Friday, May 29, 2009

The Most Outrageous Moments in Chess part II

The Most Outrageous Moments in Chess Part I can be read here.

#5 - Bobby Fischer wins the World Championship
No "outrageous moments in chess" list would be complete without some mention of Bobby Fischer. His path to the 1972 World Chess Championship was as remarkable as the match itself.

During the candidates tournament Fischer reeled off an unbelievable 20 wins in a row against the worlds strongest competitors including 6 wins against Mark Taimanov, 6 wins versus Bent Larsen and a match versus Petrosian in which he dominated 6.5-2.5. This final match victory over Petrosian allowed him to challenge Boris Spassky for the world title (whom Fischer had never defeated at that time).

During the first game of his match with Spassky, Fischer played a risky pawn snatch in a drawn endgame which most amateurs even know not to do, then flat out refused to play the second game which he forfeited by default. The 21 game match began with two bizarre losses for Fischer. He went on to dominate the rest of the match without incident losing only once in the subsequent 19 games. In 1972 the year after Fischer's victory, USCF membership doubled.

#4 - How Dare You!
Emporer Wen-Ti of China had two foreigners put to death for playing a game of chess. The reason is because Wen-Ti learned one of the pieces was called "The Emperor" and he was outraged that the esteemed position of emperor could be trivialized in a boardgame. To dissuade further insult to the Emperor the game of Chess was banned in China by his decree.

#3 - Boat Ride without a Queen
Emmanuel Lasker was on a long boat ride once. Several people were playing chess to pass the time aboard the ship. Blissfully unaware they were in the midst of a world champion, the amateurs invited Lasker to play.

One of the amateurs asked Lasker before their game, "how is your chess?"
To which Lasker casually responded, "mediocre".
"Then I will play without my queen to make the game fair", proudly stated the unknowing amateur.

Lasker of course lost the game on purpose. But after the game Lasker protested, "the game was not fair! My queen constantly got in the way of my King attempting to find safety. I was checkmated because my queen restricted my King's ability to find safe squares. I demand a rematch so that you will have to play with your queen and I will not play with mine."

Most of the onlookers laughed behind his back. His opponent reluctantly agreed as he marked this spectacle as a waste of time. Lasker played this time at full strength but without his queen. To everyone's surprise, Lasker won the game in embarrassing fashion. Afterwards he remarked, "you see? Having a queen only inhibits your ability to win." Lasker left a group of chess players silent and questioning all they knew in the world to be right, not realizing they had just been duped by the world champion.

#2 - Toiletgate
The 2006 World Championship match between Vladamir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov was marred because of the aforementioned "toiletgate". Topalov and company accused Kramnik of utilizing computer assistance because Kramnik engaged in "excessive" bathroom visits during game 4. The Topalov team stated it was in excess of 50 visits during the game. The Kramnik team responded by stating Mr. Kramnik likes to walk during his matches and includes the bathroom as a part of this walking space. The complaint by the Topalov team was of course this was the only place without video and audio surveillance in the entire facility and that computer assistance was easy to come about and furthermore Kramnik's moves matched 78% with Fritz 9's recommended moves in any given position during game 4. The Topalov team threatened to withdraw from the match if private bathrooms were not eliminated and a single community bathroom was established. The committee agreed to this demand.

The backlash from this caused Kramnik to sit out and forfeit game 5 on protest. This was the first time since Fischer v. Spassky in 1972 that a player forfeited a World Championship match game. Kramnik went on to win the match but the issue was not settled. The Topalov team frequently complained to the press and issued inflammatory statements about Kramnik's character. This created an uncomfortable chasm in the chess community as many top notch players sided with one contender or another.

#1 - Hey that's a good move, I think I'll do it too!
At an Interzonal tournament in 1955 in Gothenburg, three Argentinian players meticulously prepared a sharp novelty for black in the Najdorf Sicilian they knew they could use against Russian players who would play right into the line. The Argentinians knew eventually they would probably face off against a Russian player at some point during the tournament. They just hoped they would have black against a Russian in order to drop a theoretical bomb on them.

Against all odds, all three Argentinian players in the tournament ended up with black versus all three Russian players in the same round, round 14. It seems almost impossible, but all three players were going to get to unleash their homework on the Russians at the same time!

Their preparation soon revealed itself as all three games reached the exact same position with all three of the Russians facing serious trouble on move 9. The Argentinians proudly walked around the chess hall with their chests puffed out watching the Russians sweat. Three demo boards set up in the hall showed the exact same position for all to see. The chess hall was tense.

Nearly half an hour had gone by and no Russian player moved. The Argentinian players were feeling confident. The first Russian to play was the sharpest tactician of the three, Efim Geller. Geller discovered a three move combination that involved a Knight sacrifice that the Argentinians had not counted on. After Geller played the combination and sacrifice, it was clear that Geller had busted the Argentinian preparation. After seeing Geller's bust on the demo boards, the other Russian players made the same three move combination with the same smashing results. The results? Russia 3 - Argentina 0.

As a side note to this story, the particular novelty introduced by Argentina in this match was born and was refuted on the same day. However, it was not the last time this busted variation had a remarkable moment in chess history.

Witnessing this bust first hand was world class Serbian Grandmaster, Svetozar Gligoric. Three years later Gligoric found himself playing white against a scrawny looking kid from the United States named Robert J. Fischer at an Interzonal tournament in 1958. On move 9 Fischer willingly marched straight into the line that was thoroughly refuted three years earlier. When Fischer made the dubious move he stood up and began walking around the chess hall observing other games casually. Gligoric was confused. Everyone knew this line was refuted three years ago. Then Gligoric remembered something. At the beginning of the tournament Fischer casually mentioned to Gligoric "I enjoyed your articles on Gothenberg three years ago." Gligoric was a chess reporter at the time who covered the outrageous unfoldings of Argentina versus Russia.

He earlier dismissed Fischer's innocuous comments but over the board, starring straight at a line that was supposedly thoroughly refuted, Gligoric realized that he walked straight into a meat grinder, an unthinkable amount of home preparation. It was later revealed that Fischer spent some 19 straight hours in his hotel room preparing to play the black side of this dubious line the day before their game. Gligoric knew the refutation to the line but was scared to play it because he knew the young upstart Fischer was casually walking around the chess hall without a care in the world. Despite these things now stacked against Gligoric, it still did not change the fact that he was a world class player and was not going down without a fight.

Fischer ended up with a remarkable advantage and was pressing for a win so he could finish ahead of David Bronstein and place in the candidates section for a shot to compete for the world title. Gligoric had offered Fischer a draw which he refused. Gligoric was forced to play on in a very unbalanced position. Late in the game Fischer witnessed disaster happen to Bronstein on the board next to him. When it was clear Fischer needed a draw to place for the qualifiers rather than the win he needed before the game started, he agreed to a draw with Gligoric. Because of his results with Gligoric, he placed in the candidates section for the first time ever with a score of 12.0 out of 20. Fischer was 15 at the time.

1 comment:

  1. Check out Dennis Monokroussos Super Fast Najdorf Part 5 for a quick coverage of the Argentine Massacre. It's at the beginning.