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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

King's Gambit Wagenbach Variation

     The Waganbach opens with 1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 h5. It's rare and probably with good reason. The idea behind is to support the P on f4 with g5 and prevent white from playing h4 making it difficult for white to break up black's K-side. 
     I can't say much about its founder. He is the Hungarian emigre Janos Wagenbach who lives in England and is rated a little over 1900 Elo. He claims to have come up with 3...h5 in a blitz game. British correspondence Senior IM Jonathan Tait has also experimented with it.
     I thought it might be fun to take a look at it with Stockfish 8 and Komodo 10. According to Stockfish the evaluation after 3...h5 is only the "normal" half a Pawn for white while Komodo 10 is a bit more conservative, putting white's evaluation at only a small fraction of a P. 
     Clearly there is no outright refutation that results in mate or loss of material, but 3... h5 can't be good because it does nothing to further black's development or control of the center. As one person so aptly put it, when black wins it's either because white misplayed the opening or he got outplayed in the middlegame or ending. Of course with us amateurs that's the case even if we play the latest theory in the Najdorf. The real problem when you play weird or offbeat variations or gambits is that your opponent can usually not go far wrong by playing natural developing moves while you can easily find yourself in a situation where you are forced to find the only move (often an unnatural looking one at that) that avoids disaster. 
     My database has two games with it. The strongest players were Neil McDonald who faced it against a 2000-rated player named John Dive in an open tournament in London back in 1994. McDonald won in 19 moves. There's also a game, won by white, from a tournament in The Netherlands in 2002. White won that one in 35 moves. But, it looks like it might be a fun line in Blitz games and for us amateurs, even in a serious game provided one is familiar with some playable lines. If you meet a GM, I'd avoid it though.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Rothschilds and Chess

     Jacqueline Piatigorsky (November 6, 1911 – July 15, 2012), the French-born American chess and tennis player, author, sculptor, philanthropist, and arts patron, was a member of the Rothschild banking family of France. 
     The Rothschild family is a wealthy family descending from Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a court Jew to the German Landgraves of Hesse-Kassel, in Frankfurt, who established his banking business in the 1760s. Unlike most previous court Jews, Rothschild managed to bequeath his wealth and established an international banking family through his five sons, who established themselves in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Naples. 
     During the 19th century, the Rothschild family possessed the largest private fortune in the world. The family's wealth was divided among various descendants and today their interests cover a diverse range of fields, including financial services, real estate, mining, energy, farming, wine and charities. The Rothschild family has been the subject of conspiracy theories that claim world governments and economies are secretly controlled by the family. 
     It is not generally known but the Rothschilds were very able chess players. Anselm Meyer Rothschild, the founder of the house, was the strongest player in Frankfort-on-the-Main during his time and it was through his proficiency that he became acquainted with the Prince of Hesse, who during his term of Napoleon entrusted Rothschild with his money.
     Anselm's grandson, Albert Salomon Anselm Freiherr von Rothschild (October 29, 1844 – February 11, 1911) was a banker in Austria-Hungary and a member of the Rothschild banking family of Austria. Businesses that he owned included Creditanstalt and the Northern Railway. 
     Born in Vienna and educated in Vienna and Brno, he was known in the family as "Salbert." On his father's death in 1874, brothers Nathaniel and Ferdinand inherited most of their parents real estate and art collection, but the family business went to Albert, including the S M von Rothschild bank and the shares in the Northern Railway. 
     Albert was a chess patron who helped to finance the Vienna tournaments of 1873, 1882, 1898, 1903 (Gambit) and 1908. He was also President of the Vienna Chess Association 1872-1883 and a strong amateur player.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Rossolimo Brilliancy, Schmid vs. Rossolimo Heidelberg 1949

