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SANDS: Sorting fact from fiction in chess’ hazy past

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It's a paradox: Our beloved game, so rigorously logical and immune to deceit at the chessboard, rests on a foundation of lies.

To read the work of the meticulous English chess historian Edward Winter is to reach the inescapable conclusion that the story of the game's past is shot through with falsehoods, fabrications and outright inventions. To judge from Winter's research, every famous chess quote uttered before, say, 1950 is misattributed, every anecdote apocryphal, every story "everybody knows" is wrong. There was, despite the insistence of Horowitz and Reinfeld, no shower of gold coins on Frank Marshall's board after that famous game with Lewitzsky.

We are given to such musings after a call from longtime area master (and good friend of the column) Phil Collier, casting doubt on the authenticity of last week's game between Napoleon and longtime aide-de-camp Gen. Bertrand, supposedly played when the Little Colonel was living out his last years in exile on St. Helena. The game score may be genuine, but there is some pretty telling research that Napoleon and his subordinate cooked up the denouement featuring an improbably picturesque queen sacrifice leading to checkmate.

It would seem that the standards for accuracy were a little more lax back in the day, or at least chess authors of the Romantic Age were less likely to allow the facts to get in the way of a good story. Anyway, we have a little more confidence in the veracity of today's two games, both played this month.

First up is a welcome return to form by former Russian world champion Anatoly Karpov — in a strong rapid tournament played in his honor. Although in his prime he favored a slow, almost mesmerizing positional style, Karpov always has been one of the world's greatest players at faster time controls. At the Trophee Anatoly Karpov in Cap d'Agde, France, this month, Karpov defeated Ukrainian superGM Vassily Ivanchuk in the finals of the eight-player rapid event.

Although no longer rated in the top 100 worldwide, the 61-year-old Karpov showed that he still remembers a few tricks in defeating German GM Christian Bauer in the preliminary rounds. The queens come off early in this Queen's Pawn Game, but Karpov has managed to squeeze full points out of far more lifeless positions over the course of his career.

With 17. a3 Nd3 18. Ke3, Black's full attention must be his weak e-pawn, giving White the opening for a promising exchange sacrifice: 18Bb7 19. g3 h6 20. b3 Rad8 21. Nxe4! (rightly judging that Black's bishop is worth more than one of his own rooks right now) Rd4 22. Nd6 Bxh1 23. Rxh1 Nb2 24. Nf2 g5 25. Nde4, and Black's rooks are given no room to operate.

An oversight forces Black to give back the exchange, and after that he is caught in the coils of Karpov's legendary technique: 26. gxf4 Rfd8? (Kg7 held out longer) 27. Nd6! (with the nasty threat of 28. Rb1, trapping the wayward Black knight) b5 28. Nxb5 Rd3+ 29. Nxd3 Rxd3+ 30. Ke4 Rxb3 Nd6!, returning to the critical square to prepare the f5 push.

Bauer wins back a pawn, but White's connected passed central pawns prove too much. The pawns, king, knight and rook combine to catch the Black king in a net in the final play: 39. Ke6 Kg7 40. Rh4 Nc6 41. Nf5+ Kf8 42. Rh8 mate.

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We're also pretty sure today's second game was actually played, though the winner did find some Napoleonic tactical ideas on his way to victory. In the recent U.S. Chess League match between the New Jersey Knockouts and the New York Knights, Jersey's GM Tamaz Gelashvili takes down the Knights' GM Alex Stripunsky on first board in a match that resulted in a 2-2 tie.

Gelashvili's Pirc Defense quickly comes to resemble a classic Sicilian Dragon position, with the fianchettoed bishop and the half-open c-file at Black's disposal, and turns on a very Sicilianesque exchange sacrifice: 17. Rb3 Nh5! (Black's play throughout nicely balances play on both sides of the board) 18. Bf1 (Bxh5!? Rxc4 19. Be2 Rh4 is fine for Black) Nh4 19. Rb4 (White has to be careful about the ground in front of his king: 19. g3?! Nf5 20. g4 Nh4 21. gxh5? Rxc4! 22. Bxc4 Qg5+ 23. Kf1 Bxh3+ 24. Ke2 Bg4+ and wins) Nf4!?, when the computer claims White can get away with 20. g3 Nxh3+ 21. Kh2 Nxf2 22. Bxf2 Qf6, holding the edge in lines such as 23. Ne4! Nf3+ 24. Kg2 Nxe1+ 25. Qxe1 Qe7 26. Nexd6 Rb8 27. a5.

