Play­ing with the odds-giv­ing

Los Angeles Times - - THE GUIDE - By Bill Corn­wall

While it is un­likely that ad­ver­saries in any game pos­sess ex­actly equal abil­ity, many are close enough to en­gage each other in worth­while com­pe­ti­tion. If the skill dis­par­ity is too great, though, no mean­ing­ful con­test can take place. To cre­ate a real game, var­i­ous kinds of odds play have been de­vised. In rac­ing, for in­stance, there is the head start. In bowl­ing and golf, scores are ad­justed to hand­i­cap the bet­ter player. Odds-mak­ing sys­tems are in­tended to give each par­tic­i­pant a de­cent chance of win­ning.

In class­room chess train­ing and clubs, I have found that an elas­tic sys­tem for odds play works well. Sup­pose su­pe­rior player A takes off one of hisk nights (or­bish­ops) be­fore start­ing play with op­po­nent B. If A wins, the next game he gives up a rook, and soon. If A loses, the odds given are re­duced. At some point, the two will reachamu­tu­ally chal­leng­ing level. Player A is mo­ti­vated to beat the odds; player B is mo­ti­vated to beat player A. Cham­pion odds-givers

In the mid-1800s, Paul Mor­phy of New Or­leans trav­eled the world in search of chess foes, de­ci­sively de­feat­ing all he met. That in­cluded Adolf Anderssen of Ger­many, con­sid­ered by many to be the best player any­where. Af­ter re­turn­ing to the U.S., Mor­phy de­cided to avoid play­ing a straight-up game against any­one. Even fac­ing America’s best, he would start play af­ter re­mov­ing at least one of his chess­men. Com­monly, his queen’s knight was the vic­tim, but even more valu­able men were not safe from ejec­tion ei­ther.

Nearly 40% of the 400plus games in my Mor­phy data­base be­gin with Mor­phy miss­ing at least one piece. One of his fre­quent odds’ foes was Fred­er­ick Per­rin, one of New York’s lead­ing play­ers who played in the 1st Amer­i­can Chess Congress. Mor­phy gave him knights odds in a “first to score five points” match and won 5.5 to .5. This column’s game shows Mor­phy giv­ing away piece af­ter piece to main­tain a King at­tack. Just be­fore mat­ing, he was down a queen, two bish­ops, and a knight!

Louis Paulsen, one of the best U.S. play­ers of Mor­phy’s time, strongly wanted a match with him on even terms. Re­gard­ing Mor­phy’s in­sis­tence on giv­ing him pawn and move odds, Paulsen com­mented that “it in­vari­ably and nec­es­sar­ily re­sults in a kind of mon­grel game... .” Mor­phy re­sponded that he was “quite as­ton­ished that he [Paul­son] should ask me to play ... on even terms... .” Well, there is that Mor­phy had de­feated him eight times pre­vi­ously, los­ing once. Other hand­i­cap­pers

Someodds’ game­s­played by fa­mous play­ers still en­ter­tain us to­day. Rus­sian-born Aaron Nim­zow­itsch, one of the top play­ers in the world in the early 20th cen­tury, brazenly started with­out a queen in the fol­low­ing gem: [Aron Nim­zow­itsch-Lee­lausLatvia, 1910] 1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 f6 3.e4 c6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.0–0–0 Bxc3 6.dxc3 0–0 7.Ba3 Re8 8.Bd6 Qb6 9.Nf3 Qxf2 10.h4 h6 11.Bc4+ Kh712.h5 b5 13.Bf7 Re6 14.Nh4 Rxd6 15.Rxd6 Qc5 16.Rhd1 Qxc3 17.R1d3 Qe1+ 18.Kb2 Qxh4 19.Bg6+ Kg8 20.Re61–0. Note how he used his mi­nor men to re­strict and con­strict his foe’s move­ments. Then, he “fell for” a com­bi­na­tion los­ing his knight (17.R1d3 Qe1+). By tak­ing the knight, his op­po­nent fell into a 3move mat­ing com­bi­na­tion start­ing with a rook sac­ri­fice.

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