Sunday, May 28, 2017

Diary of a Chess Patzer: Part 1

After months of puzzles and long, drawn-out series of articles, we should switch to something more lighthearted. So what better way to do it than to see some hilarious games by yours truly? Of course, after 8 years of competitive chess I might be seen by a few of my buddies as some “legendary” figure, but sorry to say I am far from that (and my obscenely low FIDE rating speaks as the proof).

For this series, I will be analyzing some of my own upsets, from what seemed to be simple wins transformed into draws or even defeats after a series of especially spectacular blunders. Perhaps after you have seen these you will inevitably question what in the world was I doing in my training, and hopefully you will not repeat the same mistakes as I did!

Or else the Darwin Award awaits you

Today we will go through three of my games from recently concluded rapid tournaments. The first is a quiet English game where my opponent blundered an exchange just after the opening, only for me to return the favour a few moves later:

Seems it is time to add to the old adage “loose pieces drop off” with the words “trapped pieces get crushed” :(

That was a display of tactical inadequacy, but how about other areas? Well, the next game is an example of what happens when you don’t revise your endgame basics:

The game in its entirety was an interesting struggle, given the numerous strategic errors that both sides committed. But alas, the loser is the one who blunders last, and the misgivings of 25… g6 are a reminder of how seemingly complex endgames can be decomposed into simpler patterns… if your endgame foundation is solid enough!

I have saved the best for the last. In contrast to many players my age, I feel more at home defending as compared to attacking. That feeling when you achieve strong counterplay against a determined attack is something that cannot be described in mere words. Unless you botch up your own defense together with your opponent…

Maybe I should go back and relearn from my previous self, who so exhaustively penned an entire series on the Greek Gift sacrifice!

At this point you may say: “But these are rapid games, anything can happen!” Yes that is true, so when it comes to standard or correspondence games I won’t make such epic screw-ups, right?

Well, we shall see what happens with these more “perfect” games in Part 2…

To be continued…

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Post Mid-Year Exam Presents 2017

Ready to resume your tactical training?

Have fun!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Fischer's eccentric brilliancies: Part 5

For his whole adult life, Robert James Fischer was fiercely dedicated to the game of chess, waging war against the might of the Soviet Chess Empire. His high water mark came in the historic 1972 World Championship Match, where he defeated Boris Spassky to reach the summit.

Then he vanished.

Fischer refused to defend his title in 1975, following disagreements with FIDE over the match format. He forfeited the crown, and went into self-imposed exile. True, he did hang out with old friends every now and then and crush them in a hundred games of blitz, but the chess world did not see a single competitive game from him for 20 years.

Until a fateful conversation took place. Fischer remained close friends with his old adversary, Boris Spassky, and met up with him often. Spassky recalls how the idea of a rematch between them popped up unexpectedly:

"I often meet Fischer. Recently I was at his place and I asked whether he would agree to play a match with me after such a long interval. Fischer replied: ‘Although you are constantly playing, whereas I haven’t appeared for twenty years, I’m still stronger than you.’ Time passed. One day Fischer phoned me and suggested playing the match. He explained in detail – when and where, what conditions. Yugoslavia was immediately mentioned. And he asked: ‘Alright?’ I replied: ‘Excellent, Bobby!’ "

Before long, the news of a return match between the two chess titans surfaced, scheduled to begin in September 1992. The chess world was in a state of frenzy not seen since 1972: Bobby, the reclusive legend, was returning to the board! And there was a handsome prize fund of $5 million, of which $3.5 million would go to the winner!

All seemed well, except for one thing. As Spassky mentioned, the match was to be held in Yugoslavia, which at the time was under heavy UN sanctions due to its involvement in the Balkan wars. Naturally, the US government was unhappy with Fischer’s choice of location; how could a patriotic American support the oppressive Yugoslavs by playing in their homeland? So the Land of the Free wrote to Fischer, warning him not to participate in the match or else.

A gift from the Land of the Free (image from memecentre)

But telling Bobby to stop playing chess was like telling the Soviets to willingly give up their World Championship title. Allegedly, Fischer spat on the US order during a press conference, stating “This is my reply”. In response to his defiance, the American government issued a warrant for his arrest, threatening a fine of $250,000 and ten years in prison if he were to return to the States.

Effectively, the 1992 rematch marked a twilight period for Fischer, both in his chess career and his relationship with the United States.

The 1992 event was different from the original 1972 edition in many ways. It was held in the format that Fischer had championed in 1975: Instead of first to 12.5 points, it was a first to 10 wins, with draws not counting. In the event of a 9-9 tie, the prize fund would be spilt equally.

The match also heralded the usage of “anti-time-trouble” chess clocks with increment, a revolutionary design patented by Fischer (today, increment is used in almost all top-level games). The time format was 1 hour 51 minutes for the first 40 moves, with one minute added after a player made his move. After 40 moves both players received 40 extra minutes, after 60 moves, 30 minutes and after 80 and each succeeding 20 moves, 20 minutes.

And so the day finally arrived. Two long-time rivals, with greying hair but nonetheless solid playing strength, sat opposite each other across the chessboard, ready to cross swords again after 20 years.

Spassky (left in both pictures) vs Fischer, 20 years on

Many spectators lauded this as a great victory by Fischer, and some even speculated that the king was back to dominate the chess world again. But alas, the momentum that had carried Bobby through the 1970s did not last here. He threw away a winning endgame in Round 2 after a horrible blunder:

The blunder prompted Jeremy Silman to comment: “Since Fischer’s technique was (in his prime years) second to none, this flub laid the truth on the table – old age and lack of practice so far hadn’t robbed him of all his strength (as far as could be seen at this point), but it did rob him of his stamina.”

