In Basque chess, revenge apparently is a dish served piping hot.
Basque chess — a format I had never heard of before — pits two players against each other in a pair of simultaneous rapid (Game/25) games, with each player playing White in one game and Black in the other. A Basque tournament was a highlight of the chess portion of the just-concluded SportAccord Mind Games Festival in Beijing. (Bridge, checkers, go and xiangqi — Chinese chess — was also on the menu of this unusual gathering.)
Russian GM Sergey Karjakin was a convincing winner of the Basque competition, finishing a full two points ahead of Azeri GM Shahkriyar Mamedyarov at 8½2-1½. GM Gata Kamsky, the only American in the field, finished in a tie for fourth. Chinese WGM Zhao Xue won the women’s competition, edging compatriot and women’s world champion GM Hou Yifan.
The most intriguing matches of the event came when one player was getting his brains beat out on one board while he was bringing the pain to the same opponent at the same time on the adjacent board. Some amusing pictures of the players trying to handle the pressure and manage the time pressures (both of your clocks can be ticking in Basque chess, a particularly unnerving thought) can be seen at Chessbase.com.
One benefit of Basque chess is that you don’t have to wait long — or wait at all — for a chance to get back at a rival who just beat you. Witness the fascinating match between Ukrainian veteran Vassily Ivanchuk and young Russian star GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. Playing White, “Nepo” blows away Ivanchuk in just 20 moves, with the Ukrainian resigning in the face of a quick mate. But on Board 2 it was a very different story, with Ivanchuk orchestrating the White pieces through a lengthy maneuvering game for a butter-smooth 66-move win.
Ivanchuk’s loss comes out of an unusual sideline of the Scotch Game, with Black getting into trouble early after 8. Nc3 Nge7?! (Bd6 9. g3 is very playable for Black) 9. Nb5 Bxd2+ (Bd6 10. Nxd6+ Qxd6 11. Bc3 Qxd1+ 12. Rxd1 0-0 13. Kf2, and White’s position is much easier to play) 10. Qxd2 Kd8 11. 0-0-0 d6 12. Kb1 Rf8?! (also unpleasant is 12…Bd6 13. e5 Bxb3 [Nxe5 14. Nxc7] 14. exd6 Bxc2+ 15. Qxc2 Qxc2+ 16. Kxc2 cxd6 17. Rxd6+ Kc8 18. Bd3), and the odd posting of Black’s king and rook already spell trouble.
Offering pawns to open lines, White quickly zeroes in on the unfortunate king: 15. Bg2 Qg4 16. e5! Nxe5 (see diagram; 16…Nf5 17. exd6 cxd6 18. Nxd6 Qb4 19. Qxb4 axb4 20. Nxf5+ Kc7 21. Rhf1 and White is winning) 17. Nxd6! (a sacrifice that’s been hanging in the air for several moves now; Black is lost) cxd6 18. Qxd6+, when 18…Bd7 loses to 19. Qxe5 Qxg2 20. Nc5 Qc6 21. Nxd7 Qxd7 22. Rxd7+ Kxd7 23. Rd1+ Ke8 24. Qb5+ Nc6 25. Qxb7.
But Black fares no better with the game’s 18…Nd7 19. Rhe1 Qxg5 (Nd5 20. Rxd5 Qb4 [Qxg2 21. Qb6 mate] 21. Qxb4 axb4 22. Nc5 Kc7 23. Nxd7 Bxd7 24. Re7 Rad8 25. Bh3 wins decisive material) 20. Nc5!, and Black resigns facing lines like 20…Qf6 21. Nxb7+ Ke8 [Bxb7 22. Qxd7 mate] 22. Qc7 Bxb7 23. Qxd7 mate.
Happily for Ivanchuk, he could immediately turn his attention to the other half of the Basque match, where his English Opening helped even the score against his young rival. White isolates Black’s d-pawn and methodically repositions his forces (24. Na2! is particularly nice) before invading via the open c-file: 26. Rc6 Ne7 27. Rbc1! hxg3 28. hxg3, when accepting the exchange offer leaves Black hurting after 28…Nxc6 29. bxc6 Qe7 30. Nbxd5 Nxd5 31. Nxd5 Qd6 32. Qc4 Rac8 33. c7 Qd7 34. Ba3.
The isolated pawn falls on 33. Rxc8 Nxc8 34. Ra8 Nd6 (Qc4 35. Qa4 b5 36. Qa6 Kh7 37. Nbxd5 Nxd5 38. Nxd5 Qxd5 39. Rxc8 Rxc8 40. Qxc8 Qc4 41. Qc5 and White is much better) 35. Rxe8+ Nfxe8 36. Nfxd5. White simplifies by forcing a queen trade on 41. Nc6 Nf5 42. Qe4 (Qxf7 Ned6 43. Bxd6 Nxd6 44. Qd5 was also strong), and his two knights combine to pick off a second pawn on 47. Ne7 Bf8 48. Nxd5 Bxa3 49. Nxb6.
Giving his opponent no opportunity to complicate the play, White finishes with some nice end-game tactics: 60. Nc5+ Kd5 61. e4+! Kxc5 62. exf5 gxf5 63. Nf7 Kd5 64. d8=Q+ Bxd8 65. Nxd8 Ke4 66. Ne6, and Black is lost on 66…Kd5 67. Ng7 Ke4 68. Nh5 Kd4 69. Kf3 Kd5 70. Ng7, and the f-pawn is lost; Nepomniachtchi resigned.
We end with an updated local holiday tradition — the 40th annual Eastern Open is moving from its longtime home in downtown Washington to the Doubletree Hotel at 8120 Wisconsin Ave., two miles inside the Beltway in Bethesda. Play runs from Thursday through Sunday. Plenty of side events, chess gear and books will be available for sale, and the spectating is free. For more information, check it out at www.easternopenchess.com.
As always, thanks for reading as we start our 21st year writing this column. May your rating soar in One-Four!