Checkmate! The Love Story of Mikhail Tal and Sally Landau: A Review

Checkmate! The Love Story of Mikhail Tal and Sally Landau,

is a beautiful book written about a lifelong love between two people, one of whom, Mikhail Tal,
happened to win a World Chess Championship match against the man called “the patriarch of the Soviet School of Chess,” Mikhail Botvinnik. (https://en.chessbase.com/post/botvinnik-the-patriarch)

The book, written by Sally Landau, and published by Elk and Ruby Publishing Company (http://www.elkandruby.com/), is a wonderful history of a time long gone with the wind. The author brings to life a different time and the people who lived during the Soviet Communist period. The book, like a Chess game, has only three chapters, the opening by Sally, the middle by Gera, the son of Mikhail and Sally Tal, and the end, again by Sally.

She begins the book by writing about herself. “I am an inconsistent and impulsive person, who first does and only then thinks about what I have done. I am an ordinary, vulnerable woman, in which a womanly nature lived and lives, found joy and finds joy, suffered and suffers, in the full sense of those words. The way I see it, selfishness and a desire for independence somehow manage to coexist inside me with love for the people surrounding me and a subconscious wish to be a woman protected by a man who lives for me – protected by him from all sorts of major and minor everyday troubles.”

Later she writes, “Still sharp contradictions coexisted within me: on the one hand, this immense fear of losing my personal freedom, on the other hand, this equally immense fear of solitude and a subconscious desire to have a strong man beside me with whom I wouldn’t be afraid of falling off an overturned boat in the open seas, even if I didn’t know how to swim. These contradictions played a significant role in my life with Misha…”

She writes about her impression of what it was like being a Jew in the Soviet Union. “So it wasn’t the external appearance of the Tals’ apartment that struck me that evening. Rather, it was its anti-Soviet spirit that I sensed. I immediately inhaled this pleasant middle-class air. It was apparent straight away that the people living there were not “mass-produced” but very much “hand-crafted”, and that relations between them did not fit into the usual framework of socialist society.”

“Misha was born a frail child. He had two fingers missing from his right hand. When she (Ida, Mikhail Tal’s mother) first saw her son after he was brought to her and unwrapped from his swaddling clothes she again fainted in shock at the site of his three crooked fingers. She was unable to breastfeed. Her lack of milk was perhaps due to those shocks. She was treated for a long time after that.

“When he was just six months old, Misha was struck by a nasty meningitis-like infection with a very high temperature and convulsions. The doctor said that his chances of making it were remote, but that survivors turn out to be remarkable people. Well, Misha began to read at the age of three, and by the age of five he was multiplying three-digit numbers – while adults were still struggling to solve the math with a pencil he would tell them the answer.”

“He got “infected” with chess at the age of seven and began to spend nearly all his time at the chess club, nagging adults to play him.”

Gera was a Medical Doctor and qualified to write about Tal’s well known medical problems.

“Well, the actual start of my father’s physical ailments, however banal it may sound, was the fact of his birth. Ever since then he simply collected illnesses. But the fundamental cause of course was his totally pathological, nephrotic kidney. It tortured him relentlessly. People suffering from kidney disease know that there is nothing worse in the world than pains in the kidneys. I don’t understand how such people can even exist, let alone play chess. I’m sure that it wasn’t my father who lost the return match to Botvinnik,

but his diseased kidney.”

“My father treated his life like a chess game, somewhat philosophically. There’s the opening, then the opening transposes into the middle game, and if no disaster strikes in the middle game you get into a dull, technical endgame, in which a person ultimately has no chances. As far as I know, father didn’t gain pleasure from playing endgames – he found them boring and insipid. Force him to give up smoking, brandy, partying and female admirers – basically, the source of intense experiences in the middle game of life – and he would find himself in the endgame, when he would have nothing left to do other than passively see out the rest of his life. However, that would have been a different person just resembling Tal. And what’s the difference – to die spiritually or die physically if you can no longer be Tal?”

Throughout their life, together and apart, Mikhail and Sally had other loves and lovers, yet remained friends. A love interest of his was written about but only named by the letter “L.” Research shows this was Larisa Ivanovna Kronberg,

a Soviet/Russian actress and a KGB agent. She was named Best Actress at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in A Big Family. In 1958, she was involved in the Ambassador Dejean Affair, Kronberg lured Dejean in a honey trap. She was in a long-time relationship with World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal in the 1960s, they parted in the 1970s. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larisa_Kronberg)

Sally had an affair with a man about whom she writes, “I won’t name him in the book. Why? Let’s say he was a high-up government official…I will call him “The Minister”…Let that be his name here.” Reading this caused me to reflect upon something IM Boris Kogan said decades ago about the KGB. “Mike, KGB like octopus with many tentacles that reach everywhere!” The relationship between Sally and “The Minister” was doomed to failure because a good Soviet communist did not consort with a Jew. Sally writes, ” Misha was such a unique person! I was living with Alnis; at the time he was effectively a common-law husband; and Misha understood that perfectly well. And yet, while he treated Alvis with respect, he continued to consider me his only woman and the most important woman in the world – his Saska. Alnis took quite a liking to Misha, saw what a remarkable person he was, and would say of him: “Tal isn’t a Jew. Tal is a chess genius.”


Tal playing the husband of his former wife Joe Kramarz, not only a Chess player but a HUGE fan of Mikhail Tal!

The book is replete with things like this from Yakov Damsky writing in Riga Chess, 1986. “He has a wonderful ability with language and always has a sharp wit. I remember, for example, after a lecture some tactless dude asked Tal: “Is it true you’re a morphinist?” to which Tal instantly replied: “No, I’m a chigorinets!”

“Petrosian once joked morbidly: “If I lived the way Tal does I would have died a long time ago. He’s just like Iron Felix.” (The nickname of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the KGB)

Having worked at the House of Pain I got a kick out of this: “Chess players talk to each other in the language of notation. I was always amazed at this. Although I understood nothing of it, I listened to them as though they were aliens, observing their emotions. If, for example, Tal, Stein and Gufeld got together, their conversation could flow along the following lines:

Gufeld: What would you say to knightdfourfsixbishopg2?
Stein: Bishopgsevenfgknightdefivecheck!
Tal: Yes but you’ve forgotten about if knightfsixintermezzoqueenheight!
Gufeld: Pueenheightrookgeightwithcheckandrooktakesheight and you’re left without you mummy!
Tal: But after bishopeone you’re left without your daddy!
Stein: Bishopeone doesn’t work because of the obvious knighttakesoneecfourdekinggsevenrookasevencheck!

And this wonderful chitchat would continue endlessly, with people not “in-the-know” thinking they were in a madhouse.”

During tournaments at the Atlanta Chess & Game Center it could be, at times, a “Madhouse of Pain.”

