You check the mail-box, put the coffee on,
plug in Fritz, and away you go….
Ivar Bern (37) from Bergen, Norway has been
away from the chess-board for a while,
but spends numerous hours analysing chess positions on his
PC. A CC career
spanning nearly 20 years is close to being crowned with the
World Championship title,
in World Championship XVII, possibly the last Championship
being played by ordinary mail. Bern is in the lead as the
smoke is beginning to clear, even though the incomplete
cross table shows that in theory someone can still catch up
with him. However, the
tiebreak will in all probability favour the Norwegian, and
the possibility that
anyone beats Bern’s own 10½ point prognosis, is remote (see
table). Whatever the final result, Bern is in the process of
obtaining a world class result, and the games in this final
demonstrate a depth seldom being served to the readers of a
Norwegian chess journal.
Balder Bern Lehmann
You check the mail-box, put
the coffee on,
turn on Fritz, and away you go….
The Norwegian hope believed the tournament would end
during 2005, but the
Russian Khlusevitsj (2569) – the only one in the field Bern
suspects is without a PC –
suffers from slow mail and a worst-case scenario is that it
may take several years
before the winner is decided. With such time perspectives we
found it best to
ask our anonymous world star to tell us about this strange
form of competition,
which seems rather hopelessly out of date in these days of
speed chess, but at the
same time being characterized by modern technology. Before
reflecting on the effect
of computers on (correspondence) chess, we let Bern sum up
the road to success in this
branch of chess that he describes as
extreme sport: – The
World Championship title
was my motivation for starting with CC in 1986. Through my
results in the
semi- and ¾-final, I qualified for the final starting in
March 2002. If this results
in a World Championship title, a 20-year project will be
complete. Things take time!
One of my advantages in the final was being an out-of-work
part-time dad, with lots of
time and energy on my hands. One of my opponents got his
fourth child during the final,
besides working full-time. Obviously we had completely
different working conditions!
the only one in the field Bern suspects is
without a PC – suffers from slow mail
and a worst-case scenario is that it may take several years
before the winner is decided.
With such time perspectives we found it best to ask our
anonymous world star to
tell us about this strange form of competition, which seems
rather hopelessly out of
date in these days of speed chess, but at the same time
being characterized by modern technology. Before reflecting
on the effect of computers on (correspondence) chess,
we let Bern sum up the road to success in this branch of
chess that he describes as
action sport: – The World Championship title was my
motivation for starting
with CC in 1986. Through my results in the semi- and
¾-final, I qualified for the
final starting in March 2002. If this results in a World
a 20-year project will be complete. Things take time! One of
my advantages in
the final was being an out-of-work part-time dad, with lots
of time and energy on my hands. One of my opponents got his
fourth child during the final, besides working full-time.
Obviously we had completely different working conditions!
What is the level of play in
None of the top ranks are participating. But
CC ratings can be misleading, because
the strength of play is dependent on how much energy you put
into the tournament.
In a World Championship final I assume that at the outset
everyone is top
motivated and consequently plays better than their rating.
Personally I play much
better in this final, having only 16 games to concentrate
on, compared to my play in
the semi-final when I also took part in several other
tournaments. At most, I had 63
games running simultaneously! Such factors also influence
the play of my opponents.
Besides, I have a stronger PC now, even though it is a
rather poor PIII 1000Mhz.
The level of
the games is extremely high.
Bern’s «life-time project» is definitely
rather original. But if you have a talent
for chess, some free time and an unusually developed
interest in chess analysis,
you just go ahead. As it says on the website of the
Chess Federation (
www.postsjakkforbundet.no –in Norwegian only )
«If your playing strength is good enough and you are patient
can start in the Open Class and end up in the World
In addition a computer and selected software are
prerequisites. The first time
a Norwegian reached the top of the CC world, was when Frank
Steinkjer in the 1980s chose to live alone with chess
analysis, returning to the
civilisation several years later with the title “European CC
to his name. Bern says he saw daylight again at the end of
2003, when 10 of the
16 games were finished. – With only 6 games remaining the
workload was so
reduced that Fritz had a couple of good nights’ sleep, and
the time had come to
crawl out of the cave and get an honest job.
