The Best I Saw In Chess,
by IM Stuart Rachels, is one of the best Chess books I have had the pleasure of reading. Actually, the book was devoured. With thoughts of writing a review I took copious notes for future use, which turned out to be a good thing because I have recently been reading the notes and the pages to which they refer. It had been my plan to write a review, but Covid reared it’s ugly head and the blog writing ended for a time.
Because of having known, and traveled with, Stuart’s trainer, IM Boris Kogan, I was reluctant to write and possibly put something in print that maybe should not be written. After Boris and his family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, Boris and his son, Mike, were charged for the ride to their first out of state tournament, which I found appalling. They were driven to their second tournament out of state without charge by yours truly as a way of saying, “Welcome to America.” Because of my act of kindness we became friends. Boris and I were the “elder statesmen” of a group of Chess players known as the “Road Warriors.” Boris confided many things about which I was never to speak, or write, and I have honored his request. Now it is difficult to recall what was out of bounds, so I have kept it all to myself as a way of adhering to his wishes.
Some years ago Stuart asked me if I knew how to contact the son of Boris, Mike Kogan. It had something to do with the Chess notebooks Boris pocessed. I made inquires, learning the last anyone heard of Mike was that he had moved down under, to Australia. Emails were sent and the nice Aussie’s took it seriously and the whole country was turned upside down, but still no contact with Mike Kogan. After learning of Stuart’s book I could not help but wonder if he may have inquired hoping to use some of the material in the book.
There is something for anyone and everyone in Stuart’s brilliant book. Many times during the reading I would pause to reflect and philosophize. Often it was obvious Stuart understood the position POSITIONALLY better than did his opponent even if it was only seeing one move further. Boris was fond of saying, “You must see one move further.” Unfortunately, seeing that one move further escaped this writer.
The game you are about to replay was chosen because I knew Walter Browne after meeting him in San Antonio in 1972 when he participated in the tournament sponsored by Church’s Fried Chicken, which was played at the Hemisphere.
Many years later I faced off with Walter over a Backgammon board at a coffee shop in Berkeley, California. Walter had a previous commitment and as his time dwindled and the losses continued unabated Walter increased the speed of his play and started ‘steaming’. In BG terminology he began increasing the wager by giving me the cube prematurely. Just as with Grandmaster Larry Christiansen, I would glance up to see Walter looking at me with a look that said, “How can I be losing to this guy?” The stakes were considerably higher when playing Walter, who was unaccustomed to losing at anything. Larry and I played for only a quarter a point, far below what was usual at Gammons, but Larry C. was a Chess player, and everyone knew ‘back in the day’ that Chess players had little cash, so we stayed up all night playing Backgammon at the home of former Georgia Chess Champion Mike Decker, with whom Larry stayed after beating me like a drum in the simultaneous exhibition. At the conclusion of the last game Walter paid by dropping a wad of bills on the table before saying, “How can you be such a chumpy-lumpy at Chess and play Backgammon like that?”
There can be much drama and excitement contained in a single game of Chess, but when it is played by humans the story can be better than the game; think Fischer vs Spassky circa 1972. The book by Stuart Rachels, The Best I Saw In Chess, by New In Chess, is replete with myriad stories told wonderfully by the author. The book is full of stories about people I knew and some of whom were faced over the board. This will be the focus of the ongoing review, which will begin with the irrepressible Grandmaster Walter Browne. His book, “The Stress of Chess (and its infinite finesse) My Life, Career and 101 Best Games”
is full of wonderful stories of the Chess road and was enjoyed immeasurably. Stuart writes about a game contested with Walter, beginning with this position from the first round of the 1992 US Championship:
Stuart writes, “We were both in time trouble, (Walter Browne was almost invariably in time trouble and he put on a show bouncing up and down in his chair while exuding nervous energy. AW) but I wasn’t panicked. Looking at the clock, I thought I had about 90 seconds to make the next two moves, reaching the time control. What’s happening on the board? White is a pawn up with two connected passers, but after 38…Bb3, the tactics will be telling – if White’s rook stays on the d-pawn, then Black can try to exploit White’s back rank with 39…Re8.” After a plethora of variations we find this on the next page: In practice, Browne played
and gave the clock a mighty wallop. My flag fell instantly. Stunned, I shook hands and signed the scoresheets: 0-1 (time)?? Browne offered a few words of consolation and then left the tournament hall in a hurry. He was always in a hurry, but I think he understood what had happened.
I now peered at the clock more closely. I had stopped it moments after my flag fell, yet the time on my side read halfway between 6:01 and 6:02. This was impossible; the minute hand should have been almost directly under the ’12’. It took me hours to grasp the obvious truth: the clock was defective, and I had blundered by acquiescing to the result. We were using a Master Quartz clock, and some of the other players later told me: ‘Yeah, it’s known to be defective.’
