Friday, March 31, 2006
April 6 - 8:30 P.M. FIVE MINUTE TOURNAMENT -- $5.00 entry fee -- 100% RETURNED AS PRIZES. We typically run our five-minute tournaments as round robin affairs starting at 8:30 and ending by 11:30 p.m. at the latest (see my post about our last five-minute event), but several suggestions have been made to make the event more interesting and the format may depend upon the number of participants. The strength of this event may be affected somewhat by the concurrent start of the French Defense Analysis Group with FM Steve Stoyko, NM Scott Massey, Michael Goeller, and others (talk to Steve if you are interested in joining us and making the commitment to really study the lines!)
April 20 - AWARDS CEREMONY. Awards ceremony for the 2006 Kenilworth Chess Club Championship (photos from last year's ceremony can be found here).
April 27 - TEAM MATCH. Team match with Holmdell CC (at home) - please contact Club President Joe Demetrick to play.
May 11 - THEME TOURNEY. Thematic Tournament, opening to be announced (likely Lasker's Defense to the QGD or the French Defense). All games must start from a predetermined position. The format for our unrated thematic tournament has not been set. We may decide to play a number of games at a short time control (three at Game-15) or fewer games at a longer time control (two at Game-30 or one at Game-60). The theme and rules of this year's tournament will be announced in mid-April (see calendar for updates).
May 18 - THEME TOURNEY. Thematic Tournament, day 2, opening to be announced.
May 25 - CHESS AND MUSIC LECTURE. Lecture by Ari Minkov on "Chess and Music" - $5.00. Come hear some great music and learn more about the rich connections between these two great forms of art.
June 1 - SUMMER TOURNAMENT. Start of the annual Summer Tournament, which is designed to encourage attendance during this busy season of vacations and general distractions. Please submit your entry and pay your entry fee by this date. Entry Fee is $5.00. The tournament will run from June 2 through August 31. The time control is G/60. You may play anyone in the tournament. The first time you play an opponent, the lower rated player has white, in subsequent games against the same opponent you alternate colors. You may not play the same opponent more than four times in the tournament. You may play as many or as few games as you like, but no more than two in one night. The more you play the more points you can win. All games are to be played at the Kenilworth Chess Club during normal operating hours. The winners are the players who have the most points at the end of the tournament. All money returned as prizes at 60% for first place, 30% for second, and 10% for third.
Last year's event was won by Mark Kernighan and received extensive coverage in our blog. We may also have a Summer Film Series during this event as we did last year and likely an opening study group led by club masters.
June 8 - PROPOSED "CANDIDATE EXPERT INVITATIONAL" - An A-player-only Round-Robin rated tournament running concurrently with the Summer Tournament, designed to get Class A players to attend more regularly and to make the commitment toward getting over that 2000-rating-hump. $100 guaranteed prize fund donated by sponsors. $5 entry fee to cover ratings costs and additional prizes. TD Michael Goeller. Interested players should contact me to help organize the event.
September 28 - ANNUAL SCOTT MASSEY LECTURE (topic to be announced), $5 fee, from 8:30 p.m. -12 midnight. Kicking off our Annual Fall Lecture Series, NM Scott Massey will analyze games on a theme. Previous lectures have dealt with Moscow 1925, Bobby Fischer and Steinitz. Club will open at 7:00 p.m. during the lecture series for casual play or mini-lectures, depending on the night's activities. Light refreshments served.
October 5 - RATED TOURNAMENT. Kenilworth Classic G-30 Rated Tournament. Club will open at 7:00 p.m. for short lecture or game analysis. 8:00-8:30 Registration, with two rounds per night for two nights. Rounds 1 and 2: 8:30-9:30 and 9:45-10:45. Details to be announced. Pictures from Day 1 and Day 2, Games from Day 1 and Day 2, and the official crosstable from last year's event can be found online.
October 12 - RATED TOURNAMENT. Kenilworth Classic G-30 Rated Tournament, Day 2. Club will open at 7:00 p.m. for short lecture or game analysis.
October 19 - CHESS & COMPUTERS LECTURE. Lecture by Michael Goeller on "Getting the Most Out of Your Chess Computer," 8:30 - 10:30 p.m., $5.00. Please submit any specific software questions in advance to email@example.com. Light refreshments served.
