The Case for Chess as Art in the Age of The Queen’s Gambit

By Rachel S. Kovacs, Professor, Arts Reviewer, Author, and Presenter at City University of New York

Have no illusions. I know next to nothing about chess. I’ve occasionally watched a game, and relished how calmly its players, oblivious to other stimuli around them, contemplate their moves and graciously accept their faux pas. Recently, my know-nothingness became obsessive. I binge-watched The Queen’s Gambit. Wide-eyed, I marveled how Elizabeth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) had the skills and wits not only to defeat Russian grandmasters but also to transcend the rampant sexism in the chess world of her time. Know-nothingness didn’t stop me marveling at Harmon’s chessboard-on-ceiling visions or embedding them in my head. They were breathtaking beautiful.

Source: Netflix (The Queen’s Gambit)

Of course, we are talking about the Netflix world of fiction. Yet the show and the images piqued my interest in exploring if, and how, chess is regarded as art. In the real world, including the art world, chess can also be a breathtakingly beautiful art, as artists, grandmasters, and even digital game-makers have asserted. 

Consider the great Dadaist pioneer, Marcel Duchamp, contemporary and sometimes-rival of Picasso. He was a Renaissance man, who, at the height of his career, went from pioneering cubism in his art to adopting the lifestyle of an itinerant chess pro. As of 1923, Duchamp essentially abandoned his art career and entered amateur and then professional competitions, winning the Paris competition in 1924.  Duchamp said, “I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” In the New York Times, 1956, he proffered, “Chess is purer, socially, than painting, for you can’t make money out of it.” 

In today’s market, that may not be the case, but the quote demonstrates Duchamp’s reverence for the game. He painted it, as well as played it, and reputedly designed and carved his own chess set while in South America for a tournament. In 1968, he competed against the illustrious John Cage, who composed music to accompany the game. Photoelectric cells that moved under the table along with the chess pieces created the sound. So, for Duchamp, chess could be an all-encompassing art. 

We have barely touched on the beauty of chess pieces, such as those made by Duchamp, chess as sculpture, and the range of materials, from marble to wood and beyond, that are used to create those pieces. The artistry of those pieces can be subjectively judged on their own visual merits.

Duchamp’s acclaimed almost-contemporary, Alexander Alekhine, legendary grandmaster, and immortalized Soviet champion, said, “Chess for me is not a game, but an art. Yes, and I take upon myself all those responsibilities which an art imposes on its adherents.” 

PN Humble, a scholar of aesthetics, qualified chess as “a minor art,” based on the fact that “aesthetic values are derived from the contest…games are judged according to aesthetic criteria… players and spectators derive aesthetic pleasure from the medium of chess.” His comparison of a chess problem to a miniature and the game itself to a painting reinforces the notion that chess is art.

James Rachels analyzed renowned Czech mathematician Richard Reti’s writings and chess playing. Both consider chess as game and art. Rachels points out that prior to Reti, many grandmasters characterized the essence of chess as a struggle, “a contest of will and intellect with each player attempting to dominate the other.” Ultimately, this concept is not incompatible with the notion that chess is art, as art can also convey such a struggle.

Both non-academic and academic observers and players have commented on the artistry behind chess. Howseman, in a letter to the editor of The Guardian, notes that “Chess isn’t just a game but an art form where worlds like ‘beautiful,’ ‘elegant’ and artistic can be used to describe a particular sequence of moves.”  He quotes Argentinian grandmaster Miguel Najdorf, who made the following observations: “Chess is a mirror of the soul. Watch how a man plays chess and you will see his essence. Chess is a combination of art, knowledge, and risk.” 

Discourse about chess as art has even entered the realm of gaming and computational aesthetics. Myers discusses the “procedural aesthetics” of the game and “the capacity of the rules of chess, when manipulated properly, to evoke the human spirit – that elevates the chess problem to the status of art.” Iqbal and Yaacole cite the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of art– “the expression or application of creative skill and imagination, especially through a visual medium,” and so, they argue, chess can be considered an art.   

Chess as a sport may pale by comparison with the Western media’s focus on high-profile and highly profitable competitive sports like baseball, football, basketball, and soccer, yet in the former Soviet Union, this is surely not the case. Chess education for youngsters and talented would-be champions was always subsidized, much like fellowships and stipends given to artists, and those who rose to win tournaments were celebrated as heroes. 

It is in that culture, for over a decade, that venues for chess matches have reflected an integral  connection between chess and art on the highest professional levels. Andrei Filatov, an uber-wealthy Russian businessman, was not the first to hold a chess competition at a museum, but was a principal sponsor of the 2016 World Chess Championship where Viswanathan Anand was matched with Boris Gelfand at the Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery. He was quoted in Russian newspaper RBC Daily, “I think the synergy between chess and art holds great promise.”

The Russian Chess Federation has scheduled its top chess tournaments in art museums across the globe. Chess in Museums, a 2016 video produced by sportsmaster.ru, documents chess, art, and music (with concerts by renowned musicians) experienced in an immersive aesthetic environment. While clearly this is a promotional video and good PR for the tournament organizers, the museums, and the video production company, it lends credence to the premise that chess can hold its own as an art form alongside the fine and performing arts. Now its up to the reader to accept or reject that premise. Here’s hoping that he or she will choose the former. 

 

Isabel, 2021 Summer Youth Employment Program Intern Introduction

 

Hello, my name is Isabel! I work at Premier Chess and am a camp counselor and intern for the summer. I am from Brooklyn and am going to Adelphi University this fall. I am planning on taking up nursing to later become a nurse anesthetist. Going into the medical field and specifically the nursing profession, I want to create a space more safe for all kinds of people, where they are not discriminated against on the basis of their skin color or gender orientation. I am excited to begin my journey starting here!

