Friday, November 30, 2007

Svein Johannessen RIP

It was with sorrow that I two days ago was informed that International Master Svein Johannessen had passed away.

Svein was the first Norwegian player of international strength and would easily have become an GM if tournament opportunities in the 1950s and 1960s had been more like what they are today. During long periods of his life Svein was part of the inventory in Oslo Schakselskap's playing venues in Bogstadveien 30 - mostly to be found playing blitz or looking up games or studies in old chess magazines. His play was always refreshingly free from routine moves and schematic thinking - even in his old years with the clock ticking away a little too quickly. I picked the game below partly because the opening interests me but I also think it's quite typical of his style of play:

James Aitken - Svein Johannessen, Tel Aviv ol (Men) B-final 1964


Svein's opponent in this game was somewhat past his prime but had some 25 years earlier taken a few nice scalps from world class opposition.


Although the Norwegian Variation (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5) to some extent became Svein’s trademark variation, he had a very varied repertoire, and always seemed more comfortable in the semi-closed and semi-open games.

2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6!?

This is the Kan variation - an opening for which I have always had a soft spot. Unfortunately my score with it is rather catastrophic and a very good reason for me to avoid it in serious games.

5.Nc3 Qc7

Opening terminology can be quite confusing. If Black here plays ...Nc6 and ...Nge7 the line is often called the Taimanov variation.

Another option which has fascinated me lately is 5...b5!?, possibly followed by ...Qb6, attacking the knight on d4, and only after Nb3, to play ...Qc7 (or even ...Qb8). It can occasionally be very hard to tell who has lost or won a tempo, as White frequently withdraws his d4-knight voluntarily in order to keep some pressure in the open d-file.


This modest-looking move is third in popularity after 6.Bd3 and 6.Be2 and quite logical as there are some tactical shots in the h1-a8 diagonal.


Around the time when this game was played, Svein experimented with other moves at this point:

a) 6...Bb4 7.Nde2 Ne7 8.a3 Bc5 9.Bg2 Nbc6 10.0–0 0–0 11.Kh1 Rd8 12.Nf4 b5 13.Nd3 Ba7 14.a4 bxa4 15.Rxa4 Bb7 16.Bf4 d6 = Gaprindashvili-Johannessen, Reykjavik 1964.

b) 6...Nf6 7.Bg2 Nc6 8.Nb3 (8.0–0 Be7 9.Kh1 0–0 10.Be3 d6 11.f4 Bd7 12.Qe2 Rac8 13.Rad1 b5 = Duraku-Johannessen, Varna 1962) 8...Be7 9.0–0 0–0 10.Qe2 d6 11.f4 Bd7 12.Be3 Rac8 13.g4 d5 14.exd5 Nb4 15.dxe6 Bxe6 =+ Czerniak-Johannessen, Belgrade 1962.

7.Bg2 Bb7 8.0–0 Nf6 (Dia)


This slow move isn’t really necessary. More to the point is 9.Re1!

a) 9...b4 10.Nd5! demonstrates White’s tactical point. After 10...exd5 11.exd5+ Kd8 12.Bg5 Bc5 13.Nf5 h6 14.Bxf6+ gxf6 15.Qg4 Kc8 16.Qg7 White had plenty of compensation in Vesselovsky-Hrivnak, Ceske Budejovice 1997.

b) Probably 9...d6 10.a4 b4 (10...bxa4 11.Nxa4 Be7 12.Bd2 0–0 13.Nb3 Nc6 14.Be3 Nd7 15.Qd2 Nce5 16.Na5 Nc4 17.Nxc4 Qxc4 18.Nb6 Nxb6 19.Bxb6 Rfc8 = Unzicker-Mariotti, Milan 1975) 11.Nd5! is of greater theoretical interest: 11...exd5 12.exd5+ Kd8 13.Bg5 Nbd7 14.Qe2 Qb6 15.c3 Ne5 16.a5 Qc5 17.Nc6+ Kc8 18.Be3 and White was winning in Smirin-Gelfand, Sverdlovsk 1987. The game concluded 18...Qb5 19.Bh3+ Nfd7 20.Bxd7+ Kxd7 21.Nxe5+ Kc8 (21...dxe5 22.c4) 22.c4 1–0 .


Now the game merges with other lines where Black has played an earlier ...e6. 9...Nc6!? could be an attempt to take advantage of White’s slow 9th move.


