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06 Mar

Coffeehouse Chess

Chess, coffee and the cafe culture - what could be better, you might ask yourself? And apart from this being an enjoyable and thoroughly relaxing experience, we have to remember the historic significance of cafes and chess because, before we had chess clubs and tournaments, the path to mastery for many a talented young player in the 19th and early 20th century often could be found in the Starbucks of the day, through the multitude of global chess cafés.


After 31...Bxh4!?

Chess cafes were places where the chess professionals, the retired and the unemployed could while away the hours playing and analysing games, while up-and-coming players could challenge the regulars for a suitable stake.  The cafes would often provide chess sets and sometimes clocks, with the presence of a house master attracting interest, if not always income.

The most famous (and still in operation today) is the Café de la Régence in Paris, which is regarded by historians as being the world’s first chess club.  And here in the USA, the term 'Coffeehouse Player' derives from a style of chess characterised by bold and risky but often inaccurate play of a kind popular in coffeehouses (the Americanized version of cafés) in the 19th century.

And in keeping with this coffeehouse/café culture, we turn our attentions to the only annual grandmaster-level tournaments nowadays to be held in a cafe, namely the 9th Café Batavia Tournament, held just opposite to Amsterdam’s Central Station in the Dutch capital, which ran 23 February to 5 March. This novel tournament is designed to promote young Dutch talents by providing them with title norm opportunities, so invariably there’s a mixed field of seasoned veterans and young talents looking to make their mark. 


Coffeehouse Chess at Batavia! | © Bas Beekhuizen

And this year was no different, with the line-up being (in rating order): GM Alexandr Fier (Brazil), GM Tal Baron (Israel), GM Eric Lobron (Germany), IM Koen Leenhouts (Netherlands), IM Bobby Cheng (Australia), IM Lucas van Foreest (Netherlands), FM Thomas Beerdsen (Netherlands), IM Mark Timmermans (Netherlands), FM Hing Ting Lai (Netherlands), and FM Barry Brink (Netherlands).

Top seed Fier didn't have it all his own way, though.  In the end, young IMs Bobby Cheng and local hope Lucas van Foreest both gained GM norms as they tied for first place with 6.5/9, Cheng, though, claiming the bonus of the bragging rights to the title by virtue of the tiebreak-decider of his first round win over van Foreest.  But in that great coffeehouse/café tradition, there was also a prize for the most spectacular game of the tournament, and that went to Fier for his win over Cheng.

