Friday, December 21, 2007

(235) Answering the question of when the earliest (Dragon) Sicilian ...Rxc3 sacrifice occured: 100 years ago.

On the afternoon of March 4th 2007 I was in conversation with Grandmaster Dr Jonathan Mestel at a chess meet
near Reading and mentioned a story I had heard about the 2nd game of the Short Vs Kasparov Times World Championship match in London in 1993.

At move 25, Kasparov, playing black, had sacrificed rook for knight on the square c3. This is a well known and highly thematic sacrifice. It had ruptured Short´s pawn structure and generated sufficient counterchances for Kasparov to enable him to hold the balance of the position. The game ended in a draw.

But the story had circulated (I stated to Mestel that I had heard it from more than one source) that a British Grandmaster who was commenting live on the game at the Savoy, and whom I have never known to have played either side of any game featuring the Sicilian Defence in his life, was taken aback by Kasparov´s ...Rxc3 sacrifice; it was said that he had never seen the idea before!

Jonathan said that he could not believe that.

In the mid 1990s I had mentioned the commenting British GM´s reported nonacquaintance with a ...Rxc3 sacrifice in the Sicilian to an expert player; Mark Adkins.

He was incredulous.

In 1984, Nigel Short
and I had flown to Sofia in Bulgaria and were met at the airport by Grandmaster Nikola Padevsky who would drive us to Plovdiv where we were to compete in an international tournament.

En route he told a story which astonished me.

He said that in 1956 he had played white against the then World Champion, Mikhail Botvinnik. The opening was the Sozin variation of the Sicilian Defence. At one point Botvinnik had sacrificed his rook for the white knight at c3, and, along with thus doubling and isolating white´s c pawns, had also got the pawn at e4 by way of compensation. In the above cited game with Short, Kasparov had not gained that pawn; his was a pure sacrifice of rook for knight. (It is taught that a rook is worth 5 points, a knight just 3.)

Padevsky said "Now, is normal, but then was new."

At his peak, Padevsky had been quite a strong Grandmaster (indeed, the game was played at the chess Olympiad in Moscow, where each man was playing top board for their respective nations.)

On March 8th 2007 I at long last got around to discovering the exact moves of the opening of this game, one apparently so important in the development of midlegame ideas -

White: Nikola Padevsky (Bulgaria) Black: Mikhail Botvinnik (USSR) Moscow Olympiad 1956
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Bc4 e6 7 0-0 Be7 8 Be3 0-0 9 Bb3 Na5 10 f4 b6 11 Qf3 Bb7 12 g4 Rc8 13 g5...
and, here it comes
... 13...Rxc3!

14 bxc3 Nxe4 15 Qg4 Qc8 16 Rf3 Nxb3 17 axb3 f5 and black stood excellently and went on to win.

Padevsky´s anecdote made me wonder just when Sicilian Defence players had started sacrificing rooks for knights on c3.

Was that really, as he told it, the eye-opener?

I knew that International Master David Levy had written a book in the 1970s called Sacrifices in the Sicilian, and wondered whether it might include not only types of such sacrifices but also their history. But I had never checked this out.
As I mentioned to Mestel, apropos the Padevsky-Botvinnik game, to the modern mind the idea that anyone - a club player even, let alone a strong GM - would be surprised by the concept of ...Rxc3 was just unthinkable, and, naturally, he agreed.

How much more amazing, then, that a GM would be unacquainted with the theme when meeting with it in a game from a World Championship match 37 years later.

Although an amateur player, Jonathan was regarded as one of the world´s leading experts in one particular variation of the Sicilian Defence: the Dragon. Indeed, earlier on the very afternoon of our conversation he had played black in a Yugoslav Attack variation of the Dragon.,_Dragon_Variation

About a decade earlier I had glanced at a book devoted to just one line of the Dragon Sicilian, the so-called Soltis Variation of the Yugoslav Attack.
I noted he had been asked to supply the introduction.
As he was so expert in this matter, and had been playing Dragon Sicilians for 35 years or so, I asked him whether he knew when the first ...Rxc3 sacrifice in one had occured.
"In the 1930s, perhaps?", I suggested.

