Monday, June 28, 2010

A Debate on a Falkbeer Countergambit Variation

The players
Yakov Borisovich Estrin born in Moscow, Russia 21 April 1923 (died 2 February 1987). Yakov Estrin was one of the few players to become an over the board Grandmaster and a correspondence Grandmaster. He was the Seventh International World Correspondence Chess Champion (1972-1976) and was a finalist 4 other times. The game in this lecture is from his book GAMBITS (Chess Enterprises, 1983).

Paul Keres was born in Narva, Estonia 7 January 1916 (died 5 June 1975). In 1938, at the age of 22, the arrangements for a World Championship match with current champion Alexander Alekhine were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. Paul Keres was one of the strongest Grandmasters in the world, he missed making it to the World Chess Championship 5 (!) times in the post war years. GM Keres is considered to be the strongest player never to compete in a World Chess Championship. He wrote my favorite endgame book, Practical Chess Endings.

When the game below was played, Paul Keres was already an accomplished Grandmaster and considered a serious contender for the World Chess Championship as noted above. Yakov Estrin was about to graduate from our equivalent of high school.

Estrin writes in his book Gambits how he “spent considerable time analyzing one of the variations of the Falkbeer Countergambit” which somehow just happened to be a line Paul Keres played in the prewar (WWII) years.

It went like this
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 d4 4.d3 Nf6 5.Nd2 Bf5 6.dxe4 Nxe4 7.Qe2

Here Estrin notes, “For a long time, theory held that the diagrammed position was in White’s favor. And in fact 7… Qxd5? Loses a piece to 8.g4!; while 7….Qe7 8.Ngf3 (snip) White clearly has the better of it.

But Estrin had a different idea he had analyzed and was determined to try it out. He did so against Grandmaster Paul Keres during a simultaneous exhibition in Moscow in the spring of 1941.

7…. Bb4!?! 8.c3 O-O 9.Nxe4 Re8 10.cxb4 Rxe4 11.Be3 Qe7 12.Kf2 Nd7

It is here Estrin pauses to note, “… it will not be easy for White to find a satisfactory defense.”

No kidding!

After 13.Re1 Nf6 14.h3 Re8 15.Qd2 Rxb4 16.Bd3 Bxd3 17.Qxd3 Rxb2+ we have the position on the right where the following occurred

18.Re2 Ne4+ 19.Kf3 Qh4 20.Bf2 Qxf2+
21.Rxf2 Rxf2+ 22.Kg4 Rxg2+ 23.Kh4 Rg6
24.Rh2 f5 25.Qf3 Rh6+ 26.Qh5 Rxh5+
27.Kxh5 Rd8 and White resigned.

You might think this would be the end of it, but it was not. A school boy had just defeated one of the world’s leading GM’s and did it in fine style.

Nine years later (nine years!) GM Keres did his best to throw doubt on the entire variation by suggesting an improvement to 8.c3 with 8.Qb5+ writing, “I see no way for Black to save all his hanging pieces here.”

He would have to eat those words after Estrin replied in print.

Estrin in 1951 ten years after the initial game gave the following refutation of Keres idea above: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 d4 4.d3 Nf6 5.Nd2 Bf5 6.dxe4 Nxe4 7.Qe2 Bb4!?! 8.Qb5+ Nc6 9.c3 and then 9…. a6!!

Now the main lines White may choose from on move 10 which all lead to advantage for Black.

1) 10.Qxb7 Nd6! 11.Qxc6+ Bd7 12.Qxa8 Qxa8 13.cb O-O and Black is preferred
2) 10.Qd3 Nxc3 11.Qxf5 Qe7+ 12.Be2 Nxe2 13.Nxe2 Qxe2+ 14.Kxe2 Nd4+ advantage Black.
3) 10.Qc4 b5! 11.Qb3 Qe7 12Be2 Nc5 13.Qd1 O-O-O with a strong attack
4) 10.Qa4 Qe7 11.Be2 Nc5 12.Qd1 O-O-O! with a strong attack again
5) 10.Qe2 Nd4! O-O and Black has a tremendous attack

(All the analysis/notes above are Estrin’s)

Estrin’s line eventually ended the debate and put this line out of business for White.

- Honza Cervenka said, “Excellent attack of Yakov Estrin. 23...Nd6 threatening 24...Re4 with next 25...Nf5+ 26.Kh5 g6# was another possible finish.”
- bernardchinshin asks, “What happens if 20. Qe4. I cannot see a win for Black.”

Additional games: Found four (4) games have been played since the original on Black won all four. The following two games are representative.

