Archive for May, 2008

Kindred’s Special: A Visit With The King’s Gambit

May 29, 2008

The King’s Gambit has been a sort of surprise maverick in tournament chess and the 2002 Montreal International saw young Pascal Charbonneau uncork it against Alexandre Lesiege in the 5th round. Oddly enough, Pascal finished with 5 points and 5th place while Lesiege with 4 points finished in 11th place.

                Pascal Charbonneau   (White)  vs  Alexandre Lesiege  (Black)

                                                   King’s Gambit

1.e4  e5  2.f4  Pascal had done some investigation with FM Jack Yoos who is an expert of the King’s Gambit along with other Canadians GM Kevin Spraggett and IM Lawrence Day.

2…exf4  Other interesting tries here is the counter maverick like 2…Qh4+ 3.g3  Qe7; also interesting is the Falkbeer Counter Gambit with 2…d5, 3.exd5 e4!?, a line having lost some of the steam in earlier times. Black can also decline the KG by 2..Bc5 after which the game might proceed with 3.Nf3  d6  4.c3  Nf6 5.d4  exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Bxd2+ 8.Nbxd2 Qe7 9.Bd3 Nxe4  10.Nxe4 d5  11.0-0 dxe4  12.Bxe4 0-0. 13.Qd3 h6 14.Ne5 again illustrates the idea of square count assisting in finding the right moves. Other ideas can be seen in the early collected games of Reti; Bronstein has some very good games featuring the KG.

3.Nf3  Here, Fischer often employed 3.Bc4 which might be strategically better. If you have a book on openings, check out the various strategies.

3…d5  This is considered one of the best defensive ideas and is called the modern variant for Black.

4.exd5  Nf6  5.Bc4  Bd6  6.0-0  0-0  7.d4  c6  8.Nc3  Bg4  9.Qd3

Now Black could try to mix it up 9…b5 10.Bb3  b4  11.Ne2  12.Bd2  Qf6  13.Ne5! which adds favorably to square count.

9…cxd5  10.Nxd5  Nxd5  11.Bxd5  Nc6

It is very important to get your pieces developed.

12.c3  Qf6  13.Bd2  Rae8  14.Rae1

Another important turn as it neutralizes the e-file while increasing square count. Rooks belong on open files. Possibly Black could have played Rad8 instead of hitting the open file as he chooses this move soon. 

14…Bc7  15.Be4  h6  16.b4 Rd8  17.d5  g5  18.Qc2  Ne5  19.c4  Bxf3  20.gxf3  g4  21.fxg4  Nxg4  22.Kh1!

Very strong. Black is fighting hard to get adequate counter chances but White is relentless in keeping up the pressure himself.

22…Qh4  23.Bc3!

Again very strong. Black may have been expecting something like 23.Bh7+ Kh8 24.Bc3+ f6  25.Re7  Qh3 and best seems 26.Bd3  after which ..Be5 comes and if 27.Qe2 then Rde8.

23… f5  24.Bf3  Qh5  25.c5  Rde8  26.d6

The foot soldier brazenly attacks!

26…Bd8  27.Rxe8  Rxe8  28.Rg1?!

White could have gone for a favorable ending with 28.Bxg4  fxg4  29.Qb3+ Qf7 30.Qxf7+ Kxf7 31.Rxf4+. Now the win is harder to achieve as Black gets active counterplay into White’s position.

28…Re3!  29.Rf1  Rxc3  30.Bxg4  Rxc2  31.Bxh5  b6  32.Re1  Bh4  33.d7  bxc5  34.bxc5  Rxc5  35.Re8+  Kg7  36.White sets the Q on d8! Bxd8 37.Rxd8  Kf6  38.Bd1  Rc3  39.Kg2  f3+ 40.Kf2  Ke5  41.Rd2  Ke4  42.Rb2  a5 43.Rb3  Rc1  44.Bxf3+ Kf4  45.Ra3  Rc2+  46.Be2  Rc5  47.Rh3  Rc2  48.Rh4+  Ke5  49.Ra4  Rc5  50.Rc4  Rd5  51.a4  f4  52.Rc6  1-0.

Lessons to learn from this game:

1.If you play 1..e5 to 1.e4 you need to prepare at least one or two lines against the King’s Gambit.

2.Whom ever has an edge, care must be taken to watch for aggressive defense where the inferior side fighting like the devil to find counterplay is shut down if possible. Letting the opponent gain counterplay can easily toss whatever advantage worked for into question.

3.It is important to study endgame positions and to examine as many types that occur in actual games as well as enjoying problems where the eye is sharpened for the coup de grace.