He replied that he did not know.

On March 8th 2007 I looked at Tim Krabbé`sé
Open Chess Diary and saw that he had just posted a new item; No. 339 -
" 8 March 2007:
Premiere of a sac
Eduardo Bauzá Mercére wonders whether the following game, which he found in the New York Post of June 1st, 1907, is the oldest example of the classic exchange sacrifice in the (Dragon) Sicilian. "

Ever since Padevsky´s story I had wanted to investigate the history of the ...Rxc3 sacrifice in the Sicilian.
But I only got around to it 23 years later, choosing precisely the right moment to ask the right man.

Mestel is a lecturer in applied mathematics.

In 1988, when I first mentioned to him my interest in coincidence, he publicly exclaimed,

"Nothing could make me believe any coincidence could not be explained by the laws of probability!"

His reaction to my pointing out this entry at Krabbé`s Open Diary was,

"That´s totally amazing."

As I was just about to send my first write up of these events to Krabbé, whom I had contacted on March 8th with an e mail saying that I had met nice coincidences apropos his latest entry and would be sending them to him in the next day or so, this e mail from Krabbé himself arrived saying -

Sent: Friday, 9 March, 2007 2:29:21 PM
Looking forward...
- Tim Krabbé
So, the latest entry at Tim´s Open Diary linked to the latest at mine.

The only times in his life when Gary Kasparov deployed the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defence were four games from his next World Championship Match.
That was in 1995 against Viswanathan Anand. He won with it in games 11 and 13 and drew 15 and 17.
All four were in the Yugoslav Attack, and 11, 13 and 17 were in the Soltis Variation. Kasparov won game 11 by sacrificing a rook in the c line, but this time it was for a pawn on c2, and not a knight on c3.

NB. Having written what I thought would be my final version of this nebula of coincidence, I remembered that when dining with Soltis (whom I played just once, in 1979, in New York, and whom I beat as black in a Sicilian Defence, although one where he had to cede me the advantage of rook for minor piece, and for insufficient compensation
in Bermuda in 1998, he had mentioned that he worked mostly writing or rewriting stories for a New York newspaper.

As the 1907 game was published in the New York Post, I thought it would round things off sweetly if that paper were the New York Post.

And when I checked it out, I saw that it was.
Then I asked Krabbé to tell me more about this Mr Eduardo Bauzá Mercére who had provided the 1907 example to him.
He replied that he was an Argentine, now living in New York, and a known collector of chess curios and often featured in supplying them to sites such as Krabbé`s Open Diary.
He cited Entry 256.
When I turned to it I realised that I had been in communication with the gentleman before.
I had e mailed him in August 2004 asking how he came to know of this coincidence of Castelli´s. He had replied -

The source is no other than Dr. Raúl Castelli himself, who wrote about it in an obscure chess club publication in 1969. If I am not mistaken, the subject was later taken by Infantozzi in the magazine “Mundo del ajedrez”... A translation follows:

From: Círculo de Ajedrez Villa Crespo, Boletín Oficial, N° 2, June 1969. pp. 6-8 A Unique Case Raúl Castelli
In Shakhmatnaya Moskva #268 (29 January 1969)... master Romanov wrote an interesting note about several cases of “parallelism” in chess games. For example, in Yanofsky-Unzicker and Kuijpers-Portisch, 1964 Tel-Aviv Olympiad, until move 30 exactly the same moves were made in both games! The article then gave several other similar instances.
In other occasions, the parallelism is not born out of an identical game development, but from remarkable tactical and strategic coincidences. L. Prins... attributed those coincidences to an alleged “accumulation law”.

Were this to be true or not, what I can guarantee you is that hardly there is in the whole history of chess a more incredible case than the one I lived 10 years ago, ONLY 38 DAYS APART: two of my games reached, after totally different openings and 71 moves, exactly the same position!!.

This “believe it or not” happened as follows:

Martínez, J.E. - Castelli, Raúl Buenos Aires, torneo interclubes “Confraternidad”, 27 November 1959.

