The fourth annual London Chess Classic is shaping up as one of the best events in many a year, but it was a dark day for British chess when the players sat down for Thursday's Round 4. All three Britons in the field — GMs Michael Adams, Gawain Jones and Luke McShane — went down to defeat on a rare day when every game ended in a decisive result.
The losses were not particularly shocking: Adams was beaten by Norway's Magnus Carlsen, the world's top-rated player; Jones lost to reigning world champ Viswanathan Anand of India; and — in one of the best-played games of the event so far — McShane was the victim of a pair of inspired exchange sacrifices engineered by former world champ Vladimir Kramnik. The Russian was in top form, twice blindsiding his opponent with rook sacrifices that kept him firmly in control of the play.
After some high-level theory in a QGD Slav, McShane actually turns down White's first offer of the exchange after 16. Nce3 Nb3 17. a5! Rc8!, as Kramnik said later 17 ... Nxa1!? 18. Qa4+ Bd7 19. Qxa1 leads to complex play where White has good chances. But Black doesn't get a right of refusal just three moves later: 20. Rxc4! (a move Black admitted he underestimated, taking away the bishop that guards the critical central light squares) Bxc4 21. Nexc4 Nb5 22. Qb1 Qd4 23. Rd1 Qc5 24. e3 Be7 25. Qf5!, a great square for the queen made accessible by the absence of Black's bishop.
The same principle — trading a rook for a key defensive minor piece — comes into play even more forcefully in the game's deciding sequence: 29. Ne3 f5 (Kramnik threatened 30. Rxd4! exd4 31. Nf5 mate) 30. Qh3+ Kg7 31. Rxd4! exd4 32. Nxf5+ Kf8 33. Qh6+ Ke8 34. Bxf7+! (Qg7!? Rf8 35. Bb3 Kd8 36. Nd5 Qxa5 37. Nfxe7 Qe1+ 38. Kg2 Qxe4+ is unnecessarily messy), when a king hunt ensues if Black takes the bait with 34 ... Kxf7 35. Qg7+ Ke6 36. Nxd4+ Kd6 37. Qh6+ Ke5 38. Nf3+ Kxe4 39. Qf4+ Kd3 40. Ne5+ Kc2 41. Qe4+ Kb3 42. Qa4+ Kxb2 43. Nd3+ and wins.
White wins back one exchange after 36. Nxd4 (threatening a housecleaning fork at f6) Rc6 37. Nxc6+ bxc6 38. Qg4!, and Kramnik gains three pawns and a knight for the rook with his attack showing no signs of flagging.
McShane misses one last chance to complicate right at the first time control with 40 ... Bg5! 41. Nd7+ Kc8!, with some chances of organizing a defense, and his creaky position gives way on 42. Kg2! Bd6 (Qd6 43. Qxd6+ Bxd6 44. Nd7+ Kc7 45. Nxf8 Bxf8 46. e5 Bb4 47. f4 is an easily won ending) 43. b4! (the Black queen must give up her defense of either c6 or d6) Qd4 44. Qxc6 Ka7 45. Kh3 Qd1 (White's threat was 46. Be8! Rxe8 47. Qd7+ Kb8 48. Qxe8+ Kc7 49. Qc8 mate) 46. Nc8+ Rxc8 (Kb8 47. Qb6+ Kxc8 48. Be6 mate) 47. Qxc8 Qf1+ 48. Kg4 h5+ 49. Kxh5, and one White path to victory is 49 ... Qe2+ 50. g4 Qxe4 51. Qd7+ Qb7 52. Qxb7+ Kxb7 53. g5 and wins; McShane resigned.
The peerless Cuban world champion, Jose Raoul Capablanca, used to call them "petite combinaisons" — tiny but stinging tactical ideas employed in the service of a grander positional strategy. Capablanca routinely would find a five-move-deep combination, with multiple subvariations, designed merely to limit the scope of his opponent's bishop or deprive an enemy knight of a more desirable square.
Fittingly, it was the littlest player in the match who used the petite combinaison concept to best advantage in the Seattle Sluggers' upset victory in the U.S. Chess League championship match Dec. 1 against the Philadelphia Inventors. The 12-year-old NM defeated higher-rated master Richard Costigan of Philadelphia to help power the Sluggers to a 3-1 match victory and their first USCL title, helped by a couple of cute tactical tricks to translate his positional advantage into a full point.
