Monday, December 31, 2012

Memories of a 3500 Player (for New Year's Eve)

(Yes, this post has nothing to do with Jews -- but I am allowed one such post a year, am I not?)

First, I would like to apologize for the lack of updating of this blog for a while, for personal reasons. I hope to get better soon at it.

Second, I am the 3500+ player in question. Well, not really. My rating is, let us say, significantly below 2000. But, if all the chess books I have had fulfilled their promise -- "will raise your rating by 50 / 100 / 200 points" -- then, put together, they should have made me at least a 3500, if not a 5000, player. It is a mystery to me as to why this is not the case.

There really ought to be a law about books that promise such rating increase. It almost never happens. But what is more, it completely misses the point. Suppose there was some simple trick -- say, a sure-fire way to make sure you never ever hang a piece or a pawn -- that made it possible for you to beat all mediocre players, and thus make you by default a "master" player. Would this make you a good player? Certainly not! You would win a lot of rating points, sure -- by waiting for your mediocre opponents to blunder. But you would not really know chess any better.

It is simply absurd that amateur players are so concerned about their meaningless rating. What difference did it ever make for an amateur to be rated, say, 1400 instead of 1800? I challenge anybody to give me one instance where it made any difference, apart for one's ego.

If it were up to me, I would simply cancel the rating system for anybody below FM strength. The advantage -- easier to fit people with similar skill -- seems to me to be far outweighed by the disadvantages, namely, that most amateurs consider actually playing the game to be a bother, a necessary distraction on the way towards the REAL goal, raising one's rating from 1625 to 1677.

Is this not absurd? Would it not be much better if amateur players simply played the game -- and get a lot stronger -- than "protect" their (meaningless) rating? What's more, rating stops improvement. Instead of players trying to learn, say, new openings, or trying to play in ways they are weak in so as to eliminate their weaknesses (say, positional players deliberately going for tactical complications and vise versa), they prefer to settle for the same-old, same-old, so as not to risk losing games and "hurt their rating" -- damning them to never, ever improve significantly... not to mention, never actually enjoying the richness of the game.

After all, the vast majority of us will never play as well as the top players. But surely the whole point is to sample the richness of the game of chess -- even if we risk losing? It is one thing if, say, Bobby Fischer has a "secret weapon" in the Sicialin Najdorf to unleash against other top GMs, or for Petrosian to prefer a prophylactic, positional style. We say they played like that because they could play any sort of position very well, only they preferred specific styles when possible. It is something completely different than for an amateur to be deathly afraid to play the Sicilian (for example) because he simply had no idea about tactics, and thus is afraid to lose rating points!

This is not a player who has a "positional style" -- this is a player who doesn't know how to play chess, period.  Had he learned to play tactically, as well, and then found out that he prefers positional play, even on a lower lever than the top players (of course), that is one thing. But saying your style is "positional" because you don't know tactics, or to claim your style is "aggressive" because you do not know the simplest rook endings and therefore must do or die with sacrificial attacks, is meaningless. It's fooling yourself -- because you are afraid to lose games when you try to improve. And why do you fear to lose games? Because, oh heaven, you might lose rating points.

My new year's wish? Elimination of the rating system for all but the world's top 1%, or 0.1%.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Game from the First-Ever (1929) "Championship"? Apparently not...

Sometimes, one finds unknown games that are worth presenting. Here is a game played between Stavsky and Gildberg (ph. spelling), published in Doar Hayom on Feb. 8th 1929.

The interesting point, apart from the game itself, is that Stavsky, White, is identified as the "Palestinian Champion". Usually the first Palestinian championship is given as having taken place in 1936 (won by Czerniak; see here for Hebrew-language link.) However, it is sometimes said that there was an earlier, 1929 such tournament took place. If so, it is possible that Stavsky had won it.

As for the game itself: could it be from that championship? Doar Hayom merely notes, unfortunately, that Stavsky sent them the game. No venue is suggested. However, it just might be one of the games played in that championship -- due to the very fact that it was recorded, a rare event in the 1920s in Palestine. If so, then 50 years after an effort was made to find game scores from the tournament without success (as the link above about the 1929 tournament notes), this might, just possibly, the first game of the championship to ever emerge.

Edited to add: a reader notes that Doar Hayom reported Stavsky as participating in the Tel Aviv city championship of 1928 (link in Hebrew) on Oct. 16th, 1928. It seems, based on the dates, that this is the championship in question, and not any "Palestine Championship". Ah well!

The annotations are credited, with thanks, to Shahar Gindi.

Event:  Championship of Palestine (1929)? Tel Aviv Championship 1928
White: Stavsky
Black: Gildberg
ECO: B44
Annotator: Shahar Gindi

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5.Bd3 Not the most popular move, but definitely playable. 5... Nc6 6. Be3 6. Nxc6 is most often played. 6... d5! =  7. Nxc6 bxc6 8. e5 Nd7 9. f4 Be7 Passive. A nice option for Black here is 9...Ba6! using tactics to get rid of his own bad bishop and White's best attacking piece: 9... Ba6! 10. Bxa6 Qa5+ 11. Nd2 Qxa6 =.

10. O-O O-O 11. Nd2 Re8 Passive, but still playable.12. Bxh7+? Too speculative. 12. Qh5 g6 13. Qg4; or 12. Rf3 c5 13. Bxh7+ Kxh7 14. Rh3+ Kg8 15. Qh5 f5 and White at least has a draw. 12... Kxh7 13. Qh5+ Kg8 14. Rf3 g6 15. Qg4 Kg7 16. Rh3 c5  Stavsky gives this move a "?", and indeed it is more to the point to play a defensive move, but it's far from losing. However, 16... Rh8! leaves White with very little for the sacrificed material.

17. f5 exf5 18. Bh6+ Kg8 19. Qf4 Bb7 20. Nf3 20. Bg7 doesn't work: 20. ... Bg5! -+ (20... Kxg7?? 21. Qh6+ Kg8 22. Qh8#). 20... f6?

Now White plays brilliantly to the end. 20... Nf8, bringing another piece to the defense, saves the game for Black: 21. Bg5 f6 22. exf6 Bxf6 -+. 21. Rg3! Kf7 22. e6+! Kxe6 23. Re1+! Kf7 24. Qxf5!! gxf5 25. Rg7+ Kf8 26. Nh4

Now mate is inevitable. 26. ... Ne5 27. Rxe5 fxe5 28. Ng6# 1-0. The final position deserves a diagram: