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SANDS: Kamsky pulls surprise in world title hunt
Question of the Day
Just days after his grueling repeat triumph in the U.S. national championships, Brooklyn GM Gata Kamsky has upset former world champion Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria to advance to the semifinal round at the FIDE candidates’ matches under way in Kazan, Russia. The survivor of the eight-grandmaster scramble later this month qualifies for a date with reigning world champion Viswanathan Anand in a 12-game title match in the first half of 2012.
The semifinal round, which starts Wednesday, will pit Kamsky against Israeli GM Boris Gelfand, who eliminated Azerbaijan’s Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the event’s wild card, also by a 2 1/2-1 1/2 score. At press time, the matches pitting Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik against Teimour Radjabov, also of Azerbaijan, and Armenia’s Levon Aronian against Russian Alexander Grischuk were going into overtime after finishing tied at 2-2.
The format for the event - four-game matches in the quarterfinals and semifinals, with a six-game match between the two finalists - has not exactly produced dynamic chess because even a single loss in the early rounds can doom a player’s chances. Fourteen of the 16 games at classical time controls in the opening matches were drawn, with just Kamsky and Gelfand managing to take a full point and avoid a playoff.
Topalov can be one of the most creative players on the elite circuit, but his innovation in this English Opening, with 8. Qa3 and the misguided 9. 0-0-0?! clearly needs to go back to the lab for further refinement. White’s hoped-for king-side play becomes pointless, as Kamsky never castles on that wing, while the White king itself becomes a target as Black methodically opens up play on that flank.
Kamsky freezes the White center with 10. Bg3 Bh6+! 11. e3 (Kb1 Bf5+ 12. e4 [Ka1 Ndb4 13. Ne1 Bc2 wins material] Nxc3+ 13. bxc3 Bxe4 wins a pawn) and after 15. Rd2? (a mystifying move; if this is White’s best, something has clearly gone wrong) f6 16. Ne4 b6 17. Be2 Qc8!, the White king is already feeling the heat.
Black’s play is a model of logic and economy as he exploits White’s unhappy setup: 19. Rd1 g5! (cleaner than 19…Nxa2+!? 20. Qxa2 Nxe3 21. Qa4 Nxd1 22. Kxd1) 20. Rh2 g4 21. Nfd2 c5! 22. dxc5 f5 23. Rxh6?! (desperately trying to complicate matters, as the retreat 23. Nc3 leaves White worse in lines such as 23…Qxc5 24. Nb3 Bxe3+! 25. fxe3 Qxe3+ 26. Kb1 Nxc3+ 27. bxc3 Qxe2) Rxh6 24. Ng5+ Kf8 25. Nxe6+ Qxe6 26. Bc4 Rc8!, and another major piece takes up his station on the c-file.
White’s shaky game needs just a little push to collapse altogether after 27. Bf4 Rf6 28. e4 (see diagram) Rxc5! 29. exd5 Qxd5 30. b3 Qd4!, hitting the bishop on f4 and threatening a killer check. White decides to end his suffering quickly with 31. Be3 Qc3+, resigning as 32. Kb1 Qc2+ 33. Ka1 Qxd1+ is hopeless.
The supersolid Gelfand would not be one’s first choice to play the best game of the opening matches, but he showed unexpected flair in fashioning a new take on an old motif in the Sicilian - the defensive/offensive exchange sacrifice. Coupled with a timely piece sacrifice and a mass of passed central pawns, the Israeli GM easily dispatched Mamedyarov in the one decisive game of their match.
As in Topalov-Kamsky, White in this Najdorf Sicilian sets his hopes on a king-side attack, only to be buried by a counterattack by his opponent on the c-file. After 19. Rh4 Rfc8 20. Kh1, White appears to have his army prepared to begin the attack along the open h-file, but Black beats him to the punch.
Thus: 20…Rxc3! (Sicilian players live to play this move, which, at the cost of rook for knight, removes the linchpin of the White center and puts the initiative firmly in Black’s hands) 21. bxc3 Qxc3 22. Rd4 (hustling to oust the black queen before Gelfand’s pawn center can get rolling) a5 23. Rd3 Qc6, and Black’s extra pawns and superior bishops give him at least equality.
By 31. Be3 Qc4 32. g5, Mamedyarov appears finally to have ginned up another attack, only to be stymied by an inspired defensive idea: 32…Bxf5!! (Ng8?! 33. Qxh7 f6 34. Rg3 d4 35. Reg1 and things still hang in the balance; by giving up the knight, Black ensures his pawn steamroller can advance) 33. gxf6 Bxf6 34. Qh5 Bg6 35. Qg4 Qxa2. Black has amassed six pawns for the lost rook and his bishops rake the White position.
The finale: 36. Bb1 Qc4 37. Qg2 a3 38. Ba2 Qc6 39. Rg3 Rb8, and Mamedyarov conceded facing lines such as 40. Bc1 (Black threatens 40…Rb2) Qa8 41. Rf1 d4 42. h3 d3 43. Rxf6 gxf6 44. Bh6+ Ke7! (and not 44…Kg8?? 45. Rxg6+! Kh8 [hxg6 46. Qxg6+ Kh8 47. Qg7 mate] 46. Bg7+ Kg8 47. Bxf6+ Kf8 Rg8 mate) and White’s attack is shot.
We’ll have more results and analysis from the semifinals in next week’s column.
Topalov-Kamsky, FIDE Candidates Match, May 2011
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About the Author
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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