Thursday 29 June 2006

Chess Reviews: 14

Winning Chess: Combinations
By GM Yasser Seirawan

The seventh volume in Grandmaster Seirawan’s extremely successful ‘Winning Chess’ series takes a look at the wonderful world of chess combinations.

After a short introduction, telling how this particular book came about, it’s straight down to business with the first of the eight entertaining chapters: ’Three Combination Types’.

The material gets harder as the book progresses through its 254 pages. With strong emphasis on pattern recognition, Seirawan goes on to give extensive coverage to the classic combinations, such as ‘The Classical Bishop Sacrifice’.

I like the way he builds up the standard patterns from basic positions to their use in real games. For example, he follows up this basic pattern:

‘1 …Qxf1+! 2 Kxf1 Bh3+ 3 Kg1 Re1 checkmate. A nifty motif to know!’

…with the game Vorotnikov v Ivanov (Vilnius 1977).

The conclusion? You guessed it! 16 …Qxf1+!! 0-1 It’s a great feeling to play such moves over the board. As Seirawan succinctly puts it: ‘Boof! Bang! Pow!’

I think we’ve all been on both sides of the famous Bxh7+ combination at some time or other and it’s comforting to know that even top Grandmasters can occasionally find themselves slipping into the standard patterns.

Quinteros - Seirawan
Biel IZ 1985

White managed to bring about a standard sacrifice after: 10 c5! dxc5 11 e5 Nd5 12 Bxh7+! Kxh7 and White whipped up a very strong attack (but later went astray and Black eventually won).
Chapter 5, ‘Blunders and Boomerangs’, serves to remind us that combinations must be properly analysed to avoid unpleasant rebounds. The recent game Adams v Kramnik (Sofia 2005) is given excellent coverage and shows that even a World Champion can run aground with faulty play.

The final two chapters take a look at several examples from the World Championship Tournament of last year. The positions are presented as tests, followed by extensive and highly instructive solutions. The tests are tough enough for any club or county player - as game positions taken from a World Championship should be - and the reader’s efforts will be rewarded.

Here’s a sample for the curious.

Anand - Morozevich
San Luis 2005

Three candidate moves are suggested for White‘s 19th move, namely f5, Qh5 and Bxh7+. Which is best? The detailed solution covers nearly eight pages!

Seirawan’s writing style is very user-friendly and he is eminently capable of teaching without talking down to his target audience. He is not afraid to share his own blunders; indeed, the annotations to his own up and down encounters are possibly the best in the book.

When I first opened this book I thought it was going to be more of a primer from beginners, with well-known examples. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that there was plenty of material - most of it extremely recent - for more advanced players. The author’s optimistic and lively tone makes this an excellent and highly instructive volume. Recommended!

For details of Everyman chess books, please visit:

Happy reading!
June 2006

Wednesday 21 June 2006

Archive: UNCUT! 49

The Sean Marsh Chess Column

*Column 49*

The Human Touch
Part Two

Dear Readers,

Time now to take a look at some more high-level blunders and perhaps discover the cause of each one.

Petrosian - Spassky
Game 8
World Championship Match 1969

‘Iron’ Tigran, who at his best could be almost unbeatable thanks to his highly developed and uncanny sense of danger, has just played the awful move 14 Be2-d3?? Spassky pounced with 14 …d4! 15 Bxd4 Nxd3 16 Qxd3 Bc4 winning the exchange (and later on, the game).

Perhaps Petrosian had settled down to besiege the isolated Queen’s pawn over a long positional struggle and assumed that it would not be able to take any active part in subsidiary tactics.

Taking his eye off the ball gifted his opponent an easy chance that any club player would be capable of spotting quickly.

This was not the first time that 9th World Champion had missed a little something when he thought he had the position under complete control.

Liberzon - Petrosian
Moscow 1964

One can easily see that Black has real grounds for optimism. White’s pawns are split and weak, Black’s position is very sound and ultimately the classic French centre will outlast any sort of structure White tries to cling to. Why not turn the positional screw a little further and get rid of White’s better Bishop?

14 …Bb5?? A typical Petrosian manoeuvre and a potent positional weapon in many a French Defence player’s arsenal. Unfortunately it is very badly timed and White has a shot. It seems that Petrosian has relaxed and turned off his blunder-checker.

14 Be3! A short move but a very effective one. Did Petrosian, on a subconscious level, assume that the bad Bishop would automatically be of no use? Here, faced with the awful truth of 14 …Qc6 15 Nd4!, winning a piece, Petrosian resigned. 1-0 He could have struggled on for a while with 15 …d4!? 16 cxd4 Qd5 but was probably more eager to try and forget all about it.

Losing the sense of danger must be put down as one of the main reasons for blundering. It is easy to relax once a player believes the position to be an easy win or a comfortable draw.

Nunn - Plaskett
London 1986

Black must have been pleased with the way the Petroff Defence had virtually neutralised the great attacking Nunn. But it only takes one careless move….

