Thursday, August 25, 2011

Uncrowned Champion: Akiba Rubinstein

This article was originally published in the September/October 2008 issue of the Ohio Chess Connection.

Most chess players know something about the World Chess Champions, two of whom—Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov—achieved fame extending far outside of the chess community. However, there are several players who fell just short of winning the World Championship and thus do not receive the attention and credit that they deserve. This series of articles about “Uncrowned Champions” will showcase the achievements of several chess players who did not claim the ultimate crown but who deserve to be remembered. IM John Donaldson and IM Nikolay Minev wrote a 1994 book titled Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King and since the title and theme of that book provided some of the inspiration for this project it is only fitting to begin by looking at Rubinstein’s brilliant and tragic career.

Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961) first learned to play chess when he was a 16 year old student at a yeshiva (Jewish religious school) in an area of his native Poland that was then governed by Czarist Russia. Rubinstein acquired the only Hebrew chess book he could find—a volume by Talmudic scholar/polymath Joseph Sossnitz titled Chess, Checkmate—and devoured it from cover to cover.

Three years later, Rubinstein traveled to the nearby city of Lodz and met George Salwe, who was a Grandmaster strength player, though that title did not yet exist. Rubinstein discovered that he still had much to learn about the royal game but he proved to be a determined and relentless student. In 1903, Rubinstein challenged Salwe to a match and battled his much more experienced opponent to a tie (Hans Kmoch’s 1941 book Rubinstein’s Chess Masterpieces says that the match was knotted at 5-5, while Rubinstein’s page at lists a 7-7 score). Rubinstein won the rematch (Kmoch gives a final tally of 6-3, while reports a 5.5-4.5 outcome). Rubinstein began his tournament career by scoring 11.5/18 in the 1903 Russian Championship at Kiev, placing fifth. In his next seven tournaments he finished first five times, including a victory in the 1907 Russian Championship at Lodz.

According to Jeff Sonas, whose rating calculations can be found at his Chessmetrics site, Rubinstein was the strongest chess player in the world at various times between 1908-1914. From January 1908-May 1914, Sonas ranks Rubinstein either #1 or #2 on every monthly rating list. Sonas says that the best tournament performance of Rubinstein’s career came at St. Petersburg 1909 when he scored 14.5/18 and shared first place with World Champion Emanuel Lasker, 3.5 points ahead of a strong field that included Rudolf Spielman, Ossip Bernstein, Carl Schlechter, Jacque Mieses and Savielly Tartakower. Rubinstein showcased his tremendous endgame technique in his encounter with Lasker:

Rubinstein,Akiba - Lasker,Emanuel [D32]

St. Petersburg 1909 (3), 1909

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Bg5 c5 [4...Be7 or

4...Nbd7 are preferred by modern GMs.] 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Nc3 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Nc6 ["The cause for subsequent embarrassment. 7...Be7 was preferable" (Lasker).] 8.e3 Be7 9.Bb5 ["Showing up the weakness of Black's seventh move" (Lasker).] 9...Bd7 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Nxd5 Bxd4 12.exd4 Qg5 13.Bxc6 [13.Nc7+ Kd8 14.Bxc6 Bxc6 15.d5 (15.Nxa8?? Re8+-+) 15...Kxc7 16.dxc6 Rhe8+ 17.Kf1 bxc6=+] 13...Bxc6 14.Ne3 0-0-0 ["A careless move. There was no reason for Black to desist from his intention of capturing the g-pawn simply because White has omitted Qe2+. As a matter of fact, after 14...Bxg2 15.Rg1 Qa5+ 16.Qd2 Qxd2+ 17.Kxd2 Be4 Black would be quite comfortable" (Lasker).] 15.0-0 Rhe8 16.Rc1! ["A very subtle move. What with the threat of Rc5 and d5, White retains his advantage, and he can certainly cope with Black's threat of ...Rxe3" (Lasker).] 16...Rxe3 [16...Kb8 17.Rc5 Qf4 18.d5 Rxe3 19.Qc1 Re4 20.dxc6 bxc6 21.Qc3± (Lasker).] 17.Rxc6+ bxc6 18.Qc1!! Rxd4 [18...Re5 19.Qxc6+ Kb8 20.dxe5 Qxe5 21.Rc1 and Black cannot defend his exposed K against White's powerful Q and R.] 19.fxe3 Rd7 20.Qxc6+ Kd8 21.Rf4!! ["A splendid idea, threatening to decide the game at once by Qa8+, followed by a Rook check on e4 or c4; hence, Black is forced to swap Queens and to face a lost ending" (Lasker). Note how Rubinstein keenly combined attack and defense, placing his R on an aggressive post that also shields the weak e-pawn from Black's Q.] 21...f5 [Guarding the e4 square is the best practical choice in a lost position, as demonstrated by these lines provided by Lasker: [21...Qa5 22.Qa8+ Ke7 23.Re4+ Kf6 24.Qc6+ Kg5 25.h4++-; 21...Rd1+ 22.Kf2 Rd2+ 23.Ke1 Qxg2 24.Rd4+! Ke7 25.Qd6++-] 22.Qc5 Qe7 [After 22...Rd1+ 23 Kf2 Rd2+ 24 Ke1 Qxg2 White would win the Rook by 23 Qa5+ (Lasker).] 23.Qxe7+ Kxe7 24.Rxf5 Rd1+ 25.Kf2 Rd2+ 26.Kf3 Rxb2 27.Ra5 Rb7 28.Ra6 [Rubinstein's technique is most instructive: his last two moves have limited the mobility of both of Black's pieces. This allows Rubinstein to methodically build up a deadly K-side pawn storm.] 28...Kf8 29.e4 Rc7 30.h4 Kf7 31.g4 Kf8 32.Kf4 Ke7 33.h5 h6 [As is usually the case, advancing a P on the side where the opponent is attacking creates a weakness--the g6 square in this instance--but Black did not have a good alternative: 33...Kf7 34.Kf5 Ke7 35.g5 Kf7 36.e5 Ke7 37.g6 h6 38.Re6+ Kd7 (38...Kf8 39.Rd6 Ke7 40.Ra6 Rb7 41.Rc6 Rd7 42.Rc8 and White's R will capture the g-pawn.) 39.Rf6!! Ke8 (39...gxf6 40.g7 Rc8 41.exf6+-) 40.Rf7 Rxf7+ 41.gxf7+ Kxf7 42.e6+ Ke8 43.Ke5 Ke7 44.Kd5 Ke8 45.Kd6 Kd8 46.e7+ Ke8 47.Ke6 a5 48.a4 g5 49.hxg6 h5 50.g7 h4 51.g8Q# (Analysis by GM Mihail Marin).] 34.Kf5 Kf7 35.e5 Rb7 36.Rd6 Ke7 37.Ra6 Kf7 38.Rd6 Kf8 39.Rc6 Kf7 40.a3 1-0