Probably White should consider one of the alternatives in order to fight for an advantage:

a) 10.f4 Nc6 11.Nb3 Be7 12.Be3 0–0 13.Qe2 Na5 14.Nxa5 Qxa5 15.Rfd1 Qc7 16.Rd2 Rfd8 17.Rad1 += Panov-Kotov, Moscow 1946.

b) 10.Re1 Be7 11.a4 (11.g4?! h6 12.h4 g6 13.g5 hxg5 14.hxg5 Nh5 15.Nde2 Nc6 16.Be3 Ne5 =+ Mueller-Bologan, Oakham 1992) 11...b4 12.Na2 0–0 13.Bg5 Nbd7 14.Qd2 a5 15.Nb5 Qb6 16.c3 Nc5 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Nd4 bxc3 19.Nxc3 Rab8 unclear Topalov-Short, Dortmund 1997.


The game Koskinen-Barda, Jonkoping 1958 which continued 10...Be7 11.Be3 Nbd7 12.f4 0–0 13.f5 e5 14.Nb3 Nb6 15.Na5 Rac8 16.Rad1 Ba8 17.Bg5 Nbd7 18.Nb3 h6 19.Bc1 Nb6 and an unclear position may be of some historical interest to Norwegians.

11.Nb3 Be7 12.f4 Rc8 13.Be3 0–0 14.Kh1

14.Rfd1 Rfd8 15.Rac1 Nb6 16.Na5 Ba8 17.h3 d5 18.e5 Nfd7 19.Na2 Nc4 20.Nxc4 Qxc4 21.Qxc4 bxc4 was unclear Holeksa-Zajic, Prague 1968.

14...Nb6 15.Na5 Ba8 16.Rad1

After 16.Bxb6 Qxb6 17.Nb3 Rfd8 Black seems a little more comfortable thanks to his bishop-pair.

16...Na4 17.Nxa4 bxa4 18.Qxa6 Nxe4 (Dia)

Now it’s obvious that Black has won the opening duel. This is the kind of central majority he normally can only dream about - even in the Sicilian.


19.c3 would have been somewhat better.

19...Rb8 20.c5

Black’s tactical point was 20.Rb1 Nd2! 21.Bxd2 Bxg2+ 22.Kxg2 Rb6 which traps the queen.

20...Nxc5 21.Bxc5 Bxg2+ 22.Kxg2 Qxc5 23.Nc4 d5 24.Nd2 Rxb2 25.Qxa4 Qe3 26.Qa5 Bd8 0–1

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Leningrad Finesses

I have for a long time been found of opening lines which are only subtly different from the mainlines and which can easily transpose to an advantageous version should your opponent be careless. I stumbled over the game below when researching 'alternative Stonewalls' as back-ground material for a book on the Dutch Stonewall. It first caught my attention because of the interesting exchange offer (or possibly blunder) which White somewhat surprisingly turned down. Later, however, the opening line has started to interest me.

Hera - Gajewski, Oberwart 2007
1.d4 f5

The Dutch is Black's most unbalancing reply to the closed games.

2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6

This is the Leningrad variation which is one of Black's most dynamic lines within the Dutch complex. 3...e6, leading to the Classical Dutch or the Stonewall is a more solid option.

4.Nf3 Bg7 5.0–0 0–0 6.c4 c6!? (Dia)

6...d6 is by far Black's most popular option at this point. Then, after 7.Nc3, 7...Qe8 is now Black's most popular line, but 7...c6 is still frequently played. One of the ideas behind the game move is to set up a kind of stonewall with pawns on c6, d5 and f5 (and eventually e6, but usually only after bringing the light-squared bishop via e6 to f7). But White also must take into account that Black can return to a more standard Leningrad set-up with ...d6 as long as he keeps playing flexible moves like ...Na6, ...a5, ...Kh8 etc. There are also lines with ...Ne4 and ...Qe8 which may transpose to standard Leningrad lines. One of Black's more independent ideas is an early ...Qb6.

This is White's most natural continuation but 7.b3 and 7.b4 are important alternatives to which I may return in a later entry.


I like this move which is an attempt to keep White guessing about Black's intentions. It's still possible to play ...d6 with a relatively normal looking Leningrad position. Black's most frequent choice is 7...d6 immediately returning to the 6...d6 7.Nc3 c6 line. The direct 7...d5 reveals Black's plans too early for my taste but 7...Ne4!? is another flexible approach.


This stops Black's ...d5 plans but doesn't appear very logical when there is no weakness on e6 to clamp down on.


This seems to be a new move and I am not convinced it's better than 8...Nc5 which have been tested in several games, e.g. 9.Be3 Nce4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Bd4 Nf6 12.b4 cxd5 13.cxd5 d6 14.Qb3 Qe8 15.Ng5 += L.B.Hansen-J.Kristiansen, Denmark 1992.

9.cxd5 b6 10.d6 Bb7 11.dxe7 Qxe7 12.Bf4

Black is active but White obviously has got the better pawn structure and probably is somewhat better.