Kindred’s Special: How Life Imitates Chess

May 25, 2008

Garry Kasparov’s contribution to chess covers many areas: history, his demonstrated skill carrying with it his great appreciation and love of both principles and strategies, and his own recognition that it was time to step down and devote time both in Russia’s interest and political savvy by putting into practice those forces learned in chess to benefit the nation he loves.  But bucking the system controlled by Putin and his so called political machine demonstrates that evil sometimes wins the short battles and only persistent effort and dedication will triumph in the end when such a controlled system is exposed before the public.  This, in turn, requires the support of a population that refuses to buckle under the yoke of such tyranny!

In his excellent book, HOW LIFE IMITATES CHESS, Garry Kasparov endeavors to illustrate factors he learned on the chessboard and his life in chess as both a keen thinker, achiever, and spectacular record as both candidate and then World Champion of the chessworld, suggesting that making the “right moves” from the board can be carried over successfully to the boardroom.

Politically, Garry Kasparov’s efforts to find unity among factions fell short largely because the power base of Russian thought is controlled in the hands of Putin allies. Inspiring the Russian nation as a people no matter how well planned and executed as it might be seen on a chessboard, sorely demonstrates that in the real world such battles won are often lost due to cunning crookedness of politicians. This is seen as true as well in chess politics. Evil and Good are human nature opponents that have existed for centuries as long as mankind walked the Earth. Good often emerges victor only when the people refuse to let power hungry leaders win. It is very true that power tends to corrupt and corruption is, like money, the root of all evil.  Regrettably this is one lesson the former World Champion seems to have miscalculated and his judgment too optimistic. Yet, it is most admirable to see our former champion risk much to save Russia. While defeat of one battle doesn’t bring about a permanent endgame finis, the idea that with defeat a new game can began, is what powermongers must always beware. Nothing is permanent and freedom to live life to the full requires constant vigilance once achieved. To achieve freedom of thought and deed may require a long struggle but one that is worth the endgame.

I highly recommend this book which has many of my own views and feelings for chess.


Kindred’s Special: A Samuel Reshevsky Conversation

May 19, 2008

When I was a child touring Europe and then the USA as a chess prodigy, my performances were often met with curiosity as to how an 8-year old could beat experienced adult players and I was continually pestered for an explanation. All I can say is that chess was a natural function just as breathing is. Hence, when playing and viewing the chess positions I had in various simultaneous exhibitions, the correctness of my choices occurred spontaneously just like my breathing. I cannot really explain or do I have a better explanation.

Today, spectators feel another kind of astonishment. It is my practice to spend the majority of my time on the first 15-20 moves of a tournament game. Consequently I am forced to play rapidly to meet the time control to avoid forfeiture. This usually draws such questions as why I spend so much time on what appears book or obvious moves. That question I can answer.

To chess masters, there is no such thing as an “obvious” move. Experience and wide practice today has shown repeatedly that wins or draws are thrown away by brash or thoughtless play. Careful planning is the essence of chess strategy. Every move must be analyzed in the light of one’s plan under consideration. Nowhere, in my opinion, is waste of time more severly punished than in chess! Let me qualify that previous thought by saying that one should not take 20 minutes for one move but, rather, that those minutes are employed to making such analysis of moves once a plan is generalized to fit like a glove in the scheme of things. By playing slowly and with deliberation, I am able to grasp the basic requirements of each position. Then, despite being in time trouble, I have little trouble in finding the best continuation. Furthermore, I often find it is my opponent who gets jittery when I start moving quickly and is more prone to blunder. So, in a sense, I suppose it might also be a psychological consideration, although not intentional, to unnerve my opponent at the critical stage of play.

When did you arrive in America from Europe? Were you excited about coming to America?

Oh yes! Like all children I was very happy to cross the Atlantic and I arrived accompanied by my parents on November 3rd, 1920 in New York and was taken to the Marshall Chess Club where I met the famous American player and champion, Frank Marshall and Hodges who was a former champion.

Several exhibitions were arranged and I recall the newspapers were especially impressed with my 19 wins and 1 draw at the West Point Military Academy.

Then a long two-year tour across America visiting many cities for exhibition play was naturally quite exhausting. During that time I had not had any school education.  I remember most the huge turnout in Philadelphia what was estimated to be over 3000 people to view my simultaneous.

Did you play in any chess tournaments during this period?

Actually I played in my first tournament with masters when returning to New York at the Chess Club International. The most thrilling moment in this event was defeating Janowski.

