- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The concept of the “deflection sacrifice” is relatively easy to grasp: If a piece or a pawn is carrying out a key defensive chore, whether it’s preventing mate or blocking a key pawn advance, it often is worthwhile sacrificing material to draw (or deflect) the defender from his post.

The concept is straightforward, but it has produced a myriad brilliant combinations over the years. The material offered up can range from a pawn to a queen, and the best deflection sacrifices exploit a defensive vulnerability that only the very best and most imaginative players can spot.

American GM Gata Kamsky, the last U.S. player in the field, was bounced from the ongoing FIDE World Cup knockout tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, last week courtesy of a stunning deflection offered up by Russian champion Peter Svidler. Kamsky already had lost the first game of their two-game knockout match and was forced to take chances he ordinarily might have shunned, but the Russian’s coup de grace here is a thing of beauty.

Kamsky picks one of the sharper Ruy Lopez lines and actually gets the open, unbalanced play he was seeking. With 17. e5!? Nd5 18. Bb1 g6 19. Bxh6, the American star even picks up a pawn, with his pieces buzzing around the Black king. But Svidler enjoys immense compensation in the form of his two magnificent bishops, which put relentless pressure on White’s king position in the final attack.

In for a penny, Kamsky goes in for a pound with the risky 20. exd6 Qxd6 21. Ne4 Qb4! (the queen pressures the queenside but now also can transfer quickly to the other flank as well) 22. Ba2?! (Bd2 Nxd4 23. Bxd4 Nxc2 24. Bxc2 Nxb4 is probably good for equality, but White, of necessity, plays for more) Nxd4 23. Nf6+ (probably not even bothering to hope that Black will fall for 23…Nxf6?? 24. Qxg6+ Kh8 25. Qg7 mate) Kh8, when 24. Qd3 falls short to 24…Nxf6 25. Bxf7 Nxf3+ 26. gxf3 Qh4 27. Qxg6 Rg8! and wins.

Thormann-Grunberg after 14...h5.
Thormann-Grunberg after 14…h5. more >

The tide already is turning when White walks into an inspired tactical shot: 24. Nxd4 Nxf6 25. Nc6?! (“winning” the exchange, but now the Black bishop pair take over) Qh4! 26. Nxb8 (what else? - 26. Be3 Rxe3! 27. fxe3 Re8 28. Rae1 Rxe3 29. Rxe3 Bxe3+ 30. Kh1 Ne4! sets up all manner of nasty forks) Re2!!, a marvelous variation on the deflection theme.

Why the rook offer? Black would like to play 26…Qg3 and mate on g2, exploiting the pinned White f-pawn. But with the White queen on c2, Kamsky could counter with 27. Nc6 Re2 28. Qc3! Bxf2+ 29. Kh1 Qxc3 30. bxc3 Bxc6 31. Bxf7, with some annoying complications. Black’s 26th move is thus designed to decoy the opposing queen from its watch on the c6-square.

There’s no good defense, as White can’t accept or decline the sacrifice. The finale: 27. Qc3 (an amusingly perverse ending comes in the line 27. Qxe2 Qg3! 28. Nc6 Bxc6 29. Bd5 Bxd5 30. Qe4 Bxe4 31. Ra8+ Bxa8 32. Bg7+ Kxg7 33. Rd1 and, at last, 33…Qxg2 mate) Rxf2 28. Nc6 (no better is 28. Be3 Rxg2+ 29. Kh1 Qxh3 mate) Rxf1+, and White resigned as 29. Kh2 (Kxf1 Qf2 mate) Rxa1 is hopeless.

Svidler has made it to the final four in the 128-player World Cup bracket, and faces Ukraine’s Ruslan Ponomariov in one semifinal match this week. Fellow Russian Alexander Grischuk takes on Ponomariov’s compatriot Vassily Ivanchuk for the other spot in the final.

Some of the great combinations in chess history rely on the deflection idea, often pulled off by players whose names might not be familiar to modern chess enthusiasts. The winner of today’s second game, one H. Thormann, doesn’t show up in any of the databases I can find, and even Google can’t place him (her?). But White clearly was well-versed in the deflection idea, because this short 19-mover, played against a former East German national champion, contains several prime specimens.

In a Najdorf Sicilian, White clearly is itching to get in the archetypal sacrifice on e6, but after 12. Qg4 (already eyeing 13. Nxe6 fxe6 14. Qxe6+ Be7 15. Qxe7 mate) Qxe5, the Black queen bars the way.

Three deflections in the next seven moves clear the way to mate: 13. Bxb5!? (probably premature, but White’s not looking back in the game) axb5 14. Ncxb5 h5? (see diagram; Black understandably overlooks White’s reply, but with 14…Rxa2! 15. Kb1 h5 16. Qh4 Ra4 17. Rhe1 Rxd4 18. Nxd4 Qc5, Thormann still must justify the sacrifice) 15. Nc7+!! Qxc7 (obviously forced) 16. Nxe6!, sacrificing the second knight now that the queen has been lured away.

A second knight deflection on the same square seals the deal: 16….Qe5 (fxe6? 17. Qxe6+ and mate next; 16…hxg4 17. Nxc7 mate) 17. Nc7+!! Qxc7 18. Qe2+ Ne5 (Qe5 19. Qxe5+ Nxe5 20. Rd8 mate; now the Black queen guards the knight on e5 and covers the d8-square, so…) 19. Qxe5+!, and Black gave up facing 19…Be7 (Qxe5 20. Rd8 mate!) 20. Qxc7 Bxg5+ 21. Kb1 Bc6 22. Rhe1+ Kf8 23. Qc8+ Be8 24. Rxe8 mate.

A marvelous concept brilliantly executed.

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