Well that went well, didn't it? By some distance the least successful series of Xmas puzzles we've had on the blog. Obviously the different format didn't suit our readers. Apologies.
Anyway, I changed the format because
(a) I'd run out of puzzles, or at least didn't have any fresh sources for them ;
(b) I felt like a change of tack anyway ;
(c) I thought that unlike most puzzles, these wouldn't be solvable by referring to a computer.
This last turns out to be a false impression caused by my almost complete ignorance of Chessbase.
Even so, I think it might have worked as an idea and still might, given a retweak. So I may do it all again next year. Only you can stop me! If you feel able to give any feedback in the comments box (it was a good idea / it was a lousy idea / it might work as an idea if) then that would be welcome.
Finding the right level was certainly a problem: the idea was that by and large they ought to start easy and get get harder, since after the first few, potential solvers would know who at least one of the players was, and so I'd want relatively obscure games by that player. In retrospect I think this was wrong, though - we wanted relatively well-known games, or else it would be too hard. If there's a next time, I'll bear that in mind.
Originally I'd intended to start with Steinitz and work my way through the first twelve world champions, ending with the Korchnoi v Karpov position that I ultimately used on December 27. However, by the time I got started, I'd decided that I needed to begin with an easily-recognisable position, and in fact two or three such, to get solvers started. Which meant it was better to begin with recent history, and work my way backwards.
At first I'd just intended to use games involving successive world champions. But eventually I found myself selecting only positions where a world champion - that is, a player who was, would be or had been a world champion - could have been beaten by a player who never became a world champion. With twelve different champions and twelve different opponents.
White now played 32.Qg6+? but could have won immediately with 32.Rxg4+! Bg7 33.Qc7 Qf1+ 34.Ng1.
White may still be winning but never again had such a clear chance - and he went on to lose.
I assumed everybody would know that one!
White now played 36.Ne5? but could have won immediately with 36.Rh1+! Kg6 37.Ne5+ Kf5 38.Nc6.
Nigel missed some further wins - and had missed one or two already - but this was the most straightforward. The game was drawn.
My first choice, before I decided to select twelve missed wins, had been game nine, where Nigel missed 46...Rc5! drawing. Or I could have used game eight where he missed 36.Bd4!. Or I could have chosen another opponent altogether.
White now played 55.Be4+? but could have won immediately with 55.Bf7+! Kc6 56.Qe6+ Kb5 (or 56...Kb7 losing at least a piece for nothing) 57.Qc4+ Ka4 58.Qa6 mate.
It was recalling this variation which gave me the idea for the series. Also a hugely important moment in chess history - and not only my favourite chess match, but my favourite sporting event of all time. I'll be amazed if we get through 2013 without it turning up again on the blog.
White now played 24.Re1? but could have won immediately with 24.Nxe8! (or 24.Nxa8! which leads to the same positions) 24...Bxc1 (if 24...Rxa8/e8 25.Rc7 and White should consolidate) 25.Nc7 Bxb2 26.Rb1 Rc8 27.Nd5 Rc2 28.Ne3 finally winning material.
I assumed that by now people would have worked out the theme, and therefore that Fischer must be the next subject. So I thought I'd go for a less well-known game than the previous three.
I also considered Walther-Fischer (maybe I didn't want to use a game that appeared in My 60 Memorable Games) or Portisch-Fischer (maybe I was put off by the existence of two distinct wins at the same move) or Fuster-Fischer (maybe I wasn't sure the win was clear enough or the game too obscure). On reflection I think the Benko game wasn't the right choice: if I had my time again I'd use the Walther, for precisely the reason which caused me to reject it.
White now played 33.cxd4? but could have won immediately with 33.g4! Bxg4 34.cxd4 Rc2 35.Re7 and Black has no defence to the plan of Bb7 and c8Q winnning a piece: if 35...Bh3 simply 36.Kg1. In the game Black played 33...Rc2 and now, because the h3 bishop hasn't been deflected, White doesn't have Re7 due to the mate threat.
Not a great choice either, but in contrast to Fischer, for whom I had a number of alternatives (it helps having his Complete Games) actually finding lucky escapes for Spassky proved a hard job. Eventually I was tipped off by Bernard Cafferty's comment in his notes to this game, in Spassky's 100 Best Games - that, in another Marshall Gambit game, "Parma even missed a clearly winning move".
Eureka! Or, perhaps, not. Nominiations for more suitable games and variations are welcome!
White now played 37.g3? but could have won immediately with 37.Qe8+! Kg7 38.Re7+ Kh6 39.Qf8+ Bg7 (39...Kh5 40.Rxh7+) 40.Qxg7+ Kh5 41.Qxh7 mate.