Moscow, Russia 1949
Yu Steinsapir vs Yakov Estrin
1. e4 e5 2. f4 d5 3. exd5 e4 4. d3 Nf6 5. Nd2 Bf5 6. dxe4 Nxe4 7. Qe2 Bb4 8. c3 O-O
9. Nxe4 Re8 10. cxb4 Rxe4 11. Be3 Qe7 12. Kf2 Nd7 13. Qh5 g6 14. Qg5 Qxb4 15. Re1 Qxb2+ 16. Re2 Qc3 17. g4 Rae8 18. gxf5 Rxe3 19. fxg6 Nf6 20. Kg2 hxg6 21. f5
Rxe2+ 22. Nxe2 Qe5 23. Kg1 Ne4 24. Qf4 Qxd5 25. fxg6 fxg6 26. Bg2 Qc5+ 27. Kf1 Rf8 28. Bxe4 Rxf4+ 29. Nxf4 Qc4+ 30. Bd3 Qxf4+ 31. Ke2 c5 32. Bxg6 Qg4+ 33. Kf2 Qxg6 34. Rg1 Qxg1+ 35. Kxg1 Kg7 36. a4 b6 37. Kf2 a6 38. Ke3 b5 39. a5 Kf6 40. Ke4 c4 0-1

Nijmegen, Netherlands 1963
N Speyer vs V Soultainbeiff
1. e4 e5 2. f4 d5 3. exd5 e4 4. d3 Nf6 5. Qe2 Bf5 6. Nd2 Bb4 7. c3 O-O 8. dxe4 Nxe4
9. cxb4 Re8 10. Nxe4 Rxe4 11. Be3 Qe7 12. Kf2 Nd7 13. Qf3 Re8 14. Bd2 Nf6 15. h3 Rd4 0-1


Saturday, June 26, 2010

When You Stop Calculating

I am a chess player or at least I used to be. Now I mostly organize and direct chess tournaments plus run the Dayton Chess Club (Dayton, OH) while working full time and taking online classes in a very different field - Christian Studies.

Nonetheless, I decided to pay to attend a lecture by Grandmaster (GM) Alexander Goldin this morning (Saturday, June 26, 2010) at the Dayton Chess Club at the prompting of my wife. Plus I was curious as I had attended GM lectures before and while I was always dazzled, I was also always disappointed. I was disappointed because they frequently talked over my head (and those of others in attendance) while seeking to impress us with their brilliance. That was unnecessary as we all understood what it takes to be a Grandmaster. The GM title does not come easy, the percentage of chess players with the title is a small part (very small part) of the top one percent of chess players worldwide.

That being said, this lecture was different, very different. GM Goldin stretched a 75 minute lecture into a 90 minute lecture while doing his best to communicate with those in attendance what they would need to do to improve their chess game. Like many or most GM's he stressed the study of the endgame. But it was with a twist. The purpose of studying endgames - beyond gaining the knowledge and techniques necessary to draw or win a given endgame - is developing one's ability to calculate. He asked the question, "Why?" Then he proceeded to provide the answer. Unlike estimation of positions which takes years of experience, one's ability to calculate can be improved in months or weeks or even days - depending on one's dedication to practice or in his words, regular exercise. Timed, purposeful exercises are the key. Almost any good endgame book will do, but he recommended starting with "Chess Endings" by GM Averbakh with a specific focus on king and pawn endgames to build up the calculating ability.

GM Goldin did not stop there. He went on to emphasize the necessity to calculate "move by move" throughout the changing position. He was emphatic, stating "The moment you stop calculating you lose your grip on the game." And again, "When you stop calculating and start 'thinking' you lose the game!" In case you are wondering, the exclamation mark is indicative of the emphasis he placed on this.

As an example he next gave a 'simple' endgame position (White: K-h7, p-d2; Black: K-f7, p-c4) with White to move asking how White might draw. We discovered rapidly that walking White's king down the h file towards the pawns did not work as it never really got closer to the pawns. It was a matter of calculation. Then most of us rejected the idea of moving the White king further away from the pawns to h8 as a bad idea (thinking). However, if you calculate it out this counter intuitive move works. Lesson learned. Thinking without calculation is indeed bad. We also saw here an application of Sherlock Holmes' famous dictum, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Or applying this deductive logic to chess, "When you have eliminated all the natural moves by calculation, then it is time to try - by calculation - the most unlikely moves no matter how counter intuitive or impossible looking."

With one more problem and two of his games - one as an IM and one as a GM - to demonstrate his practice of his personal dictum - "Calculate, always calculate!" There was much more, but if you want to find out what else was covered, come to one of his lectures or take an hour or more of his private lessons. He will be at the Dayton Chess Club every 1-2 months to play in the Game in 25 minutes on Friday night followed by lecture and lessons on Saturday and more lessons on Sunday.

Don't take my word for it, calculate it out yourself. Also take the time to compare GM Goldin's remarks about regular dedicated exercise with "deliberate practice" and what you find on the latter when you Google "deliberate practice."


Thursday, June 24, 2010

202 & ELDM

Have signs up all over my office with only "202" typed on them. Don't get so many questions now or odd looks. Every once in a while I get, "How's that "202" coming along. I usually reply not so bad.