Rubinstein won first place in five consecutive top level events from 1911-1912, a remarkable run highlighted by his clear first with a 12.5/19 score at the 1912 San Sebastian tournament, a result that Sonas ranks as the best performance by any chess player from 1912-1913. In Learn from the Legends—Chess Champions at Their Best, GM Mihail Marin offers the highest praise for Rubinstein’s winning streak: “Akiba’s performance should be put on the same level as Kasparov’s domination in the tournaments played around the turn of the millennium.”

Sonas asserts that Rubinstein was the best chess player in the world from August 1912-April 1914. Sonas calculates Rubinstein’s “five year peak rating” (2779 from Jan. 1910-Dec. 1914) to be the 18th best of all-time; Sonas’ top five players in this category are Garry Kasparov (2875 from Jan. 1989-Dec. 1993), Emanuel Lasker (2854 from Jan. 1894-Dec. 1898), Jose Capablanca (2843 from Jan. 1919-Dec. 1923), Mikhail Botvinnik (2843 from Jan. 1945-Dec. 1949) and Bobby Fischer (2841 from Jan. 1969-Dec. 1973).

Rubinstein clearly deserved an opportunity to challenge Lasker for the World Championship but during that era the World Champion had the right to set the financial terms that a prospective opponent would have to meet in order to arrange a match; basically, the World Champion could handpick his challenger. Understandably, Lasker was not eager to face Rubinstein but eventually a match between the two best players in the world was scheduled to begin in October 1914. Unfortunately, the onset of World War I canceled this showdown.

When the war ended Rubinstein was clearly not the same as a person or a chess player. Although by Sonas’ reckoning he remained one of the world’s top ten players until late in 1932, Rubinstein never quite regained the playing strength that he demonstrated from 1910-1914. Rubinstein was still capable of beating the top players in the world but his results lacked consistency and away from the board he increasingly began to demonstrate signs of a worsening mental illness, a problem that eventually forced Rubinstein to stop playing competitive chess after 1932. Just prior to that, Rubinstein enjoyed his last great triumph, leading Poland to the gold medal in the third Chess Olympiad (Hamburg 1930).

Even though Rubinstein’s career was interrupted by war and curtailed by mental illness, he still left perhaps the most impressive legacy of any chess player who did not win the World Championship. Rubinstein excelled in all phases of the game. He was an endgame virtuoso who is widely regarded as the greatest rook endgame player ever but he also made substantial contributions to opening theory. As GM Marin explains, “Rubinstein’s name is closely linked with the main lines of such openings as the Nimzo-Indian, the Queen’s Indian and the Tarrasch Defense. He invented several set-ups for Black that are still topical in the French Defense and the Ruy Lopez. He also played the modern Meran variation of the Semi-Slav for the first time.”

Rubinstein was also a daring and inventive attacking player who devised some of the most dazzling combinations ever, so this tribute to his brilliance will conclude by displaying three of his sparkling tactical gems:

Rotlewi - Rubinstein

Lodz 1907


1...Rxc3 2.gxh4 Rd2 3.Qxd2 Bxe4+ 4.Qg2 Rh3 5.Bd4 Bxd4 6.Rf2 Bxf2 0-1

Rubinstein - Hromadka

Mahrisch-Ostrau, 1923 (Brilliancy Prize)


1.Qb6 Rd7 [1...axb6 2.axb6+ Ba7 3.Rxa7+ Kb8 4.Bd4 exd4 5.Rfxb7+ Kc8 6.Ba6 Qc7 7.Rxc7+ Kb8 8.Rcb7+ Kc8 9.Ra8#] 2.Bc5 Rxf7 3.Bxd6 Rf2+ 4.Qxf2 Nxf2 5.Bc5 1-0

Michel - Rubinstein

Semmering, 1926 (Brilliancy Prize)


33...Qa1 34.gxh4 Qf1+ 35.Kg3 Qe1+ 36.Rf2 Qg1+ 37.Kf3 Qh1+ 38.Rg2 Qd1+ 39.Kg3 Qg4+ 40.Kf2 Qe2+ 0-1

Friday, August 12, 2011

Looking Back on Two Decades’ Worth of Games Versus Clif Rowan

This article was originally published in two parts in the March/April 2008 and May/June 2008 issues of the Ohio Chess Connection; I have merged the two parts together while eliminating one sentence that bridged the two parts.

Clif Rowan, who passed away on October 3, 2007, was a fixture on the Dayton chess scene for several decades. He truly was humble in victory and gracious in defeat—and I can attest to both of those things based on firsthand experience: I played 24 rated games against him over a 19 year period, scoring 14 wins, eight losses and two draws.

The first time that I played Clif in a rated game was the second round of the Dayton Chess Club Championship on October 16, 1987. That was the first DCC Championship that I participated in and one of my earliest rated tournaments, while at that time Clif had a solid Class “A” rating of approximately 1900.