     Rossolimo once complained bitterly that when he tried to publish a book of his games, publishers weren't interested because he "didn't score enough points," meaning he did not have any major tournament success and was never quite among the world's top players. It's a shame a book of his best games was never published. Rossolimo did write one book, Les Echecs au coin du feu, a collection of his studies and endgames with a preface by Savielly Tartakower, published in Paris in 1947. Good luck trying to find this book! It is in the John G. White collection in the Cleveland, Ohio Public Library and the Royal Library of the Netherlands. 
     Wikipedia says that in 1970 he self-published Rossolimo's Brilliancy Prizes, but that does not appear to be the case. According to Sam Sloan what Rossolimo actually did was make photocopies of magazine articles from various chess magazines which contained the games and commentaries for the 12 brilliancy prizes that he had won. Sloan claimed that he looked through him as well as the letter Rossolimo had written to the USCF asking them to publish the games in a book. Sloan said that he realized that just recopying old magazine articles by other authors would not make an acceptable book and that Rossolimo would also have had to write something. Sloan added that the games were good and Rossolimo had great stories to tell, but then he died and after that, when Mrs. Rossolimo died in 1995 all her papers disappeared.
     According to Rossolimo's son, his mother showed him her autobiography (which included much information about his father) in 1975, shortly after his father's death. She had typed it in Russian and wanted to have it published. Shortly afterwards, it was borrowed by a visitor to the Rossolimo Chess Studio by someone who promised to have it translated into English and published, but he disappeared and the manuscript was never returned.      
     At the time of his death Rossolimo was one of the country's 12 GMs and for more than 20 years had been running his chess studio in Greenwich Village. He died on July 25, 1975 after he fell down a flight of stairs outside of a chess student's apartment on 10th Street not far from his studio. He laid unconscious for several ours at the bottom of the stairs and after being found was taken to St. Vincient's Hospital where he remained in a coma for several days. After the autopsy police ruled the fall accidental, but there has been speculation that he may have been pushed by muggers. 
     He lived in Moscow during the mid-1920s, and moved to Paris with his Russian mother in 1929. In 1938 he finished second behind Capablanca in Paris and won the French Championship in 1948. He was Paris Champion a record seven times, and drew two matches in 1948 and 1949 with Savielly Tartakower. In 1955 he won the U.S. Open Championship on tiebreaks ahead of Samuel Reshevsky.
     Rossolimo played for France in the Chess Olympiads of 1950 and 1972, and for the United States in 1958, 1960, and 1966. In 1952, he moved to the U.S. with his wife Vera and son Alexander to rejoin his mother and Greek father in New York. When I met Rossolimo at his chess studio in New York City his wife was there; she was a very elegant lady that reminded me of royalty. His son, Alexander N. Rossolimo, is an American think tank executive, entrepreneur, and corporate director.
Alex Rossolimo
     According to the book Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America by Chris Hedges, Rossolimo and his family were confined by the communists in a basement before fleeing to France in 1919. When he arrived in the U.S. in 1953 and opened his chess studio he worked as a taxi driver and often slept amid the tables in the studio. It was hard for him to make enough money to even pay the rent on his studio, especially given his love for drink and frequent traveling. 
     Then along came a German named George Frohlinde who had arrived in New York in 1958, claiming he had spent the war years playing chess at his local club in Wismar on the Baltic Sea and had been unable to find work as a carpenter in Germany after the war. He started working in Rossolimo's chess studio checking out boards and sets and managing the inventory.
     Rossolimo was often away and in 1963, nostalgic for France, moved to Paris and put Frohlinde in charge for a year. According to Frohlinde he got 75 percent of the income with Rossolimo getting the remainder.  They didn't make much money; according to Frohlinde income the first week was only $50 (about $400 today). That's when Frohlinde decided to start selling chess sets and they started making more money, but then Frohlinde said, "Rossolimo came back from Paris and threw me out." 

     Frohlinde and his wife then opened a rival shop nearby and took many of the clients and most of the inventory which, he claimed, left Rossolimo destitute, no longer playing chess and trying to manage on his own.   They never spoke to each other again. After Rossolimo's death his widow ran the studio briefly, but it closed down in just a few months. Frohlinde stated that he did not learn of Rossolimo's death for a while and didn't have any particular feelings about it, commenting, "He was old and drinking heavily." 
     Rossolimo had wins over the likes of Bogoljubov, Bronstein and Euwe, against whom he had a lifetime plus score. He also scored draws against Capablanca, Fischer and Smyslov. According to the site Chessmetrics, his best world rank was 23rd in 1950 and his highest ever rating was rating 2663 in 1951.

