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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

My favorite offbeat Bronstein opening sacrifice 03/27/2018

Grandmaster Bronstein was the best player in the world in the early 1950s. He tied a world championship match in 1954, which he would’ve won if not for pressure he felt away from the board, perhaps unduly.

Bronstein had an artistic bent like no other world championship contender, and the kind of mind that produced stories like this: When it was suggested to Bronstein that he convert a tournament cash prize into goods that couldn’t be taxed upon return to Russia, Bronstein was seen at the airport rolling automobile tires, whereas others might’ve bought, say, a wristwatch.

screenshot-from-2018-03-27-01-23-11Bronstein’s openings ideas have been part of my play for 40 years. I’ll never fall out of love with the King’s Gambit, and in the Two Knights Game, will still employ the bishop sacrifice he sprung against Rojahn (in an Olympics game, no less): 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Na5 6. d3 (as usual, Morphy’s move is simpler than the ‘standard’ 6. Bb5+) 6…h6 7. Nf3 e4 8. dxe4!?.

Chessplaying software fascinated Bronstein, seemingly more than it did Botvinnik, who was an engineer involved in early Soviet chess programming research. Bronstein was a regular at the man-vs.-machine AEGON tournaments in the ’80s, and in 1992, he visited Palo Alto to help test Deep Thought (the precursor to Deep Blue).

Against Deep Thought, Bronstein uncorked this exchange sacrifice in the Sicilian Wing Gambit: 1. e4 c5 2. b4 cxb4 3. a3 d5 4. exd5 Qxd5 5. Nf3 e5 6. axb4 Bxb4 7. Ra3!?.

Against a computer, it seems nuts to try such a thing, and Bronstein didn’t even get to experience a reaction. I’ve played this twice in tournaments, and the looks on their faces when they focus their eyes on what just happened is priceless. I beat a 1900, and lost to a 2200, though I was briefly ahead in that game, so you can’t blame the oddball rook sacrifice for that.

One of the things about this variation is that Black has to play smartly just to get to that position at move 7. 3…d5 is the best move because it equalizes in the center when White can’t play Nb1-c3 to hit the queen. Then 5…e5 wins the center. Most Sicilian players aren’t smart enough to make those moves at 5 and 6. Sicilian players aren’t cagey, they’re just fashion-conscious.

 

 

 

 

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