Chess and Music Part 5: Taimanov plays, Smyslov sings

Continuing our exploration of the links between classical music and chess, we now turn to perhaps the first player since Philidor to reach the top in both disciplines – Mark Taimainov (1926-).

You’re probably aware of Taimanov’s long and (mostly) successful chess career. Jeff Sonas, on his Chessmetrics site, ranks Taimanov in the top ten throughout the late fifties, peaking at 5th in January 1957, and again, briefly, in 1970-71, until his 6-0 Candidates Match drubbing by Fischer, which, unfortunately, is how many chess fans will remember him. He also gave his name to an enduringly popular variation of the Sicilian Defence.

Taimanov’s musical career is perhaps less well known. He studied piano at the Leningrad Conservatory, where he met and married (at the age of 19) a fellow student, Lyubov Bruk. They decided to specialise in the repertoire of music for two pianos and had a very successful partnership within the Soviet Union. Due to travel restrictions imposed by the Soviet régime they were unable to perform abroad until the early seventies. Their marriage broke up, though, which brought an end to their musical collaboration and to Taimanov’s career as a concert pianist. You can hear them here in the final three movements of Rachmaninov’s First Suite for Two Pianos.

Taimanov, who married again late in life and fathered twins at the age of 78, recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

Our next chess playing musician, Vasily Smyslov (1921-2010), became the seventh World Champion in 1957, and Sonas’s computations (to the end of 2004) rate him the 16th strongest player up to that time as well as the strongest player in the world for much of the mid 50s. The son of a master strength player who once beat Alekhine, he was something of a prodigy, reaching the world top 10 when he was still in his teens. In 1984, at the age of 62, he reached the Candidates Final where he lost to the 21 year old Garry Kasparov, and he continued playing high level chess into his 80s, when he was handicapped by failing eyesight.

As a young man he pursued parallel careers in chess and music. Unlike his contemporary, Taimanov, he was not an instrumentalist but an opera singer, specifically a baritone. It was only when he narrowly failed an audition to the Bolshoi Theatre in 1950, having already been one of the world’s elite for a decade, that he decided on a full time chess career. He sometimes gave vocal recitals at chess tournaments, often accompanied by Mark Taimanov on the piano. Listen here as he sings the popular Russian song Stepan Razin. (Razin was a Cossack leader who led an uprising against the nobility and bureaucracy in southern Russia in 1670-1671. The words to this song were written in 1883 and set to a Russian folk tune which some of my older readers might recognise as it was also used by The Seekers for their 1965 hit The Carnival is Over.)

Here are two games between Smyslov and Taimanov for you to enjoy.

Richard James

I Had a Five-Way…

tie for first place in this section

My opponent is lower rated than I am and he is from Turkey. He had White and he was playing for a win in positions that were rather even. I offered a draw after making my 37th move. He declined my offer and then offered a draw of his own 27 moves later.

While analyzing the endgame I discovered that one line of play would often transpose into another one. While trying to win the endgame, my opponent went into and out of nearly evey line of play that I analyzed! When he finally realized that there was no win for him, then he agreed to a draw! Although I do admire persistance, I found his annoying!

I castled on the Kingside and White castled on the Queenside. Some chess coaches have commented that when players castle on opposite wings, then it is a race to see who can checkmate the opposing King first. I have found that I stand a better chance of winning that race if I also take care to protect my own King first!

All of the pawns stayed on the chess board until I played my 27th move. I call that a closed position and chess engines are weak in closed positions. I used my chess engines mainly to blunder check my analysis and to explore various ideas. White was basically following my analysis that was posted in the engine room on playchess.com and then looking to see if he could find a win that I missed.

When White offered me a chance to open up the b file I took it because that gave me an open file to use to attack the White King. White never left that file unprotected long enough for any of my remaining pieces to penetrate his pawn structure using that file. So, nothing came of that file being open.

Both sides took turns attacking and defending various pieces, pawns and squares. In the end, nothing came from all of that attacking, defending and counter attacking. This was a hard-fought draw!

This draw put the both of us into a five-way tie for first place in this section. All five of us drew the other four players in the tie and we beat the same patzer who now is in last place. There is no way to break that kind of tie.

Mike Serovey

Transposing to B-flat

“That which one has the right to do, it is not always expedient to do.” Edmund Burke

And a flat game it was indeed.

Starting with 1. g3 often offers the “right” to transpose to Queen Pawn lines, for instance, the King’s Indian Fianchetto as in the present game. But it’s not always expedient: if that was what I wanted, why not just play 1. d4?

