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25 July 2015

The Path to a Grandmaster's Title

The talented Grandmaster Igor Kurnosov from the Russian city of Chelyabinsk would have turned 30 on May 30, 2015. Grandmasters Pavel Ponkratov, Rustam Khusnutdinov, Ernesto Inarkiev and Dmitry Kokarev pay tribute to his memory and commentate several games Kurnosov played in his youth.

Igor Kurnosov in 1999

Related by Igor's father: "We bought Igor this T-shirt with the name of Rivaldo, a player on the Brazilian football team, in Spain in 1998 for a reasonable price (to recap, Rivaldo won the Gold Ball in 1999, so I think that a T-shirt with his name became much more expensive later). I suspect that this photo of Igor was taken at Pardubice-99 during a game. He went to Czech Republic with Schetinin (without us). I wouldn't have allowed him to play a game in this T-shirt because it was for doing sports. But he seemed to be wearing it all the time. He said that people greeted him by saying "Hi, Rivaldo!"

The year 2001 was very successful for Igor, and then he decided to participate in several round robin tournaments to attain the International Grandmaster norm. He managed to do this at the Alushta and Serpukhov tournaments as early as late 2002.

Commentated by Grandmaster Pavel Ponkratov

2002 was a breakthrough year for Igor Kurnosov: he achieved all the international grandmaster norms and made a quantum leap in his play. In September 2002, Igor played in two tournaments in a row in Alushta; in one of them, he shared the 1st – 3rd places and fulfilled the norm. His performance in the other tournaments was not so successful, but there were some pretty good games there, and here's one of them. 

Kurnosov – Erenburg
Caro-Kann Defense
Alushta 2002

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Nd7 6.0-0 h6 7.b3 Ne7 8.Na3!?

The first interesting moment in the game. This is a pretty rare yet devious continuation: later on, Sergey played it himself. White does not block the c pawn, while the b5 square is available for the knight: this is how White prevents the move c6-c5 for a while, and the knight heads for e3 to support White's pawn or a piece attack on the kingside. 


The "silicon brain" recommends 8...Qa5, so that if 9.c4 Qc3 10.Bd2 Qb2 the queens can be exchanged. But White is not obliged to choose this line: he can opt for more dynamic play – 9.b4!, and after 9...Qa4 (or 9...Qc7 10.c3 Nb6 11.Nc2 a5 12.a4, and White has considerable chances to suffocate Black) start hunting down the queen with unclear consequences: 10.Qd2 Nc8 11.c3 Be7 12.Bd1 Qa6 13.Nc2.

9.c3 Nf4

Now after 9...Qa5 10.b4 Qb6 11.Nc2 a5 12.a3 White will retain its structure, but it's less than certain that Black will be able to position his pieces properly.

10.Bxf4 Bxa3 11.Bd3

A correct choice of plan. White prepares an attack on the kingside and trades off a potential defender, while bringing out his queen to a proper position.


11...Bb2 is too risky due to 12.Rb1 Bxc3 13.Bxf5 exf5 14.b4! (but not 14.Qd3 Bb4 15.Qxf5 Nf8, and Black can still put up some defense), and after 14...a5 15.a3 axb4 16.axb4 Nb6 17.Qd3 Na4 18.h4! White captures the arrested bishop seamlessly.

12.Qxd3 a5

An ambitious but not mandatory move; it's easier to bring the bishop back and push the c6 pawn to c5.


Igor gets the bishop away from the f-pawn's route.


Actually, there was no threat of catching the bishop, so Black could have castled right away.


Active play on the kingside would have been more dangerous for Black now: 14.Ne1 (the knight makes room for the pawn and probably heads for e3 later on) 14...0-0 15. f4.

14...0-0 15.Rfc1

This is how White wants to make Black capture on d5 with the e pawn in the event of a trade-off, since after 15...a4 (or any other "sub-optimal" move) 16.cxd5 cxd5 17.Qb5 White has clear pressure on the queenside.


Too slow. It would have been more precise to move the queen to a6 with a subsequent push a5-a4, opening up the queenside lines where White has no structural edge.


Better late than never!


Once again, this is too "snoozy". Black might have stopped calculating the line 16...c5! 17.dxc5 dxc4 18.Rxc4 Qxd3 19.Nxd3 Rd8 20.Rc3 Nc6 21.Be3 too early because after 21...Rd5 Black is fine: he either wins the pawn back or has active pieces that more than compensate for this small shortage.


Meanwhile, the knight continues its escapade...


It was not too late for 17...c5, with the following possibilities:

a) 18.dxc5 dxc4 19.Qf3 Qxd2 20.Qxa8 Nd7 21.Qf3 Nxe5 – Black has full compensation for the exchange, i.e. a couple of pawns and active pieces;

b) 18.cxd5 Qxd5 19.Qg3 Kh8 20.Ne3 Qxd4 21.Bc3 Qd3, and the black queen joins the ranks of the kingside defenders;

c) 18.Rd1 – probably the strongest, but after 18... Nc6 19.Qg3 Kh8 20.Qh3 Kg8 the sacrifice 21.Bxh6 doesn't win due to 21... gxh6 22.Qxh6 Bg5 23.Qh5 Kg7.

18.Ne3 Rd8

This leads to a hideous position, but all the other moves are no better:

a) 18...Ba3 19.Ng4+-;

b) 18...Bg5!? 19.Ng4 dxc4 20.bxc4 Bxd2 21.Qxd2 Rd8 22.Rd1;

c) 18...dxc4 19.Nxc4! (not 19.bxc4 Rd8 20.Bc3 b5 – Black has a relatively good position, having managed to distract the white pieces from the king and even organize counterplay on the queenside) 19...Ra6 20.Qg3 Kh8 21.Nd6!, and then White will either break through along the c file or checkmate.

