‘Twas the Week Before Reno

by admin on October 18, 2009

My blog has been a little bit quiet for the last few days. Don’t worry, nothing bad has been happening, I’ve just been busy. However, there has been plenty of news in the chess world. As reported on Chess Life Online and lots of other places, Jerry Hanken, one of the elder statesmen of U.S. chess, died earlier this month. Michael Aigner, aka f-pawn, had a very funny story about Jerry in his blog. I am going to record a lecture in honor of Jerry for ChessLecture tomorrow, in which I will shamelessly steal from Michael’s blog. I hope that’s okay!

I met Jerry relatively recently, when I played him in a tournament at the Mechanics Institute in 2007. Of course, I knew who he was long before then (who didn’t?), but we had never managed to face each other over the board. The game was, I think, a fairly typical Hanken game, which is to say a complicated tactical mess, but then he hung a piece and that pretty much ended the game.

After that I had a few conversations with Jerry last year. After Bobby Fischer died I was thinking about trying to write a magazine article about the aborted Fischer-Reshevsky match in 1961, which seemed to me to be one of the least publicized aspects of Fischer’s celebrated career. I soon found out that one of my best sources of information was going to be Jerry Hanken, because he was Fischer’s chauffeur during the Los Angeles stage of the match. I am sure he would have had lots of great stories to tell and lots of insight into the character of Fischer as a teenager. Jerry said that he would tape record some of his memories for me, but to my knowledge he never did. I lost interest in the story after pitching it to a national magazine and being told, in effect, that no one wanted to read anything more about Fischer. Also, I kind of felt I was intruding on a story that was really Jerry’s to tell. So it never happened, and now the opportunity is lost forever.

Other chess news is that the U.S. Chess League is in full swing. I have not been paying a whole lot of attention to it, I’m afraid, but I played through a few games from week five and really liked the finish of this game between Jonathan Schroer and Eugene Perelshteyn. The game itself was not so great – Perelshteyn sacked a pawn most likely unsoundly, then Schroer just gave away the exchange for no reason whatsoever, but then Perelshteyn let Schroer’s a-pawn start running. So we arrived at this position, with Black to play his 38th move. Obviously Black is still in trouble, but he has managed to create some nasty looking threats with “Alekhine’s gun” (tripled rooks and queen) on the g-file. But it looks as if White, with 38. Qb2, has everything defended. What can Black do?

I love Perelshteyn’s solution, which is not what the computer recommends but definitely the best way to stir up trouble. When you’re in a lost or bad position, that is your biggest objective — to stir up trouble, to make your opponent worry, to put pressure on him.

Here’s a hint: What Black piece is not yet participating actively in the attack?

The move Perelshteyn played was 38. … Bxh3! Now, as it turns out, this is probably not enough to save the game if White plays accurately. White should just ignore the kingside and play 39. a7, threatening to queen his pawn. After the forced sequence 39. … Qxg2+ 40. Qxg2 Rxg2+ 41. Rxg2 Bxg2, White can play 42. Nf6 Ra8 43. Kxg2 Rxa7 44. Nfd7. The knight is bound for e5, and White’s knights will dominate the board. But Black may still have drawing chances if he can manage to win White’s last two pawns, even at the cost of his rook, thus reaching a drawn K+2N vs. K ending.

I’m not sure whether Schroer saw all this and wanted a clearer way to win, or whether he just underestimated Perelshteyn’s attack. Anyway, he took the bishop sacrifice: 39. Kxh3?? Qf5+ 40. Kh2 h3! 41. gh? (Loses quickly, but White was probably losing in any event.)

Can you see how Black finishes White off? No credit for 41. … Rh7, because it allows 42. d5+.

Here’s a hint again. As I’ve mentioned on ChessLecture, there are many times in chess when you want to play Move A followed by Move B. The two moves would be absolutely killing, except your opponent has one lucky defense. In that case, you should always think about playing Move B first, then playing Move A.

And that’s what Perelshteyn did here. He played 41. … Qxh3+!! and Schroer actually allowed him to complete the mate-in-two with 42. Kxh3 Rh7 mate. (Must have been a time scramble.)

This is just a terrific lesson in how to win a game that seemed to be lost. It’s also a nice example of “parting with the lady,” a theme that was always one of Jerry Hanken’s favorites. His idea was that queen sacrifices are always especially difficult to see and especially shocking to the opponent.

None of what I’ve written so far has anything to do with the title of my post! Well, next weekend I’m going to Reno for the Western States Open, which is usually the biggest event of the year on my chess calendar. Hopefully I will play with Jerry Hanken’s adventurous spirit and Eugene Perelshteyn’s tactical opportunism and refusal to give up.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

AJ October 19, 2009 at 2:35 pm

I too spent time talking to Mr. Hanken about Fischer. Fascinating to hear the stories about the time he was hanging out with Fischer. Fischer was apparently a blitz player without equal. Jerry relayed his impression to me about Fischer strength in blitz as compared to Yasser Seirwan. Apparently Jerry played some blitz vs Yasser at a Lone Pine tourny and it was no comparison. Yasser is good but Fischer was much better per Jerry. Fischer would move nearly instantaneously at every move while Yasser would pause from time to time during a game.

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Jim Krooskos October 22, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I enjoyed your recent lecture regarding Jerry at Chess Lecture!

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