20 …Nb4?? 21 Qf5!! A beautiful rejoinder! Suddenly White has three tactical devices all working for him. There is a threat to the Black Queen, trouble on the back rank and major trouble after the sensible looking 21 … Qd8 when 22 Re7! mates in three more moves. Black struggled on with 21 …Re6 but after 22 d5 he faced ruinous material loss and resigned on move 26.

T. Middleton - E. Lazenby
Whitby v Middlesbrough Wasps
League Match, 2006

The same principle applied in a recent local league game. Ernie, who gamely submitted this snippet, had been entertaining the hope of a Kingside attack for some time.

Perhaps feeling that it was unlikely to happen in view of White’s consistently solid and careful play, Black lost his way and chopped off the Knight. 1 …Bxe5. Not such a bad move in itself, but part of the same sort of woolly thinking that led to the blunders above. Black feels that the initiative is not going to come his way after all and decides the game should be drawn. Exchanging on e5 is a symbolic gesture towards the sharing of the point, as was Ernie’s draw offer after the unfortunate - and quickly played - 2 dxe5 Rh6?? whereupon the shocking 3 Qxa7 ended the game. Ernie’s only loss of an otherwise great season.

Another type of ‘blunder potential’ occurs not when a player relaxes too soon but when the tension is considerably more palpable. The ‘big match’, the ‘difficult opponent’, the ‘last round’ and other such momentous occasions can all help to screw up the tension to fever pitch inside a player’s mind. Despite the greater concentration, blunders can still easily occur.
Here’s one of my own which sticks in my mind.

M. Closs v S. Marsh
Redcar v Guisborough
League Match, 1985

Mike and I have enjoyed a long and varied chess rivalry. (It’s not out of the question that a future UNCUT! will provide the definitive version.) There is usually a good deal of nervous tension when we play and this a good example of a double-blunder resulting from such pressure.
In this position, White is clearly much better and Black is trying to hold everything together. To that end, I played 19 …Qc8?? and realised, as soon as my hand had left the piece, that the Queen is terribly overloaded; 20 Bxb7 would win a clear piece. I tried the ‘straight face defence’ but also tried to make sure my hand was free from sweat to tender and immediate resignation after his next move. Sure enough, after a little thought, Mike picked up the Bishop…but put it down on c6! 20 Bc6?? Re7 and Black is still under excruciating pressure but managed to hold a draw on the 36th move.

Chigorin - Steinitz
World Championship Match 1892

The tension of playing a great friend and rival in a local league match can be serious enough, but blunders can decide a lot more than a mid-table pecking order.

In this famous example, the dangerous looking Black Rooks should not prevent White from converting a fine effort into a very important victory. Chigorin could have levelled the match and sent it into extra time if nervous tension hadn’t led him to produce the terrible 32 Bb4?? allowing the obvious 32 …Rxh2+ 0-1

Can you imagine the pressure the two players must have been under? Amazingly, taking advantage of the fact that the day this game was played was a holiday in Cuba, no less that 1,900 spectators followed the cut and thrust battle as it twisted its way to the tragic conclusion after four hours of play.

Another lowering of the guard can happen when a difficult game has been apparently saved and even turned around into a decisive advantage. It’s so easy to lose objectivity as one attempts to turn the final screw in the opponent’s coffin.

Reshevsky - Savon
Petropolis Interzonal

This a classic example of ‘dizziness due to success.’ Reshevsky had been in serious trouble for most of the game but had fought back brilliantly to achieve a winning position. Indeed, he has a mate in four (which you might like to work out for yourselves) and was not even in time-trouble. Instead, he played the amazing 40 Qxg6+?? And had to resign after 40 …Bxg6! Reshevsky said, ’This was the worst blunder I have ever made. After the game, I was so upset that I has to sit somewhere alone for quite a while searching for an explanation.’

Oh, we all know that feeling only too well!

D. Smith v S. Marsh
Cleveland Invitation Tournament 1989

This game followed the same template as the Reshevsky example. White had been close to winning for a very long time but somehow the game turned and Black gained all the chances with a direct attack on the King. I thought I should win this position.

Time-trouble was no longer a factor as we’d just added more time to the clocks having reached the time-control on move 36. Yet my very next move is one of the biggest available blunders. I played 37 …Rxf3?? only to be shocked by 38 Qc8+! and 1-0 due to the inevitable 39 Qb7+ and the loss of the Black Rook.

UNCUT! Will return with more blunders and their causes in a future edition. Readers, we need your blunders! Please send me your howlers and the stories behind them.

Meanwhile, the best advice to avoid blunders of the sort we have just seen is to try and keep your concentration up at all times, no matter whether you think you are winning, drawing or losing; playing for local pride or in a World Championship final. When you do blunder, try to come to terms with it as soon as possible and move on. Take solace from the fact that every single payer in the history of chess has dropped Rooks, allowed elementary forks and missed easy checkmates, for and against.