I found this in Leonard Barden's Evening Standard Chess Puzzle Book, which must have provided more material for this blog's Xmas puzzles than any other book.
White now played 27.Nd4? but could have won immediately with 27.Bxc3! g3 28.Qd4! Nxc3 29.Kh1 Nxe2 30.Qe3 (others also win but this is the best practical choice) 30...g2+ 31.Kxg2 Qh3+ 32.Kh1 Ng3+ 33.Kg1.
In the game White was still winning until 31.Rf1? when he could have won immediately with 31.Nc2! Qf2 32.Bd4 gxf3 33.Bxf2 fxg2+ 34.Kg1 after which he's going to be at least a rook up. I could have chosen this line instead, or I might (had I not accidentally given a clue on Twitter that I was considering it) have chosen the ninth game of Tal's 1965 match with Larsen. Regarding which:
Larsen-Tal: White to play
Black in that game has just played 54...Rb3-d3+. White has one winning move - all others draw. What should he play? Answer at bottom of column.
White now played 24.Rh7? but could have won immediately with 24.Rh8+! Bxh8 25.Rxh8+ Kxh8 26.Qh6+ Kg8 27.e6! (not 27.Ng5? e6!) and now if 27...f6 (or 27...Rxc3) 28.Ng5.
White missed more opportunites (though none quite so decisive or so pleasing) and was still winning right up until at least move 29. He lost on time in the end, which may go some way to explain the plethora of missed chances.
White now played 66.Kf4? but could have won immediately with 66.Kf3! which wins a pawn and the game, e.g. 66...Ke6 67.Kf4 or 66...Ke7 67.Kf4 Ke6 68.g3 or 66...g6/g5 67.hxg6 Kxg6 68.Kf4 seeing as after 68...h5 White simply plays 69.g3.
In the game Black played 66...g6 and the players agreed a draw, since now if 67.hxg6 Kxg6 68.g3 h5 and White can only make progress with 69.e6 Kf6 70.e7 Kxe7 71.Kxf5 after which he can win the h-pawn, but, after 71...h4, not the game.
The Sokolsky-Botvinnik game from the same tournament is much better-known (Botvinnik talked in his One Hundred Selected Games about Sokolsky playing without a plan and was subsequently quoted by Kotov in Think Like A Grandmaster). Other games I looked at included Alatortsev-Botvinnik, Botvinnik-Bondarevsky, Bronstein-Botvinnik and Portisch-Botvinnik but none of them seemed to possess the sort of variations, ending in entirely clear wins, that I was looking for.
I was going to use Reshevsky-Botvinnik even though I hadn't settled on a definitive variation I was happy with, but then I found the Ilyin-Zhenevsky game by accident when looking for something else. I rather like it - not only a clear win but an instructive one. Also, as an endgame, a nice contrast to the other positions.
White now played 23.g3? but could have won immediately with 23.Rxd6! Rxd6 24.Qxd6 Rd8 25.Nd7!.
I came across this one simply by working my way through the Nottingham 1936 tournament book to see what I could find.
White now played 42.Kf2? but could have won immediately with 42.Nxa7! Ra8 43.Nb5 d2 (43...Rxa2 44.c6 wins) 44.Nc3.
White may well still be winning after the game move but I'm not sure I see anything decisive. Nor am I sure I recall how I found this one: probably by looking up Alekhine's games against a number of likely suspects (Fine, for instance, and other world-class players who never won the title) in case anything good turned up. I eventually preferred this to the probably better-known Asztalos-Alekhine.
Black now played 21...Bxf5? but could have won immediately with 21...Nd5! 22.Qh3 (22.Qg3 Rg8) 22...Nf4 23.Qe3 Qg5 24.Qxe4 Bf5 and that's your lot given that after 25.Qe5+ f6 White hasn't got time to take the rook.
Curiously, the only one of our puzzles in which Black missed an immediate win. Not sure where I found it, but naturally when I'd come across it I checked it out in Aron Nimzowitsch: A Reappraisal, from which I took my main line. Nimzowitsch never did manage to beat Capablanca.
And that, as they said of the Lady of Shalott, is your lot. I worried about making them too easy: clearly, in the end, I made them too hard. If you have any feelings, strong or otherwise, about any of the positions, or the advisability or otherwise of running a similar series again, do say!
[Larsen-Tal solution: White wins with 55.Ke7!. White played 55.Ke6? and only drew, though Black's later errors gave him further winning opportunities. But why does 55.Ke7! win and other moves draw? If you don't know, you need to learn something abour rook endings.... ]