 

Chess is a complex game that involves adaptable thinking and requires you to be on your toes when your opponent makes a move. I think it is the type of game where the player is on a higher level of thinking, which I really admire. I may not know much about the game of chess or the specifics but I am very curious and eager to learn about how complicated the game can be. The inner workings of how intricate chess can be is a bit daunting to someone who has the most basic knowledge of the game, but I am very excited to get started to learn more!

Evan Rabin’s New Video on Openings

By Cinthia Mcdonald, Summer Youth Employment Intern

Recently our CEO and National Chess Master Evan Rabin was able to participate in publishing a series of videos in which he explains the foundations and essentials of multiple chess openings and strategies as well as how each party can contribute and benefit from them. These videos are divided into multiple parts and goes as follows: 

Part 1: Elaborates on positions for (white’s) attack and defense which consists of the variational Sicilian opening, Ruy Lopez, Schlemann Defense, and many more. 

Part 2: Highlights plays that are easily accessible to both (black and white) parties such as the Maroczy Bond, and French Tarrasch just to name a few. 

Part 3: Focuses on learning opening for (black’s) deviation of strategy. Singles out repertoire in which the majority is enabled by the Caro Kann execution. 

Purchase the videos here.

Top 10 Chess Fun Facts You Probably Did not Know

By Cinthia Mcdonald, Summer Youth Employment Intern

Although chess has increasingly become more popular in the last millennia, there is still not nearly enough common knowledge on the sport itself for it to match its valued hype. Let us jump into some basic yet interesting facts that will make you fall in love with chess just a little bit more…

 

  1. Chess had been used as a form of strategic military training from as early as Ancient India to the current age of technology.

2. The first Chessboard with alternating light and dark squares appears in Europe in 1090.

3. The word “Checkmate” in chess originates from the Persian phrase “Shah Mat,” which means “the King is dead.”

4. The record of moves without capture is of 100 moves during the Match between Thornton and M. Walker in 1992.

5. Out of the 7 billion people that exist on Earth, about 600,000,000 people know how to play chess worldwide.

6. The longest possible chess game comes up to a whopping 5,949 moves!!

7. In the English language, the second book to ever be printed took was about chess (it must have been really popular!!)

8. There are a total of eight different ways from the starting position to Mate in just two moves, whereas there are a total of 355 different paths to mate using three moves.

9. In 1985, Eric Knoppert played 500 games of 10-minute Chess in 68 hours.

10. The record of moves without capture is of 100 moves during the Match between Thornton and M. Walker in 1992.

 

Is there anything else you want to learn or know about chess? Feel free to reach out and even sign up for our weekly chess camp along with lessons!!! Visit our page @ facebook.com/premierchess and we promise you will turn out into a strategic master.

 

Cinthia, 2021 Summer Youth Employment Program Intern Introduction

Hello! My name is Cinthia, I am from Brooklyn, NY and am attending Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA with a major in Biochemistry. I will be working with Evan over the summer for his in-person chess camp as well as virtual lessons. I enjoy being socially inclusive and meeting as many people as I can where I can learn from them and vice versa. I practice social cues to keep the younger youth minds engaged, as well as assisting behind the scenes. 

Although I am not very proficient in the sport of chess, I do intend to study and learn about the mental significance of it all. The process of the game itself is much more than moving plastic pieces across a board and I do believe that it will be a great learning experience that will hold longevity in my future career. It teaches one to think strategically and take every opportunity to their advantage no matter how small. It is literally the metaphorical business world easily accessible to your fingertips! I even had a quick 1 on 1 session with Evan to teach me the basic rules of chess in about an hour. I am now even able to play against other beginners with subtle technique and feign the impression of someone with more experience haha! Something that was very motivating to me was when Evan told me that we need more women in the chess world, and what is a more perfect example than a woman like me expressing how beneficial chess is for all genders. More women in chess means more inclusivity and social action in the business world. This is anyone’s world and success can only be made if the correct pressure is applied, even something as futile as playing chess. It can be assured that time will not be wasted with the effort that is put into this chess program and I plan to keep it running full circle for as long as I remain a partner and fellow colleague. 

Well, that is all from me folks and I hope you all would give Premier Chess a try. I already can tell that this will be a great networking opportunity as well as helping young and old minds alike think critically, efficiently, and healthily. There are also several opportunities for personal lessons as well as room for group sessions for your children to remain social and active in this state of COVID-19. Stay happy and healthy all and you will hear from me again. 

Aden Ho, 2021 Summer Youth Employment Program Intern Introduction

“I’m bad at chess,” I’d say before almost every chess game whether with family or friends — who would become foes for the next 60 minutes or so. I learned how to play chess in the second grade of elementary school, but would always lose to my best friend Dario, a champion of Brooklyn at only 8 years old. Checkers seemed to fit me better: more fast paced, less thinking, and I’d often win when playing. I rarely played either game in my free time anyway, and as I grew older and more busy, to me the ancient game of chess became just that. 

About a year ago, my friends started playing more chess. They’d challenge each other whenever we had free time during zoom class (essentially all the time). I’d normally spectate as they played, trying to justify their moves and looking for potential better ones. Watching them play piqued my interest and inspired me to get better at the game I said I was bad at. I was taught at a young age the importance of adaptability and what better game than chess to reinforce that? When I saw Premier Chess as one of the employers under the Infinity SYEP Provider, I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to not only make some money so that I wouldn’t fulfill the stereotype of a broke college student (as early at least, I hope), but also one to learn the facets of the game of chess. 

