- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It’s only a footnote to his monumental legacy, but there’s a chess angle to the story of the life of Nelson Mandela, the great South African leader who passed away last week at the age of 95.

It turns out that Mandela often turned to chess and checkers to pass the time during his more than 27 years as a political prisoner for his struggles to end racial apartheid in his homeland. Fellow detainees at the country’s notorious Robben Island prison, according to interviews reprinted in Chessbase.com, recall Mandela as a fierce competitor who, fittingly, played deliberately and favored a strategy of “attrition” to wear down opponents.

“He would take his time with every move, he would consider it very carefully,” recalled Neville Anderson, a fellow detainee who crossed swords many a time with Mandela over the board in the 1960s and 1970s. “He would sort of mislead the other person by pointing things this way, that way, the other, and then making the move that wasn’t expected and so on.”

South African President Jacob Zuma, a credible player himself, recalled the way Mandela and other detainees had to improvise to obtain the “solace” that came with playing chess.

“Many comrades made chess sets out of soap and driftwood that allowed us to continue to play this noble and great game,” Zuma said at the opening ceremonies for a chess tournament in South Africa this summer. “We improvised makeshift chessboards and we enjoyed the fullness of the game.”

With the chess boom now having conquered much of Asia, many see sub-Saharan Africa as the next big frontier for the game. IM Kenny Solomon has obtained all the necessary norms and needs only to get his FIDE rating about 2500 to become South Africa’s first grandmaster. A former national champion and frequent member of the South African Olympiad team, the 34-year-old Solomon’s talent is evident in this hard-fought win over Turkish expert Fahri Ercan from a 2009 tournament in Gibraltar.

The middlegame coming out of this Closed Catalan is balanced, with Ercan as Black putting good piece pressure on White’s imposing pawn center. Both players show some tactical flair as White attempts to exploit his space advantage with 21. d5!? Bf6 22. Qa3 Bc2 (Bxb2?! 23. Rxb2 Be8 24. d6 Qxc4 25. Bxb7 Qc5 26. Qd3 Rd8 27. Rd1 is much better for White) 23. Bxf6! (a well-calculated bid to sharpen the play) Bxb1 24. Be7 Bd3! (Rfe8? 25. d6 Qb6 27. d7 wins at once) 25. Rc1?! (better was to keep pushing ahead with 25. d6!, as 25…Qxc4 26. Bxf8 Bxf1 27. Bxf1 Qd4 28. Be7 leaves the White bishop pair dominating the Black rook) Rfe8 26. d6 Qd7 27. Qxd3 Rxe7, and Black’s clever use of a pin regains the piece.

But White has made inroads on the kingside and Solomon alertly jumps on some Black defensive lapses to win the point: 31. Bf3 f5?! (Kg8! 32. Rd1 Rc5 keeps Black’s position solid) 32. g4! e5 33. gxf5 Rcd8? (Black’s pieces trip over one another now; much better was 33…Rc5 34. Rd1 Rec8 35. Bb7 Qxb7 36. d7 Qc7 37. dxc8=Q+ Qxc8 38. Qd6+ Kg8) 34. Rd1 Kg8? (the threat was 35. Bh5, but Black had to try 34…e4 35. Bxe4 Qxd6 36. Qxd6+ Rxd6 37. Rxd6 Rxe4 38. Rc6 Re2 and hope to hold the ending.) 35. Bd5+! Kf8 (Kh7 36. Qh3 mate) 36. Qh3, and Ercan resigned in light of 36…Re6 37. fxe6 Qxd6 38. Qh8+ Ke7 39. Qxg7+ Ke8 40. Qf7 mate.

Rebounding from an early loss to the American squad, Russia last week took gold at the World Team Championship in Antalya, Turkey, with China taking silver and early front-runner Ukraine settling for bronze in the 10-nation competition. The U.S. team, led by world No. 3 GM Hikaru Nakamura, finished just off the podium in fourth place with four match wins, two ties and three losses.

