Bird of Prey - Learn from the Classics

Bird of Prey - Learn from the Classics

FM like-a-hurricane
Nov 15, 2016, 4:07 AM |

During the past weekend I played in my first chess competition since I abandoned the practice of OTB chess nearly three years ago. My decision back then to withdraw from the tournament arena was mainly influenced by the heavy workload I experienced from teaching a few chess players and, above all, working on my book on Henry Edward Bird - a subject on which I am also planning to write a few blog posts.

Working on Bird was not my only motive to stop playing chess. Some other things troubled me, among others the evolution the game is undergoing by the increasing influence of the computer on the openings. Yet, my interest in chess theory is rising again, and during the past few weeks I had had short looks at a few openings, amongst others at the Philidor Defence, an opening which I never played but is nevertheless very decent and avoids masses of theory. This as a side note – you’ll soon readdddd why.

I wasn’t really intending to start playing again after finishing my book, but last Thursday I suddenly felt the wish to test my strength again in the annual tournament of Leuven, a nice historical city, very close to where I live.

In this small blog entry, I want to relate a bit about the influence my study of the classics of chess had on me. Studying games of solid players like Tarrasch, Rubinstein or Capablanca has considerably increased my technical capacities. In my previous blog post you can see a sample of a blitz game, against VSERGUEI (nom de plûme of Sergei Volkov).

But, of course, Bird also influenced me heavily. And this may seem really weird to those of you who already saw a game of him. Bird indeed didn’t play positional chess, and so there is nothing to learn from him in this aspect of the game. But he had other capacities: he tried to complicate the game, was always in for a fight, and had a keen look for everything that comes unexpected. I tried to formulate his attitude in my book and came up with the following: “Once they were lured onto his minefield, Bird faced them with the idiosyncratic playing style he had developed. Now Bird could employ his great talent for tactics, his legendary combativeness and a stubborn unwillingness to draw. Bird, one could say, was doomed to experiment, triumph, falter and fail.” My book may give the reader the impression that it is destined for historians or collectors only, but I also tried to make it an instructional one – a real chess book. I analyzed over 450 games, mostly very deeply, and paid due attention to the motives behind move. On a side note again : I also paid attention to the beauty hidden in these games – this also has always attracted me a lot.

In this article I will show you three games/fragments played by Bird, followed each by a game of mine, and how he influenced me – together with an initial fragment. Two of these were played in the tournament of last weekend. For me this clearly shows how my work on Bird affects my playing style, now and before.

By far the most wonderful game left behind by Bird is one against James Mason. It was played in New York 1876 and was rewarded by the very first beauty prize in chess history. I will evidently return to this game later on, when I’ll talk a bit more about Bird. Here I just want to show you the clash that started off at move 29.

Notice how the action begins at move 29 with a pawn sacrifice at a5, and how slowly but surely the attention shifts to Black's king which gets destroyed. I know this game a long time already, since 1992 or so. I don't recall if I had played it over a short time before I played the next game, but given the likeness it would not surprise me if I did.

The following game is also one of Bird’s immortals. Of course it gets due attention in my book. Here I will only pay attention to the similarity with my game.

I recall very well that I had seen this game a few days before I played the following one, now nearly a decade ago.
Let's now go back to these days - to the tournament of Leuven. 

After winning my first game, I faced an underrated 2000-player, though he was very unlucky in our mutual game. It was my first ever Philidor Defence.

I won again in the third round, but then I had to give a bye (for which I got a 0), because I couldn’t liberate myself from working obligations due to my late entry. In the fifth round I played one of the craziest games of my life. Again Bird inspired me.

This wasn’t a well-played game, though playing it satisfied me immensely. My rustiness may well have influenced my playing level, but seeing himself confronted with unexpected problems, my opponent nevertheless was not able to win it.


To finish my tale of the Leuven tournament: in the sixth round my opponent forfeited his game, so that I had now 5/6 (in fact 4/4) and still had chances to partly gain the tournament. In the final round a encountered a well-known local theoretician, so I decided to confuse him by playing … the Bird! The guy was on unknown ground from move 8 onwards (still a very basic position). In the analysis after the game, however, he had the time of his life – he really felt like exploring a part of the game of chess for the first time. I was also on unfamiliar territory, and this influenced my playing level. After 20 moves, being slightly worse, I offered a draw which got accepted. A shared second-fifth place was my reward – a result with which I am very satisfied.