Jackanory

I have just come across a hilarious interview with the chess world’s favourite space traveller, Kirsan Nikolaevich Illyumzhinov. The interview, translated into English, can be found on the Chessbase site, here.

Ill-Lunatic is trumpeting the new agreement with Agon, under which the latter will run the next two world championship cycles, including the alleged London Candidates, later this year. The Spaceman declares that  “For the coming cycles, FIDE should receive around ten to twelve million Euros”, and this is in addition to its customary 20% cut of the prize funds! Riches beyond the dreams of avarice! Sadly, he does not explain exactly where Agon is going to get all this money. If past practice in the chess world is anything to go by, the players in the world championship cycle will all be required to stay in an “official” hotel, at a “special”  rate of $20,000 per night.

Thus far is funny enough, but I burst out laughing at the next bit. Agon are going to raise chess to new levels, by bringing it to prestigious Western European cities. According to Ill-Lunatic, ” This year it will start in Chelyabinsk and Tashkent, and in the next year Agon is planning to hold these prestigious events in major world capitals: Paris, Madrid, Vienna and Lisbon.” I think that’s what they call “jam tomorrow” – spend a few more weeks of your life in some run-down, ex-Soviet toilet this year, and you’ll get to see Madrid and Paris next year. The trouble is, we have heard all of this before. The last FIDE Grand Prix (once referred to in an initial Press Release as the “Big Helmet” events, thanks to an unfortunate translation mix-up!) were due to be held in such places as Montreux, Doha and Karlovy Vary; they ended up being switched to Nalchik, Elista and Astrakhan respectively.  It is the same old story – you announce events in nice, civilised Western locations, wait until everyone has bought their Apex tickets, and then, at the last moment, you switch it to Shit-holegrad, somewhere in Siberia.

“Once upon a time, many, many years ago, there was a very wise man from Kalmykia. But it wasn’t me”.

We would all love to believe that it will really happen, just as Ill-Lunatic says. But he has said these things even more times than he has sold the rights for the world championship. And the latter have been sold more times than London Bridge, as Malcolm Pein pointed out on Twitter recently.

I have a small piece of advice for our space-travelling President: next time you make such an announcement, preface it with the following words:

“Are you sitting comfortably, children? Then I’ll begin…”

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Adolf’s artistry

From the latest issue of the Russian magazine 64 comes a reminder that Adolf Anderssen, of Immortal and Evergreen fame, was also a fairly prolific composer of chess problems. This is one published exactly 140 years ago, which was also reputed to be Wilhelm Steinitz’s favourite chess problem. By modern standards, it is neat, but nothing fantastic. However, I suspect it is the sort of problem that should appeal to OTB players. Have a go at solving it yourself. Solution tomorrow.

White to play and mate in four.

Greek bail-out confirmed

“Of course, if I had been consulted earlier, the Greek bail-out could have been three times as large”.

The beer tournament

There is an annual open in France each year, known as “the wine tournament“, where the first prize is the winner’s body weight in wine (don’t ask me how he is supposed to transport his prize home – maybe the organisers include the cost of shipping in the prize…). Ireland’s Bunratty weekend open does not actually pay its prizes out in the form of Guinness, but I think it fair to say that  alcohol plays rather a large part in proceedings. With the hospitality for which they are famous, the Irish aim to ensure that the visitors enjoy themselves, regardless of the result. The bar never shuts, and, to allow the players to make maximum use of this without risking precious rating points, the event is not FIDE rated.

The formula has proved hugely successful, and this year’s event, played over this past weekend, attracted what must surely be the strongest field for a weekender anywhere in Western Europe. The field consisted of no fewer than ten GMs, headed by Adams and Short, plus a further eight IMs. The eventual result was a threeway tie for first between Adams, Short and Jones, with the first-named winning a blitz playoff, to take the trophy. Nigel Short was close to taking outright first place, having missed a win against Jones in the final round.

