!

1424 games are included on volume 1 (from the year 1984 to the end of 1999) and quite a few include annotations from various sources. It is only when one sees a full set of games that it really hits home just how many top events Anand has played in.

He admits that the split in the chess world in 1993 led to good fun, with two sets of Candidates matches to enjoy. It’s exactly that attitude which comes through quite forcibly; Anand simply enjoys plying chess and isn’t too concerned about the political machinations at which others excel. Another impressive aspect of his personality is his ability to appreciate defeats as a learning experience, a point he emphasises numerous times.

There are no less than 23 videos on the first disc. In contrast to the style a lot of other Chessbase presentations, Anand doesn’t dwell very long on each game or even, generally speaking, on specific variations. It’s very much in the style of a friendly chat using little snippets of games to cover the whole of the world Champion’s career to date.

He doesn’t exactly ignore his 1995 World Championship match with Kasparov but he does rattle through the very basics in approximately three minutes. (For the best example of a challenger blotting out a painful title match, try and spot any mention of Marshall’s bout with Lasker in his chess autobiography.)

Volume 2 continues the story in the same style. 1038 games, taking the career story all the way to the Leon Rapidplay tournament of May and June 2008, bring the story almost completely up to date.

24 videos cover the best moments and achievements of the World Champion since the year 2000. They feature the very cream of top-level chess, including Wijk aan Zee, Linares and of course the World Championship.

Three lectures cover the famous 2007 Mexico World Championship, with the focus on his encounters with Aronian, Svidler and Grischuk.

He admits to being lucky in the very first game and goes on to say it’s not clear if he’d have played so well throughout the rest of the tournament if he’d been punished by Gelfand in this position.

Anand - Gelfand

Black could have won a pawn, very safely, after 22...Rxf4! In the game, a draw was agreed after the tamer 22...Rxe1+

Perhaps inspired by this early wake-up call, Anand soon found terrific form, as conformed by this snippet.

Anand - Grischuk

White would like to play 34 Ref1, to smash through on f6, but Black is fine after 34...Bxa4 35 Rxf6 Bb5. Anand made everything work in his favour after 34 h5! Bxa4 35 h6+ Kxh6 36 Rxf6+ Kg7 37 g5 and d6 dropped too. If Black tries to avoid the checking lines with 35 h6+ by playing 34...h6, then the secondary point of 34 h5 is revealed: White has g6 available for the Rook after 34...h6 35 Ref1 Bxa4 36 Rxf6 Bb5 37 Rg6+, making all the difference.

Anand also chats about his preparation for this landmark event and how it felt to be the undisputed World Champion, with no more talk of splinter organisations. He concludes this section with a look ahead to his impending and intriguing title match with Kramnik.

The last video, lasting a little over four minutes, gives Anand the opportunity to pay a tribute to his parents and relates some touching stories about their support.

Volume one has a running time of three hours 48 minutes; the second volume has even more, offering four hours 28 minutes. Both volumes are highly recommended and will provide many hours of entertainment.

In terms of production, the only tiny faults I can see are the typos on the back cover of volume 2 (‘beginns’ and ‘Championshp’) which I presume will be easy enough to correct for future editions. Those aside, the material, presentation and entertainment factor all add up to these being two of the very best in the whole Chessbase range.

My Best Games In The Spanish: Volume 3
GM Alexei Shirov

GM Shirov starts his new DVD by explaining exactly why The Spanish Game is his favourite opening and goes on to say the games featured this time will not all be those which he himself played but will also see other top players in action. The criteria for choosing these is that they are all games from which he was able to learn something new.

The Marshall Gambit comes under immediate scrutiny, but with a warning: if a player hasn’t got a lot of study time and/or an excellent memory then it’s best to avoid it with both colours.

GM Shirov shows how to navigate into less charted waters when playing White. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0–0 and now 8.h3 instead of the standard 8 c3.

This is the subject of the first illustrative game, played against Peter Svidler. It emphasises that even the top players - with lots of study time and excellent memories - have days when they don’t fancy entering into a long theoretical variation and just fancy playing something simpler. He then goes on to demonstrate an interesting wrinkle in the main line.

Shirov,Alexei - Jakovenko,Dmitry
World Cup Khanty Mansiysk 2007

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0–0 8.c3d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 and now 12.d3

The point of this little move is only revealed a few moves later, if Black continues just as if White had played the normal 12 d4

12...Bd6 13.Re1 Qh4 14.g3 Qh3 15.Re4 and now if the pawn was at d4 Black has the option of 15...g5 16.Bxg5 Qf5 forking Rook and Bishop, but here the key point is that the Rook is defended by the pawn on d3.