A player would walk up talking about his game in these terms while having the position clearly in his mind. I, on the other hand, had no clue, but would nod in agreement, or frown when called for, while commiserating with the player, understanding, but not understanding, if you get my drift. The worst was when two players who had just finished their game would come downstairs talking in variations, bantering back and forth, then look at me asking, “What do you think, Mr. Bacon?!” To which my usual response was, “That’s a heckofaline!” Hopefully they would smile and nod in agreement before giving way to the next player or players wishing to tell me all about their game…

“A grandmaster said to me once: “When Misha finds himself in a hopeless position, his head tells him this but he doesn’t believe that he, Tal, has no chances. He starts to seek a saving combination, convinced that such a combination exists – it’s just a matter of locating it. And as a rule he finds it. However, despite all its beauty and numerous sacrifices, the combination turns out to be flawed, and then the defeat becomes for him even more painful and humiliating than if he had been physically dragged face down in the road.”

After reading the above I reflected upon a game recently played over contain in the latest issue of Chess Life magazine. In reply to a letter to the editor GM Andy Soltis writes, “Good point, Dr. Seda-Irizzary. Tal is a splendid example because he understood the principle of “Nothing Left to Lose.” That is, when you are truly lost, you should forget about finding a “best” move that merely minimizes your lost-ness.” The game follows:

Vassily Smyslov

vs Mikhail Tal

Candidates Tournament Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade 10/03/1959 round 15

B42 Sicilian, Kan, 5.Bd3

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.O-O d5 8.Nd2 Nf6 9.Qe2 Be7 10.Re1 O-O 11.b3 a5 12.Bb2 a4 13.a3 axb3 14.cxb3 Qb6 15.exd5 cxd5 16.b4 Nd7 17.Nb3 e5 18.Bf5 e4 19.Rec1 Qd6 20.Nd4 Bf6 21.Rc6 Qe7 22.Rac1 h6 23.Rc7 Be5 24.Nc6 Qg5 25.h4 Qxh4 26.Nxe5 Nxe5 27.Rxc8 Nf3+ 28.gxf3 Qg5+ 29.Kf1 Qxf5 30.Rxf8+ Rxf8 31.fxe4 dxe4 32.Qe3 Rd8 33.Qg3 g5 34.Rc5 Rd1+ 35.Kg2 Qe6 36.b5 Kh7 37.Rc6 Qd5

38.Qe5 Rg1+ 39.Kh2 Rh1+ 40.Kg2 Rg1+ ½-½

I conclude the review with this paragraph:

“Salo Flohr,

with whom I was great friends, once showed me around the Moscow chess club, and told me, pointing at the photos of world champions on the wall: Sallynka, look at them. They are all the most normal, mad people.” Well, I’m ever thankful that I lived my life among such “normal, mad people” as Misha,

Tigran,

Bobby,

and Tolya Karpov.

(Garry Kasparov is also a genius, but not mad – that’s my opinion, anyway.)”

I enjoyed this wonderful book immensely. Anyone with a love of the history of the Royal Game will be greatly rewarded for spending their time reading a beautifully written love story surrounded by the “mad men” who play the game of Chess. Please keep in mind I have told you not all the words.
I give it all the stars in the universe!

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Leningrad Dutch Wins 2019 US Chess Championship!

When four time US Chess Champion Hikaru Nakamura

absolutely, positively had to win with the black pieces in the final round of the 2019 US Championship he played the Leningrad Dutch

against Jeffrey Xiong

and won in style. Since Fabiano Caruana,

the world co-champion of classical Chess according to World Rapid Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen,

could only draw with the 2018 US Chess champion Sam Shankland

in the last round, and newcomer Lenier Dominguez Perez

managed to draw a won game versus tournament clown Timur Gareyev,

included only because he won the US Open, which is not and has not been an elite tournament for many years, Hikaru Nakamura, by winning became a five time winner of what he called, “…a super event, almost.” The inclusion of Timur the clown and Varuzhan Akobian,

a “fan favorite” at the St. Louis Chess Club we were informed by GM Maurice Ashley, made the event “almost” a super event. It is time the people in the heartland stop with the gimmicks and include only the best players on merit in the US Chess championship.

I have spent many hours this decade watching the broadcast via computer of the US Chess championships. The broadcasts have gotten better each year and now can be considered “World Class.” Grandmasters Yasser Seirawan,

Maurice Ashley,

and “Woman” Grandmaster (inferior to “Grandmaster” as she is only a Life Master according to the USCF), Jennifer Shahade

do an excellent job of covering the US Chess championships. The manager of the old Atlanta Chess Center, aka the “House of Pain,” David Spinks was fond of saying “You gotta pull for SOMEBODY, man!” He found it difficult to believe anyone could watch anything, like Baseball or Golf, and not “pull” for someone, anyone, to win. I will admit to “pulling” for Bobby Fischer

to beat Boris Spassky

in 1972 World Chess championship, which he did, but now simply enjoy watching the event unfold. Every round is a different story, a story told well by Yaz, Maurice and Jen. But when Hikaru Nakamura moved his f-pawn two squares in reply to his opponent’s move of 1 d4 I unashamedly admit I began to “pull” for Hikaru to win the game and the championship. I was riveted to the screen for many hours this afternoon as the last round unfolded.

One of the best things about traveling to San Antonio in 1972 was being able to watch some of the best Chess players in the world, such as former World Champion Tigran Petrosian

and future WC Anatoly Karpov,

make their moves. I also remember the flair with which Paul Keres

made his moves. All of the players made what can only be called “deliberate” type moves as they paused to think before moving. IM Boris Kogan gave anyone who would listen the advice to take at least a minute before making a move because your opponent’s move has changed the game.

Lenier Dominguez Perez took all of eleven seconds to make his ill-fated twenty sixth move. If he had stopped to cogitate in lieu of making a predetermined move he might be at this moment preparing to face Nakamura in a quick play playoff tomorrow. I’m glad he moved too quickly, frankly, because I loathe and detest quick playoffs to decide a champion. Classical type Chess is completely different from quick play hebe jebe Chess. Wesley So obviously lacks something I will call “fire.” He took no time, literally, to make his game losing blunder at move thirty. Maybe someone will ask them why and report it in one of the many Chess magazines published these days.

What can one say about Jennifer Yu

other than she has obviously elevated her game to a world class level. She is young and very pretty so the world is her oyster. It was a pleasure to watch her demolish the competition this year. Often when a player has the tournament won he will lost the last round. Jennifer crowned her crown by winning her last round game, which was impressive.

The quote of the tournament goes to Maurice Ashley, who said, “When you’re busted, you’re busted.”

