Smyslov on the Couch: A Review

Smyslov on the Couch,

by Genna Sosonko, published by Elk and Ruby, (http://www.elkandruby.com/) is broken down, like Smyslov at the end of his long life, into three parts. This review will, therefore, be in three parts.

Part 1: The Real Vasily Smyslov

The author writes, “He possessed an incredible memory.” Most, if not all, World Chess champions were blessed with a memory far above most human beings. Some no doubt contained a brain possessing an eidetic memory. How else can one explain Bobby Fischer

recalling a speed (that was five minutes and only five minutes per game ‘back in the day’) game that had taken place decades earlier? (…just prior to his historic match with Taimanov, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Fischer met the Russian player Vasiukov and showed him a speed game that the two had played in Moscow fifteen years before. Fischer recalled the game move by move.) (http://billwall.phpwebhosting.com/articles/Memory.htm)

Smyslov says, “Oh Genna, don’t wake my memories. What’s done is done, done to oblivion. I don’t remember a thing! I’ve been blessed with the ability to forget. There is an uncanny pattern to things, though; you best of all remember what you should forget.”

“His style was very clear-cut; he was considered a wonderful master of the endgame. Jan Timman,

known as the Best of the West during the eighties, who grew up on Botvinnik’s games, once said that he thought Smyslov’s style, due to his original strategic vision, lucid play, and virtuosic endgame technique, was the best.”

“Indeed, Max Euwe,

who had a very poor record against Smyslov, would say, “This amiable giant of the chess world (who) makes moves that, frankly, any other grandmaster could make. There’s just one small difference: Smyslov wins, but the other GM’s don’t. His playing style is really slippery; he doesn’t attack you head-on, doesn’t threaten mate, and yet follows some path that only he sees. His opponent’s are caught off-gaurd and fail to see his secret plans. They think they have a perfectly decent position….The suddenly they realize something isn’t right, but it’s too late! An attack is building up against their king and they can’t beat it off. Yeah, Smyslov is an amazing player, an amiable and obliging man, but so dangerous to play against.”

The author writes, “Or Boris Spassky,

highlighting Smyslov’s incredible intuition, called him “the Hand”, explaining this as follows: “His hand knows on which square each piece belongs, he doesn’t need to calculate anything with his head.” Later on there is this, “We had already said our goodbyes, but then suddenly he stepped off to the side, visibly distressed by something. “I thought of the game I lost to Van Wely yesterday. At first, I had a clear advantage. Then the position was equal. And then…no, it’s terrible, just terrible. Like an apparition haunting me. An evil force led my hand astray.” Shaking his head, he went towards passport control.”

The author, who had earlier emigrated from the Soviet Union, writes, “I visited Leningrad in 1982. Although I already had a Dutch passport by then, I was strongly advised against taking that trip. It was the height of the Cold War, and the consequences of such a visit were unpredictable in the Soviet days.” Genna “follow(ed) his own route,” and “…poked my head into the Chigorin Chess Club a few hours before the ship’s departure from Leningrad. “The doors are all shabby. When are they going to renovate the place?” I blurted out as I walked into the building I’d known since my Leningrad childhood. New “details” of my visit surfaced later on. Sosonko had supposedly come to Leningrad in secret and promised to donate ten thousand dollars to renovate the club.”

“I heard all about your foray into Leningrad, Genna,” Smyslov said smiling, when we met up a month later at the Tilburg tournament. “You decided to make a run for it? Have you completely lost your mind?” he chided me in a fatherly tone.

We faced off in round five. We had drawn all of our previous games, sometimes without trying. Smyslov played passively in the opening, and my advantage grew with every move. When Black’s position was completely lost, he rose slightly from his chair, extended his hand, and congratulated me, “Enjoy this one, Genna, but don’t let it go to your head. I can’t play against my friends.” He moaned and groaned the whole next day, still upset with me: “That guy? Yeah, he’d knock off his own father for five hundred dollars. Him donating ten thousand? I don’t think so!” But then everything went back to normal, with our daily walks around the village of Oisterwijk near Tilburg, where the tournament participants were staying, and long talks about everything.”