Along the way, there were a few accidents, presumably many of them at least partly alcohol-induced. French-resident GM Istratescu defaulted against Jones on Sunday morning, after turning up a few minutes after the 30-minute grace period. My sources tell me he had been “networking”  with the organisers until 4.30 Sunday morning. And in the final round, there were some splendid games. Short – Jones opened 1.e4 c5 2. b3 g6 3.Bb2 Nf6 4.Qf3 Bg7 5.e5 Ng8 6.e6 Nf6 7.exf7+ Kxf7 8. g4. As I said above, Short played a powerful attacking game and should have won. But pride of place in the final round went to the game Williams – Arkell, where the effects of a hard weekend were perhaps a little too visible:

[Event “Bunratty Chess Festival”]

[White “Williams, Simon K”]

[Black “Arkell, Keith C”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+ 4. Nc3 c5 5. g3 Ne4 6. Qd3 cxd4 7. Nxd4 Qa5 8.Nb3 Nxc3 9. bxc3 Bxc3+ 10. Kd1 Qb4 11. Rb1 Bf6 12. g4 Qc3 13. Qe4 Qe5 14. Qg2 

Not exactly an everyday position from grandmaster play. Coincidentally, around this same moment, Short’s queen took up residence on g2, in his game with Jones. This gave the splendid spectacle of two fianchettoed white queens on the display boards, with the white players boasting a combined FIDE rating of around 5200!
14…Qd6+ 15. Bd2 Qa3 16. g5 Be7 17. h4 Nc6 18. Rh3 Qa4 19. h5 d5 20. Rc3 d4 21. Rd3 e5 22. g6 fxg6 23. Bg5 Bxg5 24. Qxg5 Bf5

All good creative stuff by Simon, but the ruthless (and alcohol-free) Fritz is stubbornly unimpressed. As readers of this blog will know, Shakespearean quotes have recently been a topic here. Looking at the diagram position,  though, it was not The Bard who came to my mind, but the words of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester:

All this to love and rapture’s due.

Must we not pay a debt to pleasure too?

25. Bh3 Bxd3 26. exd3 O-O 27. hxg6 Rf6 28. gxh7+ Kh8 29. Rb2 Raf8 30. Ke1 Qb4+ 31. Qd2 Rxf2 0-1

I think I may have to make a trip to Bunratty myself next year….

Rangers FC in administration crisis

“Of course, if I had been consulted earlier, it would be Celtic who would be in administration”.

The question we all dread – solution

I left you with the above position, White to play. I hope you looked at the sacrifice on f7 – but did you play it?

After 1. Nxf7, it is clear that the only critical reply is  1…Kxf7 (1…Rxf7 2.Nxe6 simply regains the piece, with a good extra pawn for White). White then follows up with  2. Qb3

Now Black has no way directly to defend the knight on e6, so it appears that White regains his piece, with an extra pawn. I suspect that many players will have stopped there. However, Black has an indirect defence:

2…Qb6!

The point is that Black attacks the enemy queen, so now 3. Nxe6 is met by 3…Qxb3, and White has no checking zwischenzug to rescue his knight; after 4.axb3, Bxe6, Black is just a piece up.

If you saw this far, then you did well, and I imagine that the great majority who did so will have abandoned 1.Nxf7 on the basis of this variation. But in fact, White is winning. He just has to find one more good move:

3. Bd1!!

With this simple move, White maintains the pin on the knight and prepares to recapture on b3 with the bishop, still maintaining it. Black has no way to defend e6, and White regains his piece, with a substantial advantage.

If you managed to see all the way through to 3.Bd1!!, then you are clearly a very strong player, because this last move is really pretty hard to spot. It is one of those “invisible” moves, that so often escape a player’s attention. Diagonal retreats are reputed to be the most difficult moves to spot.  Once the position after 2…Qb6 appears on the board, many players would find 3.Bd1, simply out of necessity (else White is losing a piece), but over the board, White needs to see it before he plays 1.Nf7! Despite being only three moves deep, this is much harder to see than many, considerably longer, variations.

The position comes from a game Jadoul – Soos, played in 1985. I have no other details, as Hendriks’ book does not give any, and the game does not appear to be in Megabase. But the talented Belgian master playing White saw the whole line and played it,  so he deserves our respect.

The question we all dread

I’m sure you have all had the experience: you are talking to a non-chessplayer, and reveal that you play the game seriously. Within no time at all comes the question we all dread: “So how many moves do you see ahead when you play?” If you are like me, you mumble something about it varying according to the position. The result is usually a sceptical look from your interlocutor, suggesting that they think you are full of shite, and you can’t be much of a player, if you don’t even know how many moves ahead you look.

But, as we all know, it really does vary. And what makes chess so difficult to play really well is that, very often, the hardest things to calculate and see are not the long variations, but something very short. Take this example, which I have just come across, again in Willy Hendriks’ wonderful book, which I am currently proof-reading:

A simple question: What should White play?  Answer tomorrow.