In the first round of the ongoing Nicosia FIDE Women’s Grand Prix 2023, Alexandra Kosteniuk
led the white army versus Zhongyi Tan,
who chose the Berlin Defense, which has a reputation for being a defense played with a view to making a draw. Former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov once said something about we “lesser players” not understanding the “subtleties” of the Berlin Defense. Garry obviously did not understand the subtlety of the opening in the game below:
When things got outta hand in Checkers because of the plethora of drawn games the openings known to be drawn were discarded, and later particular openings were assigned. How long before Chess players will follow in the Checkers footsteps?
In the second round game between Gunay Mammadzada (2449)
and Kateryna Lagno (2558)
the following position was reached in a game that featured the Berlin defense:
It should be more than a little obvious the way to win with the Berlin defense is to subtly bore your opponent for many hours until they finally blunder. Unless, that is, I am missing the more subtle aspects of the defense.
Yesterday Chessbase published, An interview with Andrzej Filipowicz,
a Polish chess polymath, by Uvencio Blanco (https://en.chessbase.com/post/andrzej-filipowicz-interview-uvencio-blanco). This is being mentioned because I faced IM Filipowicz in a USCF rated Chess tournament in 1980. The FIDE Congress was held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and there were many notable Chess players and notable personages here for that reason. Thad Rogers held a Chess tournament that weekend. In addition, there was a speed tournament organized. At that time “speed” meant five minute Chess, as in each player begins the game with only five minutes on the clock. My opponent in the first round of the knock-out tourney was the notorious Soviet Vice Chairman of the USSR Chess Federation, Victor Davydovich Baturinsky.
I have never been good at playing speed Chess. Give me just a little more time, like fifteen minutes, and the strength of my game increased exponentially, which is why I preferred the extra time. Baturinsky beat me like a drum. As if the ignominy of losing quickly was not enough, Baturinsky rubbed salt into the fresh wound by laughing prior to saying, “Americans cannot play Chess!”
“Oh yeah, fat man, have you ever heard of BOBBY FISCHER?!” I said. Baturinsky became LIVID! FIDE pooh-bahs came running, afraid of an international incident. After turning my back to Baturinsky and walking away, he began shouting something about the loser having to replace the pieces. I stopped, turned around, and said, “You replace them, fat man!” One of those who came running was IM Filipowicz.
In the aforementioned classical (which was forty moves in two hours ‘back in the day’) Chess tournament my first round opponent was IM Filipowicz, who had the white pieces. The game was a long, hard fought battle, agreed drawn on his offer many hours later. Much more time was spent analyzing the game with the gentleman.
The interview is excellent. What follows are excerpts from the interview. The first tells you much about the International Master.
Most experts consider that there are four megatrends: ICTs, biotechnology, nanotechnology and cognitive sciences. In your opinion, and being a person close to academia and technological practice, what links could we establish with some of them?
“I do not think I am an expert in the mentioned matters, so I would better not to comment it.”
Can you imagine Garry Kasparov giving that answer? The dude would pontificate at length for many hours, given the chance, because Garry considers himself an expert in EVERYTHING!
What is your opinion on the impact that Artificial Intelligence has had on chess in recent decades, and what do you see for the future?
“The development of computers has changed the chess world, but I doubt that is good for chess. The tradition of fifteen centuries is being destroyed. People are trying to find solutions using computers and Artificial Intelligence instead of developing their own minds.”
Who is the most intelligent chess character you have dealt with in your prolific life? Any particular anecdotes?
“I have met many interesting people in all these chess years, and it is very difficult to say, but I remember very well many discussions I had with Boris Spassky regarding the history of our two countries and, of course, also many chess problems.
As for the anecdotes, I really like the philosophy of the following anecdote: In a Polish city before the War, a master plays for stakes with a very weak player without the queen, but rarely wins. So seeing the tiredness of the rival, who only looks at his pieces, the master decides to keep the queen on the board. After a few moves, the opponent suddenly says, ‘Master, you didn’t remove the queen’. The master replied, ’I removed it’. ‘That’s where you got it from?’. ‘I promoted the pawn’. ‘But you have eight pawns. So please remove one!’.
Another one has to do with an arbiter’s experience. The arbiter was invited to referee a women’s tournament in the late 1940s. Around that time, they used rules from amateur chess. The level of the games was also not the highest. The arbiter suddenly saw that on one of the boards the king was under check by two knights…. As an experienced arbiter, he immediately left the room and went to the buffet. He calmly drank his coffee and returned to the hall. He saw that the mentioned game had finished and the lady attacking the opposite king with two knights had won the duel. He went to this board, explained that ‘someone’ told him that on this board Black’s king was checked by two knights. He began to ask both players why such a situation arose. The lady playing white explained: ‘Dear Mr. Arbiter, when I checked with one knight, my opponent sarcastically smiled and played the bishop, placing it quite decisively. The retort to such a dictum was to check the king with the second knight, but again there was no reaction, so I decided to capture the pawns on the queenside and … I won’.”
We are in a world where uncertainty, limits to freedom and climate change have taken over. In these conditions, what message would you give to the new generations of chess players?
“Unfortunately, I do not see the proper solution to the mentioned problems. I am convinced that chess players cannot change the basic rules and have to keep the tradition of our favorite game and play over-the-board games to see their opponents instead of the screen of the computer. Tradition is the future of chess!” https://en.chessbase.com/post/andrzej-filipowicz-interview-uvencio-blanco
I urge you to read the entire interview. Kudos to Chessbase for publishing an exceptionally good interview with one of the real gentlemen involved with the Royal Game!
Way back in 1997, the chess-playing computer Deep Blue beat human chess champion Garry Kasparov. The two adversaries had faced off in a six-game match the year before. The computer won the first game, but Kasparov won the contest. So IBM went back to work and upgraded Deep Blue.
When the time came for the rematch, Kasparov won the first game easily. And in the second game, he laid what he considered to be a foolproof trap for the computer — but the computer didn’t go for it. It made a completely unexpected move. That rattled Kasparov’s confidence, and he was confused even more when the computer’s next move was a really bad one. Kasparov was visibly frustrated, and eventually got up and left the stage, forfeiting the game. “I lost my fighting spirit,” he later said.
It turns out that that unexpected move by Deep Blue was probably due to a glitch in the software. It was faced with so many choices that it couldn’t decide which move to make, so it just picked a move at random. A later analysis shows that Kasparov could have played that game to a draw, but he had psyched himself out, convinced that the random move was a sign that Deep Blue had a long-term strategy that he, Kasparov, was unable to visualize. And in game six, with the match tied at two and a half games each, Kasparov misplayed his opening. Deep Blue took advantage and defeated him in 12 moves.
