18 April 2017

Savoring the Game’s Magic

Day Two of the Kortchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge supertournament in the review of Vladimir Barsky.

The new classical time control format promotes very dynamic type of play, which is best seen in the "live" mode while sitting next to the playhall area. This is exactly how the situation is dealt with by dozens of spectators who already feel at home in the House of Congress in Zürich. A chess show lasts from one and a half to two hours and captures you from the very beginning. This is exactly the amount of time during which one feels comfortable to try follow the world’s outstanding chess players’ train of thoughts. Grandmasters demonstrate unrestrained chess and embark on bold experiments; one of my esteemed colleagues would describe it as weaving patterns on the board rather than aiming at humdrum draws. 

Round three of the Kortchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge (or, rather, its first part, to be more accurate) was commented live by Mark Glukhovsky and me for the online broadcast. Since Mark has a principle of not using an engine, it took us over an hour’s hard work to have the participants’ intentions deciphered. It gives great pleasure to be able to guess at opponents’ plans and get to the bottom of an unexpected maneuver. Chains of moves, like painter's strokes, merge into fascinating canvases. 

Out of day two games that I liked most is the one played between Boris Gelfand and Vladimir Kramnik. A theoretical duel in the Improved Tarrasch Defense resulted in a sharp endgame with each side having a rook and a knight. Gelfand's pieces became very active while Kramnik was pushing his queenside pawns in an attempt to seize the initiative. A sharp duel ended in a rook ending with an extra pawn for White that Black managed to defend with precise moves. The computer, alas, points out to various tactical flaws inherent to human play no matter how much thinking time is at one’s disposal. To enjoy the magic of this game, taking computer best move tips and evaluations is best avoided. 

Gelfand – Kramnik
(Round 3)

22...a5 23.Rc7 b5 24.f3 Nd6 25.Ra7 a4 26.h5 Nf5 27.Nc6! Rc8 28.Ra6! Kh7 29.Kf2 

White seems to have thrown a net over the opponent's queenside and Black, therefore, offers a pawn sacrifice to have it lifted. 

29...b4! 30.g4 b3 31.axb3 axb3 32.gxf5 b2 33.Rb6 Rxc6 34.Rxb2 exf5 35.Ke3 Rc3+ 36.Kf4 

The endgame looks anything but simple for Black, but Kramnik holds it confidently. 

36…g5+ 37.Kxf5 Rxf3+ 38.Ke4 Rf1 39.Rb7+ Kg8 40.d5 

40...g4! 41.Rb6 Kf7 42.Rxh6 g3 43.Rg6 Rh1 44.Rxg3 Rxh5 45.Kd4 Ke7 46.Kc5 Rh6 47.Rg7+ Kd8 Draw. 

The following encounter teems with tactical nuances, which makes computer assistance essential if you want to find your way through them and understand where things went wrong for Black. 

Nepomniachtchi – Anand
(Round 3) 

22.e4!? Bxa2 23.exf5 gxf5 

23...Qxg3 looks tempting indeed. 

24.b3 Nd4 25.Bf4 Qe6 26.Re1 Qf7 

Taking another pawn is way too risky: after 26...Qxb3 27.Qd2 Qf7 28.Be5 the very first check is likely to be deadly for the black king. 

27.b4 Bd5 28.bxc5 Bxg2 29.Kxg2 Rxc5 30.Rxc5 bxc5 

The Black King's exposure gives White an easy play and sufficient compensation for the missing pawn. 

31.Qa4 Rc8 32.Kh3 Ne6 33.Re5 c4 34.Qa6 Nxf4+ 35.gxf4 Rc7 36.Re2 


This natural move turns out to be a decisive mistake. Black’s position is kept together by the engine-suggested 36...Qd5!! 37.Rg2+ Kf7 38.Qh6 Ke8. Can a human player unearth something like this regardless of whether he/she is in time trouble or not? 


This self-suggestive move lets go of the victory. Stronger by far is 37.Rg2+ Kf8 38.Qd6+ Qe7 (or 38...Ke8 39.Re2+ Re7 40.Qb8+ Kd7 41.Qxa7+ Kd8 42.Qa8+ Kc7 43.Re5) 39.Qd4 c2 40.Qh8+ Kf7 41.Qg8+ Kf6 42.Qg5+ Kf7 43.Qxf5+, etc. 


An innocuous-looking 37...h5! to give room to the king was a way out for Black. One of the possible follow-ups is: 38.Qh6 Qf8 39.Qxh5 Re7 40.Rg2+ Rg7 41.Re2 Re7 with a draw by repetition. 

38.Rg2+ Kf7 39.Qe5 Qc6 40.Qg7+ Ke8 41.Re2+ Black resigns. 

Now enjoy Anand’s canvas of how gracefully White launched offensive on the kingside first and then switched to the center. One had better do without an electron microscope to savor the game’s magic. 

Anand – Pelletier
(Round 2) 

18.f5! exf5 19.Bg5 Qc7 20.h5 Be6 21.h6 Kd7 22.h7 Re8 23.Bd2 Kc8 24.a4 b4 25.Nf4 Qd7 26.Ng5 g6 27.Kf1 b3 28.Re1 Nd8 29.Re2 Qb7 

30.Ngxe6 Nxe6 31.Nxd5 Be7 32.Nxe7+ Rxe7 33.d5 Nf8 34.Bh6 Re8 35.Bxf8 Rexf8 36.Rh4 Kd8 37.Rd2 Re8 

38.e6! Re7 39.Qg5 Black resigns. 

