- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2012

‘Tis the season to roll up the board, pack up the pieces and put some fresh batteries in the old chess clock: The 39th annual Eastern Open, a four-day extravaganza, kicks off Dec. 27 at its longtime home at the Westin Washington D.C. City Center hotel at 1400 M St. NW.

The traditional year-end event typically features a grandmaster or three, and this year comes with $17,500 in guaranteed prizes. There will be an open section and four class sections, and chess books and paraphernalia for sale at the site. In addition, longtime local FM Allan Savage will give a free lecture, “Imposing Your Will: Universal Defenses With the Black Pieces,” on Dec. 27 from 10 a.m. to noon.

Spectating is free, and game prizes will be given for brilliancies, upsets and opening novelties. Check out the tournament website at www.easternopenchess.com/html/eastern_open.html for more information.

He not only won — convincingly — the strongest tournament of the year, but Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen made this month’s London Chess Classic even more memorable by earning the highest official rating ever recorded. With his 6½-1½ score against a world-class field, a half-point clear of former world champion Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, Carlsen gained 13 points to put his rating at a stratospheric 2861.4, 10 points higher than the record held by Garry Kasparov.

The modern FIDE ratings system, in place since 1970, isn’t an infallible marker, and it’s not quite possible to say how the 22-year-old Norwegian might have fared head-to-head against past greats such as Capablanca, Alekhine and Fischer. Still, it’s an impressive achievement and makes Carlsen a heavy favorite to qualify next year for the world title match against reigning champion Viswanathan Anand of India, who is ranked 100 points lower and could manage only a level 4-4 score in London.

Despite his youth, Carlsen is something of an “old soul,” an almost frighteningly patient and determined opponent who seems just as happy to grind down a rival in 80 moves as checkmate him in 18. That patience and determination were on display in his Round 6 win at London over Hungarian GM Judit Polgar, herself a former wunderkind and still a dangerous player at the elite level.

Carlsen as White is content to maneuver quietly for the first 20 moves of their English Hedgehog, but springs to life the instant Black gives him an opening: 22. Red1 g6?! (Polgar’s game was cramped but solid, but this move just creates permanent weaknesses as f6 and h6 that White can exploit) 23. e5! Bc6 (dxe5 24. fxe5 Bxf3 25. Nxf3 Red8 26. Nb5, with more space and pressure on the d-file) 24. Bd4 Red8 25. Bxc6 Rxc6 26. Nf3 dxe5 27. fxe5 Red8 28. Ne4, and the holes on Black’s kingside begin to be felt.

After 32. Qxd2, Black can’t afford to snatch the pawn because 32Rxc4 33. Rxc4 Qxc4 34. Ng4 Qd5 35. Nh6+ Kg7 36. Rxf7+ Kh8 37. Rf1 leaves White significantly better. The White rooks invade decisively anyway after 37. Qf2 Qd4 38. c5!? (perhaps a little hasty, as 38. Rf1 Qxf2+ 39. R1xf2 Nd7 40. Re7 Ne5 41. Nf7+ Nxf7 42. Rfxf7 locks down Black’s game without drama) bxc5 39. Qxd4+ Rxd4 40. Rxc5, when Carlsen wins on 40Rxc5 41. bxc5 e5 42. c6! (Rxf8+?! Kg7 43. Rf7+ Kxh6 44. c6 Rc4 leaves Black with decent drawing chances) Rc4 43. Ng4! Ne6 (Rxg4 44. Rxf8+ Kg7 45. c7 and wins) 44. Nf6 Ng5, and the Black king and knight are paralyzed on 45. Rc7 Rc1+ 46. Kf2 Rc2+ 47. Ke3 Rxh2 48. Re7 Rc2 49. c7 and wins.

With Black tied down, Carlsen’s king joins the party with decisive impact: 50. Kf4 h6 51. Ke5 a5 52. bxa5 Ra8 53. a6, and Black resigned facing lines such as 53g5 54. a7 h5 55. Rb7 Ng6+ 55. Kd6 Nf8 57. Nh7! Nxh7 58. Rb8+ and the pawn will queen.

For the last-minute holiday shopper, we offer up Mikhail Tal, the gift that keeps on giving. The former Latvian world champion was one of the most thrilling tacticians in the history of the game and perhaps has inspired more chess books about his exploits than any other player not named Bobby Fischer.

The latest, from German GM Karsten Muller and journalist Raymund Stolze for New in Chess, is “The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal: Learn from the Legend” (332 pages, $28.95), which offers training lessons, impressionistic essays and famous combinations from the games of the Magician of Riga.

The compilation as a whole is a bit uneven, but any book that presents an excuse to rediscover such pleasures as Tal’s win over Dutch champion Jan Hein Donner, taken from a 1968 tournament, has a lot going for it.

The authors pick up this Winawer French from the diagrammed position after 19Nb6, with White already down two pawns and seeking a way to get at Black’s king caught in the center of the board.

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