Russian Superfinals

by admin on January 11, 2008

A couple weeks ago the Russian Superfinals finished. It was a wonderfully hard-fought tournament, with fewer than 50% draws in the men’s bracket and an even smaller percentage on the women’s side. Alexander Morozevich won the men’s tournament with a score of 8-3 (including two losses!) and Tatiana Kosintseva won the women’s with a 7-4 record (also with two losses).

An extremely interesting moment in the men’s tournament came in the penultimate round, when Alexander Grishchuk defeated Andrei Rychagov in a 100-move marathon. (The win brought him within ½ point of Morozevich, who earlier had led by 1½ points.) Grishchuk and Rychagov entered a rarely-seen pawnless endgame, King + Rook + Bishop versus King + Rook. This endgame is a theoretical draw, but in practice it’s extremely difficult to play accurately. The pawnless endgame began at move 59, so Rychagov had to reach move 109 without getting checkmated or losing his rook. Unfortunately he made a critical mistake at move 96, and resigned because at move 102 he was going to have to give up the rook to avoid checkmate.

Interestingly, there were several times between moves 90 and 100 where Rychagov could have reached positions that were theoretically lost, but where he could (with best play) prolong the game well past the move-109 cutoff. Back in the old days before computers, we never would have suspected this, but using the computer tablebases you can now see that the position went back and forth from drawn to “lost-but-drawable-under-the-50-move-rule” several times. It’s either humbling or reassuring (take your pick) to see that even grandmasters do not understand this endgame.

Could you have drawn the game if you were in Rychagov’s shoes? You can play the game out and see. Even better, go to Ernest Hong’s blog. He put up a wonderful long entry a couple days ago that analyzes the R+B versus R endgame, walking you through a study by Philidor and the Rychagov-Grishchuk game. After I’ve thought about his analysis, maybe I’ll post a followup comment here (or even do a lecture on it!). Just to whet your curiosity, he argues that if the defending king has been driven back to the first rank, it is better off on a knight or bishop file than on the king or queen file — which is exactly the reverse of most endgames, where you would rather have your king closer to the center.

Another interesting thing happened in an early round of the women’s Superfinals. One of the contestants received a cell-phone call during the game, and she was immediately forfeited! I was surprised to read about this drastic punishment. Apparently it surprised the spectators, too, and the arbiter had to write an article on explaining that according to FIDE’s current rules he had no option. The mandatory forfeit was instituted because of the belief that cell phones could be used to cheat, even if the player doesn’t answer the phone.

What do you think about this rule? I’ve never seen such a harsh punishment in the U.S. I don’t think that the USCF has a clear-cut rule on cell phones, so it is pretty much at the tournament director’s discretion. For example, in the Nevada tournaments that I play in, the rule is that if your cell phone rings, you get 10 minutes deducted or half your remaining time, whichever is less. I think a second offense might be grounds for forfeit.

Basically, there are two issues here. First, a cell-phone call is annoying, not only to your opponent but to every other player. That is, as I interpret it, the main reason for the time penalty. However, annoying behavior is not sufficient justification for forfeiting a player, at least the first time it happens. So the only justification for such a harsh punishment is the possibility of cheating.

However, one could use the same argument to ban just about anything else, such as eating yogurt during a game. Remember how Korchnoi once accused Karpov of receiving signals that were encoded by the flavor of yogurt he received? Instead of banning yogurt, cell phones, visits to the toilet, etc., what I really think we need to ban is cheating, and the arbiter should be left with sufficient discretion to determine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that cheating has occurred. The simple ringing of a cell phone is not enough. The ringing of a player’s cell phone, followed by his hurried departure from the tournament hall while his clock is still running, would raise a lot more suspicions.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Carina January 12, 2008 at 11:20 am

Judging by the way I handled my last “theoretically drawn” endgame, I’d probably lose the R+K vs RKB one in a dozen moves.. sadly. 😆 Please do a lecture on it! I’m sure my endgame books say something on it, too, but they’re so far down my reading list. I’ll just have to lose games until I read them. 🙂

About the cell phone rule, we have that in Denmark. I love the rule, never questioned it. But that’s probably because unlike most people, my cellphone isn’t carried around with me (I think it’s an annoying thing). Since we’ve had the rule for a long time, I’ve never questioned it. Without thinking about it, I’d say it’s only fair to forfeit the game because it’s so annoying for everyone when it calls, like in the movies. But when thinking about it.. maybe forfeit is a little bit harsh.. But if the rule isn’t harsh, will people then remember it? Imagine if cellphones were ringing frequently because everone forgot they had brought it with them. I admit, sometimes I have paranoia and doublecheck my pockets to make sure the cellphone hasn’t jumped into them by itself. Maybe that’s a bigger distraction (suble worrying) than having one call once in a while, I dunno.

But I still like the rule, if only because it makes me pray my opponents phone goes off. 😆 Especially if we’re reaching a drawn endgame..


dribbling January 13, 2008 at 2:53 am

After having been recruited to play for Ajedrez Madrid, I decided I owed it to my team mates to learn how to mate with Bishop and Knight, and so I did; after some failed tries I mated the Genius chess program twice in a row starting with the worst possible position for me. Lo and behold, I now “knew” how to deliver the Bishop + Knight mate.

Couple of years later I was in a tournament sitting across the board from a very young man who had had a lost position for the last 15 moves or so but was grimly hanging in there – talk about “infinite resistance.” Three of my team mates – two women and one man – were watching, while his audience was even larger: three very pretty girls and two boys, all of them teenagers. Largest “crowd” that ever watched one of my games, I think.

I had Bishop, Knight and two united pawns for his lone Bishop. The young man had gone into a rather long think, so I looked at him only to discover that he wasn’t looking at the board he was staring at me, sizing me up. I immediately looked back at the board and saw what was coming, and it did, he gave up his piece for my two pawns and – addressing his audience – explained: “one of two, either he knows or he doesn’t know”.

I immediately extended my hand, which the boy shook without looking at me and told his friends: “See? What did I tell you? It was 50-50, turns out he doesn’t know.” The three teen aged couples went chattering merrily on their way.

My brother team mate took it in his stride (Good. Let’s go for beers) but my sisters were another story altogether (My, oh my, oh my, why’d you have to do that? Just downright silly. Why?)

The fear of making a fool of myself in front of eight people, five of them women, obviously had a lot to do with it, but I strongly believe that human behavior causality can never be explained in terms of one single factor. I can tell you what I unthinkingly replied to my two sisters though: “He deserved it.”


DuWayne Langseth May 5, 2008 at 6:35 am

Here’s a great web site for understanding basic endgames. Amazing how the game of chess is slowly being solved from the end forward.

DuWayne Langseth


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: