The Fabulous 70s: The Anatoly Lein Chamber of Horrors

In the 1970s GM Anatoly Lein was a most feared competitor in US Swisses (along with his compatriot ex-patriot GM Leonid Shamkovich).  This dynamic duo ran rampart tearing up the field in many a major event.  It’s funny that back home, these feared emigres would not be favored to place in the upper half of a Soviet championship; it showed the difference in training very well.

The Man!

Lein had an imposing aura at the chessboard and was a burly, weight-lifting fellow. Here are some Lein games from the 1976 US Open in Fairfax, VA.  I learned, from ChessBase, that Denker’s middle name was Sheldon!  Imagine that.

[Event “US op”]
[Site “Fairfax”]
[Date “1976.??.??”]
[Round “12”]
[White “Lein, Anatoly”]
[Black “Denker, Arnold Sheldon”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “E27”]
[WhiteElo “2515”]
[BlackElo “2325”]
[EventDate “1976.??.??”]
[EventType “swiss”]
[EventRounds “12”]
[EventCountry “USA”]

I am not exactly sure how the lowly rated Denker finagled a GM title eventually but perhaps it was a homage to his lifetime contributions to chess in a general  sense as opposed to specific results.  I recall in the 70s and 80s there were a fair amount of “trade deals” going on between Federations where various players without enough norms (or any norms!) would get reciprocal titles to satisfy both parties.  If I am not mistaken, I think Mednis and Soltis got a title like that (with deficient and/or insufficient norms), but I need to check that.  Mednis was the quintessential journeyman although one cannot forget he managed to beat Bobby Fischer (Fischer often had freak-outs vs the Winawer before he righted his own ship in the Fischer-Larsen candidates match, where his treatments of  Winawers were on a higher plane). Deals were possible because often a USSR title contender simply had no chances to play in norm-creation events yet had an absurdly high ELO rating.  (I once played Bareev before he was a GM and his ELO was 2585!).  Thus the USSR would have their guy and we would have our somewhat deficient guy and a deal was struck. On the other hand, some candidates of ours were rock solid such as Jim Tarjan who proved himself by winning a strong US Championship. The FIDE back-room deals were frequent and hard to follow.  And, in a perverse turn of events, sometimes the USCF leadership (inept and/or corrupt) would neglect to apply for a legitimate title if they had personality problems with the applicant!

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 O-O 6. Bg5 d6 7. f3 c5 8. e4 Qa5 9. Qd2 cxd4
It’s really not good to undouble the white c-pawns like this in a Saemisch, giving white the bishop pair for free.  Too much respect?

10. cxd4 Nc6 11. Ne2 h6 12. Be3 Bd7 13. Nc3 Rfc8 14. Be2 e5 15. d5 Nd4 16. Bxd4 exd4 17. Qxd4 b5 Coffeehouse play… white, as befits a solid USSR player, calmly develops and black runs out of steam.

18. O-O bxc4 19. Rfc1 Qc5 20. Qxc5 Rxc5 21. Rcb1 Kf8 22. Kf2 Rac8 23. Rb7 Ra5 24. a4 Be8 25. f4 Nd7 26. Bg4 Rb8 27. Rxd7 Bxd7 28. Bxd7 Rb2+ 29. Kf3 Ra6 30. a5 Rb3 31. Bb5! Splat!

Ut oh

31…Rxc3+ 32. Ke2 Rc2+ 33. Ke3
1-0

Did you enjoy the rather sadistic entombing of black’s rook on a6? I did, Lein did, probably his opponent did not.  This game was a complete walk-over and not a real test for Lein although it did, according to the database, occur in the last (money) round.

Moving right along to 1977, here is how Lein derailed my red-hot start at the World Open.  This game is not in conventional databases (somebody feel free to add it!).

[Event “World Open”]
[Site “Philadelphia, PA”]
[Date “1977.07.03”]
[Round “7”]
[White “Ginsburg, Mark” 2212]
[Black “Lein, Anatoly” 2507]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “A07”]

The ratings are given as a historical curiosity.  Note that in 1977, Lein’s rating of 2507 was absolutely astronomical.

1. g3 d5 2. Bg2 Nf6 3. Nf3 e6 4. O-O Be7 5. d3 O-O 6. Nbd2 a5 7. e4 a4! An exclam for weirdness.  I could not predict any of his moves around here.

