31 December 2017

Big Game in a Fairy Tale

Vladimir Barsky reports about rounds two and three of the Nutcracker generation tournament

A nice tournament on the eve of New Year, bearing a fairy tale name, is visited by a big game. He is a real killer! Rated 2800+, he is world No.3. Having settled in the Central House of Chess player on the Gogol boulevard, he started gobbling up everything coming his way.

Esipenko – Mamedyarov

Round 2

Black has solved his opening problems, but following something as simple as 17.Nxe5 Bxe5 18.Be3 White should be OK as well. However, the youngest prince decides to contest the initiative.

17.Nh4?! g5!

No prejudices! Although the king’s position becomes somewhat exposed, Black gains a couple of tempi to go ahead with his development.

18.Nf5 Bxf5 19.exf5 Rad8 20.a4!

Shakhriyar admitted that this move (made in a Kramnik-like fashion, according to him) came as something unexpected for him. The thing is, an immediate 20.Nd5 Nxd5 21.Bxd5 runs into an unpleasant 21…c4; therefore, White wants to preface it by weakening of the c4-square.  

20...b4 21.Nd5 Nxd5 22.Rxd5


Despite being a smart idea, it is difficult to keep up an offensive by retreating your pieces. Better is, again, 22...c4, because the complications arising after 23.Be3 Nd3 24.b3!? Bxg3! favor Black.


This decision is not clear: not only does White give up a pawn with tempo, but allows the opponent’s rook to penetrate his camp as well. 23.Be3 was perhaps not to Andrey’s liking owing to 23…Bxg3, but the pin along the d-file after 24.Rad1! is very painful for Black. Inclusion of 23...Nf6 24.Rdd1, followed by 24…Bxg3 now, promises little either: after 25.Qxc5 a pair of bishops well make up for the damaged pawn structure.  

23...Nxf6 24. Rf5 Re1+ 25.Kh2 Nh5

This is a strong move, even if forced to a certain extent. Bad is 25...Kg7 due to 26.Bxg5, whereas control over the big diagonal after 25...Re6 26.b3 comes with a counterplay for White. Now Black threatens a checkmate by taking on g3.

26.Qb3 Ng7 27.Rf6 c4 28.Qf3


Black gets to g3 to collapse White’s defensive formation. White’s queenside pieces have never entered the battlefield.

29.Rh6 h4 30.Qg4 hxg3+ 31.fxg3 Qc5

Shakhriyar said that he had calculated lines till the end in this position.

32.h4 Bxg3+ 33.Qxg3 Qg1+ 34.Kh3 Rd3 35.Bf3 Rxf3 36.Qxf3 g4+

Black had a choice of winning options, but Mamedyarov opts for the most aesthetically appealing one.

37. Qxg4 Qh1+ 38. Kg3 Rg1+. White resigns.

Shakh’s next opponent also underestimated the g-pawn’s advance.

Mamedyarov – Yuffa

Round 3

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.b3 d6 4.d4 Bg7 5.Bb2 0-0 6.Bg2 a5 7.c4 Ne4

Black's active play is premature.

8.Qc2 Bf5

Black’s unwillingness to retreat his knight is psychologically explicable, but even 8...f5 is better in this position.

9.g4! Nxf2 10.gxf5 Nxh1 11.Bxh1 a4 12.b4 Nd7 13.Nbd2 a3 14.Bc3 c5 15.dxc5 Bxc3 16.Qxc3 dxc5 17.b5 Qa5 18.Qe3 Nf6

Black is up against it: his initiative is about to run out, while the opponent’s material edge is there to make its voice heard. However, Mamedyarov's overly precautions play allowed his opponent creating a real counter play.

19.h3 Rad8 20.Kf2 Rd6 21.Rg1 Rfd8 22.Qxe7 Qc3 23.Ne4 Nxe4+ 24.Qxe4 Rd1 25.Qe7 Kg7??

This is a blunder, while after 25...R1d7 any result is possible.

26.fxg6 hxg6 27.Rxg6+!

Shakh is known to never miss on such opportunities.

27…Kxg6 28.Ne5+

Black resigns in view of 28…Kf5 29.e4+ Kf4 30.Qf6# or 28...Kh6 29.Qf6+ Kh5 30.Qxf7+ Kh4 31. Qf6+.