Below is a tough tactical skirmish that appears to have descended from a clear sky. 

Oparin – Nakamura
(Round 2) 

White’s setup might look menacing, but a sneaky queen retreat allows Black to overtake initiative. 

22...Qe8! 23.Be3 

This is a mistake, but, oddly enough, White finds it quite difficult to come up with a good move already. This is what the engine suggests: 23.Kh2 (how about just parting with the f2-pawn, eh?) 23…f6 24.Nf3 Bxf2 25.Bxh6 Nf4 26.Qh4 Ng6 27.Qh5 Nf4 with a draw by repetition. 

23...f6! 24.Nf7+ 

No less dismal-looking is 24.Qd1 fxg5 25.Qxd6 Nf4+! 26.gxf4 gxf4 27.Bxa7 Bxh3+! 28.Kxh3 ( 28.Kg1 Qh5 29.Qd3 Rxa7 30.Bd1 Qg5+ 31.Ng3 Raa8 fails as well) 28...Qh5+ 29.Kg2 f3+ 30.Kg1 Qg4+ 31.Ng3 Qh3, followed by an inevitable checkmate. 


Even stronger is 24...Kh7! 25.Bxh6 (25.Nxh6 Nf4+ 26.gxf4 Qxh5 drops the queen) 25...Nxf7 26.Be3+ Nh6, winning. 

25.Qxg6 Bxh3+ 26.Kh2 Bxf1 27.Bxa7 Ng5 28.Qxe8 Rfxe8 29.Rxf1 Rxa7 

Black gradually converted his extra pawn advantage. 

Below is an example of a miraculous salvation. The former world champion shined in the first half of the game, but frittered it all away in the second. 

Kramnik – Nepomniachtchi
(Round 2) 

15.e5! dxe5 16.d5 Nd4 17.Nxd4 exd4 18.Bxe7 Re8 

Black should have perhaps tried to bail out with an exchange sacrifice: 18...Bxd5 19.Bxf8 Nxf8. Black’s resulting situation is not a walk in the park, however. 

19.d6 Rc5 20.f4 Nf6 21.Nb3 Rc6 22.Rac1 Nd5 

Also grim-looking is 22...a6 23.Rxc6 Qxc6 24.Rc1 Qa4 25.Rc7. 

23.Bb5 Nxf4 24.Qg4 Rxc1 25.Nxc1 d3 26.Nxd3 Nxd3 27.Qxc8 Bxc8 


It goes without saying that both prior to and after this move White had more than one way to convert his edge. The below-given line looks like one of the shortest: 28.Re2 Nf4 29.Re4. 

How on earth it was possible to mishandle this winning position may defy even Vladimir himself. 

28...Nxb2 29.Rc1 Bd4+ 30.Kf1 Nd3 31.Bxd3 Be6 32.Bb5 Rb8 33.d7 a6 34.Rd1 Bxd7 35.Bxd7 Be5 36.Rd5 Bb2 37.Bd6 Ra8 38.Rd2 Ba1 39.Bc7 b5 40.Ba5 Bf6 41.Re2 Kg7 42.Kf2 Bd4+ 43.Kf3 Bc5 44.Bc3+ Kf8 45.Bb4 Bxb4 46.axb4 Rd8 47.Bc6 Rd4 48.Re8+ Kg7 49.Re7 Rxb4 50.Bd5 Kf6 51.Rxf7+ Ke5 52.Bb7 a5 53.Rxh7 a4 54.Bc6 a3 55.Bxb5 Rxb5 56.Ra7 Rb3+ 57.Kg4 Kd4 58.Kg5 Kc3 Draw. 

Nakamura – Svidler
(Round 3) 


This is a prophylaxis; the trade of bishops is to Black’s advantage. 

17.e4 Bxc1 18.Rxc1 Rfc8 19.Qd2 Rc7 20.f4 Rac8 21.fxe5 dxe5 22.Rc2 

Perhaps, 22.Ne2 should have been preferred instead. 

22...Qd6 23.Qf2? 

This is a blunder. Correct is 23.Rb1 a6 24.Rcc1 f5 25.Ne2 with somewhat better prospects. 

23...Nf5! 24.exf5 Rxc3 25.Rxc3 Rxc3 26.Qf3 gxf5 27.Qxf5 Qxd5+ 28.Kh3 Rc6 

Black won a pawn and went on to bring his advantage home. 

29.g4 Rd6 30.Rf3 Qe6 31.Qg5+ Kf8 32.Re3 Qh6+ 33.Qxh6+ Rxh6+ 34.Kg3 Rb6 35.Re4 f6 36.h4 Rd6 37.Re3 Rd4 38.g5 Kg7 39.b5 Rb4 40.gxf6+ Kxf6 41.Rf3+ Kg7 42.Rf2 Rxb5 43.Ra2 a5 44.Kg4 Kf6 45.Ra3 Kg6 46.h5+ Kf6 47.Ra1 Rb4+ 48.Kg3 a4 49.Rf1+ Kg5 White resigns. 

After three rounds the lead is shared by as many as four players: Vladimir Kramnik, Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Peter Svidler. 

Pictures by Vladimir Barsky and Anna Burtasova