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Poor Blackburne (06.01.2018.) 967

The 93rd Hastings Congress finished yesterday evening, too late to report on today, but after 7 of the scheduled 9 rounds Keith Arkell was well placed at 3rd=. There was a prize fund of £5,250 to be shared between the top 7 players.

Meanwhile, the World RapidPlay Championship was taking place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where a 1st prize of £186,000 awaited the winner, who proved to be Vishi Anand of India. The World Blitz Championship also took place there, won by Magnus Carlsen (Norway), 2nd Sergey Karjakin (Russia) and 3rd Vishi Anand, with similar rewards.

All of which would suggest that the world’s top players today can make a reasonable living out of chess. But it was not always so. For example, Britain’s top player for decades was Joseph H. Blackburne (1841 – 1924). He became a chess professional in 1862 after having decided a career in a Manchester office was not for him.

He won the 2nd British Championship in 1869 after a tie-break against the holder, Cecil De Vere, and played all over Europe, 53 major tournaments in as many years, getting many prizes and winning so many games he was nicknamed “The Black Death”.

To keep up his income, in winter months he participated in long series of simultaneous matches all over the country – there can hardly have been a club in the kingdom not to have been visited by him at some point. On tours of the Westcountry, for example, he visited Plymouth in 1888 where he played members simultaneously and blindfold. He returned in 1891 playing 8 club members blindfold one evening and 37 members simultaneously the next. Later, he visited Redruth (10 opponents) and Truro. It was a precarious living for one so talented, and he never enjoyed the best of health throughout his life, so in 1911 the BCF launched a testimonial appeal, which raised £800 and suitably invested guaranteed Blackburne an income of £2 per week, which doubtless helped keep a roof over his head.

What would he think of today’s rewards?

Here is a game he played at Bristol in 1875 against an opponent who went on to become a Ladies World Champion. Blackburne was without sight of the board and playing nine others at the same time.

White: Blackburne. Black: Mary Rudge.

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.Nf3 h6 6.0–0 d6 7.Nxc3 Nf6 8.Bf4 Be7 9.Qd2 Ng4 10.Rad1 Nge5 11.Bxe5 Nxe5 12.Nxe5 dxe5 13.Qe2 Bd6 14.f4 0–0 15.f5 Qg5 16.Rf3 Qh5 17.Nd5 Kh7 18.Qd3 f6 19.Rg3 Miss Rudge has played very carefully, and though her game is cramped she here makes an ingenious attempt to win. 19…Bxf5 20.exf5 e4 21.Rh3 Qxf5 22.Qe2 Qe5 23.Ne3 c6 24.Ng4 Bc5+ 25.Kh1 Qg5 26.Rh5 Qxh5 27.Nxf6+ winning the queen. 1–0

The solution to last week’s NF letter problem was 1.Nc3! If 1…KxR 2.b7 discovered mate. If 1…e2 2. Qf2 mate or any other move 2.Rc4 mate.

This position arose during last year’s Hastings. White to play and win by force.

White to play

Hastings History (30.12.2017.) 966

The 93rd Hastings Congress started on Thursday and continues for 9 rounds until next Friday. The top 3 seeds are the GMs Deep Sengupta of India (2589); Alex Fier of Brazil (2587) and Jakhongir Vakhidov of Uzbekistan (2518). In spite of their undoubted strength, it could be argued that they are not exactly familiar names to the man in the street, even to those who follow chess events.

However, a lesson could be learned from the very first congress held in the town in 1895. In May of that year, having explored the idea of an International Masters Tournament, and secured generous local funding, the Hastings Club Secretary sent out invitations for a tournament with a prize fund of £500 (£60,000 today) and guaranteed consolation money for non-prizewinners. There were 35 entries, mostly the great and good from around the world, including the current and future World Champions, Steinitz and Lasker, and the Committee had to narrow the entry down to 22. Inadvertently, they allowed in the Venetian Beniamino Vergani, an amiable chess journalist who had only arrived to report on the event, but mistakenly put his name on an entry form. He was ranked with another relative unknown, Harry Pillsbury of the U.S. It would be a bit cruel to say they weren’t household names – even in their own households, but they were certainly unknown quantities in Europe. As expected, Vergani came last, but Pillsbury, to everyone’s amazement, came clear 1st, and from then on was never out of the headlines. 2nd was Tchigorin, 3rd Lasker, 4th Tarrasch & 5th Steinitz.