Best interview of this years championships:

Jeffery Xiong (2663) – Hikaru Nakamura (2746)

US Chess Championship 2019 round 11

1. d4 f5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 g6 4. g3 Bg7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O d6 7. Nc3 Nc6 8. d5 Na5 9. b3 c5 10. Bb2 a6 11. Ng5 Rb8 12. Qd3 Qe8 13. Nd1 b5 14. Qd2 Nb7 15. Ne3 Nd8 16. Nh3 Bd7 17. Rad1 b4 18. Qc2 a5 19. Nf4 a4 20. h4 Ra8 21. Qb1 Ra6 22. Bf3 Qf7 23. Neg2 Ng4 24. Bxg4 fxg4 25. e4 Bxb2 26. Qxb2 Qg7 27. Qxg7+ Kxg7 28. e5 Bf5 29. exd6 exd6 30. Rfe1 Nf7 31. Re7 Kf6 32. Rb7 axb3 33. axb3 Rfa8 34. Ne3 Ra1 35. Kf1 Ne5 36. Rxa1 Rxa1+ 37. Ke2 Nf3 38. Nxf5 Kxf5 39. Ke3 Re1+ 40. Kd3 Ne5+ 41. Kd2 Ra1 42. Ne6 h6 43. Rb6 Ra3 44. Kc2 Ra2+ 45. Kd1 Nd3 46. Rxd6 Nxf2+ 47. Ke1 Nd3+ 48. Kd1 Ke4 49. Nc7 Nf2+ 50. Ke1 Kd3 51. Rxg6 Ne4 52. Kf1 Nxg3+ 53. Kg1 Ne2+ 54. Kh1 Ke3 55. Rf6 Ra1+ 56. Kg2 Rg1+ 57. Kh2 g3+ 58. Kh3 Rh1+ 0-1

1. d4 f5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 g6 4. g3 Bg7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O d6 7. Nc3 Nc6 (Stockfish 181218 at depth 50 considers 7…c6 the best move. The game move has been my move of choice)

8. d5 Na5 (An older version of SF plays this but the newer versions prefer 8…Ne5, the only move I played because as a general rule I do not like moving my knight to the rim, where it is dim, much preferring to move it toward the middle of the board)

9. b3 c5 (9…a6, a move yet to be played, is the move preferred by Stockfish at the CBDB, while Houdini plays 9…Ne4)

10. Bb2 (SF 10 shows 10 Bd2 best followed by 10 Rb1 and Qc2) a6 11. Ng5 TN (SF has 11 Rb1 best, while Komodo shows 11 e3, a move yet to be played, but Houdini shows 11 Qd3 best and it has been the most often played move. There is a reason why the game move has not been seen in practice)

Torbjorn Ringdal Hansen (2469) vs Andres Rodriguez Vila (2536)

40th Olympiad Open 08/30/2012

1.Nf3 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.O-O Bg7 5.c4 O-O 6.Nc3 d6 7.d4 Nc6 8.d5 Na5 9.b3 c5 10.Qc2 a6 11.Bb2 Rb8 12.Rae1 b5 13.Nd1 bxc4 14.bxc4 Bh6 15.e3 Ne4 16.Ba1 Rb4 17.Nd2 Nxd2 18.Qxd2 Rf7 19.Nb2 Bg7 20.Nd3 Nxc4 21.Qc2 Na3 22.Qc1 Ra4 23.Bxg7 Rxg7 24.Nb2 Ra5 25.e4 Nb5 26.a4 Nd4 27.e5 Bd7 28.exd6 exd6 29.Nc4 Rxa4 30.Nxd6 Qb6 31.Ne8 Rf7 32.d6 Bc6 33.Qh6 Qd8 34.Bxc6 Nxc6 35.Nc7 Re4 36.f3 Re5 37.Qd2 Rxe1 38.Rxe1 Nd4 39.Qf4 g5 40.Qe3 f4 41.Qe7 Nxf3+ 42.Kh1 Qf8 43.Qxf8+ Rxf8 44.Re7 Nd4 45.gxf4 gxf4 46.d7 Nc6 47.Re8 Nd8 48.Nxa6 c4 49.Re4 c3 ½-½

Z. Ilincic (2465) vs D. Sharma (2344)

Kecskemet Caissa GM 02

1. d4 f5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. O-O O-O 6. c4 d6 7. Nc3 Nc6 8. d5 Na5 9. b3 c5 10. Bb2 a6 11. Rb1 Rb8 12. Ba1 Bd7 13. Qd3 b5 14. h3 bxc4 15. bxc4 Rb4 16. Nd2 Qc7 17. Kh2 Rfb8 18. f4 Rxb1 19. Rxb1 Rxb1 20. Qxb1 Qb7 21. Qxb7 Nxb7 22. e3 Na5 1/2-1/2

The headline, Bearded men look angrier than clean-shaven types when they are angry made me think of Hikaru Nakamura:

I could not help but wonder if the beard had anything to do with his play in this tournament?

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6867435/Australian-scientists-say-bearded-men-look-angrier-clean-shaven-types.html

Stinking It Up At The Sinquefield Cup

The trio of announcers at the Sinquefield Cup were effusive during every round, especially during the final round. They did the best they could to put lipstick on a pig

but in the final analysis it was still a stinking pig. The gang mentioned the high percentage of draws and GM Yasser Seirawan said something like, “We haven’t noticed because of the quality of the draws.” Forty five games were played during the tournament with only eight of them ending decisively, which is 17.7%. There were nine rounds so the average was less than one win per round.

The announcers for MLBaseball teams are called “homers” for a reason. They are paid by the ball club so it is in their interest to put lipstick on their particular pig.

I am uncertain about who pays the announcers at the Sinquefield Cup, but it is more than a little obvious they want to continue being paid. It is in their interest to put as much lipstick on the Chess pig as possible. Because of this they lack objectivity. I am not being paid by anyone so can be objective. The tournament was B-O-R-I-N-G. To their credit, the announcing team of Yaz, Maurice, and Jen did the best they could to inject some excitement into the moribund tournament. The excitement certainly did not come from the players. The pigs were in full force and there was some reeking Chess played at what I have come to consider the Stinkfield Cup.

Hikaru Nakamura lost the last round game to World Human Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen


Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

by first needlessly allowing Magnus a protected passed pawn. Later he exacerbated an already tenuous position by jettisoning a pawn for absolutely nothing, and was deservedly ground down by the ultimate grinder.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave managed to turn what should have been a win into a draw against Sergey Karjakin because he did not know how to play the endgame.

Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana played what was arguably the most boring game of the tournament in the last round and, guess what, it ended in a draw. Watching lipstick being put on a pig was better than watching the “game.” Here is what two Chess fans posted on the ChessBomb chat at the game:

Abraxas79: So will drop out of sight soon. Will be playing open tournaments with Kamsky
eddiemac: was being interviewed and said he be in a chess960 tourney in a few weeks. Should be more exciting than this dreary tourney.
(https://www.chessbomb.com/arena/2018-sinquefield-cup/09-So_Wesley-Caruana_Fabiano)

The 71st Russian Chess Championship began less than a week ago with twelve players competing. After four rounds twenty four games have been played and seven of them have ended decisively. That is 29%. Not great, but much better than the paltry 18% of the Stinkfield Cup. At least there has been a decisive game in each of the four rounds of the Russian Championship. In the third round three games were decisive. Three of the rounds of the Stinkfield Cup finished without any decisive games.

