Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chess The Hard Way

I know I only just posted about there being too much chess, but then we have 2 Grand Prix tournaments back to back. And as this event finishes, we'll barely have time to breathe before the World Championship match starts, although it's almost possible for another super-GM event to be thrown in, with the Petrosian Memorial overlapping the first few days of the World Championship match. It's just too much to take in!

So I've decided that besides playing, and keeping half an eye on the chess world, I'm going to step back in time to when chess tournaments were somewhat less frequent. I have borrowed a copy of a book by Canadian legend Yanofsky.

Hard Cover copy of Chess the Hard Way
"Chess the Hard Way" is a short book full of game fragments, games and anecdotes from before the start of World War 2 and Yanofsky's early life, through to 1952. The book was published in 1953 after Yanofsky became British Champion.

The author clearly promoting his newly won title.
The book shows chess at a much slower pace than today. In 1939 Yanofsky was selected to represent Canada at the Buenos Aires Olympiad. He went to New York to catch a ship to Argentina and then "realizing the United States Open Championship was being played in New York...I went ahead of the team to try to enter or, if not accepted, to watch". I find it amazing that Yanofsky should thnk that he might not be accepted into a tournament, but then again, in 1939 he was an unknown. In fact, 1939 was really a breakthrough year for him. In his first game at New York he drew with Reuben Fine who had recently come equal first with Keres at AVRO.

Then in the Buenos Aires Olympiad Yanofsky relates how he won a game against Dulanto of Peru which "created a minor sensation and resulted in Alekhine taking a great interest in me to the extent of watching all of my remaining games in the tournament and analyzing them with me after they were over".

This brilliant attacking game is indicative of Yanofsky's attacking style. Funnily enough, he loved playing the French as black so this game would have been a win against his own favourite opening.

Chess the Hard Way is a short book, being just 149 pages, but it is packed full of information about chess in the post second World War era. Yanofsky was one of only 2 players to beat Botvinnik at the Staunton Memorial tournament in Groningen 1946 (the other was Najdorf). Yanofsky stayed in Europe after Groningen, and his book brings alive just how difficult life must have been in the post war years. Things that we take for granted, such as ease of travel and crossing of borders were not so easy in 1946. For instance, Yanofsky travelled to Barcelona where he finished second to Najdorf in a tournament. Yanofsky received his entry to Barcelona 3 days before the tournament started which to him didn't seem like much time to get there from where he was in Holland. (Nowadays 3 hours may be sufficient) Due to bad weather flights were cancelled in Holland. In the end Yanofsky took a train to Paris, then on to the Spanish border. From the train he had to stay the night in France because the border was closed! Next morning he got a taxi to the border "which presented itself in the form of a chain across the road". He had to wait at the border for about half an hour until the Spanish taxis arrived to take travellers to the Spanish town of Port Bou.

The book is packed full of stories like this, games with analysis like that above, and Yanofsky's insights into the players he met and the times that he lived in. The last line of the book is worth noting.

"If this book serves as a guide and inspiration to the young chess 'hopefuls' of today, it will have well achieved its purpose. Let my example be their encouragement"

Yanofsky did not have it easy, but made the best of what he had which is all any of us can aim for.Perhaps like Purdy here in Australia, he was an inspiration for generations of Canadian chess players. His fighting spirit was not seen better han in his epic win against Golembek at the 1951/2 Hastings tournament. It's not often you see a win in an ending with queen and knight versus queen.

Both sides have just promoted and although the game should probably end in a draw, Yanofsky saw some chances and played on for a few more moves. 96.Qf5+ Kg3 97.Ne4+ Kg2 98.Qg4+

So where should the king go? Although it looks scary, Kf1 is the best move with no clear way that Yanofsky could see to win (Nalimov Tablebase claim 98..Kf1 is a drawn position). However Golembek played 98..Kh2?? and lost after 99.Qh4+ Kg2 100.Qg3+ Kh1 101.Qh3+ Qh2 102.Ng3+ where Golembek resigned.

Black is mated after 102..Kg1 103.Qf1.

Of the many qualities that a successful chess player needs, it is this will to continue fighting. Yanofsky fought on the board, and even fought just to get to the board! To me, his story is inspirational, and I'm going to forget about the Grand Prix series for a while and enjoy some games written in descriptive notation!

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