IBM’s work on Deep Blue led to the development of Watson, a computer that played against humans on the game show Jeopardy, and won. Deep Blue has retired and now lives in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. https://www.writersalmanac.org/index.html%3Fp=9985.html
Comp Deep Blue vs Garry Kasparov (2785) Event: New York man vs machine Site: New York Date: 05/11/1997 Round: 6 Score: 1-0 ECO: B17 Caro-Kann, Steinitz variation 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 e6 7.N1f3 h6 8.Nxe6 Qe7 9.O-O fxe6 10.Bg6+ Kd8 11.Bf4 b5 12.a4 Bb7 13.Re1 Nd5 14.Bg3 Kc8 15.axb5 cxb5 16.Qd3 Bc6 17.Bf5 exf5 18.Rxe7 Bxe7 19.c4 1-0 https://www.365chess.com/game.php?gid=1208181
Kasparov’s eight move, 8…Qe7, was the move that gave him a losing position according to the Stockfish program at lichess.com. Kasparov could have resigned right then and there, but continued to suffer torture because no Chess player wants to resign prior to hitting double digits on the game score. It was a pitiful game, one of the most ridiculous games played by Kasparov. I have always thought Kasparov intentionally tanked because it is the only thing that makes any sense.
The fourth chapter, in which the author rips FIDE a new one several times, is the best part of the book, and it is a chapter every person involved with the Royal Game should read. The chapter opens with this paragraph:
“Technically, of course, FIDE is not a word at all, but a French acronym-Federation Internationale des Echecs-and by titling this essay in the manner that I did, I have sportingly given its defenders the opportunity to launch a counter-attack by being able to point to a minor inaccuracy on my part. Because it does, of course, have defenders-everyone does. Hitler had his defenders. Pol Pot had his defenders. Vladimir Putin currently finds himself surrounded by hordes of sycophantic defenders-indeed, the current President of FIDE was one of his most loyal supporters for deacdes. But I am getting ahead of myself.”
Several paragraphs follow in which the author takes FIDE to task for holding a World Chess Championship, writing, “It could have, in short, done away with the entire antiquated “world champion” idea right from its very beginning-a notion which has done so much to emphatically hold chess back in its forward sporting progress and lies at the heart of so many of its current concerns. But it didn’t.”
I do not know about that, because things were different ‘back in the day’. Mr. Burton is writing about a time prior to when he was BORN, for crying out loud. Who knows where the Royal Game would be if there had been no World Champion. Things have changed drastically this century, so the writer may (does?) have a point about the current irrelevance of the title. But still, unless one was alive, and playing Chess at the time, one cannot imagine how the WORLD, and not just the “Chess World”, was captivated by the Fischer vs Spassky match. As many have written, “It put Chess on the map.”
The author continues, “Whatever the intentions might have been, shortly after its creation FIDE immediately plunged into the businesses of promoting Chess Olympiads and managing the chess world championships, with varying results.”
There follows a history of Chess which was interesting reading considering the writer is new to Chess and has no preconceived notions about the past. For example, the author first hits a forehand smash prior to a backhanded shot: “Max Euwe’s subsequent eight year term as president from 1970-78, meanwhile, represents the unequivocal apex of FIDE leadership-which is admittedly a bit like being the most tasteful hotel on the Las Vegas Strip-but still.”
That is followed by this: “And then things just got completely ridiculous.’ Campomanes, a former Philippine national champion, was FIDE president from 1982-1995, overseeing what was widely considered to be a period of unprecedented corruption.”
There is that word “C” word again, which seems to go hand in hand with anything written about the unctuous Campomanes.
Campo “was followed by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, FIDE president from 1995-2018 and president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia from 1993 to 2010. Ilyumzhinov has repeatedly claimed to have been abducted by aliens (“chess comes from space,” he adamantly maintains)…”
“Finally, Ilyumzhinov’s 23 year reign was followed in 2018 by the current FIDE president, Arkady Dvorkovich, an economist…”
“Despite having placed his demonstrably ambitious fingers in many pies throughout his life, Dvorkovich never seems to have manifested any particular interest in chess.”
Can you say, “Titular figurehead?” Campo was not the only FIDE president with greasy hands… How Chess has managed to succeed while being run by kooks and criminals is anybody’s guess. Then one reads this:
“Why on earth, you might be forgiven for interjecting at this point, is the international chess community so intent on portraying itself as such an irredeemable laughing stock? In a world replete with behind the scenes horse-trading and “gentleman’s agreements” that decide who should head global organizations, how can it be that the international chess federation, of all things, stands out as one of the most cavalierly corrupt of them all, nonchalantly lurching from one buffoon-like leadership situation to the next, decade after decade?
Well, because on the whole, nobody gives a damn.”
“And you can’t really blame them, of course. Concern that the world chess federation is so wantonly politicized and laughably incompetent is naturally going to fall exceptionally low on the global priority list, somewhere between cultural subsidies for korfball and doctoral scholarships in the philosophy of quantum theory. And the powers that be at FIDE-i.e. the Kremlin-are all too well aware of this.”
Then he unloads the other barrel:
“More significantly for our purposes, they are also well aware of the fact that the few people who do care about such issues-i.e. chess players-will not be able to do anything about it, given that, on the whole, chess players are, as a group, the most politically hopeless of all human beings.”
Why hold back when you are on a roll?
“Indeed, while I’ve long been convinced that becoming an excellent chess player is no more proof of superabundant intelligence than becoming an excellent pole vaulter, I’m beginning to suspect that chess players are somehow exceptionally disastrous to a statistically significant degree when it comes to appreciating matters of governance and social organization; and the better the chess player, on the whole, the more hopeless things are.”
“This is, I recognize, a curious sort of claim. Am I implying that those who become strong chess players are somehow a priori inclined towards such sociopolitical dysfunctionality? Or could it be that the very act of rigorously developing one’s chess skills produces a consequent inability in these domains-a sort of “inverse far transfer”?”
“I have no idea, and even less inclination to attempt to parse this particular correlation-causation conundrum. All I know is that the closer I examine the chess world, the more convinced I am that such a link exists.”
“Which brings me to Garry Kasparov.”
“By far the most dominant chess player of recent times, Kasparov’s remarkably long reign at the pinnacle of chess is second only to that of Emanuel Lasker. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest and most influential chess player in living memory, whose manifold contributions to chess, both over the board and through his extensive chess-related writings, are simply unparalleled.”
“And very much in keeping with the mooted correlation above, it turns out that his level of sociopolitical naivete and bombastic non-chess maladroitness is also unparalleled. Over the years Kasparov has vigorously portrayed himself as a knowledgeable spokesman for business leadership, historical scholarship, artificial intelligence, human rights, philanthropy, democracy and much more besides-the upshot of which goes a considerable distance towards convincing anyone with the slightest shred of genuine understanding of any of these issues that an essential requirement for elite chess dominance must be the ability to remove oneself, wholesale, from reality.”