The next day, I spoke to Yasser Seirawan
about what had happened. Yasser, who is normally bubbly and forthcoming, listened to me quietly and gravely. Then he shook his head and said matter-of-factly: ‘I’m glad you didn’t protest – boy, I’d hate to be on that appeals committee!” Fourteen rounds later, when my lousy tournament was over (6 1/2 – 8 1/2), someone pointed out that I would have finished even had I beaten Browne. Seirawan piped up: ‘No no, that was round one. If Stuie had won that game, it would’ve been a completely different tournament for him!’ The terrible thing about chess is that you only have yourself to blame.”
P.S. Here is Browne’s version of the story (quoted in full): ‘In the first round I got the worse position vs. the up-and-coming GM Stuart Rachels, but in time pressure I somehow miraculously turned the tables. I wish Browne’s account were true; I wish I were a grandmaster!”
There is a footnote, appropriately enough, number 64, in which Stuart writes, “Walter Browne, The Stress of Chess… and its Infinite Finesse: My Life, Career and Best Games (Alkmaar, The Netherlands: New in Chess, 2012), p. 332. Instead of ‘up-and-coming’, Browne actually wrote ‘upcoming’ (which means ‘coming soon’) – thus Browne confused eminence with imminence.”
This brought back a horrible memory from one of the early rounds at a World Open in which I participated. I had a better, maybe winning, position approaching time control. After making a move my opponent said, “You’re down,” and stopped the clock. After looking closely at the clock it was obvious the flag had fallen prematurely because there was still white between the minute hand and ‘high noon’. The two players sitting to my left stopped playing and looked at the clock and nodded in agreement with me. Afraid to leave the board I stood up and began frantically waving for a tournament director. Jerry Bibuld
walked over and stood at the end of the table on which the clock was placed. As he stood over, and directly behind the clock, he bent over at the waist and, looking at the clock upside down, disallowed my claim. My opponent IMMEDIATELY grabbed the clock and moved the hands. One of the players on the next board said, “That’s a crock of shit!” The two players agreed to stop the clock and walk with me to see the head honcho what be in charge, Bill Goichberg.
After listening to me and the two players sitting next to our game, Bill Goichberg ruled that what the TD, Bibuld, ruled would stand because he had to back up his tournament directors. The same fellow who spoke earlier got right up in Bill’s face and again said, though with much more vehemence, “THAT’S A CROCK OF SHIT, BILL, AND YOU KNOW IT!” Nevertheless, the loss stood. It would be an understatement to say the wind went out of my sails and after playing a couple of lifeless games I withdrew from the tournament.
The following game was chosen because I knew Walter Browne after meeting him in San Antonio in 1972 when he participated in the tournament sponsored by Church’s Fried Chicken, which was played at the Hemisphere. Many years later I faced off with Walter over a Backgammon board at a coffee shop in Berkeley, California. Walter had a previous commitment and as his time dwindled, and the losses continued unabated, Walter increased the speed of his play and started ‘steaming’. In BG terminology he began increasing the wager by giving me the cube prematurely. Just as with Grandmaster Larry Christiansen,
I would glance up to see Walter looking at me with a look that said, “How can I be losing to this guy?” The stakes were considerably higher when playing Walter, who was unaccustomed to losing at anything. Larry and I played for only a quarter a point, far below what was usual at Gammons, but Larry C. was a Chess player, and everyone knew ‘back in the day’ that Chess players had little cash, so we stayed up all night playing Backgammon at the home of former Georgia Chess Champion Mike Decker, where Larry stayed after beating me like a drum in the simultaneous exhibition. At the conclusion of the last game Walter paid by dropping a wad of bills on the table before saying, “How can you be such a chumpy-lumpy at Chess and play Backgammon like that?”
Stuart Rachels (2485) vs Walter S Browne (2515)
Site: USA Date: ??/??/1992
ECO: B90 Sicilian, Najdorf
