Chess - The Scotsman 31/03/2012

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Several times a year at St John’s International School where I work in Waterloo, Belgium, I organise fun 45-minute assemblies in which the children are challenged to mentally solve numerous puzzles covering a variety of subjects, including chess and maths.

When asked to state the total number of letters in the last three words of the previous sentence, one very young child correctly pictured the words in his mind, and promptly gave the answer 13. I then referred to the famous book 107 Great Chess Battles by Alexander Alekhine (world champion 1927-1935; 1937-1945) and asked the children to mentally figure out 13 x 107.

An 11-year-old girl named Andreea quickly calculated 1,391. Next, I deliberately split it into 13 9 1, after which young Ruth realised that 13, 9 and 1 can correspond to the letters M, I and A, giving us MIA, the name of another girl who was being honoured on that occasion. Will it all be forgotten in, say, three years from now?

Well, I actually hope not! The children had such an exciting, stimulating time that I truly hope all the happy memories and many good things learned will live on in their minds for a very long time – 107 years might be pushing it (!), but I’ll tell you what, if I’m still alive three years from now, I will not forget that it will then be 107 years since Alekhine played the following beautiful miniature at Dusseldorf in 1908. The game also appears on page 52 of Christian Hesse’s captivating book, The Joys of Chess. Two pages on, Hesse gives the position wKh7,Rg7,Bb5,Pg3; bKh5,Re4,Bb4 from an elegant 1899 study by Thomas Davidson in which it’s White to play and force mate in six moves. The solution appears after the game.

White: A Alekhine; Black: W Kohnlein. Opening: Colle System

1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 e6 3 e3 Nf6 So, symmetry has been restored, but sometimes White’s extra half-move can be sufficient to generate a nagging initiative that Black may find difficult to neutralise completely. 4 Bd3 Nbd7 5 Nbd2 Bd6 6 e4 dxe4 7 Nxe4 Nxe4 8 Bxe4 0-0 9 0-0 f5? This looks very weakening and antipositional, as it leaves a gaping hole at e5 and an exposed backward pawn at e6. It’s understandable that Black wants to avoid 9…e5 10 dxe5 Nxe5 11 Nxe5 Bxe5 12 Bxh7+! Kxh7 13 Qh5+, but a sounder alternative is 9…Nf6 10 Bd3 b6 with …Bb7 and …c5 to follow. 10 Bd3 e5 11 Bg5! If 11 Bc4+ Kh8 12 Ng5, then Black struggles on with 12…Qe8. 11…Qe8 12 dxe5 Nxe5 13 Re1 Qh5?? Under pressure, Black collapses. He had to play 13…Nxf3+, although he’s still in a very bad way after 14 Qxf3 Qg6 15 Be7 or 14…Qf7 15 b3, threatening 16 Bc4. 14 Nxe5 Qxg5 15 Bc4+ Kh8 16 Qxd6!! cxd6 17 Nf7+ Kg8 Or 17…Rxf7 18 Re8+. 18 Nxg5+ Black resigned.

Solution to Puzzle 1 Ba4! Re1 2 Bb3 Rf1 3 Bc4 Rf2 4 Bb5 Rf8 5 Be2+ Rf3 6 Bxf3#.