Thursday, March 18, 2010

At odds

The practice of playing games "at odds" has more or less died out. A pity, really; removing a Knight or Rook from the board before the first move can allow a competitive contest between players of vastly different strength. Of course, this was one of the reasons for its popularity a century ago, for the range of playing ability between master and amateur was usually enormous.

Several kinds of odds were popular then. First, odds of pawn (remove White's f-pawn), followed by pawn and move (remove Black's f-pawn) and pawn and two (the same, but give White two initial moves). Some argued that this was a greater advantage than odds of Knight (remove White's Knight from b1), though there was not much doubt about Rook or Queen odds, which could only be given by the very strong -- or to the very weak. A few other odds were occasionally conceded, but the only one much remembered is that of capped piece -- the master would give odds of naming the piece with which he must give mate, leaving him with, in effect, two Kings. In one extreme example, James Mortimer gave odds of capped f-pawn; the game, unfortunately, is long and rather dull.

Here is an example of the sort of play seen in odds games: Morphy-Maurian, New Orleans 1857

(Remove White's Queen Knight)

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4

With the King's Gambit, White offers a pawn for rapid development and an open file.

3. Nf3 g5 4. Bc4 g4 5. d4 gxf3 6. Qxf3 d5 7. Bxd5 c6 8. Bxf7+ Kxf7 9. Qh5+ Kg7 10. Bxf4 Be7

At last Black develops something, but the White Rook is ready to join the battle.

11. O-O Qxd4+ 12. Na3 a6 13. Kh1 Qxe4 14. Rae1

The advantage of giving odds! If White's Knight were still at b1, Black might be able to defend.

14. ... Qg6


15. Rxe7+ Kf8

Black cannot play 15. ... Nxe7, for then 16. Bh6+ leads to mate -- 16. ... Qxh6 17. Qf7 mate, or 16. ... Kg8 17. Rf8 mate.

16. Bd6+, Black resigns

For Black is mated after 16. ... Nf6 17. Rxf6+ Qxf6 18. Qe8.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

War of words

"I tried to fianchetto, but his zwischenzug put me in zugzwang until he made a fingerfehler leaving his Queen en prise."

Conversation overheard at a chess club. It's not exactly in English, but then it's not quite in any other language either. If you want to blend in with the crowd, you'll have to learn to talk Chess.

En prise is an easy one; this French phrase means "in take," that is, undefended and subject to capture. If you leave a piece en prise, you have probably made a fingerfehler, or "slip of the finger"; the implication of this German word is that your hand acted without orders from the brain, and must take full responsibility.

Also from the German, come zwischenzug and zugzwang. The former means "in-between move": you capture one of your opponent's pawns, but rather than recapture at once, he takes your Queen "in between." Zugzwang is a bit more complicated. It translates as "move-compulsion," and refers to a situation in which a player loses only because he must make a move -- all the threats are defended, but a player may not "pass."

Fianchetto crept in from Italian, meaning "on the flank." This refers to a Bishop developed at g2 or b2 (or g7 or b7). Other Italian loan-words are Giuoco Piano ("quiet game"), an old opening, and (surprisingly) gambit, from a wrestling term meaning to trip up one's opponent.

And then there is Amaurosis schachistica, coined by Dr. Tarrasch. This pseudo-Latin term refers to a disease many suffer but few can cure: chess blindness.

Solution: Black's active Knights carry the day after 1. ... Qf3!. In view of the threat of mate on g2, White must capture, but after 2. gxf3 Nexf3+ 3. Kh1 Bh3, there is no defense to 4. ... Bg2 mate. Andruet-Spassky, Coblentz 1988.