              D. Janowski       (White)             Samuel Reshevsky  (Black)

                            New York, 1922, Club Tournament

                                  Queen’s Gambit Declined

1.P-Q4  N-KB3  2.N-KB3  P-Q4  3.P-B4  P-K3  4.N-B3  QN-Q2  5.B-N5 B-K2 6.P-K3  P-B3  Timid. I would play 0-0 today. Now, white could have played 7.PxP, a move I have played myself on several occasions.

7.B-Q3  P-QR3  8.0-0  PxP  9.BxBP  N-N3? My knowledge of openings was nil which can be explained why I made this clumsy maneuver instead of gaining space with P-QN4 and P-QR3 aiming for P-QB4.

10.B-Q3  KN-Q4  11.BxB  QxB  12.Q-Q2  Either R-B1 or N-K4 seems to be stronger.

12…NxN  13.PxN  P-QB4 14.QR-N1! N-Q2  15.P-QR4  0-0  16.Q-B2  P-R3  17.KR-K1  P-QN3  18.R-N2 Note how the master has achieved a free flowing opening to middlegame advantage and continues to build up his position and development prior to attacking.

18…R-N1  19.KR-N1  Q-Q3  20.Q-K2  P-QR4  21.B-N5  R-Q1  22.P-R3     Q-B2 23.P-K4  N-B1  24.Q-K3  B-Q2  25.N-K5 B-K1  26.BxB  RxB  27.P-KB4  P-B3 This creates a target for white but leaving the Knight in such a commanding position required patience beyond my temperment.

28.N-B3  N-Q2  29.P-K5  P-KB4 Hardly avoidable but this pawn advance offers up the target needed to further his attack.

30.P-N4!  P-N3  31.NPxP  NPxP  32.P-Q5! White is throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the fray.

32…N-B1 33.R-N2ch  K-R2  34.P-B4  Q-B2 35.K-R2  N-N3   36. QR-N1  R-N1  37.P-Q6  Q-QN2  Janowski has built up a tremendous attack on the black King position but now goes astray. Crushing is 38.N-N5ch PxN 39.RxP R-N2 40.Q-KN3 Q-KB2 41.R-R5ch K-N1  42.R-R6 NxKP 42.PxN RxQ 44.RxRch Q-N2 45.RxQch KxR  46.RxP, etc.

38.P-R4  Q-B3  39.P-R5? The Knight check should still win but now young Sammy to his credit finds a way out!

39…N-R1  40.N-N5ch PxN  41.PxP  N-N3!! A splendid resource leading to complex and intricate play. It is an amazing tribute to the prodigy’s steadfast backbone and alert eye.

42.R-N3 Now Janowski realized that 42.Q-KR3 would be answered by R-KR1 so this must have knocked the wind out of him.

42…K-N2  43.R-KR3  R-KR1 The struggle for the h-file is finally resolved in black’s favor.

44.PxN  RxRch  45.KxR ?  Missing QxR R-KR1 46.Q-R6ch K-N1 47.P-N7  R-R2 48.K-N3  RxQ  49.PxR  Q-K5  50.P-Q7 forcing a draw!

45…R-R1ch  46.K-N3  QxRP  47.Q-KB3  P-B5ch  Taking over the initative and from now on young Sammy calls the tune.

48.K-N4  Q-B7  49.QxP  Q-K7ch  50.K-N3  Q-Q6ch 51.K-N2  Q-K7ch 52.K-N3  Q-R7ch  53.K-B3  R-KB1  54.Q-B6ch  K-N1! Nicely played as RxQch would again end in a draw after 55.NPxRch K-N1 56. P-Q7 Q-Q7 57.P-N7!

55.P-Q7  RxQch  56.NPxR?? This slip throws away white’s last breath for life and a draw. Correct was 56.KPxR!! Q-Q7 57.P-B7ch  K-N2 58.R-KR1! Black must take perpetual check otherwise he loses. Do you see how after 58..QxQP??

56…Q-Q7  57.R-KR1  Q-Q6ch! Avoiding 57…QxQP ? 58.P-B7ch K-N2 59.R-R7ch winning. This check makes all the difference.

58.K-N2  QxPch  59.K-B2  Q-B4ch 60.K-N2  Q-N5ch 61.K-R2  Q-K7ch 62.K-R3  Q-Q6ch  63.K-R4  QxP  64.R-N1ch  K-B1  65.K-N5  Q-Q5. (0-1)

White resigns.

Gosh, what an impressive game for one so young.

When did you start and finish your education?

At the age of twelve I went to school for the first time in my life. Private tutoring enabled me to advance in six months to high school. I studied accounting after graduation from high school at the University of Detroit and transferred to the University of Chicago where I obtained my degree in 1933. I did manage to play in some tournaments during this period of maturing. But I was no longer a child prodigy and that was kind of hard to erase entirely from the public’s mind.