October 26 - MASTER LECTURE, $5 fee. Lecture series continues.
November 2 - CONSULTATION GAME LECTURE. On the model of the 2005 Polgar-Nakamura Exhibition Match, two masters will challenge each other in separate rooms, discussing their strategies to the audience present and answering questions about their thinking during the game. Light refreshments.
December 14 - ANNUAL BUSINESS MEETING.
December 21 - HOLIDAY PARTY
Thursday, March 30, 2006
In his quest to make authentic absinthe, Breaux discovered that "a recipe was useless without the tricks of the trade that distillers failed to include with their protocols, perhaps unwilling to write them down" (41) and that he had "to relearn everything" through his own experimentation. He was, however, aided by today's advanced tools and a greater understanding of chemical knowledge than the early distillers and alchemists could possess. Even with his tools and understanding, however, he discovered that brewing liqueur is as much art as it is science, and every twist and turn in the aparatus had a purpose that had slowly evolved in the liqueur's long development. His final product, which he sells under the Jade Liqueurs label as "the best absinthe," is handcrafted and finely made.
As I read about Breaux's adventures in brewing, I wondered what it was that so fascinated me about the article (besides my sudden interest in getting a bottle for myself, of course), and I realized that Breaux's quest to recreate absinthe was parallel to my own occasional quests to recreate some of the forgotten chess openings through research and analysis. What both come down to is a desire to make the past usable for us today. While part of the romance of the quest may be inspired by the mythologies that make particular opening lines (such as the Max Lange or King's Gambit) special for us (in a way not unlike the mythologies that make "absinthe" so mysterious and fascinating), the ultimate goal is to make them live again. The past does not interest me for its own sake. Rather, it interests me as a treasure trove of forgotten information with continued relevance.
Chess opening restoration is not much different from absinthe restoration. Those trying to revive heirloom openings begin with games and analyses, which are parallel to the brewer's recipes. What we lack are the "tricks of the trade" which get passed on, if at all, only by word of mouth (often from mentor to student) and so we must use our moden tools (such as Fritz and other chess engines) to relearn that lost knowledge. What we distill is not only useful for others but a pleasure for the explorer as well, as I discovered in my own quests to understand The Urusov Gambit, The Max Lange, and The Panther (among others).
Mark Morss makes a similar point about the value of the usable past in opening study in his wonderful essay "Lost Variations," where he begins by citing Edward Winter's remark that "historical ignorance of the openings is rampant, with writers regularly analyzing from scratch positions already meticulously examined in the past." As Morss shows in his article (which includes an extended analysis of the forgotten line 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O d6) and in several other places (most notably in the wonderful appended analysis of the game Clark-Morss, where he discusses his attempts to recover and recreate Dr. Hermann Kaidanz's own 'lost' analysis of the Kaidanz Variation), we cannot yet substitute the calculations of chess computers for the long hours and brain work of past analysts.
Morss writes: "Winter is correct in his claim that forgotten theory would sometimes benefit modern practioners as much as the latest Informant. This is particularly true in some of White's older systems in the open game (that is, 1 e4 e5, and not to be confused with open positions, which may arise from almost any system). The King's Gambit and the various subsystems of the Italian Game, notably the Evans Gambit, once constituted the bulk of the theory manuals. While chess theory in absolute always expands, the relative importance of the open game has greatly diminished over time, and so has its claim to precious printed space. And even within the open game, the importance of the systems prevalent in the 19th century has diminished as the Spanish Game has ascended in prominence. Accordingly, the editors of the manuals have had to prune, prune, and prune again the old theory, and they have not always been successful in preserving its outlines, even if they could discern them in what they inherited from previous editors."
The "pruning" that Morss describes is rampant, of course, and not confined to the Open Games. As the writings of modern players also become lost to the dustbins of chess history, the lines that interested them are also forgotten. When we recognize that practically every opening book on the market these days is essentially a repertoire book, where the author has (either explicitly or not) left out anything he did not consider relevant (including a bibliography of sources!), we realize that "lost variations" will only multiply in the future....which means that those who take pleasure in chess restoration still have many treasures to unearth.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Black to play and win most quickly.