Heidelberg 1949 
1) Unzicker 7.0 
2) Rossolimo 6.0 
3-5) O'Kelly, Kieninger and Paul Schmidt 5.0 
6-8) Niephaus, Wade and Lothar Schmid 4.0 
9-10) B.H. Wood and Witkowski  2.5

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Chess 24 site in English, Spanish and German has been around since January 1, 2014 and  guys like Viswanathan Anand, Peter Svidler, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Artur Jussupow, Jan Gustafsson and Francisco Vallejo were associated with it. The site provides live coverage of major international tournaments, free online games, videos and analysis. It also includes a tactics trainer and chess news with reports on tournaments, interviews and more. OK, so I'm a little behind the times, but I just discovered it...if you haven't been there, check it out!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Eugene M. Antoniadi

     Eugene Michel Antoniadi (March 1, 1870 in Constantinople – February 10, 1944 in Paris) was a Greek astronomer who spent most of his life in France when invited there by Camille Flammarion. 
     Flammarion (February 26, 1842 – June 3, 1925) was a French astronomer and a prolific author of more than fifty titles, including popular science works about astronomy, several notable early science fiction novels and works on psychical research and related topics. He also published the magazine L'Astronomie, starting in 1882 and maintained a private observatory at Juvisy-sur-Orge, France. 
     Antoniadi became a highly reputed observer of Mars and at first supported the notion of Martian canals, but after using the telescope at Meudon Observatory during the 1909 opposition of Mars, he came to the conclusion that canals were an optical illusion. He also observed Venus and Mercury and made the first attempts to draw a map of Mercury, but his maps were flawed by his incorrect assumption that Mercury had synchronous rotation with the Sun. The first standard nomenclature for Martian albedo features (an albedo feature is a large area on the surface of a planet which shows a contrast in brightness or darkness of adjacent areas) was introduced by the International Astronomical Union when they adopted 128 names from the 1929 map of Antoniadi. 

     Craters on Mars and on the Moon were named in his honor, as well as Antoniadi Dorsum on Mercury. He is also famed for creating the Antoniadi scale of seeing (a five-point system when observing celestial bodies, with 1 being the best seeing conditions and 5 being the worst) that is used by amateur astronomers. 
     He was also a strong chess player.  Antoniadi was taught chess by his brothers while very young and began studying theory from Staunton's Handbook in 1888 and later on he subjected the games of Morphy to close study. While still living in Constantinople he took part in four private tournaments where the city's strongest players participated, winning all four. 
     In 1893 he went to France and although he lost most of his games against Janowsky, he did manage several wins. Ten years later he began to study the games played at the Hastings tournaments after having been motivated by the writings of Tarrasch, whose games he also studied. 
     When studying the games, he tried to following them without moving the pieces and it paid off because his judgment increased to the point that he was able to beat all the amateurs in Paris. He had also hoped to play Janowsky again as well as Taubenhaus but was unable to meet them. 
     In 1905 he tied for first with a French player named Clerissy and a strong English amateur named J.M. Lee in the Cafe de la Regence Championship with a score of 12-2.   His best performance was in Paris 1907 where he tied for first with Marshall whom he beat and ahead of Tartakower, whom he also beat. His only loss was to de Villeneuve. In that game he had a winning position in which he had two passed Ps and was up the exchange. It was claimed he lost unexpectedly due to the fact he was sick. Marshall won the playoff. 
     Antoniadi attributed his success entirely to his studies of Tarrasch's works and he considered Morphy to have been the greatest player of all time and felt Morphy would easily defeat any of the modern players.  His opinion of the the "Modern" school headed up by Steinitz was that it was a synonym for "lack of genius." 