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.a4 Nc6 7.Be2 e5 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.f4 Qa5 10.O-O Be7 11.Kh1 Rb8 12.fxe5 dxe5 13.Bc4 O-O 14.Qe1 Qc7 15.a5 Ne8 16.Qg3 Bb4 17.Be3 Qe7 18.Bb6 Nd6 19.Bd3 Bxc3 20.bxc3 Nb5 21.Bc4 Be6 22.Qxe5 Rfe8 23.Bd3 f6 24.Qg3 c5 25.c4 Nd4 26.Qf2 Bf7 27.Rae1 Rbc8 28.c3 Nc6 29.Bxc5 Qd8 30.Bd4 Qxa5 31.c5 Ra8 32.e5 Qd8 33.exf6 Rxe1 34.Rxe1 Nxd4 35.cxd4 Qxf6 36.Qxf6 gxf6 37.Be4 Rd8 38.Rd1 Bb3 0-1
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.a4 (An uncommon move versus the Najdorf. It was SM Brian McCarthy’s favorite move versus the Najdorf. He called it the “Nuclear Attack.” Brian said, “Najdorf players want to play b5 but the Nuclear Attack stops then from playing it and they don’t know what to play!” The ChessBaseDataBase contains only 1795 games in which the game move has been played. There are almost 22000 games with the choice of Stockfish 15 @depth 75, 6 Be3. At depth 74 the move is 6 f3. There have been 3702 games with the move. There are more games being played than ever and many more examples of so-called “offbeat” opening moves than last century. I assume Stuart chose the move 6 a4 to get Walter out of book, because the Najdorf was Walter’s defense against 1 e4. The first choice of the Stockfish program at lichess.com, SF 14.1+NNUE these daze is 6 h3) 6…Nc6 (The most often played move has been 6…e5, but white has scored 59% against it; 6…e5 is the choice of Fritz @depth 36. SF 14.1 @depth 55 plays 6…g6, with white scoring 53%. Going two ply deeper the same program shows 6…e6, which has held white to only 50%, the same as the move chosen by Mr. Six-Time) 7.Be2 (Far and away the most often played move, but in 335 games it has scored only 49%. The choice of SF 15 is 7 Nxc6, which has scored 60% in a couple of dozen games) 7…e5 (Two of the three Fritz programs shown will play the game move; the other plays 7…g6. This sent me to the SF program at lichess.org, where 7…e6 is the preferred move) 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.f4 (The CBDB shows 36 games with the game move; 4 with 9 0-0. It also shows Houdini at a lower level and SF 12 @depth 35 playing 9 0-0, but going three fathoms deeper changes its whatever to 9 a5, which is what the Stockfish program used at lichess.org shows) 9…Qa5 (9…a5 is the choice of Deep Fritz 14 and just to make damn sure you know it, the move is given twice. It has been the most often played move with 15 games showing. SF 240921 @depth 45 will play 9…Rb8, which will, when played, be a TN) 10.O-O Be7 11.Kh1 (At the CBDB one sees Deep Fritz at a low level playing 11 Qe1, as does SF 221121 @depth 31. The ChessBaseDataBase also shows a Rbyka 2.3 (Rybka? Now that’s a blast from the past, is it not?) program @depth 10 (TEN?! Now we’re playing the Chessbase limbo…How low can we go?) will play 11 fxe5. That’s it for the antiquated CBDB. The Stockfish program at lichess.org shows Stuart’s move as best) 11…Rb8 (SF 14+NNUE will castle, and so should you…) 12.fxe5 dxe5 (SF 14+NNUE takes with the Queen)
Alexander Fishbein (2470) vs Helgi Olafsson (2575)
Event: New York op
Site: New York Date: ??/??/1990
ECO: B90 Sicilian, Najdorf
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.a4 Nc6 7.Be2 e5 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.f4 Qa5 10.O-O Be7 11.Qd3 O-O 12.Bd2 exf4 13.Rxf4 Qc7 14.a5 Nd7 15.Qg3 Bf6 16.Rf3 Be5 17.Qh4 Bd4+ 18.Kh1 Ne5 19.Rff1 Be6 20.Ra4 Qa7 21.Nd1 Ng6 22.Qh5 Rae8 23.c3 Be5 24.Be3 c5 25.b4 Rc8 26.Ra3 Qb7 27.bxc5 dxc5 28.Nf2 Rfd8 29.Qf3 c4 30.Bb6 Rd2 31.Rd1 Qd7 32.Raa1 Qd6 33.Qe3 Bf4 34.Rxd2 Qxd2 35.Qxd2 Bxd2 36.Bd4 Rb8 37.Rd1 Rb2 38.Bf3 f6 39.Ng4 Nh4 40.Ne3 Kf7 41.Bh5+ g6 42.Bf3 h5 43.Rg1 Nxf3 44.gxf3 Rb3 45.Nd1 Ra3 46.Rg2 Bf4 47.Bb6 h4 48.Rg1 h3 49.Rf1 Ke8 50.Kg1 Kd7 51.Bd4 Rxa5 52.Bxf6 Ra2 53.Nf2 a5 54.Bh4 a4 55.Bg3 Bxg3 56.hxg3 a3 57.Rc1 Rb2 58.Nd1 Rg2+ 59.Kf1 Rxg3 0-1
Javier Moreno Carnero (2490) vs Elisabeth Paehtz (2330)
Event: Dresden ZMD op
Site: Dresden Date: ??/??/2002
ECO: B90 Sicilian, Najdorf
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.a4 Nc6 7.Be2 e5 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.f4 Qa5 10.O-O Be7 11.Qe1 Be6 12.Kh1 h5 13.Bd2 Qb6 14.b3 a5 15.Rd1 Qc5 16.Bf3 Kf8 17.Qe3 Qxe3 18.Bxe3 g6 19.Bc1 exf4 20.Bxf4 Ne8 21.Bc1 g5 22.Be2 Kg7 23.Bd3 Bg4 24.Ne2 Bxe2 25.Bxe2 Nc7 26.Rf5 f6 27.Bb2 g4 28.Rdf1 Rh6 29.Bc4 h4 30.h3 gxh3 31.gxh3 Rg6 32.Be2 Ne6 33.Bg4 Nc5 34.Re1 Nd7 35.Rh5 Ne5 36.Bf5 Rg5 37.Rh7+ Kf8 38.Rg1 Nf7 39.Rxg5 fxg5 40.Be6 1-0