Here is one of his wins from Hastings.

White: H. Pillsbury. Black: W. Steinitz.

Queen’s Gambit – Exchange Var. [D35]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 c5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bxf6 gxf6 7.e3 Be6 8.Nge2 Nc6 9.g3 cxd4 10.exd4 Bb4 11.Bg2 Qb6? 12.0–0 0–0–0 Though this move has been criticised, it’s almost forced. Black must protect his d-pawn and his king would be unsafe on e8 or g8. 13.Na4 Qa6 14.a3 Bd6 15.b4 Bg4 16.Nac3! Ne7 17.b5 Qa5 18.Qb3 Kb8 19.h3 Be6 20.f4 f5 21.Rfc1 Rd7 22.Na4 Rc8 23.b6! This prevents Black doubling his rooks and limits scope for his queen. 23…a6 24.Nec3 Rc6 25.Bf1 Rd8 26.Na2 Bd7 27.Nb4 Rcc8 28.Nc3 Rg8 If instead 28…Qxb6 29.Nxa6+ Ka7 30.Nb4 leaves White with a fine attacking game. Or if 30…Bxb4 31.axb4+; Or if 28…Bxb4 29.axb4 Qxb6 30.b5 axb5 31.Na4 again, with a fine game. 29.Kf2 h5? 29…Rg6 is better. 30.h4 Bxb4 31.axb4 Qxb6 32.Be2 Rg6 33.Nxd5 Qe6 34.Bf3 Bc6 35.Re1 Bxd5 36.Rxe6 Bxb3 37.Rxe7 Rc2+ 38.Re2 Rc3 39.Rae1 Rb6 40.Rd2 Rxb4 41.d5 Rc2 42.Rxc2 Bxc2 43.Bxh5 Be4 44.Bxf7 Rd4 45.Be6 Rd2+ If 45…Bxd5 46.Bxf5 46.Re2 Rd3 If 46…Rxe2+ 47.Kxe2 and White’s h-pawn will romp home at leisure. 47.Re3 Rd2+ 48.Ke1 Rd4 49.h5 Bxd5 50.Bxf5 Bf7 51.h6 Rd8 52.g4 a5 53.g5 1–0

Last week’s 2-mover was taken from a book in which White’s pieces are printed in red and Black’s are blue, which makes it easy to transcribe incorrectly. The 2 bishops on the 7th rank should have been white, as here, not black. Apologies.

The post-Christmas period is traditionally the time of the Hastings Chess Congress, one of the longest established in the world. The first was held in 1895 when all the world’s top players took part. It was won by the rank outsider, Harry Pillsbury, barely known in his own country (the US) let alone the wider chess community. However, Hastings did not become an annual event until after WWI when it found its present niche in the chess calendar. All the world champions have played there, with the exceptions of Fischer and Kasparov.

It has to be said that the playing strength of the Hastings Premier has declined in recent decades due to the worldwide proliferation of other events with greater financial backing to attract the top players. Yet the glories of the past are recorded for all time, as with this game from the 1895 tournament that won the event’s Brilliancy Prize. Notes based on those by Tarrasch from the tournament book.

White: W. Steinitz. Black: Curt Von Bardeleben.

Italian Game [C54]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 d5 8.exd5 Nxd5 9.0–0 Be6 If 9…Nxc3 10.bxc3 Bxc3 White gets a dangerous attack by 11.Bxf7+ Kxf7 12.Qb3+. 10.Bg5 Be7 11.Bxd5 Bxd5 12.Nxd5 Qxd5 13.Bxe7 Nxe7 14.Re1! The point of all the exchanges as White now obtains command of the board, prevents Black from castling and initiates a powerful attack on the king. 14…f6 This keeps out the knight for the time being but at the cost of weakening his pawns which proves costly later. Better was 14…Kf8. 15.Qe2 Qd7 16.Rac1 c6? It would have been preferable to play 16…Kf7 as White then has nothing better than  17.Qxe7+ Qxe7 18.Rxe7+ Kxe7 19.Rxc7+ Kd6 20.Rxb7 and Black has drawing prospects. 17.d5 A pawn sacrifice, breaking up Black’s position and making way for the knight to strengthen the attack. 17…cxd5 18.Nd4 Kf7 19.Ne6 Threatening both Rc7 and Qg4. Rhc8 20.Qg4 g6 21.Ng5+ Ke8 To protect his queen. This is the position that appears in numerous chess problem books challenging the reader to find the best move. 22.Rxe7+!! and this is the move that won Steinitz the Brilliancy Price. Note how every White piece is en pris and yet Steinitz pursues his prey without flinching. 22…Kf8 If 22…Kxe7 23.Re1+ Kd6 24.Qb4+ Kc7 25.Ne6+ Kb8 26.Qf4+ and wins. 23.Rf7+ Kg8 24.Rg7+ Kh8 25.Rxh7+ 1-0 At this point Bardelben didn’t resign but simply left the tournament hall and didn’t return. He had probably seen what was in store. 25…Kg8 26.Rg7+ Kh8 27.Qh4+ Kxg7 28.Qh7+ Kf8 29.Qh8+ Ke7 30.Qg7+ Ke8 31.Qg8+ Ke7 32.Qf7+ Kd8 33.Qf8+ Qe8 34.Nf7+ Kd7 35.Qd6#.

