The game enjoys a calmer decade

Position No. 6088: Black to play and win. From the game Michael Hennigan-Roland Berzinsh, London 2009.

Solution to Position No. 6087: White wins a piece with 1 Qh8+ Rg8 2 Rh6! Rxh8 3 Rxh8+ Ke7 4 Rdh1 Kd7 5 R1h7+ Qe7 6 Rxe7+ Kxe7 7 Rxb8. If 2 . . . Nd7, then 3 Rdh1 sets up 4 Qxg8+. White can refute the counterattack 2 . . . Qxe4 by either 3 Qxf6+ Ke8 4 Qe6+ or 3 Rxf6+ Ke7 4 Re6+ Qxe6 5 Qh7+ Qf7 6 Re1+ Kf8 7 Qh6+ Rg7 8 Qxd6+ Kg8 9 Qxb8+ Qf8 10 Re8.

After the turbulent 1990s, the world of chess needed a calmer period. Here are my reflections on the past decade and a few guesses about the future:

Bobby Fischer, probably the most famous player ever, died in 2008.Fischer had not played publicly since 1992, but he grabbed attention with vile anti-American statements and a long battle to avoid extradition from Japan. He eventually won the battle, sparing chess fans and the U.S. government more embarrassment, and spent his final years in exile in Iceland. His “improved” version of the game, Fischerrandom chess, has attracted few adherents.

Garry Kasparov, another colossal figure, retired in 2005. He quickly became the leader of opposition parties in Russian politics, displaying the energy and ambition so familiar to his chess fans. However, it’s too early to assess his political impact.

The struggle for chess supremacy between humans and machines ended with the 2006 match between Vladimir Kramnik and a $50 program. We lost. Today’s best programs still show poor judgment in certain types of positions, but no human can withstand their tremendous superiority in tactics.

Oddly, chess mastery has never been so highly esteemed. Many schools have hired masters as teachers, in the hope that students will improve at thinking logically and solving problems. All parties have prospered under the arrangement.Dutch grandmaster Hans Ree wrote memorably of the “trivialization of chess” when the game was used as a measuring stick for computer programmers in the 1990s. Now chess has become a fashionable educational tool. Those who regarded it as a worthy art or science regret its fall to subordinate status.

The most positive sign has been the stabilization of the world championship. The 2006 match between Kramnik and Veselin Topalov ended 13 years of dual champions. The World Chess Federation (FIDE), instigator of much of the chaos of the 1990s, undeservedly benefited by assuming full control of the championship. To its credit, FIDE has behaved more responsibly recently.

A new generation of grandmasters has emerged. The leader, Magnus Carlsen, 19, has reached the level of Kramnik, Topalov and current champion Viswanathan Anand. Will he surpass them? That question looks like the first hot topic of the next decade.

China became a chess superpower, but tiny Armenia was the team of the decade, winning two consecutive Olympiads. Armenia boosted Californian chess immeasurably by supplying GM Varuzhan Akobian, GM Melikset Khachiyan, IM Andranik Matikozyan, IM Levon Altounian (now living in Arizona) and renowned teacher IM Armen Ambartsoumian. The AAA Chess Club, founded by Nshan Keshishian, produced a stream of scholastic standouts. If not for IM Enrico Sevillano, winner of four consecutive state championships, Armenian-Americans would monopolize local tournaments.

Chess fared much worse at the national level, as the U.S. Chess Federation deteriorated. Adult tournament participation never recovered from flight to the Internet. The U.S. Championship, abandoned by the USCF in 2000, remains in precarious health, totally dependent on patron Rex Sinquefield. Yet there are reasons for optimism. Mike Nolan kept the federation afloat by modernizing the rating system, enabling ratings to be updated within hours of a tournament’s finish. And the latest crop of American masters seems the most promising in many years.Hikaru Nakamura set a record as a 10-year old master in 1998. Now, at age 22, he has displaced Gata Kamsky, 35, as the top U.S. star. He should expect competition soon from two younger grandmasters, Robert Hess, 18, and Ray Robson, 15. Stay tuned!

