- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The 2012 class for the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis is small but select: Alex Yermolinsky, the St. Petersburg-born grandmaster now living in South Dakota, will become the 48th member of the Hall of Fame in a ceremony Tuesday, joining champions of the American game including Paul Morphy, Bobby Fischer and Benjamin Franklin.

The 54-year-old Yermolinsky is no stranger to the Washington chess scene or to this column, having won multiple Eastern Opens and nearly capturing the 1997 U.S. Open played in Alexandria. For a time in the mid- to late-1990s, “The Yerminator” seemed to be winning virtually every open Swiss event that mattered, including three World Opens.

After emigrating from the Soviet Union in 1989, he played on several U.S. Olympiad teams. He was twice national champion as well, sharing the title with GM Alex Shabalov in 1993 and winning the title outright three years later. He has written two books, including the widely praised “The Road to Chess Improvement,” one of the most candid and instructive game collections ever put together by a top player. Married to WGM Camilla Baginskaite, one of the country’s strongest female players, Yermolinsky now works with the South Dakota Chess Association as a coach, lecturer and tournament director.

Despite his successes, Yermolinsky was something of a late bloomer by chess standards, earning his grandmaster title in 1992 at the age of 34. In honor of his induction, we have a pair of entertaining miniatures from his Soviet days, both packing a lot of attractive tactics into a bare minimum of moves.

Against IM Anatoly Shvedchikov (now best known as the trainer of Vietnamese GM Le Quang Liem) at an event in Odessa in 1981, Yermolinsky goes after White’s solid Saemisch King’s Indian set-up with a pawn sacrifice that lures his opponent to his doom: 11. b3?! (the start of White’s woes, as Black’s KID bishop now can run free on the long diagonal) Ne5 12. Bc2 b5!? (aggressive play that White badly underestimates) 13. cxb5 axb5 14. Nxb5 Qe8!, hitting the knight but also eyeing mischief along the e-file.

It’s over quickly on 15. Nc7 (plowing forward, though even craven retreat with 15. Nec3 Neg4! 16. fxg4 Nxg4 17. Be4 [0-0 Qxe3+ 18. Kh1 Bxc3] Nxe3 18. Qf3 Ba6 19. Qxe3 Bxb5 20. a4 Bxc3+ 21. Qxc3 Qxe4+ is better for Black) Nxf3+ 16. gxf3 (there’s no salvation in 16. Kf2 Ng4+! 17. Kg3 [Kxf3 Qxe3 mate] Qxe3 18. gxf3 Qf2+ 19. Kf4 [Kh3 Ne3+ with mate to follow] Bh6+ 20. Ke4 Bf5 mate) Qxe3 17. Nxa8 (throwing in the towel, though the marginally better 17. Qd2 Qe5 18. 0-0 Rb8 leaves the White knight trapped) Ne4! 18. Qd3 (Bxe4 Bc3+ 19. Qd2 Bxd2+ 20. Kd1 [Kf1 Bh3 mate] Bb4 21. Kc2 Qxe2+ 22. Kb1 Ba3 23. Bc2 Bf5 leads again to mate) Bc3+, and White resigns as both 19. Kf1 Bh3 and 19. Kd2 Nf2 are mate.

Yermolinsky needed the same number of moves to dispatch Armenian GM Ashot Anastasian at a 1987 tournament in Pavlodar, Russia, this time playing the Black side of the tricky Budapest Gambit. His opponent tries to steer the play to more placid waters, only to crash on a hidden shoal.

Black’s pieces are applying annoying pressure, but Anastasian is holding things together until 16. Qxe2 Rde8! (a sly little move with a nasty sting) 17. Na4?? (White logically would like to do away with the bishop on c5, but 17. f3 should have been played first) Ng4! 18. h3 (see diagram; this seems to deal with Black’s crude mate threat, but Yermolinsky has another idea in mind) Rxe3!!.

White resigns as he only can delay the inevitable on 19. fxe3 Qg3! 20. hxg4 hxg4+ 21. Kg1 Bxe3+ 22. Rf2 Qh2+ 23. Kf1 Qh1 mate.

St. Louis has been a busy place this month for chess — French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave took clear first in the sixth annual Spice Cup GM Tournament at the city’s Webster University, a half-point ahead of Vietnam’s Le and GM Ling Diren of China. The winner’s best game came against tail-ender GM Georg Meier of Germany.

Some ill-judged queenside pawn-hunting by White in this Symmetrical English leaves Meier’s queen on a precarious perch after 18. Bg5?! (Rb1 Rb6 19. Qa5 Bg4 20. h3 was safer) Rb6 19. Qa5, as Black will continually exploit discovered attacks on the queen when the rook moves.

Vachier-Lagrave strikes with 19. … Bxf2+! 20. Kf1 (Kxf2 Ng4+ 21. Bxg4 [Kg1 Qxg5; 21. Kg3 Qxg5 22. Bxg4 Qe3+ 23. Kh4 Rh6+ 24. Bh5 g5 mate] Rxb2+ 22. Nxe2 Qxa5, a first illustration of the White queen’s unfortunate location) e3 21. Ne4 (d6 h6 22. Bf4 Rxb2 23. Qxd8+ Rxd8 24. Rab1 Rc2 is better for Black) Rc2!, when Black wins on 22. Bxf6 gxf6 23. Qxa7 Rxe2! 24. Kxe2 Bg4+ 25. Kf1 [Kd3 Qxd5+] e2+.

But the constant threat of … Rb8xb2+ allows the other Black rook to rampage along the seventh rank after the game’s 22. Nxf2 Rxe2! (exf2? 23. Rd2 Rxd2 24. Qxd2 Qb8 25. Bf4 throws away Black’s advantage) 23. Nd3 (Kxe2 Rxb2+) Rxg2! 24. Bxe3 Bh3, and Meier’s king is caught in a mating net.

The finale: 25. Nf4 Ng4 26. Bxb6 (losing quickly, but the queen is lost once again on 26. Rd3 Rxh2+ 27. Nxh3 Rf6+ 28. Kg1 Qxa5) Nxh2+ 27. Ke1 Qh4+, and White resigns in view of 28. Bf2 Qxf2 mate.

Story Continues →