“In fact, it’s safe to say that the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area was the birthplace of black chess in America.”
Local writer and two-time DC chess champion Gregory Kearse made the claim in a seminal 1998 article for Chess Life, which noted that the thriving local chess scene in the 1960s helped develop early masters Officially Ranked African-American Chess Players – Walter Hill. Ken Clayton and Frank Street – and helped shape a new generation of strong black players such as William Morrison, Vincent Moore, Emory Tate and Baraka Shabazz.
As Black History Month draws to a close, today we focus on two more accomplished black chess players, DC’s Greg Acholonu and Indiana’s remarkable Bernard Parham and his self-titled opening Parham.
Acholonu, a longtime master and coach at the US Chess Center and now at his own Maryland-based GCA Children’s Chess, is also a witty writer and annotator. For our first match today, we’re borrowing heavily here from his article in the much-missed DC Chess League “King’s File” of a final round match he played at the World Open of 1989 against strong NM Filipp Frenkel, a high-stakes victory Acholonu called at the time “my most memorable to date”.
In a Caro-Kann line of exchange, Acholonu as White upsets the dynamics of a fairly balanced struggle with a “little bag” – 24. Nxf4 Qxe5 25. Rexe4!?, giving up a rook for knight and pawn but getting a position where White can harass Black’s position as long as Frenkel’s rooks remain bottled up. White gets a second pawn for exchange when the game’s critical moment is reached after 42. Qxa7 Kd7 43. Qb8+ Kf7.
The annotator accuses himself of “letting go” by not going all-in now with 44. Rg4!? Rxd3 45. Qg8+, giving 45 … Ke7 46. Rg7+ Kd6 47. Qd8+ Ke5 48. Qxd3 Kxf2+ 49. Kh3 Qg2+ 50. Kg4 and “White should win”. But sometimes the way forward is the wimp: the computer signals that Black now has a killshot with 50…Rf3!! 51. Rg5+ (Qxf3 f5+ is the point) f5+! and it is Black who should win and who will win. In this line, White can vary with 47. Qb8+ Kc5 48. Rc7, and it’s still a mess after 48… Rxf2+ 49. Kh3 Rff3 50. Kg4 Kxc4 51. Qxb7 Qxc7 52. Qxc7+ Kd5.
White is 44. Rxd7+! Qxd7 45. Nf4 e5 46. Nh3 keeps him in play, but as the annotator noted, Black now has positional service, with any queen exchange leaving Black’s rook dominant over the pathetic White Knight. An uphill battle comes to a head after 51. Qc2 (Qxd5? Kxd5 52. b4 Kd2 53. a4 Ra2, and the raging rook will devour the queenside) Ke6 52. Qe2 (see diagram; Acholonu’s comment: “Black play and lose $3000) Qf3?? 53. Nf4+!(Black wins on any move except this one) and the trap is set. After 53…Kf5 54. Qxd3+ Qxd3 55. Nxd3 Re4 56. Ne1 Kd4 57. b4 Rc3 58. b5, Black abandons a desperate position.
“Close to a perfect match? Ha! – far from it,” recalls Acholonu. “But what a delicious struggle! So delicious I could feel every move gnawing at me like acid!
Bernard Parham is a National Master, a former Indiana State Champion and an original dude. With a background in math and physics from Purdue, he developed and refined his own “Matrix” system for playing and recording chess moves – decades before Neo faced the red pill/blue pill dilemma.
Parham’s overture, like its ancestor, is sui generis. Purists may shudder, but there is a deep geometrical and spatial theory behind the extremely unorthodox early development (2. Qh5!?!) of the queen. Whether it works in theory is not for us to say, but there have been some successful applications in practice, including a fine victory by Parham himself against the solid pundit and former USA Federation executive. chess Alan Losoff of the 1982 US Open.
Like many staggered lines, the Parham quickly takes both players out of their comfort zone, and already Black 7. d3 Nd4?! (Bxc4 8. dxc4 Nb4 is more binding) seems a little off. After 8. Nxd4 exd4 9. Bxe6 dxc3?! (fxe6 10. Ne2 e5, was preferable, although after 11. 0-0 White has the beautiful f2-f4 break ahead) 10. Bh3! Qe5 11. Rb1 Be7 12. 0-0, with two bishops and a safer king, White clearly won the first round.