The "pawn steamroller" was used to great effect by NM Peter Radomskyj in one of his best games from the US Amateur Teams East 2006 tournament, annotated in Cheyney - Radomskyj, USATE 2006. Pete showed us the game shortly after it was played: NM Scott Massey and I were getting dinner at a local restaurant between rounds, when Pete noticed our small analysis set and came immediately to our table. Joined by the rest of the Westfield CC team, he excitedly analyzed the game from memory, rightfully pleased with his performance. I was glad to find it contained in the USATE 2006 PGN file since it is a nice example of the steamroller theme (most famously illustrated by the great game Gufeld - Kavalek, Marianske Lazne 1962, which I also include for the few readers who might not know it).
Pete is one of the more active masters in New Jersey, playing frequently at the Westfield and West Orange Chess Clubs, and he most recently won the Legends of New Jersey Chess tournament at Westield (see the official Tournament Crosstable here). We hope to see more of his games in the future.
Monday, March 27, 2006
USATE 2006 Games in PGN
Official USCF Crosstable (of individual results)
Wall Chart (of team results and individual results by team) -- a big text file.
The Wall Chart shows that Kenilworth CC #1 finished 21 out of 272 teams. Not bad, and, in fact, better than last year. There was some concern that we had failed to sign up properly to put ourselves in contention for best NJ Team, but the Wall Chart shows that ICA Dads (13th place) was well ahead of us (as was at least one other NJ Team).
I have not had a chance to go through the games myself but I know that there are several interesting ones and I will likely be analyzing a few in the coming week. There was an especially nice ending played by Westfield CC's Peter Radomskyj that deserves some attention and which he showed to some of us shortly after it was played. So, more to come....
Abraham Kupchik (1892-1970) was one of the best players in the United States between the Wars, but never developed an international reputation because he almost never played abroad (with the sole exceptions of Havana 1913 and the 1935 Warsaw Olympiad, which serve practically as bookends to his career). He won the Manhattan Chess Club championship eleven times (once shared), the New York State Championship twice (1915 and 1919), the National Chess Federation title at Bradley Beach 1928, and the Western States Championship (then the equivalent of the U.S. Open) in 1925. His strong performances at the two Lake Hopatcong tournaments of 1923 (shared first with Marshall) and 1926 (second to Capablanca) are the best proof that he was probably of high-IM or low-GM stength--an idea supported by his tie with GM Carlos Torre in a 1924 match. As Sam Sloan notes, despite the fact that Kupchik's play was confined to New York and New Jersey, he defeated most of the best players of his age including "Bogoljubov, Marshall, Chajes, Bernstein, Edward Lasker (many times)" and "drew Capablanca and Alekhine when they were world champions." He was also a formidable opponent at speed chess right up until his death, as both Sloan and our own Steve Stoyko can attest.
His play reminds me a bit of Sammy Reshevsky's, especially in its focus on positional themes. Torre bigrapher Gabriel Velasco notes that (also like Reshevsky), "Kupchik stood barely five feet tall and weighed less than 115 pounds, and the assertiveness of his personality was in proportion to his size" and that "In keeping with his personality, his style was thoroughly defensive and non-aggressive: he would erect a staunch bulwark and invite his opponent to dash himself to bits against it (which many did)."
In his games against World Champion Capablanca and U.S. Champion Marshall, which I have annotated today (see links below), Kupchik exercised his natural caution, waiting for his opponents to act, and the strategy nearly succeeded against Marshall who was well known for "dashing himself to bits" against his opponent's defenses (that is, of course, when they failed to collapse). The game Kupchik lost to Capablanca was arguably among the finest and most deeply conceived of the tournament.
