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SANDS: Reason to give thanks: Top chess players in action

Chess is offering up a holiday banquet this week in both the men's and women's game.

In Moscow, one of the strongest tournaments ever wraps Thursday as the annual Tal Memorial enters the homestretch. The 10-player round-robin features the world champion (Viswanathan Anand), his upcoming challenger (Boris Gelfand), his immediate predecessor (Vladimir Kramnik) and three young stars (Magnus Carlsen of Norway, American Hikaru Nakamura and Russian Sergey Karjakin) who many think will wear the crown someday.

On the distaff side, 17-year-old women's world champion WGM Hou Yifan is trying to hold off a determined challenge from Indian WGM Humpy Koneru in a 10-game world title match set to conclude Nov. 27. (It's a measure of the tectonic shift in the game that a Chinese and an Indian are competing for a title long held by Russians and East Europeans.) While Koneru has dictated much of the play in the early rounds, Hou has held firm, with victories in Game 3 and Monday's Game 6 to take a 4-2 lead with four games to play.

As might be expected, the play in Moscow has been world-class, with a lot of fighting games and easy points extremely hard to come by. The two most entertaining games of the Tal's first half just may have been Kramnik-Carlsen and Karjakin's battle with Russian champion Peter Svidler, both of which ended in draws.

Svidler conducted a clinic in modern grandmaster positional play in dealing Nakamura his only loss so far in Moscow, using a perfectly timed exchange sacrifice to gain an advantage and then nailing down the point with some inspired tactical play. In a classic Grunfeld Exchange battle, White's more active bishops and the half-open files for his rooks appear to give him a slight pull, but Svidler turns the tables nicely in what seems an unpromising position.

Thus: 20. Qb4 Qxc5! (played with Black's 23rd move already in mind; Svidler later said that 20. ... Qc7 21. Rxf7 Kxf7 22. Bc4+ Nxc4 (22. ... Ke8 23. Rf1) 23. Qxc4+ Ke7 24. Bg5+ Bf6 25. Bxf6+ Kxf6 26. Rf1+ Kg7 27. Qf7+ Kh8 was only good for equality) 21. Qxc5 Rxc5 22. Ne2 Rc6 23. Bb6 (see diagram) Rxb6! 24. Rxb6 Bc6 - White's fine bishop pair is a distant memory, the b-file has been sealed off, and Black's bishops start to dominate. With 25. Rf3 f5! 26. Rb4 (26. Ng3 Bxc3 27. Rb1 Be5 28. Re1 f4 29. Ne2 g5 is better for Black, according to Svidler) Bf8!, heading to c5, Black is clearly calling the shots.

As so often happens, the sudden change of fortunes leads to a miscalculation, as Nakamura's rooks get tangled up on 27. Rd4 Bc5 28. Re3?! (Rf4 Re8 29. exf5 Re3 30. Kf1 Bxd4 31. Rxd4 gxf5 32. Kf2 also returns the extra material but avoids the pins that will bedevil White in the coming play) Re8!, rendering 33. exf5 out of the question.

Black walks a tactical tightrope, with several hanging pieces, to emerge with a decisive two-pawn edge after 30. Kf2 Bxa2! 31. Ra4 Bxe3+ 32. Kxe3 Rxe5+ 33. Kf4 (the Black rook, bishop and knight are all under fire, but Svidler has seen the saving resource) Bb3! 34. Kxe5 Bxa4, and White is busted.

Black's technique is flawless in the knight ending. His queen-side pawns can't be saved, but White's king winds up too far from the action in the final play: 43. Kxb7 Kd5 44. Ne3+ Kc5 45. Kxa6 Nb1 46. Kb7 Nxc3 47. Kc8 Kd4 48. Ng2 Ke5, and White resigns, as Black's passed pawn will cost Nakamura his knight in lines such as 49. Kd7 Nd5 50. h3 e3 51. Kc6 Ke4 52. Ne1 Nb4+ 53. Kd6 e2 54. Ke6 Ke3 55. Kf6 Kf2 and wins.

