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Luigi Mondini, 1957-2007 September 13, 2007

Posted by dorigo in chess, games, news, personal.

I think I understand now, having crossed the mark of 40 years of age, how hard it is to keep in touch with friends as time goes by. Your family, your job – everything conspires against your social life. But once enough time has passed to make you feel disconnected, another factor pitches in: getting back in touch with people you have not heard of for a while can be awkward. Quite simply, you are increasingly likely to discover things you would not like to know.

A few days ago, while searching for a chess position I wanted to post on this blog, I called on the phone my longtime friend Antonio Rosino, the patriarch of the chess club “Esteban Canal”, a  retired professor of Mathematics and Physics, and a still quite active FIDE chess master. Antonio is the one person I owe the most of my understanding of the game -and I share that debt with the vast majority of chessplayers in Venice. I knew he could have bad news in store after three years of mutual silence. And as he greeted me with his usual cheerful air, he landed a small but nasty blow: surely I had heard of Luigi ?

(Above, Luigi is observing a tournament game held in Venice in 1980)

I shivered. No, I had not heard of him in a while actually. A quite solid chess master, Luigi was a member of our chess club. I had met him in 1984, and I had always liked him since. I remember his sparkling eyes, which betrayed a quite frequent smile otherwise concealed under his thick moustache, and a unpretending attitude which brought him to agree to play blitz even against the weakest patzer around -me, back then. He had left the club and had quit playing chess a few years later, as his job and family obligations had taken priority. But every player knows that chess is a lifetime sickness, and at the club we had always hoped for a comeback that, unfortunately, we now know will never come.

(Above: a team match between the “Esteban Canal” club and the Chioggia team, for the italian team championship. Luigi Mondini is at center-left. On the right is Antonio Rosino, the team leader)

Instead, the bad news. Luigi died three weeks ago, consumed by a cancer in just six months. He was barely fifty, and he leaves a wife and a daughter – a young family, much of a life still waiting to be lived.

(Luigi immersed in thought at a tournament in Mestre, 1981) 

I remember very well Luigi at a tournament we played together in Forli’, back in 1984. A group of maybe twelve players from our club had traveled to the italian championship of the ARCI scacchi that year. He played in the masters section, while I was still a non-classified player. I think he scored 3.5 points out of six games, his best effort being his win with Enrico Paoli, an esteemed italian international master, organizer of the super-tournament of Reggio Emilia for many years, and author of a renowned book on chess endings which I devoured in my youth. Luigi had converted a slight middlegame advantage into a superior ending, and had won the game with precise play. He was beaming with joy that evening: I will remember him like that.

With the help of Antonio Rosino -who owns an immense chess library and who has kept a copy of most of the games played by our club members at public tournaments in the last seven hundred years- we dug out the game, which would have otherwise been lost forever. I paste it below with my own commentary, as a commemoration and a tribute to a chessplayer and a friend.

M. Luigi Mondini – M.Int. Enrico Paoli , Finale campionato italiano ARCI, Forli’ – 5-8 dicembre 1984

1. Nf3 b6 2. b3 Bb7 3. Bb2 e6 4. e3 Nf6 5. Be2 Be7 6. O-O O-O 7. c4 d6 8. d4 Nbd7 9. Nbd2 Rc8 10. Qc2 c5  (see diagram 1)

We have reached an almost symmetrical position after a unusual variation of the East-indian attack. White still retains a small opening advantage, but the position is one I would fear to play against a strong and experienced positional player. Evidently Luigi disagrees, as he seems to handle the position with confidence.

11. e4 cxd4 12. Nxd4 Nc5 13. Bf3 Rc7 14. Rad1 Here 14. b4 came in consideration, with the possible followup 14. …, Na6 15.a3 with some nice spatial advantage for white. 14. … Qa8 15. Nb5 Rd7 16. Rfe1 a6 17. Nc3 Rc7 18. Qb1 Rd8 19. Nf1 Bc6 20. Ng3 b5 (see diagram 2)

21. cxb5?! White commits a small imprecision. Better would have been again 21. b4! Ncd7 22.Nd5! exd5 23. exd5 Ne5 24. dxc6 Nxf3 25. gxf3 bxc4 26. Nf5, where white has the initiative. But in turn Paoli will fail to exploit his own chance six moves later. 21. … axb5 22. e5 dxe5 23. Nxb5 Rcd7 24. Rxd7 Rxd7 25. Bxc6 Qxc6 26. Nc3 Nd3 27. Rd1 (see diagram 3)

27. … Nxb2?! Here is black’s return of the gift. He would have obtained an attack with 27… Nf4 (threatening mate in g2) 28. f3 Qb6+ 29. Kh1 Qf2. 28. Rxd7 Nxd7 29. Qxb2 f5 30. b4! (see diagram 4)

A thematic move in this game, it seems: white finally pushes this pawn and automatically obtains an edge. The position has cleared, and white has chances to win thanks to his queenside majority. Black needs to counter the side advance with a central attack, but Mondini has figured out how to control the situation… 30. … Qb6 31. a3 e4 32. Nd1 Bf6 33. Qb3 g6 34. a4 Nc5 35. a5! A simple but important finesse. Luigi must have felt really pleased at forcing a superior ending on the endgame virtuoso. 35. … Nxb3 36. axb6 Bd8 37. b7 Bc7 38. Nb2 Nd4 39. Na4 Kf7 40. Nc5 Nc6 41. Na6 Be5 (see diagram 5)

42. Ne2 The pawn on b7 decides: this ending is clearly won, but it requires some accuracy until the end on white’s part. I quite well remember that day walking in the silent room of the hotel where the magistral tournament was being played, and stopping at Luigi’s board about at this point. Most of the chessplayers had already left for lunch, and the room was almost deserted. He gave me an amused look, and went back to his thinking, his parted fingers pressing on his forehead. I did not understand much of chess back then, but I saw something was on… Surely, the international master had some ace up his sleeve, and we would quickly get Luigi’s company for lunch ?  No: it was going to take a while longer, but Paoli was bound to go down.