In any case, I found myself in a boring, well-known position and quickly went wrong out of lack of interest in what I’d lamely constructed on the board in place of the work of art I had anticipated (9. d5?! instead of 9. Qc2 with the idea of 9… exd4 10. Nxd4 Re8 11. Rd1).

There is a class of positions in which White and Black face off without direct contact and s/he who lunges may be lost. Classical theory suggests that when White is reticent Black can go over to the attack, but my experience suggests there can exist a dynamic standoff.

These positions are interesting because the “aggressive” openings have already been mined so deeply. There’s still room for individual creativity in the “passive-aggressive” openings of the type I’m describing because they have not been popular. Furthermore, the chess engines I’ve used tend to evaluate and play these positions poorly.

Jacques Delaguerre

Revisiting The Patterns

In chess, a player is more successful if they are able to use their knowledge optimally rather than a person who might know more. It has more to do with recognizing patterns on board rather than knowing tonnes of them. That doesn’t mean I am against learning more patterns, it’s more a case of applying what you do know when a pattern arises.

How can someone become good at recognizing patterns?

Here is an answer.

Besides that I would like to add a few points:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
Bruce Lee

You should practice a pattern a lot in its basic form. It is more beneficial to do one or two move combinations on a daily basis rather than doing complicated ones. This was suggested by Dan Heisman in his Novice Nook column at chesscafe.com, and although it was for improving tactical skills I believe it can be applied at other areas too.

Give yourself some breaks on regular basis to digest acquired information/knowledge before moving on to the next one. It is also useful for keeping you interested in chess.

Try to organise acquired information in blocks. You can find some examples on the same theme in Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals and also Silman’s Complete Endgame Course. Another good try can be seen in Chess Tactics From Scratch by Martin Weteschnik. Perhaps organising acquired information in blocks is the essence of recognizing patterns.

Ashvin Chauhan

Skara, Part 2

Continuing my Brexit themed journey down memory lane, here’s the second game from the European Team Championship in Skara 1980. Raymond Keene is playing Black against Harry Schussler and brings off a nice win with the unusual 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6 3.Nc3 Bf5!?.

Schussler must have missed Black’s stunning 13th move which basically just wins on the spot. But he fights on bravely for another 37 moves:

Nigel Davies

Three Pawns Against One

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that Black can draw with 1… Kc8 2. e7 Bc6 3. Kf7 Kb7 4. e8=Q+ Bxe8, and we reach a blockade situation where White cannot bring his King over to help promote his pawn without putting Black in stalemate.

In this week’s problem, White has to try to promote one of his pawns. As so often happens in endgames, Zugzwang plays an important role.

Steven Carr

Chess and Music Part 4: Oistrakh plays Prokofiev

If you click here you’ll hear David Oistrakh, whom you will have heard playing Tchaikovsky a couple of weeks ago, playing Sergei Prokofiev’s second violin concerto. You’ll also find Oistrakh playing the first violin concerto, the two violin sonatas and other works by the same composer on YouTube. Even if you’re not a classical music buff you’ll have heard some Prokofiev in your life. The BBC television programme The Apprentice uses the Dance of the Knights (spot the chess reference) from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet as its theme tune. You probably remember hearing Peter and the Wolf as a child, narrated here by the late David Bowie, also a chess aficionado, but not, as far as I know, a serious competitive player.

When you were listening to Oistrakh playing Prokofiev, you’ll have seen a picture of the two musical giants playing chess, watched by a young lady, the violinist Elizabeth Gilels, sister (not daughter, as stated in various places online) of the great Soviet pianist (and, of course, chess player) Emil Gilels. In 1937 a chess match was arranged between Prokofiev and Oistrakh. It took place in Moscow, with Alatortsev and Kan as arbiters. The match was supposed to be of ten games, but only seven were played. A contemporary report states that the first four games were drawn and Prokofiev won the fifth game. We don’t know what happened in the sixth and seventh games, but it’s believed that the composer won the match.

One game has survived. Prokofiev really should have won with two extra pawns in the ending but somehow let Oistrakh get away with a draw.

Sergei Prokofiev (23 April 1891 – 5 March 1953) is generally considered one of the greatest comopsers of the 20th century. He was a chess addict from an early age, and, according to Tartakower, a player of master strength. Like Alexander Goldenweiser, he was a regular participant in grandmaster simuls, beating Lasker, Capablanca and Rubinstein. His other opponents included Alekhine, Botvinnik and Tartakower, whom he beat in a casual game in 1933.