Kupchik-Capablanca, Lake Hopatcong 1926 (Queen's Indian / Dutch)
Marshall-Kupchik, Lake Hopatcong 1926 (Queen's Gambit, Slav Exchange)
Kupchik's performance at Lake Hopatcong 1926 was arguably the best of his career. Though some have suggested that he was lucky to get draws against Maroczy and Lasker in pawn-down positions and therefore may not have been the most deserving of second prize, I would suggest that those draws are simply more proof of his fighting spirit and power at the board. You can play over the games above and judge for yourself.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Geza Maroczy was 57-years-old at the time of Lake Hopatcong 1926, already over two decades after his greatest success at the Monte Carlo tournaments of 1902-1904 and Ostend 1905. He had retired from the game before WWI, but returned in the 1920s for what Hans Kmoch called his "second chess career." Though not in the best form, the tall Hungarian GM (who at over 6 feet towered above his competition) played some excellent games, including his first round win against Marshall. I have so far annotated two of his games for the Lake Hopatcong site:
Marshall-Maroczy, Lake Hopatcong 1926 (French Defense, Gledhill Attack)
Maroczy-Capablanca, Lake Hopatcong 1926 (Caro-Kann Defense, Exchange Variation)
In his 9th Round loss to Capablanca, Maroczy held his own and actually missed a draw (see the diagram below) after the World Champion's stunning Rook sacrifice with 34...Rxg3!?:
White to play and draw after 34...Rxg3!?
Maroczy seems to have had a problem with time management that likely affected his performance in complicated situations (such as the one above), but he played well enough to finish a close third, just half a point back from Kupchik (against whom he should have had a win in one of their games).
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Hans Ree, Op de marinebasis van San Diego NRC.NL (March 21)
Lubomir Kavelek, Chess column Washington Post (March 20)
Jack Peters, Aronian Surprise Victor at Linares LA Times (March 19)
Hector Leyva Paneque, Ataque al rey en el centro en la Defensa Siciliana Inforchess (March 16)
Goran Urosevic, "Storming the Barricades!" Chess News and Events (March 6)
Dennis Monokroussos, Round 3 The Chess Mind (March 6) - click link on left
Round 3 Annotated Games US Championship Website (March 5)
Larry Christiansen even blogged about the game on the US Championship's "Champblog," noting the following (which you can find about halfway down the page):
"Wojo walked into some preparation specifically the move 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a5 6 Bc4 e6 7 Bb3 b5 8 Qf3 Qc7 9 Bg5 Nbd7 10 0-0-0 Be7 11 e5!? Bb7 12 Qg3 Nxe5 (12…dxe5!?) 13 Bxe6 fxe6 14 f4 which I felt was worth a try. Note that 14 Nxe6?! Qd7 15 Nxg7+ Kf7 is fine for Black. After 14 f4, Black might have considered …Nc4 which leads to wild complications after 15 Nxe6 Qa5 (16…Qd7!?) 16 Nxg7+ Kf7 17 Rhe1! I should not go into too much detail—here but there are ‘chances for both sides'.
"After 14 f4 Ng6 15 Nxe6 Qd7 16 Rhe1 White must have good compensation for the piece. After the subsequent Kf7 17 f5! Nf8 the attack proved decisive after the simple 18 Bxf6 Bxf6 19 Rxd6 Qc8 20 Ng5+ Kg8 (20…Bxg5 21 Qxg5 Qc7 22 f6 Ng6 23 Re7+ wins) 21 Rxf6 pretty much finished matters."
Monday, March 20, 2006
Two of the best games at Lake Hopatcong 1926 were those won by Capablanca against Edward Lasker (Emanuel's less famous American cousin), the second of which won the brilliancy prize of the tournament:
Capablanca - Ed. Lasker, Lake Hopatcong 1926 (Queen's Gambit Declined, Cambridge Springs)
Ed. Lasker - Capablanca, Lake Hopatcong 1926 (Catalan)
It is clear that the two did not take their rivalry over the board personally, since they met at least once for tennis during the tournament:
From left to right: Edward Lasker, Jose R. Capablanca (holding daughter Gloria), Norbert Lederer (chief organizer of the event) and Edith Herschenstein.
Ed Lasker was known for his social graces and for his athleticism, the latter of which was on display in this promotional cover montage from the tournament book depicting "The Chess Player's Life at Lake Hopatcong":
From left to right, clockwise: Capablanca boating with his family, Marshall at the wheel, Kupchick testing the summer fruit with the hotel staff, Lasker on the diving board, and Maroczy fiddling his violin.