19.cxd5 cxd5

Knowing how the game ended, it is easy to suggest 19...exd5 as the lesser of the evils, but playing this position as Black after 20.Nf5 Bf8 21.Qh3 is unpleasant, to put it mildly.

20.Ng4! h5


There is no salvation in sight anyway: 20...Nc6 21.Nxh6+ gxh6 22.Bxh6 or 20...Bg5 21.Bxg5 hxg5, and White gets his hands on the black monarch, combining the threats along the opened file and the knight's transfer to f6: 22.Qh3 Nc6 (22...Qe7 23.Qh5) 23.Nf6+ gxf6 24.exf6 Nxd4 25.Qh6 Nf5 26.Qxg5+ Kf8 27.Qh5 Kg8 28.Rc3+-.

A tough and beautiful coup de grace followed:

21.Nf6+ gxf6 22.Qg3+ Kh8 23.Qh4

That's the point! White pieces arrive along the third rank, as if by rail, to take part in the black king's execution.

23...Kg7 24.Rc3 Kf8 25.exf6 Bd6 26.Rg3

Less picturesque is 26.Bh6+ Ke8 27.Qg5.

26...Qb5 27.Qxh5 Ke8 28.Rg8+ Kd7 29.Qxf7+ Kc8 30.Rc1+ Nc6 31.Rxd8+ Kxd8 32.Qg8+ Kd7 33.Qxa8 Nd8 34.Qc8+ Ke8 35.f7+ Black resigns. 

An excellent achievement by the master from Chelyabinsk, aged 17 at that time!

Grandmaster Rustam Khusnutdinov commentates a game from the Alushta Winter tournament, where Igor not only scored a grandmaster norm but also became its winner.

Kayumov – Kurnosov
Sicilian Defense
Alushta 2002

The notion "Alushta tournaments" means a lot for many chess players. A tournament is often better than its reputation, and this is very true in our case. There is no smoke without fire, of course, but many of the participants earned their titles through fair play and hard work. The readers can see that for themselves by studying the following game.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Qb6

The openings of our youth... Everyone has them, I'm sure. For Igor, that was the line with 4...Qb6, which he used, according to the chess base, till 2004. It seems that it's not so simple to play crazy games like this one, so later he switched to the much more solid Scheveningen Variation.

5.Nb3 Nf6 6.Nc3 e6 7.Bd3

Another popular scheme starts with the move 7.Qe2 and is recommended in the well-known book series Opening for White according to Anand.

7...Be7 8.Be3 Qc7 9.f4 d6 10.0–0

The plan with long castling starts with the move 10.Qf3. Here's one of the recent games played along these lines: 10...a6 11.0–0–0 Nb4 12.Kb1 b5 13.g4 Bb7 14.g5 Nd7 15.Qh3 Nxd3 16.cxd3 b4 17.Ne2 e5 18.Rhf1 a5 19.Rc1 Qd8 20.Nd2 exf4 21.Nxf4 0–0 22.g6 hxg6 23.Nxg6 fxg6 24.Qe6+ Kh7 25.Qh3+ Kg8 26.Qe6+ Kh7 27.Qh3+ Kg8 28.Qe6+ Kh7, draw, Solak – Bachmann, Tromso 2014.


The most ambitious plan for Black is to prepare a pawn onslaught on the queenside to create counterplay. A more modest option is 10...b6.


An important part of White's plan. 11.Kh1 b5 leads only to a transposition of moves.

11...0–0 12.Rae1 b5

Another plan starts with the move 12...Nb4. Frankly speaking, I've never played this position for both colors, so I won't risk expressing any opinions. The statistics are in White's favor.


A solid approach.

The straightforward 13.e5 also looks very attractive: 13...dxe5 (the move 13...Ne8, which complies with all the Sicilian canons, can be followed by 14. f5!, just as canonic, and then Black has to respond with 14...Rb8 15.fxe6 Bxe6 16.exd6 Bxd6. And here 17.Qe4! gave White an advantage (after 17.Nc5 Ne5 18.Qe4 f5! Black was off the hook, Kravtsiv – Kononenko, Alushta 2006) 17...g6 18.Nc5) 14.fxe5 Nd7 (14...Nxe5!? 15.Qxa8 Neg4 was interesting yet insufficient due to 16.g3! (much weaker is 16.Rf2 Bb7 17.Qa7 Qxh2+ 18.Kf1 Nh5, Sebag – Khismatullin, Plovdiv 2008) 16...Nxe3 17.Rxe3 Qb6 18.Qf3 Bb7 19.Qe2 Ng4 20.Qxg4 Qxe3+ 21.Rf2±, gradually warding off the attack while retaining a material advantage) 15.Bf4 b4 16.Nd1 Bb7 17.Qg3 g6 18.Nf2 – a complicated Sicilian battle is raging on the board, probably with a slight edge for White. This is how one of the games continued: 18...Qd8 19.Qh3 h5 20.Re3 Kg7 21.Be4 Rh8 22.Nd3 Qb6 23.Kh1 Nd8 24.Nd2 Rc8 25.Bxb7 Qxb7 26.Ne4 Rxc2 27.Bg5 Bxg5 28.Nxg5 Nc5 29.Nf4 Rxb2 30.Qh4 b3 31.Nxf7 Qxf7 32.Rg3 Rh6 33.Qxd8 Kh7 34.Rgf3 Qd7 35.Qf8 Ne4 36.Nh3, and Black resigned. Lutz – Smirin, Saint Vincent 2000.


A pre-planned push.

14.Nd1 a5

I wasn't able to find out whether the move 14...Bb7 has any value of its own. Probably not: Black can't do without the pawn push anyway.


White plays very thoroughly, bringing closer all the pieces before making any aggressive pawn moves. This is a sign of the Uzbek chess school.