42. …Nb8 43. b5 Nd7 44. Nc1 f4 45. Nb3 e3 46. fxe3 fxe3 47. g3 h5 48. Nbc5 Nxc5 49. Nxc5 h4 50. Nd7 Bd6 51. b8=Q Bxb8 52. Nxb8 hxg3 53. hxg3 Ke7 54. Kf1 Kd6 55. Ke2 Kc5 56. Kxe3 Kxb5 57. Ke4 Kb6 58. Ke5 Kc7 59. Na6+ Kb6 (diagram 6)

60. Kxe6! The quickest way to force black to throw the towel and to get in time to a deserved lunch (which was included in the accommodation package). Kxa6 61. Kf6 Kb6 62. Kxg6 Kc6 63. Kf7 Kd5 64. g4 Ke5 65. g5 Kf5 66. g6 and black finally resigned.


1. Matteo Martini - September 14, 2007

Hi Tommaso,
I am not sure if it is just my computer, but I can not see the pictures

2. carlbrannen - September 14, 2007

I can’t see the diagrams or pictures, but I typed the game into Fritz 7. Some Fritz suggestions:

13 … Qc7
14 b4
41 … Bd6 (Even I see this is better, or is it)
42 … Ke8
43 Nxb8
49 … Ke7
55 Nd7

Maybe that last mysterious Fritz suggestion is how I beat him now and then. And I would have thought it perfectly honorable to resign several moves before the final pawn hits the 6th rank fully protected by the king.

By the way, I’ve been under a cold / sore throat recently. Feeling the sweaty palm of mortality cold on me, I’ve felt like wasting less time on chess and more on QFT. So I’ve been typing up my notes at my blog. The objective is to get an introduction to my somewhat twisted version of QFT that any grad student can follow to derive the Koide mass equations.

3. carlbrannen - September 14, 2007

Hmmm. Now the pictures show up.

4. dorigo - September 14, 2007

Hi Matteo, Carl,

for some reason when I post using a wireless connection provided by vodafone, the tags in the htlm get converted in a funny way, by inserting an IP number after http:// and by adding a “t” to the domain name “www.pd.infn.it”.

I now corrected them after plugging in an ethernet. However, I find that rather disturbing… I’m thinking about organizing a private site.


5. dorigo - September 14, 2007

About your suggestions, Carl, they all look fine to me. I think a good way to analyze is allow fritz to show evaluations for the first 4-5 moves, to check how different that is for the move played in the game from what fritz likes most. A Delta of more than 0.4 pawns means something, smaller values are seldom significant – and that is especially true in endings, where fritz really fails to give a correct evaluation, while still providing sound moves (mostly).


6. Matteo Martini - September 14, 2007

Now the pictures shop up

7. carlbrannen - September 14, 2007

Tommaso, yes, I included only the points where Fritz gave sudden big changes, mostly around a half pawn. The various good moves you pointed out were almost entirely top picks by Fritz, at least until the end game.

If Fritz were omniscient, he would have only three evaluations, -10, 0 and +10, for loss, draw, and win, and we’d be able to tell precisely which move lost the game. As it is, it kind of surprises me to see Fritz slowly move his evaluation of a game into the win column.

And when white first obtained two passed pawns on the outside wing, I thought it clear that he was highly favored in the end game. But Fritz seems to not value even connected passed pawns much until they reach 4th or 5th rank.

Now that I can see your photos, the unnamed man at the top left corner of the 2nd photo, the team match photo, reminds me of a college buddy who has long since died at too young an age, Mario Pagliaro. Of course Mario was a vicious backgammon player, rather than a chess player.

In other personal chess news, the high school student I’ve been giving hints to is considering hiring the recent winner of the Washington State championship, Ignacio Peres, USCF 2273, to coach him in chess at $30 per hour, maybe an hour per week. Ignacio promises to assign him a great deal of homework.

I’ve suggested homework, but it has not been done. Perhaps I should charge $30 per hour, maybe my advice would be heard then.

The student’s father is a hard working man who has a job that requires the wearing of ear plugs to save the hearing. For him $30 is money that his son must earn for himself. So perhaps someone in the Seattle area will soon be served a hamburger, the labor courtesy of the desire to play a good game of chess.

8. dorigo - September 15, 2007

Hi Carl,

yes paying for advice makes it more likely to be followed. All the more so if the money is hard earned…
Good luck to your friend.


9. carlbrannen - September 22, 2007

My student is starting to follow my advice. I’ve showed him how to analyze a game with Fritz. And finally, I met Ignacio Peres, who I had the pleasure of informing that I already knew him by reputation. He is the black man with the ball cap here. He is from Cuba, I think.

10. dorigo - September 22, 2007

Hi Carl,

Let me know if your student is willing to play online on ICC. My handle there is “tonno”, and if warned beforehand, I can log on at some point.


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