There may not be many players who can say they have a variation named after them, but International Master Emory Tate is one of them. With a fan base of cultist proportions, Tate has dazzled the chess arena for more than three decades with his tactical wizardry. What most may underestimate about Tate is the richness and originality of his ideas. His ideas are not only tactical, but often entail deep positional themes. Of course, the “Emory Tate Variation” is one of the ideas that shows diabolical intent from the outset.
Back in the late 80s, Tate began experimenting with a particular treatment against the Alekhine. Of course there are many systems against the unorthodox defense. However, in a game at the 1988 Armed Forces Championship, the game between Tate and Paul Waldowski started 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. a4!? a5 5. Ra3!!? (diagram) This game was quickly drawn, but the variation began to take on a life of its own.
While the idea may be hidden in some obscure notes, there does not seem to be a record of this idea being tested in a serious competition until 1988. In a return encounter against Waldowski the next year, he varied with 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3.a4!? c5 4.Ra3!? Nc6 5.Rg3. Tate lost that encounter, but he showed a willingness to test this new idea. A couple of years later, he played another game at the Giessen Open against Manfred Herfel, winning in slashing style.
This line was once the subject of a long thread on a discussion board named “The Emory Tate Variation”. That board has since disappeared, but the topic pops up every now and them. IM Igor Khmelnitsky mentioned it in analysis on the Alekhine though he does not give Tate credit for its inception. He calls it the “Chase Variation”. While he fails to use the earliest games of the Tate variation, he uses illustrative examples of Tate-Herfel (1991 Giessen Open, 1-0, 30), Doss-Weinberg (1999 Texas Ch., 0-1, 37) and Muzychuk-Petrenko (2003 EU Women’s Ch., 1-0, 54). Ukrainian-born Anna Muzychuk was about 11 years old when she was surprising opponents with this opening. She is now a strong Master and represents Slovenia.
While there are many skeptics, the opening has some interesting motifs. The rook is brought into play almost immediately since black neglected to create space. The rook is usually the last piece developed in chess, not the first. Rooks are also brought to the center serving as support for pawn breaks. This is a classical example where white breaks several “rules”. If we look at the moves 4.a4!? and 5.Ra3!!? they look like beginner moves, but they appear logical in that the rook has a clear path on the third rank from which to travel freely. The rook is also very difficult to attack and can cripple black’s kingside long enough to pry the center open. Of course, there are some drawbacks to this original idea.
While it is not the point of this essay to deeply analyze the variation, it shows a creative spirit in chess that is often lacking in an age increasingly reliant on computers. In recent times, Emory Tate has continued to enthrall crowds of onlookers at analysis sessions with his amazingly creative ideas. Many have argued that he would have become a Grandmaster if he toned down his reliance on tactics. That point has been debated for decades. Nevertheless, the chess world has certainly benefited from Tate’s creative and artistic contributions. The Tate variation shows his legacy of creativity and inventiveness… and courage to test ideas.
(Selected Games, 5.Ra3 PGN download)