Honoring Chess Beauty

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The world champion Misha Tal (1936-1992) was to chess what the saxophonist Charlie Parker was to jazz. Both flying high with no barriers, no limits to their intuition, imagination and improvisation. The traditional Tal Memorial tournament recently finished in Moscow.
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The Russian grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchti, 26, won the event. It was the best ever tournament victory for a former prodigy known for his speed-chess skills. In the classical chess, he recently emerged as one of the world's toughest players to beat. In the last month he was tamed only once by Wesley So. It was a pivotal loss, enabling the Americans to win gold medals at the Olympiad in Baku. Nepo, as he is often called, went undefeated in Moscow.

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Anish Giri, 22, broke out from the circle of draws, won some games and took second place. He is fighting with Nepo for the 10 th place on the FIDE rating list.

While the youngsters were doing well, the old timers did not give up. The former world champion Vladimir Kramnik, 41, is currently rated the world's number two behind Magnus Carlsen, because of his wonderful performance in Baku. He made a drastic switch, playing the king-pawn openings. Vishy Anand, 46, the most versatile world champion, shared third place with Levon Aronian. Anand's victory against Shakhryiar Mamedyarov brought back some memories.

October surprise

This October is special: it has five Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. It is so rare that it occurs only once in 823 years, last time in the year 1191***. Time runs faster on the chessboard, but sometimes we have to wait a long time before we see something repeat itself. It took 37 years before a rare endgame I thought I would never see again appeared in a top tournament.

In 1979 in Montreal, I reached such an endgame against Bent Larsen. White had a Rook, a Bishop and a Knight. Black had only a Rook and a Bishop. The pawns on the board were not relevant and eventually disappeared. The Bishops were of opposite color, enabling Larsen to place his attacking light pieces on squares my Bishop couldn't reach. My King was at the edge of the board.

At the Tal Memorial Anand reached a similar endgame against Mamedyarov. While Larsen eventually won material, Anand created a study-like finish with a combination of forks and mating nets.

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Anand,Viswanathan - Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar
10th Tal Memorial, Moscow 2016

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47.Rb6!
Closing the b-file.
47...Rxb6
White wins beautifully after 47...Rc1+ 48.Re1 Rxb6 49.axb6 Rxc3 50.d6 Be6 (50...Ba6 51.Rd1!+-) 51.Rxe6! fxe6 52.Nd4 cxd4?! 53.d7 and the pawn promotes.
48.axb6 Bxd5 49.Nxg7!
A well-calculated move. Vishy had seen how uncoordinated the black pieces are and how they would fall to various knight forks.
49...Rg2+ 50.Kf1 Rg6
After 50...Rxg7 51.Bxg7 Kxg7 52.Re5 White will eventually promote the b-pawn.
51.Nxh5 Bc4+ (51...Rxb6 52.Nf6+wins.) 52.Kf2 Rxb6

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Anand will now run his attack on the dark squares, unreachable to Black's light Bishop.
53.Nf6+ Kh6
53...Kg6 54.Nd7 and after the Rook moves, White forks with 55.Ne5+.
54.Rg3!

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Closing the mating net and threatening 55.Bd2 mate.
After 54...Rd6 White has several ways to win:
A. 55.Ne4 Rb6 (55...Rg6 56.Rh3#) 56.Bg7+ Kh5 57.Nf6+ Kh4 58.Rg4+ Kh3 59.Rxc4+-;
B. 55.Ke1 Re6+ 56.Kd1 Rd6+ 57.Bd2++-;
C. 55.Be5 Rd2+ 56.Ke1 Re2+ 57.Kd1 Rxe5 58.Ng4+ Kg5 59.Nxe5+ Kf4 60.Rg4++-.
Black resigned.

The tournament in Montreal in 1979 broke several records. For the first time it attained the FIDE category 15 (with the average rating of 2624) and the prize fund reached $100,000 dollars. By organizing the event, I also tried to bring Bobby Fischer back to chess. In the first half of the tournament, I was on Thomas Edison's sleeping schedule, some four hours a night, which did not help me during the longest game against Larsen.

