- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

Even though it's a chess columnist's job, there is something fundamentally fraudulent about annotating someone else's game.
Even the most sympathetic and skilled observer can't hope to capture the mood swings, the fears, exhilaration, despair, overreaching and oversights that flit through a player's head during a game. Postmortems are almost always corrupted by an Olympian clarity ("White's knight retreat is the start of a deep plan to reinforce the h6-f8 diagonal, with devastating results") that the winner certainly never felt while the clocks were ticking.
A gentle reminder of our limitations can be found in the wonderful "The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal." Tal, the Latvian former world champ who died much too soon a decade ago, penned his autobiography in the form of an interview between an imaginary journalist and an unnamed chess player, weaving into the text 100 complete games and dozens of partial scores, all displaying his dazzling attacking skills and imagination at the chessboard.
Call today's first game the "Hippo Immortal," for Tal recounts how at the height of this complicated battle with Soviet GM Evgeny Vasiukov, for some reason, a couplet by the Russian poet Chukovsky popped into his head:
"Oh, what a difficult job it is/to drag out of the marsh the hippopotamus."
Tal recalls: "Although the spectators were convinced that I was continuing to study the position, I, despite my humanitarian education, was trying to work out just how would you drag a hippopotamus out of a marsh? I remember how jacks figured in my thoughts, as well as levers, helicopters, and even a rope ladder. I admitted defeat as an engineer, and thought spitefully: 'Well, let it drown.'"
When he returned to the game, Tal goes on, the knotted variations seemed to disappear, and he found an intriguing knight sacrifice. "Since it promised an interesting game, I could not refrain from making it," he says in a classic summing up of his approach to the game.
"The following day," he concludes, "it was with pleasure that I read in the paper how Mikhail Tal, after carefully thinking over the position for 40 minutes, made an accurately-calculated piece sacrifice."
The hippo reverie came after 17…Bd6 (threatening to take the initiative with 18…Nc5) 18. c4 Ba6! (see diagram). White rejected 19. Bd3 because of 19…Nf4 20. Nxf4 Bxf4 21. Qxe6 Nc5, while 19. Bxh7 Kxh7 20. Qe4+ Kh8! 21. Qxe6 Bxc4 also holds.
It was only after that long detour into hippo mechanics that Tal uncorked the wild 19. Nxg7!! Kxg7 (Nf4 20. Qd2!) 20. Nd4 Nc5 21. Qg4+ Kh8 22. Nxe6 Nxe6 23. Qxe6 Rae8 24. Qxd5 Bxh2+ 25. Kh1. Vasiukov apparently banked on 25…Qf4 (Bxc4 26. Qf5 wins, according to Tal), attacking both bishops, but 26. Qh5! prepares to meet 26…Rxe4 with the winning 27. Rd7. The two players trade blunders on 26…Qxe4 27. Rfe1? (the wrong rook, allowing what should have been a saving check two moves later) Qg6 28. Qxg6 (White's intended 28. Bxf6+ Qxf6 [Kg8 29. Qd5+ Qf7 30. Rxe8 Rxe8 31. Kxh2] 29. Rxe8 is met by 29…Bd6 30. Rxf8+ Qxf8! 31. Re1 Qxf2!, and the threat of perpetual check saves Black) hxg6?, when 28…Rxe1+ would have been a clear draw.
White wins a pawn and by the adjourned position at 40. Ra8+ Kf7 41. Ra7+, the opposite-colored bishops only help Tal attack the trapped Black king. Mixing mate threats with a king invasion, White's 57. Bg5 (threatening mate at d8) Bd3 58. f5 is decisive as Black faces lines like 58…Rf3 59. f6 Bc4 60. Kxg6, winning. Vasiukov resigned.
In a similar vein is master Phil Collier's win over Class A player Chris Bush at the recent Northern Virginia Open. In his candid notes to the game, Collier calls his 16. Be3 Qc7 17. b4! "one of the most profound pawn sacrifices ever" and a complete oversight. "I simply overlooked the loose pawn," Collier admits.
Still, the sacrifice deflects Black's pieces away from his king, slows his development and keeps b3 available for the White bishop. All three factors come into play on 22. Bb3 Ng6 23. Bxh6! gxh6 (Collier planned to meet 23…f4 with 24. Qe4) 24. Qxh6 Kf7 25. Qh7+ Bg7 26. Rbe1, with the nasty threat of 27. Ng5+ Kf6 28. Rxe6+! Bxe6 29. Rxe6+ Kxg5 30. Qxg6+ and mate to come.
White regains his material while preserving his attack on 27. Re5 Qc3 28. c5 Kf8 29. Rxf5+! Ke7 (exf5 30. Qg8 mate) 30. Rxf4. A final tactical trick helps clinch the point: 36. Qf4+ Kg8 37. Rxe6 Be5 (if 37…Bf7, then 39. Qxf7+!! Kxf7 40. Rf6 is mate) 38. Rxe8+, with a crunching double check. Black gave up.

Urgent tournament news Arlington Chess Club will be closed this Friday, but the ACC-sponsored George Mason Open is still on for next weekend, April 27 and 28, at George Mason University's Arlington campus. For details, playing times and entry information, check out the tournament Web page at www.wizard.net/~matkins/gmo.htm.

USSR Championship, Kiev, 1964
1. e4c630. Rxe8Rxe8
2. Nc3d531. Kxh2Bxc4
3. d4dxe432. Rd7Re6
4. Nxe4Nd733. Bc3Bxa2
5. Nf3Ngf634. Rxa7Bc4
6. Ng3e635. Kg3Bd5
7. Bd3c536. f3Kf8
8. 0-0cxd437. Bd4b5
9. Nxd4Bc538. Kf4Bc4
10. Nf30-039. Kg5Kg8
11. Qe2b640. Ra8+Kf7
12. Bf4Bb741. Ra7+Ke8
13. Rad1Nd542. b4Bd5
14. Bg5Qc743. Ra3Kf7
15. Nh5Kh844. g4Re2
16. Be4f645. Bc5Re5+
17. Bh4Bd646. Kh6Re6
18. c4Ba647. Rd3Bc6
19. Nxg7Kxg748. Rd8Re8
20. Nd4Nc549. Rd4Re6
21. Qg4+Kh850. f4Ke8
22. Nxe6Nxe651. Kg7Be4
23. Qxe6Rae852. Bb6Bf3
24. Qxd5Bxh2+53. Rd8+Ke7
25. Kh1Qf454. Rd3Be2
26. Qh5Qxe455. Bd8+Ke8
27. Rfe1Qg656. Rd2Re3
28. Qxg6hxg657. Bg5Bd3
29. Bxf6+Kg858. f5Black

Northern Virginia Open, Herndon, February 2002
1. d4d520. Qe3Bc3
2. c4c621. Rb1Bf6
3. Nf3Nf622. Bb3Ng6
4. Nc3e623. Bxh6gxh6
5. e3Nbd724. Qxh6Kf7
6. Bd3Bd625. Qh7+Bg7
7. 0-00-026. Rbe1Nf4
8. e4dxe427. Re5Qc3
9. Nxe4Nxe428. c5Kf8
10. Bxe4h629. Rxf5+Ke7
11. Bc2Qc730. Rxf4Bd7
12. Re1Rd831. Rfe4Rh8
13. Qe2c532. Qg6Rh6
14. Qe4Nf833. Qg5+Kf8
15. dxc5Qxc534. Ne5Be8
16. Be3Qc735. Ng4Rh5
17. b4Bxb436. Qf4+Kg8
18. Bf4Qa537. Rxe6Be5
19. Re2f538. Rxe8+Black

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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