Local news

The five-round Century West Open begins Friday evening at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport, 5711 W. Century Blvd. in Los Angeles. A scholastic tournament is scheduled Sunday. For details, see

Today’s games

GM Spartak Vysochin (Russia)- Maciej Brzeski (Poland), Warsaw 2009: 1 e4 c5 2 c3 Alapin’s line against the Sicilian Defense. d5 3 exd5 Qxd5 4 d4 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bg4 6 Be2 e67 h3 Bh5 8 c4 Qd7? Probably a hasty decision in this 25-minute game. Necessary is 8 . . . Qd6 so Black can meet 9 g4 Bg6 10 d5 comfortably by 10 . . . Nb4. 9 g4! Bg6 10 d5 exd5 11 cxd5 Nb4 12 Ne5! Already White has an unstoppable initiative. Qxd5 13 Bb5+ Kd8 14 0-0! Kc7 15 Nc3 Inviting 15 . . . Qxe5 16 Qd7+ Kb6 17 Na4+ Ka5 18 a3. Qxd1 16 Rxd1 Bd6 Nor should 16 . . . a6 17 Bc4 save Black. 17 Bf4 a6 Useless is 17 . . . Rd8 because of 18 Rxd6 Rxd6 19 Nc4. 18 Rxd6! axb5 As 18 . . . Kxd6 costs two pieces to 19 Nxg6+ Ke6 20 Bc4+ Kf6 21 Nxh8. 19 Rad1 Nh6 Another cute finish is 19 . . . Ra5 20 Nc4! bxc4 21 Re6+ Kc8 22 Re8 mate. 20 Nxb5+ Kc8 21 Nc4 Ra6 22 Nb6+ Rxb6 23 Rd8+!, Black Resigns.

GM Jesse Kraai (U.S.A.)-IM Edward Porper (Canada), Edmonton 2009: 1 Nf3 d5 2 d4 c6 3 c4 Nf6 4 e3 A safe system against the Slav Defense. Bf5 5 Nc3 e6 6 Nh4 Bg6 7 Nxg6 hxg6 8 Bd2 White’s Bishop is no better than Black’s Knight now, but it has more potential. Nbd7 9 cxd5 exd5 10 Bd3 Bd6 11 h3 Qe7 12 Rc1 g5?! Chances are about even after 12 . . . 0-0 or 12 . . . Ne4. 13 0-0! This must have shocked Black. If he continues 13 . . . g4, White cracks open the center by 14 e4! dxe4 (similar is 14 . . . gxh3 15 Re1) 15 Nxe4 gxh3 16 Re1. Then 16 . . . 0-0 17 Qf3! creates a decisive threat of 18 Qh3, while 16 . . . 0-0-0 drops material to 17 Ng5 Qf8 18 Qb3, threatening both 19 Nxf7 and 19 Rxc6+. Ne4 Best appears 13 . . . 0-0-0. White can obtain a small advantage with 14 Re1 or 14 Nb5 Kb8 15 Nxd6. 14 Bxe4 dxe4 15 f3 White wants to open the center before Black can hide his King. Nf6?! 16 Nxe4 Nxe4 17 fxe4 Qxe4 18 Qb3 Qe7 19 e4 Despite the exchanges, White’s initiative is overwhelming. f6?! The computer suggestion 19 . . . Bc7 20 Bb4 Qd7 21 d5 g4 should not save Black after 22 dxc6 bxc6 23 Rf5, as Black’s King cannot find shelter. 20 e5! Anyway! fxe5 21 dxe5 Bc5+ Or 21 . . . Bxe5 22 Rf5, threatening 23 Rxe5 and 23 Bxg5. 22 Kh1 Threatening mainly 23 Rxc5 Qxc5 24 Qxb7 Rd8 25 Qf7 mate. 0-0-0 Black prefers a hopeless endgame. 23 Rf7 Rxd2 24 Rxe7 Bxe7 25 Rd1 Rxd1+ 26 Qxd1 Kc7 27 Qd4 a6 28 Qc4 The Queen is too agile for the Rook and Bishop. It will invade at e6 or f7. Rh4 29 Qe6 Bc5 30 Qf7+ Kb6 31 Qxg7 Re4 32 Qxg5 Bd4 33 Qd2 Bxe5 34 g4, Black Resigns.