From Kashdan, Koltanowski and Keres back in the day to Korchnoi, Karpov and Kasparov in the modern era, the “K” section of the encyclopedia has long been a thick and fertile source of chess greatness.
Two more entries can be logged this month as the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis announced the induction of two more K-stars GM Gregory Kaidanov and seven-time U.S. women’s champion Mona May Karff. The two will join the 50 current honorees at the Hall of Fame in a ceremony May 2.
Kaidanov, who emigrated to America as the Soviet Union was breaking up in 1991, has been a frequent presence in this column and a reliable supplier of “material.” Long one of the most active players and coaches on the American scene, the Lexington, Ky.-based Kaidanov won both the World Open and the U.S. Open the year after he arrived in the United States. He has played often in the Washington area, including a first-place finish at the 2011 Eastern Open downtown.
His best result may have been a surprise first at the 2002 Aeroflot Open in Moscow, which still ranks as one of the strongest open events of all time with 82 grandmasters in the field.
The year he earned his grandmaster title, Kaidanov took home the brilliancy prize at a 1988 international tournament in Belgrade, defeating veteran Soviet star Mark Taimanov (best remembered in America as Bobby Fischer’s first 6-0 victim on his march to the 1972 world title) with a scintillating kingside attack. Although just 22 moves long, the game features a number of clever tactical touches on both sides.
In English, White may have lost the psychological battle as early as 8. Ne5 0-0!? (far more provocative than the “normal” 8…Qc7) 9. Nxc6 bxc6 10. Be2?!, when Taimanov could have accepted the gambit pawn with 10. Bxc6 Bg4 11. Qc2 Rc8 12. Bb5 Qb6 13. h3 Be6 14. Be2, with roughly equal chances. With White’s kingside knight gone, Kaidanov hustles to activate all his pieces for the attack.
Another lackadaisical White move opens the floodgates for a powerful sacrificial attack: 12. d3 Rb4! (headed for the kingside) 13. Nd2 Rh4 14. g3? (Nf3 Rh6 15. Qd2 Qe7 keeps Black’s advantage to a minimum) Ng4!, when it’s already too late for 15. Nf3 (gxh4? Qxh4 16. Nf3 Bxh2+ 17. Kh1 Qh3 18. Ng5 Qh5 19. Bxg4 [Kg2 Qxg5] Bxg4 20. f3 Bg3+ 21. Kg1 Qh2 mate) Rh3! 16. Re1 Nxh2 17. Nxh2 Rxh2 18. Kxh2 Qh4+ 19. Kg1 Bxg3! 20. fxg3 Qxg3+ 21. Kh1 Re6 22. Bh5 Rh6 and wins.
White tries 15. Bxg4 Bxg4 16. f3 (if 16. Qe1, then 16…Rh6 17. f3 Bh3 18. Rf2 f5!, with the idea of …Rhe6 and …Qe7, exerting maximal pressure on the e-file), only to be staggered by 16…Rxh2!! 17. fxg4 (Rf2 Rxf2 18. Kxf2 Qg5 19. e4 Bxf3 20. Nxf3 [Qxf3 Qxd2+ 21. Qe2 Bxg3+ 22. Kf1 Qf4+ 23. Kg2 Re6 is winning] Qxg3+ leads to a win) Rxe3!. As the Black forces circle his king, Taimanov finds a clever defense that almost works: 18. Bf6!, inviting 18…gxf6? 19. Kxh2 Rxg3 20. Rf5!, blocking the queen’s way to the kingside and giving White some chances of surviving, though Black retains a clear edge with 20…Qa5.
But Black instead ignores the attack on his queen with the decisive 18…Rh3!!, when losing for White is 19. Bxd8 Rexg3+ 20. Kf2 Rh2+ 21. Ke1 Re3+ 22. Qe2 Rexe2+ 23. Kd1 Rxd2+ 24. Kc1 Be5.
There’s no defense: 19. Rf3 Rxg3+ 20. Kh1 gxf6 21. Rxg3 Bxg3 22. Nf3 Qd7, and White resigns. He’s down three pawns and 23. Ng1 allowed the crushing 23…Re1, winning even more material.
Many chess fans may not be familiar with the impressive career of Karff, who died in her Manhattan home in 1998. The most impressive thing about her seven U.S. women’s titles is that she won the first in 1938 and last 36 years later in 1974, at the age of 66. She competed in three women’s world championship tournaments from 1937 to 1949, including a fifth-place finish in Buenos Aires in 1939 behind the great Vera Menchik. She also won four U.S. Open women’s titles and was one of the first four Americans to be awarded the women’s IM title when it was created by FIDE in 1950.
It was said with a whiff of sexist condescension that the great male players defeated by Menchik became members of the “Vera Menchik Club.” By far the most famous inductee of the Mona Karff Club would be the immortal Cuban world champion Jose Raoul Capablanca, who lost to Karff in a casual game the two played in 1941. The ailing Capablanca had just a few more months to live, but any win over the greatest natural talent (male or female) in chess history is worth commemorating.
The game actually starts out like a classic Capablanca positional squeeze, as Black’s premature 9. Qxf3 e5?! (e6 10. Bf4 Be7 was indicated) is punished by the alert 10. Bg5 Be7 12. Bxf6! Bxf6 13. Nd5, giving the White knight an impregnable perch in the center from which it dominates Black’s limited bishop. Karff gambits a pawn in a search for more activity on 13. c4 Qa5+ 14. Kf1 Rc8!? (Be7 15. Qg4 wins material) 15. Nxf6+ gxf6 16. Qxf6 Rg8.
White consolidates his material advantage and in his prime, Capablanca would have wrapped things up expeditiously. But give Karff credit for fighting on until a bad White oversight allows her to use the open files on both flanks to unexpected advantage.