The photos are from the tournament book edited by Hermann Helms (with excellent notes by C. S. Howell), lent to me by Scott Massey. Thanks Scott!
Another recent article, this one about U.S. champ Hikaru Nakamura ("I'm not Bobby Fischer," Salon), speaks to Fischer's problematic legacy, which continues to create an "incredibly pressured external world" for anyone who takes the game seriously. It is just impossible to make a living at the game, says Nakamura. And confronted by the money that Poker Celebrities are raking in, it's hard to imagine devoting yourself to the game. Both Waitzkin and Nakamura speak to the negative aspects of competitive chess and the terrible missed opportunity of the Fischer years. The wave of interest in the game that his 1972 championship generated crashed and mostly retreated into the sea once Fischer refused to defend his title a few years later. If he had been able to keep his life together and use his celebrity in support of chess, who knows but that it may have helped those who followed to find more sponsorship and support.
Is there hope for chess? If there is, it comes in the form of GM Susan Polgar, who is featured in a recent Newsday story ("A Chess Queen"). If there is anyone trying to create a climate of interest in the game, it is she. And her attempts to market the game have met some success. Her approach is simple: How do you make chess popular in America? You make it faster (televised blitz), bigger (enormous simuls), and more broadly appealing (no one has done more to get girls into the game). You use the media and make media connections. And you produce material for television, DVD, or computer (because no one really reads anymore). She has been a genius at promotion -- including promoting our chess elite. If we are lucky, she will succeed at making herself and other American GMs the new heroes of the game in the U.S. and thus replace Fischer with more positive role models, giving the game a more appealing face if nothing else....
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
I have decided to return to my Lake Hopatcong project.... With a new child due any day now, I'm not sure it will be completed this year. But I have decided to give it a go. The image above is a little header I've put together for the website which, I hope, does something to change the image people have of New Jersey (The Sopranos hardly helps).... Two games I have previously annotated are now ready to join the site:
Monday, March 13, 2006
Black to play and win.
I annotated some of 2005 and 2006 Kenilworth Chess Club Champion Steve Stoyko's games from the 2nd Bergen Futurity International Tournament of 1985 (mentioned in a previous post), where Steve took clear second behind Aviv Friedman. In looking closely at them (and reflecting on some of the contemporary notes by FM Charles Adelman in the Atlantic Chess News), I couldn't help but recall a favorite phrase of Steve's which I have often heard as we go over my games: "Why give him what he wants?" It strikes me that this phrase has at its heart some good psychological advice to help guide your choices over the board. I remember, for example, someone telling me the story of how he had asked Steve what was the best way for Black to meet the Wing Gambit against the Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.b4!?) and was shocked when Steve replied, "How about 2...b6?" "You mean you wouldn't take the pawn?" the fellow demanded, to which Steve replied, "Why give him what he wants?"
Black to play and win.
White to play and win.
Veselin Topalov seems to be making a habit of come-from-behind performances at super-GM tournaments of late. His comeback at Corus is a case in point: after dropping an early game to Mickey Adams, he returned to form late in the event to make an even score with Anand (who took first place on tie-breaks). And at the recently concluded Linares / Morelia Super-GM tourney he did it again, dropping two games in the first four rounds but then mounting a strong comeback that concluded with a victory over tournament leader Leko in the penultimate round to gain a four-way tie for first going into the final. In the final round, however, he played into a drawing line against tail-ender Vallejo Pons which allowed Aronian to take sole first place (with a nice win over Leko, annotated today by Kavalek).
World Champion Topalov certainly made it quite interesting for chess fans. In many ways, I find it easier to admire Topalov the underdog and "come-from-behind kid" than I did to embrace the completely dominant Kasparov when he was World Champ. Topalov's early losses humanize him, while his strong finishes still convincingly demonstrate that he is deserving of the title. As an ordinary chess fan, you gotta love that.
You can easily get your fill of annotated games from the tournament, which can be found all over the internet. Here is my selection of four favorites with links to annotations:
1) Topalov - Leko, Round 13
--Sakaev, Topalov-Leko at e3 e5
--Good annotations, translated into English, by the Russian GM.
