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    Tuesday
    Feb202018

    Book Notice: Sergei Tkachenko's *Alekhine's Odessa Secrets: Chess, War and Revolution*

    You may remember Sergei Tkachenko for his (excellent) endgame study books, but apparently the Odessa native also a chess historian. In this 213 page volume he recounts the times the fourth world chess champion, Alexander Alekhine, went to Odessa and his links with that city. There are also 30 games and studies (all annotated and almost all involving Alekhine), but the book is principally narrative. I won't review the book, but the Foreword by Boris Gelfand and the material on the back cover will give you a good idea about the contents of the book and whether you're likely to find it interesting:

    Gelfand's Foreword:

    Dear Reader, you have in your hands a new book by the wonderful chess composer and historian Sergei Tkachenko, an Odessa native. It contains an account of the part of fourth world champion Alexander Alekhine's life that was connected to Odessa and Odessites.

    Each sentence in Sergei's book reflects his great love for his hometown. The author is driven by his immense desire to establish the historical truth of those events where the great Russian chess player took center stage.

    I found this book so fascinating that I read it virtually non-stop! Not only did I learn about previously unknown episodes of Alekhine's life, but I was also introduced to long-forgotten Odessa chess players who were colleagues of the future chess king. They helped to found the famous Odessa chess school that would provide the world with a slew of outstanding grandmasters, including Efim Geller, Vladimir Tukmakov, Lev Albert [sic - Alburt], and Konstantin Lerner.

    Yet Sergei's book is not limited to historical sketches. It also analyzes little-known games played by Alekhine from the time he spent in Odessa. Several of them struck me with the beauty of the combinations so typical of the world champion.

    I am sure that you, dear Reader, will feel as much pleasure reading Alekhine's Odessa Secrets: Chess, Warn and Revolution as I did!

    Back Cover:

    Sergei Tkachenko has written a fascinating account of Alexander Alekhine's time spent in Odessa during World War I, the Russian Revolution and Civil war, as well as of the impact of Odessa on his later life. Sergei, an Odessa native and ex-world chess composition champion, has carried out original research drawing from Odessa, Voronezh, Cheka and KGB archives among others, as well as local newspapers from the time. His research, together with a review of Russian-language secondary materials, has dug up lots of new information and analysis on Alekhine, including on his trips to Odessa and their reasons, is service during World War I, his interrogations by the Cheka and his ties to the White Movement. Sergei portrays Alekhine's Odessa relatives and the Odessite chess masters against whom he played a number of friendly and simultaneous games during his three trips to the Ukrainian city.

    Sergei provides a detailed description of chess in Odessa from the beginning of the nineteenths century and through the upheavals of the early twentieth century, including the city's leading chess organizers, the main and university chess clubs, and even high society's chess-themed ballroom parties. He goes on to describe the chaos under Bolshevik rule during the Civil War, during which Alekhine was arrested by the Reds and very nearly executed. The author reviews the backdrop to Alekhine's arrest and investigates the circumstances of his last-minute release. His heart-rendering [sic - rending] account of terror by the Cheka brings home to the reader how near the chess world was to losing its greatest player of the first half of the twentieth century.

    The book then goes on to review the strong Odessa links with key events surrounding Alekhine later - his exile, failing marriages, plans for a match with Botvinnik, murky death and eventual burial 10 years later.

    Tuesday
    Feb202018

    Stockfish Leads After Two Cycles of the TCEC Premier Stage

    To the surprise of absolutely no one, Stockfish, Houdini, and Komodo are leading the penultimate stage of season 11 of the Top Chess Engine Championship. The only question, as usual, is which of the three will be left out of the super-final. At the moment, after two cycles of 12, it's the lizard (Komodo) on the outside looking in, but there's a long, long way to go.

    Tuesday
    Feb202018

    Tomorrow is *NOT* Another PRO Chess League Day

    If it's a Wednesday early in the year, then it's probably a PRO Chess League day - all day long. Probably and usually, but not this week; the action will be pushed back to "Super Saturday".

    For those who haven't been following it, it's a worldwide league competition with short rapid (15'+2") time controls. Many of the world's best are on teams and participate regularly, including Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura, and the list goes on and on. Teams are divided up into geographical regions, and attempt to qualify from those regions into the playoffs. The season is still in the qualification stage.

