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SANDS: Recapping Reshevsky’s victories 38 years apart

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

He long has labored under the reputation as a cautious counterpuncher, a defensive specialist, so the 100th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Reshevsky, one of the greatest American players of all time, hasn't gotten the attention it should.

Reshevsky, an accountant by trade and at times a bean-counter at the board as well, nevertheless carved out one of the most remarkable careers of the pre-Fischer era. He died in 1992.

A child prodigy born Nov. 26, 1911, in what was then the old Russian Empire, he won his first U.S. title in 1936 and his sixth and last in 1969, while playing top board for numerous U.S. Olympiad teams. Despite the need to finish his education and make a living (a burden virtually none of his peers faced), Reshevsky was among the very best in the world in the 1930s and 1940s, and fell just short of the mountaintop in the face of the rising Soviet chess hegemony after World War II.

Despite his reputation as a positional grinder ("To Reshevsky, boring positions simply do not exist," the Dutch world champion Max Euwe once wrote), Reshevsky never would have made it so far without a talent for attack and for combinational play when the situation demanded it.

At the great Nottingham Tournament of 1936 (in addition to American stars Reshevsky and Reuben Fine, the event boasted no fewer than five world champions), Reshevsky's third-place finish - in a tie with Euwe and Fine - included a win over German former titleholder Emanuel Lasker, another legendary defender who goes down in just 22 moves to his 25-year-old adversary.

Playing the Black side of a Queen's Gambit Accepted, Reshevsky engages in a subtle positional battle with his far more experienced opponent in a semiopen middle game. When Lasker misses his chance, the game ends with surprising suddenness.

With 15. bxc3 Nf6 16. a4!, White offers up a meaningless pawn to get his hanging pawns rolling. Reshevsky instead prefers an immediate counterattack with 16...Qd5!? 17. Nf3?! (if this was White's planned follow-up, then Lasker clearly underestimated the danger he faced; 17. f3 was solid and 17. f4!? g5 18. c4! leads to sharp play benefiting White after 18...Qxd4+ 19. Bd3 Qf6 20. Bxh7+! and 21. Rd3) Rfc8! (freezing White's central pawns) 18. Bb2 Ne4 19. Rc1 Ng5!, with decisive pressure on the White kingside.

There's no good defense as White's game collapses: 20. axb5 axb5 21. Bxb5 (Ne1 Nh3+! 22. Kh1 [gxh3?? Qh1 mate] Nf4 23. Qg4 Bd6, and all Black's pieces are trained on the White king) Nxf3+ 23. gxf3 (Qxf3 Qxb5 wins) Qg5+, and Lasker resigns because of 23. Kh1 Qh5 24. Kg2 Qg4+, winning.

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In today's second game, taken from the 1974 U.S. Championship, the roles are reversed: Reshevsky here is the wily veteran taking on a young GM Ken Rogoff, one of the most promising talents of the day. The result, however, is the same: a short, sharp win with Black for Reshevsky.

The young Rogoff's choice of the Ruy Lopez Exchange, a subtle positional opening, can be questioned, but White probably did not expect his elderly opponent to adopt a sharp sacrificial line with 7. h3? (a lazy move that Reshevsky punishes harshly) Bxf3! 8. Qxf3 0-0-0!! 9. Qxf7 Nf6 10. Qc4 (d4 exd4 11. Rd1 d3 offered slightly better defensive prospects) b5 11. Qe2 Qd3!, offering to trade queens even though Black is a pawn down and his queenside remains in disrepair.

But the hole at d3 and the plugged d-pawn prove catastrophic for White's position, and the rest of the game is a rout. By 16. Nc2 Nh5 17. Ne3 Nf4 18. a4 Kb7 19. c4 bxc4 20. Ra2 (Nxc4? Nxg2! 16. Kxg2 Rxf2+ 17. Kg1 Rg3+ 18. Kh1 Rxh3+ 24. Kg1 Rg3+ 25. Kh1 Rf4 26. Re2 Rh4+ 27. Rh2 Rg1 mate) Rd4 21. Ba3 (f3 Nd3 22. Rf1 Nxc1 23. Rxc1 Rxd2 24. Rxd2 Bxe3+ 25. Rf2 Bxc1 and wins) Rfd8 22. Nf1, Rogoff's pieces are so badly placed that the end must be near.

Reshevsky finds the quickest route to the full point on 22...Rd2 23. Bb2 Rxd2! 24. Nxd2 Rxd2 25. Rae1 (see diagram; 25. Rf1 Nd3 also wins for Black) c3! (much more straightforward that 25...Rxf2) 26. Ba3 c2 27. Kh2 Nd3 28. f3 Rd1, and White resigns in the face of lines such as 29. Bc1 Nxb4 30. Rb2 a5 31. Kg3 Bd4, winning easily.

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Speaking of milestone birthdays, the Arlington Chess Club's William Marcelino celebrated turning 50 by winning the first Virginia Senior Championship for which he was old enough to qualify.

Marcelino and fellow ACC-er Tim Hamilton, who drew in the fourth and final round, finished at 3 1/2- 1/2, along with South Carolina's Wayne Christensen, with Marcelino narrowly taking the title on tiebreaks. Geoff McKenna, seeking to repeat his 2010 triumph, gave up draws to Milo Nekvasil and Goran Zolar to finish in the group a half-point back.

We'll have some highlights from the event next week.

Lasker-Reshevsky, Nottingham, 1936

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Bxc4 c5 6. Nc3 a6
7. O-O b5 8. Bd3 cxd4 9. exd4 Bb7 10. Bg5 Be7 11. Qe2 O-O
12. Rad1 Nbd7 13. Ne5 Nd5 14. Bc1 Nxc3 15. bxc3 Nf6 16. a4 Qd5
17. Nf3 Rfc8 18. Bb2 Ne4 19. Rc1 Ng5 20. axb5 axb5 21. Bxb5
Nxf3+ 22. gxf3 Qg5+ 0-1.

Rogoff-Reshevsky, Chicago, 1974

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. O-O Qd6 6. c3 Bg4 7. h3
Bxf3 8. Qxf3 O-O-O 9. Qxf7 Nf6 10. Qc4 b5 11. Qe2 Qd3 12. Re1 Bc5
13. b4 Bb6 14. Qxd Rxd3 15. Na3 Rf8 16. Nc2 Nh5 17. Ne3 Nf4 18. a4
Kb7 19. c4 bxc4 20. Ra2 Rd4 21. Ba3 Rfd8 22. Nf1 Rd3 23. Bb2 Rxd2
24. Nxd2 Rxd2 25. Rea1 c3 26. Ba3 c2 27. Kh2 Nd3 28. f3 Rd1 0-1.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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