- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2019

We start with a big personal thank you to D.C.’s venerable Black Knights Chess Team, which earlier this month awarded this column and this columnist a “lifetime achievement award” at its third annual closed championship, citing our coverage over the past quarter-century of the local chess scene and of Washington, D.C., as the nation’s primary incubator of black chess excellence.

A special note of gratitude goes out to retired Air Force Maj. Zack Kinney, a longtime friend of the column who offered some very generous words at the event, citing in particular our coverage of late local legend IM Emory Tate, a former Black Knight himself.

I should, in turn, be thanking the Black Knights for supplying the column with so much memorable material over that time span, from the club’s long participation in the D.C. Chess League to the individual exploits of such fine players as Greg Acholonu, William Morrison, Greg Kearse, Ralph Mikell, Vincent Moore and many others I have personally tangled with over the board.

The honor was triply enhanced as the club also bestowed awards on Black Knight Mike Abron, who in October completed a record-setting 18-year quest to play a rated game in every state (Abron and Kinney have a book chronicling the odyssey coming out early next year), and NM Frank Street, a Washington-area chess legend, a former U.S. amateur champion and the second African American player ever to achieve the master ranking.

He doesn’t play so much any more, but Street was known as a tough out for even the nation’s top players in the 1960s and 1970s. At the fabled 1976 Lone Pine international tournament (won by some guy named Tigran Petrosian, with some guy named Vasily Smyslov tying for second), Street scored very respectable 50% score and won a superb attacking game against FM Tibor Weinberger, who had played just eight years before in the U.S. Chess Championship.

Black does well out of this Symmetrical English, blockading White’s isolated d-pawn and completing his development rapidly. White goes in for a tricky unbalancing line, but it is Black who lands the first punch.

Thus: 18. Ne2?! (White should have accepted a slight positional minus with the more tempered 18. Nxc6 Bxc6 19. Ne2 Qd6 20. Rac1 Rfd8) Nxe5 19. dxe5 Bxe5 20. Bxh6 Qh4!, ignoring the attack on his rook to get the attack rolling.

Weinberger unwisely accepts the proffered exchange and his position never recovers: 21. Bxf8? (and now the better part of valor for White was 21. f4 Qxh6 22. fxe5 Ne3 23. Re1 Nxg2 24. Qxh6+ Kxh6, and hope to hold the pawn-down ending) Qxh2+ 22. Kf1 Nf4! 23. Nxf4 (Ng3 Rxf8 24. Qe3 Bd6 25. a3 Rd8, with a big edge) Bxf4 24. Ke2 (Qc2 Bxg2+ 25. Ke2 Qh5+ 26. Ke1 Qh1+ 27. Ke2 Bf3 mate), and now White would have a puncher’s chance on 24…Bxd2? 25. Rh1 Bf4 26. Rxh2+ Bxh2 27. Rh1 Rxf8 28. Rxh2+.

But Black finds the winning path with 24…Qh5+! 25. f3 Bxf3+! gxf3 26. Qh2+, picking off the queen. After 34. f4 Qxb2+ 35. Kf3, White has seen enough and resigns before Black can administer the crusher, 35…Qc3 36. Ke3 (Be5 Qc6+) Qc6, winning even more material.

As for the tournament itself, held Dec. 7 at St. Paul’s Community Church on Capitol Hill, expert Simon Steele claimed the 2019 title with a perfect 5-0 score, a point ahead of 2018 Black Knights champion Paul Little Jr. Ralph Mikell took home the Under 2000 trophy, Gregg Pratt was top Under 1800, and Abron was the Under 1600 winner. Sandy Jenkins, the only female in the field, naturally won the top female prize with a very creditable 2-3 result.

The history of African American chess actually starts with another local DMV-er — the remarkable Theophilus Augustus Thompson, born into slavery in Frederick, Maryland, in 1855. He learned the game as a teenager and was reportedly a strong tournament and correspondence player.

His most lasting claim to fame was an 1873 book of 50 chess problems and studies that still have the capacity to instruct, baffle and delight. One of his most elegant compositions was the two-mover in today’s diagram — the Black king is imprisoned in the center of the board, but White’s two rooks hang and any piece move seems to open up an escape route for the enemy.

The only move that picks the lock is the subtle 1. Rb4!!, when both 1…Kxc6 and 1…cxb4 are met by 2. Bf3 mate.

Weinberger-Street, Louis Statham Tournament, Lone Pine, Calif., March 1976

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. Nf3 O-O 5. e3 c5 6. Be2 cxd4 7. exd4 d5 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. O-O Nc6 10. Bg5 h6 11. Be3 Be6 12. Qd2 Kh7 13. Ne4 Bc8 14. Rfd1 b6 15. Ne5 Bb7 16. Ng3 e6 17. Bd3 f5 18. Ne2 Nxe5 19. dxe5 Bxe5 20. Bxh6 Qh4 21. Bxf8 Qxh2+ 22. Kf1 Nf4 23. Nxf4 Bxf4 24. Ke2 Qh5+ 25. f3 Bxf3+ 26. gxf3 Qh2+ 27. Ke1 Bxd2+ 28. Rxd2 Qg1+ 29. Ke2 Qxa1 30. Bd6 Qg1 31. Rc2 Qd4 32. Rc7+ Kg8 33. Rd7 Rc8 34. f4 Qxb2+ 35. Kf3 and White resigned.

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

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