And it did seem that both players were no longer the juggernauts they were in 1972. Fischer “played like a lamb” (Silman) in Games 4 and 5 and got crushed, allowing Spassky to catch up and even become the leader. But the Russian returned the favour by blundering a winning endgame in Round 6, before losing his next three games in a row!

The trend continued for the rest of the match, with hard fought battles between both players punctuated by moments of slip-ups. Game 25 was another one worth mentioning: It was one of Fischer’s last great games, featuring a thematic kingside attack in the Sicilian Scheveningen:

In the end, Fischer won the match 10-5. Andrew Soltis lauded both players, describing the games as having “a fairly high quality particularly when compared with Kasparov’s championship matches of 1993, 1995 and 2000, for example.”

Old rivals turned friends

But others were less forgiving. When asked to compare the 1992 match with the 1972 edition, Botvinnik, the patriarch of Soviet Chess, commented:

“I will say one thing—this is not the Fischer that we knew and who staggered us all with his play. That Fischer is no longer and cannot be,”

Kasparov was also highly critical of the match (and perhaps, a little salty after Soltis’s comments!):

“The match showed that the two players were still in the romantic era of 1972. Although the struggle itself was interesting and Fischer displayed enormous practical strength in a number of games, in general his play was already that of yesterday. I think that, despite his displaced state of mind, Fischer understood perfectly well that he would not achieve anything with such play. Against any young player with a rating of over 2600 (in 1992!), he would have found things touch. Therefore in general the ‘return match’ bears no relation to Fischer’s play. It was simply an attempt to earn some money and at the same time test himself. The test convinced Fischer that he would do better to play no more.”

One thing was true: The 1992 match was Fischer’s last official competitive event. After that, he retired from the tournament circuit altogether, cut off from his homeland and forced to live abroad as an √©migr√©. Meanwhile, the demons of his past were catching up with him; he made no effort to hide his anti-American and anti-Semitic views during interviews, and felt that both the Soviet and Western worlds had conspired against him.

Eventually, he was granted asylum in Iceland, the same country where he made history in 1972. He lived a reclusive life, and died of renal failure in 2008.

To say that Fischer left a lasting legacy on chess would be an understatement. I need not describe the impact that he has left on the chess world, for that has already been done by so many grandmasters:

Larry Evans: “The most individualistic, intransigent, uncommunicative, uncooperative, solitary, self-contained and independent chess master of all time, the loneliest chess champion in the world. He is also the strongest player in the world. In fact, the strongest player who ever lived.”

Karsten Muller: “Fischer, who had taken the highest crown almost singlehandedly from the mighty, almost invincible Soviet chess empire, shook the whole world, not only the chess world, to its core. He started a chess boom not only in the United States and in the Western hemisphere, but worldwide. Teaching chess or playing chess as a career had truly become a respectable profession. After Bobby, the game was simply not the same.”

Mikhail Botvinnik: “Fischer’s tragedy was probably that he was fighting not only with his opponents at the chessboard, but also with his unreal impressions of the outside world. But until Fischer concluded the last game of the match in Reykjavik, in this fight he was the winner. His chess talent was enormous. Already in the years of his youth it could be predicted that Fischer would become World Champion…”

Boris Spassky: “Fischer always made a particular impression on me by the integrity of his nature. Both in chess, and in life. No compromises. Bobby’s strength, apart from anything else, was that after the opening, he very carefully worked out a plan. At the same time he is a computer like player. There is a kind of computer-like monumentality in him…”

Anatoly Karpov: “Fischer returned sharpness to chess, made it even more uncompromising, and took the competitive aspect to the limit: he battled on to the ‘bare’ kings. He raised universalism still higher, demonstrating amazing technique in converting an advantage, and splendid combinative and positional play. But it was the competitive mettle that was most characteristic of him: making use of every chance, right to the last one.”

And finally, a statement from Garry Kasparov that sums up the perfect tragedy of the American genius:

“Fischer’s departure from the stage was a great tragedy both for chess, and for himself. He defeated the best grandmasters in the world. He achieved the aim of his entire life. He became a legend in his own lifetime. But his last, main battle—against chess itself—he lost. You must love something beyond the bounds of your profession, and apart from chess, Fischer had nothing. The chequered board and the wooden pieces conquered him completely! After becoming world champion, Fischer could not play anymore. This was the danger: He achieved perfection, and everything after this was already less than perfection…”


And this is the life of a troubled man who, in defiance of all odds, struggled all the way to the pinnacle of the chess world, only to be defeated by his inner demons. Regardless, the legacy that Robert James Fischer left behind has ensured that chess will never be the same again. It is a perfect yet tragic story of what many consider to be the greatest chess player who ever lived.

The End

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:
Part 5:

“My Great Predecessors” by Garry Kasparov
“Bobby Fischer Rediscovered” by Andrew Soltis

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May the 4th be with you (2017 Presents)!

Yes, I know it's one day late, but who cares :P

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... a war rages on between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. All hope seems lost for the rebels, who only have a few Jedi Knights and Clerics to deal with the mighty Queen of the Empire. Unless... they can turn the tables using tactics?

Note: You are playing on the side of the Rebels in all 4 puzzles (yeah because everyone loves the good guys). Play to win in the first three, and play to draw in the fourth.

Note: White to play and draw in the last puzzle

Have fun! May the force be with you!