SANDS: Buzzer-beater clinches chess title for Texas Tech

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To the disappointment of basketball fans everywhere, this year’s hardwood version of the collegiate Final Four featured no buzzer-beaters, no last-minute 3-pointers to win the game. Happily, the collegiate chess version of the Final Four, won for the second straight year by the Texas Tech Knight Raiders earlier this month, offered a bit more excitement as the clocks ticked down on the decisive game.

Tied with rivals University of Texas-Dallas and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Tech GM Andrew Diamant appeared totally busted in his last-round game against UT-D IM Conrad Holt. “In a normal game, I would resign because my position was terrible,” Diamant later admitted in Chess Life Online.

After a series of second-best moves by Holt, however, Diamant dug in and found a way to force a draw with both players just seconds away from a time forfeit.

The half-point proved the final margin of victory, giving the Raiders their second straight President’s Cup.

In a Caro-Kann Panov-Botvinnik Attack, Diamant as White is holding his own until 18. Qe2 Rfe8 19. Rad1?! (giving up the a-pawn is no big loss for now, but White shouldn’t let Black get his cramping next move in for free) d4 20. Bd2 Bxa2 21. Qe4 g6 22. Qf4 Qc5, when it might have been time for 23. Qxh6!? Nxe5 24. Bg5 Qf8 25. Qh4 f6 26. Rxe5!? fxe5 (Rxe5? 27. Bxf6 Rh5 28. Qg3 Qxf6 29. Qxb8+ and wins) 27. Bxg6 Qg7 28. Be4, with real compensation for the sacrificed exchange.

But after 23. Rc1?! Qf8 24. Qg3 Qg7, White’s attack fizzles, and by 31. Rxc6 Rxb4, Holt has a material edge and a distinct initiative. White’s game may not be resignable, but after 32. e6 (Bxb4? Qxb4 33. Qe3 [Rd1 Be4] d2 34. Rd1 Rd3 35. Qe2 Qd4+ 36. Kh1 Re3 37. Qf1 Qa4 38. Rb6 Qxd1! 39. Qxd1 Re1+ 40. Qxe1 dxe1=Q mate) Bxe6 33. Rcxe6? (trying — and failing — to change the dynamic of the position) fxe6 34. Qg4 Rb6! 35. Qxg6+ Qg7, White is on the verge of losing.

But Holt later admitted he lost the thread of the game, while Diamant made the very most of his chances: 36. … Rb2? (the solid 36. … Kh7 was better) 37. Rxe6! Rb6 (Rxd2 38. Rg6 Re2 39. Qxh6 Rd7 40. Kf1 Ree7 41. Rxg7+ Rxg7 42. Qh5 is equal) 38. Re3 Rg6 39. Qf3 Qa1+ 40. Re1 Qb2 41. Qf2 Qd4 42. Re8+!, another inspired move that makes the winning side’s chore much harder.

With 47. Qe5!, the White queen takes up a dominating central post, and when the bishop also lines up on the long diagonal, Black’s winning edge has vanished. In the final position, Black agrees to the draw because there’s no hope of an endgame breakthrough in lines such as 57. … Qg6 58. Qxg7+ Qxg7 59. Be5 h5 60. Bxg7+ Kxg7 61. Kf2 Kf6 62. Ke3 Kf5 63. Ke3 Kf5 64. Kg2 Kxf4 65. Kh2 Kg4 66. Kh1 Kg3 67. Kg1 h3 68. Kh1.

It’s the game’s most spectacular tactical motif — the queen sacrifice — and back in the day, it typically was employed to force checkmate or obtain an overwhelming positional or material advantage. These days, however, a queen sac may be employed (just as brilliantly) to win a measly pawn.

That was the payout for rising Chinese star Yu Yangyi against fellow GM Li Shilong at the Chinese Championship tournament that wrapped up Saturday in Xinghua. White’s inspired idea starting at Move 31 contains multiple moving parts, and when the smoke finally clears six moves later, Yu’s extra pawn is enough to clinch the point.

This Breyer Ruy Lopez line has been analyzed in deep detail, and the real battle doesn’t even start until 23. Ra2 Rab8!? (trading the a-file for the b-file proves to be a bad swap here) 24. axb5 axb5 25. Ra5 Bc8 26. Rfa1 Bd7 27. Ra7 Qd8 28. Nf3 Ng8 29. Qe3, when Black falls into a subtle trap: 29. … f5?! 30. exf5 gxf5 (see diagram), setting up the spectacular sequence to come.

