Friday, October 02, 2009

Kasparov arrives at Botvinnik's chess school, 1973

"Botvinnik’s group this time includes a newcomer from Baku, a very bright kid, accompanied by his tall, beautiful, Middle-Eastern looking (as he also) mother. His name is Garik Weinstein. 'Show us, Garik, an interesting game you played,' said Botvinnik, as was his habit. Garik chose a game from one of the junior tournaments. He immediately answered the questions posed by the teacher, showing combinational variations of stunning beauty. He did not always agree with his teacher. 'Okay,' said Botvinnik, looking at his watch, 'today’s lesson is over.' Later, he walked up to his assistant, the master Yurkov, and spoke the historic words: 'This boy is a genius; I will work with him individually.' And he did work with him, though not for very long."

Leonid Shamkovich, Chess Life, November 1995

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rudolf Spielmann

Rudolf Spielmann's first top achievement came in S:t Petersburg 1909, where he had only Lasker and Rubinstein ahead of him. Among several good results the following decade can be mentioned second places in San Sebastian and Bad Pistyan, both times behind Rubinstein, in the latter's great year 1912. Spielmann won against the Polish Grandmaster with black in both events.

In the 1920's Spielmann was to have his greatest successes. He won Semmering 1926 ahead of Alekhine and Nimzowitsch. Another top result came in Karlsbad 1929, where 12 of the world's 13 top players participated (Chessmetrics). The 46-year-old Spielmann started with 9/10 before tiring in the second half, even if he won against Capablanca (his career score against the Cuban was an impressive +2 -2 =8). During the last round it still looked as if Spielmann might win the tournament, but eventually he ended up 0.5 behind Nimzowitsch.

Spielmann was still playing in the 1930s, when the title challengers faced him in matches before playing World Champion Alekhine. In these matches Spielmann defeated both Bogoljubow (1932) and Euwe (1935). In Moscow 1935 he finished 5th of 20 players, one point behind fourth placed Capablanca. His last good result was Margate 1938 (second behind Alekhine).

Spielmann emigrated to Sweden in 1939 and died in Stockholm three years later. He is buried at Norra Begravningsplatsen, where I took these photos of his grave today. The inscription on the stone says: "Here rests chess grandmaster Rudolf Spielmann, born in Vienna 1883, dead in Stockholm 1942. Restless refugee struck hard by fate he found a sanctuary among his Swedish friends. Sweden’s chess players commemorate with this stone the memory of a brilliant master and a noble man."

A good biographical article in German is Rudolf Spielmann: Lebensgeschichte als Zeitgeschichte.

Friday, June 19, 2009

My greatest ever list

1. Kasparov

Didn't finish behind another player in any event between December 1981 and February 1991, was #1 for 20 years (1985-2005), won ten super GM tournaments in a row (1999-2002), reached a rating of 2851, scored 41-0 in wins against Leko + Shirov + Morozevich + Gelfand + Adams, 15-3 against Anand. Finished four matches against Karpov, won three and drew one, all of them played fairly early in Kasparov's career. The youngest World Champion ever. Defended multiple times against the strongest possible challengers. Won Linares nine times.

2. Lasker

Excellent results from the 1890s to the 1930s, with several wins in top tournaments. World Champion for 27 years but didn't play many title matches against the strongest opponents. Lost against Capablanca and drew against Schlechter, while he won easily against especially Janowski and Marshall. Undefeated in the 19 rounds of a very strong Moscow 1935, only 0.5 behind the 40 and 43 years younger winners Botvinnik and Flohr.

3. Karpov

A long and very successful career, with more tournament wins than any other player. His win in Linares 1994 was one of the most impressive tournament performances ever, but also the only time he was sole winner of the event (he shared first with Christiansen once). Didn't win as many top tournaments as Kasparov, and was made to work very hard for the match wins against Korchnoi in 1974 and 1978, winning both of them with the smallest possible margin. Didn't win any of the matches against Kasparov but played well in them.

4. Fischer

By far the strongest player in the world in the first years of the 1970s, when he could beat players like Larsen and Taimanov with 6-0 without a single draw. Retired after winning the title, and the probably very even match against Karpov was never played. Hard to compare with players with longer careers but his excellent results in 1970-72 should be enough to give him a top five spot.

5. Steinitz

Won every match he played from 1862 to the loss of the World Champion title against the almost 33 years younger Lasker in 1894. Steinitz played all the strongest opponents, some of them repeatedly, and won against them all until he faced Lasker and went down 5-10. Didn't play many tournaments and never impressed as much in them as in matches even if he won his fair share also of them.

6. Alekhine

Won the match against Capablanca in 1927 with a fairly convincing 6-3, and showed very impressive results in the beginning of the 1930s. Scored 13 wins and 2 draws in 15 games in San Remo 1930, and 15 wins and 11 draws in 26 games in Bled 1931. Won easily against Bogoljubow twice, but lost the title to Euwe to regain it immediately and was still World Champion when he died in 1946.