This Exchange Slav, with the early release of the central tension, takes on a very different character from Kramnik-McShane, and Feng as White appears happy to nurse a minimal advantage. But Black's 11. f4 g6?! was unnecessary and weakening at the same time, and with 15. Rc1 Bd7 16. Qe2 (preparing a hard-to-contain central break with e3-e4) Qa7 17. Na4!, White puts a clamp on c5 and can claim clear positional superiority.
In classic Capablanca style, White slowly builds on his positional edge and uses minitactics to convert one advantage to another: 28. Be5 Qf7 29. Qxf7+ Bxf7 30. Ra5 Rc8 31. Kf2! (much cleaner than 31. Rxa6?! Rc1+ 32. Kf2 Rb1 33. Ke3 Rxb2 34. g4, though even here White is better) Rc6 32. Rxd5! — a sterling example of a little combination in pursuit of bigger strategic game.
After 32 ... Rc2+ (one key point is that 32 ... Bxd5 33. Bxd5+ Re6? 34. Bxg7 is winning for White) 33. Bxc2 Bxd5 34. Bxg7 Kxg7 35. Ke3, Black is lost on 35 ... Bxa2 36. b3 a5 37. Kxe4. Costigan tries to build a central fortress, but another shot from Feng upsets his hopes.
Thus: 36. b3 Kf5 (see diagram) 37. Bxe4+! Bxe4 38. g4+ Kxg4 39. Kxe4 h5 (Kg5 40. Ke5 and 39 ... Kh3 40. d5 Kxh2 41. d6 are both hopeless) 40. d5, and Black resigns as the pawn must queen.
Kramnik-McShane, London Chess Classic, December 2012
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6 5. g3 dxc4 6. a4 e6 7. Bg2 c5 8. O-O cxd4 9. Nxd4 Nbd7 10. Nc2 Qc7 11. Bf4 e5 12. Bd2 Nc5 13. Bg5 Be6 14. Bxf6 gxf6 15. Nd5 Qd8 16. Nce3 Nb3 17. a5 Rc8 18. Ra4 Nd4 19. Nb6 Rc7 20. Rxc4 Bxc4 21. Nexc4 Nb5 22. Qb1 Qd4 23. Rd1 Qc5 24. e3 Be7 25. Qf5 Kf8 26. Bd5 Kg7 27. Qg4+ Kh6 28. e4 Nd4 29. Ne3 f5 30. Qh3+ Kg7 31. Rxd4 exd4 32. Nxf5+ Kf8 33. Qh6+ Ke8 34. Bxf7+ Kd8 35. Qg7 Rf8 36. Nxd4 Rc6 37. Nxc6+ bxc6 38. Qg4 Kc7 39. Qd7+ Kb8 40. Qd2 Kc7 41. Qd7+ Kb8 42. Kg2 Bd6 43. b4 Qd4 44. Qxc6 Ka7 45. Kh3 Qd1 46. Nc8+ Rxc8 47. Qxc8 Qf1+ 48. Kg4 h5+ 49. Kxh5 Black resigns.
Feng-Costigan, Seattle vs. Philadelphia, U.S. Chess League Finals, December 2012
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bf4 e6 7. e3 Bd6 8. Bg3 0-0 9. Bd3 a6 10. Ne5 Qc7 11. f4 g6 12. Bh4 Ne8 13. 0-0 f6 14. Nxc6 bxc6 15. Rc1 Bd7 16. Qe2 Qa7 17. Na4 Ng7 18. Nc5 Bc8 19. e4 e5 20. exd5 cxd5 21. fxe5 fxe5 22. Rxf8+ Kxf8 23. Bg3 Bxc5 24. Rxc5 e4 25. Bc2 Be6 26. Bb3 Rd8 27. Qf1+ Kg8 28. Be5 Qf7 29. Qxf7+ Bxf7 30. Ra5 Rc8 31. Kf2 Rc6 32. Rxd5 Rc2+ 33. Bxc2 Bxd5 34. Bxg7 Kxg7 35. Ke3 Kf6 36. b3 Kf5 37. Bxe4+ Bxe4 38. g4+ Kxg4 39. Kxe4 h5 40. d5 Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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