12 September 2016

Ring Dances around the Kings

Round Seven of the Baku Olympiad in the review of Vladimir Barsky.

In the pivotal match of round seven the USA men’s team defeated India with a 3.5-0.5 score and advanced to the first place. A crushing defeat! However, this victory only seemingly came easy to the Americans, as in the course of the match things might have been quite different.

Shankland – Sethuraman

White rather carelessly allowed both enemy rooks into his second rank to spread a mating net over his king. In this position an obvious shot 33...Nxe3! was decisive. However, all subsequent lines, found with the aid of the computer, are impossible to calculate over the board, while Black, in addition to that, is not at any particular risk since some sort of a perpetual is almost sure to be at his disposal anyway.

So, if White rejects the sacrifice, the black queen hooks up to the attack: 34. Qc1 Qh5 35. Qxe3 Rae2 36. Rd7+ Kh6 – White is out of checks, whereas Black is only about to start with his own.

Taking the knight 34. Kxe3 is followed by yet another shot – 34…Bxf4+!, and the king lands into trouble: 35. Kxf4 (35. Kd3 is answered by 35…Rh2! with no defense for White against the corridor mate) 35... Rg4+ 36. Qxg4+ (there is no escape: 36. Ke5 Qf6+ 37. Kd6 Qxd8+ or 36. Ke3 f4+ 37. Kf3 Rg3+ 38. Bxg3 Qh5+ 39. Kxf4 Qf5+ 40. Ke3 Qe4#) 36...fxg4+ 37. Ke5 Qf5+ 38. Kd6 Qxb1 with decisive material advantage.

Instead, Black allowed pinning his pieces: 33…Be7? 34. Rd7

So strong are two rooks in the “pawn” rank that even this position is winning for Black! He only needs to find 34... Qf8!, preventing trades of the important с4-knight (35. Bxc4? dxc4+ 36. Kxc4 Qc8+, winning the d7-rook). As White is almost stalemated, he has only waiting rook moves. However, 35. Rb7 runs into 35... Rab2, whereas 35. Rc7 is met by 35…Nd6 36. Qh5 Ne4.

34…Rab2? 35. Bxc4! dxc4+ 36. Kxc4 Qe8

Black might have missed that 36...e5+ was a blank shot because of 37.d5. Having exchanged the c4-knight, White seems to have gotten rid of a noose from around his neck.

37. Rxb2 Rxb2 38. Qa1 Rb8 39. Qa7 Kf8 40. Kd3 Ra8 41. Qb7 Rb8

42. Qh1! Qxd7 43. Qh8+ Kf7 44. Qxb8, and the American grandmaster converted his two pawns advantage.

Also the USA team leader was on the verge of defeat.

Harikrishna - Caruana

White has a knight for two pawns, while the d3-passer is reliably blockaded. Here Harikrishna hastened to trade queens, stepping directly into the opponent’s trap.

35. Qe4?

White should have rendered his rook more active first: 35. Ra8+ Kg7 36. Ra7 Kh8 (there is nothing better), and only now 37. Qe4 winning.

35... Qxe4 36. Nxe4 Bf3!

This is a double threat of taking the hanging knight and of delivering a check from h1.

37. Nf2

37. Ra8+ Kg7 38. Re8 loses in view of 38…Rh6+ 39. Kg1 Rh1+ 40. Kf2 Bxe4 41. Rxe4 d2. There are no winning chances after 37. Nd2 Rh6+ 38. Kg1 Rh1+ 39. Kf2 Rxa1 40. Kxf3 Ra4 41. Ke3 Kg7 42. f5 c6 43. Kd4 h5 44. Bf4 Ra5 either.

After 45. Nxc4 Rxf5 46. Ke3 h4 White is at risk of losing, therefore he has to repeat moves: 45. Ke4 Ra4 46. Kd4 Ra5 etc. with a draw.

37...d2 38. Ra7 Rh6+ 39. Bh4 d1Q 40. Nxd1 Bxd1 41. Kg3 Kg8 42. f5 Bc2 43. Rxc7 Bd3 44. Rc5 Rh5 45. Bxf6 Rxf5 46. Rxf5 Draw.

To be fair, both Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So won more than confidently.