8. a3 Nc6 9. e5 Nd7 10. Re1 b5 11. Nf1 Na5 12. Nd4 c6 13. f4 Qb6 14. Be3 c5 15. Nf3 Nb8 16. g4 Nbc6 17. Ng3 f6 18. Qe2 fxe5 19. fxe5 Bd7 20. h4 b4 21. Kh2? Nd4!  Oops! Now white has a very bad game.  Typical of juniors, though, I just battled on and soon I got my chance!

22. Nxd4 cxd4 23. Bg5 Bxg5 24. hxg5 b3 25. Rac1 bxc2?! (25… Qd8! is cleaner) 26. Rxc2 Qd8 27. Nf5 Qxg5 28. Bxd5! (28. Rc7 Rad8 and black wins.  The text move is a very good practical try and at this point I had taken 82 minutes; the time control was the strange 40 moves in 110 minutes.  Black, on the other hand, spent 14 minutes on his reply moving him up to 87 minutes.  He also had a bit of a freak-out, demanding that the TD move us to a board far away from the stage (he said the stage was too noisy).  I didn’t object to this request. So off we moved and the game continued.

28… Qf4+? It’s not totally easy to see, but 28…Rac8! wins.

29. Kh3 exd5 30. e6?? A hallucination.  After the correct intermezzo 30. Rf1! Qg5 31. e6 Bb5 32. e7!  the excelsior e-pawn saves the day.  For example, 32…Rfe8 33. Qe6+ Kh8 34. Nd6 Qxe7 35. Nf7+ Kg8 36. Nh6+ Kh8 37. Nf7+ and a perpetual check.

30… Rxf5 This wins.  To show how bad white’s move was, 30… Rae8! won too.  But one must see 31. Rf1 Qb8! (only!) 32. Nxg7 Re7 33. Rxf8+ Qxf8 and wins.

31. exd7 Rff8 32. Qe8 Rd8 33. Rc8 Look at me, I have a lot of heavies on the 8th rank.  But it’s not enough, and I succumb to zugzwang and a slowly advancing black g-pawn!  Oh no!

Not....enough....

33…Nb7! Basically white can give up already.  No more ideas!

34. Re7 g5! Come on, resign!  35. Re5 Qf3+ 36. Kh2 Qf2+ 37. Kh3 Qh4+ 38. Kg2 Qxg4+ 39. Kh2 Qf4+ 40. Kh1 Qf6 41. Re6 Qf1+ 42. Kh2 Qf7 43. Re5 Qf4+ 44. Kh1 g4 45. Qe6+ Kh8 46. Qe8 Qf1+ 47. Kh2 Qf2+ 48. Kh1 g3 49. Qxf8+ It’s rather sad that I didn’t know how to resign at this point.

49…Qxf8 50. Re8 Kg7 51. Rxf8 Kxf8 52. Rc7 Nd6 53. Rc5 Ke7 54. Rxd5 Ke6 55. Rxd4 Rxd7 56. Rxa4 Nf5 57. Re4+ Kf6 58. a4 Rxd3 59. Re1 Rd2 60. b4 Nh4 61. Rf1+ Kg5 62. Kg1 Rg2+ 63. Kh1 Rf2 64. Rg1 Rh2#
0-1

Another victim of the Anatoly Lein chamber of horrors!  I dropped off the leader board. As a digression, to show how I got *on* the leaderboard, here is my interesting Round 6 win over Canadian IM Lawrence Day.

[Event “World Open”]
[Site “Philadelphia, PA”]
[Date “1977.07.03”]
[Round “?”]
[White “Day, Lawrence”]
[Black “Ginsburg, Mark”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “A04”]

1. Nf3 c5 2. g3 Nc6 3. Bg2 g6 4. O-O Bg7 5. e4 d6 6. d3 e5 7. c3 Nge7 8. a3 O-O 9. b4 b6 This setup for white isn’t bad, but over the next few moves he starts playing passively.

10. Be3 h6 11. Ne1 Be6 12. Nc2  Rc8 13. bxc5? (An inexplicable choice. 13. b5 Na5 is double-edged and certainly not worse for white)

13… dxc5 This is just very pleasant for black.

14. c4 f5  15. Nc3 f4 16. Bc1 Qd7  17. Nd5 g5?! The computer likes 17…Bh3 best.

