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SANDS: In defeat, Kramnik joins a storied chess group
Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen’s moonwalking gambit getting ahead while moving backward inspires some thoughts on some of the game’s most famous losses over the years.
As we noted here last week, the FIDE Candidates Tournament in London ended in bizarre fashion, with Carlsen and top rival Vladimir Kramnik of Russia tied for the lead going into the final round. When Carlsen, playing White, went down to defeat to Russian GM Peter Svidler, Kramnik needed only a draw in his game against Ukraine’s Vassily Ivanchuk to advance to a date later this year with world champion Viswanathan Anand of India.
But Ivanchuk, who had defeated Carlsen two rounds earlier, downed Kramnik with some inspired play; because Carlsen had the better tiebreaks, he qualified through the back door for the title match.
Kramnik is not the first great player to see his ambitions dashed based on the outcome of a single game.
Austrian Carl Schlechter lost the 10th and last game of his 1910 title match with German champion Emanuel Lasker, allowing Lasker to retain his crown for another eight years. Reuben Fine, one of the greatest American players of the first half of the 20th century, lost his last best chance at a U.S. national title in 1944 because of a spectacular upset at the hands of Arnold Denker; four years later, Fine gave up competitive chess for good.
The great David Bronstein lost a heartbreaking ending against fellow Soviet star Mikhail Botvinnik in the penultimate game of their 1950 match, costing him his only shot at the world title. And Anatoly Karpov missed his best chance to reclaim the crown from his archrival Garry Kasparov in 1987, when Kasparov won the 24th and final game to notch the match at 12-12 and draw the match.
Against Ivanchuk in London, Kramnik was handicapped from the start because he could not know whether a win or a draw was enough to win the tournament. His uncharacteristic choice of the Pirc Defense was clearly an attempt to create an unbalanced game.
Ivanchuk may not have been prepared for the opening, but his subtle 12. Qc1! Kh7 13. Bc5 Re8 14. Rd1 is enough to give White a major space advantage and a clear initiative. Black makes it interesting with 16…Nd8!, heading for f4, but Kramnik admitted later he had trouble staying focused on his game while monitoring Svidler-Carlsen just a few paces away.
White temporarily sacrifices a pawn with 24. g3!, but can always regain it given the weakness of Black’s a-pawn on the half-open file. Black’s game deteriorates as his time pressure increases: 35. Rxa6 Rc8 36. Rh1 Rc7 37. Bxe6 Rxe6 38. b5 Rb7 (cxb5 39. Rxe6 fxe6 40. Qxe6+ Kh7 41. h5 g5 42. Qg6+ Kg8 43. Bxg5 is winning) 39. b6 c5 40. Rb1 Bf8 41. Qd5 Qb8 42. Rab1, when 42…Rbxb6 43. Ra8 Qc7 44. R1a7 Qc6 45. Bh6 wins.
But after 42…Rd6, Ivanchuk delivers the killing blow with 43. Ra8! Rxd5 44. Rxb8 Rxb8 45. exd5 Bd6 (one point is that 45…Rxb6 loses to 46. Ra8 Kg7 47. Rxf8! Kxf8 48. Bxc5+) 46. Ra6 Rb7 47. Kf1 and Black resigned the White king can march unimpeded to c6, breaking the Black blockade. A very tough loss for Kramnik.
He was a noted philanthropist, served in the Navy at Normandy and Guadalcanal in World War II, and was a prime force behind the success of the much-missed hardware chain Hechinger Co. But we’d like to take a moment to honor the chess legacy of former Hechinger Chairman Richard England, who passed away last week at the age of 93. England was the driving force behind Chess Challenge in DC, a nonprofit group that uses chess instruction to promote the academic, social, and leadership development of youth in the District of Columbia.
Begun in 2008 with two pilot programs, Chess Challenge in the current academic year is operating in 22 public schools, charter schools and youth organizations. To learn more about the group and how you can help support its founder’s vision, check out the website at chesschallengeindc.org.
Invitational round-robin tournaments are something of a rarity on this side of the Atlantic, where mass Swiss events are the norm. But the North Carolina Chess Association has long held an annual invitational for the six top active players in the state. FMs Miles Ardaman, Ronald Simpson and expert Joshua Mu shared top honors at 3-1, with Ardaman earning some bragging rights with a victory in his Round 1 game against Simpson.
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About the Author
Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.
At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...
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