Paris 1907
1) Eugene Antoniadi and Frank Marshall 6.0 
3) Savielly Tartakower 5.0 
4) Jean de Villeneuve 4.0 
5-6) Gustave Lazard and C. W. Pape 2.0 
7-8) Hagen and H. Weinstein 1.5 

Frank Marshall      1 ½ ½ 2.0 
Eugene Antoniadi 0 ½ ½ 1.0 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Stockfish 8 is out

     The most recent version is now available for download. Oddly, on the CCLR rating list for all versions Komodo 10.1 is tied for first with Stockfish 8 at 3381. Komodo 10.2 is listed at 3374. Of course 8 points is pretty meaningless. I was unable to locate anything describing exactly what the improvements are, but in individual match ups, Stockfish 8 has beaten Komodo 10.2 by a score of +7 -2 =24! Komodo 10.2 costs $60 and is reported to be about 22 Elo stronger than Komodo 10.1.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cyrus Chess

     One of my first computers in the early 1980s was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer 2, generally known as the CoCo2; it plugged into a TV and the programs ran off cassette tapes. You could buy a magazine dedicated to the computer and spend evenings and Saturday mornings programming it in BASIC to do all kinds of neat things. 
     Naturally, when the chess program Cyrus came out, I had to have a copy. Cyrus was written by a fellow named Richard Lang and it was his first chess program. Lang started programming in January 1981 and made his tournament debut at the 2nd European Microcomputer Chess Championship at the PCW Show in 1981 in London. Cyrus was the clear winner with 5 out of 5 in a field of 12 microcomputers. 
CoCo 2
     Lang was immediately offered two contracts by David Levy and Kevin O’Connell, one for Cyrus, and one to work as programmer for Intelligent Software. Lang accepted and Cyrus IS-Chess for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was his first commercial entry, followed by programs for various dedicated chess computers merchandised by Intelligent Software, as well a further improved version of Cyrus, Cyrus II. In an 2003 interview, Richard Lang stated that there is still much of Cyrus in current versions of Chess Genius.   
     Back in the day, Cyrus was one of the world's first chess games designed for strong players, but it was probably one of the least known due to its limited distribution. 
     Cyrus had varying level of difficulty based on how long it was allowed to think and the time it took over a move on each level could differ significantly from the average. Times were 1, 10, 20, and 30 seconds, 1, 2, 6 and 12 minutes and infinite. 
     When Cyrus came out for the CoCo 2 it was claimed that it had been greatly improved since it had won the second EMCC. The manual claimed that it offered advanced players a challenging game under tournament conditions and in the fast mode it was an ideal opponent for beginners. Some of the features were: it could play against itself, it could show you its thinking, it allowed for setting up positions for problem solving or analysis and you could print out games. 
     In the following game Cyrus succeeded in defeating Cray Blitz, a program written by Robert Hyatt, Harry L. Nelson, and Albert Gower to run on the Cray supercomputer. It was derived from "Blitz" a program that Hyatt started to work on as an undergraduate. "Blitz" played its first move in the fall of 1968, and was developed continuously from that time until roughly 1980 when Cray Research chose to sponsor the program. Cray Blitz participated in computer chess events from 1980 through 1994 when the last North American Computer Chess Championship was held in Cape May, New Jersey. Cray Blitz won several ACM computer chess events, and two consecutive World Computer Chess Championships, the first in 1983 in New York City, and the second in 1986 in Cologne, Germany. The program Crafty is the successor to Cray Blitz. 
     Analyzing this game between Cyrus and Cray Blitz with Stockfish (and Komodo 8) leads to a curious phenomenon I have seen before. At moves 30, 33 and 40 they show an evaluation of 0.00, but after you actually make their recommended move for black, the evaluation jumps back to the correct one of a 2-3 Pawn advantage.
     For example, make 30.Nb5 on the board and the engines show 30...Rb7 with no further moves and the evaluation immediately dropped to 0.00. This happened with Stockfish, Komodo 8, Crafty 23.01, Fire 4, Fritz 5.32, Giraffe, Rybka 2.3.2a, Roce, SmarThink and SugaR PrO. Only Fritz 12 and Houdini 1.5a, which also recommend 30.Nb5, show white with a substantial advantage after 30...Rb7; they also, as is normal, show additional moves. I don't know why this happens, but I have run into it a few times when analyzing games on LSS where engine use is allowed. Thoughts? Can anybody duplicate this situation?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Victor Palciauskas

