Tactics in the games of Vera Menchik

Tactics in the games of Vera Menchik

FM ddtru

A few weeks ago my article on Vera Menchik appeared in British journal "CHESS". Unfortunately, it is not (yet?) available online but you can buy this issue of the journal at the publisher's website. "CHESS" is one of the best journals in the history of chess, and in my humble opinion my Menchik article is brilliant and worth the full price of August 2019 issue  

My biggest challenge whilst working on that article was fitting into the tight constraints of the journal. The regular readers of this blog know that writing concisely is not one of my strengths, so keeping myself to a few thousand words was a struggle.

In the end, I managed to keep myself within the limits, and I guess that the article turned out better for it. However, it required cutting lots of the stuff that I have already written. After the consultation with the editors of "CHESS" I decided to publish some of that extra material on my blog. Think of this as a supplement to the original article, although these "sequel articles" are designed to be independent and self-sufficient.

The first topic that I am going to cover is tactics in the games of Vera Menchik.

Menchik was primarily a positional player and tactics was her Achille's heel. She was famous for major blunders every now and then, although it must be said that she was not unique in that. Tactical sharpness was perhaps the main thing that separated Grandmasters from mere mortals in pre-war years: Grandmasters (and there were very few of them back then) were very consistent, while regular masters were prone to bouts of tactical blindness.

Let me illustrate this statement with two games that Vera Menchik played in 1929:

If you thought this was bad, look what happened in the game between the same opponents two months later:

One can only guess how much better Menchik's results could have been had she managed to remove such howlers from her games. It is actually amazing that she scored as well as she did despite these setbacks. For example, the two games above might leave you with an impression that Sir George Thomas had no problems defeating Menchik in their regular encounters in the British tournaments. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth - their lifetime score was +10-6=13 in Menchik's favor!

By the time Vera Menchik started to regularly appear in the men's master tournaments, her relative weakness in tactics was already a well-established fact and thus many of her opponents actively strove for complications. It mostly worked - although it must be said that the greater strength of her opponents also played a role.

However, every now and then Menchik succeeded in refuting the overly aggressive or optimistic play of her male opponents. Below you will find several examples, when Menchik's opponents were trying to trap her... only to burn themselves in the end!

He that mischief hatches, mischief catches

We will start with a game that was played in the same tournament as the previously cited game vs Thomas, only this time it is Menchik who was on the receiving end of a blunder:

Literally in the next round another master, Edgard Colle, lost his game to Menchik due to underestimating her tactical capabilities:

Two months earlier another British master, R.P. Michell, essentially defeated himself by trying to overtake the initiative in the position that was not ready for that:

The following example is especially curious, because it is unclear whether Menchik was consciouly setting a cunning trap in the time trouble, or if it was indeed a blunder that luckily worked out in her favor!

The next game is slightly different, as it cannot be said that Menchik's opponent was trying to set up a trap. However, the tactical blow that Menchik landed must have been a rude awakening nonetheless!

Looking at Menchik's game, one cannot help but think that her tactical alertness woke up mostly when she found herself in a corner. Unfortunately, the reverse was also true - in the normal circumstances she often missed tactical shots, both for herself and for the opponent. It cost Menchik a lot of points, but few of them were as painful as the following:

In the next article in this series, we will be looking at some of Menchik's best attacking games. Stay tuned!