Instead, Stripunsky's 20. Ne3?! (see diagram) walks into the archetypal exchange sacrifice, removing White's critical defensive piece -- 20Rxc3! 21. bxc3 e4 22. Bd4?! (Ng4! may have been White's last chance, with an unclear position after 22f5 [Bxc3? 23. Rexe4] 23. g3 Bxc3 24. Nh6+ Kg7 25. Bd4+ Bxd4 26. Qxd4+ Kxh6 27. gxh4) Nxh3+! 23. gxh3 (Kh2 Be5+ 24. g3 Nxf2 is murderous) Nf3+ 24. Kh1 Qh4 (a good bit quicker would have been 24Bxd4 25. cxd4 Qh4, but Black's move is good enough), when 25. Ng4 can be met by 25Nxe1! (Bxg4?! 26. Rxe4 f5 27. Rxg4 fxg4 28. Be3 holds for White) 26. Bxg7 Bxg4 27. Qxg4 Qxf2! 28. Qe2 Qxe2 29. Bxe2 Kxg7 30. Rxe4 Nxc2 31. Bd3 Na3 32. Rb4 Rc8, and the ending is won for Black.

White gives up his queen to slow the attack and gets a fair material return for his lost queen, but his shaky king and the Black f-pawn do him in.

White can't organize a defense, with mate threats harassing his cornered king: 29. Red1 f2 30. Bg2 Bxh3 (threatening 31Bxg2+ 32. Nxg2 Qh3 mate) 31. Rd3 f5! (looking to kick the White knight guarding against mate) 32. Rf1 f4 33. Rxf2 Qxf2, and White resigns facing hopeless lines such as 34. Bxh3 fxe3 35. Bg2 e2 36. Rf3+ Qxf3 37. Bxf3 e1=Q+ and wins.

Karpov-Bauer, Trophee Karpov, November 2012

1. d4 e6 2. c4 Bb4+ 3. Bd2 Qe7 4. e4 Nf6 5. Bxb4 Qxb4+ 6. Qd2 Qxd2+ 7. Nxd2 d6 8. f4 c5 9. dxc5 dxc5 10. e5 Ng4 11. Bd3 Nc6 12. h3 Nb4 13. Be4 f5 14. hxg4 fxe4 15. Ke2 O-O 16. Nh3 b6 17. a3 Nd3 18. Ke3 Bb7 19. g3 h6 20. b3 Rad8 21. Nxe4 Rd4 22. Nd6 Bxh1 23. Rxh1 Nb2 24. Nf2 g5 25. Nde4 gxf4+ 26. gxf4 Rfd8 27. Nd6 b5 28. Nxb5 Rd3+ 29. Nxd3 Rxd3+ 30. Ke4 Rxb3 31. Nd6 Nd3 32. Rh2 Rxa3 33. f5 exf5+ 34. gxf5 Nb4 35. f6 Ra1 36. f7+ Kf8 37. Rxh6 Re1+ 38. Kf5 Rf1+ 39. Ke6 Kg7 40. Rh4 Nc6 41. Nf5+ Kf8 42. Rh8 mate

Stripunsky-Gelashvili, U.S. Chess League, November 2012

1. e4 d6 2. d4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. Be3 a6 5. a4 Nf6 6. h3 0-0 7. Nf3 Nc6 8. Be2 e5 9. d5 Ne7 10. Nd2 c6 11. Nc4 cxd5 12. Bb6 Qd7 13. exd5 Nf5 14. 0-0 Qe7 15. Re1 Bd7 16. Ra3 Rac8 17. Rb3 Nh5 18. Bf1 Nh4 19. Rb4 Nf4 20. Ne3 Rxc3 21. bxc3 e4 22. Bd4 Nxh3+ 23. gxh3 Nf3+ 24. Kh1 Qh4 25. Qxf3 exf3 26. Bxg7 Qxf2 27. Bxf8 Kxf8 28. Rbb1 Qg3 29. Red1 f2 30. Bg2 Bxh3 31. Rd3 f5 32. Rf1 f4 33. Rxf2 Qxf2 White resigns

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

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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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