Say what? After stickin’ and rippin’ the Royal Game to the point where there is blood all over the board (the tables, chairs, and floors) HB gives us “the bad news.” Which is:
“Nobody who is not directly competing in the Chess Olympiads knows or cares the slightest bit about them; and the world chess championships are a ridiculous anachronism that has well and truly outlived any possible value that it might have possessed. It’s very much time to grow up and move on from all of that.”
Indeed…why stop when you are on a roll?
“Let’s take the Chess Olympiads first. I have talked to enough professional chess players to know that these are unquestionably very popular events within the chess world, with many people spontaneously waxing on about the uniquely uplifting spirit of camaraderie that they’ve experienced while participating. But here’s the thing: if you want to make a living by pushing pieces of wood around a board, the only thing that matters is whether or not there are sufficient numbers of other people around who are willing to watch you do so, not how warm and fuzzy the experience makes you feel, or to what extent various self-important members of your national federation can take pleasure in schmoozing with you and your teammates.”
“This might well be, I appreciate, quite confusing to most modern-day professional players, many of whom-particularly women-have spent their lives feeling deeply beholden to the interests of their national federation. But it is long past time to wake up and smell the coffee: these federations are holding you back. Indeed, they are precisely the reason that FIDE has the “power” that it has at all.”
“So here, finally, is the good news-and to any chess-lover, from the Magnus Carlsen groupie to the would-be professional chess player, it is very good news indeed.”
“There is lots of money in chess. It has an enormously large international following and is poised to grow much, much more. And no, this is not because of Netflix or coronavirus pandemics or any of the nonsense that chess people are so often repeating to themselves, but because chess is one of the very few activities that can so easily and so naturally lend itself to modern communications technologies.”
“It’s not just that you can play chess online too-you can play backgammon online too-it’s that the rapid creation of a comprehensive online chess infrastructure has incomparably transformed the chess experience.”
There is a footnote, number 42, in which it is written: “I’m sorry to be picking so much on backgammon, and doubtless this will raise the hackles of any Pahlavi-speaking ancient Zoroastrians out there who are indignant that I am not being sufficiently respectful of its cosmological allegorical potential (which is certainly the case), but I can’t help feeling that it is a worthy point of comparison.”
The author continues: “Chess, through the internet, has come of age. It has not just “adjusted” to the new normal, or found a way to successfully harness the fruits of modern technology in order to better do what it was already doing: chess has been nothing less than comprehensively transformed by modern technology. And, needless to say, this state of affairs has absolutely nothing to do with anything that FIDE, or any national chess federation, has ever done.”
“So let me set the record straight. It is certainly true that devotees of chess have an alarming tendency to consistently make sweeping, rigidly hierarchical judgments about virtually all aspects of their fellow human beings based solely on their Elo rating, which I find particularly unpalatable. It is true, too, that they are particularly prone to confuse wishful thinking with actual evidence when it comes to anty chess-related issue, irrepressibly holding forth on how chess can cure ADHD and prevent Alzheimer’s in a way which seems to comprehensively annihilate any claim that acquiring chess competency is linked to the development of critical thinking skills. And it cannot be denied that chess players, even more than most of us, do not generally take kindly to having their flaws pointed out to them, and will reflexively resort to any criticism coming their way be promptly launching a bevy of ad hominem counter-attacks inevitably linked to the Elo rating of their perceived attacker (see above).”
“Yes, yes, yes,. But it is also most conspicuously the case that the chess world is peopled by an extremely large number of capable, passionately dedicated individuals who exhibit a deeply impressive sense of community spirit. I have never witnessed anything remotely like it.”
“You see it in the astonishing number of thoughtful, well-constructed, instructional chess videos on YouTube. (Footnote 74: In a world replete with “content creators” of every description, including thousands who post abominably-edited tutorial videos on how to edit videos, the chess word stands out as nothing less than a paragon of content excellence.) You see it in the spontaneous sharing of any and all chess-related resources. You see it on the thousands of chess newsgroups scattered throughout the internet. And you see it whenever you speak, as I have, to the many, many extremely kind and gracious people within the remarkably large and varied “chess ecosystem,” from chess teachers to chess organizers to the countless altruists using chess as an innovative means of personal empowerment and social change.”
“How such a uniquely supportive global environment could have possibly emerged from a frequently ego-destroying contest based on ancient Indian war practices is one of the world’s great mysteries. But emerge it most assuredly has.”
“Which makes it all the more exasperating when the likes of FIDE so blatantly hijack the interests of this extraordinary community while cynically purporting to serve its interests. Back in 1924, when FIDE adopted the motto Gens Una Sumus, it was likely an honest and accurate reflection of what those founders felt they were doing and on whose behalf they believed they were doing it. These days, however, it has an unquestionably Arbeit Macht Frei ring to it.”
“The key point, then, is that chess today is different-very, very different-from chess of 20 years ago. The rise of powerful, universally-available chess engines naturally represents one part of the transformation which has garnered the lion’s share of attention, but it is, in fact, a relatively minor part. By far the most dominant factor is that an extremely large and dedicated international community has emphatically embraced an entirely new communications technology that just happened to perfectly fit its needs.”
“Intriguingly, too, this has coherently played out in both a capitalist and non-for-profit context, with the rapid simultaneous development of the likes of chess.com and lichess.org. Both of these organizations, along with several more, are flourishing in the new age of chess. Both provide continually expanding, top-quality services to their loyal membership. And yet, business-wise, they are completely different: chess.com is unabashedly corporate, operating through advertising and paid subscriptions; lichess.org is unabashedly non-corporate, offering all of its content freely and with no advertising within an avowedly open-source framework while being supported through volunteer donations. In any other domain, the rivalry would be tense, cutthroat even. In the chess world, however, they exist together relatively harmoniously, with significant overlap in their international user base.”
“I have no idea to what extent the business ecosystem of online chess is a harbinger of things to come or a temporary aberration, but it is, most assuredly, quite different.”
“And the difference, I’m convinced, can be traced back to the uniqueness of the global chess community itself-and in particular its passion.”
“Passion is he vital common denominator throughout the international chess community, the secret sauce that has ripples through everyone, from the novice unexpectedly finding herself hooked on the game to the spontaneous panegyrics of the ageless Bruce Pandolfini, expounding upon the unparalleled beauty of Morphy’s “Opera Game.”
The review concludes with this: “In order to build a steady following, it’s important to create a full contextual environment for fans to follow along with the sport. If I’m a fan of major league baseball, for example, I know from the first days of spring training that the regular season consists of 162 games, and that my team has a good chance of making it to the postseason if it wins 90 of those games, while it will almost certainly make it if it wins 95. And if I’m a tennis fan, I know which tournaments count the most, both in terms of prestige and associated ranking points; and I can confidently tell you at any given moment who is the tenth best player in the world and who is #1.By following a particular sport, in other words, I’m doing much more than simply watching a ball being struck or people running around: I am entering a world.”