Clif Rowan - David Friedman [B20]

DCC Championship 10/16/87

1.e4 c5 2.a3 (Clif loved playing the Wing Gambit.) 2...Nc6 3.b4 d6 (Since I had never seen this opening before, I was forced to rely on whatever general principles I knew; it seemed to me that capturing away from the center must be what Clif wanted me to do, so I decided to reinforce the c-pawn and await future developments. Fritz slightly prefers Black after 3...cxb4 4.axb4 Nxb4 5.c3 Nc6 6.d4 d5) 4.b5 Ne5 5.f4 Nd7 6.Nf3 e6 7.Bb2 Ngf6 8.Nc3 b6!? (Black should complete his K-side development: 8...Be7 9.Be2 0-0 10.0-0=) 9.Be2 Bb7 10.d3 Be7 11.0-0 0-0 12.Qd2 d5 13.e5 d4?? (NM Jim Jordan, a two-time DCC Champion, once said to me that anyone who can count can become a Master. This is no doubt a gross oversimplification, but it is certainly true that the proper application of counting ability leads to the elimination of this kind of basic mistake. Black should simply play 13...Ng4=) 14.exf6+- dxc3 15.fxe7 cxd2 16.exd8Q Rfxd8 17.Nxd2 Nf8 18.Bf3 Rab8 19.Nc4 Ng6 20.g3 Ne7 21.Be5 Bxf3 22.Rxf3 Ra8 23.a4 f6 24.Bb2 Nf5 25.a5 Nd4 26.Bxd4 cxd4 27.axb6 axb6 28.Rff1 Rac8 29.Ra6 Rc5 30.Rxb6 Rdd5 31.Rb1 e5 32.Nd6 h5 33.Rc6 h4 34.Rxc5 Rxc5 35.b6 h3 36.b7 Rxc2 37.b8Q+ Kh7 38.Qb3 Rg2+ 39.Kh1 exf4 40.Qd5 fxg3 41.Qh5+ 1-0

I’m not sure when Clif first started playing the Wing Gambit against the Sicilian but as long as I knew him he was a staunch believer in this offbeat line. We had many friendly debates—on and off the board—about its soundness. I would say to Clif that since it only appeared rarely at the GM level that it was probably not entirely sound, though it obviously can be a good weapon at the club level. Clif was always a chess iconoclast and did not accept something as the final word just because it was the consensus GM opinion. He did a lot of independent research on the Wing Gambit and you could not convince him that it was not a good opening. I remember his delight when he discovered a book written by GM Alexei Bezgodov titled Challenging the Sicilian With 2.a3!? I think that Clif was happy not so much because he had GM support for his long held belief about this opening—like I said, he was not afraid to go against orthodox GM thinking—but because this book supplied him with so many interesting games to study in his pet line.

I had Black the first six times that I played Clif and each of those games was a Wing Gambit. Clif outrated me by more than 400 hundred points the first three times that I faced him and all of those games were decided by gross blunders on my part (including the above contest). My first victory against Clif came in our fourth encounter:

Clif Rowan (1852) - David Friedman (1533) [B20]

Miamisburg Tornado 1/28/89

1.e4 c5 2.a3 d6 3.b4 cxb4 4.axb4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 (This is not the sharpest way to play against Clif's pet system but by this point I was just trying to get a reasonable opening position and avoid blunders.) 6.b5 Qc7 7.g3 b6!? (It makes more sense to complete the K-side development and then castle. Black is fine after 7...Be7 8.Nge2 0-0 9.Bg2 Nbd7 10.0-0 Nb6) 8.Bg2 Bb7 9.Nge2 Nbd7 10.0-0 Nc5 11.d3 Be7 12.f4 0-0 13.f5 d5!? (Black should play 13...e5 to prevent White’s next move) 14.e5 Ne8 15.f6? (15.d4 Ne4 16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.fxe6 f6 [17...fxe6 18.Rxf8+ Bxf8 19.Ra4+-] 18.exf6 Rxf6 19.Rxf6 Nxf6 20.Nf4±) 15...gxf6 16.Bh6!? (After 16.exf6 Nxf6 17.Bf4 e5 18.Bg5 Ncd7 White has a lot of play for the pawn.) 16...fxe5 17.Bxf8 Bxf8 18.Qd2 e4!? (Better is 18...f5) 19.d4!? (White could weaken Black’s pawn structure by playing 19.dxe4 dxe4 20.Qg5+ Bg7) 19...Nd7 20.Qg5+ Bg7 21.Qe7!? Nef6 22.Rxf6?? (White should play 22.Qb4, after which Fritz gives Black a modest edge.) Bxf6 23.Rf1?? Bxe7 0-1

The next time I played Clif--in September 1990--he outrated me by fewer than 100 points and I defeated him from the Black side of a Sicilian Wing Gambit. In December 1990 we met in a Dayton quad and played an exciting tactical skirmish that ended up as our first draw:

Clif Rowan (1833) - David Friedman (1795) [B20]

ACP Quad 12/1/90

1.e4 c5 2.a3 Nc6 3.b4 cxb4 4.axb4 Nxb4 5.Nf3 d5 6.exd5 Nxd5 7.Bb5+ Bd7 8.Bxd7+ Qxd7 9.0-0 Ngf6 10.c4 Nf4!? (10...Nb6) 11.d4 Ng6 12.Nc3 e6 13.Ne5?! (13.Bg5) 13...Nxe5 14.dxe5 Qxd1 15.Rxd1 Ng4 16.Nb5 Bc5 17.Ba3 (17.Nc7+ Ke7 18.Nxa8 Rxa8=) 17...Bxa3 18.Nc7+?? (Fritz finds dynamic equality after 18.Rxa3 Nxe5 19.Nc7+ Ke7 20.Nxa8 Rxa8 21.c5 Nd7 22.Rc1 a5) 18...Ke7 19.Nxa8? (19.Rxa3) 19...Bc5 20.Nc7 Nxf2 21.Rdb1 Ne4+ 22.Kh1 Bb6?! (22...Kd7 23.Nb5 a6 24.Nc3 Nf2+ 25.Kg1 Kc6 26.Kf1 Bd4 27.Ra3 Ng4-+) 23.Nb5 (23.Na8 Rxa8 24.Rxb6) 23...Nf2+ 24.Kg1 Ne4+ (Fritz slightly prefers Black after 24...Nd3+ 25.Kh1 Nxe5 26.Nxa7 Nd7 27.Ra2 Rd8 28.g3 f5 but at that time over the board I was not sure that Black stood better) 25.Kh1 Nf2+ ½-½

