Sunday, July 10, 2005

An Opening Novelty from 1923

I think all players can get a lot out of historical chess research, not least because it can give you a better grasp of history. But for me there is no greater reward than unearthing a valuable yet forgotten opening novelty from a "lost" game that never was collected in the databases. After all, anyone can see the value of a historical game when its opening is still relevant today, since you can yourself then use that "old" knowledge to surprise your next opponent. As someone once wrote, "Old but forgotten is as good as new." The game Kupchik-Chajes, Lake Hopatcong 1923, could have been played today, and I would not be surprised if its opening gets repeated by a master or grandmaster within the next year.

The Austrian-born Oscar Chajes (1873-1928) tries out a novel method of handling a still-familiar position from the Sicilian Defense, by transposition, with 8....h5!? His fascinating attacking idea has not been repeated in master practice, yet it not only appears sound but is reminiscent of ideas discussed by John Watson as typical of "modern chess strategy," where seemingly premature advances on the wing can work in specific positions. The advance should work here, I think, because White's pieces have abandoned the kingside, and therefore left the king with few defenders. Black's pieces, meanwhile, are well poised for attack on that wing. That Chajes loses this game has less to do with the opening than the superior play of his opponent, Abraham Kupchik, who went on to tie Marshall in the 1923 event.

(To play over the following PGN file, you can copy it to the clipboard, open your favorite PGN viewer--such as Fritz, and then use Edit>Paste Game to load it).