Is this an intentional exchange sacrifice? 12...d5 is an obvious alternative and doesn't look too bad.

13.Nxe4 fxe4 14.Bd6 Qf6 15.Qb3+

If White wants to win that exchange it may be better to do it right away as 15.Bxf8 Rxf8 16.Nd2 Qxb2?! (16...d5 17.Rb1) can be met with 17.Nxe4!, threatening Nf6+ when Black may not have anything better than 17...Kh8 anyway (17...Qxa1?? 18.Qb3+ loses immediately).

15...Kh8 16.Be5?!

After this move it seems that Black is already somewhat better as he is allowed to connect his center pawns. The critical test must 16.Bxf8 Rxf8 when Black indeed will have some compensation after e.g. 17.Nd2 Nc5 18.Qc2 Qxb2 (18...d5) 19.Qxb2 Bxb2 20.Rab1. His extra central pawn and strong bishops will make it very hard for White to make any progress.

16...Qe7 17.Bxg7+ Qxg7 18.Nd2 d5 (Dia)

Now Black's position appears very harmonious.

19.Rad1 Rac8 20.Nb1 Rc4 21.Qa3 Nc5 22.b3 Rc2

It's hard to suggest improvements for White but it's obvious that his position has worsened during the last few moves.


Now the queen will find herself in trouble. After 23.b4 Ne6 24.Qxa7 Nd4 25.Qxb6 Nxe2+ 26.Kh1 Rxa2 Black must be somewhat better thanks to his center pawns but it's not obvious how he should continue.

23...Qf6 24.Qa3 Ra8 25.Qb4 Raxa2 26.Rd2 Rxd2 27.Nxd2 Na6 28.Nxe4 dxe4 29.Qc4 Rd2 30.Bxe4 Rd4 31.Bxb7

The game is decided. 31.Qc3 Bxe4 32.Qc8+ Kg7 33.Qxa6 Bd5 is just as bad.

31...Rxc4 32.bxc4 Nc5 33.Bd5 Qb2 34.e4 Nd3 35.f4 Kg7 36.e5 b5 37.Kh1 bxc4 38.Bxc4 Qb7+ 39.Kg1 Qb6+ 40.Kg2 Qc6+ 0–1

Friday, November 23, 2007

Some More Chess Records

I have not played any more remarkable games but my number of chess records is still rising. At his chess record page, Tim Krabbe has now identified a few more records in my 1991 game against IM Hannu Wegner. In addition to the two (three?) I already was aware of:
  • Longest sequence without captures =151
  • Greatest number of checks =141 (both sides together) and 98 (one side)
There now are three new ones:
  • The greatest number of moves with a pawn = 108 (of which 102 as a queen).
  • The greatest number of different squares visited by a (promoted) queen =45.
  • The greatest number of different squares visited by a pawn ('including its next life as a queen') = 47.
All together that gives me a total of 5 (possibly 6) records in chess. Could that possibly count as another record? The greatest number of chess records held by one person.

If there turns out to be serious competitors, I will first claim 'The greatest number of chess records set in one game'. Only after having added this sixth (seventh?) record to my list, I will claim the seventh (eight?) and final record.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Top 10 Chess Variants

Our beloved chess game has evolved through roughly 1500 years and is now an extremely playable game. It owes its playability to many different factors. In my opinion two of the most important are:

  • the stabilizing power of the pawns which sometimes allows very long-term strategical planning.
  • the unlikely similarity in strength of knights and bishops which sometimes may demand an extremely careful evaluation of the position.

But although our game is the end result of a long evolutionary process it's not the only viable chess game. Here are my top rankings. With one exception the links lead to the Chess Variants home page which offers rules and a short introduction. However, also Wikipedia's Chess Variant Pages are quite good.

  1. Shogi
    This is the Japanese version of chess and to me it appears a just as good game as what we normally call chess, but which I in this entry will refer to as IC (International Chess). The main difference from IC is that when you capture an enemy piece, it joins your army and you can put it back onto the board again instead of moving one of your "on-board" pieces.
  2. Bughouse
    Also known as Tandem chess, this variant is basically a team chess game. You are sure to have seen it if you have attended a week-end tournament with young participants.
  3. Ultima
    As a student I used to enjoy a version of this game, called Australian Chess. It has relatively little to do with IC and gives me futuristic associations - the high-tech variation of chess.
  4. Xiangqi
    This is the traditional Chinese chess. It's played on a special 9x10 board but with some difficulty it's possible to use the corners of an IC board. Usually the games are highly tactical as pieces are not as hindered by pawns as in IC.
  5. Fischer Random
    This is also known as Fischer 960 and according to some players the future of IC. The only difference between this version and IC is that the games start with random piece configurations on the back rank. The main advantage of the FR is that opening theory has not yet developed (to automatically assume that it will never develop seems a bit naive).
    In my experience from various internet chess servers it appears that most piece configurations are roughly as playable as normal chess but a few tend to lead to rapid exchanges while others seem to give White a greater advantage than traditional chess.
  6. Crazyhouse
    I consider this game a cross between IC and Shogi. It's played on a IC board with IC pieces but captured enemy pieces join your army and can be placed on the board For practical reasons this game is mainly played online - with a chess engine changing the
    colour of captured pieces). I plan to design and produce a set of flat Crazyhouse pieces which are white on one side and black on the other but I would like them to look really nice, so I don't know when I will find the time.
  7. Suicide Chess
    This is also a popular chess variant to be seen at tournaments with young players passing time between rounds. Besides the obvious charm of reversing the aim of the game (you try to lose pieces rather than winning them), it's also a fascinating game because it's possible to calculate extremely long, forcing lines.
    There also is a version of this game called Losing Chess which I have never liked. The difference is mainly that the king cannot be captured and the objective is to lose all your pieces OR to be checkmated. To me this version appears to be a compromise between IC and Suicide - possibly introduced by an incompetent or lazy programmer.
  8. Progressive Chess
    In this variant White first makes one move; Black makes two, White three, Black four etc. Unlike most variants it can probably be a good training tool for visualization and mating patterns. There are amazingly many nice mates from roughly Black's 2nd move (4 consecutive moves) to White's 4th move (7 consecutive moves).
  9. Kriegspiel
    This is another chess variant I used to play a lot as a student - usually through most of the night as it's quite time consuming if you allow the players time to really ponder their moves. In addition to the two players you need a referee. This may be quite hard to find but there actually are those who enjoy this role even more than playing the game themselves.
  10. Kung Fu Chess
    This is the real-time version of chess. You don't have to wait for your opponent's move - just keep your pieces flowing. This requires quite a lot of physical skill and I must admit that I have always been exceptionally inept at this game.

Honorary Mention
This chess version is quite close to the original Indian chess - Chaturanga. I find the game a bit too slow to be really engaging but in a future blog I will probably return to the Thai version of the game which actually is quite close to the Indian original.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Another London Question

I have not had much time for this blog during the last month but my next couple of months look a little less busy. Anyway, it's now long overdue to return to the London questions that I took up in my entry of September 26.

Q2: After 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.c3 Bf5 (Dia) you give two moves for White, 5.Nf3 and 5.Qb3, but what's wrong with 5.dxc5?

A2: 4...Bf5?! is a very rare move; it has only been played in three games. That should have been reason enough for us to suspect that it might be quite a poor move. And it indeed seems that the closest White comes to a refutation of 4...Bf5 is to accept the pawn with your suggestion 5.dxc5! (and not our routine move 5.Qb3 which only seems sufficient for a very small plus). There are lines where Black gets a nice centre for the pawn and murky lines like 5...Nc6 6.Nf3 Ne4!? 7.b4 g5!? 8.Nxg5 Nxg5 9.Bxg5 Bg7 10.Bb5 but sufficient compensation is nowhere to be seen.

I no longer have any idea why we missed this rather obvious pawn win. The obvious explanation is the fact that humans are so used to see hanging c-pawns (e.g. in the Queen's Gambit) which are only indirectly defended that we become blind to the possibility of capturing them and hanging on to them. However, this isn't a really satisfactory explanation as we used chess programs extensively to check our analysis. And even if the pawn win isn't immediately obvious to the human eye, there is no computer program that will miss it. In theory it should be possible to trace the correspondence between me and mr. Kovacevic and the ChessBase files we exchanged and establish who did the original analysis of this line and whether there were any discussion about the line. But as I see it that would be rather tedious and quite pointless research.

As a consequence of the above conclusion, the lines given with 5.Nf3 appear rather meaningless and should instead have been discussed under the more popular move-order 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3 c5 4.Nf3 Bf5 5.c3 and now Black has either 5...Nc6 - which leads to a well known position - or the popular mistake 5...e6? which might well have deserved a diagram in the book and will get one here: (Dia)

According to MegaBase 2007 this position has occurred in no less than 33 games but only in ten of them White has found the tactical stroke 6.Bxb8!. Now 6...Qxb8! 7.Bb5+ Kd8 allows Black to fight on in a bad position, and in Zimmer-Mosthaf, Hassloch 1997 Black actually won a quite weakly played game.
However, probably in shock, Black more frequently has continued 6...Rxb8? 7.Bb5+ Ke7 8.dxc5 after which he with some justification already could resign.