SANDS: Celebrating a trio of Christmas babies who contributed to chess

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For all the blessings of the day, there’s no denying it can be a drag sharing a Dec. 25 birthday with you-know-who. So we thought we’d pass on a little yuletide cheer to a trio of Christmas babies for their contributions to the game.

We start with the problem in today’s diagram, composed by legendary Russian problemist Leonid Kubbel, born on Christmas Day in St. Petersburg in 1891. This problem, elegantly employing a minimum of material, recalls Reti’s famous endgame study: White appears to have no way to corral the black a-pawn but finds an ingenious pattern to win the day. For those of you who hate to wait to open your presents, the solution can be found at the end of the column.

Philippine IM Rodolfo Tan Cardoso (born Dec. 25, 1937) may be remembered best for his 1957 match loss to a young Bobby Fischer and for his upset of GM David Bronstein at the Portoroz Interzonal a year later that effectively killed the great Soviet player’s last serious run at the world championship.

But Cardoso was a strong player in his own right, winning several strong tournaments and regularly holding down a top board on his country’s Olympiad teams. The Filipino star was a pioneer as the first Asian-born international master, blazing a trail that was followed by Indian world champion Viswanathan Anand and the slew of Chinese women who now dominate the game.

A nice example of Cardoso’s skill came in a 1974 tournament in Manila against fellow Filipino IM Renato Naranja. While not a perfect game, Cardoso’s win is a nice illustration of his attacking style.

In a Four Knights English, Naranja as White plants his flag on the queenside with 18. a4 Rad8 19. a5, and Cardoso must react actively in the center to keep the position in balance. Some well-judged tactics give Black a strong initiative after 23. f4 Nxd3! (a move that required some precise calculations) 24. g4 Qh7 25. Red1 Nb2 26. Qxb2 (Rdb1? Nxc4 wins) Rxe3 27. Qxb6 Rde8 28. f5 (trying to shut Black’s queen out of the game, but it is White’s queen who will find herself too far from the action; roughly equal was 28. Qxd6 Qc2 29. Qd2 Rxc3 30. Qxc2 Rxc2) h5! 29. g5 Qxf5!, letting the knight go to gin up a mating attack.

The finale contains missteps from both sides, though Black ends up with the full point: 30. gxf6 Re2 31. Qb7 (Cardoso threatened 31. … Rxg2+! 32. Kxg2 Re2+ and mate next) Qf4+?! (nearly throwing it all away; Black wins with 31. … Rxh3+! 32. Bxh3 [Kxh3 Re3+] Re2+ 33. Bg2 Qh4+ 34. Kg1 Qf2+ 35. Kh1 Qxg2 mate) 32. Kh1 R8e3 33. Qb8+? (the computer finds an exquisite silicon defense here — 33. Qc8+! Kh7 [Re8 34. Rf1! Qxc4 35. Qd7, and White keeps his extra piece] 34. fxg7!) Kh7 34. Qxd6 Rxh3+!, and this time White resigns facing the inevitable 35. Bxh3 Rh2+ 36. Kg1 Qf2 mate.

Our last Christmas baby is a bit of an outlier, but actor Humphrey Bogart (born Dec. 25, 1899) regularly tops the list of Hollywood celebrities who played a mean game of chess. Bogie’s chess jones was so well known that he and his wife, Lauren Bacall, posed in 1956 for the best-looking cover of Chess Review ever.

Despite taking lessons from famed Los Angeles master Herman Steiner, Bogart from the evidence appears to have been something short of expert-level strength. But he was skilled enough to hold the great Sammy Reshevsky to a draw in a 1956 simultaneous exhibition in Los Angeles, a year before the actor’s death.

Reshevsky employs the classic simul tactic of a sharp opening to flummox his lower-rated opponent, but Bogart handles things relatively well despite coming out a pawn down. On 12. Bxb7 Rd8, Black has a nice lead in development for his material deficit and even sets a trap for the grandmaster: 13. Re1 0-0! 14. Nd2, not “falling” for 14. Rxe5? Rd1+ 15. Re1 Rxe1 mate.

Black recovers his pawn after 24. Rd1?! (b3 Re8 25. f3 Nd6 26. Kd2 Rd8 27. Kc2 might have been a better way to try to exploit the queenside majority) Rxd1 25. Kxd1 Nxb2+ 26. Kc2 Na4 27. Bd4 Bxd4!? (c5! 28. Bxf6 gxf6 would straighten out Black’s kingside) 28. cxd4, and Reshevsky conceded the draw — with a bishop for knight, White could torture his opponent for many moves in the endgame, but the split point here is a very honorable result.

One last reminder that the 39th Eastern Open is just two days away. Play begins Thursday at the Westin Washington, D.C., City Center hotel at 1400 M St. NW. Books and chess equipment will be available for sale at the site, and it’s a great chance to watch some of the country’s best players up close. Check out www.easternopenchess.com/html/eastern_open.html for more information.

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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