I’m Aden, I recently graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School under the finance major, and will be attending Bowdoin College in the fall as a prospective economics major. I’m ecstatic and enthused to be working with National Master Evan and fellow SYEP employees (or partners as Evan says) this summer! At the end of it I hope to be able to say “I’m not bad at chess.” Thanks for reading 🙂

Matthew Nedderman, 2021 Summer Youth Employment Program Intern Introduction

My name is Matthew Nedderman. I am 19 years old and attend Queensborough community College. I am studying Digital Art and design and am considering getting a Job in the Animation Industry. I have a huge passion for art and design. I have gotten the title of best artist in my senior year of High school. Some interest that I have include Basketball, Art, Animation, Music, and Clothing/Sneakers. I am excited that I was given the opportunity to work at Premier Chess. I am exciting to meet new people and improve my social skills. I am hoping to learn how to play chess because I feel it is a skillset that could benefit me in the future. Learning Chess has a lot of cognitive benefits. Skilled chess players can anticipate an opponent’s next move. To gain the ability to predict what another person will do next, a player must develop the ability to gain the opponents perspective and predict what action they will take next.

     Experienced Chess players have highly developed thinking abilities in Fluid intelligence (The ability to consider new kinds of problems and use reasoning to solve them) and Processing Speed (The ability to swiftly comprehend tasks and respond efficiently to challenges). Chess also improves the memory since the game involves memorizing numerous moves, combinations and their possible outcomes.  Chess also leads to better planning skills. This is because chess games are known for long periods of silence where players anticipate each other’s moves.

Somaiya Ahmed, 2021 Summer Youth Employment Program Intern Introduction

Hello.  My name is Somaiya. I am from Brooklyn, New York. I recently graduated from high school (Brooklyn College Academy), after a year of remote learning and a worldwide pandemic. Quite the usual. Jokes aside, I am proud of myself and my class year for being resilient through it all. I am especially grateful to say that this fall I will be attending Tufts University, through the QuestBridge National Match Scholarship. I am planning to study studio art with a concentration in film and media. I am excited to see what my future holds!


Before my college plans unfold, it is essential that I begin saving up! Thankfully with the help of New York’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), I have earned the opportunity to intern at Premier Chess, a chess teaching business led by National Master Evan Rabin. My work entails promoting the art of chess through my expertise in visual arts. Now you may be wondering why chess? Well, after watching Queen’s Gambit, “Netflix’s most-watched scripted limited series to date,”  I adopted a new perspective for chess. Watching the show’s protagonist, Beth Harmon, dominating games left to right while battling with addiction and loneliness, providing a dynamic viewing experience. I have to praise show creators, Walter Tevis and Scott Frank, for doing an excellent job at capturing Beth’s complex emotions through the game of chess. As a film enthusiast, I found it beautiful how they portrayed the game of chess through the light of emotions and thoughts. 

All in all, I am excited to take my newfound interest in chess and weave it into this summer’s work. With the company of my peers and Mr. Rabin’s supervision, I am certain this summer will be awesome! 

 

Short World Champion Wins

By Matthew Grinberg, Founder of Alamogordo Chess Club

Here is a collection of short wins by World Champions: 

Lasker, Emanuel – Tarrasch,  Siegbert

Exhibition Match, Round 6

Berlin, Germany, 1916

1:0

Siegbert Tarrasch was one of Emanuel Lasker‘s chief rivals for the World Chess Championship.  When Steinitz was still World Champion and Tarrasch his chief rival, Lasker challenged Tarrasch to a match.  Tarrasch dismissed the challenge from the upstart Lasker.  This rebuff poisoned relations between Lasker and Tarrasch for many years.

After Lasker won the World Championship from Steinitz, Tarrasch was his logical challenger.  But Lasker rebuffed Tarrasch’s advances until 1908, when Tarrasch was past his prime.  In the match Lasker prevailed by 10.5 – 5.5.

In 1916, during WWI, an exhibition match was arranged between the two players.  This time Tarrasch was smashed 5.5 – 0.5.  The game below is the final game from the match.

  1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 The Open Defense to the Ruy Lopez. 6. d4 Be7!? In an open position, this is a rather a passive development for the bishop.

[The normal line is 6… b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. c3 Bc5 10. Nbd2 Black’s well placed bishop on c5 secures equality.]

  1. Re1 b5?! With his king still in the center, this is no time for Black to be inviting complications.

[7… f5 8. dxe5 O-O 9. Bb3 Kh8 10. Nc3 Nxc3 11. bxc3 White is better due to his freer position and Black’s insecure king, but Black has chances due to White’s bad pawn structure]

  1. Rxe4 d5 9. Nxe5!

[9. Re1?! e4 Black’s strong center gives him the better game.]

9… Nxe5 Forced.

[9… dxe4? 10. Nxc6 Qd6 11. Nxe7 bxa4 12. Nxc8 Rxc8 13. Nc3 White wins.  He is up a bishop and knight for a rook and will win a pawn]

  1. Rxe5 bxa4 11. Nc3 Be6?!

[11… c6 12. Nxa4 O-O Despite White’s extra pawn, the bishop pair gives Black chances]

  1. Qh5! The twin threats are Rxe6 and Nxd5.

12… g6 He weakens his position to avoid the loss of a pawn.

[Or he could just concede the pawn with 12… O-O 13. Nxd5 Bxd5 (13… Bd6?? 14. Bg5 Qd7 15. Nf6 gxf6 16. Bxf6 h6 17. Rg5 hxg5 18. Qh8#) 14. Rxd5 Bd6]

  1. Qf3 Bf6? The pawn on d5 is holding Black’s position together. Defending it is critical.

[13… c6 14. Nxa4 O-O Though down a pawn, Black still has a decent position]

  1. Rxd5! Bxd5 15. Nxd5 Bg7 16. Bg5 Qxg5 17. Nxc7 Kd8 18. Nxa8 Down two pawns and with his king exposed, Tarrasch resigns. [1:0]

Reti, Richard – Capablanca, Jose Raul

Tageblatt International Tournament

Berlin, 1928

0:1

This game was played one year after Capablanca lost the World Championship to Alexander Alekhine.  Reti, one of the Hypermoderns, was one of the leading grandmasters throughout the 1920’s.