Nakamura – Adhiban

The Indian grandmaster carelessly weakened his queenside and Nakamura found a way to capitalize on it.

26. Qd2! h4

26... Qb6 was obviously intended to be met by 27. b4! bxa4 (27... axb4 28. Qxb4 Rb8 29. a5 Qa7 30. Bf1 Ra8 31. Ne2, and the b5-pawn is a goner before long) 28. b5 Bb7 29. Bb2, upon which White will eliminate both Black’s rook pawns.

27. Nf1 Re6

Here 27... Qb6 is met by 28. b4!

28. Qxa5 bxa4 29. Bxa6 Qa8 30. Bd6 axb3

If 30... Rxd6, then White is up a pawn after 31. Rxa4.

31. Qa3 b2 32. Qxb2 Rxd6 33. Bb7 Qd8 34. Ra8 Nb8

35. Bxd5 Rb6 36. Bb3 Kg7 37. Qc3 Qe7 38. Nd2, and White won the game. Therefore, India could count on a 2-2 draw in this match at best. However, it is well known that luck comes to strongest.

Latvia sensationally defeated the Netherlands 3-1; Alexei Shirov  and Arturs Neiksans, playing with White, drew against Anish Giri and Robin Van Kampen respectively, while the victories as Black were achieved by Igor Kovalenko (over Loek Van Wely) and Nikita Meskovs (over Benjamin Bok). Both winners posted on their Facebook pages.

Igor Kovalenko: “Latvia confidently defeated the Netherlands 3-1. The is a victory justified by what was happening on the boards... However, the most interesting part is still in store for us ahead...”

Nikita Meskovs was less laconic:: “Yet another extremely well and successful match for our team against a strong and solid team of the Netherlands. Today I happened to play a truly high-quality game, defeating as Black a strong grandmaster Benjamin Bok (2592), thanks to which, by the way, a match victory was sealed. This is an incredibly pleasant feeling, I should confess! Being asked to pass the anti-cheating test after the game can be interpreted as a seal of excellence:) I think such tests are part of good practice, and the stricter and closer the examination of the sportsmanship, the better! Morning physical exercises, swimming in the pool and preparing for the game did their job.“

Bok – Meskovs

36…g5! 37. hxg5 Kg6 38. b3 b4 39. Rf4 Rd2 40. Ref1 R8d5 41. Rh1 Rg2 42. Rfh4 Rdd2 43. Rxh5 Rxc2+ 44. Kb1 Rb2+ 45. Kc1 Rgc2+ 46. Kd1 e3 White resigns.

The Russian team shellacked a difficult team of the Czech Republic, suffice it to remember that Navara and his teammates confidently held the Americans to a draw here in Baku earlier. However, this match play did not go well for the Czechs at all. Board one David Navara, an extremely talented, but unevenly performing player, saw his position falling apart very early in the game.

Karjakin - Navara

Such quiet and almost equal positions usually portend lengthy maneuvering battles. Navara decided that it was time to become active prior to White’s finishing his queenside development.

13…d5 14. Nb3 b5

The knight appearance on b3 is habitually met by b7-b6, but what does the a7-bishop has to say about it? And yet, this option should have been kept in reserve without weakening the c5-square once and for all. Thus, after the indicative 14... dxe4 15. dxe4 Qe8 16. Nh4 Ne7 Black does not have much to worry about.

15. Be3!

This is only natural that White should exchange the only defender of the c5-square.

15… Bxe3 16. Rxe3 Rd6 17. Nc5 Qc8 18. Ree1 Nh5?

Overlooking the opponent’s threat. Black needed to trade on e4, even though his position would not be a cup of tea anyway.

19. exd5! Rxd5 20. Qa2!

This is a fork threat: one rook is attacked, while her fellow is vulnerable along the a-file. Black sacrificed his knight out of despair, but his attempts of launching an offensive against the enemy king were doomed in advance.

20… Nf4 21. axb5 Rd6 22. bxc6 Rg6 23. Nd7 Nxg2 24. Nfxe5 Black resigns. All in all, it took Sergey Karjakin two and a half hours to finish the game. Other teammates pursued the leader’s endeavor.

