- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Former world champion Vladimir Kramnik employed the classic predator’s strategy to win the Category 20 London Chess Classic earlier this month: Target the weakest members of the herd.

The Russian star drew with all of his top rivals in the event, including world champion Viswanathan Anand and American No. 1 Hikaru Nakamura, while scoring a clean 4-0 sweep of the four lower-rated British players in the 10-Grandmaster field. The website Chessbase.com jokingly accused Kramnik of “anglicide.”

Young English star GM David Howell lost to Kramnik in the way countless (English and non-English) players have fallen to the Russian over the years. After he handles White’s solid opening play well, a single inaccuracy puts Black in the equivalent of positional quicksand, and the more he struggles to escape, the faster he sinks into oblivion.

Howell does passably well out of the opening, a Queen’s Gambit Accepted, though White’s better bishops and the awkward Black queen-side pawns give Kramnik the initiative. But a microscopic inaccuracy is all White needs to steal a pawn and obtain a winning edge.


Howell’s 19. Rac1 Bc6? attempts to target White’s weak button on a4, but White alertly counters with the deflection 20. Bg5! Bxg5 (on 20. … Qb7, Kramnik after the game said he planned 21. Rxc5! Bxc5 22. Bxd8 Rxd8 23. Bxf7+ Kxf7 24. Rxd8) 21. Rxc5!, an in-between move that still leaves several Black pieces under attack. (Kramnik’s succinct evaluation: “It’s over.”)

Benko's Christmas Tree Puzzle. White to mate in two.
Benko’s Christmas Tree Puzzle. White to mate in two. more >

White keeps the extra pawn after 21. … Bf6 22. Rxa5 Bxd5 23. Raxd5 Rxd5 24. Rxd5 Qc1+ 25. Kg2 Bxb2 26. Qxa6, and with 30. Qb7 b3 31. a6 b2 32. Rb5 keeps a watchful eye on Black’s dangerous b-pawn. Howell puts up a good fight but ends up flopping on the deck of the boat: 38. Qb8 Qa2 39. Rxc3! b1=Q 40. Rc8, and Black resigns facing such picturesque lines as 40. … Qf1+ (Qb4 41. a8=Q! Qaa3 42. Rxf8+ Qxf8 43. Qxf8+ Qxf8 44. Qxf8+ Kxf8 45. Nd4) 41. Kxf1 Qa6+ 42. Kg2 Qxc8 (Rxc8 43. Nd4 Rf8 44. Nb5 Qc6+ 45. Kh2 Qa8 46. Qxa8 Rxa8 47. Kg2 and the rook is similarly paralyzed for the ending to come) 43. Qxc8 Rxc8 44. Nd4 Kf8 45. Nb5 Ra8 46. Kf3, and the ending is easily won for White.

Talk of predators and quicksand hardly makes for a cheery holiday-season column, so we’ve ranged a little far afield to find a rare contest in which both players get everything they ask for. In a game from a recent event in Bogota, Colombia, Egyptian IM Samy Shoker conducts a powerful king-side attack, leaving his opponent, Cuban GM Isan Ortiz Suarez, staring at unstoppable mate.

For his part, Ortiz Suarez is given one last desperado move that succeeds in changing the narrative on who will enjoy a happy ending.

With 7. b4 and 9. h4, White signals his aggressive intentions on both flanks, leaving his king in the center to fend for himself. The decision proves fateful as the play heats up on 15. Qe3 Nf5!? (provocative; 15. … Nxc4 16. Qf4 Nf5 17. Nxc5 bxc5 18. Qxc4 is probably equal) 16. Qf4 Qa4 17. Nh4?, when a little defense with 17. d3! Qc2 18. Nfd2 was called for, as things remain murky after the wild 18. … Nb3!? 19. Nxb3 [Rxb3?? Qxc1 mate] Qxb1 20. Ned2 Bxg2 21. Nxb1 Bxh1) Qc2!, when Black correctly decides his only defense is to continue attacking.

Ortiz Suarez courts disaster after 18. Nxf5 exf5! (the only move: 18. … Qxb1?? 19. Ne7 mate; 18. … gxf5?? 19. Nf6+ Bxf6 20. Qh6 f4 21. Qxf6 Qh7 22. Rxh7) 19. Qh4 Rfe8! 20. Nf6+ (Qh7+ Kf8 21. 0-0 fxe4 wins material) Bxf6 21. Qxf6 (see diagram), where Black would seem only to have a spite check or two before submitting mate on h8. But this is just where Black has a forced win.

Thus: 21. … Rxe2+! 22. Kf1 (Ke2 only delays the inevitable after 22. … Re8+ 23. Be4 [Kf1 24. Qd1 mate] Rxe4+ 24. Kf3 Rh4+ 25. Ke2 Qe4+ 26. Kd1 Rxh1 mate) Qd1 mate. White never does get to deliver that mate down the h-file.

Kramnik-Howell, London, December 2011

1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 dxc4 4. e3 e6 5. Bxc4 c5 6. O-O a6 7. Nc3 Nc6 8. a3 b5 9. Ba2 Bb7 10. Qe2 Qc7 11. Rd1 Rd8 12. d5 exd5 13. Nxd5 Nxd5 14. Bxd5 Be7 15. e4 O-O 16. g3 Na5 17. Bf4 Qc8 18. a4 b4 19. Rac1 Bc6 20. Bg5 Bxg5 21. Rxc5 Bf6 22. Rxa5 Bxd5 23. Raxd5 Rxd5 24. Rxd5 Qc1+ 25. Kg2 Bxb2 26. Qxa6 Qc2 27. Rd2 Qb3 28. a5 Bc3 29. Rd5 Qc2 30. Qb7 b3 31. a6 b2 32. Rb5 Qa4 33. a7 h6 34. e5 Kh7 35. Rb3 Qa2 36. h4 Kg8 37. h5 Qa5 38. Qb8 Qa2 39. Rxc3 b1=Q 40. Rc8 1-0.

Shoker- Ortiz Suarez, Bogota, December 2011

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