  1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 d6 The Modern Steinitz Defense.

[More typical is the Closed Ruy Lopez. 4… Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Na5 10. Bc2 c5 11. d4 White’s better center gives him a small edge]

  1. c3

[5. d4!? only gives White equality. 5… b5 6. Bb3 Nxd4 7. Nxd4 exd4 8. Bd5 (But don’t fall for the Noah’s Ark Trap! 8. Qxd4? c5 9. Qd5 Be6 10. Qc6 Bd7 11. Qd5 c4 White loses his bishop for two pawns) 8… Rb8 9. Qxd4=]

5… f5!? The Siesta Variation.  Prior to this game this line had only been played once at the top levels, in the Capablanca versus Marshall match in 1909.  The name actually comes from a tournament played later in 1928 in the Siesta Sanatorium in Budapest, Hungary.  A chess tournament in a sanatorium?  Well, I guess you play anywhere you can get space.  In that tournament, both Capablanca and Hans Kmoch played the Siesta Variation against Endre Steiner.  The point of the Siesta Variation is that Black exchanges a wing pawn for a center pawn and exploits the fact that White cannot play Nc3, the natural defense to the e-pawn.  But he weakens his kingside in the process.

[Safer is 5… Bd7 6. d4 g6 7. O-O Bg7 8. Re1 b5 9. Bb3 Nf6 White is better due to his strong center]

  1. d4!? This is seldom played now because Black easily equalizes.

[Simply taking gives White the better game because of the weakening of Black’s kingside 6. exf5 Bxf5 7. O-O Bd3 8. Re1 Be7 9. Bc2 Bxc2 10. Qxc2 Nf6 11. d4 e4 12. Ng5 d5 Black’s weakened kingside gives White a small edge]

6… fxe4 7. Ng5

[White can play for a perpetual check with 7. Nxe5 dxe5 8. Qh5 Ke7 9. Bxc6 bxc6 10. Qg5 Kd7 11. Qf5 Ke7 12. Qg5=]

7… exd4 8. Nxe4 Nf6 9. Bg5 Be7 10. Qxd4?! It is hard to believe Reti didn’t see Capablanca’s next move.  He must have simply miscalculated something in the following complications.

[White held a draw in the following game. 10. Bxf6 Bxf6 11. Qh5 g6 12. Qd5 Bd7 13. O-O Qe7 14. Nxf6 Qxf6 15. Re1 Ne7 16. Re6 O-O-O 17. Bxd7 Rxd7 18. Qxb7 Kxb7 19. Rxf6 Nd5 20. Re6 dxc3 21. Nxc3 Nxc3 22. bxc3 Rf8 23. Rb1 Kc6 24. Re4 Rf5 25. f4 Rb5 26. Rb3 Kc5 27. Ra4 a5 28. Kf2 d5 29. g4 Kb6 30. f5 c5 31. Rf4 Rxb3 32. axb3 gxf5 33. gxf5 Kc6 34. f6 Rf7 35. Kg3 Kd6 36. Kg4 Ke6 37. Kg5 Rd7 38. Ra4 d4 39. cxd4 Rd5 40. Kf4 cxd4 41. Ke4 Rb5 42. Kxd4 Kxf6 43. Kc4 Rf5 44. Kd3 Kg5 45. b4 axb4 46. Rxb4 Rf2 47. h4 Kh5 48. Ke3 1/2-1/2, Andreev V V (RUS) 2085 – Yandemirov Valeri (RUS) 2500, Ekaterinburg (Russia) 1997]

10… b5! Of course!  The knight on c6 is no longer pinned and White has two pieces hanging.  White has some tricks, but they fall short.  This is reminiscent of the Noah’s Ark Trap.  He can’t save both the bishop and the queen.  See the note to White’s fifth move. 11. Nxf6 gxf6 12. Qd5 bxa4! 13. Bh6

[After 13. Qxc6 Bd7 White drops the bishop]

13… Qd7 14. O-O? Presumably Reti went into this line with the idea of trapping Black’s king rook.

[There is no time like the present. 14. Bg7 Qe6 15. Qxe6 Bxe6 16. Bxh8 Kf7 17. O-O Rxh8 Black’s bishop pair in the open position is better than White’s rook and pawn, but White has a playable position]

14… Bb7 15. Bg7? But ironically this now leads to a lost position because of the kingside attack Capablanca conjures up.

[15. Qh5 Kd8 16. Nd2 White is down a piece but he has chances with Black’s king stuck in the center]

15… O-O-O 16. Bxh8 Ne5 17. Qd1

17… Bf3!! 18. gxf3? Suicide.  In view of the twin threats of Bxd1 and Qg4, there is no good move, so why drag it out? 18… Qh3

[19. Qd5 c6 White is forced to give up his queen to avoid a quick mate, but it comes quickly anyway. 20. Qe6 Qxe6 21. Nd2 Nxf3 22. Kg2 Qg4 23. Kh1 Rg8 24. Bg7 Qh3 25. Nxf3 Qxf3 26. Kg1 Rxg7#]

[0:1]

Botvinnik, Mikhail – Spielmann, Rudolf, 1:0

Moscow, USSR, 1935

Caro-Kann Defense, Exchange Variation

This is probably the best known game in this series.  It was in the Moscow 1935 tournament that the Western players first became familiar with the post revolution Soviet chess players.  That Mikhail Botvinnik and Salo Flor would tie for first ahead of such greats as former World Champions, Jose Raul Capablanca and Emanuel Lasker, was a huge shock.  Rudolf Spielmann was also one of the best Western players.  For him to have lost to Botvinnik in just 12 moves was a not just a shock, but an embarrassment too.  The game is an object lesson in the old gem, “Never take the b-pawn with your queen!”

