Chess

I WAS extremely sorry to hear of the suicide on Sunday of the Estonian grandmaster Lembit Oll at the age of just 33.

The chess world is in some ways like an extended family though owing to the artificial circumstances in which we meet, we often know absurdly little about the "real" lives of people whom we've spent many hours fighting across the chess board.

In Lembit's case, we both played for Rotterdam (Volmac as it was then) a few years ago: but even so I had only the haziest notion that he had a wife and two sons back in Tallinn, though I believe the couple split up a couple of years ago. Like others in the chess community, I did know that he had suffered bouts of serious depression in hospital, but he'd always recovered to resume playing at his full, powerful strength. His death is a great shock.

Chess players are often depicted as "mad" in the popular imagination by playwrights and novelists alike. Vladimir Nabokov's Luzhin in The Defence is the archetypical such - and painful in the extreme for a chess player to contemplate.

Certainly, there are some highly unusual people who play chess, but the majority are pretty sane - if exceptionally mentally macho. Nevertheless, the travelling professional's life can be a terrible strain: endless movement from event to event with little structure apart from the combat on which everything is focused; and little financial reward unless you perform at your best. Indeed, I believe that several other lesser-known players from the old Soviet Union have also killed themselves in recent years.

I don't want to lapse into morbidity or specious speculation. What I do know about is Lembit's chess, which at its best was extremely good. He was currently rated 41st in the world, though he had been higher. Not that it's much of a memorial at a time like this, but here is a fine game by him.

In his notes in Chess Informant, Oll criticised 9 ...Re8 and after 11 Rfe1! fighting for e4 felt he had an edge. 14 ...d5? is a serious mistake - Black must play 14 ...Bb7 or 14 ...Bxf3. After 15 Ne5 the advantage is marked and Black should bail out with 15 ...dxc4 16 Nxd7 Nxd7 17 bxc4. 20 ...dxe4 was the decisive error - Black had to try 20 ...Nc5 21 exd5 cxd5 22 Bb5 Re6 23 Qd2 though it's very nasty.

If 23 ...gxf6 24 Qd2 Re7 (or 24 ...f5 25.Qd4!) 25 Bxf6 wins the house. At the end after 26 ...cxd5 27 Be6+ Rf7 28 Bxf7+ Kxf7 29 Qh5+ Ke6 30 fxg7 etc.

White: Lembit Oll

Black: Predrag Nikolic

Erevan Olympiad 1996

Queen's Indian Defence

1 d4 Nf6

2 c4 e6

3 Nf3 b6

4 g3 Ba6

5 b3 Bb7

6 Bg2 Bb4+

7 Bd2 a5

8 0-0 0-0

9 Qc2 Re8?!

10 Nc3 d6

11 Rfe1! Bxc3

12 Bxc3 Be4

13 Qb2 Nbd7

14 Bf1 d5?

15 Ne5 Nxe5?!

16 dxe5 Nd7

17 f3 Bg6

18 cxd5 exd5

19 Rad1 c6

20 e4 dxe4?!

21 Bh3 Ra7

22 f4! f5

23 exf6 Bf7

24 Rd6! Bd5

25 Qe2 Rf8

26 Rxd5 1-0

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