The moves of this game, as visible in Entry 256 at Krabbés Open Diary, now followed.
There is a note after 18.Bc4: (another coincidence: in Benkö,F-Castelli,R., Argentine-ch preliminary, 1958, the game continued 18 f3 Qe7, with a small White advantage, which was not enough to win. And this is not a theoretical line!) And one other after 71... Ke6 (Keep this position well in mind!)

In the other game, played IN THE SAME LOCALE (in front to the club’s middle door leading to the balcony) I had the White pieces, with the better play in the “mysterious position”. Besides, unlike Martínez, I found the winning procedure: Castelli, Raúl - Fedorovsky, R.Buenos Aires, II torneo invitación Villa Crespo, 1959/60, 12th round, 5 January 1960
From move 70, the article concludes - 71.Kb4 Bc2 (same position at move 71 as in the other game! White to play and win:) 72.Kb5 Kd7 73.Bf2!! Kd6 74.Bh4!! Ke6 75.Kb4! (Zugzwang!) 75… Kf7 76.h7! Bxh7 77.Kxa4 Bg8 78.Kb5 Ke6 79.Kb6 Kd7 80.a4 Bd5 81.a5 Kd6 82.a6 1–0
When I mentioned my rival what had just happened, sarcastically, and not without reason, he answered:
“The most remarkable coincidence is that you played so well!”.

I note -
a) 4 days after I asked the acknowledged world authority on the Soltis Variation of the Dragon Sicilian, Dr. J. Mestel, when the first ...Rxc3 sacrifice in the Dragon Sicilian was played, the answer pops up at Krabbé`s Open Chess Diary. Krabbé, to whom I had related, over a year earlier, that I intended to have my own Open Coincidence Diary.

b) At the moment I was about to send my first write up of these events to Krabbé, whom I had contacted on March 8th with an e mail saying that I had met nice coincidences apropos his latest entry and would be sending them to him in the next day or so, an e mail from Krabbé himself arrived saying - "Looking forward".
c) The ...Rxc3 sacrifice which sparked off the discusion on March 4th 2007 was in the 2nd game of the 1993 Times World Championship Match between Short and Kasparov.
In the claimed first ever instance of a ...Rxc3 sacrifice in a Dragon Sicilian, the player executing it was Mr Curt.
"Curt" means short.
"Kurt" means short in Lasker´s native German.
June 1st, on which the piece was published in the paper, is Nigel Short`s birthday.
Short was in the car with me when GM Padevsky related the story of the surprise that ...Rxc3 was when played against him in 1956 - also by the reigning World Champion; Mikhail Botvinnik.

d) The featured 1907 game was played in New York. The annotator was the then World Champion, Emanuel Lasker.
Curiously, in the very next traceable incident of a ...Rxc3 sacrifice from a Dragon Sicilian game, Lasker was also involved. It was the following year in an exhibition game in London.
A German, in 1941 he was to die in New York.
The 1907 game was in what came to be known as the Soltis Variation of the Yugoslav Attack in the Dragon Sicilian.
The only games where World Champion Gary Kasparov deployed the Dragon Sicilian were four from his next title defence after the match with Short. Games 11, 13 and 17 were all in the Soltis Variation.
That was in 1995 against Anand.
In New York.
I played the eponymous GM Andrew Soltis, of New York, just once, in 1979. It was a Sicilian Defence where I played black and I won.
In New York.
The 1907 game cutting is from the New York Post.
Soltis is a journalist for the New York Post.
Mr Eduardo Bauzá Mercére who had provided the 1907 example, is an Argentine, now living in New York.
The first version of some of these coincidences which I sent to Krabbé - prompting him to link to this Open Diary from the entry at his Open Diary - was on March 9th 2007.
That was ex-World Champion Bobby Fischer´s 64th birthday. When he won the title in 1972, at 29, he was residing where he had been living since the age of 6.
In New York.
On March 10th 2007 I wondered whether Dr Roderick Main had my new address, and e mailed him with it. I also wondered whether his long-awaited book Revelations of Chance had yet appeared (see Entry 192).
A google search revealed - (see page 12 of the catalogue).
Suny was not a publisher he had mentioned before nor one I recognised.
It stands for State University of New York.
Publication date was March 1st, but Roderick said there would be a slight delay in my receiving a copy.
The catalogue cover shows a praying mantis. The design, it states, is taken from the cover of Revelations of Chance.
The motif of the mantis, as the Kalihari Bushman´s most potent symbol of God, is explored in Laurens van der Post´s book A Mantis Carol.
He relates a series of coincidences he claims to have met with in the late 1950s which led him to an encounter with a deceased Bushman in, of all places, New York.
SUNY designed the cover without consulting Main and doubtless chose the image of the praying mantis because one is involved in the synchronicity that opens his book.
There is no explicit mention of A Mantis Carol in the book.