Larsen, Bent - Kavalek, Lubomir
Tournament of Stars, Montreal 1979

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Larsen gave me a chance to sacrifice my knight to pick up both passed pawns.
68...Nxf5!!
I thought I was close to a draw.
69.Kxf5 Rd5+ 70.Ke4?
Backing off gives me drawing chances.
Walking up wins: 70.Ke6!! Rg5 71.Kf7 Rf5+ 72.Ke7! (72.Kg8? Rg5 73.Kh7 Rh5+ 74.Nh6 Bd2=) 72...Rg5 73.Nf6 Rxg6 74.Nd7+ Ka7 75.Bc8 Rg7+ 76.Ke6 The black King is caught in a mating net:
A. 76...Rg6+ 77.Kf5 Rd6 (77...Rf6+ 78.Nxf6+-) and now the winning mechanism is simple: 78.Rc7+ Ka8 79.Bb7+ Ka7 80.Bd5+ Ka6 81.Bc4+ Ka5 82.Ra7+ Ra6 83.Rxa6 mate.
B. 76...Ka8 77.Rc5 Bd4 78.Ra5+ Ba7 79.Rb5 Bg1 80.Rb8+ Ka7 81.Rxb4 wins.
After 70.Kf4 Rd6 wins the g-pawn.
70...Rg5 71.Bc8 Rxg6
White can conduct the attack on the light squares. Black's only hope is to sacrifice the b-pawn and exchange either light pieces or the Rooks.
72.Ne3?
Larsen has to keep all three pieces on the board, but he should have started with 72.Bf5!? because the Bishop is now vulnerable.

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72...Rh6?
Fatigue sets in. I could have exchanged the bishops with 72...b3! 73.Rxc3 b2 74.Rb3+ Kxc8 75.Rxb2 with a theoretical draw.
73.Kd5 Bd2
Again, 73...Rh5+ 74.Nf5 b3! draws.
74.Nf5 Rb6 75.Nd6 b3 76.Bf5 Bb4 77.Nf7 b2 78.Bb1 Ba3
A better place for the Bishop is 78...Bf8!, for example 79.Ne5!? Rd6+ 80.Ke4 Rd1, drawing.
79.Rc3 Rb7?! [79...Bf8!?] 80.Ne5 Rb5+ 81.Ke6 Bb4

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82.Rb3?!
Larsen misses an outright win: 82.Nd7+! Ka7 83.Rb3 Rb7 84.Be4 Rb5 85.Rxb2 and Black is in zugzwang. The knight controls the dark squares, the bishop the light squares and the pin with the Rook wins more material.
82...Kc7??
Finally, a losing blunder. 82...Rb6+! 83.Kd5 Kc7 would give me drawing chances.
83.Nd7!
Black can't get out of the pin and the Rook has short legs. Black is lost.
83...Kd8
After 83...Kc6 84.Be4+ Kc7 85.Rxb2 Kd8 86.Bc6 wins. Another example how should the white pieces work.
84.Be4 Ra5 85.Ne5 (85.Rxb4 Ra6+ 86.Rb6+- also wins.) 85...Ra6+ 86.Nc6+ Kc7 87.Rxb4 Rb6 88.Rxb6 Kxb6 89.Kd5 Kb5 90.Bc2
Black resigned.

The first brilliancy prize

Tal won many brilliancy or beauty prizes for his astonishing attacks. These prizes encourage imaginative play. The first beauty prize was awarded to the Englishman Henry Bird (1829 - 1908) for his victory against James Mason in 1876. It was during the centenary celebration of the United States Declaration of Independence at the Café International in New York.

The rules of the tournament were loose, some games among the 21 players were not played, some players played more games. Only three players had real chances for the top three prizes: James Mason won the $100 first prize, scoring 16 points in 19 games, Eugene Delmar won $50 with the score 15.5/18 and Henry Bird got $25 for the score 15/17. There were confusions and protests and the experts proclaimed Bird the moral winner. Most likely, he would have won two games he was lacking on Mason.

The tournament was sponsored by the newspaper New York Clipper and by the owner of the Café Siegfried Lieders. He donated the first three prizes and a silver cup for the most brilliant game. Bird's brilliancy was a fighting game and the Englishman was on the losing side most of the time because of his incorrect Queen sacrifice. But he turned the see-saw battle around.

