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Since it came online in 1996, ChessCafe.com has published thousands of articles, reviews, and columns. This high quality material remains available in the ChessCafe.com Archives. However, we decided that the occasional selection from the archives might be a welcome addition to the regular fare. We hope you enjoy From the Archives.
The Wanderer by Mike Franett
The Doc: Part III
After Nikolay and Elena Minev left Greece, where he had been coaching the Greek National Team, and arrived in Vienna, they were truly "strangers in a strange land." But sometimes – though not nearly often enough – it does seem that Caissa looks after her own. Nikolay had worked as a contributor for the Yugoslav Informant since 1973 and now Editor GM Alexsandar Matanovic bravely offered Dr. Minev a full-time job at the publication despite the political risks inherent in the vindictive nature of their mutual Big Brother.
The Minevs got good advice on personal safety from the Austrians as they were under constant surveillance from the Bulgarian Secret Police in Vienna. Later, after an assassination attempt on the Pope was linked to the BGS, the surveillance was dropped.
The Doctor now says, "I must tell you, the chess people are Mafia!" Far from the usual tiresome railing against chess establishments that we have all heard ad nauseam, the Doc means: "they take care of their own!" When the Vienna Federation learned of Nikolay and Elena's escape to Vienna, they arranged simuls, lessons, lectures to young masters and special instruction for their student team. "In six months, I was hard pressed to spend $1,000, they wouldn't let me pay for anything!" Nikolay also played in a couple of tournaments finishing first and tying for second.
The Minevs had three main emigration options: the U.S., South Africa and Chile. The offer to become coach of the Chilean national team was very good but, off the record, they told him there were some internal problems, though General Pinochet seemed to have them well in hand (maybe a little too well, actually). Finally, Nikolay and Elena decided upon the U.S. after they had been in Vienna for six months. Later, after Nikolay arrived in the States, he got a letter from the Austrians, "Now that you have gone, who will teach our youngsters?" Naturally, I asked him, "Well, why did you leave?"
The reasons were varied. Elena spoke no German but her English was good. The Doctor, who did speak German, could find medical work in some remote Alpine village or do chess but the U.S. provided the best chance for both to find meaningful work. Further, there were so many refugees in Austria that the general population felt some resentment against them. There was plenty of room in the U.S.
The Minevs had friends in Los Angeles so that was their first choice but eventually friends in Seattle prevailed and they arrived here early in 1983. Within three months, Elena found laboratory work, while the Doc took up chess upon arrival. Though Seattle's own IM Olaf Ulvestad had done some teaching in the 1950s, the post-Fischer era had never seen a teacher of Dr. Minev's stature in Seattle and he soon had more students than he could handle and he is proud to say that some of them are still with him seventeen years later.
Economic necessity dictated that the fifty-one-year-old Minev return to the chess battlefield. He immediately had success in the notoriously tough American Swiss tournaments, tying for first in the Oregon Open with IM John Grefe and tying with Larry Christiansen and IM David Strauss, ahead of Nick deFirmian in the always-strong American Open.
Minev – Wood
After missing a couple of easy wins, White arrived at the diagram position on the move. The position is very interesting because this situation is almost completely missing in endgame theory.
Can White possibly win? It is hard to judge without other practical tests. Black does not seem so badly off because any exchange of pieces draws immediately. White's chances lie in winning Black's remaining pawn or in creating a passed pawn while winning Black's bishop, because the ending of two bishops vs. knight has many winning positions for the bishops.
The first task in implementing either plan is the destruction of Black's defensive position and the invasion of White's king.
Not 1.Bd3+ Kg4 2.Bxh7 Kh3 draw.
The decisive mistake! Black does not realize how powerful his opponent's position will now become though the cooperation of the bishops leads to some charming other possibilities: 1...Kg6? 2.Bd3+ Kh6 3.g4 Bb3 4.Kf3 Bd5+ 5.Kg3 Bb3 6.Bf6, winning and 1...Bb3? 2.g4+ Kg6 3.Bd3+ Kh6 4.Kf3 and wins. The only defense was 1...Nf8 2.g4+ Kg6 3.Bd3+ Kf7. Postmortem analysis with NM Richard Wood established that White's forces would still be working well together and Black's technical problems would be far from easy to cope with. Now 4.g5 is probably best for White.
Threatening 3.g4 mate!
If 3.Kd4 Ne4 4.Be1 Bb7 5.Bf3 Nxg3 6.Bxb7 Kg4 7.Bc8+! Kxh4 8.Ke3 and wins, but 4...Ke6 or 5...Nd6! is a draw.
More exact than 4.Bg7 Ne4 5.Bg6 (5.Bxh6? Nf6 draw) 5...Nf6 6.Bf5+ which also wins.
If 4...h5, then 5.gxh5! Nd7 6.h6 Nf8 7.h5 and wins.
5.Bg7 Nf6 6.Bf5+ Kf7 7.Bxh6 Ng8
Here the ending of two bishops and rook pawn vs. bishop is easily winning after 7...Nxg4. But, if Black's bishop is dark-squared, the win is very difficult. But first let's see the end of the game.
8.Bf4 Nf6 9.Be5 Ne8 10.Kf4 1-0
The ending against a dark-squared bishop has two important positions:
a) The pawn is on the seventh rank.
Black has an easy draw by simply playing his bishop along the a1-h8 diagonal.
b) The pawn is on another square.
White wins: 1.Bb1+ Kh8 2.Kg6 Bc3 3.Ba3! (3.h7+?? draw) 3...Bd4 4.Ba2! Bc3 5.Bf8! (5.h7?? draw) and 6.Bg7+ (Berger, 1890!).
As financial pressures eased, Dr. Minev played less and less. On the local scene he didn't want to play his own students and there was plenty of teaching and writing to do, though he has long played in the big Nevada tournaments once or twice a year, always with good results.
In 1988, Yasser Seirawan's Inside Chess started publication in Seattle and Dr. Minev was a regular contributor from the very beginning and throughout its twelve-year history, to the tune of about 100 articles. I was IC's Editor down that long and winding road and I can tell you that today I would have more hair on my head and less wrinkles wherever if all our contributors had demonstrated the same rigorous professional standards that the Doc demands of himself.
As Doctor Minev nears seventy years of age it is natural to look back at nearly sixty years in chess, nearly equally divided between amateur and professional careers. One question I suppose we must dispose of is: With his results – thirty-five wins over GMs outside Bulgaria alone, including Kortchnoi, Larsen and Portisch plus his Bulgarian Championships – why wasn't he a Grandmaster?
TThere are more than a few answers. During his best years, which were between 1954-1966, there where no ratings. Someone like Minev, who had many good results, especially in team competitions, needed to be pushed by his federation for the title, but when he was an amateur it was really not in their best interests to do so. He never really got on well with the Federation until 1972 when he was elected head of trainers after he had begun to decline as a player. His problem was that his best years came when he was an amateur and then when he became a professional he was more noted as a trainer and a writer.
Also, Minev started a little late even by the standards of the time. His first international event was in 1954 when he was already twenty-three years old and he did not get many international opportunities. Stylistically, he liked to take risks against strong players, which he feels is a good general policy. Proud that he was dangerous for anyone, he got his first official norm in 1975 at the age of forty-four though it was far from his best result. The truth is, by then the ambition was no longer there. As he says now, "I was almost forty-five years old. Why would I want to become a weak GM?" At an American Open after Nikolay came to the U.S., National Master Ron Gross asked him the "why-didn't-you?" question and before Nikolay could answer Senior Master Anthony Saidy interjected, "Because he wouldn't pay off anyone."
So, teaching and writing took on more importance to him in the second half of his chess career. A Greek official once told Yasser that Minev had revolutionized chess in Greece during his stay there.
On the "How Can I Improve?" front, I asked Dr. Minev for advice for class players. He strongly recommended Tartakover's 500 Master Games. He likes its diversity of openings, abundance of tactics and good annotations. He feels that all the basics that a aspiring tournament player needs is contained in this book, which is sometimes found in two volumes.
When asked the biggest weakness of average players he said that they are, "...very vulnerable to tactics against them. And this is hard to fix I can tell you!" Another problem: "they are not good in the endgame." The Doctor's prescription is not to just go through endgame examples but to change the position slightly after each example by moving over a file or adding a pawn or changing piece placement. Analyze the new position with a view to seeing if it still leads to the same result. Whether it does or not can teach many things. Also, start a collection of interesting endgame positions which you have analyzed and as the Doc says, "...slowly, slowly you will learn many things."
Here's another tip: in the middlegame mentally remove some or all the pieces to see what kind of an ending is coming. This will enable you to adjust your play accordingly. Failure to take the coming ending into consideration during the middlegame means that you are playing in the dark, and that is not good.
As some of you might know, Dr. Minev is not the only strong player is the Seattle. Yasser Seirawan says: "Nikolay came to Seattle over fifteen years ago and that was a glorious day for me and for chess in our area. We became friends at once and have grown closer over the years as we have met on a weekly basis when I am in town. We have collaborated on books, analyzed openings, looked at articles, positions and done some tall storytelling. I must say, Nikolay is a wonder. In fifteen years, he hasn't run out of great stories and anecdotes! To me, he represents the true spirit of chess: fierce competition and then friendship with the competitors when the battle is over. He is chess culture personified and it has been a privilege to know him."
Zinn, L – Minev, N
Everybody has his most memorable game. This is mine.
1.e4 c5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5
3...Qxd5 is theoretically unclear, while 3...Nf6 offers comfortable equality but no more.
4.Nc3 Qd8 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Ne5 e6 7.Qf3 Be7 8.b3 a6 9.Bb2 Nbd7 10.O-O-O Qc7 11.Re1 Rb8 12.g4 b5
Black follows the rule of thumb in the Sicilian that one should create counterplay on the queenside before castling. This is risky of course, but if you are afraid of bears, don't walk in the forest!
13.Bg2 Bb7 14.Qe2 Bxg2 15.Qxg2 Nxe5 16.fxe5 Nd7 17.Ne4 O-O 18.g5 c4!
A tactical defense against the obvious threat on f6.
19.Nf6+ Kh8 20.Qh3 gxf6 21.exf6 c3!
That's that! Any other move loses after 22.g6! But now the game is far from over.
22.Bxc3 Ba3+ 23.Kb1 Rg8 24.Rxe6! Rxg5 25.Re4 Qc6! 26.Qe3
If 26.Rhe1?, Qxe4!.
The critical position. The first wave of White's assault has been repulsed, but it takes only a few moves to organize a new and very strong attack. Black finds a nice tactical solution, first creating mating threats.
If 29.dxc5, 29...Nd5 and then 30...Nxc3+ wins.
29...Qg2 30.Rf2 Qg1+ 31.Kb2 Nd5! 32.Qh3
32...Ba3+! 33.Kxa3 b4+ 34.Ka4
If 34.Bxb4 Qc1+ 35.Ka4 Nb6 mate, or 34.Kb2 bxc3+ 35.Ka3 Qc1+ 36.Ka4 Nb6+ 37.Kb4 a5+ 38.Kxc3 Rg3+! 39.hxg3 Qe3+! 40.Kb2 Nc4+ 41.bxc4 Rb8+ and mate next move.
34...Nb6+ 35.Kxb4 Rb5+ 36.Ka3 Qc1+ 37.Bb2 Nc4+! 0-1
The Doctor and Elena have been in the U.S. for over seventeen years now and he can look back on incidents from the past with wry good humor.
During the first Fischer-Spassky in 1972, Nikolay was commentating on the games for Bulgarian National TV from unannotated game score telexes from TASS, the Russian news service. This particular game was nearing the fortieth move, but the score was obviously in error in having one of the players hang his queen, which was not taken over several moves. Nikolay had to tell the audience, "There has plainly been a mistake in TASS's score as these last moves are impossible at this level" – and this did indeed prove to be the case later. But in the event, as soon as the game was adjourned the producer rushed out, "Nikolay! Are you mad? You just told the whole country that TASS made an error! You'll be lucky not to be arrested on the way home!"
Minev shrugged it off. "What could I say? The score was obviously wrong. These things happen." When Nikolay got downstairs and stepped outside, a young policeman waved him over urgently. "My God! The producer was right! I'm going to be arrested!" It turned out that the policeman had been watching the game on television in a store window and what bothered him was that Nikolay had been putting the pieces from the demonstration board into his pocket after captures, since there was no handy place for them. The policeman insisted on searching the Doctor to find the stolen pieces which were, of course, state property. No pieces. A sigh of relief by the Doc and a good story. Oh yes. One other thing. The TASS reference? Nikolay was never allowed to appear on Bulgarian television again.
These days Nikolay and Elena live in a very comfortable condominium in downtown Seattle with a sweeping view of the city. They both are happy in their adopted city and the uncertain, even dangerous, times are long behind them. They both still like to travel and they like to come back to their home, too. All the things they worked so hard for in Bulgaria that always seemed to stay just out of reach are theirs now. But I guess it is not so surprising that good things should happen to people that are not afraid of bears.
© ChessCafe.com. All Rights Reserved. This article first appeared at ChessCafe.com in April 2000.
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