Yaz can talk all he wants about “…the quality of the draws,” but the fact remains the games ended in yet another draw. There is not enough lipstick Yaz can smear to obviate the fact that pigs were stinking it up at the Sinquefield Cup. Chess fans want winners. Potential Chess fans do not understand the proliferation of draws; they want to see a WINNER.

The last round game causing much excitement was the game between Levon Aronian and Alexander Grischuk. Levon unsoundly sacrificed a rook on f7 and the game was all for Grischuk’s taking, but he had previously spent almost three quarters of an hour on one move which left him short of time. Still, I cannot imagine Bobby Fischer losing the game with the black pieces after 18 Rxf7 no matter how little time he had left. Give Bobby two or three minutes, maybe only one, and he would have won the game. Seriously, give Bobby only the thirty seconds added and he would have won that game!

“The Herceg Novi blitz event was the speed tournament of the 20th century. It had four world champions competing, and Bobby not only finished 4½ points ahead of Tal in second place, he also obliterated the Soviet contingent, 8½-1½, whitewashing Tal, Tigran Petrosian and Vasily Smyslov, six-zip; breaking even with Viktor Korchnoi; and defeating David Bronstein with a win and draw.” (http://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2012/03/16/bobbys-blitz-chess/)

This was with a time limit of only FIVE minutes for the whole game! When I hear people talking about how strong are today’s Grandmasters and how the players of the 20th century would not stand a chance against the current top players I laugh. In his prime Bobby would have OBLITERATED these posers no matter the time control. Bobby played each and every game to WIN.

Because I played the Bird opening often, but not as many as the Atlanta player who became a NM using it exclusively, Adam Cavaney, who became an attorney and moved to New Orleans before hurricane Katrina, I paid close attention to the following game.

Let us review the aforementioned game between Alexander Grischuk and Wesley So from the penultimate round:

Alexander Grischuk vs Wesley So


Photo: V. Saravanan

Sinquefield Cup 2018 round 08

1. f4 Nf6 2. Nf3 b6 3. b3 Bb7 4. e3 g6 5. Bb2 Bg7 6. g3 O-O 7. Bg2 c5 8. c4 d5 9. O-O Nc6 10. Qe2 Rc8 11. d3 d4 12. exd4 Nxd4 13. Nxd4 Bxg2 14. Kxg2 cxd4 15. Na3 Nd7 16. Nc2 Nc5 17. f5 Qd7 18. g4 b5 19. Ba3 a5 20. Bxc5 Rxc5 21. Rae1 bxc4 22. bxc4 gxf5 23. gxf5 Rxf5 24. Rxf5 Qxf5 25. Qf3 Qg5+ 26. Kh1 Kh8 27. Rg1 Qh6 28. Qd5 Qd2 29. Nxd4 Qxa2 30. Qe4 Qb2 31. Nf5 Be5 32. Rg2 Qc1+ 33. Rg1 Qb2 34. Rg2 Qc1+ 35. Rg1 Qb2 36. Rg2 1/2-1/2

An analogous position after 7…c5 was reached by a different move order in this game:

David Bronstein (2585)

v Vladimir Tukmakov (2560)

Event: URS-ch40
Site: Baku Date: 11/23/1972
Round: 6
ECO: A01 Nimzovich-Larsen attack, symmetrical variation

1. b3 b6 2. Bb2 Bb7 3. e3 Nf6 4. f4 g6 5. Nf3 Bg7 6. g3 O-O 7. Bg2 c5 8. O-O Nc6 9. a4 d6 10. Na3 a6 11. Qe2 Rb8 12. d3 Ba8 13. c4 e6 14. Rfd1 Qe7 15. e4 Nd7 16. Bxg7 Kxg7 17. Nc2 e5 1/2-1/2
(https://www.365chess.com/game.php?back=1&gid=2419289&m=15)

After 13 moves this position appeared on the board:

I was certain Grischuk would play 14 Qxg2. He took with the King. In the old BC (before computer) days if one disagreed with a move a GM played we would defer to the GMs move because, well, you know, he was a Grandmaster. Still, with my limited understanding of the Royal game, my thinking was that now that the white squared bishop has left the board, what better piece to take it’s place than the Queen? Stockfish agrees.

This position was reached after 16 moves:

While Grischuk was thinking I thought he would first play 17 Ne1 followed by 18 Nf3, considerably improving the position of the woeful knight. After the game the Stockfish program at the ChessBomb made me feel like I knew something about how to play the Bird as it gives this variation as equal: 17. Ne1 e6 18. Nf3 Qd7 19. Kg1 Rfd8 20. Ba3 Qb7 21. Rae1 Bf8 22. Bb2 Bg7 23. Ba3. The clanking digital monster also shows 17 Ba3 as equal. The move Grishuk played, 17 f5, is not shown as one of the top four moves. His choice gives the advantage to black.

This position was reached after 22 moves:

SF shows 23. Qxe7 Qc6+ as best, but Grischuk played 23 gxf5. It is easy to see black has an increased advantage. After a few more moves were played we reach this position after white played 25 Qf3:

Wesley So could have simply dropped his queen back to e7 with a by now large advantage. IM Boris Kogan said, “Chess is simple. He attack, you defend. You attack, he defend. My retort was, “Maybe for you, Boris.” Wesley played 25…Qg5+, which still left him with an advantage. I was thinking, “Patzer sees a check and gives a check.”

We move along until his position was reached after 28 Qd5:

The two best moves according to SF are 28…Qf4 and/or Qb6. So played the fourth best move, 28…Qd2.

After 29…Qxa2 we come to this position:

30 Nc6 is the best move. Grischuk played the second best move, 30 Qe4.

Bobby Fischer

spoke of “critical positions.” This is one of them.

Wesley had far more time than his opponent at this point. I was therefore shocked when he took very little time to play 30…Qb2. I will admit the moved played was my first choice, but then I am not a GM. Faced with the same position Wesley So had on the board I would have probably played 30…Qb2. I followed the games at Mark Crowther’s wonderful site, The Week in Chess (http://theweekinchess.com/), because it has no engine analysis. After the game was concluded I went to the ChessBomb to see StockFish had given the move 30…Qf2 as much superior to the move played in the game. Initially flummoxed, I wondered if Wesley had taken more time, which would have meant more time for me to cogitate, would I have seen the much better 30…Qf2? Honesty compels me to think not, as 30…Qb2 attacks the knight and makes way for the passed a-pawn. What’s not to like? SF only gives 30…Qf2 followed by 31 Nc6, so I had to “dig deep” to understand the efficacy of moving the queen to f2. Fortunately for this old grasshopper there was understanding. Later I watched some of the coverage by Yaz, Maurice, and Jen. Maurice showed the engine they were using gave it as best. This begs the question, which engine were they using? I have yet to hear a name used for the “engine.” There are many “engines,” so why do they not inform we Chess fans which “engine” they utilize?