Inspired by the notion that even this ancient opening can continue to produce new moves, especially in a booked-up line such at the Marshall Gambit (which was thought to be very drawish by most top players, until very recently), GM Shirov goes on to take a good look at other key Ruy Lopez lines.

In addition to the three heavily-analysed sections on the Marshall Attack and Anti-Marshall variations, GM Shirov turns the spotlight on very recent games featuring The Berlin Defence, The Open Lopez, The Zaitsev Variation, The Breyer Variation and The Jaenisch Gambit.

The latter is particularly interesting. After years of neglect it has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity, spearheaded by GM Radjabov, and has attracted attention in various other sources recently. GM Davies recommended it for Black in Gambiteer II' but 'The Greatest Ever Chess Opening Ideas' by IM Christoph Scheerer didn’t rate it very highly.

GM Shirov has been very impressed by Radjabov’s play in this sharp opening, especially when he was prepared to put his head on the block by trying it against the likes of Anand, Topalov and Svidler.

The line analysed on this DVD runs:

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5 4 d3 fxe4 5.dxe4 Nf6 6.0–0 Bc5 7.Bxc6 bxc6 8.Nxe5 0-0 9 Bg5 Qe8 10 Bxf6 Rxf6

...when Black can be happy with the prospects granted by the Bishop pair.

The lectures are long; between 30 and 50 minutes is the norm. To get the most out of the material requires hard work and concentration from the viewer; these are serious chess lessons, full of the insights of a top Grandmaster. However, it is possible to just sit back and enjoy watching some fantastically entertaining chess.

The games are all very recent, coming from late 2007 and early 2008. The chess analysis is augmented by little historical and biographical snippets.

Fans of both sides of the Spanish Game will undoubtedly benefit more than most, but there’s more than enough instruction here for those who never even play either side of 1 e4 e5. The running time of this DVD is immense: just nine minutes short of six hours.

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Thursday, 4 September 2008

Chess Reviews: 58

ChessBase 10

There can’t be many chess players who haven’t realised that such products as Chessbase and Fritz are virtually essential tools for those who want to make serious efforts to improve their game.

I remember trying version 7 for the first time and quickly realising that it was set to give my own game a major boost.

Chessbase are never content to rest on their laurels and Chessbase 10 improves on its illustrious predecessors in several ways, while retaining all of the older impressive features.
The central premise of the whole concept is one of a large database. How the database is handled is entirely up to the owner.

The number of games in the database provided is an amazing 3803334, all the way from the year 1475 up to the World Blitz Championship played in November 2007.

Games can be added to the main database and new databases can be created easily. It’s simple to maintain a database of one’s own games, which can then be analysed by chess engines, checked against reference bases and fully annotated in any ay the user chooses. Games and analysis can be stored and retrieved extremely quickly and anything can printed off very simply. Coaches could produce a sheet of chess positions within seconds.

Those with an earlier version of Chessbase already loaded onto a computer will be pleased to see that there is no need to transfer any files or databases across to version 10; it does it automatically after installation. Needless to say, Chessbase is fully compatible with all the standard products such as Fritz, Rybka etc.

A couple of clicks and it’s possible to summon up every game (up the November 2007) of virtually any player, complete with (in most cases) photographs and a complete statistical analysis of the player’s games. Preparing for individual opponents has never been so easy.

The manual is just 16 pages long and is clearly designed to get the user up and running as soon as possible. This is a big improvement on earlier versions, certainly on the old version 7 I started off with, when the manual was very thorough but large and possibly slightly intimidating to amateurs.

It’s easy to change the layout of everything, including the design of the chessboard. The 3D facility is superb; even the angle, reflections and lighting conditions can be altered.

An easy way to update the main database by clicking the ‘New Games’ icon. There’s a similar icon to enable a player to instantly switch to the Playchess server (ChessBase 10 comes with a year’s membership).

If you have never tried Chessbase then you have been missing out. It’s easy to use and will change the way you prepare and analyse chess forever. If you have already been converted then an upgrade to version 10 is recommended. As with all Chessbase products, it represents extremely good value for money. This is definitely one of the 'must buys' of the year.

Rybka 3

Rybka was one of the best-kept secrets in the world of chess engines until comparatively recently. Rather in Fritz’s shadow for some time, Rybka 2 nevertheless managed to top the lists as the world’s strongest chess program, smashing the ELO 3000 barrier. Rybka 3 improves on the playing strength of earlier versions by at least 80 ELO points.

Fritz users will instantly feel at home with the new Rybka interface, which has the same look and feel as the best known chess program.