Steinitz eventually came 5th, receiving £40 for his month’s work and an extra £5 for this timeless creation.

Last week’s 3-mover was solved by

1.Ne5! If 1…Kc7 2.Qc6+ and the queen will mate on the 7th rank. If 1…Ke7 2.Qd7+ Kf6 3.Ng4 mate.

Here is a third original 3-mover by Dave Howard. White to play.

White to mate in 3

89th Hastings Congress (11.01.14.)

The 89th Hastings Congress finished on Sunday when 7 players tied on 6½/9 with Mikheil Mchedlishvili (Georgia) taking first place on tie-break from Khenkin (Germany), Qun Ma (China), Mark Hebden (England), Vakhidov (Uzbekistan), Sarkar (USA) and Radovanovic (Serbia). A further 11 players from all round the world came just a half point behind. Here is Hebden’s last round win.

White: M. Hebden (2560). Black: Jens Kipper (Germany – 2378).

Queen’s Gambit [D30].

1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 d5 4.Bg5 Bb4+ 5.Nc3 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.Qb3 c5 8.cxd5 exd5 9.e3 0–0 10.dxc5 Bxc3+ 11.Qxc3 Qxc3+ 12.bxc3 Grandmasters often like to make early exchanges against lower-graded players, aiming to keep things simple in the expectation that their superior endgame technique will carry them through. However, in this case, White has landed himself with doubled pawns, usually deemed a weakenss. 12…Be6 13.Nd4 Rc8 14.Rb1 Nd7 15.c4 Nxc5 16.Nxe6 fxe6 17.cxd5 exd5 The doubled pawns have been eliminated and it is Black that has a weak isolated pawn in the centre. 18.Be2 Ne4 19.Bf3 Rc2 20.0–0 Rxa2 21.Rxb7 Rc8 22.Rd7 Rc5 White has a 4-2 pawn majority on the kingside, and he must activate this advantage before the a-pawn becomes a threat. 23.h4 Nf6 24.Rb7 Rcc2 25.h5 Kf8 26.g3 Kg8 27.Kg2 a5 28.Ra7 Rd2 29.g4 a4 30.Kg3 Ne4+ 31.Bxe4 dxe4 32.Re7 a3 33.Rxe4 Rab2 34.Ra4 a2 35.f3 Kf7 36.Kf4 Rdc2 37.Rd1 Ke7 38.Ra7+ Ke6 39.Rd4 1-0 White will eventually play Rda4 which will cover the queening threat, leaving him able to mobilise his own pawns.

Dave Howard’s latest problem was solved by 1.Kd7! and Black’s tries are answered thus:- 1…Ke5 2.Nd3#; 1… dxe3 2.Bh2# or 1…c1=Q 2.Qh2#.

There has been quite a lot of chess coverage on Radio 4 over the holiday period, including a drama based on the early lives of the Hungarian Polgár sisters who were taught at home by their idealistic father, Lázló, mainly to excel at chess. To this end, from his personal library of over 5,000 chess books, he collected thousands of problems that were suitable for his young daughters to solve, as the positions were relatively simple yet elegant. These were eventually published in a massive book entitled Chess Training in 5333+1 Positions, (Könemann 1994  1104pp) a resource I have drawn on several times for this column. Here is another 2-mover from his archive, one of a number composed by his fellow Hungarian, Ernö Szentgyörgyi.

White to mate in 2