SANDS: Top chess players on tap as Eastern starts Dec. 27

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, time for that special event that lifts us out of the winter doldrums. Yes, the 38th annual Eastern Open kicks off Dec. 27, a four-section, seven-round Swiss event that regularly attracts one of the largest and strongest fields for a regional event.

Rising New York GM Alex Lenderman won the Eastern last year, and this year’s $16,500 prize fund is likely to attract another strong complement of top players to the tournament’s traditional home at the Westin City Center hotel downtown at 1400 M St. NW. There will be cash prizes this year for the best-played games, along with a lecture and a side blitz championship.

There also will be chess books and paraphernalia for sale, and the spectating is free. For more information, check out

U.S. GM Hikaru Nakamura who once played in the Eastern had to run a remarkable gantlet at the superelite London Chess Classic, just wrapping up in the British capital. In the first four rounds of the nine-player event, the 24-year-old Nakamura played four straight 2800-plus opponents, drawing Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik, losing to Norwegian star Magnus Carlsen and scoring wins against Armenia’s Levon Aronian and Indian world champ Viswanathan Anand.

Nakamura-Howell after 29...Ne6.

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Nakamura-Howell after 29…Ne6. more >

Nakamura’s game with Anand could serve as Exhibit A for the argument that the King’s Indian Defense will always be with us. The pell-mell attacking plans on opposite wings characteristic of the KID offer an irresistible appeal to a certain type of player who likes to live on the edge.

The tableau after 17. Bxc5 Rf7 18. a5 h5 illustrates this opening’s enduring charms the all-out flank attacks in which the player who lands the best punch usually wins. Here, the American employs a dangerous rope-a-dope strategy, suffering numerous gut punches as White hammers away at his collapsing queen-side. But the counterpunching finally starts after 29. Nc4?! Qe8!, hitting the bishop on e6 and also threatening 30…Qb5. After 30. Bd5 h4 31. Rf2 h3, Black not only has managed to survive, but his king-side attack has picked up fresh momentum.

The tide turns for good on 37. Ra3 (White’s first real retreat of the game) a5 38. Be1 Rxc4!? (the exchange sacrifice is worth it to get rid of the hated White d-pawn and activate Black’s long-dormant King’s Indian bishop) 39. Bxc4 Bxc6 40. Rxa5?, when White could put up tougher resistance with 40. Rd3 Bc5 41. Be6 Nf6.

Suddenly, it is Nakamura who has all the play, recovering the exchange and exploiting the open g-file to hunt down the White king. The finale: 44…Nxf3+ 45. Bxf3 Qxf3 46. Rb1 Rg6 47. Rxb7 Nf6! (decisive White’s pawn center is collapsing) 48. Rb8+ Kh7 49. Rb7+ Kh6, and Anand resigned; the checks have run out, and his game will be hopeless after the e4-pawn falls in lines like 50. Rb2 Nxe4 51. Ra2 Ng3 52. Qe1 Ne2! 53. Qf1 (Qxe2 Qg2 mate) Rg1 54. Qxg1 Nxg1 55. Kxg1 e4, and the pawns can’t be stopped.

The American’s postmortem tweet: “Live by the sword and die by the sword. Sometimes I wonder just how many of these games I can play in the KID before I die of a heart attack.”

After battling such a Murderers’ Row, Nakamura probably felt a sneaking sense of relief to face young English GM David Howell, rated just 2633, in Round 5. Avoiding any letdown, the U.S. star took advantage of Howell’s time trouble to score a second straight win.

White gains the two bishops out of this English Opening, though the central pawn tension leads to some interesting roads not taken. After the game, for instance, Howell pointed out the remarkable line 17. cxd5!? Rac8 18. Qg4 Qxg4 19. hxg4 Nf6 20. Bxf6 gxf6 21. d6!!? Bxg2 22. d7 Bxf1 23. Rxc7! Rcd8! 24. dxe8=Q+ Rxe8 25. Kxf1 Rd8 26. Rxa7 Rxd4, with a likely draw.

Black’s poor clock management does him in in the game’s critical exchange: 27. Rb1!? (Bxc8?! Bxc8 28. Ra7 Bd7 gives Black real compensation in the weak light squares around his opponent’s king, but 27. Rxd4!? cxd4 28. Bf5, with a dangerous attack, was worth a long look) Ra8 (Qxa4? 28. Rxb7) 28. Rxa8 Rxa8 (Bxa8? 29. Rb6! Qa4 [Qxb6 30. Qxe8+ Kh7 31. Qxa8] 30. Rxf6! gxf6 31. Qg6+ Kh8 32. Qxf6+ Kg8 33. Bxh6 Qa7 34. Qg6+ Kh8 35. Qxe8+) 29. Bg2!? (not bad, but 29. Re1! Kf8 the only way to stop 30. Re7 30. Bxh6! gxh6 31. Qxh6+ Kf7 32. Qh7+ Kf8 33. Re7 mates in short order) Ne6 (see diagram), setting up the killing shot.

On 30. Rxb7! Qxb7 31. Bxd5, the White bishop directly or indirectly hits on every major asset Howell still possesses. The defense can’t hold on 31…Qc8 32. Bxh6! Ra6 (gxh6 33. Qg6+ Kh8 34. Qxf6+ Kh7 35. Bxa8 Qxa8 36. Qxe6 Qf3 37. Qe7+ Kg8 38. Qxc5, with an easily won queen ending) 33. Be3 Rd6 34. Bxc5! (another cute tactical shot: 34…Qxc5? 35. Bxe6+ Rxe6 36. Qxc5) Rxd5 35. Qxd5 Kf7 36. Be3 Qa6 37. Qc4 Qa8 38. d4, and Black resigned.

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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