Chess Room Newsletter #857 | Mechanics' Institute

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Chess Room Newsletter #857

Gens Una Sumus!

Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club Newsletter #857
January 25, 2019

Café de la Regence in Paris France

Chess teaches foresight, by having to plan ahead; vigilance, by having to keep watch over the whole chess board; caution, by having to restrain ourselves from making hasty moves; and finally, we learn from chess the greatest maxim in life — that even when everything seems to be going badly for us we should not lose heart, but always hoping for a change for the better, steadfastly continue searching for the solutions to our problems. — Benjamin Franklin

San Francisco and Paris: An Intellectual and Creative Refuge

Paul Morphy playing blindfold chess at the café, Paris 1858, from Harper’s Weekly

In the 18th and 19th century, the heart of the chess world was beating in Paris, at a cafe that was frequented regularly by some of the most famous and influential figures of the enlightenment and in history. The Café de la Regence was opened in 1670, and by the mid 1700’s was known around the world as the center of the chess universe. A young Napoleon Bonaparte played chess there. Benjamin Franklin, when he was U.S. Ambassador to France, also visited and played at the café. Philosophers such as Jean Jacque Rousseau, Voltaire were patrons, and Karl Marx met Frederich Engels at the café on August 28, 1844. Among the great chess masters, Paul Morphy, Adolf Anderssen, Wilhelm Steinitz, Francois Andres Danican Philidor, Pierre Saint-Amant and Samuel Rosenthal showcased their talents at the café. Paul Morphy would showcase his talents in blindfold chess as well.

San Francisco has more than one connection to the Café de la Regence. Pierre Saint-Amant, who was the French Consul in San Francisco from 1851-1852, was a French chess master and one of the strongest players in the world at the time. He is depicted in the following painting by Jean-Henri Marlet seated playing on the right side against Howard Staunton at the café de la Regence in what some regarded as the unofficial world championship match. Had he been in San Francisco just a few years longer, he no doubt would have been a Mechanics’ Institute regular.

Chess match between Howard Staunton and Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint-Amant, December 16, 1843. Painting by Jean-Henri Marlet.

Another interesting fact is that there are photos of World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca playing at both at the Café de la Regence and the Mechanics Institute.

Capablanca at the Mechanics’ Institute 1916
Capablanca at the Café de la Regence 1922

Perhaps a more important connection that San Francisco has to the Café de la Regence is the chess room itself. Is it any coincidence that the café’s chess room in Paris brought together some of the most influential people in the world over the course of 250 years?

Paul Metzner writes about the café de la Regence:

“The chess club; the chess journal; the international championship match; subspecialties such as imaginative writing on chess subjects, problem composition, and simultaneous blindfold exhibitions; the study and publication of systematic analyses as an essential part of mastering the game; and, in general, a commitment to chess commensurate with that to any art or science: These are some of the distinctive institutions of modern chess that took form during the Café de la Régence era”.

The chess rooms at the Café de la Regence and the Mechanics’ Institute are a creative and intellectual refuge; they are a representation of the values and norms of not only our community, but of society itself. In 1907, Mechanics’ Institute Board President Lewis Meade proposed abolishing the chess room in favor of more rental space. The outcry was so vociferous, that he was replaced as Board President. In 1948, there were similar concerns regarding the status of the chess room, but the community again rose up in defense, leading to the codification of the existence of the chess room in the constitution of the Mechanics’ Institute and including the language “Library and Chess Room” into the name. The Mechanics’ Institute exists, as was always intended, as an institution among the cultural and intellectual elite, by and for the everyday person, as the everyday person also has the potential to produce great things and influence the shaping of the world. The Café de la Regence as an intellectual center existed for about 250 years and made an incredible, historic impact on chess and society. Think of what conversations may have transpired there; Rousseau discussing ideas about the social contract among friends? Benjamin Franklin reflecting on ideas among peers that would later form parts of the Declaration of Independence? Did Marx and Engels use the café as an intellectual outlet that shaped their philosophical works? What unknowing impact might the average person have had in being around these movers of the world, and possibly making their own untold impact on history? It is fascinating to think what significance having a social and intellectual outlet like the chess room in Paris had, and what impact our own beloved chess room in San Francisco has had, does have and and will have for our future...