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Hou's first win came after some stout defense in a QGD Ragozin. With 16. fxg3!? and 17. dxe5, Koneru as White allows her pawn structure to be shattered and then gives up a pawn to obtain some promising open lines to the Black king. Black's f7-square looks particularly weak, but the Chinese champion is not one for passive defense.

With 26. Rf2 Qb6! 27. Qd2 Rd8 28. Qb2 (Bxf7 Bxe4 29. Qe2 Rf8 30. Qxc4 Rf5 31. Qd4+ Qxd4 32. cxd4 R8xf7) f5!, the initiative shifts clearly in Black's favor. The Black passed pawn gets rolling when Koneru's bishop is pushed off the critical long diagonal after 32. Bc6 Rd6!, when 33. Ba8? leaves the bishop trapped after 33. ... Ra7.

The e-pawn pushes ahead inexorably, and after 34. Re1 e2 35. Bc2 Rf7!, with the killing threat of 36. ... Rf1+, Black breaks through decisively. After 36. Bxd3 cxd3 37. Rd2 Rdf6, the threat on f1 is renewed and White resigned. Black's cool handling of the defense and precise attack here is positively Karpovian.

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It was the Big Apple over the Windy City as the New York Knights captured this year's U.S. Chess League title over the Chicago Blaze Sunday night by a 2 1/2-1 1/2 score Sunday evening. The critical game: Knights' top board GM Giorgi Kacheishvili mating Chicago's GM Mesgen Amanov in a notorious knight-and-bishop ending in 97 moves.

We'll have a rundown of the title match and the season next week.

Nakamura-Svidler, Tal Memorial, November 2011

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Bc4 c5 8.
Ne2 Nc6 9. Be3 O-O 10. O-O Bg4 11. f3 Bd7 12. Rb1 Qc7 13. Bd3 Rfd8 14. Qd2 a6
15. f4 e6 16. dxc5 Na5 17. Nd4 e5 18. fxe5 Qxe5 19. Qb2 Rac8 20. Qb4 Qxc5 21.
Qxc5 Rxc5 22. Ne2 Rc6 23. Bb6 Rxb6 24. Rxb6 Bc6 25. Rf3 f5 26. Rb4 Bf8 27. Rd4 Bc5 28. Re3 Re8 29. e5 Bd5 30. Kf2 Bxa2 31. Ra4 Bxe3+ 32. Kxe3 Rxe5+ 33. Kf4 Bb3 34. Kxe5 Bxa4 35. Kd6 Bc6 36. g3 Kg7 37. Nd4 Be4 38. Bxe4 fxe4 39. Nc2 Nc4+ 40. Kd5 Nd2 41. Kc5 Kf6 42. Kb6 Ke5 43. Kxb7 Kd5 44. Ne3+ Kc5 45. Kxa6 Nb1 46. Kb7 Nxc3 47. Kc8 Kd4 48. Ng2 Ke5 0-1.

Koneru-Hou Yifan, Women's World Championship, November 2011

1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. cxd5 exd5 6. Bg5 h6 7. Bh4 c5 8. e3
c4 9. Be2 g5 10. Bg3 Ne4 11. Rc1 Qa5 12. Ne5 Bxc3+ 13. bxc3 Nc6 14. O-O O-O 15. Bf3 Nxg3 16. fxg3 Nxe5 17. dxe5 Be6 18. Bh5 Qxa2 19. Rf6 Qb2 20. Rxh6 Bf5 21. Rf6 Be4 22. Bf3 Bd3 23. Qe1 Rae8 24. Bxd5 Rxe5 25. e4 Kg7 26. Rf2 Qb6 27. Qd2 Rd8 28. Qb2 f5 29. Qxb6 axb6 30. Bxb7 fxe4 31. Rb2 Re7 32. Bc6 Rd6 33. Ba4 e3 34. Re1 e2 35. Bc2 Rf7 36. Bxd3 cxd3 37. Rd2 Rdf6 0-1.

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

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