“Now consider chess. Suppose I want a clear sense of which players are ranked fifth and sixth in the world respectively and why. It’s far from clear.”
“What about which tournaments I should pay the most attention to? If I follow men’s chess, the situation seems to change almost hourly, presumably depending on whatever shady backroom deal happened to be agreed upon at some mediocre, overpriced Swiss tournament, (Footnote 54: It’s true: I don’t like Switzerland. I could tell you why, but this essay is long enough already. Instead, let’s just ask why Kirill Alekseenko officially the world’s #39 player, was involved in the 2020 Candidates Tournament? The answer, I’m afraid, is simply because he’s Russian.) while if I try to follow women’s chess, it’s somehow even worse. That’s no way to run a bingo parlor, let alone a sport with such tremendous international potential.”
“So why are things so terrible? Why, notwithstanding the outstanding global penetration of a tradition-rich, highly engaging activity that is passionately endorsed by millions of dedicated and capable people-and moreover, just so happens to fit perfectly within the modern technological sporting entertainment paradigm-is there simply nothing to hang on to for the incoming fan: no program, no schedule, no context whatsoever?”
“Well, because of FIDE, of course. Rather than letting someone both appropriate and competent run things, FIDE has customarily opted to “take control” of professional chess competitions in its inimitably corrupt, antediluvian fashion, thereby ensuring the continual repulsion of any would-be professional chess fan.”
“Not so!” protest the indignant FIDEstas. “There’s a wonderful international sporting culture associated with chess: there’s the World Championship and the Olympiads, both of which we run!”
“Well, that’s exactly my point.”
Whew…was that something, or what?What can I say? The Dude has a point.
Although there is much more, far much more, such as the last four chapters: 5. Watch Her Play; 6. Far Transfer; 7. Farther Transfer; and 8. Farthest Transfer, about which to write, the fact is that I have written enough for you to have a clue about the book, and therefore must truncate the review, and let you enjoy the latter chapters.
Driven By Curiosity
Howard Burton is a documentary filmmaker and author. He is also the founder of the award-winning multimedia initiative Ideas Roadshow and the editor of 120 books that are part of the Ideas Roadshow Conversations and Collections series. Howard holds a PhD in theoretical physics and an MA in philosophy and was the Founding Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. He lives in France. (https://howardburton.com/)
Todaze focus is on the sixth move of f4 versus the venerable Najdorf Sicilian. There are six thousand games contained in the 365Chess.com database with the move, about half the number of the previous post, which focused on 6 Bc4. The next move according to the numbers, 6 f3, began this series because it is the choice of the Stockfish program utilized at “the reason for the internet,” at least as far a Chess is concerned, lichess.com. The 365Chess.com database shows over five thousand games with 6 f3, but that is heading upward since it is the choice of the Fish.
Garry Kasparov: Carlsen’s behavior was unacceptable
By nikita Posted on September 29, 2022
Garry Kasparov again spoke about the controversy that hit the chess world in the interview with Carl Fredrik Johansson from Uppsala Chess+ Academy, saying that Carlsen’s behavior was unacceptable. Speaking about Carlsen’s decision to withdraw from the World Chess Championship, Kasparov explained: “I was surprised by his decision to walk away, but I understand the pressure that was on him. I understand the motivation. It’s really tough to play tournaments and matches for years and years; anything but winning is a disaster. It’s tremendous pressure. He probably got tired“.
Talking about the happenings related to the Carlsen – Niemann case and the game in which Niemann defeated Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup, Kasparov said: “I was in Saint Louis. I spoke to people who were involved directly in this case. I don’t see an evidence that could be convincing (…) I understand his frustration, but leaving the tournament is unacceptable. Even if he had proof, but there was no proof, there is zero evidence (of cheating) in that specific game. It was really bad for chess. It was bad for Saint Louis. This was one of the most important tournaments, if not the most important tournament in the world of chess. And I think that his behavior was unacceptable“. (https://www.chessdom.com/garry-kasparov-carlsens-behavior-was-unacceptable/)
A new article inspired by the Cheating Scandal appeared today in The Atlantic magazine and it is an excellent article. Excerpts follow:
Chess Is Just Poker Now
A cheating controversy involving two grandmasters shows how computers have transformed the game.
By Matteo Wong September 17, 2022
It was as if a bottom seed had knocked out the top team in March Madness: At the Sinquefield Cup chess tournament in St. Louis earlier this month, an upstart American teenager named Hans Niemann
snapped the 53-game unbeaten streak of world champion Magnus Carlsen,
perhaps the game’s best player of all time. But the real uproar came the following day, when Carlsen posted a cryptic tweet announcing his withdrawal that included a meme video stating, “If I speak I am in big trouble.” The king appeared to have leveled an unspoken accusation of cheating—and the chess world, in turn, exploded.
Some of the biggest names in chess launched attacks on Niemann in the subsequent days, while others rushed to defend him. No concrete evidence of cheating has emerged, and the 19-year-old grandmaster vehemently denied accusations of misconduct in St. Louis, vowing to an interviewer that he has never cheated in an over-the-board game and has learned from prior mistakes.
Whatever really happened here, everyone agrees that for Niemann, or anyone else, to cheat at chess in 2022 would be conceptually simple. In the past 15 years, widely available AI software packages, known as “chess engines,” have been developed to the point where they can easily demolish the world’s best chess players—so all a cheater has to do to win is figure out a way to channel a machine’s advice. That’s not the only way that computers have recently reshaped the landscape of a 1,500-year-old sport. Human players, whether novices or grandmasters, now find inspiration in the outputs of these engines, and they train themselves by memorizing computer moves. In other words, chess engines have redefined creativity in chess, leading to a situation where the game’s top players can no longer get away with simply playing the strongest chess they can, but must also engage in subterfuge, misdirection, and other psychological techniques. In that sense, the recent cheating scandal only shows the darker side of what chess slowly has become.
The computer takeover of chess occurred, at least in the popular imagination, 25 years ago, when the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue defeated world champion Garry Kasparov.
Newsrooms at the time declared the match a “Greek tragedy,” in which a silicon “hand of God” had squashed humanity. Yet 1997, despite its cultural resonance, was not really an inflection point for chess. Deep Blue, a nearly 3,000-pound, one-of-a-kind supercomputer, could hardly change the game by itself. Its genius seemed reliant on then-unthinkable processing power and the grandmasters who had advised in its creation, to the point where Kasparov, after losing, could accuse IBM of having cheated by supplying the machine with human assistance—a dynamic that today’s accusations of foul play have reversed.