You have gone on to represent the USA as its often times champion earning the Grandmaster title and considered to be the main threat to Botvinnik.  You bested him in a team match; won the Western Hemisphere World Title by beating Miguel Najdorf and defending against matches with Gligoric and others successfully. When Fischer came on the scene, it was like a comet rise to almost instant stardom.  You played a match with him and tied it 5-5.  There was hard feelings about that. Still you never lost an organized match during your lifetime.

Yes, Fischer and I had sort of reconciled our differences. He is undoubtedly the best player in the world and maybe ever. He works on his game and still must improve areas of his play if he wants to become world champion. What makes it complicated is our players on this side of the Atlantic do not get the chance to compete regulary against the best in the world as do the players in the Soviet Union.

You were the first to accuse the Russians of cheating.

Well, their behavior was certainly suspect but of course they deny that. Since then, Fischer has likewise brought up that issue but I do not want to discuss that further.

Well, you will always be a great champion in my eyes and I thank you for sharing these moments with my readers.

(This interview never took place but should have.)




Kindred’s Special: New In Chess Magazine

May 18, 2008

WHAT A DELIGHT!! The one chess periodical I watch the mail for and it amazes me at the quality writing, games, analysis, and great pictures and tournament reports that fill it’s pages. After I received the 3rd issue 2008 I misplaced it. Then in my old head I pondered whether I dreamed having received it as a house search proved negative. Fear that somehow it had gotten mixed in with the trash and tossed gave me downer vibes. My wife insisted we did receive it and she remembered setting it on my desk in the den. Ah, a search proved again negative. Still where oh where did the little bugger go? Finally I looked behind the desk and to my surprise found it cuddled up against the wall still in the plastic mail jacket.

Nic’s Cafe and Your Move start you out with a zest for life called free expression. It is rewarding to read and both segments are meant to initiate a brain stimulation to prepare you for what is next.

The joy was rewarded especially when I began browsing through the many pages. Since then I have had the opportunity to examine the games, end game column by Jan Timman, an excellent feature by Genna Sosonko whose interviews are rewarding, this month titled: If it’s necessary–Abram Khasin’s Zest for Life, covered in the pages 68-77.

The article details the life in his own words of Abram Khasin. In December 1942 he was injured near Stalingrad and both legs had to be amputated. He was 19 years old. Later, after the war and attending university, he taught English in Moscow, and played chess with great talent in various Moscow Championships and in 1968 finished 5th in the strong event that had both Petrosian and Bronstein in the lst two places. He further played in five finals of Soviet Championships, achieved the International Master title in 1964. His coaching was well respected and was blessed with a joy for correspondence chess where he exhibited his skills free of the physical difficulties of playing over-the-board. He now lives in Germany with his family.

Here is another reminder of the talents, the chessplayers who, though sit just under the umbrella of stars, super GMs and recognized subjects that make up the chessworld, NEW IN CHESS brings to life and rich historical backdrop of Jewish life, the times, the triumphs and turmoils of individuals who have enriched their communities by their presence through the years who knew and know each and are privileged to cross swords on the 64 squares and experience such personal relationships.

It brings home personally a bridge between us by reading his final paragraph. Here I inject my own experience: Recently there have been times when I’ve lain for hours without sleep, thinking. About what? About everything, about life and chess. How many times have I analyzed in my head on the pillow a critical point of many game positions in battle, pondering if I could have done differently and played more exact perhaps finishing higher and with a boost in my life’s rating achievement. With more success I may have been encouraged to battle in national tournaments. Time waits for no man, woman or child. It is a lesson to learn about success in life. The clock ticks and there is urgent need to heed its hands that continue to sweep round and round.

There is a short but nice article about women chess and Hou Yifan of China who some think may be another Judit Polgar. She presents a win against the American, Irina Krush.

                          Hou Yifan    White   vs   Irina Krush   Black

                                     Sicilian Defense  [Sveshnikov Variation]

Emmanuel Lasker was instrumental in developing and making a somewhat obscure idea that was coined the Lasker-Pelikan variation. It was Evgeny Sveshnikov however that turned the whole concept into a viable and dangerous weapon in the hands of aggressive players willing to take risks and championed imbalances. Many who adopt this system willingly play either side. As I have said in my earlier columns, the Sicilian is a defense which must be studied and much home preparation is necessary as well as finding lines that suit your own style and tastes. My numerous wins against my club friends deploying the Sicilian attests to the proof of this and even in the hands of experienced masters, IMs and GMs, this defense is like walking a tight rope. It would be interesting to see if black can find a way to get in h7-h5 to void the Q from that outpost.