Let us see if Vladislav Artemiev, the most experienced of princes, will manage to hold his ground against a formidable Shakh.

Shirov – Oparin

Round 2

A year ago, these two were sorting it out on the tiebreak about who was going to make it into the Zürich super tournament. Shirov went down, perhaps harboring bitter recollections since then.

Black probably stands worse already, but after 22...Bf6, intending 23.g5 g6, he seems to be out of any immediate danger. Meanwhile, Oparin opts for queenside sorties.

22…Bxf5 23.gxf5 a4 24.Na1!

A cornered knight is not there forever! It will get out one day to take the b-pawn and infiltrate into the enemy’s camp.


After 24...b3 25.axb3 axb3 26.Qc3 Black does away with the b3-pawn.

25.exd5 a3 26.Nc2 axb2 27.Nxb4 Bd6 28.Nc6 Rf8 29.Qxb2 Nd7 30.a4 Kc7 31.c5!

This is an important move: White sacrifices a pawn to open up the line for the attack.

31…Nxc5 32.Rc1 f6 33.a5 Qb7 34.Qb4 Nd3


The engine shows a spectacular-looking path to victory: 35.Nd8+! Nxc1 36.Qxd6+! Kxd6 37.Nxb7+ Kc7 38.Nc5. Going for this requires that White foresees the refutation of 38…Rc8 with 39.Ba6! (39.Kxc1? Kd6) and evaluates that after 39…Rb8+ 40.Kxc1 Kd6 Black is not in time to claim both passed pawns. It was time trouble, however...

35... Nxc1 36.Qc4+


This is a human decision, while way tougher was 36...Kd8 37.Nc6+ Ke8!, placing the king under the discovered check. Nothing is now gained by 38.Kxc1 Kf7 - the black king is safe in his shelter while own play against White's weakened king is on the horizon. Tougher is 38.a6 Qb6 39.Ne5+ Ke7 (39...Kd8 40.a7) 40.Ng6+, but even here after 40…Kf7 41.Nxf8 Nb3! (a crucial deflective move; 41...Kxf8 42.Qc8+ Ke7 43.Qe8# results in a checkmate) 42.Qxb3 Kxf8 it is not over yet since converting extra pawns in an opposite-colored bishop ending is far from easy.

37.Nd7+ Ka7 38.a6 Qc7 39.Qd4+ Bc5 40.Nxc5 Qb6 41.Kxc1

Black resigns in view of 41…Qxb5 42.Nd7+ Kxa6 43.Nxf8.

This said, Sergey Rublevsky's play is not going well for him. In round two he mishandled the opening against Artemiev, and in round three he lost an overwhelming position.

Rublevsky – Esipenko

An immediate bishop transfer via c1 to a3 gave White excellent winning chances. Sergey delayed this transfer by one move, which sharpens the situation significantly.

43.Qb5+Rc6 44.Bc1 Rh8 45.Rf6 Qh1+ 46.Kf2 Rg8 47.g3 Qh7!

We need to pay tribute to Andrey Esipenko - his defense is tenacious indeed!


The edge prospects were to be pursued by subtle play via 48.Kg1! Qd3 49.Qb8+ Kd7 50.Qb4. White should not have given up on his c3 and d4 pawns.

48...Qc2+ 49.Kg1 Qxc3 50.Bxe7 Qxd4+ 51.Rf2

This inaccuracy surrenders the edge to Black. Correct was 51.Kg2 Qb6 52.Qxb6 Rxb6 53.Bd6 with a counterplay against the е6-pawn.

51...Qb6 52.Qxb6 Rxb6

The tables have turned: a rook and a pair of connected pawns prove superior to the discoordinated minor pieces of White’s.


Much to White’s grief, there is no dealing with the dangerous White’s pawns. 53. Bc5 Rc6 54.Bd4 Rg4.

53...c3 54.Rc2 d4 55.Kf2 Rb2 56.Rxb2 cxb2 57.Nd2 Kd7 58.Ke2 Rc8 59.Kd3 Rc1 60.Bg5 Kc6 61.Kxd4

61…Rd1 62.Kc3 Rxd2 White resigns.

Pictures by Vladimir Barsky