SANDS: Tourney win is return to form for Morozevich

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In a welcome return to form for one of the world’s most dynamic players, Russian GM Alexander Morozevich last month won the Russian Higher League Championship in Taganrog, Russia, earning a slot in the national championships to be held next month.

Long one of the world’s most imaginative players, Morozevich has been hampered in recent times by poor health and had not played for nearly six months before storming to the title in Taganrog. He was once a contender for the world title, but his rating has dropped below 2700 (48th in the FIDE July world rankings). His 8-3 result here and improving health could send him back up the ratings charts very quickly.

Last week’s column featured two wildly complex games, so we thought we’d go to the other extreme this week, with two wins taken from the Higher League event that are simplicity itself. In the first, GM Mikhail Kobalia takes down fellow GM Alexandre Danin in a smooth performance that, without any tactical fireworks, wraps up the win in just 30 moves.

In a Grunfeld Exchange, White’s powerful center is balanced by Black’s strong bishop and queen-side pawn majority. Kobalia’s surprising 11. Bd3 Ba6 12. Bxa6!, trading a piece he just developed, gives him a tiny but enduring edge, as the Black knight on a6 will prove unexpectedly difficult to redeploy.

Another counterintuitive trade leaves White’s d-pawn isolated but clears the way for the winning central push: 18. exf5 exf5 19. a4 Nc7 20. Rc6! (collecting the dividend from the exchange on Move 12, White takes control of the c-file when the knight finally moves) Nd5 21. Rbc1 Rd8 22. Bg5 Rd7 23. Ne5, and Black has to give up his precious bishop just to keep from being asphyxiated.

Galkin-Alekseev after 26...Rg7.

Enlarge Photo

Galkin-Alekseev after 26…Rg7. more >

But even 23…Bxe5 (Rb7 24. Rc8+ Rxc8 25. Rxc8+ Bf8 26. Bh6) 24. dxe5 Rb7 cannot save Danin’s game, as the passed pawn proves lethal on 25. Rd6 Ne7 26. e6 Kg7 27. Rd7 Rxd7 28. exd7 Kf7 29. Bxe7 Kxe7 30. Rc8, winning easily. At this level, it’s very hard to make winning look so easy.

GMs Alexander Galkin and Atryom Timofeev, who finished just behind Morozevich, also earned invitations to the national championship tournament, still probably the strongest in the world and the most difficult to win. Galkin, the world junior champ in 1999, showed a mature grasp of positional chess in his win against strong GM Evgeny Alexseev. Unlike the first game, this one requires a little combinational finish, but the tactics flow so smoothly from the position that they seem, as the man said, as natural as a baby’s smile.

The middle-game play here is more complex, but White clarifies things nicely after 18. Bc3 Qxc4 (Qxb1?! 19. Rxb1 Nd3 20. Bxf6 gxf6 21. Nd6 and the Black b-pawn is lost) 19. Nd6 Qa6 20. Bxf6 gxf6?! (perhaps already the losing move, given White’s follow-up; tougher would have been 23…Qxd6!? 24. Be7 Qxd2 22. Bxf8 Kxf8, with some drawing hopes) 21. Qe4! Qxd6 22. Qxg4+ Kh8 23. Qf5!, and the dominant position of the White queen dictates all of the final play.

After 23…Rg8 (Qxd2 24. Qxf6+ Kg8 25. Re4 Qd1+ 26. Bf1 Nc6 27. h3 Rd8 28. Kh2! Qxf1 29. Rg4+ Kf8 30. Rf4 Rd7 31. Re4 Ne7 32. Rxe7! and wins) 24. Be4 Rg6 25. Qc8+ Rg8 26. Qh3 Rg7 (see diagram; on 26…f5, White should win easily after 27. Qxf5 Qh6 28. Qe5+ f6 29. Qxc5), the combination is as pleasing as it is organic to the position: 27. Bxh7! Rxh7 28. Re8+ Kg7 29. Qg4+ Kh6 30. Rg8, and Black resigned ahead of 30…Qe5 31. Qh4+ Qh5 32. Qxf6+ Qg6 33. Qf4+ Qg5 34. Qxg5 mate.

Breaking news on the breaking-the-rules front: The International Computer Games Association last week abruptly stripped four-time world computer-chess champion Rybka of its titles after a lengthy investigation concluded that Czech-American programmer Vasik Rajlich had relied too heavily (without attribution) on the playing software of other programs, notable Crafty and Fruit. Rajlich, who now lives in Poland, has not responded to the charges.

Rybka dominated the computer-chess world from 2006 through 2010 but has been surpassed recently by programs such as Houdini.

And a French appeals court has stayed the suspensions handed out to French GMs Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Houchard over a suspected cheating scandal at last year’s Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. The two were accused of concocting an elaborate ruse to transmit computer-generated moves to players during matches, and Feller ended up winning one of the event’s top board prizes.

With two rounds to go at deadline, Dutch star Loek van Wely leads English GM Michael Adams by a half-point at the 2011 World Open, wrapping up in Philadelphia in its traditional time slot around the Fourth of July holiday. U.S. national champion Gata Kamsky captains an 11-grandmaster armada of challengers just one point back.

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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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