- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Minerva, Kentucky-born Jackson Showalter was the “Kentucky Lion.” Bostonians still raise a glass of Sam Adams to the memory of local-boy-made-good Harry Nelson Pillsbury. Chess fans in New Orleans honor the memory of Paul Morphy, the nation’s first great player, and Jude Acers, a talented and colorful master still going strong taking on all challengers from his gazebo in the French Quarter at the age of 73.

New York and Southern California may have the biggest concentration of strong players in the country, but many players from the game’s hinterlands have carved out a very nice reputation, winning multiple state and local events and even collecting a few scalps from the grandmasters and IMs who occasionally stray into their territory.

A classic example of the breed was Cleveland master James Harkins Jr., who died in July at the age of 87. In a nice remembrance at Chess Life Online, IM John Donaldson recounts Cleveland’s deep and lively chess scene, and how Harkins, a Cleveland native and lawyer known as “The Hawk,” was an integral part of it for decades. A three-time Ohio state champion, Harkins remained an active player well in his 80s, playing at expert-level strength up until two years before his death.

Harkins was in the field when the U.S. Open came to his hometown in 1957. The big story of the tournament was the first-place finish for a promising 14-year-old New Yorker named Bobby Fischer, but Harkins finished a respectable 7-5 and scored a nice win over Allen Kaufman, who would later go on to head the American Chess Foundation and the Samford Fellowship Committee.

Harkins‘ 8. Be3 Qc7 9. g4!? h6 10. Rg1 is a very modern way to play this 6. Be2 Najdorf Sicilian line. Black obtains a typically solid Sicilian setup, with just one nagging problem to solve: where to park his king. The question becomes ever more urgent when White gambits a pawn with 16. h4 gxh4 17. f4!? to open up the position before Black can make a decision.

White repeatedly declines to win back his pawn in order to keep the initiative alive: 22. Bxg5+ hxg5 23. Nd4! (Qxg5+?! Kc8 24. Rh1 Kb7 25. Rxh4 Bxa4 is very pleasant for Black) Kc8 24. Rf6 Kb7 25. Nc6 (the Black king has reached port, but his troubles are not over; better now would have been 25…Nxc6! 26. dxc6+ Bxc6 27. a5 b5 28. Rgf1 Rhf8 29. Qxg5 Rae8 30. Qd2 Re7, with equality) Bxc6!? 26. dxc6+ Ka7 27. Rxd6, and Black’s defensive problems still must be addressed.

Kaufman holds things together well for a long time, but even one misstep can prove fatal for a defender in such positions. With White continually pressing, Black’s overworked pieces can’t hold back the flood on 31. a5 Rc8? (see diagram; 31…Qxc6 keeps it a game, with a double-edged fight still in store after 32. Bf1 Qc5 33. axb6+ Qxb6 34. Qa3!) 32. Rd6! Nxc6 (Qxd6?? 33. Qxb6+ Ka8 34. Qb7 mate is definitely out, but White is also better after 32…h3 33. Rxf6 h2 34. Rh6 Qxc6 35. Qxb6+ Qxb6 36. axb6+ Kb7 37. Rxh2 Kxb6 38. Rf2) 33. axb6+ Qxb6 34. Rd7+, and Black resigned as it’s mate in three after 34…Ka8 (Rc7 35. Rxc7+ is no help) 35. Qxb6 Rb8 36. Qxa6+ Na7 37. Rxa7 mate.

GM Wesley So was the last American standing at the 128-player FIDE World Cup knockout tournament, but was bounced in a tense semifinal match with Chinese GM Ding Liren in a rapid-game playoff last week. On Tuesday, Ding and Armenian star Levon Aronian were deadlocked at 2-2 in their four-game final and were headed for a rapid-play playoff. We’ll have full results here next week.

Harkins-Kaufman, 58th U.S. Open, Cleveland, August 1957

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. Be3 Qc7 9. g4 h6 10. Rg1 g5 11. Nd5 Nxd5 12. exd5 Nd7 13. Qd2 Nf8 14. Bd3 Bd7 15. a4 b6 16. h4 gxh4 17. f4 Bf6 18. O-O-O Ng6 19. fxe5 Nxe5 20. Be2 Kd8 21. Rdf1 Bg5 22. Bxg5+ hxg5 23. Nd4 Kc8 24. Rf6 Kb7 25. Nc6 Bxc6 26. dxc6+ Ka7 27. Rxd6 Rad8 28. Rxd8 Qxd8 29. Qe3 f6 30. Rd1 Qc7 31. a5 Rc8 32. Rd6 Nxc6 33. axb6+ Qxb6 34. Rd7+ Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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