The quickest way to test the strength of Rybka (‘little fish’) against Fritz, Crafty and co is to set up an engine match. In the first match I set up I watched Rybka crush the top level of Crafty 6-0 at five-minute chess.

Here’s a few interesting moments from the little match…

Rybka was Black and was content to sacrifice the exchange after 31 …Rxf2 32 Bf3 Rxf3. It took a while, but the Bishop pair and the passed e-pawn turned out to more than adequate.

This time Rybka was White. Several desperados now lit up the board: 18.b4 Na4 19.Bxe5 Nxf2 20.Qxf2 dxe5 21.Nxe5 Bxb4 22.d6 Bc5

23.Rxc5 24.Nc6 Qf6 25.Ne7+ Kh8 26.Qxf6 27.Bxa8 Rxa8 Is the passed pawn strong or weak?

28.Rb1 Nd7 29.Rc1 Kg7 30.Kf2 Rd8 31.Ke3 Nc5 32.Rb1 b5 33.Rc1 Nb7

34.Rc8 forcing the Rooks off as 34 …Rxd6 fails horribly to 35 Nf5+ Soon, the White King trundled in and the passed pawn became a winning monster.

It’s interesting to see the difference in the respective evaluations and to see the lesser engine suddenly dip once it realises it is in trouble. Just how much stronger can these monsters get? Is there a human left capable of upholding the honour of the humans in a man v machine match, or are those days long gone?

As with Fritz, there’s a lot of fun to be had with blitz games but after a while it could be an idea to investigate the handicap levels to build up confidence or just to remember how it feels to win a game.

It’s not purely a toy for fun, of course. Game analysis is, as ever, one of the best features. The amount of improvements it can point out - instantly - on a game one may have thought was soundly played is absolutely staggering.

There are some new features that caught my eye.

The training levels are interesting and offer ready-made lessons for players of all strengths, in all aspects of the game. It is a perfect opportunity to practice, for example, checkmating an extremely strong opponent with King, Bishop and Knight v King or to fine-tune particular openings to strengthen and broaden a repertoire.

The Monte Carlo Analysis facility plays a large amount of games from a given position in a very short period of time. This builds up a into a very useful evaluation which could be used to take a very good look at critical positions.

A database of over 1,000,000 games is included and, just as with ChessBase 10, a year’s access to the famous Playchess server comes with the program too.

Corr Database 2009

The Rybka 3 Book
By Jeroen Noomen

The stength of Rybka 3 and Chessbase 10 can be enhanced even further with the addition of these new products.

Jeroen Noomen, an integral part of the Rybka team, has compiled a reference book of very high quality. Indeed, there's plethora of novelties lurking in the deep tree of openings.

The book apparently contains 3,387,966 positions, but I haven't counted them all so we'll have to take the publicity material's word for it!

Rybka 3 is virtually unbeatable as it is; with the new book boosting it's strength one could play it from now until doomsday with little chance of winning a game against it. With the opening secrets on display here, you'd be best off checking out your favourite openings sooner rather than later, ensuring that any unpleasant over-the-board surprises are given by you rather than recieved.

The Corr Database contains 670,471 correspondence games. Correspondence games predate the internet and the majority of the games given here are from the world of classical, real-life mail although email games are also included A database of players is included too.

The events covered include the absolute cream of correspondence chess, including all of the games from the first 18 World Championships, the Olympiads, European Championships and various national championships.

The games are fully searchable by many criteria, including name, event, country, etc.
It’s rare for a database to appear without errors and I have to admit I spotted a couple here. I was looking at the games of postal champion Richard Hall and found a game of his with Jonathan Tait has the moves from another game between the same opponents grafted on and they are moves which render the game ridiculous.

There’s a not insignificant number of blank games too - usually easily spotted on databases by searching for games with the code A00 - and this problem is also apparent on the Chessbase 10 database.

These minor problems are the only things I have found to be critical about while analysing all four of the products reviewed here, so keep them in context.

I did find quite a few games played by some of my chess friends which I hadn’t seen before, which was a nice surprise (I can prepare for them now).

Historically speaking, the database covers games from 1804 up to the Polish Championship of 2008. A lot of the games have real historical significance, such as the early encounters between London and Edinburgh, London and Paris and other famous inter-city clashes.

Opening erudition is essential at the higher levels of correspondence chess; playing unsound lines is just a recipe for disaster. Thus there should be lots of interest here for practical players looking for more information on their favourite variations, especially as so many of the games won’t have made their way to the more common databases.

Anyone using a combination of the products reviewed here, and with time to use them properly, should definitely see a substantial increase in chess playing strength.

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