Very few of us can fully understand what lies
behind such an achievement.
Many OTB players, and some former CC players as well, have
understanding how CC can survive the “computer death”. Some
about chess in itself, and then CC is hanging in a very thin
thread. Bern’s games
in the on-going final are good news in that regard – CC at
the top level today
is also a demonstration of the computer programs’
limitations. Bern himself is not at
all worried by the future of (correspondence) chess, so what
OTB fear in the foreseeable future? But if you want to make
a career in CC,
you should be aware of the conditions:
CC is getting closer to
perfectionism. I have always had a small scientist inside of
and for me the use of computers is what appeals to me. I can
understand that some
strong OTB players do not share this fascination and
therefore leave CC. Personally,
I like to think of CC as «Advanced chess» –
computer-assisted chess. Kasparov and
his companions were involved in this some years ago, but
they only played rapidgames.
We have all the time in the world, so the games are on a
really high level.
What do you believe the
result of a CC match ( computer-assisted, of course )
between you and Kasparov would be? Are you and your PC
an unbeatable team?
We would probably play about even against
Kasparov and his computers,
because I would have invested more time and energy than he
would. It is
extremely hard to beat the team of Bern & Fritz. Possibly, I
made 5 inaccuracies in the final,
but I was never in the danger of losing a game, although
obviously I had to
play very exact in several positions. I was close to losing
when I made an erroneous
evaluation as Black in one of my Sveshnikovs, but after a
week of hard work
I finally found a variation that was
sufficient to draw.
How strong have the computer
and what is left for the humans?
My program isn’t even close to playing
perfect chess. The same goes for the
other programs that some of my opponents use. There is a lot
of work left for humans.
Therefore, I have no fear of the computer death. But it is
important to leave some of
the work to the computer. Fritz never rests. At night he
(Bern uses “he” and not “it”
about his god friend Fritz) mostly does «Deep Position
analysis» or «Blunder Check».
Occasionally he works on the same position all night through
And I always check his suggestions. ”Blunder Check” is
incredibly helpful in the
openings, where Fritz unveiled many poor analyses in
Informator and ECO.
In some types of positions Fritz is relatively helpless, as
in the King’s Indian
where he believes Black must play h5-h4 (and not g5-g4). On
the other hand,
Fritz played surprisingly well in the Stonewall. The best CC
player is he who
manages to supplement the computer programs most effectively. I am never
satisfied with the conclusion “unclear” but keep on going
until the computer gives preference to my position.
A bit further than the
himself a strong OTB player, is the only FIDE-IM in the
understanding of chess and OTB playing strength lead to a
more critical attitude
towards the computers. Several of the games demonstrated
that you couldn’t blindly
trust the computer programs. I discovered that an opponent
who consistently followed the computer’s first choice. That
gave me a belief in victory, because in reality I only had
see a bit further than the computer. Fritz alone doesn’t
stand a chance against Bern & Fritz!
Balder Bern Lehmann
Our man was counting on a
decisive advantage in the endgame against Khlusevitsch,
which was in progress while this interview was done. Balder
(7) constructed a table-top version of Fritz which could be
used to pick up the opponent’s weak pawns. Just before going
to print, an email arrived: ”Received ‘Resign’ from
Khlusevitsch today! His last post-card was postmarked 1 Aug
as well as 1 Sep, so it had probably spent a month in a
Russian post office somewhere, before someone bothered to
send it on...”
many exciting games we have selected the following,
an opening novelty that shows the vast richness of chess
the computer’s dull number crunching:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4
White I often choose main variations where I try to squeeze
as possible out of the initiative resulting from having the
2...g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6
5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1
Previously I preferred 9.Sd2, but
Black probably equalises after
9...a5 10.a3 c6 11.Rb1 b5. After 12.dxc6 b4 13.axb4 axb4 14.Nd5 Nxc6, Nd2
is only standing in the way. 9.b4 Nh5 10.Re1 is quite
popular these days,
but I think Black is OK after 10...f5 11.Ng5 Nf6 12.Bf3 c6.
