Monday, May 25, 2009; 9:00 AM
Luis Ramirez Lucena was the Spanish author of the oldest surviving chess book, "Repetición de Amores y Arte de Ajedrez con ci Iuegos de Partido." His 1497 work discusses some opening play and also includes 150 problems, sometimes with unusual tasks. For example, in one of them (White: Ke5,Ra1,Rf1,P:e6; Black: Kh8, P:f2) white has to mate with a pawn. How? Solution next week.
An Elusive Weakness
The pawn on f7 is black's weakest pawn at the start of the game and beginners may learn it the hard way. Defended only by the king, the pawn has been a target in many games ending with the Fool's Mate (1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6?? 4.Qxf7 mate). Another attack on the pawn on f7 (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5) is popular among scholastic champions. Shortly after I learned chess, I played a game against a player whose second move confused me.
Kavalek - Jira
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6?! (I was at a loss: How am I going to attack the weak pawn on f7 when the weakness moves away?) 3.Bc4 (Preventing black from castling is the least I could do, I thought. Today, some computers suggest that the bishop move is almost as strong as the knight sacrifice.) 3...Ne7 (We did not know about the gambit of the Viennese master Josef Krejcik: 3...b5!? 4.Bxb5 Bb7 5.Nc3 c6 6.Bc4 d5, giving black a strong pawn center. It was played around 1911.) 4.Nc3 d5 5.exd5? (A terrible move. Of course, 5.Nxd5! should have been played. My opponent intended to answer it with the pin 5...Bg4? after which white wins with a queen sacrifice: 6.Nxe5!! Bxd1 7.Nxf6+! gxf6 8.Bf7 mate. Of course, such a combination would be a big stretch for a player who at the time still adored the Fool's Mate.) 5...c6 6.d6 Ng6 7.d4 and somehow I managed to win in 21 moves.
Upon my return home, I discovered that the strange-looking second move my opponent played is called the Damiano defense and that it could be refuted on the spot with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nxe5. Pedro Damiano, a pharmacist from the Portuguese town of Odemira, was the author of the first Italian chess book, published in 1512. Most of the content was lifted from Lucena, who was often careless in his analysis. Let's have a look at how he worked out what we now know as the Damiano defense.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6?! (Damiano pointed out that this is the weakest move. He recommended 2...Nc6 as the best. It remains a mystery why the move 2...f6 turned against him and was later called the Damiano defense.) 3.Nxe5! (Although the knight sacrifice was pointed out by Lucena, the Spanish priest Ruy Lopez de Segura called it the Damiano gambit in his book published in 1561. In 1619, the Italian Gioacchino Greco nicknamed it "el gambetto bastardo.") 3...fxe5 (3...Qe7 is mentioned by Lucena.) 4.Qh5+ Ke7 (Lucena briefly touches on 4...g6 5.Qxe5+ Qe7 6.Qxh8 and white has a decisive material advantage.) 5.Qxe5+ Kf7 6.Bc4+ d5 (After 6...Kg6 7.Qf5+ Kh6 8.d4+ g5 9.h4 d5 10.Qf7 and there is no good defense against 11.hxg5 mate.) 7.Bxd5+ Kg6 8.Qg3+?! (Lucena shows this move. Today, we know that 8.h4! h5 9.Bxb7! Bd6 10.Qa5! is decisive. White should win either after 10...Nc6 11.Bxc6 Rb8 12.Nc3; or after 10...Bxb7 11.Qf5+ Kh6 12.d4+ g5 13.Qf7 Bf4 14.hxg5+ Qxg5 15.Bxf4.) 8...Kf6 (After 8...Qg5 Lucena gives 9.Qxc7 Qxg2? 10.Qf7+ Kh6 11.d3+ g5 12.Qxf8+ Kh5 13.Qf7+ Kh4 14.e5 Qg4 15.Bf3 Qh3 16.Qh5 mate.) 9.Qf4+ Kg6 10.Qf7+? (Lucena did not see 10.Bf7 mate.) 10...Kg5 11.d3+ Kg4 12.Qf3+ (Overlooking 12.h3+ Kh4 13.g3 mate.) 12...Kh4 13.g3+ Kh3 14.Qh5+ Kg2 15.e5+ (Lucena thought that it's mate, but black can play 15...Qxd5.) The analyses were made shortly after the queen acquired more power. Lucena obviously confused it with the old chess, where the queen was the weakest piece. His analyses were later corrected and the 2...f6 defense regarded as faulty.
