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The third in this series that took over from the longtime Golden Knights events highlights the evolution of correspondence play.

By FM Alex Dunne

THE 2006 ELECTRONIC KNIGHTS, the third in the series so far, reflects some of the changes that have swept over the world of correspondence chess. The games are finishing faster than ever before, some of them actually finishing the day they were assigned. Remember, this is correspondence chess which historically and traditionally means using much more time than OTB (over-the-board) chess. Even some strong, gifted players feel the change and finish their games with large chunks of time remaining on their clocks. And yet the quality of the games does not seem to suffer. Some might think that quality is demonstrated in the games of the 2006 Electronic Knights.

There were 19 preliminary sections assigned starting January 1, 2006 and continuing throughout the year. By October 12, 2008 they were all completed. Perfect scores were hard to come by—Scoring 6-0 were John Menke, Alexander Gutierrez, Robert Borrell (who was rated 1769 and beat two experts), Eric McGill, Maziar Sayyedi, Rick Rison, and Walter Brower (who also scored 5% in a second section) and in the last section, Cesar Blanco. Last year's champion Gillmore Hoefdraad made it to the semifinals with 4%. Second place last year Robert Fass had a 5% result.

The semifinals were tougher. Only three players managed a 6-0 score: John Menke, Corky Schakel, and Cesar Blanco. Fass scored 5% again, but defending champion Hoefdraad failed to qualify for the final. Unfortunately, the semifinal was marred by a number of dropouts.

The final was divided into two sections. Timothy Harris dropped out of both with one game to go. Section one was won by John Menke who scored 4%-1% against an average opposition of 2269 and Cesar Blanco scored 5 points against a 2267 block. That half point was enough to crown the 2006 Electronic Knights Champion, Cesar Augusto Blanco.

Blanco Annotates!

For those of you who wonder how a correspondence grandmaster thinks about his game, 2006 Electronic Knights Champion GM Cesar Blanco has annotated his win over Norman Saba.. Students take note! This game from the semifinal round illustrates both board generalship and tournament strategy.

Dutch Defense (A84)

Cesar Blanco (2573) Norman Saba (1985) 2006 Electronic Knights semifinal Notes by Blanco

This game is not a gem or a theoretical battle, but mainly a clear demonstration of what this kind of tournament tries to motivate: more wins and no draws.

I had finished the first phase of the tournament with a perfect score. I had to assume I was not the only one.

I had played only 1. e4 in the first phase, then I switched to my favorite d4 for this stage.

My opponent decides to choose the Stonewall system of the Dutch Defense, a solid approach but by no means with the intention of looking for a draw.

The other most played move in this system is 5. g3.

The main alternative is 6. ... Be7. 6. ... Ne4 seems premature as in Bagirov-Malysev, 2003: 7. Nc3 Nd7 8. Bd3 Ndf6 9. h3 Bd6 10. Bxd6 giving White the advantage.

At this point, with just a couple of games with the same move order in my databases, it was clear to me my opponent was following the game De Boer-Klinger, 1988 which finished in Black's favor.

De Boer continued 14. Racl and Black was better after 14. ... Qg5 15. Qe2 Be8 16. cxd5? (16. Rf4) 16. ... Bh5 17. Qe1 exd5 18. Bxe4 fxe4.

This is the first sign that White is going for the win, by advancing the pawns on the queenside.

Black says, "I am also going for the win!"

White needs to eliminate— sooner or later—Black's most active piece.

Probably too aggressive. Black's idea is to continue with ... f5-f4 at some point, but e4 and e6 could become targets and c4 is now a potential nice spot for the knight.

Probably too optimistic and a waste of tempo as we will see. It was better to play 19. ... Bg6 20. Qe2 (20. a5 a6) 20. ... h5 21. b5 b6 22. cxb6 axb6 23. bxc6 Rxc6 24. Nb5 h4 25. Nd6.

20. Qb2

I did not see any need to rush with b4-b5, but probably was better off with b4-b5 or a4-a5 or perhaps with Nb1 searching for c4. Look at 20. a5 a6 21. Na4 Rcd8 22. Nb2 or 20. Nb1 Rcd8 21. Na3 leading to a White edge.

Probably too passive. Now ... b7-b6 or ... h7-h5 could give better chances to Black.

White misses the chance to take a sizable advantage with 22. a5! f4 23. a6 fxe3 24. axb7 Rxf1+ 25. Rxf1 Qxb7 26. Qa2.

Black considers he is ready to continue the kingside advance, but it was necessary to prepare it with 22. ... Rf7. Now e4 becomes weak.

23. Raf1 Kg7

Supporting the rook on f8, but probably ... Rf7 was again better.

24. Qd2

Pressuring f4.

Less effective is 24. ... fxe3

25. Qe1

A necessary move to face a potential ... fxe3 with more flexibility and prepare h2-h4.

After 22. Rf2

GM Cesar Blanco

The start of Cesar's race to the top was almost unnoticed. It was the last section of the 2006 Electronic Knights. The section had two experts, a class D player and four unrated— unrated by USCF standards for one of the unrated was Cesar Augusto Blanco. In the course of three years Cesar would drive that 0000 rating to over 2600 in just 18 games.

Cesar was born January 14, 1959 in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Like so many correspondence players, chess captured Cesar with the Fischer-Spassky match of 1972. In 1980 Cesar worked for Bank of America and later was the officer in charge of opening Citibank as a formal institution in Guatemala. He received his degree in business administration from San Carlos University in 1985 and received his MBA in finance from Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala City. In 1991 he joined Kellogg Central America as a finance manager. He was vice president of finance & administration of Kellogg Central America at his retirement in 2007.