[Event "9th American Chess Congress"]
[Site "Lake Hopatcong, NJ USA"]
[Date "1923.08.22"]
[Round "12"]
[White "Kupchik, Abraham"]
[Black "Chajes, Oscar"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B44"]
[Annotator "Goeller,Michael"]
[PlyCount "57"]
[TimeControl "40/150"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. c4 c5 4. Nc3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nc6 6. e4 Bb4 7. Nxc6 bxc6 {We now have a Sicilian Defense.} 8. Bd3 h5 $5 $146 {This is a novelty that does not appear to have been repeated in master play. At the time, the most common moves were} (8... d5) ({or} 8... Bxc3+ 9. bxc3 d5) ({ Today most commonly seen in this position is} 8... e5 {. Chajes's innovative 8....h5!? appears at first doubtful and reminiscent of his overly aggressive kingside advances against Marshall in the same tournament. But further analysis suggests that it is difficult for White to prove it incorrect if Black continues in this aggressive fashion.}) 9. O-O {Castling into Black's attack is risky, as the course of the game demonstrates. White probably must look for a better counter here.} ({I could find only one other game in the databases featuring Black's aggressive move. That game continued:} 9. Qa4 $5 Bc5 $6 ({This is obviously bad since it allows White to gain a dark-square bind. Perhaps Black can improve by} 9... Bd6 $5 10. f4 e5) ({or} 9... Bxc3+ 10. bxc3 Ng4 11. Ba3 Qh4 $5) 10. h3 Rb8 $2 { Obviously Black had no idea what he was doing.} 11. e5 $1 $16 Ng8 12. Ne4 Bb4+ 13. Kf1 (13. Bd2 $1 Bxd2+ 14. Kxd2 $3 { eliminating Black's dark-squared Bishop is even stronger.}) 13... a5 $6 14. c5 $1 $18 {White's dream position for dark-square domination.} f5 15. Nd6+ Kf8 16. Be3 f4 17. Bd4 Qh4 18. a3 f3 19. Be3 {1-0 Dunn-Ady 1985}) ({ Perhaps White should investigate the natural} 9. Bf4 {and if} Ng4 $5 10. f3 ( 10. h3 Qf6 11. hxg4 $5 (11. Qd2 Ne5 $11) 11... Qxf4 12. gxh5 {is an idea}) 10... Qf6 11. Qd2 Ne5 12. Be2 {with some edge for White.}) 9... Ng4 $5 10. Qf3 {White must play carefully to drive back Black's apparently premature aggression on the kingside.} ({It was easy to give Black good play by} 10. h3 $6 Ne5 11. Bf4 Qf6 12. Ne2 g5 $1 $40) ({or} 10. Bf4 Qf6 11. Bc7 Bc5 $36) 10... g5 $5 {Black continues with his seemingly premature attacking plan.} ({ White likely expected} 10... Ne5 11. Qg3 $1 Nxd3 12. Qxd3 $14 { with excellent play against Black's dark squares.} (12. Qxg7 $2 { is too doubtful})) ({Safest perhaps was} 10... d6 11. Qg3 e5 $1 $13 {though it's not clear if this represents an improvement on the more standard 8...e5.}) 11. Qg3 $1 d5 12. e5 $6 ({White could simplify things by exchanging with} 12. exd5 cxd5 13. cxd5 Bd6 14. Bb5+ Kf8 15. Bxg5 $5 Bxg3 16. Bxd8 Bxh2+ 17. Kh1 Bb7 18. Bh4 exd5 19. Rad1 $14 {when Black's pawns and pieces are in disarray.}) 12... f5 $5 13. exf6 Bd6 14. f7+ $5 ({Not} 14. Bg6+ $6 Kd7 $1 15. Qd3 Ba6 $1 $36) ({White could play immediately} 14. f4 $5 { but perhaps he feared the complications of} O-O $3 (14... Qxf6 15. h3 (15. cxd5 $6 O-O $1 $36) 15... gxf4 16. Bxf4 e5 17. Bxe5 Bxe5 18. Rxf6 Bxg3 19. hxg4 $14) 15. h3 gxf4 16. Bxf4 $1 e5 $1 17. Bh6 Rxf6 $13) 14... Kd7 $2 { Too aggressive. Black should accept equality with} (14... Kf8 $1 15. Bxg5 $1 Bxg3 16. Bxd8 Bxh2+ 17. Kh1 Kxf7 $11) 15. f4 $1 { Now this move gains in strength.} Bb7 $5 {A brave move, preparing to direct his Bishops toward the kingside along the aligned attacking diagonals once the center opens up. White's task is still complicated.} ({If instead} 15... gxf4 16. Bxf4 e5 17. Bf5+ Kc7 18. Bd2 $1 Bxf5 19. Rxf5 $16 { the simplification would highlight White's advantage.}) 16. cxd5 cxd5 $5 17. Qf3 Qc7 ({Perhaps a better try is} 17... Qf6 $1 18. h3 gxf4 (18... Qxf7 $5) 19. Bxf4 (19. hxg4 $2 hxg4 $1 $40) 19... Bxf4 20. Qxf4 Qxf4 21. Rxf4 Ne5 22. Bb5+ Ke7 23. Raf1 $13 { and it is unclear whether White can successfully maintain the advanced f-pawn.} ) 18. Kh1 d4 19. Ne4 Raf8 20. Bb5+ (20. f5 $1) 20... Kd8 21. Qe2 Bxe4 22. Qxe4 gxf4 23. Qxe6 Rxf7 24. Bd2 Re7 25. Qd5 Re5 {After a game of such intense complications, it is not surprising that the remaining moves seem to have been played under increasingly extreme time pressure. In any event, White should win.} 26. Qa8+ $2 (26. Qxd4 $1 $18 Rxb5 $2 27. Qxh8+ $18) 26... Ke7 $4 (26... Qb8 $1 27. Qxb8+ Bxb8 28. Bd3 Rd5 29. Bxf4 Bxf4 30. Rxf4 Ne3 31. g3 $14) 27. Qxh8 Rxb5 28. Rae1+ Kd7 29. Qe8# {As Helms wrote in his column of this game: "The victory gained by Kupchik over Chajes...was a point well earned by the former state champion."} 1-0

I think it's worth reflecting on the pleasure to be derived from a historical game such as the one above. When going over an old score and confronting in your mind the same problems faced by those two masters from long ago, we can feel that history still lives and breathes in us. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson (from his essay "History"), "What Frank James Marshall has thought, we may think; what Capablanca has felt, we may feel." Emerson writes: "All inquiry into antiquity, -- all curiosity respecting the Pyramids, the excavated cities, Stonehenge, the Ohio Circles, Mexico, Memphis, -- is the desire to do away this wild, savage, and preposterous There or Then, and introduce in its place the Here and the Now. Belzoni digs and measures in the mummy-pits and pyramids of Thebes, until he can see the end of the difference between the monstrous work and himself. When he has satisfied himself, in general and in detail, that it was made by such a person as he, so armed and so motived, and to ends to which he himself should also have worked, the problem is solved; his thought lives along the whole line of temples and sphinxes and catacombs, passes through them all with satisfaction, and they live again to the mind, or are now."

