The Gazette - August 2021

Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

Champing at the Bit 03

Paul Benson writes:

We are returning to '72 for a trip down Nostalgia Lane. Aha, perhaps memories of Fischer and Spassky doing battle in Reykjavik are coming to mind? Forget them, it is 1872 under the microscope.

Life could sometimes be fairly short and brutal in those days. In the "Wild West" it appears Wild Bill Hickock had just hung up his guns for a less bloody career. Wyatt Earp and his brothers had to wait another 9 years for events at the O.K. Corral to unravel. Looks like 1872 has a lull in the gunslinging department, but no need to be disappointed. We can instead turn to the "Wild East" for our shoot-outs, albeit of a more subtle nature.

Our hero being studied is Emmanuel Schiffers (1850 - 1904). Russian champion for 10 years, losing the title to his student, Mikhail Chigorin, in 1879 should say a lot about him. His preference at the board was to maximise the pleasure found from exciting play. A complete opposite of present-day chess professionals’ maxim: “The point is the point!” And as any long-lasting gunslinger would confirm, staying alive involves both shooting bullets and dodging them...

Game 1: I. Shumov - E. Schiffers, St. Petersburg 1872, had White gunning for a quick kill.

(In those days there seemed to be an unspoken, ‘Commandment of Chess’, in operation as opponents shook hands. It sort of went: “I say to thee Sir, if thee value thy reputation as a Gentleman thou shalt offer a gambit.”)

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4

(Gambit pawn offered, ‘Gentlemanship Reputation’ intact. Nowadays this is more commonly known as the Urasov Gambit. Is it sound? Wrong question. It is perfectly playable for both sides, providing the necessary homework has been done, the real fighting happens as the middlegame begins. Ah but remember, this is almost 150 years ago, no databases around back then, not much reference material available. They had to rely heavily on a combination of analytical ability plus experience controlled by instinct of just what the position might offer.)

4. ... Bc5 (This might look like trying to keep the gambit-pawn, but it is actually just developing the bishop on a good square.)

5. O-O d6 6. c3 (White offers a pawn trade on c3, if Black accepts we have a true gambit.)

6. ... Bg4 (Black wisely declines the material, preferring to maintain development tempi equality at 3 - 3 each. This pin on the white f3 knight also strengthens the black grip on the d4 pawn. Fine, but when a unit moves attacks may be created but in turn defences elsewhere may become absent. Instead 6. ... dxc3 7. Nxc3 is simply giving a Gambiteer just what they want, activity plus a lead in development.)

7. Qb3 (A move of mixed consequences. A double-attack hits the target black f7 pawn, fine, but the white kingside can be shattered if Black trades on the f3 square. There is also the deserted black b7 pawn up for grabs, though White would be rather missing the point if Qxb7 was the intention. Black to play and show a bit of nerve.)

7. ... Bxf3 (Difficult to believe, but at only move 7 Black makes a decision which shapes the entire game to come. Whatever threats White has on Black are permitted to proceed. In gunfighting terms the antagonists are setting themselves up to blast each other off the street. Had Black wished to avoid whatever developmental disruption is about to occur then 7. ... Qd7 avoided the complications.)

8. Bxf7+ (A zwischenzug, an in-between move which cannot be ignored. This snatch of a pawn with check forces the black king to move, the necessary white re-capture on f3 can be postponed for a move or so.)

8. ... Kf8 (Black avoids running into a speeding bullet, if 8. ... Kd7 9. Qe6+ mate.)

9. Bxg8 (White carries on playing with those units already developed, though in return there is a threat of Qf7+ mate to be neutralised. Choice for Black now, capture the invading white g8 bishop or retreat the f3 bishop to prevent mate.)

9. ... Rxg8 (This counter-intuitive move has hidden depths. Instead 9. ... Bh5 10. Bd5 leaves Black wondering where the compensation for the king displacement can arise.)