It’s not east and we are all going to blunder horribly from time to time in games to come. In chess, that’s what the human touch is often all about!

Sean Marsh

Tuesday 6 June 2006

Archive: UNCUT! 48

The Sean Marsh Chess Column
*Column 48*
* *June 2006* *

The death of local chess character Michael J. Welch shocked the local club scene last month. Aged only 42, he was knocked down by a bus and never recovered from his injuries.

I think sufficient time has now passed by to enable UNCUT! to take a look at some aspects of his life in chess.

A very long time ago, he acquired the nickname ‘Mega’, due to his habit of repeating the word in exclamation and praise of anything and everything noteworthy and/or pleasurable. A Queen sacrifice, a long, forcing theoretical line in the Sicilian Najdorf, a good joke and a ‘house special’ kebab were all ‘mega!’ and consequently the name stuck.

He was a member of various clubs over the years, from St. Peter’s through to Guisborough and Middlesbrough, with frequent appearances at Redcar. I got to know him better once he joined Guisborough in the mid-1980s. We met in the final of the 1989-90 Guisborough Championship and after 44 moves we reached this position…

S. Marsh – M. J. Welch
Guisborough Club Championship Final

44 …f4 should hold, despite the bad Bishop but here he made his first slip of the game with 44 …fxg4? 45 Nxg4 and a pawn fell off. He had automatically expected 45 fxg4. White won after 78 moves – a tough game!

Fast-forward a decade and here’s a more famous Bishop v Knight ending he managed to turn around…

T. Kiddle – M.J. Welch
Rooks v Knights, 2002

Black has been struggling for some time but after: 40 …g5 41 Nf5+? Bxf5 42 gxf5 Kd7 43 f4 gxf4+ 44 Kxf4 Kc6 45 e4 dxe4 46 Kxe4 Kxc5

White discovered, to his horror, that not all King and pawn endings with an extra are winning. This was the key game in a great match victory for the Knights.

He enjoyed heavy theoretical lines in several openings, such as the Sicilian Najdorf, Alekhine’s Defence and various sharp gambits in the Slav and Semi-Slav.

His final club was Middlesbrough and he made an excellent job of captaining the Middlesbrough Knights at a time when it had a predominately junior line-up. Indeed, for a couple of seasons the Knights were the biggest threat to Elmwood and The Rooks; not that they were ever likely to win the league, but they were more than capable of beating any team in a single match.

For the last few years, Mega’s chess was confined to the Internet and was a Senior Representative on chess server FICS, where he enjoyed the respect of the chess playing masses.
He was remarkably good at both Scrabble and table tennis, but there was always a tendency to be somewhat accident-prone. A friend recalls…

There was the famous time at Middlesbrough Chess Club when his chair collapsed during play. His hands and arms came down on the table to try and steady himself and his board and the one next to him went flying with pieces everywhere.

Another time we were in a supermarket and getting some drink in for Christmas. He reached to the top shelf only for his body to dislodge a pack of 24 bottles of beer onto the floor shattering them all. We scarpered…!

Blurring the line between ‘unemployed’ and ‘unemployable’, he was once forced to go to a job interview and escaped the dreaded fate of being ‘considered’ with a remarkable strategy. He approached the people in question with the immortal words, ‘Permit me to introduce myself. My name is Michael J. Welch and here is my Curriculum Vitae for you to peruse at your leeeeeeeeeesure’. Like I said, he enjoyed forcing variations…

Over the board, there were times when he couldn’t contain himself. More than once he responded to a weak move from an opponent with a very audible ‘HUH!’ before bashing out the refutation.

In a match against Redcar, another opponent picked up his rook and then suddenly realised the move he wanted to play was illegal. He thought for some time and then picked up another piece. Mega uttered the immortal words ‘I'm afraid you're still going to have to move the Rook’ There was only one legal Rook move…and it cost the Rook, for no compensation whatsoever. Mega could never keep the lid on his glee on such occasions.

To conclude, here’s a game which shows him at his best, in one of his favourite variations.

M. J. Welch – J. Ramsdale
Guisborough '5 Minute' Tournament

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0–0–0 Nbd7 10.Bd3 b5 11.Rhe1 Bb7 12.Nd5

12 … exd5 13.Nf5 dxe4 14.Bxe4 Bxe4 15.Rxe4 Nxe4 16.Qxe4 0–0 17.Nxe7+ Mega said at the time: 'I think this is better than 17 Bxe7, given by Nunn.' 17...Kh8 18.Rd3 Nc5 Mega: 'On 18 ...f5 I planned 19 Qe6! Nf6 20 Rh3 h6 21 Rh6+ gxh6 22 Bf6+ winning.'

19.Qxh7+!! Kxh7 20.Rh3# 1–0

Michael J. Welch
‘One Of The Game’s Real Characters’

Sean Marsh