After 30…Qb2 Grischuk played 31 Nf5 (SF says Nf3 is a little better) and this position was reached:

I was thinking Wesley would play 31…Bf6, later learning SF shows it best. As a matter of fact, it is the only move to retain an advantage. Wesley So played the second choice of SF, 31…Be5, and the game sputtered to a draw, a fitting conclusion to a poorly played game by both players. So much for Yasser’s comment about “…quality of the draws.”

This is what Chess fans who chat at the ChessBomb thought about the ending of the game:

CunningPlan: I suspect draw agreed
dondiegodelavega: WTF???
BadHabitMarco: this cant have happened
rfa: yup draw
poppy_dove: BUG
dondiegodelavega: moving to twitter
CunningPlan: Maybe So missed Kxg1
jim: mdr
jim: Qxg1 wow
Frank200: hahahaha somebody was trolling
LarsBrobakken: no takebacks!
CunningPlan: So is a dirty rotten cheat
CunningPlan: Oh So. What a cop out.
rfa: 🙂
BadHabitMarco: devine intervention
Vladacval: phhhooogh
BadHabitMarco: divine
Vladacval: nice save!
jim: So touched accidentally the rook
poppy_dove: draw
dondiegodelavega: what a pussy!
CunningPlan: Grischuk deliberately dropped an eyelash on it to tempt So to brush it off
CunningPlan: Oldest trick in the book
CunningPlan: I’ve won many a game that way
BadHabitMarco: he was like “did you see that the felt was missing under my rook?”
https://www.chessbomb.com/arena/2018-sinquefield-cup/08-Grischuk_Alexander-So_Wesley

Magnus Carlsen Superman

The World Human Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen, did not win the recently completed London Chess Classic. Although he may have lost a battle he won the war by taking the Grand Chess Tour.

One of the headlines at the Chessbase website during the tournament proclaimed, London Chess Classic: Magnus on tilt. (https://en.chessbase.com/post/london-chess-classic-round-8)

The article, by Macauley Peterson, began:

“Round 8 saw a startling blunder from the World Champion whose frustration following the game was palpable.”

Later we fans of the Royal Game read this:

Round 8

“For the first few hours of Sunday’s games, it looked like we could be heading for another day of peaceful results. Adams vs Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave vs Anand both ended in early draws, and the remaining games were level. Suddenly, a shock blunder from World Champion Magnus Carlsen flashed up on the screens, a variation which lead to Ian Nepomniachtchi being up a piece, and easily winning. Carlsen resigned just four moves later.

After the game, a visibly frustrated World Champion stepped into the live webcast interview zone for a contractually obligated webcast standup with Grand Chess Tour commentator GM Maurice Ashley.

These occur in the same conference room in which a live audience enjoys commentary during the round, and around 150 people were crowded into the room to hear from Carlsen.”

Whoa! Let us stop right here and consider what we have just read…

“…a visibly frustrated World Champion stepped into the live webcast interview zone for a contractually obligated webcast standup…” I believe the word “interview” should be inserted after “standup.”

Why would anyone in their right mind put something in any contract, in any game or sport, forcing a player who has just lost to be interviewed by anyone BEFORE THEY HAVE HAD A CHANCE TO DECOMPRESS?! This is incomprehensible, and the sanity of those responsible for forcing anyone to sign a contract that requires the person to be interviewed before having a chance to compose themselves must be questioned.

The article continues:

“A few moments before they were to go on air, Ashley casually reached over to adjust the collar on Carlsen’s sport coat, which had become turned outward awkwardly. Magnus reacted by violently throwing his arms up in the air, silently but forcefully saying “don’t touch me”, and striking Ashley in the process. Maurice was, naturally, taken aback but just seconds later he received the queue that he was live.”

Maurice is a GM, and a pro, not only when it comes to playing Chess, but also when it gets down to interviewing tightly wound Chess players. Since he played the Royal game at the highest level he knows the emotions it can, and does, evoke first hand. Maurice was the first one to ‘fergettaboutit.’

I recall a time during a tournament when a young fellow playing in his first tournament lost control of his emotions and, shall we say, “flared-up.” His mother was aghast, and appalled, saying, “Now you will never be able to come here again.” Since I had given lessons at the school the boy attended I stepped in saying, “Ma’am, that’s not the way it works around here. By the next time your son comes here everyone will have forgotten what happened today.” The mother gave me the strangest look before asking, “Are you just saying that to make me feel better?” I assured her I was not and then someone else interjected, telling her, with a large grin on his face, that I was indeed telling her the truth. Chess people, to their credit, are about the most forgiving people one will ever know.

There followed:

Magnus was clearly in no mood to chat:

“I missed everything. There’s not much else to say. I think I failed to predict a single of his moves, and then, well, you saw what happened.”

“It will be interesting to see if Magnus will recover tomorrow. When asked for his thoughts on the last round pairing he replied, “I don’t care at all. “Black against Levon Aronian will be no easy task, with that attitude.”

The excellent annotation of the game Magnus lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi

on Chessbase is by GM by Tiger Hillarp-Persson,

who has also annotated games of Go on his blog (https://tiger.bagofcats.net/). After move 29 Tiger writes, “There were probably a few who thought Magnus would win at this stage…”

Magnus begins going wrong at move 30. He then gives a line and writes, “White is dominating. It is quite out of character for Carlsen to miss something like this. It seems like he wasn’t able to think clearly today.”

Before Magnus plays his 33rd move Tiger writes, “Now White’s pieces are all in the wrong places.”

After White’s 34th move Tiger writes, “Here Carlsen seems to lose his will to fight. Now one mistake follows another.”

Those are very STRONG WORDS! Human World Chess Champions, with the exception of Garry Kasparov when losing to Deep Blue,

do not lose their will to fight!

Yuri Averbakh,

Russian GM, and author, in a 1997 article in New in Chess magazine, the best Chess magazine of ALL TIME, placed chess players into 6 categories; Killers; Fighters; Sportsmen; Gamblers; Artists; and Explorers. Although he listed only Kasparov and Bronstein

as “Fighters,” the World Chess Champion best known for being a “Fighter” was Emanuel Lasker.

I would put current human World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen in the class with Lasker as a “Fighter.”

In an interview at the Chess24 website his opponent in the game, Ian Nepomniachtchi,


had this to say, “To be fair, Magnus had a bad cold during the second half of the tournament and therefore wasn’t in his very best form.”

Nepo is extremely gracious while explaining why Magnus “…seemed to lose his will to fight.” When one is under the weather it is extremely difficult to think clearly, especially as the game goes on and fatigue begins to dominate. Imagine what history would have recorded if Bobby Fischer had not caught a cold after the first few games against former World Chess Champion Tigran Petrosian.

This was a topic of conversation during a meal with Petrosian, Paul Keres,

and future World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov,

at a restaurant in San Antonio, the Golden Egg, during the Church’s Fried Chicken tournament in 1972.

Interviewer Colin McGourty asked Nepo this question:

“It seems as though he’s stopped dominating as he did a few years ago. Is that the case?