I did not play a rated game against Clif for nearly a year and a half. Our next game differed from the previous ones for two reasons: it was the first time I had the higher rating and the first time that I had the White pieces. Unfortunately for me, neither of those advantages led to victory; if anything, the belief that I "should" win based on those factors led to me pressing too hard when I only had a slight advantage.

David Friedman (1903) - Clif Rowan (1846) [B06]

ACP Quad 5/9/92 (1)

1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.f4 Bg7 4.Nf3 Nh6 5.Bd3 d5 6.e5 Bf5 (While Clif often played aggressively in the opening with White, his style could be almost stodgy with Black; he would hunker down behind a wall of pawns and wait for either his opponent to overextend himself or for a good opportunity to open up the game to his advantage. It took some time for me to develop the patience and positional understanding to counteract this approach.) 7.0-0 Qd7 8.Nc3 e6 9.Be3!? (9.Bb5 Nc6 10.Na4 b6 11.Qe2 Bg4 12.c3±) 9...Ng4 10.Qd2 Bf8 11.a3 (I did not want to let Clif exchange off this B because there is no way for him to otherwise activate it.) 11...a5 12.Ne2 Be7 13.h3 Bxd3 14.Qxd3 Nxe3 15.Qxe3 h5 16.c3 b5 17.Qd3 a4 18.Ng5 Na6 19.Rab1 c5 20.Rbe1 Rc8 21.Nf3 Kf8 22.Nh2 cxd4 23.Nxd4 Nc5 24.Qd1 Ne4 25.g4? (This is a good example of impatience/lack of positional understanding. White stands slightly better after 25.Nhf3 h4 26.Qd3. It is not clear that White will necessarily win after this but the onus is on Black to correctly defend a passive position.) 25...hxg4 26.hxg4 Bh4 27.f5? (This makes a bad situation worse--or lost, to be precise. White should try 27.Re2 Ng3 28.Rd2 Nxf1 29.Qxf1 Be7 which is also no bed of roses but at least offers the vague possibility of counterplay on the Q-side. The text just leads straight to immediate disaster.) 27...gxf5 28.gxf5 Rg8+ 29.Ng4 exf5 30.Rxe4 dxe4 31.Rxf5 Rc4 32.e6?? (White is already in terrible shape but the text is horrible. White should try 32.Rf4 Bg3 33.Rxe4 Bxe5 34.Rxe5 Rxg4+ 35.Kf2 Qd6 36.Qxg4 Qxe5) 32...Rxd4! 33.cxd4 Qxe6 34.Rf4 Bg3 and Black went on to win. 0-1

I only had to wait a little over two months to avenge this defeat. This endgame is error-filled but instructive and the final position is very picturesque:

David Friedman (1936) - Clif Rowan (1842) [A41]

DCC G/90 Quad 7/24/92 (2)

1.e4 d6 2.d4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bd3 Bg4 5.0-0 e6 6.h3 Bh5 7.Nbd2 Nfd7 8.Qe1 Be7 9.c4 Na6 10.Rb1? (10.a3) 10...Nb4 11.Qe3 Nxd3!? (11...Nxa2) 12.Qxd3 Bg6 13.Qe2 Qa5 14.b4? (14.a3) 14...Qxa2 15.Rb2 Qa6 16.Nb3 b6 (16...0-0) 17.Bf4 0-0 18.Ra1 Qb7 19.e5? (19.Bg5) 19...dxe5 20.dxe5 c5 (20...Bxb4-+) 21.b5 Qe4? (21...a6) 22.Qxe4 Bxe4 23.Nbd2 Bb7 24.Rba2 Rfd8 25.Rxa7 Rab8 26.Re1 Kf8 27.Bg5? (27.Ng5 Bxg5 28.Bxg5 f6 29.Bh4) 27...Bxg5 28.Nxg5 Nxe5 29.Rxe5 Rxd2 30.Nxe6+!? fxe6 31.Rxe6 Rd1+ 32.Kh2 Bxg2?? (White is clearly winning after this blunder. Double-edged play ensues after 32...Kf7 33.Rxb6 Rd7 34.Kg3 Ke7 35.f4 Kd8 36.Kh4 Rc7 37.g4 Kd7 38.f5 Be4 39.Rxb8 Rxa7) 33.Kxg2 Rd4 34.Ree7 Rxc4 35.Rxg7 (35.Rf7+ Ke8 36.Rxg7 Rf4 37.Rxh7 Rf8 38.h4 is more precise.) 35...Rb4? (35...Rh4) 36.Rxh7 Kg8 37.h4 (White can force a winning K+P ending by playing 37.Rag7+ Kf8 38.Rg3 Rd8 39.Rh8+ Ke7 40.Re3+ Kd7 41.Rd3+ Rd4 42.Rxd4+ cxd4 43.Rxd8+ Kxd8 44.Kf3+-) 37...Rc8 38.h5 (38.Rag7+ Kf8 39.h5 Rh4 40.Rg3 Re8 41.Rh8+ Kf7 42.Rf3+ Kg7 43.Rxe8+-) 38...Rg4+ 39.Kh3 Rg1 40.h6? (After missing several straightforward wins, I play a move that gives Black drawing chances. The correct way is 40.Kh2 Rg4 41.f3 Rg5 42.f4 Rg4 43.Kh3 Rg1 44.Rab7 c4 45.Rhc7 Rxc7 46.Rxc7 Rb1 47.Kg4+-) 40...c4?! (Black should play 40...Rf8 41.Kh2 Rg6 42.Rhg7+ Rxg7 43.Rxg7+ Kh8 44.Rg6 Rxf2+ 45.Kg3 Rf1 46.Rxb6 c4=) 41.Kh2? (This endgame has turned into a comedy of errors. White wins after 41.Rhc7 Rxc7 42.Rxc7 Rh1+ 43.Kg4 Rxh6 44.Kg5 Rd6 45.f4 c3 46.Rxc3 Rd5+ 47.f5 Kf7 48.Rc7+ Ke8) 41...Rg6 42.f4 c3? (Black should play 42...Rc5 threatening mate and forcing 43.f5 Rxf5 44.Rhg7+ Rxg7 45.Rxg7+ Kh8 46.Rc7 Rxb5 47.Rxc4 Rh5+ 48.Kg3 Rxh6 49.Rc7 when he actually comes out a pawn ahead, though of course the position is a draw.) 43.f5 c2?? (Black's last chance is 43...Rg5 44.f6 Rf8 45.Rhg7+ Rxg7 46.fxg7 Rc8 47.Ra1 c2 48.Rc1 Rc3 49.Kg2 Kh7 50.Kf1 Rc8 51.Ke1 Kxh6 52.Rxc2 Re8+ 53.Kd2 Kxg7 54.Rc6 Rb8 55.Kc3 Kf7 56.Kc4 Ke7 57.Kd5 Kd7=) 44.fxg6 c1Q 45.Rag7+ 1-0

