Thursday, May 3, 2012

Recalling a chess miracle

I happened upon the game below on chessgames.com, to which I had submitted it some time ago. It was played in 1978, at a tournament I directed at Jules Stein's Chicago Chess Center, then at 2666 N. Halsted in Chicago. It was, and remains, the biggest upset I have ever seen or even heard of - over 1,000 rating points! White was Mario Spinosa, a junior with a published rating of 1272. Black was Ove Kroll of Denmark, a strong master who was a graduate student in mathematics at the University of Chicago, rated 2315. Ove was one of the strongest players in Chicago, and became a Senior Master a few months later.

The USCF had a big problem with its ratings program at the time, and ratings were lagging several months behind reality. Mario was improving rapidly, and his actual rating was more like 1600. He was particularly strong tactically, as this game well illustrates. He became a master about five years later.

The game features a sharp line of the Nimzowitsch Defense (1.e4 Nc6) that was supposed to be good for Black, namely 2.d4 d5 (2...e5!, favored by Miles and Bisguier, actually gives Black a plus score in the databases, which is why 2.Nf3! is White's most popular move) 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.Nc3!? (5.Be2 is probably stronger, and scores well for White) Bxf3 6.Nxd5 Bxd1 7.Nxc7+. White will be up the exchange, but can he save the beast on a8? The late Hugh Myers in his book The Nimzovich Defense (1973), p. 15, wrote "I believe that 5...BxN! refutes 6.N-B3?. But it is not the simplest thing in the world; some memorizing is required." (For you young whippersnappers who don't know what these strange letters mean, those were the olden days of descriptive notation.) Theory consisted mainly of two amusing miniatures won by Black. Kiss-Barcza, Debrecen 1934 went 7...Kd7?! 8.Nxa8 Bxc2 9.Bf4? (9.d5! Nb4 10.Bb5+ or 9...Nd4 10.Be3! is correct) e5 10.dxe5 Bb4+ 11.Ke2? Nge7 12.e6+ fxe6 13.Nc7 Nd4+ 14. Ke3 Nef5#. Black mated even more quickly in Bildhauer-Janny, Sopron 1927: 7...Kd8! (avoiding a later Bb5+ by White) 8.Nxa8 Bxc2 9.Bf4 Nxd4 10.Nc7 e5! 11.Bxe5 Bb4#!

After Mario played 9.Bf4 (à la Bildhauer, though he had just stumbled into this line and unlike Kroll knew nothing of the theory), Kroll thought a long time and finally rejected 9...Nxd4, perhaps because of 10.Be5 Nc6 11.Bc7+, a line not given by Myers, nor by T. Kapitaniak in Nimzovich Defence (1982), p. 33, but which the engines say is winning for White. Instead, he tried 9...e5!?, trying to gain time to develop his pieces and trap the knight. Myers says that move "is playable," while Kapitaniak simply gives "9...e5!-+" without further elaboration. But as the further course of the game showed, things are much more complicated than that. Kroll's pieces became extremely active, and he could have given perpetual check with 22...Ne2+. But who settles for a draw against a player rated 1,000 points lower? Instead he played 22...Nxh1?!, ironically trapping his own knight in the corner. Mario finally extricated his knight with 26.Nc7 and 27.Ne6!, and wound up the game with a pretty mate of Kroll's king, marooned on a1. It's odd how important the a8, h1, and a1 corners were in this game.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

22........ Ne2+ 23Kf1 Nf4+ 24 Kg1 Rxa8 White win. 23Rxd3 also won by white.

Anonymous said...

Sorry , Black win instead of white.

Bill Brock said...

What a cool game!


Even though it worked out OK for Mario, 14.Bf4 is probably wrong.

Some alternatives from Houdini (computer analysis can be misleading when there are trapped pieces, so please double-check!)

14. O-O Kb8 15. Rac1 Bf5 16. Bf4 (16. Nb6 axb6 17. Bxb6 and Black's a little better) 16... Bd6 17.Bxe5 Bxe5 18. Bxc6 bxc6 19. Rxc6 Kxa8 20. Rc5 Re8 and Black is better.

Better seems 14. Bxc6! Bb4+ 15. Bd2 Nxc6 16. Bxb4 Nxb4 17. Rc1 Kb8 (17... Re8+ 18. Kd2 Rd8+ 19. Ke3 Kb8 20. Nc7 Rd3+ 21.
Ke2 Rd8 is equal) 18. Nc7 Nd3+ 19. Ke2 Nxc1+ 20. Rxc1 Ba4 21. Nd5 Bb5+ 22. Ke1 Re8+ 23. Ne3 and dead equality.

Bill Brock said...

Look at the position after Black's 18th: there are three pieces lined up on the d-file. But White is worried about losing the bishop to ...Ne2+ and has a rook on h1 totally out of play.

19.Bc7+ addresses the ...Ne2+ problem, but that's all. So the right move is....

Bill Brock said...

Hi Anon 4:37-4:40

Anonymous said...

22...Ne2+ 23Kf1 Nf4+ 24 Kg1 Rxa8 is refuted by 25.Bc7-f4.

***

Ove Kroll was so strong that we used to talk about having been "Krolled" (as is rolled) off the board.

Bill Brock said...

Houdini does not like Kroll's 19...Kd7, preferring 19...Ke7.

And Black is perfectly fine until 26...Ba5??. One line is 26...Nxf2!
27.Kxf2 Bc5+ 28.Ke2 Bb6 (same idea, but now Black's bishop is protected and 29.Ne6 doesn't work). 29.Nxb5! Bxd8 30.Nxa7+ Kb6 31.Nc8 (forced) 31...Kc7 32.Na7 (forced) is a draw by perpetual attack.

Bill Brock said...

Back to move 19: after 19...Ke7! White only has 20.h3 Rxa8 21.Kh2 and I don't like White's drawing chances....

Frederick Rhine said...

Hmm, yes, 19...Ke7! and 26...Nxf2! look like big improvements. Them computers sure are smart! I remembered Mario saying that Ove had blundered in the ending and that it should have been a draw, but forgot the move he was talking about. (I am getting old, and sometimes can't remember analysis I discussed just 34 years ago.) It must have been 26...Nxf2!

Frederick Rhine said...

I also think that I vaguely remember Ove, during the post-mortem, saying that his 19...Kd7? was stupid because it put his king on the same file as his pieces.

Anonymous said...

The save with 26 ...Nf2 was pointed out in Larry Evans's "what's the BEST move?" column in Chess Life.

Thomas Lucero said...

I played in that tournament. Everyone was watching that game before it was over. I must have been one board over, because I remember every move, wondering why Kroll didn't take the perp. 1000 points doesn't mean anything when your opponent's moves are clear.

I'd raised my rating from 1542 in 1972 to 1549 in 1979, so the ratings had been stuck for more than a few months. Mario was clearly stronger than I was by late 1978.