- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2007

The U.S. Chess Federation catches a lot of justified grief, but the country’s top chess organization has just got one thing very right: Northern Virginia organizer Mike Atkins has been named this year’s “tournament director of the year.”

The award will be given out on the sidelines of the 108th annual U.S. Open, which gets under way today in Cherry Hill, N.J. Atkins has been organizing and directing chess tournaments for more than 30 years, including many of the major events held in the greater Washington area every year.

He became a certified national tournament director in 2000 and achieved a small measure of fame at the 2006 World Open by exposing a player trying to cheat his way to some prize money by using a small radio receiver hooked up to a computer.

Like football linemen and air-traffic controllers, tournament directors typically get noticed only when they mess up — when the playing hall is not up to snuff, when the pairings are late, when the prize money pot is too small. But Atkins has long been a good friend and indispensable source of news and game scores for this column, and we are more than happy to acknowledge his well-deserved award.

With directing an all-consuming task, Atkins says he does not play too much these days. But he can still make the pieces dance on occasion, as he showed in a nice win over expert Chris Bush last year at the annual Southwest Virginia Open in Salem.

Atkins shows off his organizational skills in the King’s Indian Attack, seizing a big lead in space and development and prying open the h-file as an avenue of attack. Already on 16. N1h2 Rg8 17. h5, Black would be in big trouble on 17…g5? 18. Bxg5! Qe8 (hxg5 19. Nxg5+ Kh6 20. Nf7+) 19. Bf4 Qxh5 20. Qd3.

Black hurts his own cause by weakening the pawn wall in front of his king, and his hoped-for counterplay along the c-file never manages to divert White’s plans: 30. Rah1 c5 31. Qe2 h4? (understandable impatience, but hunkering down with 31…cxd4 32. cxd4 Rc8 33. Qe3 offered better survival chances) 32. Rxh4 Rxh4 33. Rxh4 Be7 34. Rh3 cxd4 35. cxd4 Rc8 36. Qd1!, a nice multitasking move that denies the Black rook c2 and prepares a deadly shift to the h-file.

White breaks down Black’s resistance with 37. Qh1 Bf8 38. Rh8+ Kg7 (Kf7 39. Bh5 Ke7 40. Rh7+ Kd8 41. Bg5+) 39. Bg5 Qa4 40. Bf6+?! (this wins easily, but Atkins notes that White missed a brilliant clincher on 40. Qh6+ Kf7 41. Qxg6+!! Kxg6 42. Bh5+! Kxg5 [Kg7 43. Bf6 mate] f4 mate!) Kf7 41. Bh5 Ke8 42. Bxg6+, and Black’s game is hopeless.

Through disgust or inertia, Black plays on a few more moves before resigning.

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In the same vein, German GM Lothar Schmid is another player whose adventures in organizing and directing tend to overshadow his achievements at the board.

One of his country’s top players in the 1950s and 1960s, Schmid is better remembered today as the official arbiter at some of the most contentious title matches in the game’s history, including the Spassky-Fischer circus in Reykjavik in 1972 and the bitter 1978 back-alley brawl between Soviet world champ Anatoly Karpov and recent Soviet emigre Viktor Korchnoi in Baguio City, Philippines.

But Schmid, who turns 80 next year, had many notable successes in the arena, including four individual silver medals playing for the West German Olympiad team and over-the-board wins over the likes of Mikhail Botvinnik, David Bronstein, Paul Keres, Pal Benko and Bent Larsen. He even finished second in the 1955-58 second world correspondence chess competition behind Vyacheslav Ragozin.

Schmid’s sharp win over Yugoslav master Mijo Udovcic won the best game prize at a 1953 tournament in Venice. Schmid would finish in a tie for second in the event behind Esteban Canal.

As in Atkins-Bush, Schmid here cracks open the h-file early against Black’s Pirc Defense and uses it to devastating effect. Through 19. Ng5 Rad8 20. 0-0-0, both sides have pursued their strategic plans to good effect, but White’s kingside assault comes faster than Black’s counterstrike up the middle.

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