IM Bobby Cheng - GM Alexandr Fier
9th Batavia Chess Tournament, (6)
Bogo-Indian Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 Bb4+ The game may well start off as a Bogo-Indian Defence, but through a series of transpositions, we also reach and Old Indian and then a King's Indian Defence. Such is chess! 4.Nbd2 0-0! 5.a3 Be7 The Bogo-Indian differs from the more standard Nimzo-Indian (where White has played Nc3) in that if you capture the knight, then you are nor doubling White's pawns, hence the retreat. 6.e4 d6 7.b3 e5 8.Bb2 exd4 9.Nxd4 Re8 10.Be2 Bf8 11.Qc2 Nbd7 12.0-0 Nc5 13.Bf3 c6 14.Rfe1 a5 And from a Bogo-Indian, now to an Old Indian Defence, and we have a further metamorphosis to go. 15.Rad1 Qb6 16.h3 Nfd7 17.Be2 g6 18.Rb1 Bg7 With a series of manoeuvres from both sides, Black has opted now to transpose into a KIng's Indian Defence. 19.N4f3 Ne5 20.Bf1 Be6 21.b4 Ncd7 22.Nd4 axb4 23.axb4 h5 24.Red1 g5!? Fier decides he's just going to 'go for it' now with a typical do-or-die King's Indian Defence attack. 25.Nxe6 Rxe6 26.Nb3 c5 Black's position is risky, but he needed to stop White from playing 27. c5! dxc5 28.Nxc5! and suddenly all of White's pieces are coming to life. 27.bxc5 dxc5 28.Bc1? Cheng missed his moment here for a decisive advantage with 28.Bxe5! Nxe5 29.Nd4! and more or less forcing Black into 29...cxd4 30.Rxb6 Rxb6 and White stands much better, but it's still a somewhat 'murky' position. 28...Qc7 29.Be3 Cheng is being a little timid here, obviously not liking the alternative of 29.Bxg5!? Rg6 30.Qd2 Bh6! 31.f4 Bxg5 32.fxg5 f6!? with a complicated and unclear position for both sides. A decision that he'll soon come to regret. 29...g4! 30.h4 Bf6 31.g3 And that looks to lock-up any action on the kingside, doesn't it? Unfortunately, Cheng is in for a big shock, as Fier has a thunderbolt to keep the game murky and complicated. 31...Bxh4!? Very much in the style of coffeehouse chess! White can't take the bishop as 32.gxh4 Nf3+ is mating. 32.Rxd7 Nxd7 Taking with the queen looked better, as the mating threats associated with a ...Nf3+ can easily keep for a move or two. 33.gxh4 Ne5 34.Bg2 Nf3+ 35.Kf1? White is seeing 'ghosts' in the position and has been taken in by the insecure predicament of his king - but instead, he had the option here to head for safety with an ending after 35.Bxf3! gxf3 36.Nd2! Qe5 (If 36...Rg6+?! 37.Kf1 Rf6 38.Ke1 and the king races to safety and now has the prospects - with the minor pieces - of winning the ensuing ending.) 37.Nxf3! (the knight offers good protection for the king, and a secure bolthole to head for on e2. 37...Qxe4 38.Qxe4 Rxe4 and with the minor pieces, White is a little better here, but it will likely fizzle out now to a draw soon. 35...Qh2 36.Nxc5 Rb6!? [Coffeehouse chess at its finest! While 36...Rc6! was arguably stronger, the text works as Black's rook deflects the defence of the mate with the rook on b1 being overworked. 37.Nb3 White can't take the rook, as there's the little threat of the forced mate after 37.Rxb6? Qg1+ 38.Ke2 Qe1+ 39.Kd3 Rd8+ 40.Nd7 Rxd7+ 41.Rd6 Rxd6+ 42.Bd4 Rxd4#. 37...Rd6 I imaging the scenario there had to be a terrific time-scramble, as Black missed 37...Rxb3! 38.Qxb3 (If 38.Rxb3 the mate is the same as the note above.) 38...Nxh4! and White is simply lost here, as Black will regain the sacrificed piece and still have the king at his mercy. However, in Fier's defence, it does look like the practical option here, as his rook dominates the open d-file and thus cuts off the flight of the running king to a safe haven. 38.e5 Rdd8 39.e6! More coffeehouse chess at it's best! White is still looking to salvage the game with the cheap trick of a perpetual with Qg6+, if Black simply captures the pawn. Thankfully, though, we're reaching the time-control and Fier can steer clear of letting Black off with a draw. 39...Qg1+ 40.Ke2 Qxg2 41.exf7+ Kg7! With time now to think, Black finds the way to the win. 42.Qb2+ Kxf7 43.Qc2 Kg7 44.Rd1 White can't try and sneak a repetition here by keeping the queens on the board, as 44.Qb2+ Kg8 45.Qf6 Ra2+ 46.Rb2 Rxb2+ 47.Qxb2 Ng1+ 48.Ke1 Qh1! and we're back to the ...Nf3+ mating net with the queen and knight. 44...Rxd1 45.Qxd1 Ra2+ 46.Kd3 Qg1! With the forced exchange of queens, Black now easily wins, and the rest of the game is just a matter of technique. 47.Qxg1 Nxg1 48.Nc5 Nh3 49.Ne4 Kf7 50.Kd4 Ke6 Black is in no hurry here, as eventually either the h- or f-pawn (or even both) will soon fall. 51.Nc5+ Kf5 52.Ne4 Ng1 53.Nd6+ Ke6 54.Nxb7 Nf3+ 55.Ke4 Nxh4 56.Nc5+ Kf7 57.Nd3 Ng6 58.f4 Ra8 59.c5 Re8+ 60.Kd4 g3 61.c6 h4 62.f5 Ne7 63.Ke4 Nxc6+ 64.Kf4 h3 0-1

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