1.e4  c5 2.Nf3  Nc6  3.d4  cxd4  4. Nxd4  Nf6  5.Nc3  e5 6.Ndb5  d6  7.Bg5  a6  8.Na3  b5  9.Bxf6  gxf6  10.Nd5  f5  11.Bd3  Be6  12.c4  fxe4.

Here a game Gagunashvili-Sobay 2002 went 12..Qa5+ 13.Kf1 fxe4 14.Bxe4 Bg7  15.cxb5   (Nf4!?) axb5 16.Rc1  Ra6  17.Qd3  Bxd5  18.Qxd5  Ne7 with black eventually winning the game.

13.Bxe4  Rc8?  (There is still time for …Qa5+). 14.0-0  Bg7  15.f4  Nd4.

And here …0-0 would be castling into danger due to f5>f6 idea.

16.Qh5  b4 17.Nxb4  Qb6 18.Nd5!

Talk about guts! The double-check has no fangs.

18…Qxb2 One cannot blame black here but our longtime weight is given to development. Black needed to rid herself of the pesky outpost N on d5 with Bxd5 and if Bxd5, then 0-0. Now white sallies forth into black’s guts with f5 and f6 that seems a thematic stroke just waiting to bust open the K-side.

19.f5! Bxd5  20.Bxd5  0-0  21.f6  Bxf6  22.Be4  Rfd8  23.Qxh7+ Kf8  24.Qh6+ Black resigned.

Another great feature is the host of games and personal annotations and thoughts by players themselves like Carlsen, Kramnik, Anand, just to name a few.

Flip the pages and you will across the excellence of Hans Ree and his memories and personal menu on almost any chess subject that is on his mind when he picks up his pen. This latest is traveling in the circles round the chessboard with the likes of Canadian Grandmaster, Duncan Suttles.

Analysing the End Game with Jan Timman is a must for students who want to win won games, draw drawn games and just maybe save lost games from defeat.

The sideline life a chess reviewer and the never to think about such crisis situations one finds at home is fully discussed in Death by Chess Books, a favorite magazine feature of Rowson’s Reviews along with reviews of three books: SELECTED GAMES 1985-2004. Victor Bologan; MY ONE HUNDRED BEST GAMES by Alexey Dreev; AMERICAN GRANDMASTER: FOUR DECADES OF CHESS ADVENTURES By Joel Benjamin. In addition to these, Rowson examines and gives good coverage commentary on works by Steve Giddins that include 50 Essential Chess Lessons; 50 Ways to Win at Chess; 101 Attacking Ideas in Chess and 101 Chess Endgame Tips. Another one is Modern Chess PLlanning by Efstratios Grivas (Gambit) is an excellent training source he highly recommends. True Lies in Chess (Quality Chess) by Lluis Comas Fabrego which he says is a true labor of love. Chess Praxis by Nimzowitsch (Quality Chess) is another new translation of the doctor’s major work with a few others tossed in.

And then we have Winner’s Circle, a feature by former world champion and Grandmaster, Garry Kasparov who combines a look at life with chess and an interrelational aspect of commentary mixed with analysis of some of the great positions arising from both the past decade as well as current.

Finally we find Just Checking, a talk with (this month) Jeremy Silman.

There are color photos of players scattered throughout as in every issue.  

USCF Junior Tournament (JTMs) Now Available

May 10, 2008

Like usual I keep my eyes and ears tuned into new schemes whether good, bad, or just plain acts of self-interest of promoting to lure the pawns of chess (kids) into organized membership and expanded USCF rated play. The question is who is it serving–kids or USCF? The answer is both. Plain and simple, USCF has come up with another injection to inducing young people especially into organized chess who either have not the financial means nor  long term interests to engage in rated tournaments. This group is often made up of kids who just want to have fun with their buddies and see who emerge as “Kings or Queens for a Day!” As explanation, USCF officials say it is to meet the needs of affiliates (this so-called JTMs) which is explained this way: For young people ages 24 and below a junior, not a USCF member, may join a rated tournament for $7.00 online with rating submissions that includes one issue of Chess Life or Chess Life for Kids, and $5.00 of this fee may be applied to a full USCF membership within a 60-day period.  The HOPE is that it will encourage juniors to join USCF, see the value of getting his or her personal rating, and seeing opportunities viewed in the pages of CHESS LIFE for both area and national tournaments along with a broad spectrum of chess personalities and interesting stories of both a national and international flavor.  The hitch is that this membership is not available for national open championships.

