18 June 2016

The Lucky Ones

Round four of the Russia–China match in the review of grandmaster Sergey Shipov.

Lady Luck favors the strong.  She cares for those who believe in themselves and do not shy from taking risks.

It requires, above all, the psychology of a winner. It is well known that money attract money, while wins attract new wins. Anyone who has been at the top, anyone who has had a taste of a big triumph would rather much easier make an effort and try to win, regardless of the risk, as opposed to the beginners.

Our team is not without such winning players and they do bring points at decisive moments of the match.

Ian Nepomniachtchi had a good game in round four, and despite all Wen Yang’s efforts he still failed to dry up the game. The following episode proved decisive from psychological standpoint.

Wen Yang – Nepomniachtchi

Here Ian startled his opponent by the 17...Nfe4!? shot. Following the trades on a8 and multiple takes on e4, Black has some compensation for the missing pawn, but no more than that.

However, the Chinese player declined the offered sacrifice pretty quickly, and was playing too passively in general.  The outcome was predestined: Black was methodically stepping up the pressure and gradually ended up achieving a decisive advantage.

The China lashed back in another men’s game.

Matlakov – Yu Yangyi

White needs to compensate for the missing pawn only by active counterplay. This purpose is best served by 43.Rd1!, intending to infiltrate along the g-file.

However, the game saw 43.a4?! f4!, and here the path to salvation lays only through the subtle continuation: 44.Rd4! h3 45.Re4! Rh6 46.Re5+ Kh4 47.Re2!

In spite of above-said, there followed the belated 44.Rd1? h3!, and the black pawns have advanced too far to the coveted goal. In my further analysis I was no longer capable of finding any salvation for White. For example, 45.Rg1+ Kf5 46.Rg4 Rh6 47.Rxf4+ Ke5 48.Re4+ Kd6 49.Re1 Kc5 50.Rc1 h2 51.Kg2 Kb4 52.Kh1 Kxa4 53.c5 bxc5 54.Rxc5 a5 55.Rc6 Rh5 56.d6 Kb5 57.Rc7 Rd5 58.Rb7+ Kc5 59.Ra7 Kxd6 60.Kxh2 Rg5!

The game finished as follows: 45.a5 Kf5! 46.axb6 axb6 47.Rd4 h2! 48.Kg2

Or 48.Rd1 Rh6 49.Rh1 Rh4 50.Kg2 f3+! 51.Kxf3 Rxc4 52.Rxh2 Rc3+ 53.Kg2 Rc2+ 54.Kg3 Rxh2 55.Kxh2 Ke5–+.

48...Rh6 49.Kh1 f3 50.Rd1 Ke5 51.Rd2 Kf4! 52.d6 Kg3! 53.d7 Re6 54.Rd1 f2 55.Rd3+ Kf4 56.Rd4+ Ke3 55.Rd1 Rd6!, and White resigned.

Who else, if not women, is capable of saving Russia in a situation when men’s performance left much to be desired. The most militant, hot-tempered and fortunate of the female players, the indefatigable Valya Gunina!

Gunina – Ding Yixin

I think that here any professional would have calmly defended the e3-pawn by 47.Kf2.  However, Valya does not belong to the “any” category. She came up with a more interesting solution:


This move shocked the entire audience, and, more importantly, it shocked her opponent.

It was quickly established that in the case of 47...Kxh5 48.Ng3+ Kg6? 49.Qxh6!+ White is going to win a pawn. The main point of interest, however, was about our wizardess’ plans after 48...Kg4!

Having visited the spectators' hall after her victory, she admitted her intentions to react with 49. e4! while having in mind the line 49...Bxe4 50.Qxh6 Kxg3? (50...Bd5! 51.Qh3+ Kf4 52.Nh5+ Ke5 53.Qc3+ Ke6 54.Ng7+ Kf7 55.Nxf5 Qf6= is a way to bail out) 51.Qd6+! Qxd6 52.cxd6, and the white passed pawn is unstoppable.

I did not ask Valya about her intentions in relation to 49...fxe4, and the following line is indicative only: 50.Nf1 (50.Qxh6? Kxg3) 50...e3 51.Qd4+ Qe4 52.Nxe3+ Kg3 53.Nf1+ Kg4 (53...Kh4 54.Qf2+ Kg4 55.Ne3+ Kh5 56.g4+ Kg6 57.Qf5+!) 54.Ne3+ Kh5 55.Qd1+ g4 56.Nxd5 cxd5 57.c6 Qe3+ 58.Kh1 d4 59.c7 Qc3 60.Qf1 Qxc7 61.Qf5+ Kh4 62.g3+! Kxg3 (62...Qxg3 63.Qf6+ Kh3 64.Qf1+) 63.Qf2+! Kxf2 – stalemate!

Unfortunately, Gunina’s idea is not without an analytical flaw. The computer refutation is 49...Bc4!! The one to pull out the move quickly should be immediately awarded with the title of genius. The point is that after 50.Nxf5 (50.Qd4 fxe4) 50...Qxe4 51.Nxh6+ Kf4 52.Qf6+ Ke3 Black heads his king for the b4-pawn to gobble it up and advance her b5-pawn to the queening square.  I failed to find way out for White in this line.  When it comes to fighting across the entire length of the board, a knight is no rival to a bishop.

This said, the timid move 47...Kf7?! displayed the unpreparedness of the Chinese girl for a full-fledged type of struggle against our hegemon in skirt. The chess gods could never forgave her for such a glaring concession. In the course of the nervous struggle that ensued, Valya could squeeze a win out of her opponent.

Thus, Russia is three points ahead with one round to go. This is a pretty reliable margin of safety already. However, the history of our matches remembers outstanding defeats at certain, especially dark days with bigger scores even.

Therefore, let us put off celebrating the victory just yet. For one thing, we need to play the match out yet.

Pictures by Eteri Kublashvili