Saturday, February 19, 2005

A chess love story

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

THE year is 1454. The place is in Marostica, part of the Venetian Republic.

The main characters are Lionora, the beautiful daughter of Taddeo Parisio, lord of the manor and Rector of Marostica. Two noblemen are in love with her, Rinaldo d’ Angarano and Vieri de Vallonara – the eternal triangle.

As is the custom in those days, they agreed to fight to the death for the fair Lionora’s hand. However, the lord of the manor knew about their duel and forbade it on pain of death. He does not want her daughter to have blood on her hands.

He proposed instead that the matter would be determined by a chess match, the winner to wed Lionora and the loser to wed Oldrada, Lionora’s younger sister. Both noblemen agreed as they were both excellent chess players.

PROCLAMATION. A copy of the lord’s proclamation has been preserved up to this day, it reads: “Thus we repeat that such single, bloody duel ought in no way to take place under pain of death for the transgressors and we order instead that the challenge will be a noble game of chess and the winner will have as reward marriage with Madonna Lionora, and that such game be played on the twelfth of September 1454, upon the big square of the castle between tall and living pieces, all armed and marked with the noble colors of black and white, and said challenge be honored with a display of armored men and fireworks and public illumination and dances and music.”

At last, the special day arrived. It was Sept. 12th. All the townspeople were gathered in the courtyard to witness the match. Everything had been prepared for the event – fireworks, dancing and feasting to celebrate the betrothals of the two sisters. A specially prepared chessboard was placed on the courtyard.

A parade of chess pieces came marching in. They were people wearing black and white and led by the two noblemen.

Lionora’s expectations and excitement were at their highest as she ws secretly in love with one of the noblemen. What would she do if her sister would marry the one she loves? She could hardly bear to watch the match but she had to! So, she peeked from the window overlooking the courtyard.

Earlier, she had told a faithful servant that she would light a candle in her window if the one she loved won the match.

And the game was over. Vieri de Vallonara, playing the black pieces, was the winner. The lord presented Lionora to him and Oldrada to Rinaldo d’ Angarano. Everybody participated in the merrymaking for the rest of the evening and a candle burned in the window where Lionora had watched the game.

TRUE STORY. This is a true story. A play based upon this medieval tale is reenacted every year on the same courtyard in Marostica. A witness to the event writes, “the spectacular exhibition (first reenacted in 1954), is joined in by the neighboring townspeople and deputations from the suburbs, all in their characteristic costumes, the bands of armed men on horseback, the crossbowmen, the halberdiers, all conclude by a grand promenade around the piazza among the applauding people.”

What a sight it must be. All in the name of love.

LINARES 2005. The annual Linares tournament is sometimes called the “Wimbledon of chess,” and together with Wijk aan Zee and Dortmund are perennially the strongest tournaments of the chess calendar. Kasparov has called Linares the world championship of chess, and this year’s edition, which starts next week, is just that.

Competing are the top three players in the world: Peter Leko, who won the Wijk aan Zee tournament last month; Vishy Anand, world No.2 and the most dominant player in 2004; and world No.1 Garry Kasparov. The other participants are Michael Adams, Francisco Vallejo Pons, Veselin Topalov and current Fide champion Rustam Kasimzhanov.

Linares is in the Jaen province of Andalucia, Spain and is sponsored by the legendary Luis Rentero. Appearance fees have been reduced this year but the prizes have been increased, with $100,000 going to the champion.

TOURNAMENT. We would like to inform all Class B and C members of the Cebu Professionals and Executives Chess Association (Cepca) that we will have a special tournament on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Stella Maris Seafarer Center at Pier 4, near Supercat terminal. It will be a five-round Swiss system event. For additional information, call Jun Olis at 341-3661.

PUZZLE. Only two were able to answer our puzzle last week called the “five sisters.” One is Enzo Campomanes, a 10-year-old boy who lives at the Cebu Business Park, and is bright indeed as he claims no one helped him.

Another is Dr. Arthur Padilla Jr., an Iowa, USA-based anesthesiologist, who read this column in the Internet. He graduated from the Gullas College of Medicine in 1993 and is also a fan of my colleague Paul J. Taneo’s column.

If you would like to know the correct answers, just e-mail me.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Fischer vs. Spassky 1972; the five sisters puzzle

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

They called it the match of the century, the greatest confrontation in chess ever. I’ll take you back to the summer of 1972 when chess, for a few weeks, was king and larger than life.

The main characters were the eccentric and charismatic American genius Bobby Fischer and the stoic chess prodigy Boris Spassky, the Soviet Union’s greatest hero and “proof” of communist supremacy.

Only those who were old enough and witness to this great event can understand the legend of Bobby Fischer and why chess players are still fascinated by this particular match-up to this day.

It was a microcosm of the Cold War; each player would bear the responsibility of his country’s honor. Every chess player in the world was closely watching the match and suffering the antics of Fischer. If he won, he would instantly become the legend who had single-handedly defeated the vast Soviet chess machine and the system that spawned it.

On the way to the championship, Fischer was a phenomenon making headlines as he whitewashed Bent Larsen and Mark Taimanov and demolished the solid Tigran Petrosian. Larsen was never the same again and Taimanov was hospitalized and never played competitive chess after his shocking loss. Bobby was unstoppable but can he beat Spassky?

PERSONALITIES. There were several personalities who were directly involved in the match. First there was the young television executive named Mike Chase. He was an avid chess player and a member of the Marshall Club. He knew there was a terrific story about the Fischer/Spassky match. He said, “No one believed then that chess could be a spectator sports. The only way to capture the American public was to televise the games live.”