10. gxf3 (Only move 10 and careful consideration of what has occurred is required. Both light square bishops have departed, White consuming 3 tempi, Black 2 tempi. Pawn moves stand at 4 - 3 with White again spending an extra tempo. This explains why the development count is 1 - 3 in favour of Black. But development alone, or the lack of it, is not the sole factor in evaluating a position. Kings are the most important pieces on the board, their safety is paramount as the opening morphs into the middlegame. How do we assess the short-term future of each king? Both kings have lost some pawn-cover, this means if the opposing army can get close then expect some royal problems. Lastly, is the development count of 1 - 3 correct? Surely the white f1 rook is in play? Technically yes, but his presence on f1 might be a hindrance to his lord and master on g1, so a hindering contribution does not make the count. Now if the white f1 rook is perceived not to be counting, why is the black g8 rook believed to be of positive value?)

10. ... g5 (Without a doubt the best move of the game so far, and probably the best move of the entire game. A black kingside attack is about to materialise out of nowhere, the apparently out-of-action g8 rook suddenly has a satisfying job to do.)

11. Qe6 (Transferring herself over to the kingside hoping to offer some defensive support to the white king. Fine when a queen versus queen challenge is in the air, but a defending queen can be kicked around by lesser value attacking units, queens do not enjoy defensive chores.)

11. ... Rg6 (A strong rook lift, the imagination behind advancing with pawn g5 is revealed, the black kingside attack begins.)

12. Qf5+ (This only helps Black, the king finds immediate shelter on g7 and the f8 square is vacated for someone else just itching to join the attack. Instead 12. Qh3 would save White a couple of tempi, though just what White could have gained with them will have to remain conjecture.)

12. ... Kg7 13. Kh1 (Sensibly removing the king off the semi-open g-file, unfortunately hiding on h1 only seems to bring a different set of problems his way.)

13. ... Qe7 14. b4 (With the intention of a queenside fianchetto, this will give White some dark square play but surely the black king will find safety on the light squares?)

14. ... Rf8 (A useful gain of a tempo on the white queen who seems to insist on conducting the attack on her own, rarely a successful plan.)

15. Qg4 Ne5 (Another tempo gain for Black while transferring the knight over to the scene of action, the white queen must make her 5th move. Combine this count with the 3 tempi of the departed light square bishop and half of the white moves result in the white queen languishing in front of her king.)

16. Qg2 Bb6 17. Bb2 (Losing count of how many times the advice: “Ignore x-ray attacks at your peril!” has been offered. Perhaps this should be declared an unchallengeable edict? Not quite. While x-rays are indeed dangerous, sometimes after careful analysis they can be permitted to happen. Here the black king has good supportive defence and the white b2 bishop is attacking alone, no need this time for an immediate evasive response by Black.)

17. ... Nxf3 (While this wins a pawn in the vicinity of the opposing king, this is not the true objective. It is in fact the white h2 pawn who is being targeted. Those heavy pieces skulking in the black defences can quickly join the attack, distance of location does not mean inability to contribute.)

18. cxd4 Rh6 (Pressure on h2 mounts, who in the white camp can offer support?)

19. d5+ Kg8 (The a1 - h8 diagonal is open, however due to no other white units being available to join the attack the black king is perfectly safe on g8. Now White must do something about the black threats on the h2 pawn.)

20. h3 Qd7 0-1

(White has no sensible means of staying in the game, some ideas run:

(A). 21. Qg4 Qxg4 the white h3 pawn is pinned, black has Rxh3+ mate next move.

(B). 21. Qg3 Rxh3+ 22. Kg2 Rxg3+ 23. fxg3 Qg4 only stops the immediate mating threats, black should quickly wrap this up.

(C). 21. Qxf3 Rxf3 hardly stems the attack, black Qxh3 will lead to mate.

(D). 21. Qxg5+ Nxg5 only slows down the mating attack.

Perhaps a brief report on the strongest and the most important units in order of appearance in this short play might assist?

White Queen: Opted for early aggression before realising defending was required, a task for which she is not well suited.

Black King: Kicked around a few times but nothing painful, good support from close defenders before those units were released for attacking duties.

White King: Pawn defences disrupted early, the h-pawn became a target just waiting to be hit, close defenders sadly unable to assist while blocking a possible flight route into the queenside.

Black Queen: Quietly defended, shuffling a single square in both of her moves, provided the necessary strength from a distance once the attack began rolling, just what she is good at.)

