- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

There are software programs that can beat the strongest grandmaster in history. Videos of top grandmasters explaining the secrets of their favorite openings are big sellers. The lowliest club player can purchase databases with millions of searchable games dating back to when Ruy Lopez was still in the seminary.

And yet the chess book refuses to die.

Old-school, dead-tree and requiring an actual chessboard to play through the variations, the chess book would seem to be a dying relic in this digital age. But even young players seem to like the idea of seeing their ideas on paper, and the game supplies us an inexhaustible supply of topics, from the instructional to the historical to the philosophical, on which to write.

The latest handsome catalog from the North Carolina chess publisher McFarland & Co. recently arrived in my mailbox. Among the new offerings for the 2014-2015 season: a history of blindfold chess, a chess murder mystery by Chess Life columnist Andy Soltis, and new game collections and biographies of players ranging from Capablanca and Marshall to such lesser-known figures as Julius Finn, Adolf Albin and Albert Beauregard Hodges.

Had I world enough and time, as the poet says, I would order them all.

Two books that did cross our desk recently offer a clue as to why the chess book endures: There’s no better place to find a hidden gem or underappreciated fact than when one is lost in a well-researched chess book.

“Aron Nimzowitsch, 1928-1935,” edited by Rudolf Reinhardt, comes with the mildly risque blurb as the “unauthorized sequel” to Nimzowitsch’s revolutionary hypermodern works “My System” and “Chess Praxis.” A touch more prosaically, the book presents the Russian-born star’s fantastic games — both serious and casual — from the period, tracking down articles Nimzowitsch and his contemporaries wrote about his play.

Today’s first game was one of Nimzowitsch’s greatest, a brilliant positional strangulation of German master Nathan Mannheimer taken from a 1930 Frankfurt tournament that Nimzowitsch won just ahead of a young Isaac Kashdan.

The play is equal early in this Winawer French, with Black giving up bishop for knight to hobble White’s queenside. Mannheimer appears to have decent kingside attacking chances, but is slowed down by 16. Nh2 Qh8! (thwarting White’s plans, Nimzowitsch wrote, “because now 17. Ng4 would be pointless on account of 17…h5. But not 16…Qg7? because of 17. Ng4 h5 18. Bh6. Black wants to go to g7 only on an urgent call [e.g. in the case of 17. Qe3] since then the bishop on d2 would be misplaced.’) 17. Qe3 Qg7! 18. Qf3 Ne4 and Black slowly takes over the play.

Compare the position after 26. Be3 (Nxc4 dxc4 27. Qf3 Rfe8 and the knight dominates the bishop) g5 27. g3 Rf6 28. Rbe1 Rg8 29. Bc1 b5 with White’s game just a dozen moves earlier — for all his eccentricities, Nimzowitsch could exploit classical ideas of space, central control and piece positioning that would make a Tarrasch proud.

The oxygen slowly goes out of White’s game, and just a little push by Black sends him over the edge: 36. Rh1 Rh6 37. Rh3 (see diagram — White’s pieces have zero scope, with five pieces dedicated to holding the besieged g3 square) Qg6!! (with the threat of 38…hxg3 39. Rxh6+ Qxh6 40. Nxg3 Qh4 and White has no good move) 38. Be3 Qa6!!, and the winning of the humble a-pawn proves decisive.

It’s a Chinese water torture finish on 39. Bf2 (Black also threatened 39…Nb2, trapping the queen, since his 38th move protects the pawn on b5) Qxa2 40. Be1 a5 41. Kf1 Qb1 42. Ng1 a4 43. Ne2 a3 44. Rf1 a2, and Mannheimer conceded as the pawn can’t be stopped.

Bosnian GM Ivan Sokolov’s “Sacrifice and Initiative in Chess” features some of the usual suspects in his lucid explication of the various ways to sacrifice material for fun and profit. Bobby Fischer’s famous 1956 win over Donald Byrne gets a look, as does the Kasparov-Topalov from Wijk aan Zee 1999.

