- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

Chess computers aren’t getting smarter. They’re just making humans stupider.

Nothing else can explain what happened in the position from today’s diagram, the critical moment in Game 2 of the latest man-vs.-machine contest between Russian world champion Vladimir Kramnik and the superstrong German program Deep Fritz 10. The six-game match, which concludes Tuesday, may have turned on an astonishing blunder by Kramnik, when the planet’s best player overlooked a one-move mate threat.

Kramnik actually had the run of play in the game, and Deep Fritz had to work hard to reach the drawn position in the diagram. White’s knight has just captured the Black rook on f8, and Black, perhaps mesmerized by the latent power of his queen-side pawns, eschewed the easy draw to be had with 34…Kg8 35. Ng6 Bxb2 36. Qd5+ Kh7 (and not 36…Qf7? 37. Ne7+ Kf8 38. Qd8+ Qe8 39. Ng6+ Kf7 40. e6+ Qxe6 41. Qf8+) 37. Nf8+ Kh8 38. Ng6+.

Instead, with a half-hour left on his clock, the champ uncorked 34…Qe3??. Now trading queens gives Black a winning endgame, but White has a better option: 35. Qh7 mate. Fritz’s handler apparently was so flummoxed by Kramnik’s move that he hesitated at first even to enter it into the system.

Kramnik held draws comfortably in the other games. Through Wednesday’s Game 3, Deep Fritz held a 2-1 lead.

• • •

New York GM and former U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura took a break from his freshman-year studies at Dickinson College to make an impressive return to the board at the 36th National Chess Congress, held over the Thanksgiving weekend in Philadelphia.

Nakamura reeled off five wins before settling for a last-round draw against Georgia GM Zviad Izoria, finishing alone in first at 51/2-1/2 in the Premier section. Nakamura’s most impressive game in Philadelphia came against red-hot IM Justin Sarkar, winner of a strong open tournament the week before. Sarkar won his other five games at the National to earn a tie for second with GMs Alexander Shabalov and Jaan Ehlvest.

In a Queen’s Gambit Accepted, Black manages to hold on to his extra pawn, but White sidesteps repeated offers to trade queens as he prepares a king-side attack. Sarkar’s material edge grows to two pawns after 23. Qf2 Bxe4 24. Qg3 g6 (Bg6 25. f5) 25. Bxe4 Rxe4, but the dark squares around his king will prove highly problematic. White rushes to open lines with 26. f5! c5 27. fxg6! hxg6 (there’s no time for 27…cxd4?, as White mates on 28. gxf7+ Kf8 29. Qd6+ Kg7 30. f8=Q+ Rxf8 31. Qxf8+ Kg6 32. Qf6+ Kh5 33. Rf5+ Kg4 34. Qg5 mate) 28. Qf3, preparing to infiltrate with his queen.

White blasts a hole in Black’s defenses with a temporary rook sacrifice: 32. Qg3 Kf7?! (Qe8 33. Rxf5 Nd7 34. Rfd1 Re2 isn’t pleasant, but may offer a tougher defense) 33. Qg5 Qc6 34. Rxf5+! gxf5 35. Qxf5+ Kg8 36. Qg5+ Kf8 37. Rf1+ Ke8 (Rf7 38. Qg7+!) 38. Qg8+, collecting the Black rook on h7.

With two passed king-side pawns in the bank, Nakamura shows no reluctance to enter the queen-and-pawn ending, with his king able to find shelter finally from the Black queen’s checks. In the final position, after 59. Kd6 Qd3+ 60. Kc7, Black can’t keep the White h-pawn from queening; Sarkar resigned.

• • •

Kramnik’s one-move help-mate gives us the space to offer a neat miniature from the National Congress. Maryland expert Denis Strenzwilk, a good friend of this column, got an early start on the post-game buffet with this 14-move mate of expert Michael Thaler.

The Knorre variation of the Open Ruy Lopez (6. Nc3 instead of the near-standard 6. d4) is not a frequent visitor to the tournament room, and Black does not react well to the challenge. Thaler is already in trouble after 7. Nc3 Nxa4 8. Nxe5 Nxe5?! (recommended is 8…Be7 9. Nxa4 0-0 10. d4, though White’s game is already much more fun to play) 9. Rxe5+ Be7 10. Nd5!, ignoring the knight on a4 in pursuit of larger game.

Relocating the king does nothing to improve Black’s prospects after 10…0-0 (d6 11. Rxe7+ Qxe7 12. Nxe7 Kxe7 may actually have been the best of a bad set of options here) 11. Nxe7+ Kh8 12. Qh5.

Best now was 12…g6 13. Qh4 f6 (g5 14. Qxa4) 14. Nxg6+ Kg8 15. Nxf8 Qxf8 16. Re1 and White should win, but the game’s 12…d6?? overlooks White’s primary threat. Strenzwilk doesn’t miss the nice queen sacrifice: 13. Qxh7+! Kxh7 14. Rh5 mate, with the White knight on e7 covering both of the Black king’s escape routes.

Arlington Chess Club Online editor Mike Atkins notes that the team from Louise Archer Elementary School in Vienna placed fourth in the National team competition, ahead of several college squads. Competing for Archer were Ashley Xue, Katherine Wu, Steven Kool and Yang Dai. Congratulations to all.

36th National Chess Congress, Philadelphia, November 2006

NakamuraSarkar

1. d4d531. Qh3Rh7

2. c4dxc432. Qg3Kf7

3. Nf3Nf633. Qg5Qc6

4. Qa4+Nc634. Rxf5+gxf5

5. Nc3Nd535. Qxf5+Kg8

6. Ne5Nb636. Qg5+Kf8

7. Nxc6Qd637. Rf1+Ke8

8. Qc2Qxc638. Qg8+Kd7

9. e4e539. Qxh7+Re7

10. dxe5Bc540. Rf7Nd5

11. Be20-041. h4Qe6

12. 0-0Re842. Rxe7+Nxe7

13. Bf4Bd443. Kh2Kc6

14. Rad1Qc544. h5Nf5

15. Kh1Bxe545. Qh8Nh6

16. Be3Qa546. Qf8b6

17. f4Bxc347. Bg7Nf5

18. bxc3Qa448. Qf6Nxg7

19. Qb1Bd749. Qxg7Kb5

20. Bf3Bc650. h6Qd6+

21. Bd4Qb551. Kh3Qe6+

22. Qc2Qa452. Kh4Qe1+

23. Qf2Bxe453. Kg4Qe4+

24. Qg3g654. Kh5Qe8+

25. Bxe4Rxe455. Kg5Qe3+

26. f5c556. Kf5Ka6

27. fxg6hxg657. h7Qf2+

28. Qf3f558. Ke6Qe2+

29. Bxc5Rae859. Kd6Qd3+

30. Bd4R8e760. Kc7Black

resigns

36th National Chess Congress, Philadelphia, November 2006

StrenzwilkThaler

1. e4e58. Nxe5Nxe5

2. Nf3Nc69. Rxe5+Be7

3. Bb5a610. Nd50-0

4. Ba4Nf611. Nxe7+Kh8

5. 0-0Nxe412. Qh5d6

6. Re1Nc513. Qxh7+Kxh7

7. Nc3Nxa414. Rh5 mate

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at dsands@washington times.com.

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