9...Nd7 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4
In a book by Marovic there is an
interesting chapter on the historical development of this
variation. With a closed centre and domination on respective
flanks, we’re definitely in for a race! White has constantly
been forced to find faster ways of attacking on the
A relatively recent attempt
to get things going on the Queen-side. The move was first
played by GM Kozul. The idea is to open the c-file with the
pawn sacrifice c4-c5.
13...Rf6!? is a radical
alternative. The plan is Rh6 and Qd8-e8-h5.
White should counter Qe8 with Kh1 and Bg1.
14.c5 Nxc5 15.b4 Na6
An important tempo-winning point
in this variation is that this Knight ends
up far from its usual square f6, making it harder for Black
to carry out g5-g4.
Piket’s move. More common is 16.Nb5 Bd7 17.Nxa7, but after
18.a4 Black can probably capture the pawn with 18...Nxb4!?
16...h5 17.Nb5 Bd7 18.a4 Bh6
The Rook covers the King-side if
Black plays g5-g4.
The point behind 18...Bh6 is seen in the variation 19.Nxa7?!
g4! 20.fxg4 f3!
In my other King’s Indian, the
German Stern drew by 19...b6 20.Be1 Rf7 21.Nf2 Bc8
(Piket - Kasparov, Linares 1997 continued 21...Nh4 22.Nxd6
22.Ra3 Nxb4!? 23.Bxb4 a6 24.Nxd6 cxd6 etc.
This is probably the most important novelty I found in this
tournament. The move involves a positional piece sacrifice
and definitely lives up to Marovic’ thesis: to play as fast
as possible. In previous games White has backed off with
After the admission 21...Nb8 22.a5
White will have achieved a lot on the Queen-side.
22.Nxc5 dxc5 23.Bxc5!± g4!?
The point behind 21.b5 is the
endgame ensuing after 23...b6 24.Nc6 Bxc6
25.dxc6 Qxd1 26.Rxd1 bxc5 27.Ra3! Black is a piece up, but
pieces do very little to stop White’s pawns. White can brag
about his d-file and
a Bishop turning into a white-squared God. I believe White
has a decisive advantage.
My main variation was 27...Ra5 28.Bc4+ Kh7 29.Rd7 Nf8
30.Rad3!! (threatening b5-b6.)
30...Ra8 (30...Rxa4 31.Rxg7+ Bxg7 32.b6! cxb6 33.c7 Rxc4
34.c8Q) 31.Rxg7+ Bxg7 32.a5! Rc8 (32...Rxa5 33.b6) 33.a6 Bf6
34.a7 Bd8 35.Ra3 Ra8 36.Bd5 after which b5-b6 decides.
Opening the 3rd row for
Rc3 is vital. Fritz suggests 24.d6??,
but White doesn’t persevere 24...g3! 25.dxc7 Qh4 26.h3 Bxh3
Black can still win a piece
through 24...hxg4 25.Bxg4 b6 26.Nc6 Bxc6 27.dxc6 Qxd1
28.Bxd1 bxc5 29.Bb3+ Kh7 30.Kh1±; or 24...b6 25.Nc6 Bxc6
26.dxc6 bxc5 27.Qxd8+ Rxd8 28.gxh5 Nh4 29.g3±.
The quickest – and most natural.
The c-file is opened, the d5-pawn becomes passed
and Be2/Na7 gets access to the b5 square. Besides, White
doesn’t have to worry about b7-b6.
25...cxb6 26.Bxb6 hxg4 27.Bb5
It is natural to eliminate Bd7
which blocks the d-pawn and the 7th row,
covers c8 and is attacking h3. Besides, Be2 risked to be
faced with f4-f3.
