Friday, February 16, 2007

The hottest chess video on YouTube these days — admittedly not a highly competitive category — shows a fidgety man leaning on a table, crossing his arms over his chest, resting his cheek in his palm, pointing to the side of his neck, then moving briskly away as he pulls out a cell phone.

It’s not exactly high drama, but the short clip caught by a cell-phone camera is at the heart of a big-time cheating controversy that is roiling the game.

The man in the video is Silvio Danailov, manager of Bulgarian former world champion Veselin Topalov, intently watching Topalov’s game in the tournament hall at the elite 2006 Wijk aan Zee tournament in the Netherlands.

Danailov was at the center of the embarrassing “Toiletgate” row that nearly wrecked Topalov’s world championship unification match against bitter rival GM Vladimir Kramnik of Russia late last year. With little proof, Danailov and Topalov all but accused the Russian of getting outside help because of his frequent trips to the bathroom during play.

The incident caused enormous rancor, and Kramnik’s decision to forfeit a game in protest almost cost him the match and the title. Now the tables have turned on the Bulgarian.

Critics, notably British GM Nigel Short, are accusing Topalov of cheating, and the tape of Danailov’s twitches and tics have been introduced as Exhibit A. I tend to side with veteran chess journalist Miguel Greengard, who says it’s impossible to tell if the manager is signaling moves to his client or simply watching his game with understandable anxiety.

Paranoia, gamesmanship and charges of collusion are nothing new to the game, and the introduction of world-class computing programs to aid players has only exacerbated the situation. Some notable examples of computer-aided cheats winning prizes in lower-rated events have occurred, and a ringing cell phone during a game has become almost an automatic forfeit for the offending player.

Topalov is back in action in the elite Morelia/Linares tournament, which began yesterday, featuring eight of the world’s top players. The YouTube video only increases the pressure on the game’s top organizers to crack down to ensure the competition remains honest.

On a much more positive note, this month we celebrate the great Soviet GM, organizer and theorist Yuri Averbakh, who has just celebrated his 85th birthday.

Soviet champion in 1954 and a one-time candidate for the world championship, Averbakh made perhaps his greatest impact as an endgame theorist; his comprehensive three-volume treatise on the endgame has proved massively influential.

His solid, positional style never attracted the attention showered on his more flamboyant Soviet rivals, but Averbakh could make the pieces dance when the opportunity presented itself. At a 1956 international tournament in East Germany, where Averbakh shared first with fellow Soviet star Ratmir Kholmov, he first outplays German GM Wolfgang Uhlmann and then finds a killer combination to seal the point.

Uhlmann’s maneuvering to win the two bishops proves counterproductive, as his dark-squared bishop is easily outclassed by Black’s nimble knight. By 22. Rac1 Rae8 23. Rfd1 (Rc8 Rxc8 24. Bxc8 Rc7 25. Bg4 Rc3 offers no relief) Qd6, Averbakh’s clamp on the e-file is far more useful than White’s play down the c-file, and threats against Uhlmann’s king are in the air.

When White takes his own queen out of the play, Black pounces: 25. Qb5?! a6 26. Qa5 h4 27. g4 Bg5 28. Bxg5 Nxg5 (threatening 29…h3 30. Bh1 [Bf1?? Nf3+ and 31…Qxh2 mate] Qf4, dominating) 29. h3 Re2 30. Rf1? (see diagram; 30. Qc5!, guarding the rook on c1, was mandatory, as will be seen) R8e3!!.

The stunning rook invasion threatens 31…Nxh3+ 32. Bxh3 Rxh3 33. Qc7 Qxc7 34. Rxc7 Rxb3, and Averbakh the endgame specialist will have no trouble cleaning up. But accepting the rook allows a second sacrifice in the game’s 31. fxe3 Rxg2+! (not 31…Qg3?? 32. Qd8+ Kg7 33. Qxd5 Nxh3+ 34. Kh1 Nf2+ 35. Rxf2 Qxf2 36. Rf1 Qg3 37. Qxf7+, and White wins) 32 Kxg2 Qg3+.

A string of queen checks forces White to give up his rook for knight, and in the final position after 41. Kg2 Qxg4+, the other rook will fall after 42. Kh1 Qe4+ 43. Kh2 Qf4+ 44. Kg2 Qxc1. White resigned.

We just have room for a nice miniature from recent play in the German Bundesliga team match play. In the always tricky Sicilian Poisoned Pawn variation, German GM Thomas Luther brutally punishes the pawn-grubbing of Slovak GM Lubomir Ftacnik in a match played earlier this month.

Actually, Black gets into trouble trying to give back some of his booty: 20. Bd6 Nc6? (the wrong path; 20…Re8 21. 0-0 Nc6 22. Qf4 f6 keeps Black in the game) 21. Bxf8 Kxf8 22. 0-0 Qb6 (the pin Ftacnik was counting on, apparently removing White’s best attacker) 23. Rxf7+!!.

White’s first point is that 23…Kxf7 24. Rxd7+! costs Black his queen, as does 23…Ke8 24. Nd6+ Kd8 25. Rxd7+ Bxd7 26. Qxb6+. But Black can’t hide with 23…Kg8, as 24. Rxg7+!! forces resignation. There’s no hope for Black in lines like 24…Kh8 25. Rh7+! Kg8 26. Qxb6! Nxb6 27. Nf6+ Kf8 28. Bh5! Ne5 (Nd5 29. Rf7 mate) 29. Rd8 mate.

Dresden International Tournament, Dresden, East Germany, 1956


1. d4Nf622. Rac1Rae8

2. c4e623. Rfd1Qd6

3. Nc3Bb424. Bg2h5

4. e30-025. Qb5a6

5. Nge2d526. Qa5h4

6. a3Be727. g4Bg5

7. cxd5exd528. Bxg5Nxg5

8. Ng3c529. h3Re2

9. dxc5Bxc530. Rf1R8e3

10. Bd3Nc631. fxe3Rxg2+

11. 0-0Be632. Kxg2Qg3+

12. Nce2Bd633. Kh1Qxh3+

13. Nd4Nxd434. Kg1Qxe3+

14. exd4Re835. Kh1Qh3+

15. Nf5Bxf536. Kg1Qg3+

16. Bxf5Qb637. Kh1Nf3

17. b3g638. Qd8+Kg7

18. Bh3Ne439. Rxf3Qxf3+

19. Qd3Be740. Kh2Qf4+

20. g3Bf641. Kg2Qxg4+

21. Be3Re7White resigned

German Bundesliga, Round 9, Berlin, February 2007


1. e4c513. Ne4Qxa2

2. Nf3d614. Rd1Qd5

3. d4cxd415. Qe3Qxe5

4. Nxd4Nf616. Be2Bc5

5. Nc3a617. Bg3Bxd4

6. Bg5e618. Rxd4Qa5+

7. f4Qb619. Rd20-0

8. Qd2Qxb220. Bd6Nc6

9. Rb1Qa321. Bxf8Kxf8

10. e5h622. 0-0Qb6

11. Bh4dxe523. Rxf7+Kg8

12. fxe5Nfd724. Rxg7+Black


David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at dsands@washington

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