A few years ago the level he was demonstrating was out of this world, particularly when he wasn’t yet World Champion, plus at times good patches in his career alternated with even better ones. Gradually, though, people have got used to him, and when you’ve already achieved it all, when over the course of a few years you’ve been better than everyone, it gets tougher to motivate yourself. That doesn’t just apply to sport, after all. Magnus has a great deal of interests outside of chess, but even his relatively unsuccessful periods are much more successful than for many of his rivals. Even in what generally wasn’t the tournament of his life he beat Aronian with Black in the final round and finished third i.e. he performed very decently.”

https://chess24.com/en/read/news/nepomniachtchi-on-london-carlsen-and-alphazero

There you have it. “Even in what generally wasn’t the tournament of his life he beat Aronian with Black in the final round and finished third i.e. he performed very decently.”

Levon had the year of his life in 2017. He had the White pieces in the last round against a weakened World Champion. He could have ended the year in style with a victory. This from Chessbase:

The Magnus bounce

“The World Champion, after a troubling performance yesterday, appeared once more to be on the brink of defeat with the black pieces against Levon Aronian. Carlsen was considerably worse in the middlegame, but it took just a couple of inaccuracies from Aronian for the World Champion to completely turn the tables. He went on to win, despite knowing that a draw would be enough to clinch first place in the Grand Chess Tour standings.

In fact, Aronian offered Carlsen a draw, right after the time control, which Magnus refused, as he was already much better in the position. It was the 11th time in 17 tries that Carlsen came back with a win immediately following a loss, since 2015.” (https://en.chessbase.com/post/london-chess-classic-2017-carlsen-wins-grand-chess-tour)

Many years ago IM Boris Kogan told me the measure of a Chess player is how he responds to a loss. Many in the same condition would have been happy to settle for a draw in the last round. Some would have made it a quick draw. Not Magnus!
Magnus Carlsen is a worthy World Champion. My admiration for our World Champion has grown immensely.

Consider this headline from the official tournament website:

Round 8 – Carlsen Car Crash at the Classic

11.12.17 – John Saunders reports: The eighth round of the 9th London Chess Classic was played on Sunday 10 December 2017 at the Olympia Conference Centre. The round featured just the one decisive game, which was a disastrous loss for Carlsen, as the result of two terrible blunders.
http://www.londonchessclassic.com/downloads/reports17/2017-12-10%20LCC%20Round%208.pdf

As bad as that is, it could have been much worse. Even when completely well Magnus has sometimes gotten into trouble early in the game, especially when playing an opening some consider “offbeat.” Every true human World Chess Champion, one who beat the previous title holder in a match, was a trend setter who was emulated by other players of all ranks and abilities. Simply because Magnus opened with the Bird against Mickey Adams

in round seven other players may now begin opening games with 1 f4. It is true that Magnus got into trouble in the opening of that game, but his opponent was unable to take advantage of it and Magnus FOUGHT his way out of trouble. (see the excellent article, including annotations to The Bird game, by Alex Yermolinsky at Chessbase: https://en.chessbase.com/post/london-classic-nepomniachtchi-joins-lead)

As Macauley Peterson

wrote, “Black against Levon Aronian will be no easy task…” That is Black in the LAST ROUND against the player who this year has stolen Magnus Carlsen’s thunder. An obviously under the weather Magnus had Black versus a man who believes he should be the human World Chess Champion. If there were no FIDE (we can only dream…) and things were like they were before World War II, Levon Aronian would have absolutely no trouble whatsoever finding backers for a match with Magnus Carlsen. The outcome of the game could have psychological ramifications for some time to come.

Levon held an advantage through 34 moves, but let it slip with an ill-advised pawn push on his 35th move.


Position before 35. b6

The game ws then even. The player who fought best would win the game. That player was Magnus ‘The Fighter’ Carlsen. The loss must have shattered Levon Aronian’s psyche; there is no other way to put it. Levon had White against a weakened World Champion yet he did not even manage to make a draw. That fact has to be devastating to Aronian. Oh well, Levon has a pretty wife…

Chess and Luck

One of my favorite Chess places on the internet is the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club Newsletter, by IM John Donaldson. If you are new to Chess and unaware, the Mechanics’ Institute is located at 57 Post Street, in San Francisco, California. The newsletter is published almost every Friday, unless IMJD, as he is known, is out of town, as in being a team captain for the US Olympiad squad. The MIN is a veritable cornucopia of Chess information, and it continues to get better and better, if that is possible. The edition this week, #809, is no exception. For example we learn, “An article at the singer Joni Mitchell’s web site mentions she polished her talent at the Checkmate coffeehouse in Detroit in the mid-1960s.” I have just finished reading, Joni: The Anthology, edited by Barney Hoskins, and the just published, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe, awaits.

John writes, “Few have done as much as Jude Acers to promote chess in the United States the last fifty years and he is still going strong. View one of his recent interviews here.” I love the sui generis Jude the Dude! For the link to the interview you must visit the MIN.

We also learn that, “Noted book dealer National Master Fred Wilson will open his doors at his new location at 41 Union Square West, Suite 718 (at 17th Street) on December 20.” In MIN # 804 we learned that, “Fred Wilson earns National Master at 71.”(!) Way to go Fred! Congratulations on becoming a NM while giving hope to all Seniors, and on the opening of your new location. There is also a nice picture of Fred included, along with many other pictures, some in color, which has really added pizazz to the venerable MIN!

There is more, much more, but I want to focus on: 2) Top Individual Olympiad Performers. John writes: “Outside of the World Championship the biannual Chess Olympiad is the biggest stage in chess. Although it is primarily a team event, individual accomplishment is noted, and no player better represented his country than the late Tigran Petrosian. The former World Champion scored 103 points in 129 games (79.8 percent) and lost only one individual game (on time) in a drawn rook ending to Robert Hubner in the 1972 Olympiad.

Garry Kasparov is not far behind with 64½ points in 82 games (78.7 percent), and unlike Petrosian his teams took gold in every Olympiad he played. Garry won gold but he did lose three games.

Two of the players who defeated Kasparov in Olympiads were present during the Champions Showdown in St. Louis last month: Yasser Seirawan and Veselin Topalov. The latter had an interesting story to tell about the third player to defeat Garry—Bulgarian Grandmaster Krum Georgiev.

According to Topalov, one could not accuse his countryman of being one of Caissa’s most devoted servants. Lazy is the word he used to describe Krum, who loved to play blitz rather than engage in serious study. However it was precisely this passion for rapid transit which helped him to defeat Garry.

Before the Malta Olympiad Georgiev was losing regularly in five-minute chess to someone Veselin referred to as a total patzer. He got so frustrated losing with White in the same variation, over and over again, that he analyzed the line in the 6.Bg5 Najdorf inside and out and came up with some interesting ideas. You guessed it—Garry played right into Georgiev’s preparation. Who says there is no luck in chess.”

