"Curved Rifle" Chess Playing Style
This is the sequel to 'When Chess was Art' and a reminder that we may have forgotten the artistic side of chess in this era of robotic and uninspiring chess reigned by chess engines and a Champion who is also playing computer-like.
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We are continuing on paying tribute to GM Vladimir Simagin, a startlingly original chess mind, who was avidly seeking and striving for new creative ideas all the time.
Simagin won the 1947 Moscow championship ahead of Bronstein, who later wrote in his 200 Open Games, “Simagin demonstrated an enviable number of the most varied tactical and strategic ideas.”
One of them was the astonishing positionally tactical shot we saw in the previous post. Something very, very far away from the grasp of chess engines and their Boolean logic.
For Simagin, scoring points was not the main business in chess. He was more of a gold digger – each chess game was an opportunity for his artistic expression as he was looking for precious golden nuggets of chess beauty.
He enjoyed reclaiming the opening lines buried deeply by the “official theory”. He would find lush oases where others saw only lifeless sands.
Simagin’s playing style attracted universal praise among the public and fellow players. The term curved rifle play went into circulation after his style, sort of “irregular” chess. Many of his imaginative ideas seemed to contradict the common sense. In fact, he was simply seeing things in a new “weird” way.
No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist. –Oscar Wilde
His originality implied that he was bold enough to go beyond established chess dogmas to open new frontiers (for example, he contributed to the idea of giving out material without getting positional concessions or direct attack in return, with moves like …Bh8, leaving his f8-rook en prise, or …Rxc3 exchange sacrifice in Sicilian; today, even average players make such routine moves).
Many described Simagin as a great tactician (Kotov called him the “hero of combinations” during the 1961 USSR-ch), but he believed his best games were logically and positionally consistent. He praised positional mastery, the ability to identify the slightest weaknesses in the position of his opponent and then exploit them by implementing a plan where every move, with its inexorable logic, would underpin the set goal of increasing positional advantage of some sort.
A game conducted logically and finished off with a beautiful combination – that is my chess ideal.– Vladimir Simagin
Anyone who thinks that Simagin, or another true chess artist, the great Misha Tal, were pure tacticians who shocked and confused their opponents, doesn’t understand their play that was and had to be essentially positional in nature to produce such priceless gems.
“Combinations can only be carried out when the [strategically solid] position allows”, Capablanca.
No wonder Simagin’s book has been translated in Spanish as El estilo posicional (or Positional style).
The super-coach Mark Dvoretsky, makes this remark in his Positional Play, Batsford, 1996, p.169, “Many people consider that after Kasparov, Karpov and a few other greats, the remaining players are weak and somehow uninteresting. In fact, among grandmasters of the second and third rank, some know how to move their pieces, but do not possess any creative individuality.”
“However, amongst them you do meet true artist with original ideas and profound thoughts, and studying their work is no worse than studying the work of champions. Simagin was one such artist, and I recommend that you study his selected games. For some time it was a standard reference work for me.”
It is a shame there is only Spanish translation of Simagin’s Best games available (the English edition from Chess Masters Series by Aidan Woodger is out of print).
Play like Simagin
I give here a number of positions from Simagin’s games for you to get a sense of his curved rifle playing style. His moves may possibly inspire you to be more creative, something chess engines can never be and can never teach you.
As any artist, Simagin was not perfect, of course. Art is not engineering to support everything with precise calculation. There is no quality assurance in art. Creative impulse, flames of imagination or spark of intuition are intangibles that can’t be measured. Simagin’s combinations were not always correct, but they were original and beautiful.
The curved rifle playing style often required balancing on the verge of risk where every inaccuracy might mean turning the tables. However, Simagin’s combinative skills and talent were best displayed in these critical positions.
Everything that an artist does has risks and he must dare to fail, brave enough to follow his instinct and his own imagination (quite unlike what we saw in the recent Anand-Carlsen match).
Alas, sadly, there are fewer and fewer of those golden nuggets hunters a la Simagin, Tal, Bronstein, or Nezhmetdinov, nowadays…
Don’t rush while trying to find the moves Simagin played in the positions below. Don’t look for obvious solutions. Instead, try to be creative, original and brave, like our hero.
(1) Simagin-Zagoriansky 1944
see #258 in our Chess Puzzles
(2) Bronstein-Simagin 1951: the following commentary is by Simagin himself from the 19th USSR Championship’s Tournament book
27…e3! [the only move; the tempting 27…Rxg3 28.Bxd8 e3! 29.Kh2 Be5! is countered by 28.Kf2!] 28. Bxd8 Rc2! [bad is 28…e2 29.fxg6! exd1Q 30.gxf7+ Kf8 31.Be7+! and wins.] 29. Rf3 Bxf3 30. gxf3 Rd2 [30…e2 31.Re1 Bc3 32.Kf2 Bd4+ 33.Kg2 Bc3 with draw wa spossible, but Black was playing in the opponent’s zeitnot.] 31. Re1! Rxd7 32. Bb6! gxf5 [Black should have forced draw with 32…Bd4 33.Bxd4 Rxd4 and if 34.Ra1, then 34…e2 forcing 35.Re1] 33. f4 [Zeitnot. Of course, better is 33.Rxe3 with slight advantage.] 33…Rd2 34. Bxe3 Rd3 [and here 34..Rxe3 was better too.] 35. a5 Ra3 [35…Bc3 lead to an immediate draw.] 36. Bb6 Rxg3+ 37. Kf2 Ra3 38. Re8+ Kg7 39. Ra8 [the a-passer becomes too dangerous; yet, by winning the last remaining pawn on the K-side, Black reaches level an equal position] 39…Ra4 [threatening 40…Bd4+] 40. Ke3 Bc1+ 41. Kd3 Bxf4 42. a6 Ra3+ [makes White’s king to decide where to go; if 43.Ke2 Bb8!] 43. Kc4 1/2-1/2 [draw is evident after 43…Be3 44.Kb4 Rd3 45.Bxe3 Rxe3 46.a7 Re4+; 46.Rb8 gives nothing due to 46…Re7!]