7. Capablanca

Lined up top results decade after decade and won the match against Lasker easily, but then lost the title against Alekhine. Didn't lose a game between 1916 and 1924 even if it only is a question of five events, a couple of them comparatively weak. Finished behind the twenty years older Lasker in tournaments but played on a high level until his death in 1942.

8. Botvinnik

One of the strongest players in the world from the 1930s to the 1960s. Scored 14 wins and 4 draws in 18 games in a very tough Soviet Championship 1945, and had won the same event with a huge margin also the year before. Won the World Championship in 1948 in impressive style but didn't show himself to be clear #1 after that even if he managed to draw against Bronstein and Smyslov, lose and win to the same Smyslov and Tal, before finally losing the title for good against Petrosian. Shared first in Wijk aan Zee as late as in 1969.

9. Smyslov

Repeated top results for a long period of time. Second in the World Championship 1948, won candidates tournaments with a clear margin in 1953 and 1956, won, drew and lost matches against Botvinnik. Ahead of Spassky, Petrosian and Tal in the Alekhine Memorial in 1971 (separated with over thirty years but only 0.5 point from first placed Karpov). Reached candidates final in 1984, when he was 63 years old, but lost against Kasparov.

10. Tal

Won interzonal (1958), candidates (1959) and the match against Botvinnik (1960) easily, to become World Champion at the age of 23. Uneven results over the years but for example shared first with Karpov in a very strong Montreal 1979 and won the interzonal in Riga the same year with a huge margin.

Just outside the top ten: Petrosian, Anand, Korchnoi, Spassky, Morphy, Kramnik

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Best player to never win the title

Korchnoi played several matches against Karpov and came very close to winning the title. In 1974 he lost with the smallest possible margin, and the same thing happened in 1978. In 1981 the twenty years younger Karpov won easier, and in 1984 Korchnoi could have reached a fourth match if he hadn't agreed to play the match against Kasparov in which the latter already had been forfeited.

Korchnoi won more than a dozen candidates matches and as late as in 1987 he was sole winner of an interzonal. Two years later he was within 5 rating points from being ranked third in the world, behind the outstanding Kasparov and Karpov, both maybe top three among the greatest players ever. Korchnoi was then 58 years old.

Korchnoi was sole winner of the Soviet Championship four times, the last title taken in 1970 and it could have been more if not for his defection. In 2008 he was 77 years old but still strong enough to win with black against Gashimov (undefeated as shared first in Baku GP the same year), and no other player has been as strong when close to 80.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The underestimated Spassky

Spassky is sometimes underestimated after having lost clearly in the title match against Fischer. Still he had some very good results, not only during his peak years. Spassky's scores, only counting decisive games, in candidates matches 1965-68:

vs. Keres (1965) 4-2
vs. Geller (1965) 3-0
vs. Tal (1965) 4-1

vs. Geller (1968) 3-0
vs. Larsen (1968) 4-1
vs. Korchnoi (1968) 4-1

Spassky's opponents in the finals (Tal and Korchnoi) were both ranked number 2 in the world by Chessmetrics (less than 10 points from first place), and they were both beaten 4-1.

Even if Spassky lost the first title match against Petrosian, in 1966, this came after participating in the most exhausting cycle ever. When Spassky had played 117 games he still had a bit left of the title match, and the score was even. In the end Petrosian won with the smallest possible margin, but in the next cycle Spassky was again victorious in the qualification and also won the title match.

Spassky wasn't as good in the 1970s but won candidates matches against among others Hort and Portisch. He won the very strong Soviet Championship in 1973 (Karpov, Korchnoi and Petrosian shared second and much further down were players like Tal, Smyslov and Geller). In 1983 Spassky was also sole winner of Linares, ahead of World Champion Karpov.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

World ranking 1890

In 1890 William Sonneborn published a statistical survey over the relative strength of tournament players. It included 19 tournaments from Paris 1867 to New York and Breslau 1889. Combining results and an evaluation of the strength of the opponents he ended up with this top 10:

1. Steinitz
2. Burn
3. Blackburne
4. Tarrasch
5. Winawer
6. Gunsberg
7. von Bardeleben
8. Zukertort
9. Mackenzie
10. Weiss

Only counting winning percentage it looks like this:

1. Steinitz 76.07 (7 tournaments)
2. Blackburne 68.60 (16 tournaments)
3. Burn 67.77 (7 tournaments)
4. Tarrasch 67.59 (3 tournaments)
5. Winawer 66.01 (7 tournaments)
6. Zukertort 65.91 (9 tournaments)
7. Mackenzie 64.10 (8 tournaments)
8. Lipsch├╝tz 64.00 (2 tournaments)
9. von Bardeleben 63.38 (4 tournaments)
10. Gunsberg 63.25 (10 tournaments)

Zukertort would have been higher placed if not for some bad results in his last years. Tarrasch and Chigorin (just outside the top ten) would have had much better positions if the survey had been made a few years later.

Monday, June 01, 2009

My games

A three minute game I played on FICS. I just collected some of my games in the blog Blunderfest. Most of them are GameKnot correspondence, but there are also a handful played on FICS, RedHotPawn and other sites.