This columnist lost a role model and a rival this month, and the local chess scene lost one of the greatest players ever to call the Washington area his home.
Reston GM Lubomir Kavalek, who passed away at his Reston, Virginia, home after a brief illness at the age of 77, was known for many things: as a player once ranked in the world’s top 10; as a coach and second to some of the world’s top stars; as an organizer, author and frequent Olympiad participant; and as a competitor who had the rare distinction of winning three different national championships — his native Czechoslovakia (twice), the U.S. (three times) and West Germany (once).
But Lubosh was treasured in these parts for his 24-year run as the weekly chess columnist for The Washington Post ending in 2010, offering challenging puzzles and world-class analysis of interesting games at a time when many newspaper columns were pitched to raw beginners.
He sent me a note once when one of his students showed him an endgame study quiz that ran in this space, while noting casually that there was a massive flaw in one of the composer’s variations, basically ruining the whole thing. His tone was friendly and understanding, but it was a bit mortifying to have to run a correction the next week “based on information supplied by The Washington Post.”
Over the board, Kavalek — like Newton and Einstein before him — saved his best for first, playing one of the most anthologized games of the 20th century when he was just 15 against fellow future GM Eduard Gufeld at the 1962 World Student Team Championships.
Kavalek as Black clearly catches his opponent off guard with the exceedingly rare Cordel Gambit out of a Ruy Lopez, getting three pawns for the sacrificed piece out of the opening.
But the fun really begins after the queens leave the board, as White targets the galling Black passer on f2: 20. Nd2 Bxg2 21. Bxg2 Rxg2 22. Rf1 (the knight is loose after 22. Ke2? f1=Q+! 23. Kxf1 Rxd2) Rd8 23. Ke2, planning 24. Nc4 and the elimination of the covering bishop on b6.
Black’s 23…Rxd2+!! 24. Kxd2 e5! frustrates that plan and sets the formidable Black center into motion. But he game truly ascends into the brilliancy stratosphere only after 26. Bf8! f4 27. b4! (Gufeld ingeniously plans 28. Bc5 next, again neutralizing the Black bishop) Rg5!! 28. Bc5 (c4 Be3+ 29. Kc3 offered slightly better survival chances) Rxc5!! 28. bxc5 Bxc5, and, amazingly, Black’s lone bishop proves more than a match for White’s two rooks.
After 29. Rab1 f3 30. Rb4 Kf5 31. Rd4 (too little too late) Bxd4 32. cxd4 Kf4, White concedes as 33. Rxf2 e3+ 34. Ke1 exf2+ 35. Kxf2 h5 is a dead won ending for Black
We can safely say today’s second game was among the greatest ever played in the manager’s office at a Volvo car dealership on Wisconsin Avenue Northwest. That was where Kavalek and Swedish GM Ulf Andersson staged a memorable 10-game match in the spring of 1978.
The first six games of the match (spectator fee: $2) were drawn, but Kavalek broke through with a powerful attack in Game 7 against the always hard-to-pin Swede. Truth is, Black badly botches the defense in this Caro-Kann, taking far too long to develop his queenside as Kavalek’s h-pawn batters down the Black king’s defenses.
Andersson gives up the exchange on 18. Bc4! Rd5 (Bxc4?? 19. Qxc4+ Kh8 20. Qf7! wins on the spot) 19. Red1 Red8 20. Bxd5, but he barely slows the White attack. With an overwhelming game, Kavalek negotiates the finale in style.
Thus: 25. Ng6! (threatening 26. Nxf8 Kxf8 27. Qh7 Bg8 28. Re8+! Kxe8 29. Qxg8+ Ke7 30. Re1+ and wins) Bxc5!? (a desperado, but one that has a point — White’s knight has no escape route if only Black can find the time to target it) 26. Rc3! (dxc5 d4 27. Rf3 d3 28. Qc3 Bxg6 29. Rxh6, also wins, but Kavalek’s idea is more forceful) Bd6 27. Rxh6! (Rxc7?! Rxc7 28. Ne7+ Kf8 29. Qxc7 Bxc7 30. Nc8 Bb8 is unnecessarily messy) Kg7 (see diagram; Black has managed to put two White pieces en prise, but it’s not enough) 28. Nf8! Kxf8 (Kxh6 29. Qh7 is a cute mate, while 28…Re7 29. Qh7+ Kxf8 30. Qh8+ Bg8 31. Rxf6+ Rf7 32. Rxc7 also wins for White) 29. Rh8+ Ke7 30. Qe2+ Be6 31. Rh7+, and Black called it quits in light of lines like 31…Kf8 32. Rxc7 Bxc7 33. Qxe6 Rxh7 34. Qc8+ Kg7 35. Qxc7+ Kg6 36. Qd6, and White cleans up.
Kavalek went on to win two of the final three games for a decisive 6½-3½ match victory.
Gufeld-Kavalek, 9th World Student Team Championship, Marianske Lazne, Czechoslovakia, July 1962
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Bc5 4. c3 f5 5. d4 fxe4 6. Ng5 Bb6 7. d5 e3 8. Ne4 Qh4 9. Qf3 Nf6 10. Nxf6+ gxf6 11. dxc6 exf2+ 12. Kd1 dxc6 13. Be2 Be6 14. Qh5+ Qxh5 15. Bxh5+ Ke7 16. b3 Bd5 17. Ba3+ Ke6 18. Bg4+ f5 19. Bh3 Rhg8 20. Nd2 Bxg2 21. Bxg2 Rxg2 22. Rf1 Rd8 23. Ke2 Rxd2+ 24. Kxd2 e4 25. Bf8 f4 26. b4 Rg5 27. Bc5 Rxc5 28. bxc5 Bxc5 29. Rab1 f3 30. Rb4 Kf5 31. Rd4 Bxd4 32. cxd4 Kf4 White resigns.
Kavalek-Andersson, Game 7, Volvo of Washington Chess Match, Washington, D.C., May 1978
1. .e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6+ exf6 6.c3 Bd6 7.Bd3 O-O 8.Ne2 Re8 9.Qc2 g6 10.h4 Nd7 11.h5 Nf8 12.Bh6 Qc7 13.O-O-O Be6 14.c4 Rad8 15.hxg6 fxg6 16.c5 Be7 17.Nf4 Bf7 18.Bc4 Rd5 19.Rde1 Red8 20.Bxd5 cxd5 21.Re3 Rd7 22.Rhe1 g5 23.Bxf8 Bxf8 24.Rh1 h6 25.Ng6 Bxc5 26.Rc3 Bd6 27.Rxh6 Kg7 28.Nf8 Kxf8 29.Rh8+ Ke7 30.Qe2+ Be6 31.Rh7+ Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at email@example.com.