I played a great game of chess yesterday which I lost. This was an unusual game because it was at a social chess gathering where I was drinking wine mid game and where there were no clocks or sheets of paper to record moves. I had never met my opponent before and I had no idea what his ability was nor did he know what mine was.
He started with 1.e4 and I went for the sicillian. It soon became apparent that he was a good player and I had to slow down my pace to tackle the problems he was sending me. I gained a pawn in the middle game and had, I felt, the upper hand in the centre of the board. I think he sensed this too because he launced a very bold kingside attack that left his king in a vulnerable position. His attack was good enough that I couldn’t counter attack in time and struggled to escape his onslaught. When I did escape we traded down and he had the advantage. We moved to an endgame which he won.
After the game we chatted. He had lived in Papua New Guinea and had some chess books there. He moved to Melbourne and was a member of the Melbourne Chess Club in the 1970’s where he was rated around 1700. He liked bold, heroic chess like the chess I have described in my earlier posts (see ‘Beauty’) and he mentioned a chess player called Yakov Estrin who was the seventh world corresspondence chess champion. Correspondence chess in those days, as it is today, represents the most considerred form of chess and as such it is rare to find games with gambits, sacrifices and other bold play since these are usually anticipated before they occur and refuted if they happen. It was therefore surprising that this correspondence champion should write a book called gambits. My opponent sent me a copy of this book with the comment ‘This is a good book of very bloody chess’. I haven’t had an opportunity to go through it yet but I did look at this Estrin game.
Chess was played regularly in the late 1800’s and the style of chess that was played was a combination of solid positional chess and mad gambits. The move e4 was the opening of choice and the opening battle was fought in the centre. In the 1920’s we see a shift in this approach when ‘Indian Defences’ were championed by advocates for ‘Hypermodern’ chess in which the defender seeks to fianchetto their bishop and strike the centre from afar. In the 1940’s this approach, which was a bit of a peculiarity, gained credence when Russian players showed that it was sound for black. Since then Indian Defenses have been the most popular response to the move 1.d4. The Indian system has had a huge impact and it seems unfair that Moheschunder Bannerjee – the Indian in the Indian Defenses is not more well known.
In the 1840’s Moheschunder Bannerjee lived in a village near Calcutta called Mofussil where he played Indian Chess, a game similar to chess but, along with other minor changes, it didn’t have the option to move pawns two squares. This meant that Indian chess was more cramped initially and fianchettoing a bishop was an effective way to form an attack. Castleing was also not part of the game so a precious line of 3 pawns on the edge of the board on the 2nd or 7th rank would be less important.
While he was playing chess in the village an amiable Scottish barrister called John Cochrane would have been playing chess at the Calcutta chess club. Cochrane was a great chess player, among the best in the world, and he may have been dissappointed by the level of chess he faced at the club. In 1848 another member of the calcutta chess club heard about an undefeated chess player in a nearby village, found a way to meet him and brought him to the Calcutta Chess Club where he met and played against Cochrane. Cochrane was impressed and appointed Bannerjee as a paid attachee of the chess club. Moheschunder Bannerjee took up international chess and flourished to become one of Cochrane’s longstanding chess opponent.
Cochrane sent information about his games to his friend Howard Staunton who then published these games in his articles and books. In doing so he brought attention to this Indian style of play and showed that it could be played at a very high level. In the 1880’s the word ‘Indian’ was used to describe these types of games and the name has rightly stuck.
Below are a few games between Bannerjee and Cochrane.
This one in 1851 using the Zuckertort Opening: Old Indian Attack.
And this one, which he lost, shows him using the ‘Gruenfeld Defense’ 67 years before Alekhine and Gruenfeld made it famous in 1922. It has a great finish by Cochrane.
Emanuel Lasker said “The hardest game to win is a won game”. I’m having more difficulty wining lost games. Last Sunday, in my 1hr game, I was playing well and then I made an error – but was still winning. I then made another bigger error – not one which was a result of my first error. I then made a blunder and then another. It was a horrific game and as I drove home I thought about it. I think what happened was that I was dissappointed in my original error and decided to write the game off to some extent. My concentration dropped and I fell into a vicious circle of increasing disinterest and increasingly poor play. It wasn’t something I was feeling during the game but it’s what I believe happened as I look back.