--Malcolm Pein, Morelia / Linares 2006, Round 13, at TWIC
--"The Incredible Topalov Comeback" at Chessbase, where you'll find a great report with pictures and video.
2) Svidler - Topalov , Round 1
Despite my admiration for the champ, I must admit I often prefer the games where Topalov loses to those he wins. His first round loss to Peter Svidler was one of the highlights of the event for me, interested as I am in the theory of the Berlin Defense to the Ruy Lopez / Spanish. It is also among the most widely annotated:
--Dennis Monokroussos, Linares Round 1, from The Chess Mind
--Malcolm Pein, "Moreia / Linares 2006, Round 1" at TWIC
--Maxim Notkin, Round 1 Games, at ChessPro
--Robert Byrne, Svidler Gives Topalov Trouble in the NY Times.
--This first loss of Topalov's is also among several games commented on at the Convekta website by IM Alexander Alpert
3) Aronian-Vallejo, Round 11
This was among my favorite games since its opening was so tactically intricate and interesting.
--FM Jorge Fernández, Aronian - Vallejo at InforChess.
--Sergei Shipov, Aronian - Vallejo, at ChessPro.
4) Ivanchuk - Svidler , Round 6
A success for Ivanchuk's anti-Gruenfeld weapon Bg5!? which was also used by Aronian in this tournament.
--Hector Leyva, Ivanhuk-Svidler, Morelia Ronda 6, at Inforchess
--Lubmir Kavalek in his Washington Post column (February 27, 2006) along with Leko - Ivanchuk.
--Malcolm Pein, Morelia / Linares Round 6, at TWIC
You can explore other postings by the writers above to see additional annotated games (usually by changing the round number in the URL). Other information about the tournament can be found at the official Morelia site and the official Linares site.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Thursday, March 09, 2006
White to play and win.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Black to play and win.
White to play and at least draw.
Black to play and win.
Black to play and win easily.
The diagrams above, from Round 8 of the Kenilworth Chess Club Championship, all involve gaining a Queen, either by winning the opponent's lady or forcing through a pawn to the queening square. None of the positions are especially difficult (especially once you know the goal).
I was not able to attend last meeting due to illness, but I hope to make it this Thursday to play my last game (against NM Scott Massey) and to witness the playoff games between NM Mark Kernighan vs. FM Steve Stoyko for the Club Champion title and Bob Pelican vs. Ed Selling for the U-1800 title.
If Steve had not lost the thread in time pressure and blundered away his winning advantage, forcing him to take a draw by perpetual check, no playoff would have been necessary. Now Mark "Mr. Houdini" Kernighan has a chance to win the title in the Game-30 playoff. But at least we will have some excitement on the last day of the tournament....
(Note: this is a corrected posting).
Monday, March 06, 2006
White to play and win after 34...Nxd7.
The story so far of the U.S. Chess Championship is that Nakamura is on a bad slide after losing his first round game to IM Josh Friedel (in what was actually a rather wild but generally better game for the U.S. Champ, until he made the wrong move in the diagram above).
Mig Greengard's excellent official website has everything you'd expect and more, including daily PGNs, annotated games, player profiles, daily pictures, and even a blog (which is already better than last year's effort since he has offered monetary inducements to encourage players to post). Bloggers following the event or providing some annotated games include The Daily Dirt, The Chess Mind, Chess News and Events, Shakmaty Bereolos, Susan Polgar, and IM Ben Finegold.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
"In his general habits, he resembles the Panther, lying in ambush for prey..." Rev. William Bingley, Animal Biography (1802)
"Motionless now and in absolute silence, she awaited her doom, the moments growing to hours, to years, to ages; and still those devilish eyes maintained their watch." Ambrose Bierce, "The Eyes of the Panther" (1893)
The Panther has long been feared as an intelligent and patient carnivore, willing to wait for many hours in a tree above a watering hole or to stalk quietly in the darkness, hidden by its natural black camouflage, approaching its prey with slow and deliberate care. Only when it has the advantage of proximity and surprise does it leap forward from the dark with claws outstretched to ensnare and overwhelm its victim.