White wins a pawn then with 20. e6! opens up more lines against Black’s trapped king. After 23. Qe2 (the queen returns from her short opening stay without getting worse, adding to the pressure on the electronic file) dxc4 (fxe6 24. Bxe6 Rh6 25. Bxd5 Bc5 26. Bf3 leaves White two pawns clear) 24.exf7 Bb4 25.c3! Bd6 (Bxc3?? 26. Qe7 mate) 26. dxc4 Kxf7 27. Qe6+, and Black’s game is on the ropes.
There are a few hiccups along the way, but Parham gets a well deserved point after 27… Kg6 28. Re3!? (the cleanest was the blunt 28. Re5! Bxe5 29. Bf5+ Kh6 30. Qf7, with mate to come) h4 29. f5+? (and here, 29. Re5! and 29. Rb5!, cutting the queen, were indicated) Rg5? (Kh7! can wipe out all of White’s hard work, like after 30. Qf7 Bc5 31. Qg6+ Kg8 32. Re2 Bxf2+ 33. Rxf2 Qxc3, Black can even claim a small advantage) 30. Qf7 Nh5 (no better was 30… Rh6 31 Qxg7+ Kh5 32. Re4 Bg3 33. Bg4+ Nxg4 34. Qxg4 mate) 31. Qg6+, and Black gave up, without needing to see 31 … Kf4 32. Qg4 mate.
Congratulations to US GM Hikaru Nakamura, returning from a long absence from the board, beating GM Levon Aronian in the final to win the first leg of the three-tournament FIDE Grand Prix in Berlin last week. The top two scorers from the combined event secure the coveted final two spots in the next Candidates Tournament to determine the challenger to reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway.
Acholonu-Frenkel, 17th World Open, Philadelphia, July 1989
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 g6 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. h3 Nc6 7. OO Bg7 8. Re1 OO 9. c3 Bf5 10. Bxf5 gxf5 11. Nbd2 e6 12. Nf1 Ne4 13. Bf4 Ne7 14. Be5 Ng6 15. Bxg7 Kxg7 16. Ne5 Qh4 17. Qf3 Nxe5 18. dxe5 Rg8 19. Rad1 Rac8 20. Rd4 Kh8 21. Ng3 Qg5 22. Kh2 Rg6 23. Ne2 f4 24. Nxf4 Qxe5 25. Rexe4 dxe4 26. Kxe4 Qc7 27. g3 Kf6 28. Qe3 Qb6 29. Qe2 Kf5 30. Kb4 Qc6 31. Qe3 Kd8 32. Kd4 Re8 33. Qd3 Qb5 34. Qc2 Re5 35. c4 Qc6 36. Qc3 Kg8 37. Nd3 Kg5 38. h4 Rf5 39. Rg4+ Kf8 40. Qa3+ Re7 41. Rd4 f6 42. Qxa7 Rd7 43. Qb8+ Kf7 44. Rxd7+ Qxd7 45. Nf4 e5 46. Nh3 Rf3 47. Qh8 Kg6 48. Qg8+ Kf5 49. c5 Kd4 Qc5 50. Qc5 51. Qc2 Ke6 52. Qe2 Qf3 53. Nf4+ Kf5 54. Qxd3+ Qxd3 55. Nxd3 Ke4 56. Ne1 Kd4 57. b4 Kc3 58. b5 Black resigns.
Parham-Losoff, 83rd US Open, Saint-Paul, August 1982
1. 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 Nc6 3. Bc4 Qe7 4. Nf3 d6 5. Nc3 Nf6 6. Qh4 Be6 7. d3 Nd4 8. Nxd4 exd4 9. Bxe6 dxc3 10. Bh3 Qe5 11. Rb1 Be7 12. OO h6 13. f4 Qc5+ 14. Qf2 d5 15. Be3 Qa5 16. e5 Nd7 17. bxc3 b6 18. Qf3 h5 19. c4 c6 20. e6 Nf6 21. Tfe1 Kd8 22. Bf2 Kf8 23. Qe2 dxc4 24. exf7 Bb4 25. c3 Bd6 26. dxc4 Kxf7 27. Qe6+ Kg6 28. Re3 h4 29. f5+ Kg5 0. Qf7 Nh5 31. Qg6+ Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]