Saturday, August 17, 2013

In Memorium: Alla Kushnir, 1941-2013

Source: Davar, June 29th, 1977, p. 9.

Alla Kushnir, the top Israeli female chess players for many years, has passed away this Aug. 3rd. Both the Israeli Chess Federation and Tel Aviv University (both links in Hebrew) praise her highly. Why Tel Aviv University? Because that's where she served as a world-renowned professor of Numismatics after she had, in the late 70s, given up chess for the academic world.

Like Philidor, if we may make the comparison, she truly excelled in two different fields (music, of course, was Philidor's second field; indeed according to the Oxford Companion to Chess, he saw it as his true vocation, chess as a mere hobby). It is not often that we meet people who are world-class achievers in two totally different fields. 

Among her chess achievements were to play three times in a match for the women's world championship (losing to Nona Gaprindashvilliand once in the (women's) candidates' final (losing to Maia Chiburdanidze). She also won the gold medal with the Israeli team in the 1976 Olympiad in Haifa, with a nearly clean score of 7.5/8, astonishing even considering the fact that the eastern block, for political reasons, did not participate. Her overall Olympiad record (in three women's Olympiad -- the 4th, 5th, and 7th -- for both the USSR and Israel) is the equally impressive +21 =4 -0.  

A frequent correspondent of ours had noted that an extremely interesting interview with her in Davar (from which the above photo is taken, link in Hebrew) has some interesting material about chess in the days of the "Iron Curtain". Among the more interesting questions:

Q: Is there a difference between "female" and "male" chess?

A: There were joint tournaments from the beginning, but once I started to play for championships, the sexes were separated.

Q: Was the separation, then, for no good reason?

A: Not exactly. Since there are 20-30 boys for every girl who plays, it's easier for a girl to reach achievements in the protected "women's only" field. This has traditional reasons. But it's not because women play differently than men -- it's just a matter of playing level. I, for example, can play with male masters in international tournaments; there is no difference, they make the same mistakes...

Q: Why was it crucial for your husband to accompany you to the [Women's] Interzonal in Holland, half a year ago? [Kushnir won both first prize and the best game prize there, as is noted in the Interview -- A.P.]

A: It was the first tournament where I would play Soviet players since I left the USSR. It happened before that when the Soviets were in a bad situation in such matches, they used real terrorism -- diplomatic pressure, various threats, and "nerve terror" -- which put the player in such a nervous state they lose because they cannot concentrate. 

Q: How do they do it?

A: Phone calls in the middle of the nights, threats of the "when you'll come home we'll take care of you" if home is in a country behind the Iron Curtain, as they did to a Russian player which married a Bulgarian ... my husband worked for a year in the USSR ... he knows how to speak with them, if one has to. 

In honor of her, we give here a game that caused quite a sensation at the time -- her defeat (as White) of Larry Evans in Lone Pine, 1975, being featured, inter alia in the July 1975 Chess Life and Review (the source for this claim is this blog -- I do not have a copy of this article -- with another photo of Ms. Kushnir). Allegedly, Bobby Fischer called Evans to ask him how such a fiasco could have happened -- although, like so many "Fischer stories", this one needs to be taken with a big grain of salt. 

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. Nf3 g6 7. Bg5 Bg7 8. e3
h6 9. Bh4 O-O 10. Nd2 b6 11. Be2 Ba6 12. a4 Qe7 13. O-O Bxe2 14. Qxe2 Nbd7 15.
f4 Rfe8 16. Rae1 Nf8 17. e4 Qd7 18. Qf3 N6h7 19. Nc4 

19. ... Bxc3? 

Fritz consider this the decisive mistake.

20. bxc3 f6 21. f5 g5 22. Bg3

22. ... Qxa4!?

At first sight, this looks like the last nail in the coffin -- moving the queen away from the scene of the action, as well as allowing Black's obvious next move. In fact this is not a blunder, but played deliberately. Evan's plan is to liquidate the center at the cost of some material, hoping for a draw. However, Black was already lost according to the computer's analysis. 

23. Nxd6 Re7 24. e5 Rxe5

Trying to liquidate the center at the cost of material but, again, it's too late. 

 25. Bxe5 fxe5 26. f6 Qd7 27. Nf5 Kh8 28. Nxh6 Re8 29. Qh5 e4 30. Nf7+ Kg8 31. Nh6+ Kh8 32. c4 

Fritz sees here a forced mate in 13, starting with 32. Rf5, which Kushnir "missed", but of course Black is lost in any case. 

32. ... e3 33. Nf5 a6 34. Ne7 b5 35. Rxe3 bxc4 36. Qf7 Black resigns (1-0). Mate is unavoidable.  

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