John Henderson
By John Henderson

There has been a lot of chess activity lately, what with the recent Mikhail Tal Memorial in Moscow, and tomorrow seeing the start of the eagerly-awaited Berlin Candidates Tournament that will ultimately decide just whom of the ‘fateful eight’ will go forward to become World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s next title challenger later this year in London. But amidst all this hive of chess activity, it would be remiss of us to overlook that Hall of Famer Anatoly Lein, sadly passed away on March 1 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He was 86.

Anatoly Lein, who was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 2004, was a tough, no-nonsense grandmaster in every sense of the word – “a true grandmaster” who brought an original approach to the game, as Lev Alburt paid tribute to him in the New York Times. At his peak, the Leningrad-born grandmaster was one of the strongest players in the Soviet Union and among the world’s top 30 players.

He became the Russian Champion in 1963 and won the Moscow Championship in 1971 and international tournament success followed in Cuba and Hungary in 1972 and 1973. But in 1976 Lein became one of a flood of Eastern bloc players who were all allowed to emigrate to the United States. He represented the U.S. in several major national and international tournaments, finishing equal first at the U.S. Open and the World Open in 1976 and representing the U.S. at the 1978 Olympiad. And along with another émigré, GM Leonid Shamkovich, this dynamic duo became feared competitors as they tore up the field on the notoriously tough U.S. Swiss tournament circuit.

In his prime, Lein was capable of beating anyone in the world – and he had the games to prove it. Among his victims were two World Champions, Mikhail Tal and Vassily Smyslov. He also scored wins against several Soviet-era world championship contenders, such as David Bronstein, Lev Polugaevsky, Leonid Stein, and Mark Taimanov.

During the 1990s, with his best playing days now behind him, Lein established himself as a top chess coach and a very popular writer.  He collaborated with fellow grandmasters on several very instructive chess books, including the acclaimed Sharpen Your Tactics: 1125 Brilliant Sacrifices, Combinations, and Studies.

He played in his first U.S. Championship in 1977 in Mentor, Ohio, with his last appearances coming in 2003 in Seattle, and 2004 in San Diego, both organized and sponsored by America’s Foundation for Chess.

And this is where I got to know the formidable figure of Anatoly Lein very well, where, between games, he would always keep everyone – especially this correspondent! – entertained and enthralled with his stories about the Soviet GM’s from his youth while in the Soviet Union.

Photo: GM Anatoly Lein, 1931-2018 | © John B. Henderson (AF4C)

GM Anatoly Lein – GM Lev Polugaevsky
Chigorin Memorial, 1966
Reti’s Opening
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 c6 4.0-0 Bf5 5.d3 h6 6.b3 e6 7.Bb2 Be7 8.Nbd2 0-0 9.Ne5 The Reti is the ultimate flank opening – and I remember first seeing this game in Flank Openings by Ray Keene as a kid. The idea in the Reti is that White first secures the center with pieces rather than pawns, and later will chip away at Black’s central pawns with either c4 or e4. But Lein has a much slower, sleepier approach – but always beware the sleeping giant! 9…a5 10.a3 Na6 11.e3 Bh7 12.Qe2 Qb6 13.Rab1 Prophylaxis pure and simple. Lein can’t stop Black from playing ideas such as …a5 and …c5 – but he can set-up good counterplay down the b-file that prevents the X-Ray attack on the Bb2. 13…Rfd8 14.Kh1 a4 15.b4 c5 16.b5! Nb8 There’s a sting in the tail if Black takes the b-pawn, as after 16…Qxb5? 17.Nxf7! Kxf7 18.Bxf6 wins. 17.e4 Nbd7 It all starts to go horrifically wrong for Polugavesky from here, as he doesn’t seem to get to grips with the position. He was probably better accepting he stood worse here, and gone for 17…dxe4!? 18.Nxe4 Nxe4 19.dxe4 Nd7 20.Nc4 Qc7 21.f4 and try to hang on as best he can here. As it is, Lein brings his ‘sleepy position’ to life. 18.Nxd7 Rxd7 19.exd5 Nxd5 20.Nc4 Qd8 21.Ne5 The domineering knight becomes the fulcrum of Lein’s attack on the Black king. 21…Rc7 22.c4 Nb6 23.Rbd1 Nd7 24.Ng4! In Flank Openings, Raymond Keene annotates 24. Ng4 with “Lein wakes up!”, and describes the systematic “peeling back” of Polugavesky’s defenses – and at this time, there were few grandmasters in the world who could reduce Polugaevsky to such a desperate position. 24…h5 25.Ne3 Nf6 26.f4 With f5 coming, Lein’s bishops are set to swing into action, as his opponent’s pieces look awkward and have no influence in the game. 26…Rd7 27.f5 Qb6 28.Bh3! The threats begin to multiply for Polugaevsky, as Lein now leaves his opponent with two very weak pawns that become easy targets – and these pawns are important, as capturing either opens a path to the Black king. 28…Rad8 Black is resigned to his fate now, as after 28…exf5 29.Nxf5 Bxf5 30.Bxf5 Rc7 31.Bxf6 Bxf6 (If 31…Qxf6 32.Bh7+!) 32.Qxh5 g6 33.Bxg6 fxg6 34.Qxg6+ Rg7 35.Qxf6 Qxf6 36.Rxf6 he has a hopelessly lost ending. 29.fxe6 fxe6 30.Bxf6 gxf6 31.Ng2! The peripatetic knight heads to f4, where it will defend d3 and also make targets of e6 and h5. 31…f5 32.Nf4 Rd6 33.Rde1! With the Nf4 defending d3, Lein wants to capture the loose pawn on h5 without any chance of counterplay for Black with …e5 and …e4. 33…Bf6 34.Qxh5 Kg7 35.g4! [see diagram] This strips away the last vestiges of defensive cover for Polugaevsky’s (now bare) king. 35…Rh8 36.gxf5 Bxf5 37.Rg1+ Kf8 38.Ng6+ The peripatetic knight has certainly traversed the board: Nb1-d2-c4-e5-g4-e3-g2-f4-g6! 38…Bxg6 39.Qxg6 e5 40.Ref1 Rxh3 41.Qg8+ Ke7 42.Rg7+! 1-0 Black resigns, as the mating attack after 42…Bxg7 43.Qxg7+ can’t be parried.

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