Monday, June 01, 2009

Brilliancies from Down Under

(NOTE: TCG received a complimentary copy of the book, Australian Chess Brilliancies, for this review).

Chess books of the game collection category – best games, most instructive, most beautiful, whatever – are always beset with an obvious problem. That is, the difficulty in selecting which games to include in the first place. For the author it is a challenge firstly of defining some rules and hopefully persuading the reader to agree. And that’s without mentioning the sheer volume of games to examine, some of which lying dormant in old magazines. Such was the enormous task that author Kevin Casey set out to do.

The ex-American who now resides in the northern Australian state of Queensland has recently published a book entitled, "Australian Chess Brilliancies – Creative Attacking Chess from Down Under". In it Kevin, himself a master level player and, would you believe, an ex-champion of Alaska (1980 and 1981) presents 29 games (this odd number is unexplained) which he describes as “some of the finest and most creative attacking games ever produced by Australian chess players”. A pretty big claim if ever there was one!

But first, what exactly is a “brilliancy”? According to Casey it is “a game which features spectacular attacking play, unexpected sacrifices, stunning moves and a very high level of creative imagination.” To make his point clear he cites Polugaevsky – Nezhmetdinov, 0-1, 1958 Soviet Championships and Cifuentes – Zviagintsev, 0-1, 1995 Wijk aan Zee as examples of this definition, then includes a couple more that came close but no cigar. These latter examples are described as “error-rich-almost-brilliancy”, “pretty-but-not-really-necessary-sacrifice” and the “might-have-been”. Also out were games played at rapid and slower time controls.

In a prepared Q&A Casey says, “I was really quite brutal in the culling process. I waded through an absolute ton of games, many virtually unknown (even to Australians), and extracted a scant few of the very best. From the beginning my aim was quality, not quantity. I place a high value on soundness, stalwart defense, sheer ingenuity and originality in the attacking concepts. And yes, a stunning and totally unexpected move that rocks you back in your seat while you’re playing over the game certainly has its place too.”

So how did he do? Very well, in fact, but I have a couple of complaints.

Right from the content page I couldn’t help notice that among the whole collection of twenty-nine games chosen by Casey only 2 were from the 70's, 6 from the 80's, 13 from the 90's and 8 from the noughties. That’s right – none from the 19th Century to the 1960’s! Surely, I thought, the great champions of the past must have produced at least one or 2 gems that satisfied Mr Casey's demanding standards. Well, evidently not. Names like Jamieson, Koshnitsky, Hamilton and Steiner are nowhere to be seen. But hey if they didn’t play a brilliant game according to our author’s definition, then I suppose that’s fair enough.

Still, I really must show this little old classic. Either it was never considered or made it only as far as Mr Casey’s cutting floor. J. Stegert, in the January 1968 issue of Chess in Australia, considered it as “possibly the greatest match-game ever contested between Australian masters.”

Australian Championship Match, 1913 (7th Game)
Viner, William S
Crakanthorp, Spencer

1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. Qxd4 Nc6 4. Qe3 Nf6 5. Nc3 Bb4 6. Bd2 O-O 7. O-O-O Re8 8. Qg3 Nxe4 9. Nxe4 Rxe4 10. Bf4 d6 11. Bd3 Re6 12. Nf3 h6 13. c3 Bc5 14. h4 Qf6 15. Ng5 Re7 16. Ne4 Qe6 17. Bg5! Re8 (17... hxg5?? 18. hxg5+-) 18. Rde1 Ne5 19. Bc2 Qg4 20. Qh2 hxg5? Finally grabbing the piece, but he should have preferred (20... Bb6) 21. hxg5 At last, the white player has what he wanted - the opening of the h file. And now, to the finishing touches. 21...Kf8

Position after 21...Kf8

22. f4 Ng6 23. Qh8+!! Nxh8 24. Rxh8+ Ke7 25. Rxe8+ Kd7 26. Ba4+ (W. Viner gives 26. Nf6+ as quicker, for now 26...gxf6 (26... Kc6 27. Nxg4) 27. Ba4+ b5 28. Bxb5+ c6 29. R1e7#) 26... b5 27. Bxb5+ c6 28. Nf6+ Kc7 29. Nxg4 cxb5 30. R1e7+ Kb6 31. Rxf7 a5 32. Rxg7 b4 33. Nf6 1-0

Howzat for “spectacular attacking play, unexpected sacrifices, stunning moves and a very high level of creative imagination”?