So where does the Kindred come down on this? Good? Bad? From the perspective of USCF, local affiliate events that are constrained to non rated events because kids cannot afford to pay the dues and entry fees in one lump sum thus limiting entries to only USCF members has the potential of driving away kids from playing chess and thus are seen as self-defeating. There is an old saying: NO PAIN, NO GAIN. Non-rated events at least get the chance for locals to develop interest in chess fun. Of course for the well-to-do kids whose parents sacrifice for their kids and get them started with coaches, official rated play is not what this program idea is meant for.  It is meant strickly for kids who lack the parental support either financial or feel chess has no constructive value in their development as good citizens where time would be better spent elsewhere.

There is and has been for many decades the value of chess with peers and  association with various age groupings. Not only does it promote a sense of time values but also mental stimuli in seeing pattern relationships, critical thinking in decision making, judgment, planning and execution by carrying out plans one can muster to try and out maneuver the opponent in achieving victory. Furthermore, it teaches self appraisal, the building blocks toward improvement, and learning to respect others that make up tournament competition.

I believe it very important that those in the chess field recognize the need to build good character, compassion, and building a self-esteemed ego is a two-way street. Such mentoring can result in developing behavioral traits in kids that can be positive or negative. Whether young people choose to pursue chess into adult life depends upon the joy they receive from the game. That is why I have always advocated learning about its history, its great players, and enjoyment of studying the elements of opening, middlegame, and endgame play. The richer the education the more respect for its beauty and assets it nurtures in one’s life.

Personally I have always preferred the social fabric of “the chess club” and I speak for myself when I say I prefer round-robin tournaments to that of a swiss setup. For me, the one-tournament game a week at 40/2 format provided enough chess as a student for self-examination of my play as it complemented chess studies in evaluating my progress and need for further applications of theoretical study. Skittles, rapid 5-minute games, lectures, simultaneous play was a common menu at our club. Our club chess ladder saw frequent club rated games every club Saturday meeting. But times change.

What bothers me somewhat is the notion that organizers rely heavily and almost totally upon the USCF-rated Swiss Tournament for community action. Even during club sessions, the idea of USCF-rated games tend to play a dominate if not principal role during club meetings. The idea that rated play is the only attraction of chessplayers to join a club has been decades in the making. Perhaps that is the truth in the pudding. But at what expense has rated play, the soul, joy and purpose of modern chess competition killed the sense of club? Perhaps that is why clubs and the programs such as I established for enjoyment, competition, fellowship and good varieties that kept interest high declined with the ever increasing opportunities to play in Swiss Tournaments. Guess I lived in the best and worst of times.

USCF reliance on the Swiss Tournament is understandable and necessary for a vibrant schedule. Larry Evans once noted that millions know how to play chess in the USA. Despite this, USCF membership has never exceeded one hundred thousand members even during the Fischer boom. In fact, even during Fischer’s rise to fame, chess was partially in the doldrums of American thought. Membership in clubs back prior to the 1960s was relatively stable. Few clubs drew more than 2-300 members but most ranged I would guess between 14-70 members with little variance over the years of their existence. And as I mentioned, there were more readers of CHESS REVIEW than the whole membership of USCF which indicates to me that what chessplayers thrived on was a quality magazine. The wise decision to turn the rag Chess Life Newspaper into a quality magazine CHESS LIFE was a grass roots effort made possible by a dedicated and hardworking membership through its membership drive, officials and staff. Yet, these achievements do not explain why there is such a disparity between millions who play chess and the organized tournaments that have expanded over the past 50 or 60 years with a corresponding decline in clubs. The ratio of chess know how compared to tournament participation seems out of whack to me. Am I missing something? I wish someone could explain such a wide disconnect. And if the great increase among kids playing the game fails to result in closing the gap, then that means as many joining for the lst time see an equivalent number leaving. Perhaps the question should be: Is USCF mainly concerned with simply maintaining the status quo? Are the officials and the organizers simply providing opportunities through tournaments for players to compete or are they patting themselves on the back playing out a role of local, regional or national chess self promoters without building a grass roots level  leadership that concentrates on growth more than self interests?

Now, with the ever growing individual costs to participate in regional and national tournaments, the USCF had better put on their thinking caps to figure out how to utilize the internet chess play opportunities if such can be accomplished. Unfortunately I see such chess competition reverting more to local area events and interest than on the national level except on the professional level. I hope I am wrong.

Help me!