Black has other moves, but I found
none that looked threatening. For example,
27...g3 28.Bxd7 gxh2+ 29.Kxh2 Rxd7 30.Rh3±
The smoke has cleared, and the
game enters into a
manoeuvring phase. Black’s
fun on the King-side has come to an end, while White enjoys
an extra passed d-pawn.
Qg5-h5 can now be met by h2-h4. Crazy Fritz suggests 29.Qc2,
but White’s King
looks very lonely after 29...fxg2 30.Kxg2 Rf8 31.Rxf8+ Bxf8.
With a blocked King-side White can
fully concentrate on the Queen-side. However, I didn’t quite
like the idea of totally giving up the possibility to
undermine the King-side by h2-h3.
Black plans Nf8-h7-f6 with
pressure on e4. White now has two protected passed pawns
(d5 + h4), Black has f3. In an endgame Black will have
trouble stopping both pawns.
White wins after 30...gxh3 31.Qxf3 or 30...Qd2 31.Qxd2 Bxd2
32.Rc2 Ba5 33.Be3.
Protecting e4 and Bb6.
31...Nh7 32.Nc8 Nf6
32...Rxa4?? loses after 33.Qb5.
Here the Rook covers e4, a4, and
After 33...Bf8 I had planned
34.Bf2 Rg7 35.Qc2 followed by Rf1–b1–b5
to attack b7 and e5. 33...Nxe4?? loses after 34.Re1.
34...Nxe4?? loses after 35.Qxe4
Covering g4, threatening
Extra protection of Nc8 so that
Black can forever forget about Nxe4.
Black can do very little, except waiting for me to improve
36...b5? loses to 37.Rc6.
The plan is to give up the d-pawn
for e5, wherafter Bf2 becomes God on d4.
In addition White gets an annoying Rook on the 5th
row. Black’s King becomes
very vulnerable when heavy artillery is rolling up behind
the pawn chain.
From here the Queen points in the
direction of Black’s weaknesses on b7 and e5.
I expected 38...Qe6 39.Rc5 Bxd6 40.Nxd6 Qxd6 41.Rxe5. I
cannot for the life of me
see how Black can survive this. He has weaknesses on b7 and
g4, and Kg8 cannot
feel safe at all. White is a pawn up, has passed pawns on e4
and h4, Re5 is
sweeping the 5th row, and Bf2 is on its way to
d4. 38...Rxa4 loses to 39.Rxa4 Qxa4 40.Qxe5
with the point 40...Nxe4? 41.Ne7+ Bxe7 42.dxe7; 38...Nxe4 is
39.Rxe4 Rxc8 40.Rxc8 Qxc8 41.Qxe5. For example: 41...Qc1+
42.Re1 Qc4 43.Rd1 Rd7
44.Rd4 Qc1+ 45.Kh2 Qc2 46.Rxg4+ Kh7 47.Kh3.
Or 39...Qe6 40.Rxg7+ Bxg7 41.Qxb7 Rxa4 42.Ne7+ Kh7 43.Nf5
and White wins.
Yet another positional
piece sacrifice, and this time Black has no option but to
White has but 2 pawns for the
Knight, but the c7 pawn paralyses Black.
The Queen is useless as a blocking piece.
Everything loses: 41...Kf7 42.Bd4
Ba3 43.Qf5; or 41...Re6 42.Qxe6+ Qxe6 43.c8Q.
Threatens Qd8, alternatively
42...Ne8 43.Qd8 Ra8 44.Qd5+ Kh8 45.Rc5
There is no defence. Some variations: 45...Bf8 (45...Nf6
46.Qf7 Kh7 47.Rf5 Qf8
48.Rxf6 Qxf7 49.Rxf7 Kh6 50.Rd7 Bf6 51.e5; 45...Nxc7 46.Qf7)
(46...Ng7 47.Rh5+ Kg8 48.Rh6 Qxc7 49.Qd5+ Qf7 50.Rh8+ Kxh8
47.Rh5+ Bh6 48.Qb6 Ra6 49.Rxh6+ Kg7 50.Qd4+! Kxh6 51.Qh8+
52.Qg8+ Kf6 53.Qf8+ Kg6 54.Qf5+.