  1. c4 c6 2. e4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. d4 By transposition this is the Exchange Variation of the Caro-Kann defense.

4… Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 Qb6!? A very aggressive move since it threatens both the d and b pawns, but he can’t really be considering taking the b-pawn with his queen, can he?

[Either of the following more conservative moves give White nothing more than his normal opening advantage. 6… e6 7. Nf3 Be7 8. c5 O-O 9. Bb5 Ne4;

6… dxc4 7. Bxc4 e6 8. Nf3 Be7 9. O-O O-O]

  1. cxd5 Qxb2? I guess so. Either Spielmann miscalculated this, or he was displaying a lack of respect for his opponent. The problem with this move is not simply that he risks his queen being trapped, but that he does it in a position where he already has a knight hanging.

[Better is 7… Nxd4 8. Nf3 Qxb2 (8… Nxf3 9. Qxf3 Bd7 10. Bc4 Rc8 11. Bb3 White’s more active pieces give him the better game) 9. Rc1 Nxf3 10. Qxf3 a6 11. Bd3 Black is undeveloped and unorganized, but he does have the extra pawn]

  1. Rc1! Securing his position before going for the counter attack.

[8. Na4? This may be what Spielmann expected. 8… Qb4 9. Bd2 Qxd4 10. dxc6 Ne4 11. Be3 Qb4 12. Ke2 Qb5 13. Qd3 (13. Ke1? Qa5 14. Ke2 bxc6 15. g3 Ba6 16. Kf3 Bxf1 17. Qxf1 Qxa4 White is two pawns down and his king is on the run; 13. Kf3?? loses his queen. 13… Qh5 14. Kxe4 Bf5 15. Kd4 O-O-O 16. Kc3 Rxd1 White wins) 13… Qxa4 White is a pawn down and his king is on the run]

8… Nb4 Taking away a key square from his own queen, but the knight has no good place to move.

[8… Nb8? 9. Na4 The twin threats to the queen and the bishop are deadly.;

8… Nd8 Best, but insufficient. 9. Bxf6 exf6 10. Bb5 Bd7 11. Rc2 Qb4 12. Qe2 Be7 13. Bxd7 Kxd7 14. Qg4 Ke8 15. Qxg7 Unlike Black’s capture at b2, this capture is strong because Black’s pieces are disorganized and his king is stuck in the center.  White won convincingly in the following game. 15… Rf8 16. Nge2 Rc8 17. O-O b6 18. Rfc1 a6 19. d6! Bxd6 20. Nd5 Rxc2 21. Nxb4 Rxc1 22. Nxc1 Bxb4 23. Qxf6 Kd7 24. Qxb6 a5 25. Nd3 Re8 26. Ne5 Ke7 27. f4 f6 28. Qc7 Kf8 29. Ng4 Ne6 30. Qxh7 Nxd4 31. Qh8 Ke7 32. Qxf6 Kd7 33. Qxd4 1-0, Muminova Nafisa (UZB) 2287 – Tokhirjanova H (UZB) 2006, Tashkent (Uzbekistan) 2009.06.19]

  1. Na4! Now this wins because Black’s own knight blocks his queen’s escape.

9… Qxa2 10. Bc4 Bg4 11. Nf3 Bxf3 12. gxf3 Black resigns because the only way he can avoid losing his queen is to give up his knight on b4.

[12… Qa3 13. Rc3 Nd3 14. Qxd3 Qb4 15. Bb5 White wins]

[1:0]

Uhlmann, Wolfgang – Smyslov, Vasily, 0:1

Moscow, USSR, 1956

 

Queen’s Indian Defense

  1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. b3 d5 6. Bg2 Bb4 7. Nfd2!? A little odd.

[Why retreat the knight when you could instead develop the bishop? 7. Bd2 White has his normal opening advantage]

7… c5 8. dxc5!? Trading a center pawn for a wing pawn and putting Black’s bishop in a strong position.

[It makes more sense to push the bishop back first. 8. a3 Ba5 9. dxc5 bxc5 10. O-O=]

8… Bxc5 9. Bb2 O-O 10. O-O Nc6 11. Nc3 Rc8 12. cxd5 He avoids an isolated pawn on c4, but at the same time he opens the diagonal for White’s light square bishop.  With his bishops aimed at White’s king, Black clearly has the initiative.

12… exd5

  1. Na4?! White tries to relieve the pressure from the bishops by attacking them, but he never gets the chance to take. Instead, this move is a waste of time because the knight will be forced back to c3 to defend e2.

[The better plan is to block the bishops by gaining control of b5 and d4. 13. a4 Qe7 14. Nb5 Qe6 15. e3 Rfd8 16. Nf3 Black has a small edge]

13… Nd4 14. Nc3

[Not 14. Re1? Nc2 15. Rc1 (15. Qxc2?? Bxf2 winning White’s queen) 15… Nxe1 16. Qxe1 White is down an exchange with nothing to show for it]

14… Qe7 15. Re1? He thinks that because he has blocked the c-file with his knight, that he is now safe playing this move.  But the weakness of his kingside is far worse than he realizes.