Metzner, Paul. Crescendo of the Virtuoso: Spectacle, Skill, and Self-Promotion in Paris during the Age of Revolution. Berkeley:  University of California Press, c1998 1998.

TNM Week 3 Recap

Conrado Diaz and David Askin do battle on Board 1, Round 3 of the TNM

Week 3 of the Winter TNM concluded with a historic first for the chess club, as we were able to successfully broadcast boards 1 & 2 using our DGT boards! Conrado Diaz (2343) used skill in the endgame and a decisive time advantage to convert a win against David Askin (2019) on board 1 and Michael Walder (1970) and Wing Aun Ye (2229) played to a draw on board 2. We have 5 players with perfect scores of 3/3 as we enter week 4 next week. This is an 8 round event, so the competition is heating up. To see the current standings, please follow this link:

SF Mechanics Lose to Seattle in PRO Chess League

FM’s Josiah Stearman, Andy Lee and Ezra Chambers did the live broadcast of the Mechanics – Seattle match on Tuesday night from the Chess Annex

The Mechanics suffered a tough loss on Tuesday night 6.5-9.5 to the Seattle Sluggers, buoyed by Hikaru Nakamura’s 4/4 performance on board 1. The first round was promising, as the Mechanics took the lead 2.5-1.5 after 1 round and FM Ladia Jirasek being up a pawn in an endgame against Nakamura, but the resilient Nakamura used a time advantage and endgame expertise to slowly grind out incremental advantages and convert the win. The match was even after 2 rounds, but Seattle leading to the victory dominated rounds 3-4. The lineup this week for the Mechanics featured GM Wang Hao, GM Daniel Naroditsky, FM Andrew Hong and FM Ladia Jirasek. Though we had a tough loss, we had a nice buzz at the club with the commentary of FM Josiah Stearman, FM Andy Lee and FM Ezra Chambers, who were providing commentary on the match as players played recreational games around them and the chess room full with the TNM. We invite everyone to come Tuesdays and be a part of the action! The Mechanics next match is next Tuesday afternoon at 1:30pm in a Battle Royale, which is an 8-team interleague group match. We will provide coverage in the Mechanics’ Institute big screen TV and you can follow live coverage online by following this link:

Wednesday Night Blitz Report

The Wednesday January 23rd edition of the Wednesday blitz had 11 committed chess enthusiasts vying for the honor and title of Wednesday night blitz champion. This week’s triumph goes to Jules Jelinek with a score of 10/12. In 2nd was Carlos Davila with 9.5 and in 3rd was David Flores with 8. You never know how will come out on any given week to compete for the title, so come out on Wednesday ready to do battle at 6:45pm. Registration 6:30-6:45, open to all.

Tony Lama’s Teasers

Solution for last week’s composition:

  1. Na8!! Kd6
  2. Kd4 Kc6
  3. Qd5 mate

This week’s composition is here from an unnamed source. Tony decided to give an easier one this week before dropping the hammer with a composition already selected to be used for the next newsletter:

A Classic Book and a Memorable Lesson

By Paul Whitehead

Steve Brandwein (1942-2015) was my predecessor as Chess Room Coordinator at the MI from 2000 to 2012. Former Chess Room Director John Donaldson observed on Steve’s retirement: “You don’t replace a guy like Steve.” No, there could be no replacing possibly the most well-read person on the planet, a legendary blitz player, a friend of Bobby Fischer’s, a terrific Scrabble player — not to mention a fierce competitor at Ping-Pong and Bridge — a person with an endless curiosity and a savage intellect… a wonderful and trusted friend of mine, and many others. I haven’t replaced Steve — who could?

