Sunday, July 24, 2016

Morphy's Knight in the Corner

For me, the most amazing thing about Morphy was not how far ahead he was of other players at that time. For me, it was the phenomenal ability to play crazy tactical positions blindfold, and his brilliance at odds games. Here's a game he won when he was about 12 against his uncle, playing at odds of a rook!

The final position is quite extraordinary, with a knight on h8 delivering mate!

Of course Black could have defended better, but that is hardly the point. Building a repertoire of mating patterns is more important than building an opening repertoire for most players. Building tactical awareness  and vision is the single most important improvement factor for beginners, and even intermediate level players.

Chessbase 13 allows a search of similar moves, and the unusual Ng6xh8 is certainly a move worth checking out. The database search brought up 751 games where the move Ng6xh8 has been played, of which white scores over 70%. One game that isn't in the database is Potter-Matthews London 1858.

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 [The Danish Gambit] 3..c5 4.Nf3 d6 5.Bc4 Nc6

So the first thing to consider if you really want to get a Ng6xh8 manouvre in, is that fast development is the key to early attacks. Morphy knew this as well as anyone. Open lines help as well! 6.0-0 d3 7.Re1 Bg4

Black's play has been too slow, too many pawn moves. If the centre was open, then black's king would be in the firing line. 8.e5 Nxe5? [one pawn grab too many]

9.Nxe5!! An excellent queen sacrifice 9..Bxd1

Now there's a discovered check on the e-file crying out to be played, but Potter wants more, he wants it to be a double check. 10.Bb5+ Ke7 11.Bg5+! A fantastic check skewering black's queen.

11..f6 Not the best defence, but black was lost whatever he did, so he might as well block the check and hold on to his queen. Anyway, it lets us see another Nxh8# move!!

Now it's mate in 2 starting with the double check 12.Ng6+ Kf7 13.Nxh8#

A very similar position has arisen to the Morphy-Le Carpentier game!

And for those of you who think these things are a bygone relic of the 1800's, here's a game from the 2000's. Now it won't be Grand Masters playing this sort of chess anymore, but then again, the majority of players reading this blog won't be Grand Masters. And even the GM's will have a chance to play this sort of thing during their simuls. So look at these games, add the pattern to your repertoire, and most importantly, don't let these things happen to you.

In this position white has sacrificed a piece, but now has mate in 2 starting with the double check 1.Ng6+ and then 1..Kxf7 2.Nxh8#

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Line Opening with Paul Morphy

I put up a couple of positions by the great Paul Morphy from his most famous games the other day. Time to have a look.

Paulsen-Morphy USA ch 1857
This has been my game of the week this week for showing to kids. It starts with a sensible 4 knight's opening, there are some nice tricks, and some strange/poor moves that are instructive. Morphy, as black in this position played to his strength which was opening lines for rapid development. He came up with the great sacrifice, 17..Qxf3!! Paulsen must take back 18.gxf3

White's king has been ripped open, and Morphy's pieces now stream into the holes. 18..Rg6+ 19.Kh1 Bh3

[The threat is 20..Bg2+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3#. 20.Rg1 is not playable as white is mated after 20..Rxg1+ 21.Kxg1 Re1+ 22.Qf1 Rxf1#] Paulsen carried on but was forced to resign on move 28. Morphy did miss a couple of quicker mates, but the sacrifice of the queen on f3 to open lines was simply excellent.

The second position I put up was from the game Bird-Morphy London 1858, one of the most analysed games in history.

Bird-Morphy (m5) London 1858

I wonder if Morphy was thinking about his masterpiece against Paulsen from the previous year when he came up with a plan to offer his queen to open lines for rook and bishop. 17..Rxf2 An astounding idea, opening the third rank. This move, and the few following have been subject to an immense amount of analysis over the years. Was this sacrifice correct? Should the game have ended a win for black, a draw? Try googling bird-morphy and see what results come up, or just try to make the white defence stronger. 18.Bxf2 Qa3!!

An amazing queen move from Morphy! Obviously, the queen can't be taken, 19.axb3 Bxa3#. Notice the similarity to the Paulsen game? Bird, who wasn't the best defender succumbed to the onslaught on move 29, and one of the greatest queen moves of all time proved successful.

More Morphy to come....

International Chess Day

Did you know that July 20th is International Chess Day? No? Well, neither did I! Well, actually, I knew there was an International Chess Day, and it was sometime in the middle of the year, but July 20th didn't ring any bells of recognition for me.