    Part of the fun is that lower-rated players (sometimes that means "a strong GM who's not quite Grand Chess Tour caliber", and sometimes it means "a strong club player") face off against the world's super-elite, and occasionally they draw blood. Here are two examples from last week's action.

    Tuesday
    Feb202018

    New Inductees for the World and U.S. Chess Halls of Fame

    The induction ceremony for the new members of the World and U.S. Chess Halls of Fame will take place April 17, 2018, at the St. Louis University Museum of Art as a kickoff to the 2018 U.S. Championships. There are three inductees into the World Hall of Fame and two into the U.S. version.

    The three World Hall of Famers are Aron Nimzowitsch, Richard Reti, and Kira Zvorykina. The first two undoubtedly deserve their place, and the only question is whether there's anyone else who should be inducted before they get their turn. But Zvorykina? I'm a pretty serious chess nerd who knows his history pretty well, and I've only barely heard of her. If the policy is to have a female inductee each year, how about an actual world champion? Some of the WHOF inductees are still living, and if it's necessary that they be retired, why not Xie Jun? She's the first Chinese world champion, she defeated Maya Chiburdanidze to break Georgia's almost 30 year strangehold on the women's world championship, and she has been retired for 10 years.

    Turning to the U.S. HOF, GM and Texas Tech chess coach Alex Onischuk is one inductee; legendary tournament director Bill Goichberg, who has been creating, organizing, and running major U.S. events for around 50 years, is the other.

    More on the WHOF and its inductees here, and the USHOF here.

    Tuesday
    Feb202018

    Chess in Armenia

    For those of you who are tired of drawing and losing to pre-teens, here's more bad news. On the other hand, for those of you are pre-teens, or are the parents or grandparents of pre-teens, you might find it inspiring! Either way, have a look.

    HT: Stuart Wallace

    Tuesday
    Feb202018

    In Defense of Kirsan?!

    It's a little slow in the chess world, in the lead-up to the Candidates next month, but there's enough going on for a little blogging. We begin with an opinion piece (sort of) defending Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. (I previously mentioned the controversy in this recent post.)

    Two nota benes: first, my linking to this article doesn't necessarily mean I agree with it, wholly or in part; second, I don't want to start a political fight in the combox. I'm only offering this link as an FYI.

    Saturday
    Feb172018

    U.S. Championship Lineups Set

    The tournament(s) won't happen until mid-April, but the lineups are set for the Open (de facto Men's) and Women's sections of the 2018 U.S. Championships. They can be found here and here, respectively.

    Friday
    Feb162018

    TCEC Season 11: Premier Division Stage Underway

    The preliminary stages of the 11th season of the Top Chess Engine Championship are over, and now the big dogs (Stockfish, Houdini, and Komodo) are finally in action. This last eight-engine stage is a duodecuple (12-cycle) round-robin, with the top two, as usual, facing off in 100-game Superfinal. After the first cycle Komodo leads with 5/7, with Houdini and Stockfish half a point behind. (Apparently this isn't Curacao 1962, as Komodo defeated Stockfish in the final game of that cycle!) Only 308 games remain.

    Thursday
    Feb152018

    Tactics Time: A Missed Brilliancy by Berkes

    In New in Chess Magazine 2017/8, Judit Polgar recollects some of her adventures as a team captain, and shows why it was even better for Hungary when she was playing on their national team. (She doesn't say that herself, or hint it; that's my own comment.) On page 92 we find a marvelous example of this, when she shows an excerpt from the game Anton Korobov vs. Ferenc Berkes from the 2015 European Team Championship. Berkes had played a terrific game up to the point in question - move 33 - and had the chance to finish off with a magnificent combination. Unfortunately, he didn't spot it, but Polgar, watching the game from the side, did.

    You've got an advantage over both players in knowing that there's something there, but even so it's difficult to work everything out. Have a look here, and see how you do.

    Wednesday
    Feb142018

    FIDE's Swiss Bank Accounts Closed **UPDATED*

    Judging by TV shows, one would think that even the devil could open and successfully maintain a Swiss bank account. Alas, it seems that FIDE cannot. (Hat tip: David McCarthy.) Are the Cayman Islands or other offshore banking facilities open for business?

    *UPDATE*: They're still closed, as far as I know, but here's another link with more on the story.