(3) Simagin-Sokolsky corr. 1966
34.Bd7 Re7 35.d5 1-0
(4) Simagin-Barcza corr. 1966
16.Bg6 gxf4 17.Qxe6+ Qe7 18.Bxf7+ Kd8 19.Ne5 Qxe6 20.Bxe6 Be8 21.Bxf4 Nbd5 22.Bg3 b5 23.Re1 Rh7 24.a4 Rha7 25.Bh4 Be7 26.Bf7 Bxf7 27.Nxf7+ Kd7 28.Nxh6 Ng8 29.Re5 Nc7 30.Bxe7 Nxe7 31.Ng4 Ned5 32.Rg5 Nf4 33.Rg7+ Kd6 34.h4 b4 35.Ne3 Ncd5 36.Nxc4+ Ke6 37.Re1+ Kf6 38.Rxa7 Rxa7 39.cxb4 Nxb4 40.Re8 Ne6 41.g4 Nxd4 42.g5+ Kg7 43.Kg2 Nd3 44.Ne5 Nxb2 45.h5 Nf5 46.Ng4 Nxa4 47.h6+ Nxh6 48.Nxh6 Nb6 49.f4 a5 50.Nf5+ Kg6 51.Nd6 Nd5 52.Kf3 a4 53.Re6+ Kh7 54.g6+ Kg8 55.Nf5 Ra8 56.Rd6 1-0
(5) Simagin-Averbakh 1948
17. Bc2 Nf6 18. Re2 Bxc2 19. Qxc2 Rae8 20. Nf3 h6 21. Rxe8 Rxe8 22. Bd2 Re4 23. Re1 Qe6 24. Rxe4 Nxe4 25. Bc1 c5 26. Be3 c4 27. b3 f5 28. Nd2 Nxd2 29. Bxd2 Kg7 30. bxc4 bxc4 31. Qb1 Qd5 32. Qb6 Qb5 33. Qa7+ Kg6 34. Qa8 Kf7 35. Qf3 Kg6 36. h4 g4 37. Qa8 1-0
(6) Simagin-Mikenas 1954
18.g4 h6 19.Ng3 Bd7 20.Rf2 Qa5 21.Qe2 Rf8 22.a3 Rae8 23.Raf1 Qd8 24.b4 Qb6 25.Qd2 Qb5 26.Bf3 Ra8 27.Bd1 a5 28.h4 axb4 29.a4 Qc5 30.Qe2 Qc3 31.g5 fxg5 32.fxg5 hxg5 33.Nh5+ gxh5 34.Qxh5 Be8 35.Qxg5+ Bg6 36.Bh5 Ne5 37.Qe7+ Kh6 38.Qg5+ Kg7 39.Qe7+ Kh6 40.Bxg6 Nxg6 41.Qg5+ Kg7 42.Rg1 1-0
(7) Simagin-Lyskov 1957
21.c4 dxc4 22.Qf3 Rd8 23.d5 exd5 24.Nh3+ Ke8 25.Ng5 Rd7 26.e6 Nxe6 27.Nxe6 Ke7 28.Qf5 Kd6 29.Nf4 c6 30.Qe6+ 1-0
(8) Moiseev-Simagin 1951
18…c5 19.Bxf6 Qxf6 20.axb4 axb4 21.Nb5 Ra1+ 22.Kd2 f3 23.Nc2 Bxc2 24.Kxc2 fxe2 25.Rxa1 Qg6+ 26.Kd2 Bh6+ 27.Qe3 Rxf2 28.Rhe1 Bxe3+ 29.Kxe3 Qg3+ 30.Kd2 Qf4+ 0-1
(9) Yakubovich-Simagin 1936
34…f4! 35.Bxf4 g5!! 36.hxg6 Rxf4+ 37.Kxf4 Rf6+ 38.Kg3 Rxg6+ 39.Kf3 Bg4+ 40.Kg3 Be2+ 41.Kh4 Qb7! 42.Qxe2 Qe7+! 0-1
(10) Simagin-Chistiakov 1946
26.Qf2 c3 27.Bxc3 Rxa4 28.Qh4 Rxf4 29.Qf6+ Rg7 30.Kg3 Rc4 31.Rad1 Bd7 32.Bd2 Kg8 33.Bh6 Rg6 34.Rxd7 Rxf6 35.Rg7+ Kh8 36.exf6 Qb8+ 37.f4 Rc3+ 38.Kh4 Qf8 39.Rxh7+ Kxh7 40.Bxf8 Kg8 41.Be7 fxg4 42.Rg1 Rh3+ 43.Kxg4 1-0
(11) Liublinsky-Simagin 1939
12…Bh8 13. Bxf8 Qxf8 14. a3 Rb8 15. Bd3 c5 16. exd5 Nxd5 17. Na4 Bd7 18. Qa5 Bxa4 19. Qxa4 Qh6+ 20. f4 Nxf4 21. Rd2 Bxb2+ 22. Kd1 Bc3 23. Rf2 Rb1# 0-1
(12) Althausen-Simagin 1943
13…Rxc3 14.Qxc3 Qxa2+ 15.Kc1 Bxg4 16.fxg4 Qa1+ 17.Kd2 Nxe4+ 18.Ke1 Nxc3 19.Rxa1 Bxd4 20.Bg2 Nb5 21.c3 Nxc3 22.bxc3 Bxc3+ 23.Kf2 Bxa1 24.Rxa1 a5 25.Bxb7 Ra7 0-1