The 20th of July has been chosen to represent a special day for chess as it was the day in 1924 when FIDE, the international governing body was founded. Now I have to say that I can think of a heap of better days to commemorate chess, as FIDE has not done a brilliant job of uniting the chess world over the years. FIDE claimed the rights to the World Championship after the second World War and the organisation of this event gave the governing body some level of credence. However, it has always fought against individuals and national federations to maintain its central governing position, and through the Presidencies of Campomanes and Ilyumshinov the chess world seems to have become more divided than ever.

So why not choose a date that can rally chess players, and means something to all, rather than a celebration of an organisation which has seen to be divisive, money-grabbing, corrupt...

Here's a few:

October 21 - The most famous game in history, the Opera House game was played on this day in 1858

January 11 - The start date of the first 'official' World Championship between Steinitz and Zukertort (pre FIDE times) in 1886 (or March 19th, the date that Steinitz was crowned as the first World Champion)

May 20 - Birth date of Max Euwe, the only person to be a World Champion, amateur World Champion, and President of FIDE, though not all at the same time! (Of course, the birth date of any random chess great could be used and it make us happy).

I'm pretty sure that in the scheme of things, the founding of FIDE is not high up in the list of things that mean most to chess players!

Anyway, Happy International Chess Day!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Learning from Morphy

Yesterday I put up a relatively easy position to solve. As this week I am teaching the joys of tactics to primary school kids, and using games and positions from Paul Morphy's career.

Black to play
This was from a blindfold game, and Morphy as black came out with the excellent discovered attack, 1..Ng3!!. Discovered attacks are particularly difficult for kids to see so I try to show them plenty of examples, getting them thinking of the whole board and the ways that piece moves will affect other pieces. It also shows that tactics help us to make moves that would be otherwise unthinkable, like putting a knight on a square where 3 pieces can take it. The point of Morphy's move is that 2.Qxg6 fails to Nde2 mate.

I was talking earlier in the year to a colleague Frank Meerbach about Morphy. Frank has been showing Morphy games for a long time, and is known to like the great American master. I asked Frank his favourite games and he said:

Paulsen-Morphy USA Ch 1857
Bird-Morphy London (m5) 1858
Opera House Game

There will, of course, be others but these 3 are absolute classics reprinted in many books, including all of them making it into Garry Kasparov's "My Great Predecessor's, Volume 1". It is important to gain something from classics, and there are some similar themes in the Paulsen and Bird games. I'll put the positions up, and then talk about them next time.

Paulsen-Morphy, Black to play
Bird-Morphy, Black to move

Whether you are trying to work out Morphy's combinations for the first time, or whether you are reliving them, enjoy!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Teaching Tactics

It's always fun and rewarding teaching kids tactics, or as I prefer to call them, tricks. Teaching kids the patterns and then seeing their sense of achievement when they employ a tactical operation in one of their games is great. This term I'm showing a load of games and positions from tactical masterpieces, with a particular emphasis on teaching kids to recognise the basic tactical themes of pins, forks, discovered attacks and skewers. Of course, there will be many other things happening in the games, but it is important that young children recognise the basic patterns best of all, with an idea to employ them properly, and defend against them as well.

This week Paul Morphy takes the limelight, so I thought I'd throw some positions on here. I'm not going to be showing every position to the kids that I put up here, there were just too many to choose from.

So, Monday's move...well, actually Morphy played this game blindfold, so maybe I should just put the moves up, and give you all the chance to try to work out Morphy's move, blindfold!

Nah, here's the position with black to play.

Black to play
Answer tomorrow with more Morphy tactics!

Saturday, July 9, 2016


Last post, I left a problem to solve.

White to play and draw
This was composed in 1966, my birth year, by Ukrainian composer Tigran Gorgiev. It's an amusing puzzle with a number of forced moves.

1.Nc7 [Threatens Nb5# so black must make space for his king] 1..Qc1 2.Nb5+ Kb2

All fairly obvious so far. 3.Nd6 [Threatens mate on c4, so again, space must be made for black's king] 3..Qd1 4.Nc4+ Kc1

Again, all has been forced 5.Ne5! [Again mate is threatened, and this one is important as there is only one way to stop mate which blocks black's position even more] 5..Nf2

Well, it's all been forced up to now, but what now? 6.h7 Nh2!

