- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The action already is intense at the 2011 U.S. Championship tournament, which kicked off play Friday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. Two dozen of the country’s top players, including defending champ GM Gata Kamsky, are in the hunt, with a two-game championship match between the two top finishers to be held April 26 and 27.

In addition, eight of the top U.S. female players are competing for the U.S. women’s national crown.

The weekend’s play featured some unexpected miniatures, with former champ GM Gregory Kaidanov losing to young GM-elect Sam Shankland in just 18 moves, and GM Yasser Seirawan, another former champion back in the arena after several years of inactivity, falling to GM Larry Christiansen in 23 moves. Seirawan’s rust shows in the game as he falls for a well-known opening ploy in a Caro-Kann, snatching a pawn that proves to be indigestible on Move 7.

Christiansen said later he was following an idea first employed by Russian GM Sergey Karjakin in the 2010 Olympiad, a game Seirawan admitted he had not seen. The refutation is the surprising 7. Nc3 Qxb2? 8. Qb1!, when a queen trade gives White a huge developmental edge while 8…Qxc3+?! 9. Bd2 Qxa1 10. Qxa1 Nc6 11. Qb2 b6 12. Bd3 also leaves White with the superior game. And on the game’s 8…Qxc2 9. Qb5+ Nd7 10. Rc1 a6 11. Qxa7 Rb8 12. Qxa6 Qb2 13. Bb5, the Black queen survives - temporarily - but the Black king finds himself under heavy fire.

Seirawan’s queen eventually is run to ground, and his king is not far behind in the finale: 18. Bc3 Qe2 (Qxa2 19. Ra1 Qe2 20. Rfe1 amounts to the same thing) 19. Rfe1 Bxf3 (Qxa2 20. Nd6+ Bxd6 21. Bxd7+ Kxd7 22. Qxa2) 20. Rxe2 Bxe2 21. Nd6+ Bxd6 22. Qxd6 Rb7 23. Bc6, and Black resigns as 23…Ra7 leads to a forced mate on 24. Qb8+ Ke7 25. Bb4+ Nc5 26. Bxc5 mate.

Zhao-Xiu after 15...Nh5.
Zhao-Xiu after 15…Nh5. more >

Through Sunday’s third round of play, Shankland was the surprise leader of Group B at 2 1/2- 1/2, while Kamsky and fellow GMs Yuri Shulman and Alexander Ivanov topped the more tightly bunched Group A at 2-1. On the women’s side, Baltimore resident and University of Maryland-Baltimore County student WGM Sabina-Francesca Foisor heads the field, matching Shankland 2 1/2- 1/2 start.

We’ll have full coverage and all the action from St. Louis in the coming weeks.

With the emergence of China as a world chess power, the Chinese national championship tournament has attracted increasing interest in recent years. But this year’s title event, won earlier this month by GM Ding Liren, eventually may be remembered best for one classic attacking game that already has gone viral on the chess blogosphere.

GM Zhao Jun finished in a three-way tie for second, a full two points behind Ding, but his demolition of fellow GM Xiu Deshun, capped by a queen sacrifice, was easily the game of the event and, in the words of ChessBase.com, is already “on the short list for game of the year.”

What makes the contest remarkable is that White whips up a magnificent attack from what appears to be a relatively placid position in the early middle game of this Nimzo-Indian. After 14. fxg5 hxg5 15. 0-0 Nh5 (see diagram), Xiu’s king-side is a little suspect, but he appears to enjoy the typical Nimzo queen-side counterplay with his pressure on the White center and the c-pawn.

So Black must have been floored by White’s next moves: 16. Bxd6!! Qxd6 17. e5 Qe7 18. Ng3! Nxg3 19. Rf6!!. White is down two pieces, but his rook occupies an outpost that stifles all Black attempts to organize a defense of his beleaguered king. Zhao can mobilize his other pieces at his leisure to prosecute the mating attack.

Black faces no immediate threat, but all defensive tries seem to come up short. On 19…Rfd8 (Nf5 20. Qh5 Rfd8 21. Bxf5 exf5 22. Rh6), White has 20. hxg3 Qf8 (Bxc4 21. Rh6! Kf8 22. Rh8+ Kg7 23. Rh7+ Kf8 24. Qh5 Ke8 25. Bxc4 Nxc4 26. Rf1 and wins) 21. Qh5 Qg7 22. Raf1 Rd7 23. d5 Bxc4 24. Bxc4 Nxc4 25. dxe6 fxe6 26. Rg6 Rf8 27. Rxf8+ Kxf8 28. Rxg7 Rxg7 29. Qh8+ Kf7 30. Qb8; and after 19…Bxc4 20. hxg3 Bxd3, White can play 21. Qxd3 Kg7 22. Raf1 Rh8 23. Qe3 Rag8 24. Qxg5+ Kf8 25. Rxf7+ Qxf7 26. Rxf7+ Kxf7 27. Qf6+ Ke8 28. Qxe6+ Kd8 29. d5!, and the queen and pawns make for a lethal mating combination.

Xiu’s choice — 19…Kg7, followed by a desperate scramble by the Black knight to come back to defend - merely allows for some more beautiful tactics from his opponent: 23. Qe4! Qb7 (White’s threat was 24. Rg6+!) 24. d5 Rh8 25. Qg6+!! fxg6 26. Rxg6+ Kh7 27. Rxg5+ (the windmill checks are devastating) Kh6 28. Rg6+ Kh7 29. Rg4+ Kh6 30. Rf6+ Kh5 31. Rh4+, and Black resigns just ahead of 31…Kg5 32. Rg6 mate.

Christiansen-Seirawan, U.S. Championship, April 2011

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