- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

We mark a pair of melancholy milestones this holiday season, but that gives us an excuse to celebrate two great champions.

As we noted here two weeks ago, GM David Bronstein, one of the most admired players of the postwar Soviet dynasty, passed away Dec. 5 in Minsk, Belarus, at the age of 82. The Ukrainian-born Bronstein just missed winning the world title, tying his match with fellow Soviet great Mikhail Botvinnik in 1951.

Bronstein’s creative play, his generosity and fighting spirit and his skill as an author and annotator made him one of the most popular grandmasters on both sides of chess’s Cold War divide.

The image of Bronstein, his clock ticking, poised motionless for 55 minutes before making his first move in a critical match game — simply savoring all the possibilities — has become iconic.

Perhaps more than any other player, Bronstein married world-class technique with a sense of adventure and psychological shrewdness that produced combinations and positional ideas that would have occurred to no other player.

Yugoslav GM Svetozar Gligoric once noted that Bronstein’s imagination at the chessboard was “a torrent that could not be dammed.”

“I regarded with disbelief the variations which Bronstein considered during play,” Gligoric wrote. “It was a fantastic world into which my cold reason, even had I been able, would never have entered. It always angered me a little that Bronstein, despite everything he saw, always played against me normal moves that I myself would have played had I been in his place.”

An early sign of Bronstein’s greatness came in a game against strong Czech GM Ludek Pachman from a 1946 team match in Prague. This King’s Indian — an opening on which Bronstein did pioneering work — showcases both his legendary creativity and his tactical accuracy.

Both players shine in the combinational dust-up that decides the game: 18. Kh2 h5! (White’s plan was to push the f-pawn, but now 19. f4 h4 20. g4 Nfe6 puts him on the defensive) 19. Re2 (see diagram) h4!! (taking now on a1 was premature, as we will see) 20. Rd2! (anticipating Black’s next and apparently setting a deep trap) Rxa1! 21. Rxa1 Bxd4 22. Rxd4 Nxb3.

White banks on 23. Rxd6! (Rd2? Nxa1 24. Qxa1 hxg3+ 25. fxg3 Qb4 loses trivially), when 23…Nxa1? runs into 24. Nd5! Qxf2 25. Nf6+ Kh8 26. Nxe8 hxg3+ 27. Kh1 Nc2 28. Rd2 Qe1+ 29. Qxe1 Nxe1 30. Nd6 Be6 31. e5 Nxg2 32. Kxg2, winning the g-pawn and leaving White in charge.

Instead, Black uncorks 23…Qxf2!! (the main idea behind Black 19th move; now 24. Qxb3 hxg3+ 25. Kh1 Bxh3! 26. Rg1 [Bxh3 Qh2 mate] Bxg2+ 27. Rxg2 Qf1+ 28. Rg1 Qh3 is mate) 24. Ra2 Qxg3+ 25. Kh1 Qxc3 26. Ra3 (Rd3 Qc1!) Bxh3 27. Rxb3 Bxg2+ 28. Kxg2 Qxc4, emerging from the scrum with a winning material edge.

In the final position, White’s scattered pieces, material deficit and exposed king are too much to overcome in lines like 32. Kg1 (Kf3 Qf6+ 33. Ke3 Ne6; 32. Kh2 Qe5+) Ra1+ 33. Rd1 Rxd1+ 34. Qxd1 Qxe4; Pachman resigned.

Closer to home, U.S. GM Robert Byrne last month quietly relinquished one of the premier gigs in chess journalism, ending his weekly New York Times column after 34 years. Ironically, Byrne’s last column featured his 1952 win over Bronstein.

Overshadowed — who wasn’t? — by the young Bobby Fischer in the 1950s and 1960s, Byrne saw his career take off when he left his university post in the late 1960s to focus on chess full time. He won his only U.S. championship in 1972 and then stunned the chess world by qualifying easily for the world championship candidates’ cycle in the 1973 Leningrad Interzonal with a powerful 121/2-41/2 (9-1-7) result.

