Independent Pursuits: Chess

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The Independent Culture
ON SATURDAY, I looked at the fifth World Correspondence champion Hans Berliner's extraordinarily rigid and humourless The System. Today, in utter contrast, the 12th Champion Grigory Sanakoev's delightful World Champion at the Third Attempt (Gambit, pounds 15.99).

Not having tried my hand at correspondence chess, I had never before appreciated the human aspect of this combat at a distance. Sanakoev's book is fizzing with humanity and mischief, from his description of how he was taught the moves by a school friend and their encounter with the coach at the Pioneer Palace who persuaded them that "chess differs from draughts in that the bishop makes a capture by moving any number of squares along a diagonal", via his initiation into Correspondence Chess - "Of course," I thought to myself, "this isn't real chess, just a surrogate" - onwards into that arcane but strangely beautiful world in which, warrior though he is, one of the things that he most values is the friendship that can develop from playing a congenial opponent.

Sanakoev developed and refined many maxims and aphorisms to help him. Sprinkled throughout the book, they are never confining but always constructive, focused on the human being sending the postcards rather than dry technical advice; and can be summed up in just two words: "Always fight!"

Indeed, a magnificent tactician, though less naturally inclined to positional play, Sanakoev had to fight his way out of many a tight corner and he developed self-reliance and a superbly iconoclastic attitude to received wisdom: "In those years I already understood that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as opening theory. Opening monographs and encyclopaedias are collections of games... with brief and very often mistaken comments... In practice, you can play anything that suits your taste." Advice he followed himself with almost unprecedentedly beautiful results. The bloodshed in this amazing game - the fourth of the 59 - is an example.

17 exf6 was an attempted improvement on 17 Qxc3, which Sanakoev had won against in a game the previous year.

After 20 Qa6 - the position deserves a diagram but I couldn't make space - Black can't take the queen since 20... bxa6 21 Bxa6+ but made room for the king by forking his own rooks! 25 Rb3 was the best try against the the dual threats of ...Qe3 and ...Bh5+ followed by ...Qxa3+. At the end, White loses the rook after 35 Kd2 Qg5+ or 35 Bf1 Qe3+ 36 Kd1 Qd4+.

White: S Tanin

Black: Grigory Sanakoev

6th USSR ch semi-final, 1960-1

French Winawer

1 e4 e6

2 d4 d5

3 Nc3 Bb4

4 e5 c5

5 a3 Bxc3+

6 bxc3 Ne7

7 Qg4 cxd4

8 Qxg7 Rg8

9 Qxh7 Qc7

10 Ne2 Nbc6

11 f4 Bd7

12 Qd3 dxc3

13 Rb1 0-0-0

14 Be3 Nf5

15 Nd4 Nfxd4

16 Bxd4 f6

17 exf6 e5

18 Bc5 exf4

19 Qa6 Rde8!!

20 Qa6 Rde8!!

21 fxg8Q Nd3+

22 Kd1 bxa6

23 Qxe8+ Bxe8

24 Bxd3 Qxc5

25 Rb3! Qe3

26 Rxc3+ Kd8

27 Rf1 Bh5+

28 Rf3 Bxf3+

29 gxf3 Qxf3+

30 Ke1 Qe3+

31 Kf1 f3

32 Rc6 Qd2

33 Rf6 Qg2+

34 Ke1 Qg1+ 0-1