Did you have any particular
strategy for the World Championship final?
Before the final started, I made a principal
decision to go for the initiative both
with White and Black. Even though my opening repertoire was
I went for very sharp openings. This approach proved to
require a lot of resources.
It helped that John Kvamme lent me a big bag full of
Eirik Gullaksen contributed with books on the Sveshnikov and
the King’s Indian.
In addition, it was very valuable to have Kjetil Stokke as a
second, since he is
updated on most new ideas in the opening theory. Only a
couple of Stonewall
games were relatively easy, particularly the following
1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6
4.c4 d5 5.Nh3 c6 6.0-0 Bd6 7.Bf4 Be7 8.Nd2 Qb6!
I found this move while preparing against GM Leif Erlend
some years ago. The text threatens two pawns and is any
program’s first choice. Everyone else plays 8...0-0
GM Jakovitsch played 9.Nb3!?
against me in Bergen 2002, after thinking for
one hour. The result was time trouble and a well-deserved
Linna felt a bit deceived:
«I analysed all variations but was not satisfied» was his
comment on his next move.
½ - ½
Against 1.e4 I chose the Sveshnikov variation of the
Sicilian, which forced
me to use much time in the opening stage. The choice was
taken after an
email to club president Gullaksen inquiring if the
Sveshnikov really was sound.
The answer came promptly: «Kasparov is playing the
against Shirov - NOW». I immediately logged on to ICC,
chrushing victory and went for it. Four of the games turned
completely different variations, so I got nothing for free.
I had to expose lots
of bad opening theory to survive the openings. Two of these
Sveshnikovs were played by email, which can be extra
because you often get the reply immediately – no time in the
Are you tempted to repeat the
plan is to make up status and write a book on the final.
may possibly go for another final (by email) There is also a
server where you play for high money prizes, with many
OTB GMs participating. Obviously, this is tempting.
And what about OTB?
the last 8 years I have mainly played league games and
Bergen Chess International.
I usually lose about 50 Elo points in the league games,
winning most of it
back during the national final (In Norway, regional leagues
are played as
qualifications to a final with 8 teams. Translator’s note).
motivation plays a certain role... By the way, there should
be a warning sign on Fritz:
«Excessive use may harm your ability to compute variations».
OTB I have gone for a practical/untheoretical approach,
trying to avoid
the worst tactical complications. It is more important to
lead the games
into positions I feel comfortable with, rather than finding
the best move at any cost.
Even though CC is my main interest, it doesn’t give the same
kick as an OTB time trouble duel. That way, CC is a rather
You get the biggest excitement when you pick up your mail,
plug in Fritz,
away you go.... And the greatest pleasure is when the
reveals deep chess understanding and resigns before I had
NSb (Norsk Sjakkblad – Norwegian Chess
Magazine) crosses its
fingers hoping the opponents will show their deep
during the finishing stage. Ivar has done his part of the
job (only one drawish
game remains). The holes in the tournament table will
hopefully soon be
filled through resigned and drawn games. In what other forms
do you have to wait several years before uncorking the
Member of Bergens Schakklub (Bergen Chess Club)
Columnist Bergens Tidene (1987-99 + 2004 - ? )
within the school administration
Playing for Norway in the chess olympiads 1988, 1992 and
Appr. 25 Norwegian Championship titles, the last
being the Team Championship 2003.
Norwegian Champion 1988
VM-finalist 2002 - ? ......
World Championship XVII - Final
Start date : 8th
Category 13 -
Average rating 2573,9
was first printed
in 2004 in
(Norsk Sjakkblad – Norwegian
In Norwegian :
Translated by Per