An important difference from the previous lines: if 15.e5 now, Black has the resource 15...Nd5.


The cause of subsequent problems. The situation in the center is determined too early, which enables White to launch an immediate attack against the king.

I think that 15...Bb7 was more precise, retaining the possibilities е6-е5 and d6-d5 depending on White's actions. For example, 16.g4 d5! 17.g5 dxe4 18.Nxe4 Nd5 with excellent "Sicilian" play.


Of course! Now White has easy play: g4, g5, f6, g6... It's more difficult to find some counterplay for Black...

16...Bb7 17.g4 a4 18.Nd2


A very important move!

The unfeeling machine first suggests moving the pawn farther away from the king – 18...h6, but after some short consideration it comes to the right conclusion that after 19.g5 hxg5 20.Rg1! White has a very strong attack.


Now that there is no direct win in sight, White has to retreat.

While driving a Ferrari... sorry, a Houdini, I tried to checkmate the black king in the analysis. I can't say I succeeded: 19.Bxd4 exd4 20.g5 Nd7 21.f6 gxf6 22.Ng4. White's moves seem to be obvious, and there are hardly any alternatives to be found. It's difficult to venture upon 22...fxg5 at the board, but only at the board! I am sure that, had this line occurred in the game, Igor would have chosen the cautious 22...Ne5 23.Nxf6+ Bxf6 24.Qxf6 Rfe8 with a very solid position thanks to the centralized knight. 23.Nh6+ Kh8 24.Nxf7+ Kg7 25.Qh5 Nf6 26.Nxg5 Nxh5 27.Ne6+ Kh6 28.Nxc7 with a near equal endgame.


Another important point: the onslaught of the white pawns is temporarily halted.


A multifaceted move: on the one hand, it protects the pawn on c2, and on the other hand, White is ready to "blow up" the queenside with c2-c3. But it looks artificial: the rook occupies a passive position without being forced to do it. This suggests that White did something wrong, but everything seems logical in the previous moves, so it is this particular move that is a mistake.

Alas, there is no 20.g5? Nxf5; but 20.Bxd4 exd4 21.g5 Kh8 22.Nh3 Ne5 23.Nf4 deserved serious attention: there is no direct mate in this line, but the advanced pawns on the kingside allow White to look into the future with optimism.


White's play has to be countered, of course.

21.b3 Rfc8?!

A human move! On the one hand, the rook gets to the f8 square where it's supposed to be; on the other hand, the square f8 is freed both for the bishop and for the king if it chooses to escape. And yet, this is an inaccuracy enabling White to regain the initiative.

21...h6 – the engine isn't familiar with defense principles, so it suggests "fixating" the dark squares at once. It was necessary to move forward: 22.g5! (too slow is 22.Nh3?! d5! 23.g5 (23.exd5 Nf6) 23...hxg5 24.Nxg5 Bxg5 25.Qxg5 f6 26.Qg1 Nc5, and there is no doubt as to who is attacking) 22...hxg5 23.Bxg5 Bxg5 24.Qxg5 Qd8 25.Qh5. I think it's easier for White to play here. It was high time for a counterattack in the center (taking advantage of White's procrastination): 21...d5! 22.g5 (22.exd5 Nf6; 22.Bxd4 exd4 23.g5 f6 with mutual chances) 22...dxe4 23.Nfxe4, and the move 23...g6! was very important here, confusing the situation completely...


In such a sharp position, a player should not be guided just by general considerations. It was necessary to move forward immediately: 22.Bxd4! exd4 23.g5 Bf8 24.g6, and Black only has a small advantage.



I am not inclined to criticize the players for their decisions made in such a complicated position. Everything is simple and clear when you sit in front of a computer with a cup of tea, but it looks completely different at the board when the clock is ticking. The usual practice ― do not force any developments on the board without obvious reasons ― often leads to success, but probably not in this particular case.

After 22...Nxf3! Black suddenly snatched the initiative: 23.Qxf3 Qd8. White find it difficult to look for a worthy objection to the standard breakthrough d6-d5. 24.c4 (24.Bc4 is bad: 24...Nb6 25.Bxb6 Qxb6 26.Rcd1 Rxc4!; 24.Nh3 d5); probably the only way is 24...bxc3 25.Bc4 Ba6 26.Rxc3 Bxc4 27.bxc4 Rab8 with better chances for Black.


White doesn't miss his second opportunity to trade off the dangerous knight.

I think that after 23.Nxd4 exd4 24.Bxd4 Ne5 Black has sufficient compensation (simple play along the c file). Another promising line is 24...Bf6 25.Bxf6 Qxf6 26.g5 Qb2, but it's a bit scary to risk that in a tournament game.

23...exd4 24.g5!

The correct decision! White continues to fight for the initiative. (Dmitry Kayumov grew up at a time when moves like 24.Nxd4 were considered as bad manners. But try and explain this to a computer!)


Black has to retreat: otherwise f5-f6 would have been a constant threat.


25.g6 fxg6 (25...Qe7 26.gxf7+ Qxf7 27.Nxd4) 26.fxg6 h6 27.Nxd4 deserved consideration.


Can anything be more natural than this move? Yet Black had an unexpected resource: 25...Ra5! The rook finds a very efficient  way, Dvoretsky style (remember his article The Routes for the Rook, in Russian ― Marshruty dlya Ladyi), to enter the fray along the fifth rank.


The white battery on the g file is ready to shoot.

Even in the analysis, it is difficult to give a clear evaluation of the line 26.Rce1 Nxd3 27.cxd3 Rc3 28.g6 hxg6 29.fxg6 fxg6 30.Nxd4 Qe7 (30...Rxd3): all the three outcomes are possible. It seems that 26.g6 would have been too early due to 26...Nxe4 27.gxf7+ Kh8 with an advantage for Black.


