- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Maurice Ashley, the first black American grandmaster and a well-known commentator on ESPN and a host of national news programs, will conduct a 30-board simultaneous exhibition at the U.S. Chess Center downtown on Oct. 11.

The event will be a benefit to help kick off the center’s new ChessWorks initiatives, designed to provide D.C. public school students with job training, chess instruction and - it is hoped, in time - gainful employment as chess teachers working with younger students in the program. A reception to meet the New York grandmaster and learn more about the program will be held after the simul is completed.

The simul runs from 4 to 6 p.m. and there will be opportunities afterward to learn about sponsorship opportunities for ChessWorks and for the Chess Center. For information, call the center at 202/857-4922 or email Executive Director Catherine Sevcenko at sevcenko@chessctr.org.

Former world champion Vladimir Kramnik of Russia once remarked that playing American superstar Hikaru Nakamura virtually guaranteed him a “lively” game. Said Kraminik, “You can always be sure with him that something unusual will arise on the board.”

Nakamura-Anand after 24...Bxe5.
Nakamura-Anand after 24…Bxe5. more >

That definitely has held true so far in the first half of the Grand Slam Masters Final, where Nakamura finds himself alone in second place as the players relocate from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Bilbao, Spain, for the remainder of the double-round-robin event. In a six-grandmaster field featuring three players rated over 2800, Nakamura is the only player without a loss and sits just behind pacesetter GM Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine.

The St. Louis-based GM has thrived without diluting his crowd-pleasing style, as can be seen in his fascinating battle with Spanish GM Francisco Vallejo Pons in Sao Paulo.

Vallejo Pons as Black gets easy play out of this English Opening, and with 13. d4 Nf5!? 14. Bxc6 (already backing away from 14. d5!?, with murky lines such as 14…Nxe3 15. dxe6 Nxg2+ 16. Kf1 Ne3+ 17. Qxe3 fxe6 18. Qe4 exf4 on offer) bxc6 15. 0-0-0 exd4 16. exd4 Ne7 17. g4 f5 18. g5 Bf7 19. Ng3 a5!, Black’s attack appears to be developing faster.

White accepts Black’s second piece offer as the tension rises considerably: 21. Nxa4 Bxc4!? 22. bxc4 c5 23. Nc3 Rb4, with strong pressure on the White center and also down the b-file. But Black misses a strong continuation on 29. Qc4 Nc8? (Qb7! 30. d6+ Nd5 31. Rd2 Kh8 keeps the position unclear), and with 31. d7 Qxd7 (Nd6 32. Qxc5 and the Black rook can’t go to c8) 32. Rh2 Qb7 33. Rc2 Rb5 34. Nxf5! Rxf5 35. Rxd4, giving back a piece for the attack, Nakamura finally begins to dictate play.

White sidesteps one last nasty trap to lock down a winning ending on 38. h6! Rxb2! 39. hxg7+ Kxg7 40. Qc3+! (Black’s hopes rested on the fiendish 40. Rxb2?? Qh1+ 41. Rd1 Qxd1+! 42. Kxd1 Ne3+ 43. Ke2 Nxc4 and wins) Nd4 41. Rxb2 Qd5 42. Qh3 Re8 43. Rb6, when 43…Ne2+ fails to 44. Rxe2 Rxe2 45. Qh6+ Kf7 46. Qxh7+ Kf8 47. Qh8+ Qg8 48. Rb8+.

White emerges an exchange to the good, but it is his a-pawn that proves decisive in the final position. Black resigned as 59…Nb4 60. Rcc7 Rxc7 51. Rxc7+ Ke6 52. a7 Nd5 63. Rc6+ is hopeless.

An even more intriguing Nakamura effort represents the one that got away. The American had Indian world champion Viswanathan Anand on the ropes in their Round 2 game, but failed to find the knockout blow. The players duel in the ultrasharp Moscow Variation of the Semi-Slav, with Black getting two extra pawns but White exerting severe piece pressure on the Black king.

Nakamura was later convinced he had kicked away a win after 19. Nxd5 Qxd5 20. Qa1! (a neat idea that clears d1 for the rook while preparing to invade on the a-file) Bg7 21. Rd1 Qc5 22. Qa8+ Ke7 23. Qb7 Rd8 24. Bf3 (Black is barely holding on) Bxe5!? (see diagram), when 25. Bc6! appears to win a piece. Subsequent intense analysis suggests things were still not clear cut, but Black is clearly just trying to save the game in critical lines such as 25…Bxg3 (Nakamura during the game thought Black could play 25…Bd4??, overlooking the crushing 26. Bc7! Rg8 27. Bxd7) 26. Rxd7+ Rxd7 27. Qxd7+ Kf6 28. hxg3 b4 29. Qd8+ Kg7 30. Be8 c3 31. Qd7 Qf8 32. bxc3 bxc3 33. Qd4+ Kg8 34. Ba4 Qa3.

White wins a piece but Black’s queenside pawns provide sufficient compensation to hold the game. Nakamura tries one more time with the intrepid 29. Qc7 Ra8! (Rxd7 30. Qxd7 c2 31. Qd2 b4 32. f4! g4 33. f5!, and nasty threats swirl around Anand’s king) 30. Bxe6!? fxe6 31. f4! Ra1! (excellent defense, pinning and exchanging White’s most dangerous piece) 32. fxg5+ Kxg5 33. Qg7+; White can make the life of the Black king exceedingly uncomfortable, but lacks the material to deliver mate. The players soon agreed to split the point.

NakamuraVallejo Pons, Sao Paolo, Brazil, October 2011

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