Laznicka – Tomashevsky

Black was defending a slightly worse position, and successfully coped with his task with accurate moves. It was time for White to force a draw by 31. Bxd6 Nxd6 32. Rxe8+ Rxe8 33. Rxe8+ Qxe8, but instead Laznicka catapulted the queen into the kingside since the match situation justified only playing for a win.

31. Qf4? Nxe7 32. Rxe7 Rxe7 33. Rxe7

33…c3! 34. bxc3 a3 35.Re1 a2 36. Ra1 Qb5 37. Qc1 (37. Qxd6 Qb1+) 37... Qe2 38. Nb3 Nc4 39. Qe1 Qb2. Here White either surrendered or lost on time - it does not really matter much anyway.

A seventh win in seven games was scored by Ian Nepomniachtchi. The bottom line of his achievements defies comprehension. Is his opponent willing to get a solid position? No problem! Does he wants to carry out a series of trades? He is more than welcome to do so! And then a few of those remaining pieces of Ian’s take each other’s hands to start ring dances around the enemy king, making his opponent’s head go round and round.

Nepomniachtchi – Hracek

There is material equality with opposite-colored bishops on the board. Yes, White is able transfer his bishop to d5, but how Black is worse with his counterpart, let us suppose, on d4 and c5? And yet, the black bishop never made it into the center, even though he made his first step towards the desired direction.

22. Bd7! Bd8 23. Bc6 Ra7 24. Qc2 a3

This is quite needless already since the queenside files open up to White’s advantage.

25. Kg2 Qc5 26. Bd5 g6 27. Rb1 axb2 28. Raxb2 Kh8 29. Rb5 Qc8 30. Rb8 Qd7 31.Qd2 Kg7 32. R8b7 Rxb7 33. Rxb7 Qg4

Although Black attacks a pawn, White simply shrugs this threat off.

34. Qa2! Bxh4 35. Qa7 Kh6 36. Rxf7 Rxf7 37. Qxf7 Bg5 38. Qf8+ Kh5 39. Qxd6 Bf4 40. Qf6 Qg5 41. Qf7 Black resigns.

The first host team defeated Romania with a score of 3.5-0.5. Worthy of mentioning is a spectacular victory by Eltaj Safarli, whose rating is rapidly approaching the “2700” level.

Safarli – Brkic

Black is behind in development and his queenside is substantially weakened. Although Safarli’s vigorous action launch an offensive across the entire board, he is first of all interested in the enemy king.

19. Bd2 Qb6 20. Be3! Qc7

20...Qxa5 loses to 21. Bxb7 Nc6 22. Bxc6

21. Qg4 Bxd5 22. Rxd5 Kh8 23. Rd6 Rg8 24. Rfd1 a5 25. Bb6 Qb7

26. Rxf6! Nc6

Or 26... gxf6 27. Qxg8+ Kxg8 28. Rd8#.

27. Qh4 Black resigns.

Making their fans happy that day as well was the women’s national team of Azerbaijan by overcoming  a formidable Indian team with a 2.5-1.5 score as a result of a bitter struggle. A many-year hard work on building up of young athletes has borne fruit: the Azerbaijani women demonstrate a very mature and forceful type of play in Baku. It should be added that the women’s chess has been added up with yet another team that is strong enough to claim the highest places.

Mammadova – Sachdev

Given below is yet another example of a rook pair in the pawn rank. The b5-pawn should be saved, and White has no fear of trading her queen for a pair of rooks.

28. Nd4 Rdxe5 29. Qxe5 Rxe5 30. Rxe5 f6

Black should not have allowed the enemy rook into her pawn rank. 30... Qd7 31. Rde1 h6 should have been preferred instead.

31. Re7 Qd8?

This is a blunder. However, even after a more accurate 31... Bf7 White’s chances are higher.

32. Rxg7+! Kh8 33. Re1 Bxd3 34. Ree7 Bg6 35. Rd7 Qa8 36. Rge7 Black resigns since she is defenseless against the white knight transfer to с6 or е6, followed by Rd8+.

Obstinate struggle broke out in number one match between Russia and Poland. Valentina Gunina scored a victory as Black in her trademark style “the worse the better.”