A curious thought has just occurred. How did gunslingers of the "Wild West" acquire the necessary skills to compete and stay alive? Surely much practice on their own before hitting the streets? Similarly, how did chess players of the "Wild East" acquire the chess skills to become the Champion of Russia? Chess literature was somewhat limited in 1872 and probably expensive as well. So that which we take for granted, shelves full of books on strategy and tactics, would surely be in short supply? If so, then the treat below about to unfold shows remarkable insight.

Game 2, E. Schiffers - Nolde, Event unknown 1872, witnessed White demonstrating comprehension that: “Tactics flow from a positionally superior game.”, almost a century before Fischer made it into a quote.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 (Welcome to the Evans Gambit. Very popular at club level and still played by some Grand Masters, an excellent choice for rapid or blitz chess. Again, is it sound? And again, wrong question. For a wing pawn White will get a lead in development with chances of establishing a good pawn centre. All the early and enjoyable tactics are for White to discover and for Black to try to neutralise. Furthermore this is a gambit which Black dare not decline.)

4. ... Bxb4 (Experience suggests other moves give White a good game, so any Gambiteer can essentially achieve their aim with the Evans Gambit, speedy development combined with aggressive activity.)

5. c3 Bc5 (Dropping back with 5. ... Ba5 keeps a pin on the c3 pawn but does not pressure the d4 square. White now just plays simple moves to take control of the centre.)

6. O-O d6 7. d4 exd4 8. cxd4 Bb6 9. Nc3 Na5 (Black is already behind in development plus White has a mobile pawn centre, so getting on with development might have been preferable. Of course, attacking the white c4 bishop will force white to either move it or defend it, right?)

10. Bg5 (White begins to mix it up by ignoring the attack on the c4 bishop, Black in reply must do something about the threat to the d8 queen.)

10. ... f6 (Blocking with the pawn saves the queen but has weakened the light squares on the black kingside.)

11. Bh4 Nh6 (Black cannot win a piece as 11. ... Nxc4 12. Qa4+ and then 13. Qxc4 regains the material. White to play decides the position needs to be opened up.)

12. e5 g5 (Pawn moves have a common feature with time, movement is forward only. However, this highly committal advance is probably the best try in a difficult position. Instead, 12. ... dxe5 gives White the opportunity to “Punch the Random Button” with 13. Nxe5 producing complications, White has threats of both 14. Qh5+ or 14. Re1 to be neutralised. Remember the opening comment suggesting Schiffers plays for pleasure? Complications are now on offer for White, just some inspiration with a little perspiration is required.)

13. Nxg5 (When ahead in development opportunities to tear the position open should always be in mind. It is the opening of the d1 - h5 diagonal for the white queen which motivates this tactical idea.)

13. ... Bg4 (Closing the d1 - h5 diagonal and forcing White to make a decision about the d1 queen, right?)

14. exf6 (We shall assume the strongest player in Russia at the time noticed the queen was under attack. Certainly so, then this passive queen offer must be leading to a forced mate, right? Not automatically, some sacrifices only plan to regain the offered material with some positional or material advantage once the tactics are complete.)

14. ... Bxd1 (Black assesses there is no immediate mate and so asks White to justify the sacrifice. Declining gains little, 14. ... Qd7 15. Re1+ forces the black king to either f8 or d8 and the black coordination is extremely poor.)

15. Re1+ (An easy follow-up move to find which forces the black king to make an important decision on where to run.)

15. ... Kd7 (Trying to escape by heading into the kingside seems possible but does White regain sufficient material as the black king gets kicked around? Fritz and friends would almost certainly crunch out the necessary analysis, aging bio-calculator cannot make a definitive announcement. Several enjoyable hours have been spent throwing pieces around with the opinion that Black will probably come out worse, but this is by no means certain. Reproducing line after line shall not be undertaken here, instead a chat-oriented discussion is offered had 15. ... Kf8 been selected. Firstly, each player has a unit en prise, the white c4 bishop and the black d1 bishop, this will be of importance when the checking-chase runs out of steam. If the black king selects f8 then the black royalty are vulnerable to a white Ne6+ fork. This sets up a potential discovered check if Black runs further with Kg8, and a double-discovered check if Kf7 is chosen. There is also the idea of Black trying Ke8 after the white knight royal fork. Black must also be aware that stepping onto either e8 or g8 gives White the option of pawn f7+ when the white h4 bishop also attacks the black d8 queen. Much to juggle with, Black might have simply felt that with 5 active white units on the attack that running queenside seemed the best chance.)

