03 Aug

Me Tarjan!

Sadly for American chess fans, many of their best players gave up the game and moved into other fields. Arguably the most famous is Reuben Fine (1914-1993), who was long thought of as Alexander Alekhine’s heir to the throne, but declined his invitation to the 1948 World Championship tournament as it clashed with his final doctorate exams. Dr. Fine then shifted his attentions from chess to a career in psychoanalysis - a decision described by one wit as “a great loss for chess and at best a draw for psychoanalysis”.


Another such career-switcher was grandmaster James Tarjan, who gave up the game in his early 30s, in 1986, saying that he was having too difficult a time making his living from playing chess. In fact, he turned down his invitation to the 1985 U.S. chess championship for that reason. He later became a reference librarian, and for nearly 30 years worked at the Santa Cruz Public Library - and during this time he never picked up a pawn in anger.

Tarjan was a player with an attractive playing style and a regular in U.S. chess championships from 1973-84 — and everyone believed it was just a matter of time before we would also see his name amongst all the luminaries who had won the title. His best finish was clear 2nd at the 1978 edition....but then he finished dead last at the 1983 edition despite being the highest rated player in the country at the time!

He was also a big team-performer for his country in Olympiads. Through the mid-1970s and early 1980s, Tarjan played in five Olympiads with distinction, earning four team and three individual medals. His score of 31 wins, 13 draws and 6 losses in 51 games - that makes 75.5% - stands as one of the very best ever achieved by an American player.

And for one of the best players in the country, he was also one of the good guys with a common touch who would always find the time to stop and talk - and analyse - with lesser players, forever passing on invaluable nuggets and tips. The last I heard about Jim Tarjan was a couple of years ago, that he had now retired from the library service and moved to Portland - and last year it was good to see him returning after his lengthy hiatus from the chess world.

In 2014, he took part in the U.S. Open, and in October of that year he also played in the PokerStars International Open on the Isle of Man. His last outing was over the Easter weekend, when he played in the Larry Evans Memorial in Reno, Nevada. And last weekend Tarjan almost got back into the winner’s circle at the very strong Politiken Cup in Helsingor, Denmark, the largest tournament in Scandinavia.

In the final round, he tragically lost from a won position against eventual co-winner Sune Berg Hansen - a cruel twist of fate that instead allowed the Danish grandmaster to finish in a ten-way grandmaster tie at the top on 8/10. Tarjan’s final tally was 7/10, but the top U.S. finishers were GM Sam Shankland (one of the ten tied for first place) on 8/10, and GM Daniel Naroditsky, a half point behind on 7.5-points.

Sune Berg Hansen - James Tarjan
Politiken Cup, (10)
Queen’s Indian Defence/Colle-Zukertort
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 b6 4.e3 Bb7 5.Bd3 Be7 6.Nc3 d5 7.0-0 0-0 8.cxd5 exd5 9.b3 Nbd7 10.Bb2 c5 11.Rc1 We've transposed into a Colle-Zukertort. 11...Bd6 12.Qe2 a6 13.Rfd1 Qe7 14.Bf5 This does allow Black to centralise his rooks without having to worry about his a6 pawn. Maybe White should have tried first 14.Nh4!? with the idea of enticing 14...g6, and after 15.Nf3 he could claim he had opened up possibilities down the long b2-h8 diagonal. 14...Rad8 15.Bh3 Rfe8 Just look at how centralised all the Black pieces are; and now he's ready to open the game up. 16.g3 c4! Eyeing up the b7-h1 diagonal and planning a queenside pawn-push - White is in real trouble here. 17.bxc4 dxc4 18.a4 Nd5 19.Nxd5 Bxd5 20.Rxc4 Played in total and utter desperation. White was being outplayed and after ...b5 the Black queenside pawns would have quickly decided the game. But, unfortunately, the exchange sacrifice confuses Tarjan, who follows up wrongly. 20...Qe4! The best and strongest move, as after 20...Bxc4 21.Qxc4 b5 (21...Ra8 22.Nh4) 22.axb5 Rb8 23.Qc6 White has more than good chances of saving the game. 21.Bg2 Bxc4? A pity, as 21...Ne5! was practically winning on the spot: 22.dxe5 (22.Nxe5?? Qxg2#) 22...Bxc4 23.Qe1 Bc5 24.Bd4 Qc6! and with ...Bd5 looming, White is bust here. 22.Qxc4 b5 23.axb5 Rc8? 24.Qxf7+! (See Diagram) And this is probably what Tarjan had missed - the tactical temporary queen sacrifice is a table-turner, as it not only gains an extra pawn but also now activates White's powerful bishop pair. The remainder of the game is a 'mop up' exercise. 24...Kxf7 25.Ng5+ Ke7 26.Nxe4 axb5 27.Nxd6 Kxd6 28.Ba3+ Kc7 29.Rb1 Rb8 30.e4 The central passed pawns supported by the bishop pair are quick and lethal. 30...Ra8 31.Bb4 Nb6 32.e5 Rad8 33.Rc1+ Kb8 34.Rc6 Nc4 35.Ra6 Kc7 36.Ra7+ Kc8 37.f4 Kb8 If 37...Rxd4?? 38.Ra8+ Kd7 39.Bh3+ wins on the spot. 38.Bc5 Ne3 39.Bc6 Re6 40.Bxb5 g6 41.Bd7 1-0

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