Saturday, April 8, 2017

More Chess Informant

Maybe I actually am getting better at chess. Or maybe the following game, or at least the end of it, is particularly easy to understand.

Near the front of every issue of Chess Informant is a list of the best games of the previous issue as voted upon by several particularly distinguished Grandmasters. Yesterday I noticed that I actually had 2 consecutive issues here, 19 and 20, so that I could look at some of 19's best games as announced in 20. Chess Informant 20 has the list of the 10 best games in 19, as elected by some of the leading lights of the chess world in 1976: Dr Euwe, Averbakh, Barcza, Dr Filip, Geller, Kotov, Pirc, Polugayevsky and Schmidt. Their 1st choice is a rather long game, and it has no illustration in no 19, but their 2nd choice, Vaganian -- Planinc, Hastings 1975, game 533 in Chess Informant 19, is just 22 moves long and the position after White's 19th move is illustrated. In Chess Informant 19 it has analysis by Vaganian, who lost. Of Vaganian's analysis, I have given here only his evaluation of several moves: he gives a ?!, meaning "a dubious move," to his own 6th and 12th moves; a ?, meaning "a mistake," to his 13th move; and a !!, meaning "an excellent move," to Planinc's 19th and 22th moves, the latter of which persuaded Vaganian to retire. I have not given Vaganian's analyses of alternate lines because I have nothing intelligent to say about them. Maybe I would if I dropped everything for several days and did nothing except study this game. Or maybe I wouldn't.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nf3 cd4 4. Nd4 e6 5. Nc3 Bb4 6. Ndb5?! O-O 7. a3 Bc3 8. Nc3 d5 9. Bg5 h6 10. Bf6 Qf6 11. cd5 ed5 12. Qd5?! Rd8 13. Qf3? Qb6! 14. Rd1 Rd1 15. Nd1 Nc6 16. Qe3 Nd4 17. Qe8 Kh7 18. e3 Nc2 19. Kd2!! Bf5 20. Qa8 Qd6 21. Kc1 Na1 22. Qb7 Qc7!! (White resigns.)

Most of the analyses of chess games I've seen, apart from drawn games, have been either by the winner or by a 3rd party. It's impressive when someone analyzes a game they've lost, as Vaganian does here, because there's a strong tendency to want to forget a loss rather then overcome one's ego and learn from it. Analyzing a game one has won is also often quite egotistical: "Look how smart I am, look how I crushed this chump!"

Far from understanding all of the moves in Grandmaster games, it usually takes me more than one try just to follow all of the moves correctly, reading them and moving the pieces on a board. (And just reading the moves and seeing an entire game in my head? I don't think that's ever going to happen for me.) I looked at this game on an analysis board at This has a great advantage, for me, over a conventional chess set: when I move the pieces on the analysis board, the website writes out the moves for me, and this makes it much easier -- for me, at least -- to check what I'm reading against the moves I'm making and make sure I'm making the written moves.

I tried to move the pieces for this game on an analysis board last night, but I think I may've gotten the 22nd moves wrong. This morning I finally got all of the moves right.

And then, after looking at the final position for a couple of minutes, an amazing thing happened: I understood why White resigned! If he didn't take Black's Queen, instead moving his King out of check, Black would take the White Queen; but if he did take Black's Queen, then Black would move 23. [...] Nb3, checkmate.

This is still very, very far from understanding the entire game. For example, I don't understand why White was unable to develop many of his pieces, so that his white Bishop, King's Rook and f-, g-, and h-Pawns were never moved, and were all just about completely useless to him at the end of the game. (Assuming that I'm correct in judging that they were useless to him.) There must have been some threat which was too urgent to allow White to develop the pieces on his King's side. What that threat was, I don't know. Maybe the answer is somewhere in those alternate lines. Who knows? Not me, that's who. Not yet. I would compare my achievement here to watching an NBA player on video in slow motion, making a basket, and after watching it in slow motion 5 or 6 times, you notice the head fake which threw the defensive player off. That might be a great breakthrough for you as an observer of basketball, but it doesn't mean you're ready to try out for the NBA.

I apologize for not being able to show you the final board, or even, for my readers whose 1st chess language is not English, to list the moves with the little pictures of the pieces instead of their English abbreviations. But if you google vaganian planinc hastings 1975, you can find a number of websites which show the entire game move by move. If I right-click on the final board on those sites, and choose "save image as," all I've saved is a tiny black square. The struggle continues, the struggle to understand chess, and to understand IT and to understand other things.

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