As engines became widespread, the game shifted. Elite chess has always involved rote learning, but “the amount of stuff you need to prepare, the amount of stuff you need to remember, has just exploded,” Sadler said. Engines can calculate positions far more accurately and rapidly than humans, so there’s more material to be studied than ever before. What once seemed magical became calculable; where one could rely on intuition came to require rigorous memorization and training with a machine. Chess, once poetic and philosophical, was acquiring elements of a spelling bee: a battle of preparation, a measure of hours invested. “The thrill used to be about using your mind creatively and working out unique and difficult solutions to strategical problems,” the grandmaster Wesley So, the fifth-ranked player in the world, told me via email. “Not testing each other to see who has the better memorization plan.”
To understand just how superior machines have become, consider chess’s “Elo” rating system, which compares players’ relative strength and was devised by a Hungarian American physicist. The highest-ever human rating, achieved by Carlsen twice over the past decade, was 2882. DeepBlue’s Elo rating was 2853. A chess engine called Rybka was the first to reach 3000 points, in 2007; and today’s most powerful program, Stockfish, currently has more than 3500 Elo points by conservative estimates. That means Stockfish has about a 98 percent probability of beating Carlsen in a match and, per one estimate, a 2 percent chance of drawing. (An outright victory for Carlsen would be almost impossible.)
Yet if computers set the gold standard of play, and top players can only try to mimic them, then it’s not clear what, exactly, humans are creating. “Due to the predominance of engine use today,” the grandmaster So explained, “we are being encouraged to halt all creative thought and play like mechanical bots. It’s so boring. So beneath us.” And if elite players stand no chance against machines, instead settling for outsmarting their human opponents by playing subtle, unexpected, or suboptimal moves that weaponize “human frailty,” then modern-era chess looks more and more like a game of psychological warfare: not so much a spelling bee as a round of poker.
In that context, cheating scandals may be nothing less than a natural step in chess’s evolution. Poker, after all, has been rocked by allegations of foul play for years, including cases where players are accused of getting help from artificial intelligence. When the highest form of creativity is outfoxing your opponent—as has always been true of poker—breaking rules seems only natural.
From prodigy to champion, Stuart Rachels was the best Alabama saw in chess
by: Tanner Brooks
Posted: Sep 17, 2021 / 10:56 AM CDT
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — There was a time when Stuart Rachels seemed to have a bright future in chess. Rachels, a philosophy professor at the University of Alabama, was a chess prodigy who had become the youngest U.S. chess master in history by the time he was 11-years-old. By 1990, he was co-champion of the U.S. Chess Championship and had already played some of the best players in the world. That all changed in 1993, when Rachels decided to walk away from chess.
‘Kids didn’t play chess’
Rachels recalled one of his earliest chess memories in 1977, when he was 7 years old. “I remember trying to capture the queen of one of my father’s graduate students — his name was Greg — by moving a pawn backwards,” Rachels said in an email correspondence with CBS 42. “I was pretty irritated when he made me give him his queen back.” By the time he was 9, Rachels was constantly playing at the Birmingham Chess Club and rapidly improving. “I never played kids when I was a kid, I only played adults,” Rachels said. “Kids didn’t play chess.”
Rachels’ family did everything they could to support him. His father, UAB philosophy professor James Rachels, organized chess tournaments in Birmingham and gave him the means to improve his game, including books, magazines and, later, a trainer.However, Rachels said they never put any pressure on him to play. “A good player will put pressure on himself; extra pressure will only give him stomach aches,” he said. “A kid who isn’t self-motivated doesn’t have what it takes, and parents who try to provide motivation from the outside are only being bad parents.”
In 1981, Rachels became the youngest chess master in American history, beating the record previously held by chess icon Bobby Fischer. Rachels was 11 years and 10 months when he broke Fischer’s record. He remained the youngest U.S. chess master until 1994, when it was broken by Jordy Mont-Reynaud.
Rachels credits Kyle Therrell, a player from Fairfield, and trainer Boris Kogan with his early success. “Without them, forget it, I never would have become good,” Rachels said. “It’s not something you can do on your own, with just books and magazines.”
Early on, Rachels had the opportunity to play against both former and future world chess champions. He lost twice against Garry Kasparov, often referred to as the greatest chess player in history, and he lost to Boris Spassky, Fischer’s opponent in what is considered the “Match of the Century,” the 1972 World Chess Championship. Rachels also drew against future five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand. Rachels described each experience with one word. “Kasparov: Exciting. Spassky: Terrifying. Anand: Exhilarating,” he said.
Rachels faced Spassky in the 1985 U.S. Open in Hollywood, Florida. In his book, “The Best I Saw in Chess,” Rachels recalled Spassky walking over to Kogan to ask why he was so nervous. By the time Rachels collected himself, it was too late: Spassky had out-maneuvered him. When Rachels resigned, the spectators applauded. “I joined in, remembering Spassky’s sportsmanlike applause for Fischer when Fischer took the lead against him in Iceland,” Rachels wrote in his book.
Rachels went on to become U.S. co-champion in the 1989 tournament, sharing the title with grandmasters Roman Dzindzichashvili and Yasser Seirawan.
In 1993, Rachels retired from competitive chess, calling it a “whole-life decision.”
“I wasn’t good enough to compete for the world championship,” he said. “In 1993, the life of your average chess professional in the United States was pretty depressing: very little money, a lot of traveling, an all-male culture, no health insurance, no respect from the general public, etc. A lot of professional players moved to Europe, which I didn’t want to do.”
Rachels said his life didn’t change that much after he retired, gradually weaning himself from the game to focus more on his graduate studies of philosophy. “The main change was not traveling to tournaments in the summer,” he said. “Also, I could stop worrying about how to fix problems in my opening repertoire.”
In his father’s footsteps
Even before stepping away from chess, Rachels took a keen interest in philosophy, something of a family business in the Rachels’ household. His father, James, was a moral philosopher and professor at UAB. His 1971 anthology, “Moral Problems,” shifted colleges from teaching meta-ethics to teaching concrete practical issues. “When people know my father as a philosopher, I say, ‘He was an even better father,’” Rachels said.
Rachels remembers spending a good chunk of his teenage years pestering his father with philosophical questions after he would come home from work. “He was my Boris Kogan in the realm of philosophy. I knew, even back then, how lucky I was, but I know this even better now,” said Rachels.
In addition to his father, Rachels credits people like Donald Rutherford and Robert McCauley from Emory University and Derek Parfit from Oxford University as some influences.
There was one year of graduate school that Rachels was so consumed by philosophy that he let his subscription to his favorite chess magazine lapse. But that was only for a year. Rachels said that he was consumed by chess and by philosophy, but was primarily a student first and a chess player in his spare time. “Even people who have always known me are surprised when I remind them that I never took any time off from school in order to play chess,” Rachels said.
Rachels now teaches philosophy at the University of Alabama as an associate professor specializing in ethical theory.
