- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Two ex-champions are back atop the heap in American chess and we finally got a little action in the world title match as well, in what proved to be an exceptionally eventful week for the game.

Two of the fiercest rivalries in the U.S. game were on display at the U.S. national championships in St. Louis. On the men’s side, GM Hikaru Nakamura defeated GM Gata Kamsky in a showdown Round 10 game on his way to reclaiming the national title belt he last won in 2009, while denying Kamsky his third consecutive crown.

The drama was even more intense in the women’s competition, with New York IM Irina Krush winning her fourth American title by dethroning IM Anna Zatonskih, the 2011 champion, in a two-game rapid playoff Sunday. Krush and Zatonskih have traded the title between them the last four years, and Krush had to survive a dead busted position in the second rapid game to reclaim the title.

The game of the tournament came when Kamsky and Nakamura hooked up in the 10th and penultimate round. Kamsky was ahead by a half-point and was cruising following three straight wins, but Nakamura was able to achieve an unbalanced position, exploit his opponent’s time pressure and score a very nice win.

Black gets easy development and good queenside pressure out of this Sicilian Najdorf, even winning a pawn on Move 23. Kamsky’s attempt to recover the pawn ends up costing him the exchange, as his two knights get in each other’s way on 32. Nxd6 Rd8 33. b4 Nd3 34. Nxb7 Nxe1+ 35. Rxe1 Ra8.

Kamsky-Nakamura after 41. Kxh5.
Kamsky-Nakamura after 41. Kxh5. more >

Black is winning, but the position presents major technical difficulties, with Nakamura admitting later that he feared White could sacrifice a piece of the a-pawn and attempt to build a kingside fortress. Ironically, it is that lowly Black a-pawn that proves decisive.

Thus: 40. Kh4? (Nakamura later tagged this the losing move, though 40. Nxb4 Rxb4 41. Nd6 Kf6! [Rf8?! 42. Ra7] 42. Nxf7 Ra4 43. Nd6 Rxa5 44. Rxh7 Kg6 45. Re7 Rf8 also leaves Black in command) Ra7 41. Kxh5 (see diagram; Black now cleverly returns his bonus material to simplify to a winning ending) Rxd5! 42. exd5 Bxa5 43. Re7 (d6 Bxc7 44. dxc7 Ra8 45. Nd6 a5 46. c8=Q Rxc8 47. Nxc8 a4, and the pawn can’t be caught) Bb6 44. d6 a5, and the pawn is off and running.

The short range of his knight fatally hampers White in the finale: 45. Kg5 (Nd8 Kf8! 46. Rxa7 Bxa7 47. Nc6 Bb6 48. d7 a4 49. d8=Q+ Bxd8 50. Nxd8 a3 51. Nc6 a2 and wins) a4 46. Kf5 a3 47. Nd8 a2 48. Ne6+ Kh6 49. Ng5 a1=Q 50. Nxf7+ Kg7, and White resigns as his desperation attack is repulsed after 51. Nxe5+ Rxe7 52. dxe7 Qa4.

Nakamura would follow up that performance with a nice win over Seattle GM Yasser Seirawan (himself a former U.S. champion) in the final round for an undefeated score of 8 1/2-2 1/2, a full point ahead of Kamsky.

We were about to give up on the world title match being staged in Moscow this month, as champion Viswanathan Anand of India and challenger Boris Gelfand of Israel played six largely uninspiring draws to start their scheduled 12-game bout. But then the underdog Gelfand staggered the champ in Sunday’s Game 7 with a dominating win, only to be trumped Monday by Anand’s shocking bounce-back miniature in just 17 moves.

In Game 7, Gelfand as White varied first with 6. c5 (instead of the previous 6. Qc2), and the game’s character, oddly, is set just four moves later with 10. Rc1 cxd4?! 11. exd4 - Anand’s light-squared bishop will never find a route into the game, and in the end, will be captured on its home square.

Black’s struggles to generate activity only play into Gelfand’s hands, as his positional edge increases on 21. Na4 Ne4?! 22. Rxc8+! (well-timed, as now 22. … Rxc8? 23. Rxc8+ Bxc8 24. Bxe4 dxe4 25. Qxe4 wins a pawn with no compensation for Black) Bxc8 23. Qc2 g5? (23. … Bb7 24. Nc5 Rc8 25. b4 Qb6 26. Qb3 Ndxc5 27. dxc5 Qd8 was tougher) 24. Qc7 Qxc7 25. Rxc7, when 25. … Nef6 24. Nc5 Nxc5 25. dxc5 Ne8 26. Ra7 Kg7 29. Ne5 is much better for White.

Anand leaves his ill-starred bishop to its fate as he tries desperately to drum up counterplay: 30. Ra7 Nb4 31. Ne5 Nc2 (what else?) 32. Nc6 Rxb2 33. Rc7, suffocating the bishop. White avoids one last trap in wrapping up the first victory of the championship: 36. Rc7+ Kh8 37. Ne5! e2 38. Nxe6! (and not 38. Ng6+ Kg8 39. Nxe6?? Rh1+! 40. Kxh1 e1=Q+ 41. Kh2 Qxe6, winning for Black), and Anand resigned, facing the killer threat of 39. Ng6+ Kg8 40. Rg7 mate.

An angry Anand got his revenge right away, as Gelfand unwisely tried to mix it up tactically in the very next game. It’s not clear when White first sees the trap he will spring on his opponent, but Black falls hook, line and sinker on 11. exf5! Bxf5 12. g4 Re8+ 13. Kd1 Bxb1 14. Rxb1 Qf6?? 15. gxh5! Qxf3+ (when a world champion offers you a free exchange and a pawn, you should decline on principle) 16. Kc2 Qxh1 17. Qf2! - springing the trap.

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