26...Qc7 would have been a suicide: after 27.Nf6+! Kh8 28.Nxh7! White destroys the black monarch's position.


Now 27.Nf6 gxf6 28.gxf6 doesn't work due to 28...Bh6.

27...Nxd3 28.cxd3 Rc3


The battle is at its climax: which is the faster, White's attack or Black's counterplay?


White is playing this game rather passively. He could have pushed his pawn to the sixth rank several times now, but every time he chose a more solid continuation. But one shouldn't play the sharp "Sicilian" like that!

A decisive 29.g6 would have posed some difficult problems for Black: 29...fxg6 30.fxg6, and now Black must find the only move that doesn't lose: 30...Qe7 (30...Rxd3 loses due to 31.Nh6!!) 31.Qd2 Ra5! 32.Ref1 Rh5 33.gxh7 Ba6 34.Ne1, and the entire battle is still ahead.

29...Ba6 30.Qe2

A continuation of the "attack – defense" strategy. The stronger move is still 30.g6 fxg6 (30...Bxd3 31.Nh6+–) 31.fxg6 Qe7 32.Nxd4 Bxd3 33.Nf2 Ba6 with a completely unclear position.

30...Rac8 31.f6

At last! Better late than never.


A human decision. Both opponents were probably in time trouble by then. And how do you play in this case? Correct: simply and reliably! The computer desperately recommends 31...Rc2 32.Rd2 R8c3!

32.Nxd4 Qb6

If my guess about time trouble is correct, this position is much easier to play with Black: he attacks, while White's king doesn't feel safe.


Another problem for White: there is no move in sight that would resolve all his issues at once. Something "hangs" anyway. 33.Nf3 d5 was no cure either.


A nice "twist".

Considering what happened next, one may recommend the optional 33...Bb7, making d6-d5 even more effective.


An interesting practical decision, which, however, loses if Black plays correctly.

One would really love to play 34.e5, but this is countered by the obvious 34...Bc5. It seems that White loses material, but the line should be continued: 35.Qh3! h5! (35...Bxd4?? 36.Qh6 Rg8 37.Rg3+–) 36.Nh6 Qc7 37.Nxf7+!! One of the many beautiful combinations that remained on the sidelines. 37...Qxf7 38.e6 Qe8 39.Qe3. The pawn tandem along the sixth rank looks dangerous, but it only suffices to maintain the equality: 39...Bxd4 40.Qxd4 Qxe6 41.Rde1 (41.Rge1 Qg4) 41...Qf7 (41...Qf5 42.Rgf1 Qg4 43.f7++–) 42.Re7 Qf8 43.Qa7 Bxd3 44.Rh7+ Kg8 45.Rg7+. This would have been a worthy end for this epic battle.


The temptation is great...

The winning move, however, was the cold-blooded 34...dxe4!, opening up the lines for the bishop and the rook: 35.Nxf7+ Kg8 36.Ne5 Rd8 37.f7+ Kh8 38.Nf5 Qxe3 39.Nxe3 exd3–+.


The roles have suddenly changed: it's easy to play with White now, while Black has to find the only moves so as not to lose right away. 35.Nxf7+ would only have led to a perpetual check: 35...Kg8 36.Nh6+ Kh8 (36...Kf8 37.Qh3 Bxd4 38.Qd7 R3c7 39.Qxd5 loses).


Alas, this is wrong. I think this move was prepared as early as on the previous move. But now this move loses, as well as many others: 35...Bxd4?? 36.Qh6 or 35...Qb7 36.Ne6! The only salvation was 35...dxe4. I managed to find this pretty line: 36.Ndc6 exd3 37.Nxf7+ Kg8 38.Nfd8 Rxd8 39.Qe6+ Kf8 (39...Kh8 40.f7+–) 40.Qe7+!! Bxe7 41.fxe7+ Kg7 42.exd8Q Qxc6+ 43.Rg2 Bb7 44.Qd4+ Kg8 45.Qd8+, and again, a beautiful draw!


An amnesty. Earlier, White was reluctant to push the pawn to the sixth rank, and now he doesn't want to grab a crucial pawn, even with a check. And it was so easy to win: 36.Nxf7+ Kg8 (no better is 36...Kh7 37.Ne5) 37.Ne5 Rc7 38.Nxg6 Bxd4 39.Qxh5 with a crushing victory.


Now the fight flares up anew!


As chess books often state, "mistakes rarely go alone". This is exactly the case. It seems that White hadn't foreseen his opponent's last move, and, with his flag hanging, he was unable to find the right decision.

And the line was stunningly beautiful! 37. Qxf7! Qxf7 38.Nxf7+ Kh7 39.Ne6! Bxg1 (39...Bxd3 40.Rge1 dxe4) 40.Kxg1 dxe4 41.Ne5 (41.dxe4 Rc1 42.Rxc1 Rxc1+ 43.Kf2 Rc2+ 44.Kf3 Bc8–+ (44...Rxa2 45.Nd6) 41...e3 42.f7 Rc1 43.Nf8+! (43.f8N+?? Kg8–+) 43...Kg7 44.Ne6+=.


The main shortage of this move is that it almost forces White to follow the line from the previous comment.

Much better was 37...Bxd4 38.Qxd4 Rc2, paralyzing White's entire army and virtually forcing the sacrifice 39.Nxf7+ Qxf7 40.Rg2. Black should win, but there are still quite a number of obstacles ahead.


A desperate move but still the strongest in this position!

38...Qxf7 39.Nxf7+ Kg8!

39...Kh7? gave White another opportunity to seize the advantage: 40.Ne2! Rc2 41.Rg2 Rxa2 42.Nf4 Rb2 43.Ne5 with chances to win.