But the book also makes its points with some lesser-known gems, including a nice win by Australian master Aleks Wohl over the late Latvian GM Aivars Gipslis, where White uses a speculative piece sac to break down Black’s English Hedgehog setup.

The fun begins with 12. Bb2 d6 (given what’s to come, Gipslis might have considered a queen trade here with 12…Qxf4 13. gxf4 Rac8 14. Ne5 d6 15. Nd3, and Black still has a playable game) 13. Rd2 a6 14. Rad1 b5 15. Ng5 bxc4 16. Nce4! d5 17. Qh4!, a bold bid for the initiative as Black’s OK after 17. Nf6+ gxf6 18. Nxe6!? [Bxf6?? Qxf4 19. gxf4 Bxf6] fxe6 19. Qg4+ Kf8 20. Qxe6 Qc8.

After 17…dxe4 18. Bxf6, Sokolov contends Black could save himself with the “cold-blooded” 18…h6! 19. Rxd8+ Bxd8 20. Bxd8 Nxd8 21. Nxe4 cxb3 22. axb3 Bd5, keeping the fortress intact. Instead, the defensive line gets shredded after 18…Bxf6? 19. Qxh7+ Kf8 20. Rd7! Rxd7 (Bxg5?? 21. Qh8 mate) 21. Rxd7 Ke8 (the only move) 22. Rxf7 (now threatening 23. Qg8 mate) Ne7 23. Rxf6!, setting off a lethal king hunt.

The mating net closes around the harried Black king on 26. Nc5+ Kd6 27. b4!, and Wohl brings the point home nicely: 27…Qe8 28. Qxf6+ Kc7 29. Qe5+ Kb6 30. Nd7+! Kc6 (Qxd7 31. Qc5 is mate) 31. Qc5+! Kxd7 32. Bh3+, and Black resigns in light of 32…Nf5 (Kd8 33. Qd6+) 33. Bxf5+ Qe6 34. Bxe6+ Kxe6 35. Qb6+ Ke5 36. Qxb7 and White’s material edge is decisive.

Mannheimer-Nimzovich, Frankfurt, 1930

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. exd5 exd5 5. Nf3 Ne7 6. Bd3 Nbc6 7. h3 Bf5 8. Bxf5 Nxf5 9. O-O Bxc3 10. bxc3 O-O 11. Qd3 Nd6 12. Ng5 g6 13. Bf4 Qf6 14. Bd2 h6 15. Nf3 Kh7 16. Nh2 Qh8 17. Qe3 Qg7 18. Qf3 Ne4 19. Bc1 f5 20. Qd3 Na5 21. f4 Qd7 22. Nf3 Qc6 23. Ne5 Qe6 24. Rb1 b6 25. Kh2 Nc4 26. Be3 g5 27. g3 Rf6 28. Rbe1 Rg8 29. Bc1 b5 30. Nf3 g4 31. hxg4 Rxg4 32. Ng1 Rfg6 33. Rf3 Qg8 34. Ne2 h5 35. Kg2 h4 36. Rh1 Rh6 37. Rh3 Qg6 38. Be3 Qa6 39. Bf2 Qxa2 40. Be1 a5 41. Kf1 Qb1 42. Ng1 a4 43. Ke2 a3 44. Rf1 a2 White resigns.

Wohl-Gipslis, Biel Open, 1996

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nc3 e6 4. g3 b6 5. Bg2 Bb7 6. O-O Be7 7. d4 cxd4 8. Qxd4 Nc6 9. Qf4 O-O 10. Rd1 Qb8 11. b3 Rd8 12. Bb2 d6 13. Rd2 a6 14. Rad1 b5 15. Ng5 bxc4 16. Nce4 d5 17. Qh4 dxe4 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Qxh7+ Kf8 20. Rd7 Rxd7 21. Rxd7 Ke8 22. Rxf7 Ne7 23. Rxf6 gxf6 24. Qf7+ Kd8 25. Nxe6+ Kd7 26. Nc5+ Kd6 27. b4 Qe8 28. Qxf6+ Kc7 29. Qe5+ Kb6 30. Nd7+ Kc6 31. Qc5+ Kxd7 32. Bh3+ Black resigns.

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

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