- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2013

As the chess world gets used to a new champion, the everyday machinery of tournaments and matches is clanking back to life. New Norwegian world titleholder Magnus Carlsen is promising to be an active and visible champion, but is understandably taking a little personal “me time” after his decisive win last month dethroning India’s Viswanathan Anand in Chennai, India.

Luckily, there’s enough activity out there to fill a post-match column. The U.S. team, led by GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky, is one of 10 top squads participating in the 2013 World Team Chess Championships in Antalya, Turkey. Nakamura contributed a key win over former world champion Vladimir Kramnik in the Americans’ upset of the powerful Russian team in Round 2, but a loss to Armenia in the very next round put a major kink in U.S. hopes of a medal.

Play in the event concludes Thursday.

Closer to home, the Miami Sharks, perennial bridesmaids in the U.S. Chess League (finals losses in 2005, 2009 and 2010), finally broke through this year, decisively defeating the New York Knights 3½-½ Nov. 20 for its first league title.

Sharks’ top board GM Julio Becerra set the tone for the finals with a quick win against New York’s GM Tamaz Gelashvili in a sharp Sicilian Dragon battle. Gelashvili as Black gets in the classic Dragon exchange sacrifice on c3, only to find himself trumped by an even more powerful White exchange sacrifice two moves later.

Becerra-Gelashvili after 20...Qxa2.
Becerra-Gelashvili after 20…Qxa2. more >

The game unfolds in the typical Dragon pattern, with the two grandmasters blasting away on opposite wings on 13. Bxc4 Rxc4 14. 0-0-0 Qa5!? (the computer recommends snatching the pawn now with 14…Nxh5!? 15. g4 Nf6 16. Qh2 (16. Kb1 and 16. Qd3 are also playable here) Rxc3 17. bxc3 Qa5, with equality) 15. Nb3 Qa6 16. e5! Nxh5 17. Bh6, when Black might do better to keep his fianchettoed bishop with 17…Bxe5 18. Rxh5 (Bxf8?? Bf4) Bxc3! 19. bxc3 Qa3+ 20. Kb1 Ra4 21. Bxf8 Qxa2+ 22. Kc1 Qa3+ 23. Kb1, with a draw.

Black tries to break up the White king’s defenses, but gets floored by a counterpunch: 19. exd6 Rxc3!? 20. bxc3 Qxa2 (see diagram; 20…exd6 21. Rxh5 gxh5 22. Rd5 Qf1+ 23. Kb2 f5 24. Rxd6 Qb5 [Be8 25. Qe6+] 25. Qg5+ Kh8 26. Qe7 Bc6 27. Rh6 is also winning for White) 21. Rxh5! (White doesn’t appear to have enough pieces for the follow-up, but Becerra has calculated accurately) gxh5 22. Qg5+ Kh8 (Kf8 23. Qxe7+ Kg8 24. Qxd7) 23. dxe7, and the White rook and queen combine for the final assault.

The finale: 23…Qa4 (Rg8 24. Qf6+ Rg7 25. Rxd7) 24. Qf6+ Kg8 25. Qg5+ Kh8 26. Qf6+ Kg8 27. Rd5 h6 28. Qxh6, and Black resigns as 28…Qa3+ 29. Kb1 Qxe7 30. Rg5+ Qxg5 31. Qxg5+ Kf8 32. Qd5 is hopeless.

Kansas-born GM Conrad Holt, now studying physics at the University of Texas-Dallas, is developing into one of the country’s strongest young players. At last month’s UT-Dallas GM Invitational, a Category 13 event, Holt went undefeated and led for much of the event, but had to settle for a tie for second after Filipino GM Julio Sadorra scored two wins in the final two rounds.

Holt played one of the event’s best games against Hungarian GM David Berczes, ably navigating the unusual opening in which White grabs a gambit pawn but gives up the right to castle on Move 5. Black’s attempt to open up the game to justify his gambit backfires after 12. Nf3 f5?! (Nxd5 13. exd5 Qf6 14. Rb1 Ne7 15. b4 Bd6 16. g3, followed by Bg2 and Kg2 also leaves White is good shape and still holding the gambit pawn) 13. b4 fxe4 (Nxd5 14. exd5 Qf6 15. Ra2 Bd6 16. Rc2 and White is better) 14. bxc5 Qxc5 15. Be3! — sidestepping 14. Bxe4? Qxc4+ 16. Qe2 Qxe2+ 17. Kxe2 Nxd5 and Black turns the tables.

Berczes uses a pin to recover his piece after 15…Qd6 16. Bxe4 Nxd5 17. Bxd5 c6 18. Rc1 Nf6 19. Bd4 cxd5 20. cxd5+ Kd7 (Kb8 21. Be5), but must allow the opening of some lethal lines to his king.

White cashes in with 22. Bxf6! (finishing with a flourish; also good enough was 22. Rc7+ Ke8 23. Rxb7, since 23…Qa6+ 24. Qe2 Qxb7 allows 25. Bxf6+ Kf7 26. Ng5+ Kxf6 27. Qe6 mate) gxf6 23. Ne5+! (the key move, clearing the way for the deadly queen check to come) 23…fxe5 (Ke7 24. Rc7+ Kf8 [Kd6 25. Nc4+] 25. Qh5 wins after 25…Qa1+ 26. Ke2 Qa2+ 27. Ke3 Qa3+ 28. Kf2 Qa2+ 29. Kg3 Bxd5 30. Qh6+ Ke8 31. Qxf6) 24. Qg4+ Ke8 25. Qh5+ Kf8 26. Qf5+ Ke8 (the other rook falls on 26…Kg8 27. Qg5+ Kf8 28. Qxd8+) 27. Qxe5+ Qe7 28. Qxh8+ Kd7 29. Qa1, with a decisive material edge. In the final position, White would win after 34…Qxd5 (Re8 35. Qc6 Rxe1+ 36. Rxe1 Qf7 37. Qd6+ Qd7 38. Qf8+ Kc7 39. Re7) 35. Rcd1 Bd3 36. Re3; Black resigned.

Becerra-Gelashvili, U.S. Chess League Championship, November 2013

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 Nc6 8. Qd2 O-O 9. Bc4 Bd7 10. h4 Rc8 11. Bb3 Ne5 12. h5 Nc4 13. Bxc4 Rxc4 14. O-O-O Qa5 15. Nb3 Qa6 16. e5 Nxh5 17. Bh6 Bxh6 18. Qxh6 Rfc8 19. exd6 Rxc3 20. bxc3 Qxa2 21. Rxh5 gxh5 22. Qg5+ Kh8 23. dxe7 Qa4 24. Qf6+ Kg8 25. Qg5+ Kh8 26. Qf6+ Kg8 27. Rd5 h6 28. Qxh6 Black resigns.

Story Continues →