[The best hope is to immediately give up the exchange, winning Black’s d-pawn in return. 15. e3! Bxf1 16. Nxf1 Ne6 17. Nxd5 Nxd5 18. Bxd5 With the bishop pair and a pawn for the exchange, White has chances to hold]

15… Nc2!! Stunning!  Even without the threat to win White’s queen, the knight is untouchable due to the vulnerability of White’s king.

  1. Rf1

[16. Qxc2? Bxf2! 17. Kh1 (17. Kxf2?? leads to mate. 17… Ng4 18. Kg1 (18. Kf1 Qe3 19. Qxh7 Kxh7 20. Be4 f5 21. Nd1 Bxe2 22. Rxe2 fxe4 23. Bf6 Rxf6 24. Nf3 Rxf3 25. Kg2 Qxe2 26. Nf2 Rxf2 27. Kg1 Rf1 28. Rxf1 Qxh2#; 18. Kf3 Qf6 19. Kxg4 Rc4 20. bxc4 Bc8 21. Qf5 Qxf5 22. Kh4 Qg4#) 18… Qe3 19. Kh1 Nf2 20. Kg1 Nh3 21. Kh1 Qg1 22. Rxg1 Nf2# The old smothered mate trick) 17… Bxe1 18. Rxe1 d4 19. Nf3 dxc3 20. Bc1 With an advantage of an exchange and a pawn, Black is winning]

16… Nxa1 17. Qxa1 Rfd8 18. Bf3 Ba3 White resigns, perhaps a little prematurely, but there is not much hope. [0:1]

Tal, Mikhail – Petrossian, Tigran, 0:1

Candidates Tournament, Curacao, 1962

French Defense

This game was played in the Candidates Tournament in 1962.  Petrossian would take first place and then go on to defeat Botvinnik for the World Championship the following year.  Tal, though the recently defeated World Champion, was not up to fighting form due to health problems.  Indeed he was forced to withdraw before the tournament finished.  This game, like the prior game in this series, where Tal won against Huebner, is decided by a simple blunder.  Perhaps this game pushed Tal into withdrawing from the tournament.

  1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 The French Defense – typical of Petrossian’s reserved style of play. 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 dxe4 5. Nxe4 Nbd7 6. Nxf6 Nxf6 7. Nf3 c5 8. Qd3 I can’t say this move is bad, but it is definitely unusual. The position before this move occurs in my database 195 times and this is the only game where White played 8. Qd3.

[White has a small edge after 8. Bb5 Bd7 9. Bxd7 Qxd7 10. Qe2 Be7 (or 10… cxd4 11. O-O-O Bc5 12. Qe5 Rc8 13. Nxd4) 11. O-O-O O-O 12. dxc5 Qa4 13. Kb1 Rac8]

8… Be7 9. Bxf6!? On the other hand, this move is hard to fathom.  Why give Black to advantage of the bishop pair in an open position?  I can only assume that Tal thought Petrossian would be forced to recapture with the g-pawn to avoid the loss of a pawn.

[Simply capturing on c5 gives White a slight edge due to Black’s cramped position. 9. dxc5 O-O 10. O-O-O Qa5 11. Qc4 Qxc5]

9… Bxf6!

[9… gxf6!? would have returned the favor, leaving White with the better game after 10. O-O-O]

  1. Qb5!? Continuing with his faulty plan.

[The simple path to equality is 10. dxc5 Qa5 11. c3 Qxc5 12. Qb5 Qxb5 13. Bxb5 Ke7 14. O-O-O a6 15. Bd3 Bd7=]

10… Bd7 11. Qxb7 Rb8 12. Qxa7 Rxb2 13. Bd3 cxd4 14. O-O Bc6!? The threat to take the knight, doubling White’s pawns, can wait.

[What he really needs to do is simply castle. 14… O-O With the bishop pair and superior pawn structure, Black has a clear advantage]

  1. Qa3! Attacking the rook and preventing Black from castling.

15… Qb6

  1. Bc4?! As with his ninth move, this is hard to fathom. There are so many things wrong with this move. It leaves the c-pawn hanging, it leaves the bishop undefended and it makes d3 a potential threat for Black.

[White’s main asset is his passed pawn.  If he plays to advance it, he has an equal game. 16. Qd6 Bd5 17. Qxb6 Rxb6 18. a4]

16… Rb4!

[Perhaps Tal expected 16… Rxc2 The problem with it is that White seizes control over the open b-file, which is worth more than a pawn. 17. Rab1 Qc7 18. Bb5 Bxb5 19. Rxb5= Black has an extra pawn, but he also has problems castling, defending his back rank and holding his d-pawn.]

  1. Qd3 O-O 18. a3 Ra4 19. Rfd1 Qa7 20. Ra2?? A simple minded blunder that loses the game instantly.

[White’s position is difficult because of Black’s bishop pair, superior pawn structure and the blockade on White’s passed pawn, but he has chances to hold after 20. Nd2 h6 21. Rdb1 Rc8 22. Rb3]

20… Rxc4! Even former World Champions make simple minded blunders.  Tal resigned.

[If he plays on he will be down two bishops for a knight and with a bad position to boot. 21. Qxc4 Bd5 22. Qe2 Bxa2]

[0:1]

Anand, Viswanathan – Korchnoi, Viktor, 1:0

Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, 2000, Round 6

French Defense

As the first Asian World Chess Champion, Anand may herald the rise of Asian chess players on the world stage, much as Morphy and Capablanca heralded the rise of American players.  Like Morphy and Capablanca, he has a classic positional style of play.

Perhaps it is unfair to include another game lost by Korchnoi in this series, but he does often play high risk chess, leaving himself vulnerable to more traditional players.

The Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands is the world’s premier annual tournament.  It always attracts the very best players.