Returning to the game
Back in June, nearly 30 years after retiring from competitive chess, Rachels took part in the 2021 Alabama Blitz Championship and the 2021 Alabama Quick Championship in Montgomery. Rachels won all of his games to sweep the Alabama Blitz Championship. With all wins and a draw, he pulled out on top in the Alabama Quick Championship as well.
reigning Alabama State Chess Champion and editor for the Alabama Chess Antics magazine, said he always heard older players talk about Rachels with a sense of awe, but he had never had the chance to play him. With Rachels returning, Varagona was not going to miss the opportunity. “For him to resurface after all these years, and for me to finally get to face him in a serious tournament, was a big deal for me. After all, he was Alabama’s strongest player of the 20th century,” said Varagona. “Even though he hadn’t played competitive chess for over 25 years, whereas I was the reigning Alabama State Champion, he beat me very badly! I was impressed.” Varagona said he was too nervous and starstruck against Rachels to play at his best, but believes he would do better if he got another chance to play him.
Rachels said that going back to those tournaments after years away was like sticking his toes in the water. “For me, it was ‘sort of’ like playing in a real tournament. I didn’t consider it ‘fully real’ because the time control was accelerated, we weren’t keeping score, and it didn’t affect my classical rating,” he said. “But I enjoyed it, and I was relieved to discover that I can still push pawns okay.” When asked if he will pursue more competitions or potentially seek attaining the coveted Grandmaster title, Rachels said he will probably play more. “It’s a slow process,” he said. “I doubt I will play again seriously enough to pursue the GM title, but who knows.”
Larger than life
Rachels said that today, things are different for professional players in the United States. While he still believes it to be an odd life, players can make a living on social media platforms, like Twitch, where they can livestream games to subscribers. “The internet brings grandmasters into everyone’s living room,” Rachels said, “or, indeed, everyone’s pocket.” Over the last few years, there has been a boom in the game with more people learning chess for the first time, most notably following the popularity of the Netflix miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit.” According to The New York Times, sales of chess sets in the United States rose by around 125% since the show first premiered.
Rachels said he was thrilled to see how popular the game is continuing to be. “I wish people would power down their screens and get out and play more in-person, that would make me even happier. It’s better for the culture to be in-person,” Rachels said. “Interest in chess also surged in 1972 when Bobby Fischer became world champion. This surge feels more real to me, though, because in 1972, it was about Fischer himself, and so when Fischer quit, people lost interest in chess. Now, however, it’s about people actually playing.” Last week, Rachels was inducted into the first class of the Alabama Chess Hall of Fame.
a prominent player and figure in the Alabama chess community, played Rachels a handful of times over 30 years ago. While he wasn’t able to make Rachels’ comeback tournament, Melvin was surprised that he actually participated. “Stuart’s impact on chess is simply as the greatest talent to come out of Alabama,” Melvin said. “His star was bright, but he quit chess at such an early age. He has explained his reasoning with me many times, but I still don’t understand.”
Varagona echoed Melvin, saying that Rachels proved that an Alabama player could reach the pinnacle of chess in the nation, something no Alabama player has come close to achieving since. “There have been many great Alabama chess legends — but then there is Stuart Rachels. Stuart is larger than life.”
MOLOKOV: How straightforward the game When one has trust in one’s player And how great the relief Working for one who believes in Loyalty, heritage, true to his kind come what may
THE AMERICAN: Though it gives me no joy Adding to your satisfaction You can safely assume Your late unlamented employee Knows if he wins then the only thing won is the chess
MOLOKOV: It’s the weak who accept Tawdry untruths about freedom Prostituting themselves Chasing a spurious starlight Trinkets in airports sufficient to lead them astray
FLORENCE: Does the player exist In any human endeavour Who’s been know to resist Sirens of fame and possessions? They will destroy you, not rivals, not age, not success
THE RUSSIAN: They all think they see a man Who doesn’t know Which move to make Which way to go Whose private life Caused his decline Wrecked his grand design Some are vicious, some are fools And others blind To see in me One of their kind Anyone can be A husband, lover Sooner them than me When they discover Their domestic bliss is Shelter for their failing Nothing could be worse Than self-denial Having to rehearse The endless trial Of a partner’s rather sad Demands prevailing
SVETLANA: As you watch yourself caring About a minor sporting triumph, sharing Your win with esoterics, Paranoids, hysterics Who don’t pay any attention to What goes on around them They leave the ones they love the way they found them A normal person must Dismiss you with disgust And weep for those who trusted you
THE RUSSIAN: Nothing you have said Is revelation Take my blues as read My consolation — Finding out at last my one true obligation
SVETLANA & CROWD: Listen to them shout! They saw you do it In their minds no doubt That you’ve been through it Suffered for your art but In the end a winner Who could not be stirred? Such dedication We have never heard Such an ovation Skill and guts a model For the young beginner They’re completely enchanted But they don’t take your qualities for granted It isn’t very often That the critics soften Nonetheless you’ve won their hearts How can we begin to Appreciate the work that you’ve put into Your calling through the years The blood, the sweat and tears, the Late late nights, the early starts There they go again! Your deeds inflame them Drive them wild, but then Who wants to tame them? If they want a part of you Who’d really blame them?
THE RUSSIAN: And so you’re letting me know
SVETLANA: For you’re the only one who’s never suffered anything at all
THE RUSSIAN: How you’ve hated my success
SVETLANA: Well I won’t crawl And you can slink back to your pawns and to your tarts
THE RUSSIAN: And every poisoned word shows that you never understood Never!
BOTH: Nothing you have said Is revelation Take my blues as read My consolation
SVETLANA: Finding out that I’m my only obligation
THE RUSSIAN: Is there no-one in my life Who will not claim The right to steal My work, my name My success, my fame And my freedom? Last Update: April, 14th 2015
This is a magnificent book. I recall an actor once saying that although winning an Oscar meant something in the business what mattered was who garnered the most nominations. This book will surely be on every voters short list for the best book of the year award.
The book begins: Foreword to the English Edition: Chess in the Context of Time
Sergey Voronkov edited the Russian edition of My Great Predecessors; maybe that’s what gave him the idea of creating his own huge project, Masterpieces and Dramas of the Soviet Championships. I wanted to show the historical development of modern chess through analyzing the games of world champions and those who got close the their level. He is trying to write the history of the Soviet chess school through the prism of the Soviet championships. Over the years that have passed since his first book, David Janowski (with Dimitry Plisetsky, published in Russian in 1987), Sergey has grown into a top Russian chess historian. Small wonder” he worked with Yuri Lvovich Averbakh
for a number of years and classes him as his teacher. And then Sergey gained experience of chess analysis when working with David Bronstein on their book Secret Notes.
