Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Henry Bird

I recently went on a chess camp for my company Chess Kids. We went out for a few days to Wodonga in country Victoria taking a group of about 35 kids with us and worked on chess (attack was the theme of the camp) and had some fun. A lecture that I was working on was about a nineteenth century attacker, and I had free rein to choose a player, so I opted for Henry Bird. He might not be everyone's first choice, but he played some pretty magnificent combinations, and had some great ideas about the game.

Bird was a kind of maths genius who became attracted to chess. He was a qualified accountant by trade, but by all accounts spent much of his life devoted to his passion of chess. Brought up in the time of Staunton, Morphy and Andersson, it is fairly natural that Bird had what we would consider now a reckless style. But he was good enough to beat Morphy, Andersson, Steinitz, Lasker and most of the other top players of the second half of the 1800's.

The kids loved a game I showed where he beat Lasker in 12 moves in a Danish Gambit, while I personally have a soft spot for another offhand game he played where he twice promoted to a knight.

If a 12 move win against the future world champ isn't enough (even in an offhand game), have a look at this position from my favourite.
MacDonnell-Bird consultation 1875

The game started as a King's Gambit and had been fairly mad to this point where white has just played Bg5 attacking black's queen. But, of course, it's time to sac! 17..Bxd5! 18.Bxd8 e3+ 19.Kg1 Bxc4 20.Bg5
Black's sac was sound, and he has come out of it with 3 minor pieces and a pawn for the queen, with the addition of the whopping passed pawns on e3 and f3. Now to finish in style! 20..f2+ 21.Kh2 e2 bringing both pawns to the 7th where they will cost white more material 22.Qd2
22..f1=N+! [It's always good to underpromote, and a knight fork of king and queen is even better!] 23.Rhxf1 exf1=N+ It must have felt unbelievably satisfying to underpromote for a second time! Afetr winning both of white's rooks, Bird went on to win, though he missed a quicker win later on!

Actually, the game that had me really intrigued was a win against the great Adolph Andersson where Bird sacrificed a rook on f7. Recently this sacrifice has hit the headlines when Chinese teenage superstar, Wei Yi came out with a brilliant f7 rook sacrifice at the Danzhou GM event.

Wei Yi-Bruzon Danzhou 2015. This position has already been talked about loads in the chess press. Wei Yi came out with the shot 22.Rxf7! opening up black's king, which has to go on a bit of a march after the obligatory capture 22..Kxf7 23.Qh7+Ke6 24.exd5+ Kxd5
And now another brilliant sacrifice to prevent black's king from escaping the queen side. 25.Be4!! Kxe4 26.Qf7 [Black's king is trapped behind enemy lines with no way back] 26..Bf6
After repeating the position, Wei Yi now came up with the part of the chase which is most difficult for amateurs, the quiet move! 29.Qb3! [The threat is Qd3#] 29..Kf5 30.Rf1+ Kg4 and deep in the heart of enemy territory, the black king didn't last much longer. Here's the whole amazing game.

So imagine my delight when I found a similar sacrifice by Henry Bird, against none other than Immortal game maestro Adolph Andersson.
Bird-Andersson match Paris 1878
White's pieces are ready to launch, but I wonder if the Immortal double rook sacrificer was expecting some of his own medicine? 1.Rxf7! Bxf7 2.Rxf7! Qg5 [declining the second rook. If he took then mate would eventually follow.] 3.Qxb7 Qh4 [Defending h7, while cheekily threatening h2!]
4.h3 Nf6 5.Rg7+ Kh8 6.Rxg6 [Threatening mate on g7, so black must give back some material] 6..Rg8 7.Rxf6
Another stylish move, putting the rook on a square black's queen attacks, but the queen cannot take as it still defends mate on h7! The great Andersson resigned after his last trick failed 7.e4 Qxe4 1-0 black is about to suffer heavy losses to avoid mate.

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