I lost a couple more games to Clif on the Black side of the Wing Gambit in October and November 1992 and then we did not face each other in rated play for nearly 10 years. The main reason for the long span between games is that Clif took a hiatus from rated chess between April 1996 and September 2002. I made expert for the first time only months before Clif stopped playing in tournaments and I was a year away from winning my first DCC Championship. By the time he returned, I had won three DCC titles and usually maintained a rating over 2000. Although Clif never won the DCC Championship, on several occasions he played a key role in determining who captured the crown. In 2002, my last round draw with Clif enabled Earle Wikle to catch up with me and share the title. In 2004, I beat Clif in round five in a tough game and then his last round draw with Wikle led to a three way tie for first place between me, Wikle and John Dowling. I played Clif six times in the DCC Championship (1987, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006), scoring three wins, two losses and one draw.

Clif scored 2.5/3 in our first three games after his 2002 comeback. However, after that I won our final 11 encounters. Oddly, he had White in most of our early games, while I had White in eight of those last 11 games. I ended up with nine wins and one loss versus Clif with White and five wins, seven losses and two draws with Black. Our final rated game was a typically hard fought battle:

David Friedman (2015) - Clif Rowan (1700) [B07]

1492 Open 10/7/06 (1)

1.e4 d6 2.d4 a6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bd3 g6 5.0-0 Bg7 6.c4 Bg4 7.Be3 0-0 8.Nc3 Nc6 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Qxf3 Qd7 11.Rad1 Rfd8 12.Qe2 Qe8 13.f4 e6 14.Qf2 Ne7 15.e5 (15.f5! and White has an assortment of threats on the f-file, the h4-d8 diagonal and against Black's K.) 15...Nd7 16.g4 f5 17.exf6 Nxf6 18.Rde1 Qf7 19.Qe2 Re8 20.Bc2 (20.Bf2) 20...c6 21.Qd2 Kh8 22.Re2 b5 23.c5!? (23.b3) 23...dxc5 24.dxc5 Rad8= 25.Qe1 Ned5 26.Bd4 Nb4 27.Bxf6!? (27.Be5) 27...Qxf6 28.Ne4!? Qd4+ (28...Qxb2 29.Bb3 Nd3 30.Rxb2 Nxe1 31.Re2 Nd3 32.Ng5 Rd7 33.Nxe6) 29.Kg2 Nxc2 30.Rxc2 Qd7? (30...Qd5=) 31.Nd6± Rf8 32.Re2 Qa7 33.b4 a5 34.a3 axb4 35.axb4 Rf6 36.g5 (36.Rxe6 Qa2+ 37.Re2 Qd5+ 38.Kh2 Rdf8 39.f5+-) 36...Rff8 37.Rxe6 Qa2+ 38.Rf2 Qd5+ 39.Qe4 Bc3 40.Qxd5 cxd5 41.Nxb5 Bxb4 42.c6 Rb8 43.Nd6 Bc5 44.c7 Bxf2 (44...Bxd6 45.Rxd6 Rbc8 46.Rd7 Kg8 47.Rb2 d4 48.Rb4 d3 49.Rbd4 Rfe8 50.Rxd3+-) 45.cxb8Q 1-0

I played against Clif as a novice teenager who he outrated by several hundred points and as a club champion adult who outrated him by roughly 300 points but throughout that two decade time span two constants endured: we had mutual respect and we played interesting, hard fought games. Rest in peace, Clif.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Dayton Chess Club Championship: Still Going Strong After Five Decades

This article was originally published in the January/February 2008 issue of the Ohio Chess Connection. I have not changed or updated the text of the article; the accompanying chart was prepared at the time the article was published but it did not appear in print at that time and I have now updated it to include the names of the 2008-2011 champions.

