- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Some of the top stars of the game are in action in events around the globe this week, but the best performance could be that turned in by a player who hasn’t been a factor on the world stage for more than a decade.

Former U.S. champion Yasser Seirawan, competing again after a long period of inactivity, contributed some key wins to the U.S. effort at the World Team Championships, which wrap up Tuesday in Ningbo, China. Playing fourth board and often paired against players rated 100 or more points above him, the 51-year-old Seattle GM defeated Hungary’s Judit Polgar and Azerbaijan’s Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in successive rounds, producing a tie and a match win, respectively, for the Americans.

Polgar had been having a strong tournament in China but was badly outplayed by Seirawan in their Round 6 match. In a 4. Qc2 Nimzo-Indian, White’s 12. Nc3 Qb6 13. 0-0-0!?, castling right into the half-open b-file, looks wildly provocative, particularly against a player of Polgar’s tactical abilities.

But Black’s queen-side play never develops, while White, with moves such as 19. Bh4 and 21. Bg4, uses his bishops to provoke weaknesses around the Black king. With 24. g4 h6 25. Bf2! (getting the bishop out of the way to let the king-side pawns roll) Nc6 26. Nd5 Qa5 27. h4 Nd4 28. Bxd4 cxd4 29. g5, Seirawan is close to breaking through, while all of Black’s pieces are caught on the wrong side of the board.

A timely pawn sacrifice brings the attack home: 31. hxg5 fxg5 (see diagram; if 31…Rb7, then 32. gxf6 gxf6 33. Rg2 Rdb8 34. Rh1 Ke7 35. Rg8, winning) 32. f6!, with the deadly threat of 33. Qg6. Already it seems Black has no good defense; on 32…Qc7, White wins with 33. Qh7 Nxf6 34. Qh8+ Ke7 35. Qxg7+ Ke8 36. Qg6+ Kf8 37. Qxf6+ Ke8 38. Qg6+ Kf8 39. Rf1+ Ke7 40. Qf7 mate, while on 32…Nxf6, White has 33. Qg6 Qc7 34. Rf2 Re8 35. Rxf6+ Ke7 36. Rf7+ Kd8 37. Qxg5+ Qe7 38. Rxe7 and wins.

Seirawan-Polgar after 31...fxg5.
Seirawan-Polgar after 31…fxg5. more >

Polgar tries the desperate 32…Rxb2 33. Kxb2 Nxf6, collecting three pawns for the rook, but White retains an overwhelming edge after 34. Ka2 Qc7 35. Rg2 Rc8 (pretty much giving up, but g4 36. Rf1 Ke7 37. Rxf6! gxf6 [Kxf6 38. Qf5+ Ke7 39. Qf7 mate] 38. Qh7+ also wins for White) 36. Bxc8 Qxc8 37. Rxg5 Nxd5 38. Qf5+, and the queen trade snuffs out any Black hopes of a miracle counterattack. On 43. Kb3 Ke6 44. Rfg5, Black had seen enough and resigns.

After a disappointing loss to Ukraine Monday, the U.S. team stood in sixth place in the 10-team event. Armenia needs just a draw in its final match with the Ukrainians Tuesday to win the title.

Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen, No. 1 on the world rating lists, was cruising along at the Biel Chess Festival premier event, with three wins in his first four games at the six-grandmaster round-robin event. He suffered his first loss Saturday, upset by French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a long endgame the day after word came of the tragic terrorist attack that struck his homeland.

At his best, Carlsen is one of the most relentless players in the history of the game, ready to bring the pressure from the opening move and grind out wins from the most unpromising positions. The trademark Carlsen pressure may have gotten to U.S.-Italian GM Fabiano Caruana, who missed a saving defensive resource and went down to Carlsen at Biel in just 27 moves.

White’s 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. Bd3!? looks odd, but there is a nice logic to Carlsen’s play throughout - Black’s busted queen-side pawns give White a small but steady positional edge throughout, and Carlsen will only give up that edge if he gets something else in return. Thus, after 10. 0-0 d5 11. exd5, if 11…cxd5 White can play 12. Bxb6 axb6 13. Qe5 c6 14. g3 Qf6 15. Qxf6 gxf6 16. Rfe1 and now it’s Black king-side pawns that are in disarray.

Having preserved his two bishops, White gambles for more with 18. b4 Bd6 19. Nd4!? Bxf1 20. Kxf1 Nb6 (Ne7 21. Nxc6 Nxc6 22. Bxc6 Rab8 23. Be3, and the dominating bishop pair is more than compensation for the exchange) 21. Nxc6 Rfe8 22. a4!, when 22…Nxa4?! 23. Ne7+ Kf8 24. Bxa8 Rxa8 25. Nf5 leaves White with a small positional edge.

Still, Caruana puts up a spirited defense and could have saved his position with a surprising resource: 23. a5 Nc4 24. Bc1 a6 25. f4?! (allowing an unexpected counter) when the odd-looking 25…Ne3+!! 26. Rxe3 Bxf4 27. Rf3 Bxc1 28. Bxh7 Re6 29. Bd3 Bd2 (Rc6?! 30. Be4) keeps the balance. But such moves are hard to find when your opponent is posing problems for you on virtually every move.

Black errs with 25…Re6?, and it’s over after 26. Bd5! Rf6 (Rxe1+ 27. Kxe1 Re8+ 28. Kf2 does nothing to help the stranded Black knight) 27. Re4!, and Black is losing at least a piece after 27…Ne5 28. Nxe5 Bxe5 29. Bxa8. Caruana resigns.

Seirawan-Polgar, World Team Championships, July 2011

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