- 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.”

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

1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 Bc5 4. Bg2 a6 5. e3 d6 6. Nge2 Nge7 7. b3 Ba7 8. Bb2 Rb8 9. d3 Bf5 10. Qd2 Qd7 11. h3 O-O 12. f4 Be6 13. d4 Nf5 14. Bxc6 bxc6 15. O-O-O exd4 16. exd4 Ne7 17. g4 f5 18. g5 Bf7 19. Ng3 a5 20. h4 a4 21. Nxa4 Bxc4 22. bxc4 c5 23. Nc3 Rb4 24. Qd3 cxd4 25. Nb5 d5 26. Nxa7 c5 27. cxd5 Qxa7 28. a3 Rb6 29. Qc4 Nc8 30. d6+ Kh8 31. d7 Qxd7 32. Rh2 Qb7 33. Rc2 Rb5 34. Nxf5 Rxf5 35. Rxd4 Rf8 36. Rdd2 Ne7 37. h5 Nf5 38. h6 Rxb2 39. hxg7+ Kxg7 40. Qc3+ Nd4 41. Rxb2 Qd5 42. Qh3 Re8 43. Rb6 Kg8 44. Kb2 Qf7 45. Qh6 Qxf4 46. Rh2 Re7 47. g6 Qxh6 48. Rxh6 Re2+ 49. Kc3 hxg6 50. Rhxg6+ Kf7 51. Rbf6+ Ke7 52. Ra6 Ne6 53. a4 Kd7 54. a5 Nc7 55. Ra7 Re7 56. a6 Ke8 57. Rb7 Kf7 58. Rc6 Nd5+ 59. Kc4 1-0.

Nakamura — Anand, Sao Paolo, Brazil, September 2011

1. c4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 dxc4 7. e4 g5 8. Bg3 b5 9. Ne5 Nbd7 10. Nxc6 Qb6 11. d5 Bb7 12. a4 a6 13. Be2 Bxc6 14. dxc6 Qxc6 15. axb5 axb5 16. Rxa8+ Qxa8 17. O-O Qc6 18. e5 Nd5 19. Nxd5 Qxd5 20. Qa1 Bg7 21. Rd1 Qc5 22. Qa8+ Ke7 23. Qb7 Rd8 24. Bf3 Bxe5 25. Bxe5 Qxe5 26. Bc6 Kf6 27. Bxd7 Qxb2 28. Rf1 c3 29. Qc7 Ra8 30. Bxe6 fxe6 31. f4 Ra1 32. fxg5+ Kxg5 33. Qg7+ Kh5 34. Qf7+ Kg5 35. Qf6+ Kh5 36. Qf7+ Kg5 37. Qg7+ Kh5 38. Qf7+ Draw agreed.

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