- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2013

He may be the most talented — and star-crossed — player of his generation.

His admiring peers routinely say that mercurial Ukrainian GM Vassily Ivanchuk possesses as much natural skill and chess intelligence as anyone who ever played the game. The sole resident of “Planet Chukky” (players joke he lives in his own world) presents a combination of imagination, technique and out-of-the-box ideas that few can match.

But Ivanchuk is likely to be remembered as one of the greats of the game who failed to scale the highest peak, alongside such formidable legends as Zukertort, Rubinstein, Keres and Korchnoi. Despite his long string of tournament and match wins, Ivanchuk’s nerves and self-described “black moods” undermined him at the most inopportune times — including his famous loss to Russian GM Artur Yusupov in the decisive game of their 1991 candidates’ match and his loss 11 years later in the FIDE world championship finals to young countryman Ruslan Ponomariov, a huge underdog at the time.

Still, an eye-opening measure of Ivanchuk’s greatness is now available in a new anthology of his masterpieces annotated by correspondence GM Nikolay Kalinichenko (“Vassily Ivanchuk: 100 Selected Games,” New In Chess, 317 pp., $32.95). The result isn’t quite up to Bobby Fischer’s “My 60 Memorable Games” — there’s only a brief interview with Ivanchuk at the start of the book, and the annotations are heavy on variations and lighter on the human element in the struggle — but the games themselves are marvelous, with wins over the likes of Kasparov, Kramnik, Carlsen, Anand and nearly every other great player of the past 30 years.

As with Bobby’s book, some of the most interesting contests here are against lesser lights. The 20-year-old Ivanchuk scores one of his first big tournament wins at an international event in Armenia in 1989, which included a brilliant sacrifice against veteran Hungarian GM Istvan Csom. The idea 6…Nh5 in this Nimzo-Indian line had long been a pet variation for the Hungarian, but he would retire it from his repertoire after this game.

Ivanchuk-Csom after 10...g2.
Ivanchuk-Csom after 10…g2. more >

Whether it was preparation or inspiration, White does not back down from the challenge: 9. exd6! (the most forcing line) fxg3? (better was 9…Qf6 10. Ne2 fxg3 11. Bg2 gxh2 12. Rxh2 g6, though Kalinichenko likes the pawn sacrifice 13. Bh6! dxe6 14. f4, with the initiative) 10. Qd5! g2 (see diagram); Black banks on 11. exd7+ Nxd7 12. Bxg2 Qh4+ 13. Kf1 Nf4, but Ivanchuk has planned a stunning surprise.

Thus: 11. Qxh5+!! (essentially allowing Black to obtain a new queen while capturing a bishop or rook in the process) g6 12. Qe5 Qh4+ 13. Ke2 gxh1=Q (also losing was 12…gxf1=Q+ 14. Kxf1 0-0 15. e7 Re8 16. Bg5) 14. Qxh8+ Ke7 15. Qg7+ Kxe6 (Kd8 16. Qf8+ Kc7 17. Bf4+ Qxf4 [Kb6 17. Rb1+ Ka6 18. Qxc8! and wins] 18. Qxf4+ Kd8 19. Qf6+ Kc7 20. e7 Qxh2+ 21. Kd3, and the White pawn queens) 16. Bh3+, and the annotator gives the fantastic variation 16…Qxh3 17. Qg8+! Ke5 (Ke7 18. Bg5+ Kd6 19. Rd1+ Kc6 20. Qxc8+ Kb6 21. Rb1+) 18. Bf4+!! Kf6 19. e5+ Kf5 20. Qf7 mate.

But Black also folds quickly on the game’s 16…Kd6 17. Qf8+ Kc7 (Ke5 18. Bf4+ Qxf4 19. Qe7 mate) 18. Bf4+ Qxf4 (Kb6 19. Rb1+ Ka6 20. Qxc8) 19. Qxf4+ d6 20. Rd1, and Csom’s queen is trapped. Black resigned after 22. Qg3! h5 22. Bxc8 Rxc8 24. Nh3 h4 25. Qf2, and White collects the queen.

Sad news out of Russia last week — the fine young grandmaster Igor Kurnosov was struck and killed by a car while crossing a street in his hometown of Chelyabinsk. A solid player with a strong attacking game, the 28-year-old Kurnosov had a number of international successes, including wins at the Hastings, the Biel Open and the Politiken Cup.

Another amazing queen tactic was featured in Kurnosov’s widely admired ambush of Uzbekistan-born GM Valery Loginov at an event in 2002. In a placid-looking position in the early middlegame of this Pirc Defense, White whips up an astonishing attack starting with an unexpected offer of his queen.

Things look innocuous enough after 13. Rfe1 Qc7 (Ncxe4? 14. Nxe4 Qxd2 15. Nxd2 and Black loses a piece), but Kurnosov lays a diabolical trap with 14. Rad1! (already setting the stage for what comes next; 14. Nf4 Ne6 15. Rad1, guards the loose e-pawn but offers White little) Nfxe4 (to his credit, Loginov takes up the challenge, little dreaming what’s in store) 14. Nf4!!, blithely ignoring the attack on his queen.

There followed 15…Nxd2 (Black again doesn’t wimp out, though White still gets a positional plus after the timid 15…f5 16. Nxe4 Nxe4 17. Bxe4 fxe4 18. Bxg7 Kxg7 19. Qxd6 Qxd6 20. Rxd6) 16. Rxe8+ Bxf8 17. Ncd5! (the brilliant back end of a brilliant idea, getting a knight into the crucial d5-square; 17. Rxd2?! Qa5 18. Bxc5 Qxc5 19. Ne4 Qa5 20. Rxd6 Kg7 21. Rdd8 Bd7 22. Rxa8 Bxe8 23. Rxe8 Qxa4 is still a battle) cxd5 (Qa5?? 18. Ne7 mate; 17…Qd7 18. Nf6+ Kg7 19. Nxd7+ Kh6 20. Rxf8 and wins) 18. Nxd5 Ne6 (now 18…Qd7 loses to 19. Nf6+ Kg7 20. Nxd7+ Kh6 21. Nxc5 dxc5 22. Be3+ Kg7 23. Rxd2) 19. Rxd2!, taking his time reclaiming the queen as all of White’s threats still loom

The finale: 19…h5 20. Nxc7 Nxc7 21. Re1 (the bottom line: White has won the exchange and his rooks and bishops dominate the board; the rest is easy) Ne6 22. Bc3 Bd7 23. Bxb7 Rb8 24. Bd5, and Black resigned a hopeless position.

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