My second complaint is that two games just didn’t really feel like they fitted in. These are Solomon – Harris, 1-0, 1998 Hervey Bay Open (game 7) and Georgiev – Rogers, 0-1, 1993 Biel (game 15). Both these games, while definitely blessed with beautiful finishes, just seem a bit, I don’t know, simplistic. In the Solo game the attack is a familiar routine, while in the Rogers encounter the Aussie GM delivers a Bishop sac that immediately forces surrender. So what? Big deal.

Finally, and this is a minor complaint, Casey could at least have included a list of sources - be they databases, books, journals or whatever. I tend to look at this to compare notes on the analysis, for example, or just to see what books might actually be worth purchasing for my collection.

All that said the rest of this book is a fine collection of truly wonderful contests, gorgeous sacrifices and ultimately, brilliant games. Plenty a times we have seen Rogers – Milos, 1-0, 1992 Manila Olympiad, but here it certainly belongs in Casey’s book. And if you cannot get enough of this game’s inner secrets check out also GM Christiansen’s discussion over on ICC (user credentials required).

There is also Reilly – Leskiewicz wherein black, the Aussie junior champ in 1997 (whatever happened to him?), stuns his opponent with the most unexpected Queen sacrifice. Not one to be outdone as far as Queen-sacs go, check out game 24 where we see the then 15-year old IM David Smerdon abandoning his Lady against no less than IM Stephen Solomon. That epic battle is amply narrated by Casey and I must thank him for this as it's the first time that I've seen this game. An amazing encounter.

Now I understand that IM Greg Hjorth is back in the country after many years of teaching at UCLA. What better way for us to acquaint ourselves with his chess talents than with game 14, Hjorth – Johansen, 1-0, 1983 Commonwealth Championships? There’s a lesson there about long diagonals.

All in all this is a book worthy of inclusion in anyone's chess library. Given the rarity of books about Aussie chess, local readers should simply buy this as a matter of instinct. And foreigners, too, could also learn something about chess Down Under. Casey in his prepared Q&A: "This is a games collection rather than an instructive chess manual, so its primary role is entertainment and as an historical record of great Australian chess games."

Finally, let's take a look at a game from the book. While there are certainly many to choose from, this one is my fave.

Brisbane CC Championships 1998
Flynn, Chris
Stawski, Nicholas

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 O-O 8. Qd2 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxd5 Qxd5 11. Nxc6 Qxc6 12. O-O-O Be6 13. Kb1 Qa4 14. a3 Rac8 15. Bd3

Position after 15. Bd3

15...Rc3 16. Qc1 Rb3 17. cxb3 Qxb3 18. Bc4 Bxc4 19. Qc2 Qa2+ 20. Kc1 Bb3 21. Qb1 Bxb2+ 22. Kd2 Bc1+ 23. Kxc1 Rc8+ 0-1

Local readers can purchase this book directly from the publisher by sending a cheque or money order to Kimberley Publications, P.O. Box 6095, Upper Mount Gravatt QLD 4122. Total cost is $19.95 plus $3.00 postage and handling ($22.95 total). Buyers from overseas can contact kimpub at bigpond dot net dot au.


Anonymous said...

A pretty average book with big name

Anonymous said...

Surely white missed a quicker win in the first game. Black plays Ke7 and white should now Nf6+.

So how could such a game make it into the book?

Anonymous said...

Could you please publish list of 29 games.

TheOtherKGBFiles said...

25.Nf6+ immediately loses to 25...Be6, blocking the check & defending the e8 rook with the rook on a8 when you are simply a queen for knight down.

Anonymous said...

This old game is an fairly nice effort indeed. Had I known of it, there's a good chance it would have been included in the book.

Kevin Casey