Zawadzka – Gunina

White’s position is somewhat better in view of the bishop pair advantage, but it should be a draw, objectively speaking. It would have most likely turned out that way should in response to 21. Rxe6 Black had recaptured with the rook. However, Valentina has ambitions to win the game!

21…fxe6!? 22. Qa5 b6 23. Qa4 c5 24. Nf4 c4 25. Be3 Ne5 26. Nh5 Nfd7 27. Bd4 Rd8 28. b4!

So far the Polish player has been demonstrating very strong chess, restricting the black pieces and achieving indisputable advantage.

28… Nf8

If 28... cxb3, then 29. Qxb3 Nf8 30. Nf4, and White will soon get to the e6-pawn, upon which the weakened light squares are not to be defended.

29. c3?

What a gift - the d3-square for the knight! After 29. Re1 or 29. Nf4 Black’s position is still not to be envied.

29... Nd3 30. Qc6 Qf7 31. g4?

Mistakes are known to never come alone. After 31.Qf3 or 31.Bf3 we have a situation of dynamic equality.

31... Be5! 32. Qxc4 Bxd4 33. cxd4

There is none to capture the knight: 33. Rxd3 Qxf2+ 34. Kh1 Qg1# or 33. Qxd3 Bxf2+ 34. Kh1 Rxd3.

33…Qxf2+ 34. Kh1 Rxd4 35. Qc3

Now comes the point - an elegant finale.

35…Nf4! 36. Rg1 Qxg1+! White resigns.

That day the game did not go at all well for Aleksandra Goryachkina despite her playing the white pieces - her pieces were stalemated and never left the home rank. Poor handling of the opening was also demonstrated by the elder Alexandra, who nevertheless ended up salvaging a bad position down a pawn. Her opponent Monica Socko was so disappointed to have missed great winning chances that she continued making moves in a totally drawn rook ending with two versus one pawns on one flank for as long as 25(!) moves. On board  four, on the contrary, great winning chance were with Natalija Pogonina, but the game also ended in a draw. All in all, the final score 2-2 is quite a logical outcome.

In the second key matchup China defeated the Ukraine 2.5-1.5.

Tan Zhongyi – Zhukova

The passed pawn cuts Black’s defense in halves.

23. d6! Qc6 24. d7 Rf8 25. Nb6 f5 26. Qd6 Rf7 27. Nca4 Qxd6 28. Rxd6 Bf8 29.Re6 Rfxd7

The exchange sacrifice does not bring much of a relief because the white rook continues running the show in the enemy’s camp.

30. Nxd7 Rxd7 31. exf5 gxf5 32. Nb6 Rd4 33. Re8 Nd3 34. Rc4 Bg7

35. Rxd4 exd4 36. Nc4

With a couple of careful moves White has stopped opponent’s counterplay and is about to get down to harvesting.

36… Nb4 37. Re7 d3 38. Kf1 Kg6 39. Rxb7 Bd4 40. f4 Kh5 41. g3 Nd5 42. h3 Nf6 43. Rb6 Ne4 44. Rxa6 Nxg3+ 45. Ke1 Ne4 46. Re6 Black resigns.

We continue acquainting our audience with participants’ feedback on the Olympiad.

Viktorija Cmilyte (Lithuania)

– In March 2015 I stopped, or rather paused my chess career, because I started working in the Lithuanian Parliament. It has been dominating my life all this time I haven’t played any tournaments since, simply because there was no time. I also think this Olympiad will be a one-time thing; I’m not planning to come back to chess professionally in the nearest future.  I’m fully busy with my work, and right now it’s even election time, which makes this period extra-busy. But it’s an interesting career and I’m enjoying it, but of course I really miss chess! Baku is a lovely city, I’ve been here already before, I played here in 2007. The Olympiad of course is really impressive: the playing conditions are great, there is a lot of space, you can see all the players. And well, the Olympiad is not only about chess, but also a social event, and I think that in Baku we have a great mixture of both, so I’m really enjoying it!

Monika Socko (Poland):

– This is my eleventh Olympiad. I like this one and I especially like Baku very much!  I’ve played here before, a strong closed tournament a few years ago.

Pictures by Boris Dolmatovsky and Vladimir Barsky