As in his other books, Masterpieces and Dramas of the Soviet Championships is based on documents” periodicals, tournament bulletins, games collections, eyewitness accounts… And, as a classic said, “analysis of what’s happening in the world based on documentary evidence is a thousand times more demonstrative than any dramatization of this world.” Another attractive feature of this book is the great game selection. I know from experience how difficult and laborious this task is: to choose, out of hundreds of worthy games, the most wholesome and beautiful, the most important for each championship, and to demonstrate the development of chess as a whole. In this sense, the idea of combining “masterpieces” with “dramas” was very clever, allowing him to include a number of historically valuable games that influenced the course of tournaments in crucial ways. Most of the games were annotated by the players themselves. On the one hand, this makes the author’s job easier, but on the other hand, it becomes more challenging ethically. There are quite a few erroneous lines and evaluations in the original annotations, which necessitates computer evaluation. But if we point out all the errors and inaccuracies, this might ruin the notes themselves, and give readers the wrong idea about the master’ playing strength and analytical skills. These days, you immediately get to see any error on the screen, but back then the analysis of a game required blood, sweat and tears… And what to do with the opening recommendations, oftentimes very obsolete? To throw them away entirely is to break the linkage of time, to dilute the development of opening thought, deprive it of its roots, and devalue the work of our predecessors. But if we don’t challenge the archaic recommendations at all, the opening part of the games will become essentially useless for modern players… It’s hard to find the right balance between the analytical facts and historical truth. The author was helped by chess master Dmitry Plisetsky, who helped me to write My Great Predecessors. So, you can be sure that the chess part of Sergey’s book is high-quality as well. Trying to shoulder alone such a burden as the history of the Soviet chess school is a heroic act. Sergey has already published three volumes in Russian that encompass 20 championships (1920-1953). 38 more are ahead… Will he manage to complete his project? Each championship requires meticulous work. I can only imagine how many tons of chess and literary “ore” the author had to dig through, how much information he had to interpret and structure to create a seamless picture of the first ten championships! Despite its academic adherence to documents, this book virtually resembles a novel: with a mystery plot, protagonists and supporting cast, sudden denouements and even “author’s digressions” – or, to be exact, introductions to the championships themselves, which constitute important parts of this book as well. These introductions, with wide and precise strokes, paint the portrait of the initial post-revolutionary era, heroic and horrific at the same time. I’ve always said that chess is a microcosm of society. Showing chess in the context of time is what makes this book valuable even beyond the purely analytical point of view.
Gary Kasparov New York, July 2020
Where does a reviewer begin after the forward by former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov? This was a major problem when trying to write this review. After the forward almost everything I added seemed superfluous. The author seemed to be in a quandary as well as he writes, “I hope that David Ionovich would have liked this book,” followed by, “I think the only thing Bronstein wouldn’t have approved of is computer analysis of the games.” Gone are the days when we mortals would spend time analyzing and dissecting our own games and the games of the Grandmasters. The top players were human and made mistakes. How wonderful it seemed when one found a better move, and others agreed! That does not happen today because players resort to the oracle called Stockfish, which has become the be all and possibly the end all of Chess. Something has been gained, but something greater has been lost…As the author writes in the following introduction, the book is, “…first and foremost about people.” Unfortunately, the computer Chess programs have eliminated the human element from the game.
Introduction: Through the Lava of Time
“In Russia, when you talk about history, you are always alluding to current times, while a historian is a prophet who predicts retrospectively.” – Dmitry Bykov, Boris Pasternak
It’s such a pity that David Ionovich Bronstein
won’t see this book. His ideas demonstrated an amazing ability to grow through the lava of time. I hope that David Ionovich would have liked this book. It’s first and foremost about people, whereas the “Soviet Chess School” is a secondary topic: this wasn’t a conscious decision – it’s simply because in chess, as in life, I was always more interested in individual people that in abstract chimeras of “schools” or trends”. My articles, fully based on documentary sources, were criticized because I dared to state my won opinion, even though “a chronicler should be above the fray.” Please don’t get confused: I’m not a chronicler, my genre is closer to a documentary movie. And as Mikhail Romm, creator of Triumph Over Violence, once said, “A documentary is a peculiar form of auteur cinema.”
I think the only thing Bronstein wouldn’t have approved of is computer analysis of the games. But what else could I do: Of course, if he was still around, as in the wonderful times when working on David Versus Goliath (The Russian name of our book, Secret Notes), I wouldn’t have even thought about it. Back then, we decided to calculate all lines purely with our human brains, but.. David was the only one who could do that! The modern Goliaths of machine analysis have probably already forgotten the delights of that multiple – hour search for the truth, and just how exciting it is to slowly push around the ordinary wooden pieces on an ordinary wooden board…
So begins the introduction by Sergey Voronkov, written in Moscow in March of 2007.
Now that you have been introduced, the book consists of ten chapters, one for each of the first ten Soviet Chess Championships.This review will focus only on the first.
A Chess feast During the Plague: All-Russian Chess Olympiad: Moscow, 4th – 24th October 1920:
“Let’s light the lamps, let’s pour the drinks, Let’s drown our sorrows in the kegs, Let’s feast, and dance, and do all things, To praise the kingdom of the Plague” Alexander Pushkin, Feast During the Plague
Just like any truly great undertaking – and the Soviet Chess Championships are a phenomenon of planetary scale – this one owes its existence to a random, almost trifling coincidence. Had the Leninist revolutionary Ilyin-Shenevsky not been a passionate chess fan, who know how many years would have passed before the Bolsheviks took note of the “royal game”. Really, can you call that anything but a miracle? The Russian Civil War is still raging in the outskirts of the country, devastation and hunger are rampant, conspiracies abound, the Red Terror is in full swing – and then, suddenly, there’s an All-Russian Chess Olympiad! How could such a thing have happened in 1920? Oh, this was such an unbelievable chain of coincidences that it might really make you believe in an old adage: any random occurrence is actually a manifestation of some unknown pattern. It all began when Alexander Fyodorovich Ilyin-Zhenevsky… well, we can let him speak for himself.
Ilyin-Zhenevsky: “In early 1920, I got a job in the head office of the Vsevobuch (Universal Military Training) and was soon promoted to commissar. I worked together with great physical education specialist to develop pre-conscription training programs for workers, and I suggested including chess training in these programs… The main value of sports, they said, was that it developed qualities that were very important for a soldier. I thought that this was true for chess as well. Chess training often develops the same qualities in people as any other sport training – bravery, resourcefulness, composure, willpower – and also, unlike sport, it develops strategic skills. My suggestion was accepted and approved by the chairman of Vsevobuch, Comrade N. I. Podvoisky. Soon after, all regional Vsevobuch heads received a decree to cultivate chess and organize chess circles…” (From the book Memoirs of a Soviet Master) There is a note here: The full bibliography is included at the end of the book.