A Strange Comeback
Mikhail Chigorin was the strongest player who dared to try the Damiano defense in a serious game. The first Russian grandmaster played two world championship matches against William Steinitz in 1889 and 1892, but lost both of them. Chigorin chose the Damiano defense in a match against his former teacher Emanuel Schiffers, played in St. Petersburg in 1897. It didn't go well, and Chigorin quickly lost his queen for two light pieces. But he was able to mount some pressure against the white king and the game should have been drawn. After Schiffers made a clumsy win attempt, Chigorin could have finished the game with an incredible combination. But he didn't see it, and the game was drawn.
At the 1964 Student Olympiad in Krakow, Poland, two Scandinavian players, Jan Erik Westman of Sweden and Erkki Havansi of Finland, tested the suspicious Damiano defense again. It was a disaster for black.
Westman - Havansi
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6?! 3.Nxe5! Qe7! 4.Nf3 d5 5.d3 dxe4 6.dxe4 Qxe4+ (Black wins the pawn back, but his exposed queen gives white time to take a substantial lead in development.) 7.Be2 Nc6 (Bobby Fischer reacted to the aggressive 7...Bf5 with 8.Nd4 in a simultaneous game against Robert McGregor in Houston in 1964. The game continued 8...Nc6 9.Nxf5 Qxf5 10.0-0 Bd6 11.Bg4 Qb5 12.Nc3 Qc4 and now instead of 13.Be2, Fischer could have played 13.Re1+ Nge7 14.Be6, pinning the black king to the middle.) 8.0-0 Bd7 9.Nc3 Qe6 (The game Schiffers-Chigorin, St. Petersburg 1897, continued 9...Qg6 10.Ne5! Nxe5 11.Bh5, and white won the queen. But the fun was not over: After 11...0-0-0 12.Bxg6 hxg6 13.Qe2 Bd6 14.Ne4? Nf3+! 15.gxf3 [After 15.Qxf3 Bxh2+ 16.Kh1 Bg3+ draws.] 15...Bxh2+ 16.Kg2 Bh3+ 17.Kh1 Be5 18.Kg1 Bh2+ 19.Kh1 Be5 20.Qe1 Bg4+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3 22.Ng3 Ne7 23.Qe3 Bc6 24.Qxa7? and now Chigorin overlooked what could have been a combination of a lifetime: 24...Rh1+!! 25.Nxh1 Bh2+! 26.Kxh2 Rh8+ 27.Kg3 Nf5+ 28.Kf4 Rh4 mate.) 10.Bf4 0-0-0 11.Nb5 Be8 12.Bd3 Bd6 13.Re1 Qg4? (Losing to a pretty combination. White also wins after 13...Qf7 14.Bxd6 cxd6 15.Bf5+ Kb8 16.Nxd6!) 14.Bxd6 cxd6 15.Rxe8! Rxe8 16.Bf5+! (A pretty deflection: After 16...Qxf5 17.Nxd6+ wins.) Black resigned.
Solution to Last Week's Puzzle
May 18: White mates in four moves by Gustav Herbert Hultberg (White: Kh3,Rg3,Nh1,P:e2,f2,g2; Black: Kg1) 1.e4! Kxh1 (or 1...Kf1 2.Re3 Kg1 3.Re1 mate) 2.f4! Kg1 3.Rf3 Kh1 4.Rf1 mate.