40.Nh6+ Kh7

The time trouble is finally over, and it is time to think about the position...


...As it often happens, it is the 41st move that turns out to be the fatal one. It was necessary to withdraw the knight, and there were several ways to equalize.

Please don't miss the beautiful lines after 41.Nhf5!! gxf5 (41...Rxd3 42.Rxd3 Bxe4+ 43.Rf3 Bxf3+ 44.Nxf3 Bxg1 45.Kxg1 gxf5 46.Ne5 Kg8 47.g6=; 41...Rd8 42.Ne6) 42.g6+ Kh8 43.Nxf5. A picturesque position, isn't it?

1) 43...Bxg1 44.g7+ Kg8 (44...Kh7 45.f7+–) 45.Ne7+ Kf7 46.Nxc8 Bc5. After spending a lot of time on analyzing this unusual position I reached the conclusion that the outcome should be peaceful. For example, 47.d4 [47.Rg1 Bxg1 48.Nd6+ Kg8 49.Nf5 Rc8 50.Kxg1 Rd8 (50...Ra8 51.e5) 51.e5 Bc8 52.Ne7+ Kf7 53.d4 Be6 54.Nc6 (54.d5 Bxd5 55.Nxd5 Rxd5 56.e6+ Kg8 57.e7 Re5 58.Kf2 Kf7 59.Kf3 Re6 60.Kg3 Re4 61.Kf3 Re6=) 54...Rc8 55.Nxb4 Rd8 56.Nc2 Bf5 57.Nxa3 Rxd4] 47...Bxe4+ 48.Kg1 Bxd4+ 49.Rxd4 Rxc8 50.Rxe4 Kxf6 51.Rc4 Rxc4 52.g8Q Rg4+ 53.Qxg4 hxg4 54.Kf2=.

2) 43...Rxd3 44.Rxd3 Bxe4+ 45.Rg2 Bd4!! 46.g7+ Kh7 47.g8Q+ Rxg8 48.Rxd4 Bxg2+ 49.Kg1 Bh3+ 50.Ng3 Rg4=.

And the simplest way would have been to strengthen the central pawn: 41.Ne2 Rxd3 42.Ng3! Rcd8 43.Rxd3 Rxd3 44.Rc1, and White is out of danger.

41...Bxg1 42.Kxg1 Rc1

Now the knight's poor position on f3 is decisive: it can't help its colleague on h6 to promote the pawn.


43.Re1 Rxe1+ 44.Nxe1 Rc1 45.Kf2 Ra1 46.Nf3 Rxa2+ 47.Ke3 Rc2 48.Nd4 Rc8 didn't save either.

43...Rxc1+ 44.Kf2 Rc2+ 45.Ke3 Rxa2

Playing а4-а3 in the middle of the game, Black couldn't even think that this modest pawn would bring him victory. But life is full of surprises!

46.Nd4 Bc8!

The last nuance: the two knights shouldn't be allowed to join forces. The plethora of beautiful lines is a real pleasure for those who analyze the game. Despite the large number of mistakes made by both sides, this is a very interesting and typically Sycilian canvas, where the 17-year-old young man proved to be a bit luckier than his experienced examiner. It can't be denied that a good sense of dynamics has always been Igor's strong suit.
White's position is hopeless, so he abstained from checking Black in the line 47.e5 Rg2 48.e6 a2 49.f7 a1Q 50.f8Q Qc1+ 51.Ke4 Bb7+ 52.Ke5 Qe3+ but resigned immediately.

In the early 2000s, Serpukhov became a real chess Mecca thanks to the efforts of chess arbiter and organizer Mikhail Kryukov and was a regular venue for many high-level competitions. Igor stayed in this hospitable city twice during 2002. The May tournament wasn't lucky for Igor, but he snatched a win over the tournament's favorite.

Commentated by Grandmaster Ernesto Inarkiev
Inarkiev – Kurnosov
King's Indian Defense
Serpukhov 2002

This was our first classical game with Igor. He was an outgoing person, and we had started to socialize since the first tournament where we both played – Russia's Championship Until 16 (Cherepovets 2001). After that, we had often played in the same tournaments but it was for the first time that we faced each other at the board.

We played this game in the 10th round and started it in a different mood. After a loss in the first game, I scored 7.5 points out of 8, and I only had to gain half a point out of 2 to secure a Grandmaster norm. The tournament was less lucky for Igor, however, and by then he had no chances to achieve the norm. Furthermore, two rounds were played that day; this was the second game and the players had less energy saved for it.     

As I looked through this game quickly, I had the feeling that we both played rather badly. But when I studied it more thoroughly, it turned out that there were indeed quite a number of mistakes, but the sides were faced with fairly complicated challenges. Regrettably, the endgame was marred with time trouble and blunders. But this is the usual situation in young players' game, where good stretches alternate with bad ones.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7

Igor only played the King's Indian back then..

4.e4 d6 5.Nge2

A system I borrowed from Leonid Yurtayev's games: I used it regularly at the time. White sends its pieces along routes similar to those of the Saemisch Variation, but expects to benefit from the pawn staying on f2 by either playing f2-f4 in one move or keeping the pawn on the same spot altogether. As is often the case in side lines, Black has several worthy options to choose from.

5...a6 6.Ng3 Nbd7 7.Be2 c6

Black wants to win back space on the queenside by playing b7-b5. Quite a feasible plan, which had been used against me by Pavel Smirnov a year earlier.


A prepared improvement. I had been impressed by the game Serper vs Nikolaidis 1993 and decided to follow it.