18. Rb1 Bh3 19. f3 h5 19… Nxd5 20. exd5 Nd4 21. Nxd4 Bxg2 22. Kxg2 exd4 23. Re1 is pretty much zero for black.

20. Bb2 Rf7 Now it’s about equal again.

21. Rf2 Nxd5 22. cxd5 Ne7 23. Bxh3 24. Qf1 24… Qd7 (24… Qxf1+ 25. Kxf1 is level)

25. gxf4 exf4 26. Bxg7 (26. d4 Ng6 27. dxc5 bxc5 28. Qa6)

26… Rxg7 27. Kh1 (27. d4 is playable but also about equal)

27… Ng6  28. Qe2 g4  29. Rg1 Ne5 30. fxg4 f3  31. Rxf3? White freaks out.  Correct is 31. Qd2 equal.   However it’s a fairly harmless freak-out because black’s advantage in the subsequent position should not be large.

31… Nxf3 32. Qxf3 Rf8 33. Qe2 Rxg4 34. Ne3? This obvious move is in fact inaccurate.  Best is 34. Re1 and black is only a little better.

34… Rxg1+ 35. Kxg1 Qg7+ 36. Kh1 Qe5 37. a4  Kh7? What a terrible move!  Simply 37… Rf7 wins as white’s king is just too uncomfortable.

38. Nc4 Qg5 39. e5?? White spent 3 of his remaining 5 minutes of this losing lemon.  Correct was  39. Ne3 and there is work left to be done.

39…Qc1+ Not the fastest. I must have been playing against his clock, a typical youthful indiscretion. The easiest win was 39…h4 forming a mating net.  39… Rg8 also won. 

40. Kg2 Qg5+ 41. Kh1 Not 41. Kh3?  Rf4 and white has to give up right away.

41… h4! I see it!  Black wins now.

42. Qe4+ 42. h3 Qg3 wins after a few white queen checks.  

42… Kh8 43. Ne3 Rg8 {White Resigns.}

0-1

If 44. Ng2 (forced)  h3 45. Qh4+ (forced) 45… Qxh4 46. Nxh4 Rg4 47. Nf3 Rf4 48. Ng1 Rf5 and black cleans up white’s pawns and wins.  A very satisfying win for me.  Only, as you see above, to be rudely brought back to earth by Mr. Lein.

Lawrence Day, these days

When I played Day he had a head full of black, curly hair.  Tempus fugit!

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3 Responses to “The Fabulous 70s: The Anatoly Lein Chamber of Horrors”

  1. charles Says:

    nice post. i was fortunate to meet lein back in 2007 at the world open. incredibly charismatic man, shared stories, one interesting pertaining to petrosian on how his slow positional style was influenced by his upbringing; a laborer, cleaning the streets in armenia.

    heavy experience.

    I heard he cleaned streets in Tbilisi Georgia.

  2. Paul Gottlieb Says:

    I think you may have underrated Arnold Denker as a chess player. I believe his best days were in the 40’s when he had tournament wins over Fine, Reshevsky and Kashdan, all very strong players by any standard.

    That’s true, but he had quite a few losses in that period. They didn’t have ratings then, but in today’s terminology he might have been 2400. Side note – the very best America had to offer, Sammy Reshevsky, was himself terrible in openings compared to his USSR peers and that was a huge handicap.

  3. John P. Dellova Says:

    Very pleased to have read this article. I was very active in NYC chess during this period and also came to know Anatoly Lein and Edmar Mednis very well, the friendship of both meant, and continues to mean a lot to me.

    Lein always put a smile on everyone’s face and brought laughter to a room full of people. His stories about Leningrad and life in Soviet Russia were always a hoot. He was 14 at the start of the great siege. I’m a history buff and would have loved to have asked him about it, but I know how horrible it was so I refrained from asking. Except once when I said, “Those must have been terrible times.” He nodded, the usual joyous expression gone, and I never again broached the subject.

    Edmar was always great when giving lectures at the Marshall. Covering one of the innumerable Kasparov – Karpov match games in the crowded large upstairs room he asked for ideas on what the next move might be. Various moves came out of the masters and experts and then one seemingly irrational move from the back of the room, the deservedly lowest rated player in the club, my good friend Danny G [R.I.P.]. We all chuckled and Edmar patiently explained why he didn’t think it was a good move. The next one was posted to the computer and it was Danny’s. Another chuckle, same proceedure with Danny making another seemingly terrible suggestion and everyone smirking while Edmar went through the variations that refuted it. The move came over the computer and once again it was Danny’s. A few minutes passed and no one said anything. I asked Edmar what he thought would happen next?” Mednis shrugged, “What do I know? We’ll ask Danny.”

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