- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The holidays are traditionally a season of hustle and bustle, so what better time is there for holding a major rapid championship?

Georgian GM Baadur Jobava emerged as the new European rapid championship, topping a high-powered field this month with a 9-2 score in Warsaw. Once something of a curiosity, the rapid Game/25 format is now firmly ensconced in international play, with the faster time control often leading to more combative and aggressive play while allowing an entire continent to hold an 11-round championship tournament over the course of a long three-day weekend.

While not as chaotic (and random) as faster blitz chess play can be, rapid is clearly a different animal than chess played at slower, “classical” speeds. Obtaining the initiative (often at the expense of material) can be critical in rapid play, as the defender is usually at an even greater disadvantage in the shorter time controls. The difficulty of defending in rapid can be seen in today’s games, starting with one from new European champ.

Polish FM Pawel Stoma gets nothing out of the opening against Jobava’s Caro-Kann, and by 19. Be3 Ng4 20. Rd3, White’s kingside demonstration has come to naught while his pieces seem clumsily placed. Black by contrast has a solid game and is ready to commence his own operations.

Jobava jabs effectively at White’s pawn center, but it is a slick little trap that decides the game with surprising suddenness: 23. Rc3 Nxe3 24. fxe3 c5! 25. dxc5?? (Rf4 Qd5 26. Rxc4 cxd4 27. Rfxd4 Qb5 gives Black the better pawns and the safer king, but White can fight on). White may have been banking on 25…Qxc5 26. Rhxc4 Qe5 27. Rc7, but he should have paid a little more attention to his back-rank vulnerabilities.

Black strikes with 25…Qf2!!, an unexpected double attack forcing instant resignation as 26. Qxf2 (Qxc4 Rd1+ 27. Rc1 Qxh4! also wins) Rd1+ 27. Rc1 Rxc1 is mate.

Like Jobava, Hungarian GM Viktor Erdos, playing Black against Polish GM Mateusz Bartel, manages to blunt White’s opening advantage and then switch over to the attack. The position after 16. exf6 Rxf6 17. Ne5 coming out of the Guioco Piano is relatively even, but Black’s pieces have ready access to the White kingside and Erdos proceeds to make the most of it.

Black gets in a classic rapid sacrifice with 19. Nxb6 axb6 20. Bf3 (Bxb6 Qg5 21. g3 Nd2 wins the exchange) Qh4 21. g3 Rf8 22. Kh1 Qh3 23. Bg2 Qh5 24. Kg1 Kh8 25. f3 Nxg3!? 26. hxg3 Rxg3 there may be no forced win in sight, but White’s defensive burden is a heavy load to carry at the accelerated time control.

Bartell immediately misses a critical tempo-winning finesse: 27. Qa3! (threatening f8 and raising the prospect of annoying checks on a8), leading to such unclear lines as 27…Kg8 28. Bf2 Rxg2+ 29. Kxg2 Bh3+ 30. Kg3 (White dare not allow the discovered check) g5 31. Qe3 g4 32. Rh1 Rxf3+ 33. Qxf3 gxf3 34. Rxh3 Qxe5+ 35. Kxf3 Qxb2, with a rook and two bishops for Black’s queen and host of pawns.

Instead, 27. Rf2? Bh3 28. Qc2 Rfxf3 29. Raf1 produces a picturesque tableau of rooks and bishops, but one that Black easily overruns: 29…Bxg2 30. Rxg2 Rxf1+ 31. Kxf1 Rxe3 32. Qa4 (allowing a quick mate, but 32. Qd2 Rxe5 was hopeless in the long run) Qh1+ 33. Kf2 Qe1 mate.

One last reminder that the Eastern Open will be serving all your post-holiday chessplaying needs, starting Tuesday at the Westin Washington Hotel downtown at 1400 M St. NW. From a young Bobby Fischer in 1956 to a young GM Alex Lenderman in 2010, the Eastern has long been an excellent place to watch future stars up close and personal. Play proceeds through Dec. 30 and I hope to see you there.

Finally, the answer to last week’s ingenious Christmas Tree puzzle (see diagram), a mate-in-two composed by U.S. GM Pal Benko in 1975 for Chess Life magazine. The key: 1. Qc5!, threatening 2. Qxd5 mate, and all Black’s various tries allow different mates: 1…dxc5 2. Re5 mate; 1…Rxc5 2. Nd4 mate; 1…Kxf5 2. Qxd5 mate; 1…Bxe4 2. Nf4 mate; 1…c2 2. Qxd5 mate; 1..Bc6 2. Ng5 mate.

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

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