Sunday, January 7, 2007

Repetition of Theme

If imitation is indeed the most sincere form of flattery, then the best way to pay tribute to a great chess champion is by using his ideas in one's own play.

Every chess player - in his heart of hearts - dreams of playing at least one game during his lifetime in the inimitable style of Mikhail Tal, who is presently touring the United States.*

I have as yet to realize that dream fully, but I was fortunate to play a game recently in which I was able to employ one of Tal's original mating themes.

For many years I had admired the following Tal miniature, played during a simultaneous exhibition. It can be found on page 499 of The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal [by Mikhail Tal, RHM Press].

Tal - N. N., Sicilian Defense
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.O-O Qc7 7.Kh1 d6 8.f4 Nbd7 9.Nd2 Be7 10.N2f3 O-O 11.Qe2 Nc5 12.e5 dxe5 13.fxe5 Nfd7 14.Bg5 Nxe5 15.Bxe7 Nxf3 16.Rxf3 Qxe7 17.Bxh7+! Kxh7 18.Rh3+ Kg8

Tal now notes that "the routine 19.Qh5 gets nowhere after the equally routine 19...f6." However, Tal goes on to add that in an old idea he succeeded in including a new motif.

19.Nf5 Qg5 20.Qh5!, 1-0.

Black is mated after both 20...Qxh5 21.Ne7+ and 20...f6 21.Ne7#. Tal comments that he finds the latter variation more pleasing.

I had never thought that such a mating sequence would occur over-the-board in one of my own games, when much to my surprise the following contest took place last year in the North Jersey Chess League.

Jim West (USCF 2316) - Richard Leffew (USCF 2035), Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.c3 Bc5 10.Bc2 Bf5 11.Nbd2 O-O 12.Nb3 Bb6?!

Better is 12...Bg4 13.Nxc5 Nxc5 14.Re1. And now Korchnoi played both 14...d4 and 14...Bh5 against Karpov, with quick draws in games two and four of their 1978 match.

13.Nbd4 (13.Nfd4 might be more accurate) Nxd4 14.Nxd4 Bg6 15.a4 Qd7

By this point, I realized that I had not gotten much from the opening. So I decided to complicate matters with a mating attack.

16.h4 Nc5 17.Bxg6 hxg6 18.a5 Ba7 19.h5 gxh5 20.Qxh5 Ne6 21.Nf5 Qe8 22.Be3 Bxe3 23.fxe3 Qd8 24.Rf3 Qg5 25.Rh3!, 1-0.

Thanks, Mikhail!

*{This article originally appeared in Atlantic Chess News in 1988}