David Oistrakh (30 September 1908 – 24 October 1974) was one of the greatest classical violinists of his time. According to various sources he was a 1st category player (just below master standard) but there’s little information about his chess available apart from the match against Prokofiev.

Here’s Oistrakh on his chess friendship with Prokofiev: “Prokofiev was an avid player, he could spend hours on end thinking over his moves. Living next door to each other, we often played blitz-contests and I wish you could see how excited he was drawing all kinds of colorful diagrams of his wins and losses, and how happy he was with each victory, as well as how devastated each time he lost…”

Other classical musicians who were reputed to excel at chess included the pianist Moriz Rosenthal (1862-1946) and the violinist Mischa Elman (1891-1967).

Edward Lasker claimed that Rosenthal, one of Liszt’s last surviving pupils and peerless in Chopin, was the strongest musician he played.

Mischa Elman, heard here in Mendelssohn, was reputed to play to a similar standard, and claimed, in a 1916 interview, to have won a casual game against the Maryland champion. Chopin and Mendelssohn, of course, both also enjoyed a game of chess.

Listen to the music, even (especially) if you’re not familiar with classical music, and play through the games before next week.

Richard James

Anti-Trap Teaching

Traps and tricks are extremely popular with junior chess players. The young beginner starts out learning Scholar’s Mate and, as their chess skills improve, so does the complexity of their traps. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t teach a single trap until a student had been working with me for at least a year, ensuring that principled play came before tricky play. However, if I held firm to this notion, my students would fall prey to the plethora of junior players who employ tricks and traps to gain an early advantage in their games. In the world of junior chess, tricks and traps are a reality. This is why I teach my students how to defend against tricks and traps rather than use them exclusively to win games. Here’s some of what I talk about in my anti-trap lecture:

No matter how cunning or complex a trick or trap, it will never stand up to smart principled play. Good, sound play will always put the kibosh on a trick or trap. However, the key to avoiding a trap is to see it coming. If you don’t see it coming, you’re might fall for it. All traps require a set up and that set up costs the player employing it something, be it tempo or the weakening of one’s opening position. Most junior level traps occur during the opening phase which means that while you’re setting up the trap, often making moves that don’t adhere to the opening principles, your opponent is gaining further control of the board’s center (employing opening principles). If your trap fails, you may not be able to recover. Let’s look at these ideas in more detail.

Opening traps are popular with junior players because if they work, they can thrown the opposition into positional disarray, giving the trapper enough of an advantage to win early on. Since most junior’s games are won or lost early on, traps are very popular. However, traps require setting up and setting up a trap often means making moves that go against sound opening principles. Let’s say you want to employ a trap that takes two moves to set up. This means that your opponent gets to make two developmental moves that strengthens his or her control of the board’s center while you make two moves that serve only to set your trap. If your trap fails, you end up with a weak position you may not be able to recover from. Principled play will always trump tricky play. Take Scholar’s Mate, for example.

This is the most popular trick employed by young beginners. It starts with the moves 1. e4…e5. Nothing in the way of tricks or traps up to this point. This is where I start my anti-trap teaching. I ask students what move White should make next. Of course, my more astute students reply “2. Nf3.” This is the type of move you’d expect from a young beginner who employs sound opening principles. I show them the next move actually played, 2. Bc4, and ask them what important square on Black’s side of the board is under fire? The answer is f7. I mention that this square is weak because it is only defended by the Black King. It’s here that our first clue regarding White’s intentions is unveiled. I have my students note that while The Bishop’s Opening is a real, non tricky, opening, there’s something amiss and they need to pay attention to white’s next move (anti-trap teaching). Black plays 2…c6 (Black could have played other stronger moves but we’re just using this as an example). White then plays 3. Qf3. I ask my students what piece should reside on f3 at the start of the game and they answer the King-side Knight. I then ask them how many pieces attack the weak f7 square and they answer two. I ask them, if White had an extra turn, what move would do the greatest damage (such as checkmate) and they answer Qxf7#. So White can deliver checkmate on his or her next turn. How do we stop it while making a solid developing move? My students respond 3…Nf6. We go through some additional examples of Scholar’s Mate from the viewpoint of the defender and discover that Black can repel White’s mating attempt while gaining a better position.

