- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The most interesting game of the past month may have been one that was never played.

In an incident that has generated considerable controversy in the chess blogosphere, Iranian GM Eshan Ghaem Maghami was disqualified from a tournament in Corsica after he refused to play against his fourth-round opponent, Israeli FM Ehud Shachar.

The refusal of some Arab and Muslim players to compete against Israelis has long been a sore spot for FIDE, the international chess federation. At the global chess Olympiad a year ago, for example, the Yemeni team took a 4-0 forfeit rather than sit down across from the Israeli team.

At open events such as the Corsica tournament, organizers have some leeway on the pairings, and often have quietly avoided politically tricky pairings. But the forfeits also can hurt Israeli players looking for international norms or for tiebreak points when the tournament prizes and paychecks are handed out.

Corsican tournament director Leo Battesti refused to take the easy way out, noting there were five Israeli players in the event and that avoiding all the “forbidden pairings” was practically impossible.

“Regretfully I have to exclude the player who unfortunately has persisted in his choice, in spite of my imprecations,” he said in a statement. “I regret it. But I could not escape from our responsibilities.”

The issue is not clear-cut, as political boycotts are far from unknown in chess, from players refusing to take part in Nazi-sponsored tournaments in the 1930s and 1940s to the global ban on participation by South African teams during the era of apartheid.

A number of his fellow players even expressed sympathy for Ghaem Maghami, noting that players from Iran face intense pressure from authorities back home not to compete against Israelis.

The Iranian grandmaster hinted at those pressures in his own statement after the incident, saying, “I want to emphasize that personally I don’t have any bad relations with anyone from Israel. I respect people from all over the world and I understand very well that we are all sportsmen.”

Nationalism of a more palatable sort has been on display in the European Team Championship under way in Halkidiki, Greece, where teams from across the continent are battling it out.

The host country has been having a tough time lately, but the Greeks scored a small triumph with a Round 2 upset of higher-seeded England, fueled in large part by GM Dimitrios Mastrovasilis’ clever dismantling of English GM Nigel Short. In a Caro-Kann Two Knights variation, Short’s 11. Ne2 0-0?! (Qa5!? 12. Kb1 Bd6 13. Nc1 Qb6 looks tougher) reveals a bit too early where the Black king will seek shelter, giving the Greek grandmaster the chance to build up strong kingside pressure.

While Black’s queenside counterplay never develops, Mastrovasilis obtains a bind along the open d-file and finds a clever way to cash in: 23. Bxc5 Ng8 24. Rhd1! Qc7 (see diagram; 24. … Rc7 [White’s threatened 25. Rd7 must be addressed] 25. Qxb4 Nxh6 26. Rd8+ Rxd8 27. Rxd8+ Ng8 28. e5! fxe5 29. Bd6; and 24. … Nxh6 25. Rd7 Qe8 26. Qd4 e5 27. Qd5 both leave White in command) 25. Bf8!!, leaving both the bishop and the queen en prise.

The startling bishop move leaves Black defenseless - on 25. … Ne7, it’s mate after 26. Bg7+ Kg8 27. Qxe6 mate. Short proves a good sport, playing things out to their picturesque conclusion with 25. … Qxc4 (Rxf8 26. Qxc7 is winning) 26. Bg7 mate.

The Chinese League team championships, also going on now, don’t get as much attention in the West, but have featured some very attractive games. Today’s second game features some fine endgame technique from Tianjin’s Liu Qingnan against fellow FM Wan Yunguo of Hebei.

The two players are already in uncharted territory just five moves into this French Defense, and after a brisk middlegame skirmish, Liu as White picks up a pawn after 28. Qe3 Rc8 29. f3 f4 30. Qxf4 Qxf4 31. gxf4 exf3 32. Bxf3 Bxa2 33. Ra1 Bc4 34. Rxa7. White nurses his material edge into the ending, but finds himself with a knight against Black’s more effective long-range bishop. Still, Liu finds an inventive way to break through.

Thus: 48. Bxg6 Kxg6 49. Nxb5! Bxb5 50. c4 (White is down a piece with minimal material left on the board, but his pawns and king will prove too much for the harried Black bishop) Ba4 51. b5 Kh5 52. b6 Bc6 53. Kc5 (White continually wins crucial tempos as he presses forward) Bb7 54. Kd6 Kxh4 55. c5 h5 56. c6; the bishop cannot hold back both pawns and Wan resigned.

Mastrovasilis-Short, European Team Championship, November 2011

1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. h3 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 e6 6. d3 Nd7 7. Bd2 Bc5 8. O-O-O Ne7 9. h4 b5 10. h5 b4 11. Ne2 O-O 12. Qg3 dxe4 13. dxe4 Kh8 14. h6 g6 15. Bf4 Qe8 16. Bd6 f6 17. Nd4 Qf7 18. Bc4 Bxd4 19. Rxd4 c5 20. Rd2 Nb6 21. Qb3 Nxc4 22. Qxc4 Rfc8 23. Bxc5 Ng8 24. Rhd1 Qc7 25. Bf8 Qxc4 26. Bg7 mate 1-0.

Liu-Wan, Chinese Team League, October 2011

1. e4 e6 2. Qe2 c5 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 Nd4 5. Qd1 d5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Qe2 Nf6 8. d3 dxe4 9. dxe4 Ne5 10. Na3 Nd3+ 11. Kf1 Nxc1 12. Rxc1 Be7 13. Rd1 Nd7 14. e5 0-0 15. Nf3 Rb8 16. Nc4 Qc7 17. h4 Rd8 18. Ng5 Nf8 19. Rxd8 Qxd8 20. Ne4 b5 21. Ncd6 f5 22. Nxc5 Bxd6 23. exd6 Qxd6 24. b4 e5 25. Kg1 e4 26. Kh2 Be6 27. Rd1 Qe5 28. Qe3 Rc8 29. f3 f4 30. Qxf4 Qxf4 31. gxf4 exf3 32. Bxf3 Bxa2 33. Ra1 Bc4 34. Rxa7 Re8 35. Ne4 Rd8 36. f5 Nd7 37. Ng5 Nf8 38. Ra8 Rxa8 39. Bxa8 g6 40. fxg6 Nxg6 41. Kg3 Ne7 42. Ne4 Bd3 43. Nd6 Kg7 44. Kf4 Kf6 45. Ke3 Bf1 46. Kd4 Ng6 47. Be4 h6 48. Bxg6 Kxg6 49. Nxb5 Bxb5 50. c4 Ba4 51. b5 Kh5 52. b6 Bc6 53. Kc5 Bb7 54. Kd6 Kxh4 55. c5 h5 56. c6 1-0.

As several alert readers noted, we had a slight diagram malfunction last week, with the position for the column not matching either game. Sorry about that.

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

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