One of the most exciting games of the event came in the very first round as German fourth board GM David Baramidze upended Egyptian GM Bassem Amin in a sharp Scotch variation popularized by former world champ Garry Kasparov. The real battle begins when Amin as White accepts a fraught pawn sacrifice on 14. cxd5 cxd5 15. Nxd5!? Nxd5 16. Qa4+ c6! (apparently prepared by Black ahead of time) 17. Bxa6 (Qxa6?! Nb4 18. Qc4 Qxc4 19. Bxc4 Nc2+ 20. Kd2 Nxa1 21. Bb2 0-0-0+ 22. Kc3 Nxb3 23. axb3 f6 and Black is fine) Bxe5! — the point, as now White’s king comes under heavy fire.

There followed: 18. fxe5 (18. Kf2 Bc3! [Bxa1 19. Re1 Qxe1+ 20. Kxe1 0-0 21. Kf2 looks equal] 19. Bb7 0-0 20. Qxc6 Qxc6 21. Bxc6 Bxa1 22. Bxd5 Rad8 is better for Black) Qxe5+ 19. Kf2 Qf6+ 20. Kg3 Qc3+ 21. Kh4!? (it’s not clear if Black would have repeated moves if the White king returned to f2) 0-0! (Qxa1? 22. Qxc6+ Kf8 23. Qxa8+ Kg7 24. Qxd5 and wins) 22. Bh6 Ne7!, and Black’s forces are zeroing in on the precariously placed White monarch.

Amin can’t solve his defensive problems, opening himself up to a killer shot from Black: 23. Qf4? (g3! was the move; e.g. 23…Nf5+ 24. Kh3 Nxh6 25. Rac1 Qf3 26. Rhf1 Qh5+ 27. Qh4 Qxh4+ 28. Kxh4 Rad8, and Black has only a small edge) Nf5+ 24. Kg4 Rfe8 25. g3 Qa5 26. Bd3 Rad8!, and now all the enemy pieces are poised for the attack.

The finale: 27. Bxf5 (see diagram) Rd4! 28. Rae1 (the rook is immune: 28. Qxd4 Qxf5+ 29. Kh4 Qh5 mate) Qxf5+ 29. Kf3 Rxf4+ 30. Bxf4 Rxe1 31. Rxe1 g5, and White resigned as the bishop will be lost as well.

Solomon-Ercan, Gibraltar Chess Festival, January 2009

1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 e6 3. c4 c6 4. Nbd2 Nf6 5. g3 Be7 6. Bg2 O-O 7. O-O Nbd7 8. Qc2 Nb6 9. b3 dxc4 10. bxc4 c5 11. e3 Bd7 exd4 12. Ne5 Ba4 13. Qc3 Qc7 14. Bb2 Rad8 15. Nb3 cxd4 16. Nfd7 17. Nxd7 Bxd7 18. Nc5 Na4 19. Nxa4 Bxa4 20. Rab1 Rc8 21. d5 Bf6 22. Qa3 Bc2 23. Bxf6 Bxb1 24. Be7 Bd3 25. Rc1 Rfe8 26. d6 Qd7 27. Qxd3 Rxe7 28. Be4 Ree8 29. Bxh7+ Kf8 30. Be4 b6 31. Bf3 f5 32. g4 e5 33. gxf5 Rcd8 34. Rd1 Kg8 35. Bd5+ Kf8 36. Qh3 Black resigns.

Amin-Baramidze, World Team Championship, Antalya, Turkey, December 2013

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. e5 Qe7 7. Qe2 Nd5 8. c4 Nb6 9. Nc3 Qe6 10. Qe4 g6 11. Bd3 Bg7 12. f4 Ba6 13. b3 d5 14. cxd5 cxd5 15. Nxd5 Nxd5 16. Qa4+ c6 17. Bxa6 Bxe5 18. fxe5 Qxe5+ 19. Kf2 Qf6+ 20. Kg3 Qc3+ 21. Kh4 O-O 22. Bh6 Ne7 23. Qf4 Nf5+ 24. Kg4 Rfe8 25. g3 Qa5 26. Bd3 Rad8 27. Bxf5 Rd4 28. Rae1 Qxf5+ 29. Kf3 Rxf4+ 30. Bxf4 Rxe1 31. Rxe1 g5 White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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