There are few historical artifacts as powerful as a game score in turning "there and then" into "here and now." An archaeologist such as Belzoni can look at and handle bricks from an old city, but he cannot bring them back to life in the same way that a player recreating an old game on his chess board can. After all, that player literally makes the pieces move around the board exactly as they moved once before. It is like a ritual conjuring with spirits of the dead.

Below is a second game by the New York master Chajes, who obviously played with fighting spirit against the great players of his time. Here he loses to U.S. Champion Frank James Marshall, whose positional understanding was just much deeper than his own. In playing over this game, we have a chance to own that understanding ourselves.

[Event "9th American Chess Congress"]
[Site "Lake Hopatcong"]
[Date "1923.08.12"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Frank Marshall"]
[Black "Oscar Chajes"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A53"]
[PlyCount "77"]
[TimeControl "40/150"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d6 3. b3 g6 {This opening was a rather unusual choice for Marshall, the late Romantic. But he had begun experimenting with more hypermodern modes of development around this time, recognizing how they allowed him to positionally outplay his opponent before the pieces had even really come to grips with each other.} 4. Bb2 Bg7 5. Nbd2 Bf5 { Not a good square for the Bishop long-term.} 6. h3 h5 $6 { Too weakening long-term.} 7. e3 c6 8. Bc4 $5 { Inviting ...d5 so that White can dominate the dark squares.} Qa5 9. a3 d5 10. Bd3 Ne4 11. b4 Qd8 12. Bxe4 Bxe4 13. Nxe4 dxe4 14. Nd2 f5 { Still another positional concession, loosening his kingside.} 15. f3 e5 16. O-O exf3 $6 {This helps White get his Queen onto the kingside where Black's advanced pawns present many targets of attack.} ({Better} 16... exd4 17. Nb3 O-O 18. Bxd4 $14 {though White is still much better positionally.}) 17. Qxf3 exd4 $2 { Opening too many lines in the center when his King cannot escape attack.} ({ Necessary was} 17... O-O {even though he will still have to suffer an attack.}) 18. Qg3 $1 $40 ({Black's King is so exposed by his advanced pawns that he actually must be careful even if White mistakenly plays} 18. exd4 $2 Bxd4+ 19. Bxd4 Qxd4+ 20. Kh1 $5 O-O (20... Qxd2 $2 21. Qg3 $1 $40) 21. Qg3 Qg7 $13) 18... Rh6 {A terrible place for the Rook.} 19. Nf3 {With Black's King stuck in the center and lines opening up in the center of the board, White's attack develops naturally. Also possible were} (19. Nc4 $5) ({or} 19. Rae1 $5) 19... Bf6 $6 20. exd4 Nd7 21. Bc1 $1 { Notice how the weakened dark squares figure prominently in Black's destruction. } ({The natural} 21. Rae1+ Kf7 22. Bc1 h4 $1 { gives the hapless Rook at h6 more freedom to escape the Bishop's attack.}) 21... g5 (21... h4 $2 22. Qe1+ $1 $18) 22. Bxg5 Rg6 23. h4 Kf7 24. Qf4 Kg7 { Black is lost positionally and is now down material.} 25. Qxf5 Qe7 26. Rae1 Qd6 27. Bxf6+ Nxf6 28. Qe5 $1 {Marshall, a consummate endgame player, always sought simplification once he was up material, especially as a way of mitigating time pressure.} ({Faster, but much more complicated, was to continue the attack with} 28. Ne5 Qxd4+ 29. Rf2 $1 Rh6 30. Qg5+ Kh7 31. Nxc6 $3 $40) 28... Qxe5 29. dxe5 Ng4 30. Ng5 Re8 31. Rf7+ Kg8 32. Rxb7 Nxe5 33. Kh1 a6 34. Nf3 Rge6 35. Rxe5 Rxe5 36. Nxe5 Rxe5 37. Rc7 Re3 38. Rxc6 Rxa3 39. Rc5 {There is no hope for Black who is two pawns down and likely to lose another. He resigns as Marshall is about to make the 40 move time control.} 1-0


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