Bird, Henry Edward - Mason, James
The Clipper Free Centennial, New York 1876

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Some of the best brilliant games start with a pawn sacrifice....
29.a5?
A faulty deflection, although Bird wrote: 'This move initiates a combination of remarkable interest, besides affording scope for some of the best play of both these well-known players.'
29...Bxa5?
The computers showed a nice refutation: 29...Bxd4! 30.cxd4 Nxd4 31.Qf4 Rxe5 and now:
A. 32.Rxe5 Nf3+ 33.Kg3 (33.Qxf3 Qxe5+ 34.Kh3 Qxa1-+) 33...Nxe5 34.Re1 Re8 wins.
B. 32.Kh3!? Rxe1 33.Qxc7 Rxa1 with Black's edge.
30.Rxa5 Rf8
[30...Qxa5? 31.Ng6+-]
31.Ra6?
'This is quite a la Bird,' wrote Wormald in Illustrated London News. "For once in a way our countryman wakes up and comes out in his old brilliant style.'
But the Queen sacrifice makes things worse. White had to seek refuge in the line 31.Qh5 Qxa5 32.Ng6 Qc7+ 33.f4 Rff7 34.Nxe7+ Rxe7 still with Black's edge.
31...Rxf5 32.gxf5 Nd8 33.Nf4
After 33.Nh4 Qb7 34.Rea1 Qb2 35.Kg2 Qe2 Black is in charge.
33...Qc8
The double-attack on the Ra6 and the pawn on f5 seems to be decisive, but Bird still finds sharp moves to keep the game going.
34.Nfg6
[34.Raa1 Qxf5-+]
34...Re8 35.Nxc6!
Everything is hanging. 35.Rxa7? Qxf5-+

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35...Qc7+
Black should have played 35...Nxc6 36.Rxe8+ Qxe8 37.Rxc6 Kh7! with a likely win. Black has a strong passed pawn, but has to calibrate its advance with the defense of his king.
36.Nce5 Qxc3 37.Re3 Qd2?!
37...Qc8! was the way to go, but not 37...Qxd4? 38.Nf3! and White wins.
38.Kg2 Qxd4 39.f6!
Opening the black king gives White good chances to equalize.
39...gxf6 40.Rxf6 Ne6 41.Rg3?!
Bird slips again. 41.Rf7! threatening 42.Ne7+, keeps the game in balance.
41...Ng5-+ 42.Ng4 Kg7?
The game became difficult to play and Mason returned the favor. The computers advocate a counterattack along the first rank: 42...Qa1! 43.Rc6 Re1 winning.
43.Nf4 Qe4+ 44.Kh2 Nh7?
A blunder. Black still has two ways to level the chances:
A. 44...d4 45.Nh5+ Kg8! 46.Nxh6+ Kh8 47.Nf4 (47.Rxg5? Qh4+-+) 47...Kg7=;
B. 44...Re6 45.Nxe6+ Nxe6 46.Rxh6 Ng5 47.Rh5 Nf3+ 48.Kh3 Kf7 is roughly equal.
45.Nh5+! Kh8 46.Rxh6 Qc2 47.Nhf6 Re7 48.Kg2 d4 49.Ne5!

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'Can there be anything prettier than this?' Brenzinger gets carried away in The New York Clipper. "What a crash of thunder!'
49...Qc8 50.Ng6+ Kg7 51.Nxe7+
'A most tragic termination, the whole of the remaining army killed with one shot," concludes Bird.
Black resigned.

Some of the notes appear in an excellent new book on Henry Edward Bird's life and games, recently published by McFarland.

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This 595-page biography provides a wonderful account of Bird's 64-year chess career. It is a fascinating journey through the chess landscape of the 19th century with many important and colorful chess personalities. The author Hans Renette was inspired by Richard Foster's monumental work on Amos Burn, although Bird played nearly 300 more games.

Bird worked as an accountant, played as an amateur and picked up chess professionally only at the age of 44. His renown grew after he narrowly lost to William Steinitz in 1866. Of the 1,191 games in the book some 40 percent are commented in-depth. The views of Bird's contemporary writers are included and many games are checked with current computer engines.

Bird made important contributions to chess openings, mainly in the Italian game, Spanish, Sicilian defense and the Dutch Attack 1.f4. He also had some funny moments, for example preventing the French defense 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 with 2. Bb5. He was not alone: William Steinitz tried 2.e5, and Mikhail Chigorin 2.Qe2. The old masters had their days of glory.

October winners

Several strong events finished in the first half of October:

The Ukrainian Pavel Elyanov and Fabiano Caruana of the United States shared first place the nine-round Chess.com Isle of Man International, scoring 7.5 points. Elyanov won the title on a tiebreak.

In the duel of the legends in Murmansk, Russia, the Dutch GM Jan Timman defeated the former world champion Anatoly Karpov 2.5-1.5.

The Czech GM David Navara won the traditional Chess Corrida, defeating Jan Ludvig Hammer of Norway 4,5 to 3,5. Navara won the rapid match 3-1, but lost the classical part 1,5 -2,5. The match was played in the Czech town Novy Bor, known for fine glassworks.

The Polish GM Dariusz Swiercz won the Millionaire Chess and the $30,000 first prize in Atlantic City, NJ.

Note that in the replay windows below you can click either on the arrows under the diagram or on the notation to follow the game. Select games from the dropdown menu below the board.

Images Eteri Kublashvili and Chess Tourn Archives

*** The "823 years" claim is apparently a hoax as an alert reader pointed out.