In truth though it is not going so well. Those of you who are overweight will recognize it right away - a weight goal. From starting at 225 lbs. my interim goal is 202 lbs. I have made it down to 217 twice, but it's been a yo-yo so far. Right now I am at 226 lbs. Do I have to tell you I am sick of this.

I know the real secret to losing weight. It's caught in the acronym ELDM ... Eat Less, Do More. What could be easier? I don't know, but I am not doing it somehow. One thing discovered, a bit more sleep each night - 30 to 60 minutes - and my appetite goes down while my energy goes up - with less food. Maybe if I could sleep 23 hours per day. By the way I did not invent the ELDM.

Used to work with a LtCol (USAF) who was also an electronic warfare analyst and he was a butterball. Then one day (or so it seemed) I turned around and he was almost slim. Of course I wanted to know his secret. He said, "Okay, but you won't like it." But I didn't care and demanded to know his secret. He smiled and said, "Eat Less and Do More." Then he turned and walked away.

I didn't listen. I was too busy with work, with family, with chess, with stuff and I didn't want to modify give any of it up. And so it went until my weight stabilized at 240 lbs. It would go higher.

Job changes, more pressure to succeed. I was loving life. The kids were growing up well, things were great. And we were going to church for the first time in our married life. What a change there. Then tragedy hit. A terrible family situation and I went into a deep, very deep funk. In months my weight had ballooned to over 290 lbs. I quit weighing myself then. It was too frightening. My knees went bad. Had to have knee surgery on one. Better, but never the same.

Finally, my bride and I gave up the situation to God and started to get on with life. I started on the Atkins Diet. It worked, sorta. Weight dropped down to 220 lbs in about 4 months. It was amazing. But then it leveled off and life got very busy again. Too busy.

Then I found out about the diabetes. Whoops. So that was what was causing those emergency stops so I could go urinate somewhere - anywhere. I was no longer laughing at getting old in my late 50's. My 90 day blood sugar (HbA1c for you purists) was 10.4! I was a prime candidate for a heart attack or a stroke. Something had to be done. So I ate less, almost no carbs (back on the Atkins Diet), exercised and brought my numbers down to the normal range, 6.2 to 6.9 and sometimes over 7 or barely over 8. I was taking this serious, but not serious enough.

A few years go by. And then a cousin, wonderful guy, gets killed in Iraq. Decided to go there as well if they could use a 60 year old engineer. First time it didn't work. Blood sugar was over the limit, but not by much. Got it back into line, but it was too late, that job was gone. Then another opportunity arose. My blood sugar was 5.7 (great!) and my weight was down to 202 lbs (also great). So off I went to Iraq with two short trips home before returning after 14 months. One for our wedding anniversary and the other for my father's funeral.

My knees had gone from bad to worse while at Al Asad Air Base all those months. So, six months after my return got a brand new set of knees. Wow! And OWW! 13 months later now and I love them. No more pain. Able to stand up for extended periods without crying. WOW!

Now I just have to figure out how to use them for that "Do More" portion of ELDM and I will be back on the path to 202. But first I think I will take some time in prayer and once again put God in charge and see what happens. 202, here I come!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Walking the Walk

St. Francis of Assisi had some interesting ideas about preaching the word of God. The ones I like best can be summarized in two quotes from him - two of my favorites. “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching” and "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Clearly this Roman Catholic Friar knew something about "Not talking the talk unless you are willing to walk the walk" way before such a saying would become cool (kewl?). After all he died one week after turning 45 on October 3, 1226. Yet his words resonate today.

I think he would understand how I look at the second commandment given by Jesus, "Love your neighbors as yourself."

You see when I meet a self proclaimed Christian brother or sister, one of the things I do is observe closely how they treat their closest neighbor/s. How the wife/husband treats their husband/wife and children will tell you much about their heart and how they will treat other neighbors. (BTW I use this also for self examination)

Imagine a man or woman who treats their spouse unkindly. Clearly he/she does not understand their spouse is their closest neighbor deserving of the same love they have for their own self and for more distant neighbors.

I mean we have the commandment - it cannot be clearer. And our spouses and family are like the talents provided in the parable of the talents. How well one cares for the talents entrusted to his/her care - his/her family and loved ones - will tell a great deal about how the same person will love his/her extended neighbors and if any proffered love is real or not.

Or as St. Francis of Assisi might have said, "It's no use loving your neighbor unless you are loving your closest neighbors - your family."

And just to be clear here, I acknowledge family members are often times those toughest to love, but they like everyone else are our neighbors, our closest neighbors.

In loving our families our closes neighbors, we begin "walking the walk" that can lead us to loving others - neighbors further and further removed.

Perhaps in loving our families as ourselves, maybe then we can love others who are distant relatives or neighbors, and finally maybe we can love our enemies. Or as St. Francis said, “Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”