Black to move and win
     Bobby Fischer was not the only U.S. world chess champion in the seventies.  Dr. Victor Palciauskas (October 3, 1941 in Kaunas, Lithuania) was the tenth World Correspondence Champion from 1978 to 1984, scoring +8 -0 =7 in the finals. 
     Palciauskas was born in Lithuania in 1941 and his family moved to Germany in 1945 and to the U.S. in 1949. By that time he knew the moves, but didn't start to play seriously until he was 13 years old. 
     After his second-place finish at the 1958 Indiana Open, Palciauskas finished tied for 5th-7th in the 1959 U.S. Junior Championship held in Omaha, Nebraska with a score of +5 -2 =2. Robin Ault won the title on tie break over Gilbert Ramirez. Old timers will remember Ramirez as being famous for having been bitten by Bobby Fischer in a fight after the tournament.  As a result of his victory Ault earned an invitation to play in the 1959-60 U.S. Championship, but his disastrous 0-11 result caused the USCF to eliminate the automatic qualification of the winning junior champion.
     Ault also won in 1960, West Orange, New Jersey; Palciauskas did not play. But in Dayton, Ohio in 1961, Palciauskas tied for 7th-13th (+5 -2 =2); Ault won the junior title again. 
     In 1963 Palciauskas finished for 5th-10th in the U.S. Open, scoring +9 -3 =1. His 9.5 points put him behind only Lombardy, Robert Byrne, Gligoric and Benko and earned him the Master rating. Shortly after that he abandoned OTB play, mostly because of his studies and the fact that he did not live near a major chess center. 
     He received his PhD in theoretical physics in 1969 from the University of Illinois and the following year began teaching there. 
     At about that time he read an article by Walter Muir that outlined the path to the world correspondence championship and decided to give it a try. He had several major success in correspondence play, both nationally and internationally, but his entry into the finals of the World Correspondence Championship involved a bit of luck.  
     The 1976 North American Invitational was the qualifier for the world championship and Palciauskas tied for first with John Kalish, but finished second on tie breaks and thus did not qualify. However, at the ICCF meeting, Canadian John Cleeve learned that the finals of the upcoming world championship had three open spots reserved for special players. Dr. Max Euwe was one who was going to play by special invitation, but he passed away. Cleeve recommended Palciauskas for one of the available spots and it was accepted.
    For his achievements in correspondence play, in 1993 he was inducted into the U. S. Chess Hall of Fame. 
     The first question that probably comes to mind is what part did chess computers play in his win of the World Championship? The answer is none. 
     In 1976 CHESS 4.5 won the Class B section of the Paul Masson tournament in Northern California with a performance rating of 1950 and it wasn't until 1977 that the first microcomputer machine, Chess Challenger, was created. Also in 1977 a program called Chess 4.5 won the Minnesota Open scoring +5 -1 =0; its performance rating was 2271. 
     Then, again in 1977, Michael Stean became the first GM to lose to a computer even though it was a blitz game. In 1983, BELLE became the first computer to attain a master's rating when, in October, 1983, its USCF rating was 2203. Even by 1985 computers were barely at the master level. In 1985 Gary Kasparov played 15 of the top chess computers in Hamburg and scored 32-0. 
    Palciauskas' exploits in winning the World CC Championship are well documented, but his games in events leading up to that are lesser known and today's game features one of his interesting wins taken from the U.S. Correspondence Chess Championship. What caught my attention was the position after white's 15.Nd4. Black has an incredible move to win that was missed by both players, but not Stockfish.
     The opening, the Ponziani, is one that would never be played today in top level competition. The Ponziani, one of the oldest openings, was advocated by Howard Staunton in his 1847 book The Chess-Player's Handbook
     White's third move prepares to build a P-center with 4.d4, but 3.c3 is somewhat premature because the move takes away the most natural square for White's b8N, temporarily creates a hole on d3 and develops a pawn rather than a piece leaving White behind in development. 
     As long ago as 1904 Frank Marshall wrote that, "There is no point in White's third move unless Black plays badly. ... White practically surrenders the privilege of the first move." More recently, Graham Burgess called the Ponziani "a relic from a bygone age, popular neither at top level nor at club level". 
     On the other hand Bruce Pandolfini said every great teacher of openings who investigated the Ponziani has concluded that it leads to interesting play and deserves to be played more often...and it remains to be seen whether the Ponziani is an opening of the past or of the future. When Max Euwe and Walter Meiden published Chess Master Vs. Chess Amateur in 1963 Euwe wrote that it's not an opening for beginners because tactics predominate in the play. Euwe also added that there are no simple strategic principles to govern the general lines in this opening. Who are you going to believe?!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Durkin Attack