There was an aura around Steve, and his exploits were near legendary: a radical member of SDS in his college days, marathon blitz sessions with Bobby Fischer (“I only won about 1 out of 10.”), ejected from live TV coverage of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match because he talked about getting US troops out of Vietnam and that “Mad-Dog Kissinger” instead of chess... hundreds and hundreds of LSD trips... thousands of books...

Steve was an amazing conversationalist with a real interest in people, and everything people were up to. Able to hold his own with philosophers and any kind of deep thinker, Steve nevertheless took a real pleasure in low humor, bad jokes and malicious gossip. He seemed to take particular delight in skewering simple-minded religious beliefs, and in playfully mocking those unwitting mortals who tried to gain wisdom at his feet... which leads me to the following tale from long ago, when Steve might have been known in some parts as a chess “hustler”. A hustler is someone who makes their living from chess- in whatever way they can- and one way was by having students...

So, once upon a time in a chess world not too different from ours of today, Steve had a student named... well, let’s call him Mister S.

Everywhere that Steve went, Mr. S. was sure to follow — to the Meat Market Coffeehouse on 24th Street, where chess-players could smoke and meet non-chess players (for a radical change!), or on to Fiddlers’ Green, a chess club/bookstore just up the street, and of course the venerable Mechanics’ Institute where Steve went EVERY DAY. Steve referred to his walks down to 57 Post Street (from wherever in the city he was living at the time) as his “constitutional”.

And right on his heels: Mr. S.

Seeking knowledge and demanding answers, trying desperately to find the deep chess truths that only Steve seemed to possess: how could Mr. S. unlock the secrets to chess mastery? It seemed that only Steve could help, only Steve could instruct, and that only Steve could provide the answers to Mr. S.’s questions- no others would do! And yes, Steve did have the answer for Mr.S. — a couple of lessons, you might say...

Mr. S. had a book, a famous chess book, a newly purchased minty and shiny book:

Now, Mr. S. was always wanting to play Steve, to learn, to become a great player like Steve. But Steve was a “hustler” and didn’t play for free, not on your life, so they played for the book… and Steve won it.

But now Mr. S. wanted this fantastic chess book back, to study and learn from it's important pages. Unfortunately (for him) it was now in Steve’s possession. What to do? Mr. S. decided to dig in his wallet and find the funds to buy the book back from Steve. Ah, now it was his again! So now he could play Steve again... for the book... again, and buy it back... again...

And again and again, and again!

Thus concluded the 1st lesson.

But Mr. S. had not tired of drinking deeply from the fountain of wisdom, and he still had one more hurdle to overcome (as far as Steve was concerned!).

One day, as Mr. S. badgered Steve yet again for a lesson (and apparently without funds to buy back Zurich 1953 for the umpteenth time), Steve it seems, had finally had enough of his faithful students endless searching, his desperate quest. In a lightning-bolt moment of dazzling Zen-like clarity Steve posed this, the ultimate chess-koan: study the following position for 1 full hour.

That’s correct, dear reader — an empty chessboard.

This author does not know if Mr. S. ever took another lesson from Steve, and Steve himself never let on, although he’d get a certain gleam in his eye whenever Zurich 1953 was discussed. And was it my imagination, or did Steve give a silent chuckle whenever the board was swept clear of pieces? The purity of the board without chessmen, the emptiness, the cosmic void...

One thing I do know: Steve lent me THAT COPY of Zurich 1953, one of the greatest chess books ever written. And I lost it!

That book, which had changed hands so many times, a cosmic chess laugh, was lost by me and never replaced.

As Steve could never be replaced.

Even by his replacement.