In my game with Smirnov, I played too cautiously: 8.a4?!, and after 8...a5 9.0–0 e5 it turned out that dark squares are controlled by Black, while White is out of proactive ideas. 10.d5 Nc5 11.Ra3 h5 12.Bg5 Bh6 13.Bxh6 Rxh6 14.Qd2 Rh8 15.Qe3 h4 16.Nh1 Qe7=/+, Inarkiev – Smirnov, Kazan 2001. Later Serper tried 8.0-0 b5 9.cxb5?! axb5 10.b4 Nb6 with good play for Black, Serper – Ehlvest, Renault 2006.

8...b5 9.c5?!

A responsible decision, but this had been prepared at home. Igor paused to think... A more solid continuation would have been 9.0–0 0–0 10.f3!?


An aggressive and logical move. Thanks to the attack on e4, Black chases the white knight away to a bad location with a tempo.


It was about time to think about safety.


A pretty natural novelty.

The game I had been following continued like this: 10...dxc5 11.dxc5 Qc7, which enabled White to castle and then to mount a beautiful combination attack: 12.0–0 h4 13.Nh1 Nh5 14.Qd2 e5 15.Nf2 Nf8 16.a4 b4 17.Nd5 cxd5 18.exd5 f5 19.d6 Qc6 20.Bb5 axb5 21.axb5 Qxb5 22.Rxa8+–, Serper – Nicolaidis, St. Petersburg 1993.

11.Nf1 Nf8?!

This allows White to retain control over the dark squares.

After 11...dxc5! 12.dxc5 Qc7, compared to the Serper – Nikolaidis game, the knight on f1 impedes castling, and it's difficult to make it really active. In contrast, Black has clear play on dark squares: 13.Nd2 Nh5-/+.


Abandoning the strategic idea of playing to tighten the grip, but winning the time to finish the development. Of course, I would love to keep the nice pawn on c5, but it can't be retained because of the poor position of the f1 knight.

12.b4? a5! 13.a3 axb4 14.axb4 Rxa1 15.Qxa1 dxc5 16.dxc5 Ne6-/+;

12.Nd2?! dxc5 13.dxc5 Nh5=/+.

12...exd6 13.Nd2 Ne6

Both opponents played creatively in the opening, which resulted in a strategically unusual position. White seized the center with pawns, while Black advanced on the flanks. It's easier to play when you control the center, whereas Black needs to demonstrate accuracy when developing his flank initiative.


A provocative move. A simpler option is 14.f4 0–0 15.0–0 b4 16.Na4, and a position from the actual game occurs on the board.


The untimely advance only weakens the queenside.

The simplest option would have been 14...0–0 15.f4 (15.Rc1 Re8 with unclear play), and only then 15...b4 16.Na4, transferring to the line from the game. A principled move here is 14...Nh5! to prevent a direct attack, and White has to sacrifice a pawn: 15.f4! Granted, it's more difficult for Black to get his queenside rook into play, so things are not quite clear here. For example, 15.Nb3? is bad due to 15...b4! (after 15...Nef4 16.Rf2 Qg5 17.Qd2 Bh6 White holds on by playing 18. Nd1!, even though after 18...0–0 Black has an overwhelming advantage) 16.Na4 Nef4, and there is no effective defense from the direct threats. 17.Rf2 (17.Qd2 Nxe2+ 18.Qxe2 Ng3–+) 17...Qg5 18.Qc1 Nxe2+ 19.Rxe2 Qb5-/+. After 15.f4! Nxd4 (or 15...Bxd4 16.Bxd4 Nxd4 17.Bxh5 Rxh5 18.f5! Rg5 19.Nf3 Nxf3+ 20.Qxf3) 16.Bxh5 Rxh5 17.Nf3 Nxf3+ 18.Qxf3 leads to a complicated game.

15.Na4 0–0

Here 15...Nh5 is already weaker due to 16.Nc4 Ng3 17.Re1 Nxe2+ 18.Rxe2+/=.


There is no point in weakening the well-fortified center, given that Nh5 here is not so strong because after f3-f4 the knight on h5 is not protected. I think I was tempted by the opportunity to ram Black's position with f4-f5, but White doesn't have the time to do this with comfort. Much more logical is using the center as a cover in order to weaken Black's queenside. But this should be done with finesse.

16.Nb3?! is a mistake: after 16...Bd7! the knight on a4 hangs unpleasantly.

16.Nc4 is not convincing: after 16...Rb8 Black unbinds his forces gradually: 17.Rc1 a5 (17...d5? 18.Ne5+–) 18.Qd2 Ba6.

The most precise is 16.Rc1!, obliging Black to determine his bishop's position. If 16...Bb7, Nb3 is already good. (There is no 16...Nh5 17.f4 Nxd4 18.Bxh5 gxh5 19.f5!±, and White will develop an unhindered attack against the black king; 16...Bd7 – and here, since the bishop can't make it to a6, the move 17.Nc4! is strong: 17...Be8 18.Nab6 Rb8 19.d5 cxd5 20.exd5 Nc7 21.Qd2±) 17.Nb3 a5. There is no 17...g5? 18.Bc4!±, and Black loses material: 18...Nh5 (18...d5 19.Bd3+–) 19.Qd2±) 18.Qd2+/=. Black has neither counterplay nor space.


Suddenly, Black threatens the center. White has to consider the possible strikes on e4.


This weakens control on the square g4.

The shakiness of White's center is illustrated by the line 17.Qc2? Nd5! 18.exd5 Nxd4–+.

17.f5 leads to very complicated play: 17...gxf5 18.exf5 (it is dangerous to proceed with 18.Rxf5?! Nd5! 19.Bh5 (or 19.exd5 Nxd4! 20.Rxf7 (20.Bxd4 Bxd4+ 21.Rf2 Qg5) 20...Rxe3 21.Bh5 cxd5 22.Nf3 Nxf3+ 23.Rxf3 Re5-/+) 19...Nxe3 20.Bxf7+ Kf8 21.Bxe8+ Nxf5 22.Bxc6 Bxd4+ 23.Kh1 Ng3+ 24.hxg3 Ra7 – and Black has a very strong initiative) 18...Nf8 (18...Nc7 19.Bg5 Ncd5 (or 19...h3 20.Bd3) 20.Nc4. Strange as it might seem, the d5 knight prevents Black from opening up the center at some point. White has a simpler plan: Bd3, Qf3) 19.Bg5 h3.