     Back in 2010 I did a post on Robert T. Durkin and presented one of his games using the Durkin Attack, also known as the Sodium Attack. Today I want to take another look at 1.Na3. 
     Placing the N on the a-file ignores the principle that one must fight for the center, so it's not surprising that 1.Na3 is not seen in serious play.  The claim by Durkin and that analyst of offbeat openings, Hugh Meyers, was that attacking the center can be postponed for a move or two. Meyers pointed out chess is a struggle in which the purpose is to cause problems for the opponent and, while it isn't advisable to play 1.Na3 just to be different, if the move is played with adequate preparation, there is no reason why it can't be considered an option. This is especially true if an opponent does not understand what's going on. But then the same can be said of any opening below the master level. But, the question is, what is going on when white plays 1.Na3? There does not seem to be any clear answer because players like Durkin, Dunst and Goldschmidt all played it differently.
     Durkin claimed that he was the first to play 1.Na3 when he played it in the 1948 New Jersey Open and he analyzed it in a booklet titled Knightmare-1, A New Chess Opening, 1.N-QR3, The Durkin Attack. However, in a book published in 1974, Irregular Openings by Tim Harding, he called it the Durkin-Goldschmidt Attack. Harding claimed that a British junior player named Martin Goldschmidt had won some games with it and had his own ideas about how it should be played...namely, 1.Na3, 2.d4 and 3.c4.
     While Durkin promoted 1.Na3 more than anyone else, Meyers claimed that Durkin had no clear idea of how it should be followed up! After 1.Na3 Durkin suggested that after 1...e5, then the best moves were, in order of his preference, 2.e3, 2.g3, 2.b3 and 2.c4. Durkin believed that 2.d4 should be playable and on occasion he also played 2.Nc4. After 1...d5, he liked 2.f4, but he also played 2.d4, 2.g3 and 2.Nf3. 
     So, for Durkin, the move 1.Na3 allowed white to pursue a number of different courses. Because of this, Meyers claimed that Durkin did not invent an opening. What he did was show that 1.Na3 was playable in a variety of settings and according to Meyers, "1.Na3 is not an opening at all."
     One thing that Meyers believed Durkin should be given credit for is that he didn't think white had to fear having the N captured by ...Bxa3 and recapturing with bxa3 because Durkin thought that white's two Bs offset the disadvantage of having doubled a-Pawns.  In that case Durkin thought white's strategy should be to 1) place the Q on e2, 2) begin central or Q-side operations and 3) get both Rs into play as soon as possible either on the b-file or in the center. 
     Durkin was of the opinion that if black captured on a3 then white has a ready made plan of attack and the handicap of doubled a-Pawns could be offset by avoiding an exchange of Qs which would be used to defend in the ending; otherwise white would lose a simplified ending because of his inferior P-structure. Meyers questioned whether the willingness of accepting doubled a-Pawns was correct. 
     Another master who also played 1.Na3 was Theodore Dunst who is also known for what is called in the U.S. the Dunst Opening...1.Nc3. In other parts of the world it's called by about a dozen different names. Dunst successfully played 1.Nc3 against all comers in New York tournaments and correspondence play for many years. When he played 1.Na3 he had his own, and completely different, ideas on how it should be played and observed that after either 1.Na3 or 1.Nc3 the result was usually "trench warfare."
     Meyers final conclusion was that in the case of 1.Na3 he found it difficult to name it after anyone! 
     Here is an example of the trench warfare Dunst was talking about. His opponent, August Rankis (March 29, 1911 - November 2, 1966, 55 years old), was Latvian by birth and shared first with Erik Karklins in the 1947 Latvian-English Zone Championship in Germany. In 1957, he won the New York State Championship with a perfect 9-0 score. He also won the New York State Championship in 1959. In 1965, he won the 5th North American-Latvian chess championship.