Kindred’s Special: Chess Clubs, Leagues and More

May 4, 2008

Purpose of my column in part is to provide a 66 year love affair with chess as a game, humor, poetry, and personal reflections and participation in its long amateur role among, not the elite, the average chess enthusiast from which we hear and read far too little of their enormous impact on the American chess scene. Much has appeared in books and chess periodicals written by the elite of the chessworld and writers. It is a rich history and one available to the masses just by the volume of such wide materials and outlets that promote them.  No, this blog is meant for the average guy and gal who wants to know the nuts and bolts of just the common flock that for years made the very existence of the clubs, leagues, and traveling amateur enthusiasts to tournaments far and wide or not so far and wide. Just what makes this group of widely diverse chess audience so embrace the game in a very ordinary and collective body from many backgrounds and interests to set up the pieces and pawns on the 64 square board to do battle again and again and be a part of the aesthetic beauty created in this geometrical absorbing game?

To write such a blog one must have access to records and materials throughout those years but most importantly it requires a personal touch with many or all of them. Such documentation must be based upon honesty and integrity in describing the times and changes that take place through such a history for which I feel blessed in having been a part. Meaning of course that I had the wonderful blessing of family love, understanding, of experiences rarely seen for a game that really did not attract a huge following. I have also been blessed with a sharp and clear memory and personal involvement in many of the projects that I now relate for your interest on this topic. You may also wish to view some of my games covering various periods that appear in some of my earlier columns and touch on some of the subject matter to be discussed here.

Where you live and are raised often reflects the limit of opportunities and chances to develop interest for chess. Some learned it from the Encyclopedia, others were taught the game as in my case in the home by older siblings or by school chums or finding a book on chess. This initial introduction no doubt finds many viewers in agreement reviewing their own experience. But to be acquainted with chess and to have a novice role means you play at chess but are not a chess player. The term chess player in my youth meant someone who had knowledge of the rules, some study of the elements and had skill enough to enjoy playing whether seriously or just for fun battles often called “skittles.” The chess novice was often found with the term coined “duffer”.  Enthusiastic players were often termed “woodpushers”.  This array of terminologies were commonly found in chess clubs, chess leagues, and tournaments–in other words wherever chess players congregated. These terms were thought of as friendly jousts and not derogatory remarks meant to denigrate others. 

Being raised in a rural area in western NYS had some negativity because I had few chances to engage in cross the board battles with other than my older brothers and sister and then later started a school chess club with some school chums I taught to play. I taught myself to play skillfully only after I broke my collarbone and was in a cast for much of the summer studying the book (3-times), a classic treatise by the famous Dr. S. Tarrasch called THE GAME OF CHESS. My interest for the game led me to read my brother’s copies of CHESS REVIEW and my family gave me a birthday gift of the CR chess kit and entry into a class C-section of their postal department. I eventually won that 6-0 and then 6-0 in a Golden Knights and finished 2.5-3.5 in the semi-finals. By the time I was 14-15 I had the good fortune that a bus route started and traveled to Rochester on Saturdays and arrived at 1:15p.m. and departed at 5:15p.m. from Main Street which was a block from the Rochester Chess & Checker Club.

This club was very strong having some of the best players in the region as members and a very active chess ladder. In those days US chess was dominated by the magazine CHESS REVIEW and the US official organization published a newspaper sheet of about 6-8 pages filled often with bickering and actually printing costs in the “red”. The best feature was the column by Dr. Erich W. Marchand that probably was the only reason that the “rag” existed at all. And Dr. Marchand was President of the club and also city champion having moved to NYS from Missouri where he was a former state champion. I entered the club and city championship tournament that took place over the winter months from October to about April. It was a round robin tournament split into two sections and then a finals made up of plus scores from both sections, one game on each Saturday, the finals and selection of players based upon a specific ending date. I made the finals; along the way I beat a master and two experts listed on our club ladder pairings (ratings were based upon the system developed by Harkness) and finished with 5 points, including a win against the famous local star Dr. Max Herzberger who won the title the previous year.

Even though young, Dr. Marchand asked me to take over the Treasurer’s job as many players were in arrears with dues. I posted a sign on the bulletin board that no member in arrears could play at the club until dues were paid. We soon had raised paid membership from 14 to 65. Furthermore, the president made arrangements to move the club to the Central Branch YMCA where dues were cut from $25 to $17 ($15 to Y-membership fee and $2 for the club treasury.) Marcy Shupp and I approached the Y to let us start a club bulletin which I edited. Eventually because of my skills at organizing I was asked to be the club program director, Tournament Director and appointed as a USCF Region II Director and eventually with the NYSCA as special assistant to the president Don Schultz.