The Black strategy in the closed variation of the Panther (following, for example, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 d6 4.Nc3 e5 5.d5 Ne7) is similarly careful and deliberate. For this reason, it is not an opening that will appeal to everyone, though it is not without its attractions even to the most vicious aficionado of attack. It just requires a mental adjustment, especially if, like me, you have always thought of yourself as a swashbuckling gambiteer of the Frank James Marshall mold.
As Jonathan Rowson puts it in Chess for Zebras, "...the openings we play are part of our chess identities. We invest time and energy in them because we want to bolster whatever sense of ourselves as chess-players that we have constructed" (37). In calling this line "The Panther," Stoyko and Freeman intended to emphasize to themselves its quiet aggression and to remind themselves that though they had to put up with a bit of a cramped game at first, their inevitable counter-attack would be quite bloodthirsty and satisfying. The "Crampy Old-Indian" was not something they were going to play. But "The Panther," now that was something with which to identify, practically as a chess totem.
Over twenty years after giving up these lines, though, Stoyko has his doubts about the strategy of "lying in wait" and prefers to play directly in the center with 1.d4 d5 or the 1.e4 e6. In reviewing my repertoire with me recently, he asked some probing questions about why I had chosen a 1...Nc6 repertoire as Black as opposed to, say, 1.e4 e5 and 1.d4 d5, with which I have also experimented. It was a tough question to answer. I knew that to say, "Because there isn't as much theory" or "Because of surprise value" would not get me very far, though he wouldn't consider those reasons completely invalid. As a principled player, however, who has chosen lines in which he thoroughly believes for the long-haul, Steve would want me to find a more legitimate reason -- one in which even I could believe. The most truthful answer I could come up with was that I see these openings as a way of growing as a player by learning about positional themes more related to space and position than to time and material. After all, my youthful chess career was spent copying the Romantics like Morphy and Marshall. I felt it was time to learn more about Nimzovich and Petrosian. I cut my teeth on the Urusov Gambit, but I know I have to try out different food if I'm to grow as a player. The Panther whets my appetite for meaty positions.
As Yasser Seirawan says in an interview: "You can without question change your style. I think that to a great extent your style is dictated by your choice of openings. For example, if you play the Dragon from a young age and you stay true to the Dragon, I'm sorry, but your style is going to be extremely sharp. You go from the Dragon to the Caro-Kann and your style will undergo a fundamental change" (Summerscale & Summerscale, Interview with a Grandmaster, 26). I think that The Panther is one way to round out my knowledge, not by changing my style completely but by adding new ideas to my reservoir of chess skills so that I'll be better equipped to handle any positions.
In Part One and Part Two of this article, I gave a general overview of themes and ideas in this line. The games in Part Three focus on the patient strategy of The Panther, "lying in ambush" and working up small advantages and sources of counterplay. Black has some clear strategies he can pursue, and that sometimes makes his task much easier than White's. After all, once you recognize the basic Panther behavior patterns, you'll know how to stalk your opponent. And he will be unnerved, not knowing how to escape.
Learning the common themes and motifs can give you an advantage in many situations, even if your position on the board is not really more favorable. In fact, when Bill Freeman and Steve Stoyko were first exploring 1...Nc6 lines together, they not infrequently tried them out in reverse as White by opening 1.Nc3 followed by 2.a3. Their main idea was to gain an advantage in both psychology and knowledge while risking very little. In certain tournament situations, that can be a powerful way to play.
I have had a few conversations with Steve about this, and in each he tries to remember what they called the White Panther, but no matter how much he racks his brains he cannot recall. Twice we have had the following exchange, more or less:
Me: "Was it the Cheetah? The Cougar? The Puma? The Jaguar?"
Steve: "No, it was some white cat."
Me: "The Snow Leopard? It had to be the Snow Leopard - as rarely seen, after all, as 1.Nc3 and 2.a3..."
Steve: "No, it wasn't the Snow Leopard."
Me: "The White Tiger?"
Me: "The Ocelot?"
Steve: "No, it was some sort of cat."
Me: "That is a cat..."
And on both occasions he has concluded by saying, "Maybe it was the White Elephant...." Somehow I doubt it, though. The White Elephant is just not something I can see Steve playing.