White's position is more agreeable after 17.Bf3! – Black has no breakthroughs, and White has more freedom thanks to his space advantage: 17...Bh6 18.g3.


A timely strike, allowing Black to activate his forces. It would be nice to include 17...h3, but White has an in-between move 18.f5! (after 18.g3? the move 18...c5! becomes stronger).


A forced move. There is no protecting the center: 18.Nb3? Bd7–+, and after 18.d5 Nd4 Black has a clear edge.


Opening the bishop on c8.



An eye-catching and practical decision, and yet not strong enough. Now the initiative moves on to White.

It turns out that Black can wait with 19...Ng4: 19...dxc5! 20.Nf3 (if 20.Be2, then 20...Nd5! 21.Bxc5 Qc7 22.Bf2 Nxf4) 20...Ng4! (nothing good results from 20...Nxe4 21.Bxe4 Qxd1 22.Raxd1 Rxe4 23.Rd8+ Bf8 24.Bxc5 Bb7 25.Rxa8 Bxa8 26.Bxf8 Kxf8 27.Nxh4: the black pieces' activity makes up for the pawn, but no more than that) 21.Bxc5 Bxb2! 22.Rb1 (there is no 22.Qc2? Bxa1 23.Rxa1 Bb7–+. The black rooks have a lot of lines in the center, and White simply don't have enough time to create threats along the dark-square diagonal.) 22...Qa5! An important in-between move aimed at seizing the dark squares. This move is the most difficult to find, and if one doesn't notice the play against the dark-squared bishop, White is simply better. 23.Rxb2 (23.Qc2? is bad due to 23...Bc3 24.Bd4 Bxd4+ 25.Nxd4 Qb6 26.Qc4 a5–+) 23...Qxc5+ 24.Kh1 Bb7 – Black has a clear initiative and his pieces are very active. At the same time, White doesn't have enough resources to defend.

20.Qe2 dxc5?!

Restraining the g7 bishop is inevitable, but it's easier for Black to neutralize White's pressure if there are no queens: 20...Nxe3! 21. Qxe3 Qb6 22.e5 Qxc5 23.Qxc5 dxc5. For instance, 24.Ne4 Bf5 25.Nxc5 f6! 26.Bxf5 gxf5 27.Nd3 fxe5 28.fxe5 Rad8 29.Rf3 Bxe5=.


White was able to block the dark-squared bishop; otherwise, Black would have stood simply better. Now the black bishop is restrained, whereas the white pieces have good prospects.


Unfortunately, I didn't keep the scoresheet with this game, but given the following exchange of mistakes, I think the time trouble was either already there or fast approaching.


Seeking to strengthen the king's position. Actually, it's a loss of time since the king is far from facing any real threats. The bishop seems to reinforce the kingside, but actually it doesn't have any work to do on the long diagonal, while on c4 it would have put unpleasant pressure on f7.

It is dangerous, and therefore undesirable, to keep the black pawn on h3 alive: 22.g3 Bf5! (worse is 22...Be6 23.Rac1) 23.Bxf5 gxf5 with unclear play: 24.Nc4 Qd5.

22.gxh3! would have posed serious problems for Black. The main advantage of this move, of course, is not about winning the pawn, but about destroying Black's most active piece, the knight. 22...Nxe3 23.Qxe3. Black can't escape this grip easily. On the other hand, if the bishops are retained, he will have long-standing counterchances.

a) 23...Bb7 24.Be4±;

b) 23...g5 24.Nc4!± It's important to maintain control over the dark squares. There is no benefit from 24.Bc4? gxf4 25.Qxf4 Rxe5 – the dark-squared bishop controls the entire position; 

с) 23...Qh4! 24.Rf3!? (there's the interesting line 24.Ne4!? Bxh3 25.Rf3 Be6 – 25...Bg4 26.Rg3 – 26.Nxc5 Bd5 27.Rg3) 24...g5 25.Raf1 gxf4 26.Rxf4 Qh6 (also interesting is 26...Qg5+ 27.Kh1 Qxe5 28.Be4 Be6 29.Nf3 Qd6 30.Bxa8 Rxa8 31.b3 – Black has serious counterchances) 27.Ne4 Rxe5 28.Qg3 Qxh3 29.Nf6+ Kf8 30.Nd7+ Qxd7 31.Rxf7+ Qxf7 32.Rxf7+ Kxf7 33.Qf3+ Bf5 34.Bc4+ Kg6 35.Qxa8 Re4±. I think that here Black has more chances for a draw than White for a win.

22...hxg2 23.Bxg2



The youthful optimism that brings success.

White holds the initiative after 23...Nxe3 24.Qxe3 Rb8 25.Ne4.

Black needed precision in order to equalize after the strongest 23...Rb8! 24.Ne4 (24.Bxc5 Rb5і 25.Bf2 g5і) 24...Qh4 25.h3 Nxe3 26.Qxe3 – the c5 square hangs unpleasantly, but Black is saved with 26...Bf8!, and it turns out that there's no taking advantage of the f6 square: 27.Rac1 (27.Nf6+? Qxf6–+; 27.Nxc5? Bxc5 28.Qxc5 Bxh3) 27...Bf5 28.Nxc5 Bxc5 29.Rxc5 Rbc8. The white king's weakened position ensures sufficient counterplay for Black.