Gennady Borisovich Sosonko

vs Vasily Smyslov

Interpolis 6th Tilburg NED 1982.10.06

D46 Queen’s Gambit Declined semi-Slav, Chigorin defence

1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. e4 dxe4 8. Nxe4 Nxe4 9. Bxe4 c5 10. O-O Qc7 11. Re1 Nf6 12. Bc2 Bd7 13. Ne5 cxd4 14. Qxd4 Qc5 15. Qc3 Qb4 16. Bd2 Qxc3 17. Bxc3 Bxe5 18. Rxe5 O-O 19. Rd1 Bc6 20. f3 Rfd8 21. Rxd8+ Rxd8 22. a4 Nd7 23. Re2 Nc5 24. b3 b6 25. a5 Nb7 26. a6 Nc5
27. b4 Na4 28. Rd2 Rc8 29. Bd4 Be8 30. Bb3 Kf8 31. Kf2 f6 32. f4 b5 33. Bxa4 bxa4 34. Bxa7 Rxc4 35. Bc5+ Kf7 36. Rd6 1-0

Smyslov did not care for Fischer Random Chess, and nor do I. For one thing, allowing a computer to choose the opening setup of the pieces is absurd! If the game is going to be played why not put the pawns in their positions and have the player of the white pieces place the first piece, etc.? Smyslov says, “Chess is harmonious just the way it is. Fischer chess is utter nonsense. That setup deprives the game of its inherent harmony.”

Smyslov says, “I have noticed I play better if I treat my opponent with respect, no matter what disputes may arise. That type of attitude cleansed my soul, which enabled me to focus solely on the board and the pieces. My inspiration would wane and my performance would suffer whenever I let my emotions get the better of me.”

Part 2: Match Fixing in Zurich and the Soviet Chess School

This part of the book shines a light on the dark and dirty Soviet School of Chess, where every result can be questioned beginning with the 1933 match between the Czechoslovak master, Salo Flohr,

“…on his first trip to the Soviet Union, and the rising star of Soviet chess, Mikhail Botvinnik.”

Flohr won the first two decisive games of the match, but Botvinnik “won” games nine and ten, the final games of the match, to draw the match to send the fans into a frenzy.

The author blames everything on the “monstrous state system…” He never assigns any blame on any individual, yet a “system” is comprised of “people.” The author writes, “Soviet chess, with its undoubted achievements on the one hand and cynicism and total absence of morals on the other hand, was the fruit of the monstrous state system, controlling everything that was the Soviet Union. And it died alongside that country.” Really? “As Stalin used to say, ‘no person-no problem’.” (Pg. 139 of Checkmate, by Sally Landau https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2019/04/21/checkmate-the-love-story-of-mikhail-tal-and-sally-landau-a-review/) An excellent case can be made that when it comes to Russia today, only the names have changed as Putin continues to eliminate former Russian citizens on foreign soil, and even on home soil, proving if there is “no person” there is “no problem.” It is not the “system” which is corrupt, but the people who comprise the system. The American system is not corrupt, but many, if not most, of the people comprising the system are corrupt, and that includes those at the very top, including the POTUS, who is so obviously corrupt, and corruptible. It is not the “system” that needs be changed, but those in charge of the corrupt system, no matter what system and what it is named, who need to be eliminated, as Malcoln X said, “by any means necessary.”

The author used Former World Chess Champion Emanuel Lasker

to prove his point when he writes, “Emanuel Lasker had visited the Soviet Union back in 1924. He played in all three international tournaments and, escaping from the Nazis, he moved to Moscow in 1935. In his memoirs, Mikhail Botvinnik wrote about the Nottinghanm tournament of 1936, one of the greatest competitions of the twentieth century: “World Champion Euwe led the tournament for a considerable time, and I found it hard to keep up. At a critical moment in the battle, Lasker unexpectedly turned up in my hotel room. ‘I now live in Moscow,’ he announced pompously, ‘and as a representative of the Soviet Union I consider it my duty to play for a win against Euwe, especially as I’m playing White.’ At the same time, the old Doctor bore quite an alarmed expression. ‘Don’t be silly, Dear Doctor,’ I objected, waiving my hands in the air. ‘If you draw that will be fine.’ Lasker breathed a sigh of relief: Well, that will be easy,’ he said, and then left the room, having shaken my hand. The next day, Euwe, playing to win missed a somewhat straightforward tactical subtlety in an equal ending and lost.”

“Let’s reflect for a moment on the meaning of Lasker’s words,” writes Sosonko. “When learning that the aging doctor, as a representative of the Soviet Union, wondered whether he should play to win against a rival of his new fellow-countryman, you instinctively think just how quickly a person becomes influenced by their stay in a strict totalitarian system. Even a very short stay. Even a wise man and philosopher who was born free.”

