Johannes Zukertort

This week I’ve been reading some old volumes of the magazine “Chess” from the 1940s looking for interesting positions and stories. I was struck in particular by an article on Johannes Zukertort, a famous German chess player from the late 19th century.  I know that chess players have a reputation for being “smart” but Zukertort was much more than that. He was a medical doctor who could speak 9 languages, fought in many battles winning medals and awards, and could play 16 chess games simultaneously blindfolded. At the great tournament London 1883 Zukertort started by winning 22 of his first 23 games (shades of Bobby Fischer) and ended up winning by 3 points in front of Steinitz. He was a little man with a big head (as was Steinitz) and the statistic which appealed to me most was that they weighed his brain after he died and found it weighed 62 ounces (compared with an average male brain of 48 ounces). This was apparently the second largest brain recorded to that time!

Now I now that you will all be straining to rush out and weigh your own brain to see if you can match Zukertort, but before you do that let’s exercise your mental muscles to ensure that your brain is pumped before the “weigh in”.

Today’s puzzle is taken from one of my student’s games from the Noble Park Open. I’ve recently been emphasising “tactics” and the need for players to look at all checks and captures before deciding upon their move and in the position below White is certainly in need of a good tactic. He is going to be a piece down after his opponent recaptures on c5 …. but which piece should Black recapture with? Fortunately for White Black made the wrong choice and Ryan was able to finish off the game with a nice combination. Can you make the correct recapture and see what happens if Black takes with the wrong piece?

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Now that the Zonal tournament in Fiji has finished and our players have returned home with their new titles attention turns to local tournaments.

The Victorian Championships started last week. Unfortunately James Morris is unable to defend his title as he is still in rehabilitation recovering from his traffic accident however a good field turned up to contest the Championships. IM Bobby Cheng is clear favourite but it will be interesting to see how Zonal heroes Ari Dale and Justin Tan fare in this strong, round-robin tournament. The first round featured one very amusing finish where David Hacche had a rook and two pawns against two Knights and one pawn – should be an easy draw but Hacche managed to get his King trapped on the side of the board and ended up losing by one tempo.

Another local event is the Box Hill Club Championships which has the added bonus of having 5 dgt boards to demonstrate the top games live every Friday night. For today’s puzzle I’m going to show you a position from one of Laurence Matheson’s games. We’ve been discussing how Victoria’s better juniors are going at the moment and what they need to do to keep improving. “Imagination” was his emphatic reply. Not many kids have good chess imagination but rather just rely on calculation or knowing their openings well. He’s probably right. I tested my on-line squad last night with two games involving a queen sacrifice and only two players had the imagination to look at the sacrificial move and see that it was good. That’s why I tell my students to “look at all checks and captures” but that is easier said than done. Also not all chess combinations involve a check or a capture, for instance it could be a zugswang or interference theme that wins the game.

So let’s test your imagination with today’s puzzle. Black is threatening Nc2 but White is a pawn ahead. What should white play now?

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As I’m writing this post three Australian players are fighting hard to try to achieve an International Master title at the Oceania Zonal tournament in Fiji. With the last round in progress Igor Bjelobrk is leading the tournament with 6.5/8 but has black against GM Johansen who is on six points. On board 2 Justin Tan has 6 points also but must beat IM Illingworth to be sure of the title and likewise on board 3 Ari Dale has six points but must beat IM Lane. One or all of these players could be IMs before the day is over depending on how the results fall.

The International Master title is one level below the Grandmaster title and gaining an IM title secures you free entry into most chess tournaments plus recognition that your chess standard has reached around 2450 rating. Normally it takes a player 3 good tournament results to be awarded an IM title but exception is made for Zonal tournaments where the winner or highest ranked player scoring 6/9 or better who is not already an IM may win the title. These can be regarded as “soft” IM titles as sometimes players well below 2450 standard have won a title in this way. With juniors this is usually only a temporary problem and someone like James Morris, who won his title at a zonal, soon improves to reach the required standard.

Justin and Ari are only about 15 or 16 years of age and are rated well below 2450 but they are very keen and play in many tournaments. Their playing strength has been steadily increasing and should they achieve their titles in Fiji I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before they are of true IM standard.

Our current top player GM Zhong-Yuan Zhao won his IM title at the age of 14 years at the Zonal in 2000 when he was probably not yet of true IM standard. Indeed I remember at the 2001 Australian Junior he was wandering around the analysis room and challenged me to a few games of lightning chess. No doubt he thought that he could easily beat an old, retired IM but after losing 4 games in a row he had had enough! Back in my day and earlier it was really something special to be an IM, and when the FIDE titles were introduced in 1950 there were only 27 grandmasters and 94 International Masters in the world. IM Bob Wade from England, who was one of the original IMs was offered an honorary GM title when he was an old man but he declined the offer. His original IM title he claimed was worth much more than a current GM title.

STOP PRESS: Ari has just won his game so it looks like he will be an IM and Justin is better in his game!

Perhaps you would like to see a sample of IM(elect) Ari’s play? Here is a nice finish from one of his games at Box Hill last year. Black to play and win.

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Rebecca Strickland wins April RJ Shield

Last Sunday was our monthly RJ Shield Tournament so I rocked up to the Bentleigh Tournament to find we had 56 keen young chess players and assorted parents at the tournament. An excellent roll-up. The tournament was very close with the two leaders going into the final round, Max and Gai, both losing thereby allowing Rebecca Strickland to storm home and win her first RJ Shield title after finishing so close in the past.

I think my “Find the Grandmaster Move” challenge at the tournament went very well and we may make it a feature at RJ Shields in the future. I set up a demo board with a position from Short v Zhao and invited all the players to find the “grandmaster move” and write it down next to their name. There was a lot of discussion and analysis between the rounds, but in the finish only one player correctly guessed Black’s next move – Max Phillips. Max won a chess t-shirt and can perhaps boast that he is now the player most likely to become a grandmaster.

Speaking of brilliant grandmaster moves, my attention was recently drawn to a website which boasted “The 110 best chess moves of all time.” I’ve been playing through the games and there are indeed some spectacular ideas on display. Some of course are famous positions and some I have seen before, but there are many new ones to test your imagination. Recently I’ve been focusing in my chess lessons on trying to have my students think “outside the square” and look at the big picture, as well as the moves in front of them at the moment, so I now have heaps of new material.

Perhaps you, dear reader, would like to test your imagination and see if you can find one of the greatest moves of all time?
The one I’ve chosen is an old favourite of mine which I’m sure you will enjoy if you haven’t seen it before. Black to play.

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