In this game things develop fairly normally, with Korchnoi seeming to play for a draw.  It is Anand who is playing for a win, apparently trying to draw Korchnoi out.  He is paid off when Korchnoi makes a move I wouldn’t expect even of a C player.  What was he thinking?

  1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 dxe4 Korchnoi goes for simplicity rather than one of the theoretical lines, signaling that he is content with a draw.

[4… Bb4 The c 5. e5 h6 6. Bd2 Bxc3 7. bxc3 Ne4 8. Qg4 g6 9. Bd3 Nxd2 10. Kxd2 c5 White has an isolated a-pawn and he has lost his castling privilege, but he has the better bishop and a solid center.;

4… Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bxe7 (6. h4!? The Alekhine-Chatard Attack 6… Bxg5 7. hxg5 Qxg5 8. Nh3 Qe7 The open file for his king rook and the better bishop give White enough for the pawn) 6… Qxe7 7. f4 a6 8. Nf3 c5 White’s center looks strong, but Black can undermine it with Nc6 and f6]

  1. Nxe4 Nbd7 6. Nf3 Be7 7. Nxf6 Bxf6 8. h4!? Anand, on the other hand, wants a real fight!

[8. Bxf6 Qxf6 9. Bd3 O-O 10. O-O c5 11. c3 Black has some problems developing his queenside, but he has no weakness for White to attack.  The position is drawish]

8… h6 Korchnoi accepts the challenge!

[Keeping it simple is a good option. 8… O-O 9. Bd3 c5 10. Qe2 If Black does not take the bait, White is left wondering why he played h4]

  1. Bxf6 Nxf6!?

[9… Qxf6 looks more logical because the knight on d7 helps with an eventual pawn break at e5 or c5. 10. Qd2 O-O 11. O-O-O e5 12. dxe5 Nxe5=]

  1. Qd2 b6 11. O-O-O The move, h4, effectively took away the option of castling kingside. 11… Bb7 12. Ne5 O-O 13. Bd3! Leaving the g-pawn hanging. But obviously Black can’t take it since that would open a file to his king.

13… c5 14. dxc5 Qc7 15. Rhe1

15… Bxg2?? A move that is hard to fathom.  Evidently Korchnoi figured he could weather the storm on the g-file.  But with a few simple moves Anand achieves a winning position.

[15… Qxc5!? would also be weak because Black does not have a good counter to White’s kingside attack. 16. g4 Rad8 17. g5;

Best is 15… bxc5! 16. g4 c4 17. Qc3 Nxg4! 18. Qxc4 (18. Nxg4 Qf4 wins the piece back with a good game) 18… Qxc4 19. Bxc4 Nxe5 (19… Nxf2!? is risky because the knight is in danger of being trapped after 20. Rd4) 20. Rxe5 Rfc8=]

  1. Re2 This rook is tied to the defense of the knight, so he prepares to bring the other rook to the g-file.

16… Kh8 17. Rg1 Bd5?! He is lost anyway, but it is better to retreat the bishop all the way because d5 could be a good square for the knight.

[17… Bb7 18. Qf4 Rac8 19. Ree1 (19. Re3 transposes after 19… Nd5 20. Qg3 Rg8 21. Ng6 fxg6 22. Qxg6 Nf6 23. Rxe6) 19… Nd5 20. Qg3 Rg8 21. Ng6! fxg6 22. Qxg6 Nf6 23. Rxe6 Be4! The only answer to the threat of Rxf6. 24. Rxe4 Rce8 (24… Nxe4?? 25. Bxe4 Black can avoid mate only by giving up his queen. 25… Qf4 26. Kb1 Qxe4 27. Qxe4) 25. Rxe8 Rxe8 26. cxb6 axb6 White is two pawns up and still has pressure on Black’s king]

  1. Qf4 Qxc5 19. Re3 Preparing to bring the other rook to the open file. Korchnoi resigned.

Why the resignation?  Certainly White has the makings of a strong attack against Black’s king, but what is the immediate threat?  20. Rxg7 looks good after 20… Kxg7, 21. Rg3+ Ng4, 22. Rxg4+Kh8, 23. Qxh6 mate.  But unfortunately Black has the intermezzo, 20… Qxe3!! after which White’s attack goes up in smoke.  So if the immediate Rxg7 doesn’t work, then the threat must be R(3)g3 FOLLOWED by Rxg7.  Is that really strong enough to justify a resignation?

Let’s look at Black’s defensive tries.

19… Nh5 Defends g7 and attacks the queen. 20. Qg4 g6 Otherwise the knight is lost. 21. Nxg6 Kg7 (21… fxg6 22. Qxg6 Threatening mate on both h6 and h7, to which there is no good answer) 22. Nxf8 Kxf8 23. Qxh5 White is a rook up;

19… Ne8 Defends g7 without leaving the knight undefended. 20. Reg3 Threatening 21. Qxh6!! gxh6, 22. Nxf7+! Rxf7, 23. Rg8 mate. 20… Qe7 Stopping the queen sacrifice by putting another defender on f7. 21. Rxg7 Qg5 (21… Nxg7 22. Qxh6 Kg8 23. Rxg7#) 22. Qxg5 hxg5 23. Rh7 Kg8 24. Rxg5 Ng7 25. Rgxg7#;

19… Rg8 Defends g7, but not f7. 20. Nxf7#;

19… Qe7 Puts a defender on f7 so the rook is free to move to g8.  Unfortunately it takes the attack off of the rook on e3, so now White plays the rook sacrifice on g7. 20. Rxg7 Kxg7 21. Rg3 Ng4 22. Rxg4 Qg5 23. Rxg5 hxg5 24. Qxg5 Kh8 25. Qh6 Kg8 26. Qh7#

Okay, I am convinced that Black is totally lost, but if I were Black I would have played on a few moves just to make sure my opponent knows what he is doing.

