The excitable Mr. Odessky

by admin on February 19, 2008

Another of the great pleasures of is one of their regular writers, an international master named Ilya Odessky. I’ve found myself laughing out loud at his comments more often than any other chess writer I know. For an English-language comparison, think of Andy Soltis, but with more attitude.

I’ll try to translate some of his witticisms into English. For starters, he wrote a twelve-page article about his favorite opening, which he calls the “Litus Gambit.” The opening begins: 1. b3 d5 2. Bb2 Bg4!? 3. f3!? Bh5 (or … Bf5, it doesn’t matter) 4. e4!?

Odessky writes,

“I simply love this position, it’s my favorite little monster, or something. Some people, undoubtedly, love bulldogs for the same reason. Others love abstract painting…”

Then Odessky explains the reasoning behind these moves. For a person who plays 1. b3, he says, 2. … Bg4 has always been one of the most annoying responses. If you play 3. Nf3, Black immediately trades the bishop for the knight and doubles the f-pawns. The normal way to avoid the doubling of pawns is to play 3. g3 Nd7 4. Bg2 c6 5. Nf3. Here is Odessky’s insanely roundabout explanation of why he would never dream of playing this way as White:

“For my entire schoolboy life I studied in the 22nd Sports School [in Moscow]. I had my first operation in second grade. A handball player from grade 9 “A” kicked me in the stomach with his foot, so adroitly that I had internal bleeding. I went “oh,” sat down and couldn’t get back up. They called the ambulance. They packed me in and took me to Polyanka. Then there was a whole adventure.

In the children’s hospital they neatly cut my stomach open and placed a tube into it, and with an unbelievably huge (to my eyes) syringe they started to infuse some kind of liquid to dissolve away the hematoma. The hematoma didn’t dissolve, the liquid continued to go in, and by evening I looked like a dirigible, like the ones in the newsreels around 1941, only with little arms and legs. And I didn’t fly.

The next morning my father came to visit me, B. N. Odessky. Seeing a household model of a dirigible where his son should have been, papa got very upset and went to the 22nd school to seek justice. First he sought out G. M. Zeltser, the teacher of class 9 “A”. [The two of them] unbelievably quickly found a common language, when G. M. told B. N. that he had nothing against one kid putting another kid on crutches, but in no way and under no circumstances would he tolerate having the victim crippled …

The 22nd school was full of stories like this. Forewarned was forearmed, and anyone who wasn’t forewarned was an easy target. God forbid that any unknown boy would happen to appear at our school at recess time! Within fifteen minutes [our kids] would work him over so thoroughly that they would completely beat the memories out of the kid’s skull — along with any desire ever to visit our school again …

Well, Odessky goes on like this quite a while, but let’s get to the point:

On Fotieva Street, on one tiny city block, four schools formed a square. In the corner “a1” was the 2nd physics-mathematics school, one of the most famous schools in Moscow, and possibly in the whole country. The smartest children, tender, weak of constitution, went to that school as if it were their home, and stewed there in their own sauce; the athletes saw them as geniuses and future Nobel Prize winners, so they didn’t tease them and in general didn’t even touch them, preferring not to notice they were there. Six squares away along the file was our 22nd school, which was right next to a police precinct. On the right along the rank, on the square “h8,” was the well-known 4th school. That was where Katya Lycheva and other celebrity children studied. [Katya Lycheva was a 12-year-old Russian girl who wrote a letter to President Reagan and subsequently went to the U.S. on a propaganda-friendly tour for peace. No one on the Internet seems to know what ever became of her. – DM] And diagonally opposite us was one other school. It was the most ordinary possible school. I don’t even remember its number, even though I studied next door for 10 years.

So why am I telling you all this? In order to make it clear: having played 1. b3(!) d5 2. Bb2 Bg4, to play something like 3. g3 Nd7 4. Bg2 c6 5. Nf3 would be like transferring in the middle of the school year away from our beloved 22nd school of juvenile delinquents, and transferring to neither the 2nd school of geniuses nor even the 4th school of well-off kids, but into that other school that has neither a name, nor a number, nor any legendary history. Do you understand now?”

So… we’re supposed to play 3. f3 Bh5 4. e4 because it’s the juvenile delinquent thing to do. That works for me! Then Odessky shows us some of his favorite games with this line. Here are the first four games he played with it at (all blitz games, of course):

Odessky – Schmidt: 4. … de 5. Qe2 Nc6 6. Qb5 Bg6 7. Qxb7 Na6 8. Bb5+ resigns

Odessky – Wendt: 4. … de 5. Qe2 Nc6 6. Qb5 Bg6 7. Qxb7 Nd4 8. Bxd4 Qxd4 9. Bb5+ resigns

Odessky – Butterfly 1: 4. … de 5. Qe2 Nf6 6. Qb5+ Nbd7 7. Bxf6 resigns

Odessky – SpaceKnight: 4. … de 5. Qe2 Nf6 6. Qb5+ Qd7 7. Qxb7 c6 8. Qxa8 Nd5 9. Qxb8+ resigns

Four wins in under 10 moves! Wow! Then he shows us a couple of games where he smashes well-known players with it, GM Iosif Dorfman and GM Yasser Seirawan.

“Seirawan’s flag fell and he demanded a rematch. [I’d give him] a fig maybe, but not a chance for revenge! For the next half hour the only thing I did was write e-mails to my friends: “I beat Seirawan! I beat Seirawan!” They calmed me down the best they could.”

So now the excitable Mr. Odessky has been assigned to cover the Aeroflot Open. The first thing he writes about is the theory of refreshments at the opening ceremony. He shows a picture of a well-stocked banquet table, in a hall where no one has even arrived yet:

“A most civilized idea: Hold the ceremonial opening in a hall where the food is already laid out. It will greatly decrease the length of the official speeches. But an even more civilized idea is to bring out the food in parallel with the official ceremony. That’s exactly how they did it at the closing ceremony of the first Russian Superfinal in 2004. One dignitary after another was coming onto the stage, while in the rear of the hall, in front of everyone’s eyes, nothing was turning into something. The clinking of bottles and the clattering together of knives and forks sounded like the third bell at the theater. (And I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful smells…) Never before or since have I seen such short speeches, or such enthusiastic applause, full of approbation… That was the ideal ceremony.”

I can only imagine! In the U.S., thankfully, we don’t usually have opening ceremonies and we definitely don’t have closing ceremonies, because everyone is eager to get out of town after a weekend Swiss. So we don’t have to sit through speeches. On the other hand, tournaments with complimentary food are also very rare in this country. I guess you sacrifice and you get compensation — if you want food, you’ve got to sit through a few speeches.

After that Odessky shows a few photographs of the participants. It turns out he’s not a very good photographer. First there’s a picture where Anatoly Karpov and Bachar Kouatly seem to be butting their foreheads together like two rams. Right below it is a picture of Vladimir Akopian, the highest-rated player in the tournament, apparently getting smacked in the face by Gert Gijssen, the chief arbiter. He isn’t really, of course — Gijssen is just gesticulating, and Akopian happens to be sitting behind his hand.

But, as Shakespeare said, all’s well that ends well. The very last picture in the article is our intrepid reporter himself, chowing down on an appetizer with a great big grin on his face.

I’m going to look forward to the rest of the coverage of the Aeroflot Open!

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