Over the years various chess competitions were continued or expanded with various improvements like avoiding conflicting tournament dates, introducing Swiss Tournaments, holding State team competitions, attracting simultaneous exhibitions by GMs that included Larry Evans, Bobby Fischer, Victor Korchoi, Samuel Reshevsky, the Spanish champion Arturo Pomar, former World Champion Tigran Petrosian, Art Bisguier, and continuing to offer a diverse experimental set of one-day tournaments called Tornadoes featuring 3-rds, 30/30 sd events for practice which I set up for the lst Saturday of each month to avoid costs to promote and fee of $1 that was added to the club treasury. These training tournaments increased the treasury so the club could start guaranteeing prize funds for the regional events it sponsored and gave kids the opportunity to gain skill and improve their ratings. Other club events were started by the maestro Eddie Frumkin which he called the Hurricane series which were two-day tournaments at normal time controls. Some originated with me and or in club meetings.

All during these years USCF had matured from a weak enity into a vibrant and well-organized organization with a vastly improved rating system and method to rate huge numbers of events. Some our youth were becoming strong masters with increasing number of experts and class players. Our club’s own Kenneth Rogoff developed into a powerhouse, winning the US Junior event two or three times, gaining the GM title and taking 4th and then 2nd in US Championships before retiring to take up his economic career.

I have related elsewhere the development of the Rochester Industrial-Civic Chess League that met at Eastman Kodak over the winter months every Monday night from 7p.m. to 10p.m. but many were still there until 11p.m. The RSA would not permit membership by outside groups so games could not be rated but still there were over 150 players who met for several years in corporate and civic team matches. Team matches continue at the Rochester Center but are not corporate events. They are organized as free, choose your teammates, style league and quite successful in that menu in the able hands of Ron Lohrman and his team of skilled organizers.

Team matches representing various clubs like the Black Knights Club and Wayne Chess Club held invitational matches hosted by the clubs and the Rochester Chess Club had various matches with Buffalo-Erie club and traveled to state club matches as well as hosting some. Some matches would feature four to ten boards and most competitions were friendly with coffee and doughnuts offered by the host group.

The Rochester Chess Club held a number of NYS tournaments including both the NYS Open and NYS Amateur, the Genesee Valley Open, Lake Ontario Open–many coming from as far away as Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Canada (I probably missed some others). Those were the really active years from the late 1950s through the 1970s.

Certainly I would be remiss in not mentioning the entry fees for most events in those especially early years going from $5.00 entry to $10.00 entry and of course later on the enormous explosion of modern-day “big bucks” and the like “big bucks” prize funds. Which brings to mind the reasons that have effected the turnouts over the years. In the early days most players met and competed strictly to get together with their chess friends and acquaintances made through the years, the fact that tournaments were rare and far between generally speaking and the joy of competition and vying for a top prize that might be nothing more than $100 for first place and maybe a few other cash prizes or trophies or plaques. Many players opted to stay at the Y, a local college dorm, hotel, motel or at a friend/relative house. Prizes were not the main attraction to players but rather the chance to compete and perhaps see the results of their chess study and practice in action. The more successful tournaments were always seen as being well-organized and run events regardless of the turnout which usually numbered from the 20s, 40s, 60s here in western NY. With the Fischer Boom Years, the numbers locally attracted huge student turnouts even for our training events to over 100 with as I recall the largest being well over 200 competing. With the passing of time, the almighty dollar of course took over the greed aspect of chess play replacing what was once the element of sheer enjoyment and desire to compete and produce perhaps some of the best chess experienced to that time. Now, it is the evolution of both aspects to join together in reason and purpose.

Over the years I devoted time spent on chess in two theatres–overtheboard and correspondence. Of late I have ventured into play on the World Chess Live club and started my blog that hopefully might reach a more general audience where my experience and sense of history might entice the public to show a bit more interest in the game. At the start I mentioned my experience with CHESS REVIEW. In 1958 Marcy Shupp introduced me to the Correspondence Chess League of America and have been a member since that time playing on a number of CCLA international teams as well as entering two ICCF World Chess competitions, finishing in the semi-finals with 50% World Cup II and then scoring well in an ICCF masters tourney. For three years I was the editor of CCLA, also a games’ editor previous to that and served the organization as lst Vice President.

Due to eye problems and health concerns I was advised to give up active tournament play either by mail, e-mail or overtheboard tournaments.

I enjoyed for many years a love of good books, gardening, of fishing, poetry, writing short stories and thus achieving a type of contentment and leisurely pursuit of various enjoyments shared with my lovely helpmate and wife who also knows how to play chess. I keep current with chess being a Life Member of USCF, and subscribe and enjoy the study of New In Chess. Thankfully I have yet to diminish my capacity to absorb the visual aspects of chess positions seen from those enjoyable encounters. By that I mean if a player plays what I have seen before, my mind readily is drawn back to what I studied. Perhaps it is true that chessplayers’ brains remain alert and active in old age. I hope so. The one detriment of old age is how young one feels and experiences that time clock running faster and faster with the passing of time!