The quest began the first time that I saw the trophy. Each winner of the Dayton (Ohio) Chess Club Championship has his name engraved on metal plates that are mounted on a trophy that dates back to 1959, a lengthy and impressive chess legacy for a mid-sized (and shrinking) Midwest city. When the original trophy had no room for any more names it was attached to a larger base, an addition that took place a few years prior to when I joined the club in 1986. Being both a competitor and a history buff, the first thing that I did after seeing this double-decker trophy was to look at all of the names and count up who had won the championship the most times: Richard Ling, who captured five DCC titles between 1961 and 1973, including three straight from 1965-67. I was one of the weakest players in the club but when I looked at that trophy all I could think about was becoming strong enough to make a run at Ling’s impressive record. This spring I accomplished that goal by winning my sixth DCC title, scoring 5.5/6 against a field that included four other former DCC champions plus two juniors who rank among the top 50 in the country in their respective age groups (Michael Vilenchuk, currently the sixth rated 13 year old at 2038, and Aswath Bommannan, the 33rd rated 10 year old at 1595).

During his final NBA season, Hall of Famer Julius Erving told Tom Callahan, “I've borrowed from every player I've ever seen, from the little guard with the two-hand set shot to the big center with the slam dunk to the forward defending the passing lanes like a free safety.” Similarly, I have borrowed from many of the players who I encountered in my early years at the Dayton Chess Club. For instance, I’ve always despised draws but I used to be downright reckless in my attempts to turn every game into a win, which generally resulted in a decisive result--albeit not always the one that I wanted! I’ll never forget what DCC veteran Robert “Bud” Lytle said after I showed him one of my games in which I disdained a draw and made a wild attempt to win—which resulted in a loss. He shook his head in disgust and declared, “Man, a draw is a half win.” His comment did not completely curb my overly aggressive instincts but it provided a different perspective for me to consider. On another occasion, when I was struggling a bit with my white repertoire, Lytle suggested that I try the King's Indian Attack, which eventually became my main weapon with the white pieces for several years.

Lytle’s name is not on the trophy but I later learned that he came very close to achieving that honor; Ling claimed his final DCC title by beating Lytle in a playoff match after they tied for first place in the tournament. Here is the decisive game from that match (all game scores in this article except for the final one were originally published in various issues of the DCC Review):

Robert "Bud" Lytle - Richard Ling [A54]
1973 DCC Championship Playoff
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 d6 4.Nc3 e5 (The Kevitz-Trajkovic Defense, a favorite of Ling's) 5.e3 a6 6.h3 h6 7.Bd3 Be7 8.d5 Nb8 9.0-0 Nbd7 10.a3 a5 11.e4 Nc5 12.Bc2 0-0 13.Be3 b6 14.Nd2 g5 15.h4!? (This unnecessarily weakens White’s K-side) Ng4 16.Bxc5 bxc5 17.hxg5 hxg5 18.Ne2 Kg7 19.Ng3 Rh8 20.Nf5+?? (After the game, Tony Mantia suggested 20.Nb3=) 20...Bxf5 21.exf5 Rh1+ 0-1
Ling, who was the Ohio co-champion in 1962, was still a very active member of the DCC when I joined. He was known for three things: 1) A remarkable ability to rattle off moves quickly during severe time pressure; 2) an uncanny knack for saving bad positions (often while rattling off moves quickly during severe time pressure); 3) being a gentleman at all times.

I very much enjoyed competing against Ling and then analyzing with him after the games. He never once acted like my questions were stupid or bothersome. At first I was no match for him but eventually I was able to give him a decent game; inevitably, he would get into time pressure, I would move too fast and he would win. As this game from a 1980 simul in Dayton shows, Ling could grasp victory from the jaws of defeat even against a world class opponent:

GM Larry Christiansen - Richard Ling [B29]
1980 Dayton, Ohio Simul
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nc3 Nxc3 5.dxc3 Qc7 6.Bf4 Nc6 7.Bd3 e6 8.Qe2 d5 9.exd6 Bxd6 10.Bxd6 Qxd6 11.0-0-0 Bd7 12.Kb1 Qe7 13.Be4 0-0-0 14.Rd2 Be8 15.Rxd8+ Qxd8 16.Rd1 Qe7 17.b3 Bd7 18.Qb5 Nd8 19.Rxd7 (A nice shot that rips open the position around Black’s K) Qxd7 20.Qxc5+ Qc7 21.Qxa7 Qxc3? (Black should have prevented White’s 22nd move by playing 21...f5 22. Qa8+ Kd7) 22.Bxb7+ Kd7 23.Ba6+ Kd6 24.Bb5 Nc6 25.Bxc6 Kxc6 26.Nd4+ Kd5 27.Qd7+ Kc5 28.Nxe6+!? (White should have played 28. Nf3 and picked off more Ps while Black tries to coordinate his pieces and find shelter for his K) Kb6? (Black should accept the piece by playing 28...fxe6 because he can get a perp if White tries to win the Q or R: 29.Qc7+ Kd4 30.Qxg7+ e5 31. Qxh8 Qe1+) 29.Qd6+ Ka7 30.Nc5 Qa5 31.Qd7+ Kb6 32.Na4+ Ka6 33.Qc6+ Ka7 34.Nc3 Rb8 35.a4 Rd8 36.Kb2 Qe5 37.f4 Qxf4 38.Nb5+ Kb8 39.Ka3 Qe5? (Black should have played 39…Rd1 40. Qb6+ Kc8 41.Qc5+ Kd7) 40.c3? (White could win by playing 41.Qb6+ Kc8 42.Na7+ Kd7 43.Qxd8+! followed by a deadly N fork at c6) f5? (Black should sidestep the aforementioned threat by playing 40…Qe7+) 41.a5? (White again overlooks the winning combination) 41...Rd5 42.Qb6+ Kc8 43.Na7+ Kd7 44.Qc6+ Ke7 45.a6? (White should have played 45.b4, which prevents Black’s next move) Rc5 (Black’s K will now journey to safety while his Q and R conduct a decisive attack) 46.Qb7+ Kf6 47.Qb6+ Kg5 48.Qd8+ Kh5 49.Qd1+ Kg6 50.g4 Ra5+ 51.Kb2 Qxh2+ 52.Kb1 Qa2+ 53.Kc1 Qa1+ (Black wins the Q after 54.Kc2 Ra2+; Fritz helpfully points out that those moves also initiate a mate in nine sequence) 0-1
Ling never talked about why he always got into time pressure or how he so frequently managed to completely outplay his opponents once he got there. Several players frankly told me that the likelihood of ever running Ling out of time was very remote—and this was before the days of Chronos clocks and five second time delay. If you have a good position, don’t even look at the clock, they implored; play the best move that you can find and let him worry about your move and his dwindling time. Of course, they were right but this kind of advice falls into the “easier said than done” category, particularly for a young player who tended to play too fast anyway.