Chase got approval from the public television WNET and created what would prove to be an historic event. He invited a co-member of the Marshall Club, Shelby Lyman, for commentary on the demo boards, and grandmaster Edmar Mednis for in-depth analysis. He also had his wife Chris handle the introduction and chitchat.

Their chemistry was electric. As the match went on, New Yorkers loved it and soon the match spread around the country and around the world. At bars around the city, televisions were tuned to chess instead of baseball, housewives would write down the moves for their husbands who wanted to know what Mednis said.

“As the games went on,” Chris later wrote, “the match became a rage, a fad and a hit show. Everyday the switchboards would lit up with people trying to help Bobby make his next move.

Reviewers were saying it was great entertainment, even addictive, and people who did not play or understand chess would watch it anyway. Even little girls would bake cookies for Shelby.”

The show was tremendously important for several reasons. It was the first-ever coverage of a chess match, and five hours for every game at that. It popularized the game all over the world as never before and put chess, which was considered a parlor game, into mainstream sports.

Chess players were respected as real, interesting and creative individuals totally at odds with the caricatures – screwballs, layabouts, absentminded – current at that time. And finally, chess professionals now have much to thank the match as prize money rose and appearances became fashionable.

Edmar Mednis, who has passed away, would later visit Cebu upon Cepca’s Invitation and play a simultaneous exhibition match with our members. He was a chemical engineer, like myself, and was also a stockbroker. He once defeated Fischer while playing black and wrote the best-seller “How to beat Bobby Fischer.”

Bobby, of course, won the match in Reykjavik but that is another story.

PUZZLE. In my previous column, I posed to my readers the famous Einstein puzzle, which drew quite a number of responses. Thirty-two of my readers were able to solve the puzzle and I received quite a number of comments. Here is a puzzle that will surely challenge you.

Five sisters all have their birthday in a different month and each on different day of the week. Using the clues below, determine the month and day of the week each sister’s birthday falls.

1) Paula was born in March but not on Saturday. Abigail’s birthday was not on Friday or Wednesday. 2) The girl whose birthday is on Monday was born earlier in the year than Brenda and Mary. 3) Tara wasn’t born in February and her birthday was on the weekend. 4) Mary was not born in December nor was her birthday on a weekday. The girl whose birthday was in June was born on Sunday.

5. Tara was born before Brenda, whose birthday wasn’t on Friday. Mary wasn’t born in July.

Saturday, February 5, 2005

Leko and Karjakin wins at Wijk aan Zee

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

Traditionally one of the most awaited chess event of the year is the Corus tournament at Holland‘s famous north sea beach resort Wijk aan Zee held last January 14-30 .

There were three main tournaments all 14 players round -robin. The super GM group A had players ranked 2-9 in the world ( Kasparov, the world no. 1 , would have played given the opportunity) and an Elo average of 2721 for a category 19 tournament. Peter Leko of Hungary was the only player who did not lose a game and his win over last year‘s champion Anand was the deciding factor.

Group B was composed mostly of very young players ( average age 23 ), among them several teenagers namely Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Magnus Carlsen, Ivan Cheparinov, Sergey Karjakin, Alejandro Ramirez, Jan Smeets and Daniel Stellwagen. Also playing in the group is the reighning world women champion Antoanetta Stefanova and the European women champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, the “ Anna Kournikova of chess”. Group B was a categotry13 with players having an average Elo rating of 2564. 15 year old Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine, who said he would be world champion someday ,was a full point winner over Smeets and former junior champion Mamedyarov.

This tournament also marked the return of Judit Polgar, the strongest woman chess player ever, who was inactive for 15 months after taking a maternity leave. To recall, Judit was not listed in Fide‘s top players released last month.

Bobby Fischer applies for Icelandic Citizenship. Bobby Fischer has applied for citizenship at the small republic of Iceland as part of his strategy to escape being extradited to the United State from Japan. A special law would have to be passed to accommodate the former world champion.

Einar S. Einnarson, head of the Robert Fischer Committee in Iceland confirmed that Bobby‘s handwritten letter was presented to Mr. Halldor Blondar, president of the Icelandic parliament and that the reaction was positive and cordial. Later the letter was submitted to the Directorate commission of the parliament which will discuss the matter in about two weeks time.

In his letter Bobby thanked Iceland for its offer to grant him resident status and blamed the collusion between Japan and the US regarding his detention. “Unfortunately, the Icelandic authorities offer of residence and entry to Iceland without a passport has not sufficed the hardheaded and hardhearted Japanese authorities / kidnappers to let me go to your excellent country.”

It is expected that Bobby will be given citizenship but will it be enough reason for the Japanese to let him go? There is apparently an agreement at the highest level on both the US and Japanese authorities to prosecute Bobby at all cost despite the worldwide uproar on his arrest.

Iceland is under intense US pressure to drop plans to offer residence to Bobby but the Icelandic authorities has stated that its offer “will not be withdrawn despite pressure from the US.”

Iceland has a special heart and affection for Bobby Fischer as it was there that Bobby defeated Boris Spassky in the greatest chess match of all time.

After that match chess and Iceland was forever changed.

Arguelles January winner. Dante Arguelles won the first monthly tournament of Cepca taking advantage of the absence of several strong players . 2ND place went to Danny Pestano while 3rd was Joe atillo. Fourth place was won by 11 year old Yves Fiel , son of member Percival Fiel. We allow children of members to join our tournaments as part of their training.