- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Having spent the bulk of my competitive playing career somewhere in the middle of the wall chart, I am firmly convinced that some of the highest drama at a chess tournament can be found on some of the lowest boards.

The top seeds and top scorers, isolated from the masses in their special rooms and roped-off areas, may be producing a higher-quality product, full of deep subtleties and quiet brilliance. But the battles are just as intense, the elation just as high and the heartbreaks just as bitter out where the lower-seeded masses are huddled. And in many cases, the most dramatic games can be found far from the top boards.

Case in point - the 74th Tata Steel Tournament, which wraps up this weekend in the famous chess city of Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands. The event’s premiere A section boasts some of the world’s top players, including world No. 1 GM Magnus Carlsen of Norway, former world champion Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, and America’s two top stars, Gata Kamsky and Hikara Nakamura.

But today’s games come from Tata’s B and C sections, which while not exactly weak feature an intriguing mix of established veterans and rising stars who once did or soon hope to claim a seat at the grown-ups’ table. Some of the best fighting chess at Wijk has been produced in the lower sections.

Local Dutch legend Jan Timman was perhaps the West’s best player in the decade after Bobby Fischer left the scene, qualifying for a shot at the world title in the early 1990s. Now 60, he is more active as a writer and journalist, but he remains a dangerous opponent when he does compete. His wins as he played in the B section at Tata include a 97-move queen-and-pawn ending triumph over Ukrainian GM Ilya Nyzhnyk, who at 15 is 45 years younger than the Dutchman.

Timman-Ernst after 22...Kf7.
Timman-Ernst after 22…Kf7. more >

His win over fellow Dutch GM Sipke Ernst was classic Timman — a forcefully played opening followed by a nice tactical sequence leading to victory. In a Reti, Black’s early attempts to force simplification backfire as he loses time engineering an exchange of queens and, after 15. e4 Be6 16. f4, suffers from a definite cramp and a lack of development.

White’s better-placed forces and the awkward position of Black’s king give Timman all he needs to obtain a winning bind: 17. e5 Bd5 18. e6! Bxe6 (Bxg2 19. exd7+ wins a piece) 19. Bxb7 Rb8 20. Bc6 g6 21. Nac4 Nc8 (Nxc4 22. Nxc4 and the Black a-pawn is lost) 22. Ne4 Kf7 (see diagram) 23. Ne5+! (Timman later said his position was so strong that lines such as the simpler 23. Be3 Bf5 24. Rfd1 Bxe4 25. dxe4 Ndb6 26. Rd8 Bg7 27. Rxh8 Bxh8 28. Bxc5 Nxc4 29. Bd5+ Kf8 30. Bxc4 were good enough to win, but the knight move is far more forcing), when both 23…Ke8 24. Nxc5 fxe5 25. Nxe6 and 23…fxe5 24. Ng5+ Kf6 25. fxe5+ Kxe5 26. Bf4+ Kf6 27. Nxe6 Kxe6 28. Bxd7+ Kxd7 29. Bxb8 are winning for White.

White recovers his pawn and then promptly sacrifices the exchange to secure the point: 26. d4 Rd8 27. Rxf5! gxf5 28. e6+ Kg6 (Kg8 29. Nd7 Nd6 30. Nxb8 Rxb8 31. Rxa7 Nxb5 32. Bxb5 Rxb5 33. Ra8+ Bf8 34. Bh6 and wins) 29. Nd7 Nd6 (Rxd7 30. exd7 Nd6 31. Rxa7) 30. Nxb8 Rxb8 31. Rxa7 Nxb5 32. Rxe7 Bh6 (Nd6, to prevent the coming bishop check, falls to 33. Bf4 Rd8 34. Rxg7+! Kxg7 35. e7 Rc8 36. Bxd6) Be8+, and Ernst, facing the loss of more material, resigned.

It ended in a draw, but the Round 4 battle between English GM Matthew Sadler and German IM Elisabeth Paehtz in the Tata C tournament nevertheless earned Game of the Day honors for the nerves and fighting spirit shown by both players. Sadler’s Modern Defense produces an old-fashioned slugging match in which White’s incautious 12. g4?! opens up her own king to a ferocious attack, leading to a desperate, adventure-filled monarchical march to the queen side.

Paehtz has to open things up with 21. Kd1 Bg7 22. f5!?, as 22. Kc1?! gxf4 23. Bxf4 Rxf4! 24. Rxf4 (Qxf4 Bh6 25. g5 Qxf4+ 26. Rxf4 Bxg5) Bh6 25. g5 Bxg5 26. Rf8+ Nxf8 27. Qxg5 Nf3 28. Qg2 Qf4+ 29. Kb1 Nd2+ 30. Kc1 Nb3+ 31. Kd1 Rh1+ 32. Bf1 Rxf1+ is one winning line for Black.

White gamely battles on with 29. Kc3 Bf6 30. Kb3! (the only chance jettisoning the rook to play for a counterattack) Bxg5 31. Bxg5 Qf7 32. Qa5, and Sadler lets the win slip away on 32…Qf3+? (b6! 33. Qa6+ [Qxa7?? Nc5+] Kb8 holds the fort) 33. c3 Qf8 (b6 34. Qxa7 Qf8 35. Bh4 Rg1 36. Nxb6+ Nxb6 37. Qxb6 also only gives Black equality) 34. Qxa7 Qd6 35. Nc5 Qb8, bringing defensive aid to the Black king, but allowing White to alternate threats on d8 and a8. After 36. Qa5 Qc7 (Nxc5+ 37. dxc5 b6 38. cxb6 Kb7 39. Be3, play is equal) 37. Qa8+ Qb8 38. Qa5 Qc7 39. Qa8+ Qb8 40. Qa5, the players agreed to the draw.

Timman-Ernst, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2012

1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 dxc4 5. O-O Nbd7 6. Qc2 Nb6 7. Na3 Qd5 8. b3 cxb3 9. axb3 Be6 10. b4 Qb3 11. Qxb3 Bxb3 12. b5 c5 13. d3 Nfd7 14. Nd2 Bd5 15. e4 Be6 16. f4 f6 17. e5 Bd5 18. e6 Bxe6 19. Bxb7 Rb8 20. Bc6 g6 21. Nac4 Nc8 22. Ne4 Kf7 23. Ne5+ Nxe5 24. fxe5 Bf5 25. Nxc5 Bg7 26. d4 Rd8 27. Rxf5 gxf5 28. e6+ Kg6 29. Nd7 Nd6 30. Nxb8 Rxb8 31. Rxa7 Nxb5 32. Rxe7 Bh6 33. Be8+ Black resigns.

Paehtz-Sadler, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2012

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