A Vigorous Discussion

When Baadur Jobava won the Tseshkovsky Memorial in Sochi last September, I expected to find a few vintage Jobava games from that tournament for my newspaper column. Vintage Jobava means an irregular opening followed by a sharp attack spiced with surprising tactics.

I was a bit disappointed when I found that Jobava had played normal chess in Sochi, as he would also do a month later in the Dutch town Hoogeveen, where he beat Jan Timman in a short match with the score 4½-1½. “I also can play normal chess,” he had said there, and of course he could. I have nothing against normal chess, but for the newspaper I wanted something more spectacular. 

If Jobava’s games from the Tseshkovsky Memorial did not fulfill my needs, I could take a game by Tseshkovsky himself. This is one of the good things of all these Russian memorial tournaments; they guide you back to the classics. 

Vitaly Tseshkovsky died in 2011 at the board during a rapid tournament in Krasnodar, at the age of 67. He is one of many who died that way. The last one I know of is Kurt Meier, who played for the Seychelles at the Olympiad in Tromsø and died of a heart attack during the last round. In the Netherlands Adolf Olland, who was the strongest Dutch player before the rise of Max Euwe, died of a heart attack at the board during the Dutch championship of 1933. In the Amsterdam chess café that I frequented in my younger years there was another case, which fortunately I did not witness. I think there are good reasons to assume that it is indeed an occupational hazard for older players. Though maybe Viktor Kortchnoi would call it a benefit, for he once said in an interview that this was the way he hoped to die.

After Tseshkovsky’s death Vladimir Kramnik wrote a fine tribute to his former coach in which he suggested that Tseshkovsky loved chess too much to gain the successes that would match his great talent. He investigated chess positions at length just because they were interesting, not because they could be of any practical use to him. According to Kramnik, Tseshkovsky’s “sporting qualities” were zero, and what’s more, he was quite unable of bootlicking to the officials who would decide if a Soviet player could travel abroad or should stay at home.

In spite of these handicaps, Tseshkovsky won the Soviet championship twice, sharing the title with Tal in 1978 and finishing clear first in 1986.

I knew which game by Tseshkovsky I would give in my newspaper column, because I vaguely remembered a discussion about it on the pages of the American magazine Chess Life. It was a game between him and Walter Browne from the Interzonal in Manila in 1976.

The tale of that game started one year earlier with a game won by Browne as Black against Robert Byrne in the U.S. championship of 1975.

After that game a reader of wrote a letter to Larry Evans’ question-and-answer column to point out that Byrne would have gained a large advantage if he had not played 12.Bf4, but 12.Bf2. In his answer Evans agreed with him and praised his analysis.

But Walter Browne did not agree and wrote a letter himself to Evans’ column, maintaining that also after 12.Bf2 he would have a big advantage as Black. The last line of his letter was “Writing can also be work,” a jibe at Evans for his supposed uncritical acceptance of the view of the earlier letter writer. But Browne was wrong and Evans had been right. 

Browne’s letter had already been written but not yet published when Tseshkovsky at the Interzonal of 1976 in Manila played 12.Bf2, as recommended by the first letter writer. Browne replied the way he had recommended in his own letter and in no time he was dead lost. In fact he was massacred by a nice sacrificial attack.

Of course Evans would publish that game and to put the icing on the cake he also published a reader’s letter in which he was asked what his personal score against Browne was. It had been very favorable. 

This snappy discussion would not be possible nowadays. With a modern engine, Browne would have seen at one glance that he was quite mistaken when he wrote his letter.

Click to play through the game annotated by Hans...


Manila Olympiad 1976