The point here is that my students first learn how to deal with such a premature attack rather than learning the attack itself as a weapon. This does two things. First, it teaches my students how to avoid falling victim to Scholar’s Mate and second, it shows them just how faulty such a mating attempt is (since Black ends up with the better position). This helps to reinforce the idea of using principled play rather than tricks and traps to win games. It should be noted that I am a student of tricks and traps and have nothing against them. However, I don’t employ them unless an opportunity falls into my lap that allows me to execute a trap with no essential damage to my position. Again, when the trick or trap fails, the person attempting to execute the positional chicanery ends up with a weaker position. Principled play should come before all else.

Being able to sniff out a trap is the key to avoiding them. In the case of Scholar’s Mate, the placement of the Queen on f3 instead of the King-side Knight was an important clue and if you want to avoid falling victim to traps, you have to be a good chess detective. This means that every move made by the opposition is a clue that, in the hands of a skilled detective, can spell out an opponent’s intentions. We use opening principles to help decipher our opponent’s moves and the true intentions of those moves. Let’s look at another example, the Costage Trap:

After 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4, it appears that we have the start of The Italian Opening or perhaps The Evan’s Gambit, depending on what move Black makes next. Black plays 3…Nd4! Let’s think about one of the things we don’t want to do during the opening, moving the same piece twice. My students know that we try to introduce a new piece with each move we make during the opening. Therefore, using principled play as our guide, a blaring siren should be raging in our skulls when this move is made. Why is black breaking an opening principle? The clueless beginner will see the undefended e5 pawn and think “that’s a hanging pawn I can capture free of charge” and captures it with 4. Nxe5. Then Black springs the trap with 4…Qg5, forking the Knight on e5 and the g2 pawn. White is now in a jam, either losing the Knight on e5 or, worse yet, the pawn on g2 which would lead to White having an un-castled King. General principles tell us never to capture a pawn or piece unless it helps our position. Opening principles tell us that there’s something fishy about Black moving the Queen-side Knight twice during the opening when the Knight in Question is perfectly safe. The game’s principles help provide us clues regarding potential tricks and traps.

I teach my students how to spot and defend against potential tricks and traps rather than how to use tricks and traps to win games. There’s a huge difference in that. My students, by seeing how easily they can defend their position against traps, discover the true weakness of this kind of play. While they know the traps as well as those who try to employ those traps against them, my students know the short comings of such short cutting.

Again, I enjoy tricks and traps and highly recommend Grandmaster Nigel Davies’ Chessbase DVD series Tricks and Traps in the Opening (all three volumes). Nigel covers some very sophisticated tricks and traps that don’t require taking a chance on your position in order to set a trap. Of course, with junior players, the tricks and traps are somewhat crude but there are a few that can give the uninitiated player major headaches. Nigel covers all level and manner of these tricks and traps and, most importantly, teaches you sound ways to deal with them. So the idea here is learning from an anti-trap perspective. Knowing how to deal with tricks and traps, using sound principled play, will take you a lot farther in your chess career than relying solely on tricks and traps to win games. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. I don’t think you’d want to try Scholar’s Mate on either of these two players!

Hugh Patterson

Amateur Versus Master: Game Twenty One

This is my third a final loss to Corey Acor that will be published here. However, in chronological order, this is my first loss to Corey. I had won the previous round against Benson Walent and then lost this one to Corey Acor. Unless I move back to Florida, Corey moves to Colorado or Corey plays correspondence chess, I will not play Corey again.

I tried the Sniper move order in this OTB chess game and then I went for the Botvinnik System against a closed Sicilian. I made several errors in this chess game and resigned when I realized that I had dropped my Queen. From my move number 12 on, I was struggling and I was dead lost when I dropped my Queen. However, the loss of my Queen convinced me that it was time for me to quit that game.

Mike Serovey

Let Me Be Frank With You

“Chess is a fairy tale of 1001 blunders” – Savielly Tartakower

The Chigorin French this week gave rise to some frank soul searching.

It’s hard to say why we miss simple moves, or why we miss more complex ones. Moves that are obvious in blitz chess sometimes elude us when we have more time to think.

Why, after playing so beautifully and so simply in the opening, and launching effective midgame action with b7-b5 and b5-b4, did I reply to 12. cx4 with the dull 12… Rxb4? Perhaps I calculated boring variations instead of simply visualizing the board after 12… Nxb4!

And why, after defending correctly his awful position, did my opponent uncork the lemon 29… Bxd6?? losing the game?

Jacques Delaguerre