Note also point a) of Blog Entry 238.

I drew Main´s attention to the burgeoning coincidences about ...Rxc3 in the Dragon, and he replied that, when he had played chess (see Entry 81) the Sicilian Dragon had been his favourite defence. But he could not recall ever having sacrificed a rook on c3.
Neither did he believe, during his finest hour in chess - his draw against Short in a simultaneous display - he had played the Dragon.

e) I had been in communication with Eduardo Bauzá Mercére once before. It was in 2004 and about a coincidence of a Dr. Castelli´s, one which the experiencer justly described as the greatest in all chess literature, when Bauzá Mercére had supplied it to Tim Krabbé who had then posted it as Entry. 256 at his Open Chess Diary, thus drawing it to my attention.
But I had forgotten the name of the person whom I had then e mailed.
Although his next contribution to Krabbé`s Open Diary had nothing to do with coincidence, it drew me to him again via a correspondence on coincidences that it generated.

f) Krabbé went on to give at his Diary what Bauzá Mercére cites as the second instance of this ... Rxc3 sacrifice, and again it was in the Dragon variation and again it involved annotations by the then World Champion, Lasker, who indeed this time was on the receiving end of the sacrifice.
He was the second official World Champion.
The game was played in London, where the World Championship Match of 1993 was played and which featured, in its second game, this, by now classic, ... Rxc3 sacrifice. the instance which had sparked off my discussion with Mestel.
In several languages, e.g. Spanish ("torre") the chess piece we call a rook is termed a tower or castle. Castelli means "castles" in Italian.
All of Kasparov´s Dragon Sicilian games were played on the observation deck of the World Trade Centre.

g) On July 24th 2007 I received an e mail from Main -

By the way, I received a letter from someone in New York, Tatiana Zeltser, who seems to have been very moved by Revelations of Chance, especially the interpretation of the connection between synchronicity and the Grail, which she relates to the theology of St Maximus the Confessor.
Anyway, she writes towards the end of her letter:

Please send my gratitude and best regards also to James Plaskett who generously lets us enjoy his precious experience!’
And this earlier article by Mark Dvoretsky also indicates some confusion about when the ...Rxc3 acrifice made its appearance -
NB. On January 18th 2010 I noted at Statcounter that someone had accessed the Blog via this Entry through entering a Google enquiry about the earliest game in the Soltis variation.
I therefore looked once again at this Entry and noted something re my reference to Castelli´s coincidence as reported in Entry 256 at Krabbé´s Open Chess Diary.
I had written here -
There is a note after 18.Bc4: (another coincidence: in Benkö,F-Castelli,R., Argentine-ch preliminary, 1958, the game continued 18 f3 Qe7, with a small White advantage, which was not enough to win. And this is not a theoretical line!)
And that made me think who that Mr Benkö could have been (?). There was a famous American Grandmaster, Pal Benkö, who had defected from Hungary in the 1950s (and whom I had seen in New York in 1979) but how could he be playing in a subsidiary event of the Argentine championship? I had never encountered anyone else of that name.
Later that same evening I looked again at Statcounter and saw that someone in Madrid had accessed this Blog at Entries (82) and (189) via the search "Graham Hillyard chess grandmaster".
When checking out all hits thrown up by that search I noted that the sixth one was -
The Argentine Benkö, the very chap of whom I had thought earlier that evening is pictured there. Seems that in addition to having been a player of some standard he was also an endgame study composer.
As is Pal Benkö.

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