Black's defence involves playing Nhg4 to get rid of white's annoying knight 7.h8=N!! [A fabulous underpromotion. From h8 the new knight will be able to support white's e5 monster] 7..Nhg4

8.Nhg6! [Apparently, 8.Nhf7 would lose to 8..Nf6 when the threat of Nd7+ means that white's king has to move, but it doesn't have a good square, and the black king will eventually get to b2 allowing the c-pawn to promote] 8..Kb2

9.Nc4+ [Closes the door to black's king] 9..Kc1 [Only move] 10.Nge5!

10..Nxe5 [10..b2?? leads to a white win. White takes the a4 pawn with his king and plays Na5-b3 mate] 11.Nxe5

Notice that black can't move the knight or it allows white to play Nd3# So, 11..a3 12.Kb4 and now white has run out of moves, except for 12..Kb2 [12..b2 still leads to a white win Nd7-c5-b3/d3mate]

And now the game must end in a perpetual after 13.Nc4+ Kc1 14.Ne5 Kb2 15.Nc4+ etc

A fun study!

Less fun was an article I saw in the NY Times about the gender gap in chess. I haven't written about this in a while, but it's a problem that keeps surfacing and no one seems to do anything about it. Funnily enough, although there was no Australian Championship in 1966, there was a women's championship with Marion McGrath becoming the first Australian Women's Champion. Not surprisingly in a male dominated game, Ozbase has no record of any games played in this event. But in defence of Ozbase, there are no games of any event in Australia in 1966.

Anyway, the article in the NY Times can be read here.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

50 Years Ago Pt 1

This October comes the 50 year milestone in my life. These are the sort of things that get you looking back on things. So I checked Ozbase to see if there were interesting games, or encounters here in Australia in the year of my birth. However, I was very disappointed to see that the great repository of Australian chess games, doesn't have a single entry for 1966. It's like there were no games played in Australia that year.

Well, there wasn't an Australian Championships, and it was before the Australian Open came into being, but there would certainly have been some things happening in Australia on the chess front that year. This is something which needs further investigation....

I mean, 1966 was a vintage year for chess. It was World Championship year, with Petrosian holding off Spassky, it was also Olympiad year (Australia didn't play) with the Soviet Union winning in Havana. The line up of stars at the Olympiad was impressive: Petrosian, Fischer, Spassky, Tal, Larsen, Korchnoi, Portisch, Gligoric all played, but the star of the show was the Spanish genius Pomar who played an amazing game against Sweden's Johansson. Pomar unfortunately died earlier this year, but in chess terms he had an amazing life. Pomar's opponents included Alekhine (one draw), Botvinnik, Fischer (who he drew with), Karpov, Petrosian (draws), Smyslov, Spassky (draws), Tal (draws), and most of the elite of the times. Here's some interesting reading about Pomar, while here is the obituary on the FIDE site.

Pomar-Johansson Havana Olympiad 1966, the fun and games starts in this position. The game had started as a fairly standard Nimzo-Indian, and black has built nice pressure on long diagonal, which Pomar now just gives up 17.Ng5!? Black takes the bait, 17..Bxg2. A pawn's a pawn, and what is white doing anyway??

18.Bxe6!! What a move! White grabs back his pawn, hitting c8 twice! 18..Bxf1 And again, why not? Black threatens mate and the white queen. What is white doing?

19.Qf3!! Unbelievable! A deflection based on a back rank mate theme. White moves his queen from attack, blocks the mate and cranks up the tactical tension a degree higher. 19..Bg2! An X-Ray defence. 20.Qxb7 Bxb7

Amazingly, after white regains his rook, the position will still be materially level, but black has problems developing as white keeps piling on the pressure. 21.Bxc8! Bd5

22.e4!! White just doesn't let up, throwing another pawn on the barbie. 22..Nxe4 23.Nxe4 Bxe4

24.Re1 f5 Black's king has an escape square 25.Be6+ Kh8 No it doesn't

26.Bxf5 winning back the pawn 26..Bc6 27.d5 and black finally resigned as he is definitely going to lose a piece at least. An absolutely fantastic blaze of tactics!

There was also one of the greatest tournaments of all time played in 1966, the double round robin Piatigorsky Cup played in Santa Monica and featuring Spassky, Fischer, Petrosian, Larsen, Najdorf, Portisch, Reshevsky, Unzicker, Donner and Ivkov. Fischer started abysmally, but then had a brilliant second half of the tournament to finish a close second to Spassky.

And finally, a little teaser. It's white to play and draw from this position, composed in 1966!

White to play and draw! Enjoy :)