But it was by e-mail that readers will best know Cesar. A grandmaster of ICCF, he has twice been e-mail champion of Latin America. Cesar represented Guatemala in the 1984 chess Olympiads in Moscow. He won the XIII and XIV CADAP zonal championships becoming a correspondence chess master in 1985, an international correspondence chess master (ICCM) in 1996, a senior international master (SIM) in 1999, and finally a international correspondence grandmaster (ICGM) in 2003.

But possibly Cesar's greatest accomplishments happened away from the chess board. He married Vivian Bock in 1983 and had three children, Maria Alejandra, Pablo Andres, and Valeria. Cesar had this to say about that: "Chess has been my second love and the main rival of my wife. I believe also that chess has provided me with additional tools to be a successful professional.

When I fell in love with Vivian (my wife) some 30 years ago, postal chess was already there. She used to help me with the clerical work of preparing 30-40 letters every Sunday.

I think I will die playing chess, but I would prefer being with my wife Vivian for the rest of my days. I dedicate this victory to her. Without her support and her understand- ing, I would not be a successful postal chess player.

Thanks for the time, support and mainly, thanks for your love!!!"

Correspondence Chess

Black sees the danger. 26. h4!

Now 26. Rd2 fxe3 27. Qxe3 Rxf1+ 28. Kxfl Qf7+ gives Black better chances to resist.

27. Rxf4; Not much better is 26. ... fxe3 27. Rxf8 e2 28. Qxe2 Rxf8 29. Rxf8 Kxf8 30. Qf2+; Also White is better after

27. Rd2

27. h5 was also interesting.

Probably better is 27. ... Rdf8 28. hxg5 hxg5 29. exf4 Rxf4 30. Rxf4 Rxf4 (The e-pawn falls after 30. ... gxf4 31. Nxe4 Bxe4 32. Qxe4) 31. Qg3 but White keeps a clearly better position.

Black got some simplification, but his position is still weak.

No more simplifications!

If 30. ... Qf7 31. Rf2 Qxf2+ 32. Qxf2 Rxf2 33. Kxf2 gives White a winning ending.

31. Nxe4 Bxe4

Of course, the knight on e4 was now a super piece.

32. Qxe4 cxb5

Black continues trying to simplify things, but there are too many weak points in his position.

And this move confirms the situation. Now d4-d5 is coming. Too early is 33. d5 bxa4

34. d6 Qc6 and Black seems to hold.

John Menke

Followers of correspondence chess know well the name of John Menke. John has been at or near the top of e-mail tournaments started in the three year period of 2004-2006. John scored first place in the 2005 Correspondence Chess League of America championship and first place in the first ever USCF 2004 Electronic Knights Championship. John was third in the 2005 Electronic Knights, and now a second place finish in the 2006 event.

Nearing seventy, John is in good health, but retirement brings other interests to his life, and correspondence chess may not necessarily be one of them. John hasn't had any chess-related thoughts for over a year now and reen-tering the chess battlefields would mean updating his databases that John believes is necessary for successful play at the top. What can replace correspondence chess? John collects movies having about 1,250 on DVDs and hard drives. John also contemplates collecting and storing all the six-piece endgame tablebases. John makes the interesting argument that having all the Nalimov endgame databases is worth only about one ELO point in competitive chess software play.

John mentions, also, that he has toyed with the notion of entering a postal chess tournament again, but the idea of an eight to ten-year commitment is too daunting. He suggests that maybe a one round event would be right for him. Well, John, the Victor Palciauskas tournaments would welcome you. All experts and masters—and still played by post!

John's main goal at just shy of seventy? It is a goal that he has had since he was a child sixty years ago—he would like to see the first manned landing on Mars. John Menke— live long and prosper! And remember the Palciauskas tournaments!


Now Black is two pawns ahead, but ...

White has a winning passed pawn!

Trying to simplify again ... but this becomes the final mistake. 36. ... a3! was better, but White still has a winning advantage.

If 37. ... Kh7 38. Kh2 Qxc5 39. Qe4+ Kh8 40. Rc2 Qa3 41. Rc7 Qg3+ 42. Kg1 Qf2+ 43. Kh1 winning.

38. Qxe6 Qxc5+ 39. Kh2 Qe3 40. Rd1 Qg3+ 41. Kh1 Kg7 42. Rg1 a3

Also winning is 43. Qd5.

After 45. ... Qf6 46. Qd5 White's central pawns decide the game.

John Menke demonstrates that a strong center may well be worth a stray pawn in this game from the semifinals.

Nimzo-Indian Defense, Leningrad Variation (E30)

Michael Buss (2269)

John Menke (2411)

2006 Electronic Knights semifinal

Buss plays a line that is not very popular over-the-board (though it has been championed by Spassky throughout his career). In correspondence chess it has been played by Hans Berliner and Mikhail Umansky, among others.

True to Menke's style in the opening, Black is playing to win.

7. e3 Bb7 8. dxe6 fxe6 9. cxb5 0-0 10. Nf3 Qa5 11. Bxf6 Rxf6 12. Qc1

So far, so researched. The two source games now continued wth 12. ... a6 13. bxa6 Bxa6 with compensation for Black as in Giullan-Read, Kellner Memorial 1989. Menke varies.

The position is related to the Benko Counter Gambit but White has a slight edge.

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