The game is given so click on over to the MIN and play over a Kasparov loss in which he let the Najdorf down. (http://www.chessclub.org/news.php)

I want to focus on the part about there being no luck in Chess. After reading this I something went off in my brain about “Chess” & “Luck.” I stopped reading and racked my aging brain. Unfortunately, I could not recall where I had seen it, but it definitely registered. After awhile I finished reading the MIN and took the dog for a walk, then returned to rest and take a nap. I could not sleep because my brain was still working, subconsciously, I suppose, on why “Chess” & “Luck” seemed to have so much meaning to me…It came to me in the shower. I have been a fan of Baseball since the age of nine, and I am also a Sabermetrician.

Sabermetric Research

Phil Birnbaum

Chess and luck

In previous posts, I argued about how there’s luck in golf, and how there’s luck in foul shooting in basketball.

But what about games of pure mental performance, like chess? Is there luck involved in chess? Can you win a chess game because you were lucky?

Yes.

Start by thinking about a college exam. There’s definitely luck there. Hardly anybody has perfect mastery. A student is going to be stronger in some parts of the course material, and weaker in other parts.

Perhaps the professor has a list of 200 questions, and he randomly picks 50 of them for the exam. If those happen to be more weighted to the stuff you’re weak in, you’ll do worse.

Suppose you know 80 percent of the material, in the sense that, on any given question, you have an 80 percent chance of getting the right answer. On average, you’ll score 80 percent, or 40 out of 50. But, depending on which questions the professor picks, your grade will vary, possibly by a lot.

The standard deviation of your score is going to be 5.6 percentage points. That means the 95 percent confidence interval for your score is wide, stretching from 69 to 91.

And, if you’re comparing two students, 2 SD of the difference in their scores is even higher — 16 points. So if one student scores 80, and another student scores 65, you cannot conclude, with statistical significance, that the first student is better than the second!

So, in a sense, exam writing is like coin tossing. You study as hard as you can to learn as much as you can — that is, to build yourself a coin that lands heads (right answer) as often as possible. Then, you walk in to the exam room, and flip the coin you’ve built, 50 times.

——

It’s similar for chess.

Every game of chess is different. After a few moves, even the most experienced grandmasters are probably looking at board positions they’ve never seen before. In these situations, there are different mental tasks that become important. Some positions require you to look ahead many moves, while some require you to look ahead fewer. Some require you to exploit or defend an advantage in positioning, and some present you with differences in material. In some, you’re attacking, and in others, you’re defending.

That’s how it’s like an exam. If a game is 40 moves each, it’s like you’re sitting down at an exam where you’re going to have 40 questions, one at a time, but you don’t know what they are. Except for the first few moves, you’re looking at a board position you’ve literally never seen before. If it works out that the 40 board positions are the kind where you’re stronger, you might find them easy, and do well. If the 40 positions are “hard” for you — that is, if they happen to be types of positions where you’re weaker — you won’t do as well.

And, even if they’re positions where you’re strong, there’s luck involved: the move that looks the best might not truly *be* the best. For instance, it might be true that a certain class of move — for instance, “putting a fork on the opponent’s rook and bishop on the far side of the board, when the overall position looks roughly similar to this one” — might be a good move 98 percent of the time. But, maybe in this case, because a certain pawn is on A5 instead of A4, it actually turns out to be a weaker move. Well, nobody can know the game down to that detail; there are 10 to the power of 43 different board positions.

The best you can do is see that it *seems* to be a good move, that in situations that look similar to you, it would work out more often than not. But you’ll never know whether it’s 90 percent or 98 percent, and you won’t know whether this is one of the exceptions.

——

It’s like, suppose I ask you to write down a 14-digit number (that doesn’t start with zero), and, if it’s prime, I’ll give you $20. You have three minutes, and you don’t have a calculator, or extra paper. What’s your strategy? Well, if you know something about math, you’ll know you have to write an odd number. You’ll know it can’t end in 5. You might know enough to make sure the digits don’t add up to a multiple of 3.

After that, you just have to hope your number is prime. It’s luck.

But, if you’re a master prime finder … you can do better. You can also do a quick check to make sure it’s not divisible by 11. And, if you’re a grandmaster, you might have learned to do a test for divisibility by 7, 13, 17, and 19, and even further. In fact, your grandmaster rating might have a lot to do with how many of those extra tests you’re able to do in your head in those three minutes.

But, even if you manage to get through a whole bunch of tests, you still have to be lucky enough to have written a prime, instead of a number that turns out to be divisible by, say, 277, which you didn’t have time to test for.

A grandmaster has a better chance of outpriming a lesser player, because he’s able to eliminate more bad moves. But, there’s still substantial luck in whether or not he wins the $20, or even whether he beats an opponent in a prime-guessing tournament.

——

On an old thread over at Tango’s blog, someone pointed this out: if you get two chess players of exactly equal skill, it’s 100 percent a matter of luck which one wins. That’s got to be true, right?

Well, maybe you’re not sure about “exactly equal skill.” You figure, it’s impossible to be *exactly* equal, so the guy who won was probably better! But, then, if you like, assume the players are exact clones of each other. If that still doesn’t work, imagine that they’re two computers, programmed identically.

Suppose the computers aren’t doing anything random inside their CPUs at all — they have a precise, deterministic algorithm for what move to make. How, then, can you say the result is random?

Well, it’s not random in the sense that it’s made of the ether of pure, abstract probability, but it’s random in the practical sense, the sense that the algorithm is complex enough that humans can’t predict the outcome. It’s random in the same way the second decimal of tomorrow’s Dow Jones average is random. Almost all computer randomization is deterministic — but not patterned or predictable. The winner of the computer chess game is random in the same way the hands dealt in online poker are random.

In fact, I bet computer chess would make a fine random number generator. Take two computers, give them the same algorithm, which has to include something where the computer “learns” from past games (otherwise, you’ll just get the same positions over and over). Have them play a few trillion games, alternating black and white, to learn as much as they can. Then, play a tournament of an even number of games (so both sides can play white an equal number of times). If A wins, your random digit is a “1”. If B wins, your random digit is a “0”.

It’s not a *practical* random number generator, but I bet it would work. And it’s “random” in the sense that, no human being could predict the outcome in advance any faster than actually running the same algorithm himself.

http://blog.philbirnbaum.com/2013/01/chess-and-luck.html

IM Colin Crouch on The So – Rich – Akobian dispute

The news was announced on the English Chess Forum by Nevil Chan, Sat Apr 18, 2015 8:34 am:

“Harrow Chess Club deeply regret to announce that Colin Crouch has passed away. Colin was 58 years old and a member of the club since 1970.” (http://www.ecforum.org.uk/viewtopic.php?t=7336)

Dr. Crouch was Professor Emeritus, University of Warwick; External Scientific Member, Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, Cologne. (http://www.britac.ac.uk/fellowship/elections/index.cfm?member=4526)

His Principal publications were:
Making Capitalism Fit for Society, 2013
The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism, 2011
Capitalist Diversity and Change, 2005
Post-Democracy, 2004
Social Change in Western Europe, 1999
Industrial Relations and European State Traditions, 1993