A slew of tactical ideas gets a workout in the ensuing tactical dust-up - 31. Nxe5! (piece sacrifice) f4! (pawn fork; 31. … dxe5? 32. Qxc5 simply hands White a pawn) 32. Qxc5!! (queen sacrifice; 32. Qd4? dxe5 33. Qxc5 fxg3 34. fxg3 is fine for Black) dxc5 33. Rxd7 (double attack, hitting the queen and threatening mate on h7) Qxd7 (Nf6 34. Rxd8 Rbxd8 35. Ne4 Rxd5 36. Nxf6 Rxf6 37. Ra8+ Kg7 38. Ra7+ Kh8 [Kf8 39. Nd7+] 39. Rxh7+ Kg8 40. Rh5 and wins) 34. Nxd7 (knight fork) fxg3 35. Nxf8 gxf2+ (zwischenzug) 36. Kxf2 Rxf8+ 37. Ke3. The pyrotechnics are over, and White has emerged a decisive pawn to the good, along with a bishop that dominates the Black knight.

After 46. h4 Kf8 47. g5, Li resigns, as White rolls up the Black position after 47. … Rd6 48. g6 Nd8 49. Ke5 Rb6 50. Ra8 Ke7 51. d6+ Rxd6 52. Ra7+ Ke8 53. Kxd6 and wins.

Yu, just 17, would finish the tournament alone in second behind GM Ding Liren, who at 19 already has notched his third national title.

Diamant-Holt, President’s Cup College Final Four, April 2012

1. c4 c6 2. e4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nf3 Bb4 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Bd2 Nc6 9. Bd3 O-O 10. O-O Be7 11. Nxd5 exd5 12. Qb3 Bf6 13. Bc3 Rb8 14. Rfe1 Be6 15. Qc2 h6 16. Ne5 Bxe5 17. dxe5 Qb6 18. Qe2 Rfe8 19. Rad1 d4 20. Bd2 Bxa2 21. Qe4 g6 22. Qf4 Qc5 23. Rc1 Qf8 24. Qg3 Qg7 25. f4 Be6 26. Be4 Bf5 27. Bd5 Red8 28. Qf3 d3 29. Bxc6 bxc6 30. b4 Qf8 31. Rxc6 Rxb4 32. e6 Bxe6 33. Rcxe6 fxe6 34. Qg4 Rb6 35. Qxg6+ Qg7 36. Qh5 Rb2 37. Rxe6 Rb6 38. Re3 Rg6 39. Qf3 Qa1+ 40. Re1 Qb2 41. Qf2 Qd4 42. Re8+ Kf7 43. Rxd8 Qxd8 44. Qxa7+ Kg8 45. Qa2+ Kh7 46. Qf7+ Rg7 47. Qf5+ Kh8 48. Qe5 Qb6+ 49. Kf1 Qc6 50. Bc3 Qxg2+ 51. Ke1 Qg1+ 52. Kd2 Qxh2+ 53. Kxd3 Qg3+ 54. Ke2 Qg4+ 55. Ke1 Qg1+ 56. Ke2 Qg2+ 57. Ke1 Draw agreed.

Yu-Li, Chinese National Championships, April 2012

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Nb8 10. d4 Nbd7 11. Nbd2 Bb7 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 Bf8 14. Ng3 g6 15. a4 c5 16. d5 c4 17. Be3 Nc5 18. Qd2 Qc7 19. Bh6 Bxh6 20. Qxh6 Qe7 21. Nh2 Kh8 22. Rf1 Rf8 23. Ra2 Rab8 24. axb5 axb5 25. Ra5 Bc8 26. Rfa1 Bd7 27. Ra7 Qd8 28. Nf3 Ng8 29. Qe3 f5 30. exf5 gxf5 31. Nxe5 f4 32. Qxc5 dxc5 33. Rxd7 Qxd7 34. Nxd7
fxg3 35. Nxf8 gxf2+ 36. Kxf2 Rxf8+ 37. Ke3 Re8+ 38. Kf3 Rf8+ 39. Kg3 Rd8 40. Rd1 Rd6 41. Kf4 Nh6 42. Bf5 Rf6 43. g4 Nf7 44. Ra1 h6 45. Ra7 Kg8 46. h4 Kf8 47. g5 Black resigns.

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

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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