Eventually, I earned my first victory against Ling, surviving his attempted time pressure heroics. We all know that some players deal with defeat—particularly to a lower rated player—better than others but Ling, true to form, was a gentleman. He congratulated me and we analyzed the game together, just like we had on all the previous occasions when he had beaten me. Sadly, on December 11, 1989, he and his wife were killed in a car accident. The DCC Championship trophy was renamed the Richard Ling Memorial Trophy in his honor.

A few years after Ling passed away, Dale Burk joined him as a five-time DCC champion. Burk loved gambits and active piece play and if you were not careful he would blow you right off of the board. He lived in Great Britain for a period of time during the 1970s. Here are a couple typical Burk efforts from that period:

Dale Burk - M. Marshall [B21]
Norfolk Chess League
1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.Nf3 e5 4.c3 dxc3 5.Nxc3 Bb4 6.Bc4 Qc7? (Black should play 6…Qe7) 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7 8.Qb3+ Ke8 9.Qxb4 Nc6 10.Qc4 Nf6 11.0-0 a6 12.Nd5 Qd8 13.Be3 Nxd5 14.exd5 Na5 15.Qe4 b5 16.Qxe5+ Qe7 17.Qc7 Nc4 18.Rfe1 Kf7 19.Ng5+ Kg8 20.h4 Qf8 21.b3 h6 22.bxc4 hxg5 23.Bxg5 bxc4 ("His development is something less than optimum," Burk wryly commented in his annotations) 24.Re7 d6 25.Rae1 Bf5 26.Qxc4 Kh7 27.g3 Rc8 28.Qb4 Bd3 29.Qxd6 Rc2 (Black is of course completely lost but this allows an immediate mate)30.Qh6+ Kg8 31.Rxg7+ Qxg7 32.Re8+ Kf7 33.Qe6# 1-0
Dale Burk - K. Short [B21]
1974 Thetford CC Championship
1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 e6 5.Nf3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Nc6 7.Bc4 Nf6 8.Qe2 Qb6 9.0-0 Na5 10.e5 Nd5 11.Bxd5 Bxc3 12.Bxc3 exd5 13.Qd2 Nc4 14.Qxd5 Qc7 15.Rac1 Nb6 16.Qe4 Qd8 17.Bb4 Na4 18.Bd6 Nb6 19.Nd4 Qg5 20.Nb5 1-0
By the time I joined the DCC, Burk was battling diabetes and other health problems. Sometimes these ailments would prevent him from playing for a while but he would inevitably reappear and often, despite his weakened state, he would perform quite well—but, win or lose, he was always smiling, always quick with a joke and always upbeat. I did not get to interact with him as much as I did with Ling but I found his positive attitude and fighting spirit very inspirational and I certainly learned something new every time I had a chance to play against him or analyze with him.

Burk matched Ling’s record in remarkable fashion, finishing in a three way tie for the 1992 DCC title with an undefeated 4.5/6 score despite being in failing health (I scored 4/6 that year, tying for 4th-5th place and for first place U2000, my best performance yet in the DCC Championship). Burk gained 53 rating points in what turned out to be his DCC swan song; he passed away shortly after this tournament.

It is impossible to mention Ling, Burk and the Dayton Chess Club without also saying something about Tony Mantia, who shared the 1992 championship with Burk, one of Mantia’s four DCC titles. Mantia and Burk were extremely close friends, while the elder Ling served as a mentor figure, particularly for Mantia. Earle Wikle once referred to this trio as the “generals” of Dayton chess and that is a very apt description, because they were fixtures on the local chess scene from the 1960s until the early 1990s. Mantia has a very diverse opening repertoire, the product of his legendarily large personal library of chess books. Many of my early games against him were decided in his favor by clever opening transpositions; somehow, we always seemed to end up in the lines that he wanted to play and he was always a tempo or two ahead of where he was supposed to be. Those experiences sharpened my game immensely.

Mantia is an accomplished correspondence player and, like Burk, a lover of word play; any post-mortem with Burk or Mantia was sure to include numerous puns. Here is a crisp correspondence victory by Mantia:

Isidore Rothman - Tony Mantia [C06]
Golden Knights Semi-Finals 1976
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.Nf4 Nxd4!? (A risky decision. Safer is 9…Qe7) 10.Qh5+ Ke7 11.Ng6+ hxg6 12.exf6+ Nxf6 13.Qxh8 Kf7 14.0-0 e5 15.Nf3 Nxf3+ 16.gxf3 Nh5 17.Qh7 (White should have played 17.Be3 followed by Rac1) Qf6 (White’s Q is completely entombed and his K is in danger) 18.h4? (In boxing terms, White is leading with his face. He should have played 18.Re1) e4 (This nice interference move stops White’s threat at g6 and begins a winning attack) 19.Re1 exd3 20.Bg5 Qxf3 21.Rac1 Qg4+ 22.Kf1 Ng3+ 23.fxg3 Qf3+ 24.Kg1 Qxg3+ 25.Kh1 Qf3+ 26.Kg1 Bc5+ 27.Rxc5 Qg3+ 28.Kh1 Qxe1+ 29.Kg2 Bh3+ 0-1
I won my first DCC title in 1997 and followed that up with victories in 1999, 2000 and 2002. In 2004, Wikle, John Dowling and I shared the title, enabling Wikle and I to join Ling and Burk as five-time champions. Twenty years earlier, Wikle was the first expert level player I had ever met; he and Dr. Harold Wright ran an after school chess club that provided my first serious chess instruction. They would show us some tactics or endgames and then we would practice against them or each other. I relished the chance to compete against a strong player like Wikle. I took a lot of poundings from him but that just showed me what I had to do to improve. Seeing my enthusiasm for the game, Wikle told me about the Dayton Chess Club and set me on the path which led to me becoming a USCF member. We have had many interesting tournament games, including several in various DCC Championships. It was only fitting that in order to win my sixth title I had to face him. We each had 2.5 points going in to our fourth round battle.