Let us reflect for a moment…Lasker had the white pieces and should have, therefore, played for a win. If Bobby Fischer had been playing Euwe the next day he would have been playing to win even with the black pieces!

“Sammy Reshevsky,

who played not only in the 1948 world championship but in subsequent candidates tournaments as well, noted that the Russians always played as a team.”

There are wonderful tidbits in the book. Two of my favorite concern Chess books. “When Judit Polgar was asked about her favorite chess book, she replied almost instantly: “Levenfish and Smylov’s Rook Endings. Those endings arise more often than any of the others. Everything is explained so simply in the book.”

Smyslov, “By the way, have you read Tarrasch?

Tarrasch fell out of favor in the Soviet Union, later on, like so many other people did. He was banned, but his book The Game of Chess

is excellent. He explained everything in a very accessible way. You haven’t read it? I really recommend you do. It’s never too late.”

The Tarrasch book always brings to mind NM Guillermo Ruiz and the Chess book. (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/the-chess-book/)

The last part of the book, Part 3, is, The Final Years.

The part about Judit Polgar’s

favorite Chess book is in the final part of the book. “When Judit Polgar was asked about her favorite chess book, she replied instantly: “Levenfish and Smyslov’s Rook Endings.

Those endings arise more than any of the others. Everything is explained so simply in the book.”

This, too, is included in the final part of the book: “July 22, 2004. “You know, whenever I think about Fischer, I start feeling sorry for him. I’m afraid he’ll get sent back to America.He just always needed someone who’d be there for him, take care of him, look after him. He was always a Don Quixote, if you see what I’m getting at.”

Other than a few things, reading the final part of the book was terribly depressing. Since at my age I am knocking on heaven’s door, I may not be the most objective person to review the latter part of the otherwise excellent book. The fact is, I do not even want to review it. The final section detracts from the book and the less said about it, the better. Read the book and judge for yourself, and leave a comment on the Armchair Warrior blog.

I give the first two parts five points each, making a total of ten points. Unfortunately I can only give a couple of points to the final part, so divide twelve by three and…you do the math.

“Tal wins by tricks. I consider it my duty as a grandmaster to beat him properly” ~ Vasily Smyslov

Chess with Suren
Published on Apr 10, 2019

In the autumn of 1959, in the Yugoslav towns of Bled, Zagreb and Belgrade the four cycle tournament of eight candidates for the world crown took place: The candidates were Smyslov, Keres, Petrosian, Tal, Gligoric, Olafsson, Benko and the 16 year old Fischer. Tal was not regarded as one of the favorites. Moreover, a couple of weeks before the start he underwent an operation for appendicitis (later it transpired that the pain he was suffering was caused by a kidney illness). When Mikhail Tal started his rise to the world championship crown, his risky style of play was viewed with disdain by most grandmasters; for example, former world champion Vassily Smyslov commented that Tal wins by tricks. “I consider it my duty as a grandmaster to beat him properly.” What happens next is from “must watch” series. In their first ever encounter Tal chooses an offbeat line in Caro-Kann defense and soon by going for a bishop sacrifice manages to unleash a dangerous attack. Although for some time Smyslov manages to find the most accurate defensive moves but soon he fails to withstand Tal’s devilish pressure and makes a mistake. Using his chance Tal goes for a queen sacrifice, exploiting the back-rank weakness and soon Smyslov’s position goes down quickly!
_________________
Mikhail Tal vs Vasily Smyslov
Bled-Zagreb-Belgrade Candidates (1959), Bled, Zagreb & Belgrade YUG, rd 8, Sep-18
Caro-Kann Defense: Breyer Variation (B10)
1.e4 c6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 e5 4.Ngf3 Nd7 5.d4 dxe4 6.Nxe4 exd4
7.Qxd4 Ngf6 8.Bg5 Be7 9.O-O-O O-O 10.Nd6 Qa5 11.Bc4 b5 12.Bd2
Qa6 13.Nf5 Bd8 14.Qh4 bxc4 15.Qg5 Nh5 16.Nh6+ Kh8 17.Qxh5 Qxa2 18.Bc3 Nf6 19.Qxf7 Qa1+ 20.Kd2 Rxf7 21.Nxf7+ Kg8 22.Rxa1 Kxf7 23.Ne5+ Ke6 24.Nxc6 Ne4+ 25.Ke3 Bb6+ 26.Bd4 1-0

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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