I think that I was then on the other end of this phenomenom when I played a new player at my Tuesday chess club. Neither of us knew each others strengths and our first game was good, hard fought and close – but I won. We played again and I felt he had positioned himself as ‘not as good’, his game was significantly weaker. In the final game he played very badly and was throwing away pieces. Afterwards he blamed it on coffee – he drinks 6 cups a day and notices highs and lows. Perhaps it was the coffee but if he’s like me then it’s the psychological aspect of the game.
So there’s another thing to think about as I play. If I make a bad move how can I take a step back and recharge my approach so that I don’t lapse in concentration. I will be on guard for post mistake mistakes and try avoid them.
I have been losing a swag of games lately but I won one longer game (1hr) this Sunday that restored some faith in my abilities. Having said that my opponent did make a couple of blunders so it couldn’t be considered a great showpiece. The reason I am posting about it is because I was trying to play more positionally and I felt I did this. I gained space and sought to create ‘outpost’ squares. Outposts are something I hadn’t heard about until a couple of years ago. An outpost, for readers that may not know, are advanced squares, supported by a pawn, that can’t easily be attacked by a pawn – they can be good places for pieces to rest and dominate the opponents side.
Having a good position in a game seems to me to become more important as I improve. It becomes increasingly difficult to snatch a piece for free or land an unexpected checkmate. Instead my tactics need to be more focussed on bettering my position to create opportunities. The other day I recorded the following game that was played by a couple of kids. I’ll quickly run through the it to get to a position that I thought was very interesting – a better position, with equal material, that highlighted the importance of pressing an advantage. The game went:
The game arrived at this point and each player has the same material. Despite this material equality Stockfish shows that white has a massive advantage (5+ points) with blacks best move being 24. …d4. I think it is quite valuable to study this position and to calculate through different candidate moves for both black and white. What are the best move?
I found this game fascinating because it shows how you can develop play well so that you can have a big advantage despite material equality. It also shows how carefully options must be considered to maintain any advantage. This game occurred at my Tuesday chess club and the International Master who runs it immediately spotted that 27.Rxh7 was wrong and suggested 26.Qg7 at a glance. This move maintains an advantage. If we go back to the position above
My first foray into correpondence chess was a webserver tournament run by the ICCF. It has recently finished and I thought I’d post my games here as a record. There were 2 wins and 4 losses – I’ve already posted analysis of games two and five. I look back on these games and I am reasonably happy other than late blunders in games 1 and 4.
I am in three postal ICCF correspondence chess matches. Two matches are with four players where we each play each other as black and as white. This means 6 games per match (12 games). I am also on the Australian team playing against Sweden. I was matched with an opponent and we play each other as black and as white (2 games). Finally I am playing a casual game with someone from Texas who offered to play me via chess.com, again as black and as white (2 games). I also have 2 games on a webserver but when that is over I will concentrate on postal matches.
I have seen a few people saying that correspondence chess is dead, it has been replaced by webserver chess; it is too slow, it costs too much, it’s confusing and it’s open to cheats. I can see all these points as being valid but I still like postal chess. I like the coded postcards, I like remembering what personal snail mail is like, I like the walks to the post box, the setting up of a real board, the detailed recording of written information and the stamps.
Two of the players I am playing against, a German and a Swede, collect stamps and they have sent me beautiful stamps. In return I have gone to the post office and bought nice stamps for them. This weekend I suggested to my son that we collect the stamps that we are being sent and he liked the idea. We moistened the stamps so they’d peel off, we let them dry and pressed them, my son then divided them up into two piles, one for me and one for him, so that we could trade. It took about an hour and it was a great way to spend time with my son. The stamps teach geography, history (subject matter of some stamps) and currency. The image above shows a Czech stamp we received which shows an oil painting by the French painter L.F. Lejeune from 1808. It captures the atmosphere on the eve of the Battle of Austerlitz when Napoleon and his generals interrogate Moravian farmers. The picture is displayed at the chateau in Versailles.
Yesterday my son was at a chess competition and I arrived there to see the last couple of games. One of my son’s friends was on board 1 where he played one of the sharpest games I’ve seen. The kid, who is 12yrs old, said that it was the ‘Traxler Counter Gambit’. He then replayed the game for me and here it is.
In his final game he played the equally outrageous ‘Halloween Gambit’ and drew. I can remember the begining which was: