A short blog post featuring translations of Efim Geller’s contemporary annotations to two key games in the theory of the Queen’s Gambit Declined.
(In progress: the game Psakhis v. Geller, Yerevan Zonal Tournament 1982)
In his memorable profile of Efim Geller in Russian Silhouettes, Genna Sosonko relates the following:
At the Olympiad in Lucerne in 1982 I talked to [Geller] about expanding my opening repertoire. He advised me to include the Closed, Chigorin Variation of the Spanish Game. I asked him:
“And how much time would be needed to master it?”
He thought briefly.
“At your level?” – I used to play regularly at Tilburg and at Wijk aan Zee, the strongest tournaments in the world – “To compile everything, process, understand and apply it? Well, a year and a half…”
Of course, this was in pre-computer times, but what is characteristic is the approach itself to the question.
In the same book, Sosonko quotes ex-World Champion Boris Spassky as saying that Geller
“… would play one or two games a year which would determine the direction that chess took in this or that opening.”
The name of Efim Geller is justifiably associated with the King’s Indian Defence. Along with fellow Ukrainians Isaac Boleslavsky and David Bronstein, he helped revolutionise theory’s assessment of this opening with a series of brilliant games played in the 1940s and 1950s. Mikhail Botvinnik went so far as to state that “Before Geller we did not really understand the King’s Indian Defence”. Perhaps less well known are Geller’s contributions to the theory of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The Makogonov-Bondarevsky system was a regular choice of his with Black against 1.d4 from the late 1960s onwards (though he continued to employ his first love – the King’s Indian – when he wanted a sharper game). Even in this most solid of systems he played a number of key games that “changed the direction” (to use Spassky’s phrase) of the theory of this opening. He annotated two of them in the pages of the Soviet magazine ‘64’.
Efim Geller, pictured at the AVRO tournament in Hilversum, June 1973 (Photo credit: H. Peters / ANEFO, via www.gahetna.nl.)
The first was a game played v. Jan Timman in the tournament organised by AVRO (the Dutch public broadcasting organisation) in the town of Hilversum in 1973. In 1970 Geller had lost a game to Semyon Furman in a tournament in Moscow. There, Furman – another famous theoretician – had introduced a novelty at the 14th move (14.Bf1-b5, instead of the established continuation, 14.Be2), aimed at provoking a weakening of the black queenside pawns.
Timman-Geller; the position after 14.Bb5.
Subsequently, this novelty was employed by Bobby Fischer in one of the most famous games – the 6th – of his 1972 match with Boris Spassky. Timman later annotated the games of the Fischer-Spassky match in a book published in the Netherlands (De tweekamp Spasski-Fischer 1972), and in fact considered the reply 14…Qb7, which had apparently been suggested by Luděk Pachman. However, both Pachman and Timman associated this move with the prosaic idea of regaining the pawn at b2 (after 15.dxc5 bxc5 16.Rxc5 Rxc5 17.Qxc5 a6). Geller, however, had looked into the position more deeply and seen the possibility of 17…Na6!, after which Black already stands better. Following this game, Furman’s 14.Bb5 disappeared from practice.
(An interesting aside: Geller states in his notes that he had analysed the move 14…Qb7 together with Spassky as part of the latter’s preparation for his match with Fischer, but for some unknown reason Spassky rejected it at the board in favour of the inferior 14…a6.)
The second game was played more than 8 years later, in the early stages of the FIDE Zonal tournament in Yerevan. There, Geller’s opponent was Lev Psakhis. Psakhis was then at the peak of his powers; just over a month previously he had shared 1st-2nd place in the Soviet championship with Garry Kasparov, repeating his success of the previous year, when he had shared the title with Aleksandr Beliavsky. Indeed, he would go on to be one of the qualifiers from the Zonal event. Against Geller, the Siberian master (incredibly, he still did not have the grandmaster title) chose a solid system that was a patent of ex-World Champion Tigran Petrosian. Once Black has committed himself to …b7-b6, White (at the cost of a tempo) exchanges at f6 and then plays g2-g3, developing the king’s bishop at g2.
Psakhis – Geller; the position after 12.g3.
The fundamental aim of this plan is to restrain the move …c7(c6)-c5 by exerting pressure on the d5-pawn; White will then implement the standard minority attack on the queen-side with b2-b4-b5, etc. Geller carried out what amounts to a refutation of this idea with 12…c5! 13.dxc5 Rd8. Here Psakhis thought for over an hour, but nevertheless chose the disastrous 14.cxb6?, after which 14…d4! allowed the potential energy in Black’s position to be revealed to the full.
You can download translations of Geller’s comtemporary annotations to these games from ‘64’ at the links below. (The annotations to Psakhis-Geller were written jointly with his son, the Candidate Master Aleksandr Geller.)
The photo of the game Psakhis v. Geller is from the personal archive of Lev Psakhis.
The annotations to the games are from ‘64‘ (№ 30, 1973 and № 8, 1982).
The quotations are from Russian Silhouettes (published by New in Chess, 2001).