David Friedman - Earle Wikle [C00]
DCC Championship 3/30/07
1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Qe2 (Transposing to the King's Indian Attack, Fischer's preferred weapon against the French Defense) 3...Be7 4.g3 c5 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.c3 d4 7.f4 Qc7 8.Nf3 e5 9.0-0 Bd6!? (9...Bg4=) 10.Na3 Bg4 11.h3 Bxf3 12.Qxf3 Nge7 13.Nb5 Qd7 14.cxd4 cxd4 15.Nxd6+ Qxd6 16.Bd2 0-0 17.f5 f6 18.g4 Nd8 19.Rac1 Nf7 20.h4 h6 21.Qg3 Rfc8 22.g5 hxg5 23.hxg5 Nxg5 24.Bxg5 fxg5 25.Qxg5 Qf6 26.Qg3 Rc6 27.Rxc6 bxc6 28.Bf3 Rb8 29.Rf2 Rb5 30.Bd1 Rc5 31.Bb3+ Kf8 32.Rh2 (Stronger is 32.Bc4 a5 [32...Rxc4 33.dxc4 c5 34.Rg2 Kf7 35.Qh3 Ke8 36.a3+-] 33.Qh3 Ng8 34.Rg2 Qh6 35.Qxh6 Nxh6 36.f6 gxf6 37.Rg6 Rxc4 38.dxc4 Ng8 39.Kf2 Kf7 40.Rg3 Nh6 41.Ra3 Ke6 42.Rxa5+-) 32...g6 33.Rh7 Rc1+ (33...gxf5 34.Rf7+ Qxf7 35.Bxf7 Kxf7 36.b4 Rc1+ 37.Kf2 Rc2+ 38.Ke1 f4 39.Qg5 Ke6 40.Qh6+ Kf7 41.Qd6 Ng6 42.Qd7+ Kf6 43.Qxa7±) 34.Kg2 Nd5!? (34...gxf5 35.Rf7+ Qxf7 36.Bxf7 Rc2+ 37.Kf3 fxe4+ 38.dxe4 Kxf7 39.Qxe5 Rxb2 40.Qxd4 Rb7 41.Qd6+-) 35.exd5 Qxf5 36.Qf2 (36.Qf3?? Rg1+ 37.Kxg1 Qxf3 38.dxc6 Qxc6-+) 36...cxd5 37.Bxd5 Ke8 38.Qxf5 gxf5 39.Rxa7 Rc2+ 40.Kf3 Rxb2 41.a4 (This wins but simpler is 41.Be6 f4 42.Ra5 Ke7 43.Rxe5 Kd6 44.Re4 Rh2 45.Bc4+-) 41...e4+ 42.dxe4 d3 43.Bc6+ (43.exf5 d2 44.Ke2 also wins) 43...Kf8 44.Rd7 fxe4+ 45.Kxe4 1-0
After this victory, I defeated two-time champion Dowling in round five before clinching the title with a win over the talented junior Bommannan in the last round; my lone draw came in round three versus Vilenchuk. I am proud to have my name listed on the Richard Ling Memorial Trophy alongside Richard Ling, Dale Burk, Tony Mantia, Earle Wikle, John Dowling and many other fine champions; more than that, my chess career has been enriched immensely because I have had the opportunity to compete against and analyze with them.

DCC Champions, 1959-2011

1959 J. Fink
Most Wins: 8 (Friedman)
1960 H. Fleat

6 (Wikle)

1961 R. Ling

5 (Ling, Burk)
1962 V. Zukaitis

4 (Wolford, Mantia)
1963 D. Wolford

1964 D. Wolford

1965 R. Ling

1966 R. Ling

1967 R. Ling

1968 R. Buchanan

1969 D. Wolford

1970 V. Burk

1971 C. Unruh

1972 D. Wolford

1973 R. Ling

1974 B. Espedal

1975 A. Casden

1976 A. Mantia

1977 A. Mantia

1978 V. Burk

1979 D. Guehl

1980 D. Guehl

1981 B. Beard

1982 V. Burk

1983 V. Burk

1984 J. Jordan

1985 G. Vitko

1986 A. Hood

J. Jordan

E. Wikle

1987 D. Blossom

1988 T. Chou

1989 A. Miravete

1990 R. Springer

1991 M. Chiminiello

1992 V. Burk

A. Mantia

J. Langreck

1993 J. Vehre

1994 A. Mantia

1995 F. Titus

1996 C. Atkins

1997 D. Friedman

1998 M. Fowler

1999 D. Friedman

2000 D. Friedman

2001 E. Wikle

2002 D. Friedman

E. Wikle

2003 C. Atkins

E. Wikle

2004 E. Wikle

D. Friedman

J. Dowling

2005 R. Sprague

M. Kalafatas

J. Dowling

B. Coraretti

2006 R. Sprague

2007 D. Friedman

2008 E. Wikle


J. Dowling

2009 D. Friedman

2010 A. Goldin

2011 D. Friedman

Notes: Dale Burk's given name was Vernon, so that is why
he is listed as "V. Burk" on the trophy; Chiminiello (1991)
changed his surname to Kalafatas (2005).