It’s no longer even the strongest tournament in Britain — that honor goes to the new London Chess Classic — but the traditional year-ending chess congress held at the English seaside town of Hastings has a pedigree unmatched in annals of the game.
The great American Harry Nelson Pillsbury famously made his spectacular debut on the international stage by winning the 1895 Hastings invitational, and this year’s Battle of Hastings, won by Indian GMs Deep Sengupta and Arghyadip Das, was the 85th edition of the storied event.
Top-seeded French GM Romain Edouard had the tournament on his serve, needing just a draw against Das in the ninth and final round last week to ensure at least a tie for first. But the Indian came out swinging in a Sicilian Richter-Rauzer, eventually sacrificing a piece in a bid to get at Black’s shaky king, and his aggression was rewarded when Edouard failed to find the best defense and succumbed.
One might question Black’s decision to play such as a sharp opening line, for he never matches his opponent’s attacking energy in the ensuing play. With 12. e5!? and 14. f5!?, White offers up a pair of pawns to open attacking lines and doubles down on 16. Qg3 Qb8 17. Qh3 d4 (safer might have been 17…b4 18. Na4 Qe5 19. Rhe1 Bc6 20. Bh5 Qf4+ 21. Kb1 0-0, and the Black king finds a little relief) 18. fxe6!, throwing a piece on the sacrificial pyre.
Critical is the position after 20. exf7+ Kf8 (Kxf7? 21. Rd7+) 21. a3, which both sides must have explored when trying to evaluate the soundness of Das’ piece sacrifice. But Edouard’s 21…h5?! is an inferior follow-up to the multipurpose 21…Qg5!, which would have shored up e7 and d8, gotten the Black queen to a less vulnerable square, and even threatened to capture on g2.
White dictates the play from here on out, breaking away decisively on 23. Bd3 Qg5 24. Qd7! Bxg2 25. Rde1! Be7 (Bxf1?? 26. Re8+ Kg7 27. f8=Q mate) 26. Rf5, and Black’s defenders are running out the squares.
The pressure on the e-file breaks Black’s resistance on 26…Qh4 (Bh3 27. Qe8+ Rxe8 28. fxe8=Q+ Kxe8 29. Rxg5 and the Black bishop cannot recapture because of the pin) 27. Rfe5 Rd8 28. Qc7 Rxd3 (desperation) 29. cxd3, and Black resigns. Even though a move like 29…Qf2 threatens mate on the move, Black gets mated first by 30. Qxe7+ Kg7 31. f8=Q+ Kg6 32. Qfg7 mate.
Playing in a four-day, eight-round Swiss tournament is an ordeal; so is organizing one. Doing both at once and managing to win a game like today’s second offering deserves special mention.
Veteran Virginia expert Tom Beckman was the main organizer of last month’s successful D.C. Eastern Open and also managed to score a respectable 3-5 (with no byes) in the Eastern’s Open section. As noted here last week, New York GM Alex Lenderman repeated as champion of the event with an undefeated 6 1/2-1 1/2 result.
The pressure of wearing two hats may explain a bit of the unevenness in Beckman’s victory here over Class A player Jonathan Richman, but the game is a still an engrossing struggle with a fine finish.
In a Najdorf Sicilian, it is White this time who is guilty of timid play, passing up a number of opportunities such as 19. f6!? (instead of the game’s 19. f4) gxf6 20. Bxf6 gxf6 21. Bd3, with 22. Rhg1+ on tap, to sharpen the play on the king-side.
The initiative passes over to Black after 22. fxe5 dxe3! 23. Qxd7 Nb5!, cleverly protecting the bishop on e7 while raising a number of tactical ideas against the White king. The attack gains force on 24. Qd3 e2!? 25. Qxe2 Nc3+! (the point, as White must interpose a pinned knight on b3 to stop mate) 26. bxc3 bxc3+ 27. Nb3 Qb4.
Black’s idea is simply 28…Qa3 with unstoppable mate, but now things grow murky. Best now might be 29. Rh3! Rc8 29. Be4 Qa3 30. Rxc3 Rxc3 31. Nd2, but then 31…Qc5! threatens a queen check on the b-file and the unpleasant 31…Re3. Richman’s 28. Qe3? is definitely the wrong way to go, however, as 28…axb3 29. cxb3 (axb3 Ra1+ 30. Kxa1 Qa3+ 31. Kb1 Qb2 mate) Rxa2! 30. Bd5 (Kxa2 Qa3+) c2+ wins at once for Black.
But now Black returns the favor with 28…Rc8?!, when 29. Rd4! might just turn the tables once again; e.g. 29…Qb8 (Qb5 30. Qd3) 30. Bd5 axb3 31. axb3 Ra3 (Ra1+?? 32. Kxa1 Qa7+ 33. Kb1 Qa3 34. Qc1) 32. Re1 Qa7 33. Ra4 Rxa4 34. bxa4 Qxa4 35. Qb6, with a very unclear position in which White may be holding his own.