Today it is difficult to understand what dangers both of us saw for Black. Our level was already too high to attribute this mistake we both made only to mutual time trouble and fatigue, even though these factors obviously played a role too. I think the matter was that we both were attacking players at the time. In this case, we were unable to evaluate the position objectively because we both overestimated the illusionary chances to set up an attack against the weakened white king. Now White's maneuver starting with 22.Be4 proves to be simply a loss of time, and the initiative moves on to Black.

The straightforward 24.Bxa8 led to a great advantage for White: 24...Nxe3 (worse is 24...Qxa8 25.Bxc5 f6 26.Qc4+ Be6 27.Qe4+–) 25.Qxe3 Qxa8 26.Rad1±. With the sealed bishop on g7, the compensation is clearly insufficient.

24...Qh4 25.Nf3?!

This aggravates the situation.

There were chances for a successful defense after 25.h3! Nxe3 26.Qxe3 Rad8 27.Nc4! (Weaker is 27.Ne4 Rxd1 28.Rxd1 Bh6 29.Ng5 Kg7. The pressure on White's kingside is very strong, and Black is gradually preparing the capture on g5.) White has reinforce the position. For instance, 27...Rxd1 28.Rxd1 Bh6 29.Rf1 Rd8 30.Nd6 c4! 31.Nxf5 gxf5 32.e6 with good chances for a draw.

25...Qh5 26.Bxc5?

This allows a simple and straightforward strike.

It was necessary to continue with 26.h3 Nxe3 27.Qxe3 Bh6! Black has a strong pressure. Weaker is 27...Bxh3?! 28.Ng5 Bxg2 29.Kxg2, and the g7 bishop's passive position gives White good chances for a draw: 29...Qg4+ 30.Qg3.

26...Rac8 27.Rc1

This loses at once. More tenacious is 27.Bxb4 Nxh2 28.Bc3 (there is no avoiding losses: 28.Rf2 Ng4 29.Rff1 g5–+).


The ill-fated knight finally makes a decisive strike. Amusingly, if we removed the bishop on g2, this attack would simply not work. But now the duel is over.

28.Rfd1 (28.Rf2 Bf8–+) 28...Bg4 29.Rf1 Nxf1 30.Qxf1 Bf8 31.Bxf8 Rxc1 32.Qxc1 Bxf3 33.Bxf3 Qxf3 34.Bxb4 Rd8 35.Bd6 Kg7 36.Qc3 Qg4+. White resigns.

Of course, this game can hardly be placed among Igor's best masterpieces. But it demonstrates clearly his love for very tense positions filled with tactics. Like any strong player, he also played quite a number of calm games later on, but it was in this manner that his most prominent games were played.

Igor played much more successfully in Serpukhov in December. That tournament, following the Alushta event, was where he scored his last Grandmaster norm.

Commentated by Grandmaster Dmitry Kokarev
Kurnosov – Kokarev
Sicilian Defense
Serpukhov 2002

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6

An optimistic choice. I wasn't aware at the time that it was dangerous to compete with Igor in long forced lines.

8.Qd2 Qxb2 9.Nb3 Nbd7 10.Bxf6 gxf6 11.Be2 Nc5 12.0–0 Bd7 13.Rab1 Qa3 14.Kh1 Rc8 15.f5 Nxb3 16.Rxb3 Qc5

Visually, I like Black's position even now, but it is objectively easier to play with White.

17.Bh5 Ke7


A novelty after which Black can resign. Alexander Vaulin played 17...Bc6, and after the reckless 18.Nd5 (a better option was 18.Qe2 with full compensation for the material, for example: 18...Ke7 19.Nd5+ with an attack) 18...exd5 19.Rc3 Qb5 20.Be2 Qb6 21.exd5 Bd7 22.Re1 Rxc3 23.Qxc3 Be7, Kurnosov – Vaulin, Samara 2002) he got a winning position.


A resource found by Igor at home. The analysis done after the game with Vaulin bears fruit.


18...fxe5 doesn't help: 19.Ne4 Qd5 20.Qg5+.

Black's situation is also bad after 18...dxe5 19.Rd1 (19.Rxb7 Qd4 20.Rd1 Qxd2 21.Rxd2 Rd8 22.Bf3 Bh6 23.Rd3 wins as well) 19...Qd4 20.Qe2 Qc5 21.Rxb7 Rc7 22.Ne4 Qc6 23.Rxc7 Qxc7 24.fxe6 fxe6 25.Nxf6 Kxf6 26.Qf3+ Kg7 27.Qf7+ Kh6 28.Qf6+ Kxh5 29.g4+ Kxg4 30.Rg1+ with checkmate. It is easy and pleasant to play this position as White.

19.Re1 Bh6

A losing line is 19...Qc5 20.Ne4 Qe5 (20...Qc6 21.Nxf6 Kxf6 22.fxe6 Bxe6 23.Qf2+ Ke7 24.Qxf7+) 21.Rxb7 Rd8 22.Bxf7 Kxf7 23.Ng5+ fxg5 24.Rxe5.
Another move leading almost to the line in the game is 19...Qxf5 20.Nd5+ Ke8 (20...Kd8 21.Qa5+ Ke8 22.Nc7+) 21.Rf3 Rxc2 22.Qd1+-.


Igor plays out the final attack in high gear, each of his moves being the strongest.

20...Ke8 21.Qd1 Qxf5 22.Rf3 Qxc2 23.Nxf6+ Kd8 24.Qxd6 Rc7

There were more chances to save the game after 24...Qd2 25.Qxd2 Bxd2 26.Rd3 Ke7 27.Rxd2 Bc6 28.Rf2, but White's position is already technically won.

25.Nxd7 Qd2 26.Qg3 Bf4 27.Rxf4! Black resigned.  

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