IM Crouch published a chess book, one of many, How to Defend in Chess, in 2007. It became one of my favorite chess books. “Many books discuss how to attack in chess, but resourceful defensive play is also a vital ingredient in competitive success. This is an area largely neglected in the literature of the game. This book fills the gap admirably. Following a survey of general defensive methods in chess, Dr Colin Crouch investigates the techniques of World Champions Emanuel Lasker and Tigran Petrosian, both highly effective defenders. Lasker would place myriad practical obstacles in the opponent’s way, and was a master of the counterattack. Petrosian developed Nimzowitsch’s theories of prophylaxis to a new level. His opponents would find that somehow their attacking chances had been nullified long before they could become reality.” (http://www.amazon.com/How-Defend-Chess-Colin-Crouch/dp/1904600832/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429714416&sr=1-1&keywords=colin+crouch+chess)

I enjoyed the blog written by IM Colin Crouch. This is an excerpt from his last post:

The So – Rich – Akobian dispute

“Sadly, the news at St Louis dominates all discussion in the US Championships. The forfeit of Wesley So’s game against Varuzhan Akobian is deeply controversial, and no doubt will have long term implications.

The situation was, at its most basic, that Akobian had made a complaint against So, after move 6. There was no indication that there was any cheating by So, of, for example, using the computer of finding the very best moves in a particular position (the main reason for barring electronic devices).

What then was Akobian complaining about? The answer was that he had been scribbling a few notes, while the game was being started, mainly as motivation techniques. It was along the lines of thinking before you make a move, slow down, don’t hurry. It is more a case of getting more relaxed, for what is likely to be a tense game.

I have heard recently of this type of technique, used in political speaking. At a recent Seven-ways Leader debate (hes, these days there were seven parties, plus minor groupings), just before the British General Election, there were notes placed before the podium, for many of the leaders. With seven players battling it out, there were never going to be long set-piece speeches. It was much more the case of the speakers having written down in advance something like, calm down, don’t get wound up, that sort of thing. It does not even involve the speakers having written notes, and loads of statistical facts and figures o be wheeled out. That would have caused unconvincing lack of spontaneity.

It is in many ways what Wesley So has been doing in the last few months, and maybe before. Maybe it can be claimed that what he was doing was technically in breach of the chess laws, although it is, it can be regarded, as only a slight technically breach. Presumably something will need to be clarified at some later FIDE congress. Again though, such a writing down in such notes is, it seems, acceptable in politics, and in other fields. Is there is no totally clear rule that this should be forbidden during a game of chess? And what happens if, for example a couple of players agree to meet up for a meal after the game, and write down where they should meet up at a restaurant?

The simple point is that unless there is absolute clarity in the regulations, there should be no reason for a player being given the drastic punishment of a loss – after six moves of play!

Akobian claimed that he was distracted by So’s play. Really? It is surely much more of a question of how much Wesley So was distracted by Akobin’s play, and in particular in trying to make a formal complaint. It is of course just about possible that Akobian had only made a casual note to the chief arbiter, and that the Chief Arbiter, Tony Rich jumped the gun. I do not know, and without much clearer information, I cannot be certain.

My suspicions are however that Akobian was at least as guilty as distracting So, than So is of distracting Akobian. It is an unfortunate aspects of chess that one way of “cheating” is by accusing the opponent of cheating. Akobian was clearly able to take full advantage of Tony Rich’s actions. Even so, without 100% knowledge of what was going on, I am reluctant to say whether this was what in fact happened.

The next question is how Tony Rich handled things. We must too remember that unfortunately he would have had his clashes with chess authority. We was, for example, not given the expected payment for his contributions for Chess for the Philippines, in a bib Asian sports event, as the excuse was made that chess does not count. He moved to the USA, but it took time to play for the team in the Olympiad in Tromso, while various players originally from Ukraine were given the chance to change qualifications to Russia almost instantly. Where is the justice in that? I do not want to attempt to write about what was happening during his time at St Louis. There were some complications. He did not however complete his university degree there, which is totally understandable, as, unlike the vast majority of even top grandmasters, he is capable of playing at fully equal terms against Carlsen, given time. He also had problems with his mother, on his future in chess and study. There was an unexpected encounter with her at the beginning of the US Championship.

My instincts here is that quite probably he felt that he was being hassled by Tony Rich, and his continuous complaints that Wesley was doing such-and-such a thing, and that quite simply he merely wanted to play chess, concentrate on chess, and try to become the top player from the USA. He could easily be thinking that why does this arbiter keep whinging? It is not as if he is a strong player anyway.

There is an indication that probably Tony Rich is not quite as clued up as one would like. To make things easier, it is simplest that when strong players, including super-strong players, are under the control of the arbiters, the convention is that the arbiters have full knowledge and understanding of what is going on, during the game, and elsewhere in the tournament and surrounds. It is only when suspicions arise, that players have doubts about the arbiters.

A final point. I would hope that the game between Akobian and So is to be expunged from the points gained and lost in their game. Akobian did not win any points through his superior chess knowledge.” (http://crouchnotes.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/the-so-rich-akobian-hispute.html)

GM Gaioz Nigalidze Caught Cheating!

The headline dated Sunday, 12.04.2015 says it all: Gaioz Nigalidze, Twice Georgian Champion, Caught Cheating.

The chiseler was caught red-handed at the Dubai Open.

In the article at chess-news.ru GM Tigran Petrosian says, “”I was suspicious about my opponent already after the tournament in Al Ain in December, where we both had been taking part. Nigalidze won that tournament; during our game he would go to the toilet very often, as well as this time. However, in Al Ain I had no evidence, I could only make guesses. Today, my suspicions have been confirmed…

In our today’s game, Nigalidze would promptly reply to my moves and then literally run to the toilet. Twice, I made my moves promptly as well, so that he couldn’t leave, and he made mistakes on those occasions. Then I decided to keep an eye on him. I noticed that he would always visit the same toilet partition, which was strange, since two other partitions weren’t occupied.

I informed the chief arbiter about my growing suspicions and asked him to keep an eye on Gaioz. After some time, the arbiter approached me and said that he had checked my opponent and found nothing. I asked him to check Nigalidze again, because I was already sure that something was wrong.

After my opponent left the very toilet partition yet another time, the arbiters entered it. What they found was the mobile phone with headphones; the device was hidden behind the pan and covered with toilet paper.

We both were sitting at the board, when the chief arbiter came up to Nigalidze and showed him the mobile phone, asking: “Is this yours?” Nigalidze blushed, got confused and couldn’t say anything.

The arbiter forfeited him in the game. I went outdoors, and Gaioz approached me. I thought he was going to apologize, but he only asked me what was going to happen to him as a result.”
(http://chess-news.ru/en/node/18610)

It used to be the only players caught cheating were not very good, but now that a Grandmaster has been caught using a gizmo to cheat it is obvious chess cannot withstand the rise of the programs. Every game this man has played is now suspect. Everyone who plays chess is a suspect. How long do you think chess will be played?

NIGALIDZE-022

Gaioz Nigalidze