Future World Chess Champion Alexander Alekhine had this to say about how the Soviet era in Chess came about: “The Moscow chess players, moving from place to place, despite the fuel crisis and many other insurmountable obstacles, managed to survive until 1919, and the, one of the most influential members of the Soviet government appeared on the horizon. And even thought he was the brother of the even more famous Raskolnikov, the leader of the sailors, he had a different pseudonym, Ilyin-Zhenevsky (from the city of Geneva). He was a decent player and a fervent chess enthusiast, and his authority, both as Raskolnikov’s brother and his position as the Vsevobuch head commissar, was instrumental in making the Red government drastically change its attitude towards the ‘royal game’. In their eyes, chess turned from “bourgeois leisure” into a “high and useful art that develops the intellectual strength of the growing generation” (a quote from the resolution of the Moscow region Vsevobuch officials’ convention, which took place in April 1920). Because of this change of stance, Moscow chess players were suddenly treated to a real cornucopia. Above all, they were allocated excellent six-room premises in the Vsevobuch Central Military Sport Club; the Moscow Chess Club was officially turned into a “department” of that institution. Also, they received funding of 100,000 rubles (which had a purchasing power of 1 million rubles now!) to organize serious tournaments. And, finally and most importantly, they got to organize the “All-Russian Chess Olympiad”, which was held in October 1920.” (from the book Chess in theSoviet Union by A. von Alekhine, originally published in the German language in Berlin, 1921.)
Who was Alexander Ilyin-Zhenevsky, the man responsible for your reading this review, and hopefully, the book?
Ilyin-Zhenevsky’s authority was so great that chess players referred to him as “our president”. The Leningrad master Andrei Batuev was a schoolboy back then and first saw Alexander Fyodorovich later, but he may as well have been referring to the 26 year-old Vsevobuch commissar: “He was incredibly handsome and unique man, with blue eyes, delicate, a girl-like blush and curly auburn hair. He was shell-shocked in the war and made funny grimaces, turning his head to the side and smacking his trembling lips. Interestingly enough, Ilyin-Zhenevsky lost his memory after a contusion, and he had to relearn chess from scratch,” (Neva No. 9, 1984)
The Winners and the Prizes
From the press: “Most of the participants of the main event played after a long hiatus, and so couldn’t fully demonstrate their skills on the chess battlefield. Without a doubt, Alekhine didn’t play his best, and managed to win only with a great effort and good shard of luck. By contrast, Levenfish, who played better than everyone else, took only third place because at the very beginning of the tournament, when he hadn’t hit his stride yet, he drew and even lost some games despite having completely won positions…Romanovsky played unexpectedly well, taking second place, ahead of three maestros.” (Listok Petrogubkommuny, 8th May 1921.
The comment about Alekhine is quite remarkable! As you might see, the opinion that he “effortlessly” and “brilliantly” won first prize only took hold years later, not immediately. I initially blamed his biographers, Vasily Panov
and Alexander Kotov,
but then I found the original source – Levenfish’s words in 1925: “Alekhine won the 1920 Olympiad without any effort.” Yes, if we look into the table, such an evaluation looks pretty convincing. But an analysis of Alekhine’s games (even though only ten of them survived) shows that the victory indeed didn’t come easy to him. Years later, Zubarev wrote about that, too: “The tournament ended with Alekhine’s victory, however, this win wasn’t completely overwhelming. Alekhine played with great strain, but despite that, he still had lost positions in several games, and Blumenfeld agreed to a draw with him despite having an obvious win.” (Shakhmaty v SSSR(itl), No. 11-12, 1937.)
However, we shouldn’t take the Listok’s words at face value, either: as it soon (in No. 9) became known, there was a conflict of interest, since the magazine’s editorial board included both Levenfish and Romanovsky. In this context, the remark about “Levenfish, who played better than everyone else” look kind of improper… I’ll finish the introduction of the winner with a quote from a humorous poem about the Olympiad, written by a Moscow chess player Boris Grigoriev, well-known in his time. The poem is certainly not a masterpiece, but Alekhine’s image is so different from the generally accepted one (“even though he doesn’t create his own plan…”) that this alone redeems all technical flaws. As the years go by, accounts about people written before they became famous geniuses and everyone started writing about them with reverence, become increasingly valuable.
Alekhine is our grandmaster. Want to introduce him? What for? The fame is like glue. If it sticks to you, you can’t get it off. He doesn’t need recommendations From anyone,And the prize – a bundle of money – He said himself, “I’ll take it!” So, what’s your opinion About his creativity? The general consensus Is currently this: Even though he doesn’t create His own plan, And only searches for flaws, You should beware if he finds one… He drills into your weakness, He hits you like a hammer! He’ll beat your pieces into a pulp, Nobody can survive that! He is also able To catch the thread of play And then think intently On further developments… He’s a demon of destruction, A very dangerous microbe Of decay and dissolution, And this is not slander! His openings are shaky (The theory is strict!), But as soon as you make a smallest mistake, Woe is you!
There is a footnote here: The original rhymed
Let’s begin with the most dramatic game of the entire Olympiad. It was played at the very start, but its result ultimately determined the final standings and brought the master’s title to Peter Romanovsky. Still, years later, he would write, “This accidental victory did not make me happy. I realized that this tournament would be a hard test for me.”
vs Grigory Levenfish
Moscow 1920, round 1 Annotated byG. Levenfish
33…Qxa2. 33…Qd8 34.Qa6! Qg8 35.e5 (35.Qxc6+ Kd8!) 35…Qg4+ 36.Ke4 Qg6+ 37.Kf3 Rxh2 or 37…Qxb1 won as well. While my opponent thought over his move, I took a walk. Alekhine walked around the hall, too. He looked at my game, and then, walking beside me, said, “Aha, so you’re preparing mate on g2!” 34.e4 Romanovsky clearly saw the rook sacrifice. For instance, 34.Ra3 is met with 34…Rg3+ 35.hxge Qg2+ 36.Kg4 Rd8 37.Bg1 Rh8 38.Rxa7 Rh4# (37.f5 Rg8+38.Bg5 Bxg5 39.Qf3 Be3+ would only prolong the struggle). The game move prevents this combination. Black could win in numerous ways not. The simplest one was 34…Rd8, again threatening Rg3+, or 34…Bh4, or 34…Rxh2, without any fancy stuff. But, hypnotized by Alekhine’s words, I came to the board and immediately sacrificed the rook, without even writing the move down!
34…Rg3+?? 35.hxg3 (35.Kxg3?? Qg2#) 35…Qg2+ 36.Kg4. I didn’t expect this move at all. 36…Rd8 37.Kh7! (That’s why white played 34.e5) 37…Rh8 38.Qxh8+ Bxh8 39.Rxb7 Qe2+ 40 Kh4 Qa6 41 Rb8+ Kc7 42.Bd2. Black resigned. I was punished for my complacency. Because of this game I finished third in the tournament, while Romanovsky took second place.