16. Be6+ (Avoiding 16. Re7+ Qxe7 when Black returns the queen while snatching a rook.)

16. ... Kc6 (Deciding to flee into the queenside. Instead 16. ... Ke8 17. Bh3+ Kf8 18. Ne6+ and the black king is back in kingside complications similar to those discussed a move ago.)

17. d5+ (White can force black to decide with 17. Bd5+ Kd7 18. Be6+ when 18. ... Kc6 could lead to 3-fold repetition or 18. ... Ke8 19. Bh3+ Kf8 20. Ne6+ and kingside complications would be in play.)

17. ... Kc5 18. Nge4+ (A tripler. Firstly, the white c3 knight is now protected. Secondly, another white unit joins the chase of the black king. Thirdly, the white h4 bishop has been unleashed to give a defence to the cramping f6 pawn, the black queen must be kept out of the action.)

18. ... Kc4 (Reminiscent of days of old when a King on horseback, sword held aloft, would lead the charge at the enemy lines. Well, perhaps not exactly so, back then the charging King would be accompanied by his army. Here the black forces are scattered, completely lacking coordination, the lonely black king is in danger of being suffocated.)

19. Rexd1 Bd4 20. Rab1 (White plans setting up rooks on adjacent files, the idea is to push the black king into the centre. Note how the white bishops on adjacent diagonals create a prison wall which the black king cannot climb over.)

20. ... Bxc3 21. Rdc1 (Regaining the piece, the noose is tightening.)

21. ... Rg8 (Sensible options do not readily come to mind. Black is desperately hoping White will turn materialistic and snatch the g8 rook. No chance, the e6 bishop is far more valuable than the black g8 rook, light squares on the h3 - c8 diagonal need to be controlled to cage the running black king. Instead, Black could fight for the b4 square though White has sufficient resources available to finish matters:

(A). 21. ... c5 22. Rxc3+ Kd4 23. Rd1+ Kxe4 24 Re3+ Kf4 25. g3+ mate.

(B). 21. ... c5 22. Rxc3+ Kd4 23. Rd1+ Ke5 24. Bg3+ Kxe4 25. f3+ mate.

Instead of pawn c5 Black could march the king further into the white position, but after 21. ... Kd3 22. Rxc3+ Ke2 23. Re3+ mate would occur.)

22. Rxc3+ Kd4 23. Rb4+ Nc4 (Black knows the end is coming, this only places an extra move on the scoresheet.)

24. Rbxc4+ (White keeps the rooks on adjacent ranks, the black king now has only a single legal move, the net is almost closed.)

24. ... Ke5 (With no legal moves available, should the black king now receive a check which cannot be countered, then it will be mate. White to play adopts the professional approach, hit with checks which only offer a single legal reply. Note: For those who like problems, White to play can mate in 3 moves, and beware, there is a variation to be rejected if mate in 3 is being sought.)

25. f4+ (Accurate. Instead, 25. Bg3+ Rxg3 26. hxg3 allows 26. ... Qxf6 when 27. f4+ Qxf4 28. gxf4+ Kxf4 is clearly winning for White but misses the desired 3-move mate.)

25. ... Kxf4 26. Ng5+ (An unleashing, the power of the white c4 rook is released to control the entire white 4th rank.)

26. ... Ke5 27. Nf3+ mate 1-0

(Another unleashing, the power of the white h4 bishop is unblocked to defend the f6 pawn. Yet again, perhaps a brief report on the strongest and the most important units in order of appearance in this short play might assist?

White King: On move 6 by castling played into safety which was maintained throughout the game.

White Queen: Sacrificed for a doubler, opening up the e-file for the f1 rook and establishing a restricting f6 pawn.

Black King: Made the choice to run into the queenside to avoid complications, a nice try, but there were just too many active enemy units to evade.

Black Queen: Unmoved, both physically and emotionally.)