[1:0]

 

Chess and Famous People

By Matthew Grinberg, Founder of Alamogordo Chess Club

Here is a sampling of famous people who played or influenced chess:

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) – The American founding father and Renaissance man was also an avid chess player.  He is the first American known to have written a book on chess.  “Morals on Chess” was published posthumously in 1796.  In 1999 he was inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame.

Here’s a painting of Benjamin Franklin playing chess with Lady Caroline Howe:

 Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France (1769-1821) – Napoleon is reported to have been an enthusiastic, though weak player.  Four games allegedly played by him are known, but the authenticity of them has never been established.

 

The game was played on St. Helena, where Napoleon was exiled after the Battle of Waterloo.  His opponent, General Bertrand was another exile.

Bonaparte, Napoleon – Bertrand, Henri Gatien, 1-0  

St. Helena, 1818 (some sources give the date as 1820)  

Scotch Game

  1. Nf3 Nc6, 2. e4 e5, 3. d4 Nxd4!?, 4. Nxd4 exd4, 5. Bc4?! Bc5?, 6. c3? Qe7?!,
  2. O-O Qe5, 8. f4!? dxc3, 9. Kh1 cxb2?, 10. Bxf7? Kd8!, 11. fxe5 bxa1=Q, 12. Bxg8 Be7?, 13. Qb3 a5?? This is a complete non sequitur that gives Napoleon the winning combination.

[If he gets his queen back into the game, he is no worse than even. 13… Qxe5 14. Bb2 Qg5 Black’s lack of development is a serious problem, but with an advantage of an exchange and two pawns, he has the better game]

  1. Rf8!! Very nice! He forces mate in four moves. 14… Bxf8, 15. Bg5 Be7, 16. Bxe7 Kxe7, 17. Qf7 Kd8 18. Qf8# [1:0]

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)The world famous French painter was also a strong chess player.  He was good enough to represent France in the Chess Olympiad of 1928.

He sometimes featured chess in his art as in this work titled, “Portrait of Chess Players”:

Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957)– The famed American actor was also a strong chess player.  He was purported to be an expert strength player, though he never played in tournaments.  He always had a chess set with him when filming.  Remember the scene in Rick’s Café  from “Casablanca“?

John Wayne (1907-1979) – Every true fan of the Hollywood actor knows that John also happened to be a huge chess lover.  In fact, according to fellow chess nuts, John was a fairly good chess player at that.  He was known to carry a miniature chess board along with him on set to play a few games with co-stars in between filming scenes.  Wayne played chess with a number of well-known celebrities including Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum.

John Wayne plays chess on set.  I don’t know who is playing White, but he was clearly intimidated since he just dropped his queen rook for nothing.

Jacqueline (1911-2012) and Gregor Piatagorski (1903-1976) – Gregor was a Russian born American cellist.  His wife, Jacqueline, was a strong chess player and regular participant in the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship.  Together they sponsored several major chess tournaments in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.  Two of the strongest tournaments ever held on American soil were the First Piatagorski Cup in 1963, where Paul Keres and Tigran Petrossian, both of the Soviet Union, tied for first and the Second Piatagorski Cup in 1966, where Boris Spassky barely beat out Bobby Fischer for first.

Here is Jacqueline Piatagorski playing in a chess tournament in 1951 in a French Defense, Tarrasch Variation:

Claude E. Shannon (1916-2001) – Shannon, an American mathematician, was one of the pioneers in the development of computer technology.  He was a code breaker during World War II.  Though he was an amateur chess player, he is best known in the chess world for coming up with the first design for a chess program.  He never wrote a chess program himself, though virtually all computer chess programs use the design he spelled out in “Programming a Computer for Playing Chess,” published in 1950, including my own program, Friedliver.

Henry Kissinger (1923-) – Kissinger, the National Security Advisor and Secretary of State in the Nixon administration is best known in the chess world for a phone call that changed chess history.  At a point in the negotiations between Fischer and Spassky for their World Championship match in 1972, when it seemed that Fischer’s demands would scuttle the match, Kissinger called Fischer and talked him into playing.  The rest is history.

Walter Tevis (1928-1984) – Was an American novelist and short story writer. His best known novels were “The Hustler,” “The Color of Money,” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” all of which were made into movies.   He was also an avid chess player and wrote the novel, “The Queen’s Gambit,” about a child prodigy.  “The Queen’s Gambit” was made into an acclaimed TV series on Netflix in 2020.

Bobby Darin (1936-1973) – The American singer and songwriter was an enthusiastic chess player.  He is best known in the chess world for something that didn’t happen.  In the wake of Bobby Fischer’s rise to World Chess Champion, Darin set out to sponsor a Grandmaster chess tournament.  Unfortunately the event was cancelled after his premature death.

Dr. Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) – If you watch Fox News, you know who Krauthammer was – a commentator and regular guest on many of their shows.  He enjoyed a good game of chess and frequently used chess analogies in his commentary.  He played in the 2002 Atlantic Open in Washington, D.C., but the only time I saw him in person was at a simultaneous exhibition, March 20, 1986, on Capitol Hill against GM Lev Alburt.  I don’t know how Charles fared, but I drew my game.

Sting (1951-)“Sting” is the stage name of Gordon Matthew Sumner, lead singer of the band, The Police.  In 2000 his interest in chess inspired him to invite Gary Kasparov to play a simultaneous exhibition against The Police.  The exhibition took place on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Needless to say, Kasparov was neither stung nor impressed.

For more celebrities that play chess, see this guest blog post by Guitar Guide CEO Mike Papapavlou.