He lost to Russian ex-champ Boris Spassky in his quarterfinal match, but Byrne remains the last U.S.-born player to reach the candidates’ stage. He just missed qualifying again in the 1976 cycle, losing out on a spot by a half-point.

Byrne’s deconstruction of Philippines’ GM Eugenio Torre was one of his best efforts in Leningrad. White’s rather mechanical king-side buildup is rudely turned back by a powerful exchange sacrifice: 22. Rg3 Rd5 23. Rag1?! (missing the point; with 23. g5 Rf8 24. g6 Rxe5 25. gxh7+ Kh8 26. fxe5 Qxe5 27. Rf1 f4, both sides have play) Rxe5! 24. fxe5 Qxe5 25. gxf5 Rxf5+ 26. Ke1 Rf7.

White’s king-side attack is going nowhere, while Black’s rook has the f-file, his bishop has the long diagonal, and his queen is free to rampage far behind enemy lines. With 29. R1g2 Qa1+, White’s king is forced on a long and perilous journey, as 30. Qd1 Rf1+! would win instantly for Black.

There are numerous forks in the road, but it would take the calculating sangfroid of today’s top computers to save the White king as he is driven deeper into the enemy camp.

It’s over after 37. Kd6 Rf6+ (good enough, but 37…Qg7! was instantly decisive) 38. Kc7 Be6! 39. d4 (e5 Rf7+ 40. Kb8 [Kc6 Qd4] Qd4 wins) Qxd4 40. Rd2 Rf7+ 41. Kb8 (Kc6 Bd7+ 42. Kb7 Bf5+ 43. Ka6 Bc8+ 44. Kb5 a6+ 45. Kxb6 Qb4+ 46. Kc6 Qb5+ 47. Kd6 Rd7+ 48. Ke5 Qb8+ 49. Ke6 Rd4+ 50. Ke7 Qd6+ 51. Ke8 Qf8 mate is another grim way to go) Qxe4, and there’s no good answer to the threat of 42…Qb7 mate. Torre resigned.

Moscow-Prague Match, Prague,1946

PachmanBronstein

1. d4Nf617. Rb1Nf8

2. c4d618. Kh2h5

3. Nc3e519. Re2h4

4. Nf3Nbd720. Rd2Rxa1

5. g3g621. Rxa1Bxd4

6. Bg2Bg722. Rxd4Nxb3

7. 0-00-023. Rxd6Qxf2

8. b3Re824. Ra2Qxg3+

9. e4exd425. Kh1Qxc3

10. Nxd4Nc526. Ra3Bxh3

11. Re1a527. Rxb3Bxg2+

12. Bb2a428. Kxg2Qxc4

13. Rc1c629. Rd4Qe6

14. Ba1axb330. Rxb7Ra8

15. axb3Qb631. Qe2h3+

16. h3Nfd7White resigns

1973 FIDE Interzonal, Leningrad, 1973

TorreByrne

1. g3f522. Rg3Rd5

2. Bg2Nf623. Rag1Rxe5

3. c4e624. fxe5Qxe5

4. b3Be725. gxf5Rxf5+

5. Bb20-026. Ke1Rf7

6. f4d527. Qc2g6

7. Nf3c528. e4Ba6

8. 0-0b629. R1g2Qa1+

9. e3Bb730. Ke2Rf1

10. Qe2Nc631. Qd2Rb1

11. Nc3Qd732. Qg5Re1+

12. Nd1Rad833. Kf3Qd1+

13. Nf2Ne434. Kf4Rf1+

14. d3Nxf235. Ke5Qa1+

15. Kxf2Bf636. Kxe6Bc8+

16. Bxf6Rxf637. Kd6Rf6+

17. cxd5Qxd538. Kc7Be6

18. Ne5Qd639. d4Qxd4

19. Bxc6Bxc640. Rd2Rf7+

20. Rg1Bb741. Kb8Qxe4

21. g4Qc7White resigns

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

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