Before he conquered the world, he ruled the D.C. chess scene.
Postal chess great Hans Berliner, who passed away last month in Florida at the age of 87, grew up here and got his start at the fabled Washington Chess Divan. He captured five city championships in the 1940s and 1950s before going on to fame and induction into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame as the winner of the 5th World Correspondence Chess Championship in the mid-1960s.
Berliner was a familiar figure for decades here before moving on to do pioneering computer chess programming at Carnegie Mellon, winning the 1956 Eastern States Open, when a 12-year-old Bobby Fischer made his one and only appearance at a D.C. tournament.
Berliner could be dogmatic as a writer, but his play was marked by a principled simplicity, whether in postal or over-the-board. In the 1962 U.S. championship, he took down Edmar Mednis, one of the best U.S.-based masters of the postwar generation, with a King’s Indian attack that flows smoothly from the opening move to the final mating pattern.
In a Four Pawns Attack, Black seems to be doing fine after 14. 0-0 Rfc8!? (Rac8 15. a3 Qa6 was fully equal) 15. Qe2 Qa6, though the lack of defenders on the kingside marks a real concern.
Mednis fails to appreciate the danger on 16. Rfd1 Kf8?! (to defend the e-pawn against a White knight on d5, but the king finds himself on an awkward square) 17. b3 b6 18. Qf2 Qa5?! (now was the time to head off the pressure with 18…Bxc3 19. Rxc3 Qa5 20. Rcc1 Qa3 21. Rc2 Kg8) 19. f5!.
It’s only a temporary piece sacrifice after 19…Bxc3 (gxf5 20. Rd5 Qa3 21. Rxf5 f6 22. Nb5 Qa6 23. Rh5, with a winning attack) 20. Rd5 Qb4 21. Rb5 Qa3 22. Rxc3, but now Black’s pieces are even more badly placed, while both White rooks have an open route to the kingside.
White wraps things up with deadly efficiency: 22…Kg7 (it’s already too late for 22…Ne5 23. Bc1 Qa6 24. Rh3 Kg8 25. Qd2! Ng4 26. fxg6 hxg6 27. Rh4 Nf6 28. Qh6 Nh5 29. Rhxh5! gxh5 30. Rg5 mate) 23. Bc1 Qa6 24. f6+! exf6 (see diagram; 24…Kf8 25. fxe7+ wins; e.g. 25…Nxe7 26. Rf3 f5 27. exf5 Nxf5 28. Rbxf5+! gxf5 29. Rxf5+ Ke7 30. Rf7+ Ke8 31. Qf5, with mate to come) 25. Bh6+! Kxh6 (Kg8 26. Qxf6 with unstoppable mate) 26. Qxf6, and Bisguier resigned as mate can only be delayed with 26…Qxb5 27. cxb5 Kh5 28. Rh3+ Kg5 29. Rh4 mate.
Berliner-Mednis, U.S. Championship, New York, 1962
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f4 O-O 6. Nf3 c5 7. Be2 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Nc6 9. Be3 Bg4 10. Bxg4 Nxg4 11. Qxg4 Nxd4 12. Qd1 Nc6 13. Rc1 Qa5 14. O-O Rfc8 15. Qe2 Qa6 16. Rfd1 Kf8 17. b3 b6 18. Qf2 Qa5 19. f5 Bxc3 20. Rd5 Qb4 21. Rb5 Qa3 22. Rxc3 Kg7 23. Bc1 Qa6 24. f6+ exf6 25. Bh6+ Kxh6 26. Qxf6 Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email email@example.com.