GM Nick de Firmian Endgame Lab

Carlsen vs. Anand Endgame Battle

Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand faced off on Wednesday (1/23) in the 10th round of the classic Tata Steel Chess Masters tournament in Wijk aan Zee. These two great champions had battled for two World Championship titles in 2013 and 2014. They were tied for the lead in Wijk aan Zee with at 6 points from 9 games along with Russia’s Nepomniachtchi. Nepomniachtchi went down in the tenth round against the young (and relatively low rated) Dutch talent Jorden Van Foreest, leaving the two all time greats to battle for the lead. The opening was a fairly tame Ruy Lopez and after a short middle game Carlsen garnered an endgame edge. Anand defended stubbornly but was still on the defensive by move 50, when he was a pawn down in a drawish endgame. Yet no one in the world likes to have an inferior endgame against Magnus. It requires perfect accuracy for a long time to hold the half-point when the champ is pressing.

(1) Carlsen,Magnus - Anand,Viswanathan [C77]
Tata Steel, 23.01.2019

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bc5 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.d3 Qd6 8.h3 Be6 9.Be3 Nd7 10.Bxc5 Nxc5 11.Qd2 Nd7 12.d4 exd4 13.Nxd4 c5 14.Nxe6 fxe6 15.0-0-0 Qxd2+ 16.Kxd2 Ne5 17.f4 Nc4+ 18.Kc1 Ke7 19.b3 Nd6 20.e5 Nf5 21.Ne4 b6 22.g4 Nh4 23.Rhf1 Rad8 24.Rxd8 Rxd8 25.f5 exf5 26.gxf5 Rf8 27.f6+ gxf6 28.exf6+ Kf7 29.Rf4 Ng6 30.Ng5+ Ke8 31.Rf1 h6 32.Ne6 Rf7 33.Rd1 Rxf6 34.Nxc7+ Kf8 35.Nxa6 Nf4 36.h4 Ng6 37.Rh1 Rf7 38.h5 Nf4 39.a4 Ke7 40.Nc7 Kf6 41.Nb5 Kg5 42.Nd6 Re7 43.Kb2 Re6 44.Nf7+ Kf5 45.Rd1 Kg4 46.Kc3 Kxh5 47.Rh1+ Kg6 48.Nxh6 Re4 49.Kb2 Re2 50.Ng4 Nd3+ 51.Kc3 Nb4 52.Rh2 Rxh2

All the pawns are on one side of the board, which very much helps the defense. Carlsen had to defend the c2 pawn and allow the exchange of rooks. This leaves us with 3 pawns vs. 2 pawns on one side of the board. If both sides had only a bishop that would be an easy draw. If both sides had a rook it is also very drawish. A queen each should be a draw with difficulties, but a king and pawn ending is almost always won for the side with the extra pawn. In this case both sides have a knight, which should be drawn but with difficulty. 53.Nxh2 Kf5 54.Nf3 Ke4 55.Ne1 Kd5 56.Nd3 Nc6 57.Nf4+ Kd6 58.Kc4 Na7 59.Nd5 Kc6 60.Ne7+ Kd6 61.Nf5+ Kc6 62.Kd3 Kc7 63.Ke4 Nc6 64.Ne3 Kd6 65.Nc4+ Kc7 66.c3

White must advance very cautiously. It doesn't pay to push the pawns forward, exchanging so there is just one white pawn against none. Black would then simply sacrifice the knight for the last pawn. Note how Magnus uses his king to take as much territory as possible. 66...Ne7 67.Ke5 Ng6+ 68.Kf5 Ne7+ 69.Ke6 Ng6 70.a5!

Finally White makes a break and we reach the critical position. 70...b5? Anand goes wrong. He was afraid to do the natural move and take the a-pawn. He saw that Magnus has planned 70/xa5 71. Kd5 Nf4+ 72. Kxc5 Ne2 73. Nd6! when 73/\Nxc3? 74. Nb5+ Nxb5 75. Kxb5 is surprisingly a winning king and pawn ending for White (75/\Kb7 76. Kxa5 Ka7 77. Kb5 Kb7 78. b4), as he gathers up the a-pawn while keeping the opposition. However, avoiding this trick with 73/\Nc1! leaves two pawns against one where Black should still make the draw. 71.Ne3 Nf4+ 72.Ke5 Ne2 73.Nd5+ Kc6 74.b4! Now there is no good move. 74/Chess Room Newsletter #858

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