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SANDS: Old-fashioned pleasures of a rattling good chess attack

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"If you have an advantage, then you must attack; otherwise the advantage will disappear."
— Wilhelm Steinitz, world champion (1886-1894)

Shelves of books — and reams of columns — have been written on the importance of positional play, the variety of pawn structures, the art of the endgame and the subtleties of the 16...a6 line of the Nimzo-Peloponnesian Benko Gambit Reversed. But in their heart of hearts, even the most sophisticated players would prefer to execute a rattling good attack leading to neat checkmate.

We all have our preferred styles of play, our pet variations, our comfort zones at the chess board. But when the wind is up and the blood is in the water, we are all alike, with a single-minded focus on hunting down the enemy king. The great Dutch GM and author Jan Timman, in his 2006 book "On The Attack," analyzed the attacking styles of 11 modern masters, ranging in style from Anand and Karpov to Shirov and Kasparov, and found a common thread in their play:

"Interestingly, while there are differences between the players' styles," Timman writes, "when it comes to 'hitting home,' there are more similarities than differences between them. The reason for this is precisely because they all know very well how to meet the demands of the position."

The common theme in today's attacking games is this: If you want to get at the king, first eliminate his courtiers. In both games, the key to a successful attack is to eliminate — often brutally — the guards protecting the enemy monarch.

The United States has qualified for the World Team Championships later this year in Antalya, Turkey, easily winning the 9th Panamerican Team Championships last month over teams from Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay. U.S. GM Sam Shankland scored a nice Board 4 win in the penultimate round over Uruguayan FM Daniel Izquierdo, capped by a fierce mating attack on the Black king.

In a Dutch Leningrad, Black faces an early dilemma after 11. Qxd2 dxe5 12. Qd5+, when uncomfortable for the second player is 12...Qxd5 13. cxd5 Nd4 14. Nxd4 exd4 15. Rfd1 Re8 16. Bxd4 Bxd4 17. Rxd4 Rxe2 18. Rc4 Re7 19. Rac1, with a clear edge for White.

But Izquierdo opens himself up to far worse after 12...Kh8 13. e4 fxe4?! (Qe7! 14. Rad1 Rd8 15. Qb5 holds the balance) 14. Qxe4 Bf5 15. Qe3 Qe7 (Qd3 was worth a look, though White still has a pull after 16. Qxd3 Bxd3 17. Rfe1 e4 18. Bxg7+ Kxg7 19. Ng5) 16. Nh4 Bg4 17. h3 Bd7 18. Rad1, with all Shankland's pieces poised for the attack.

Black should have tried 18...Rad8, but he failed to sense the danger and pays a heavy price: 18...Bf6? (see diagram) 19. Nxg6+! (an offer that obviously must be accepted as the king, queen and rook are forked) hxg6 20. Qh6+ Kg8 (Qh7 21. Qxh7+ Kxh7 22. Rxd7+ Kg8 23. Rxc7 and wins) 21. Qxg6+ Kh8 22. Qh6+ Kg8.

Now White methodically removes Black's key defenders, allowing the attack to break through: 23. Rxd7! Qxd7 24. Bd5+ Rf7 25. Qxf6 Raf8 26. Qg6+ Kh8 27. Bxc6!, and the elimination of the piece guarding e5 forces Black's resignation. The game might have gone 27...bxc6 28. Bxe5+ Rg7 29. Qxg7+ Qxg7 30. Bxg7+ Kxg7 31. f4, with an elementary endgame win.


The only flaw in Shankland's play is that it failed to produce to a quick checkmate. That wasn't the case in Moldovan GM Dmitry Svetushkin's pretty crush of Russian GM Valery Yandemirov from the recent Moscow Open A tournament in the Russian capital, annually one of the strongest open events in the world.

The center quickly gets locked up in this Ruy Lopez Steinitz Deferred, and it looks as if neither player will be doing any attacking for a long while. But the g-file opens up on 20...f4 21. g3 g5 22. gxf4 gxf4 23. Kh1 Kh7 (Kf7!?, heading for the queenside, is a Petrosianesque alternative that just might work here) 24. Rg1 Rf6?! (Rg8 25. axb4 axb4 26. Qg2 Bf6 27. Qh3 Raf8 was tougher) 25. axb4 axb4 26. Qg2, and it is White who is better positioned to exploit the open line.

The g6-square proves a perennial sore spot for Black's defense. As his pieces contort themselves to shore up the defense, Svetushkin finds an unexpected way to blow up the position.

Thus: 29. Rg1 Rf6 (the threat was 30. Qg4 Rf6 31. Nxf4! exf4 32. Bxf6, winning) 30. Qg4 Ndf8 31. h4! (a simple advance that's extremely hard to counter) Rf7 (Qd7 32. h5 Qxg4 33. Rxg4 Ne7 34. Naxc5! dxc5 35. Bxe5 Rf7 36. Rxf4 Rxf4 37. Bxf4, and the White pawn chain will dominate) 32. h5 Nh8, and with every Black piece pushed back, White decides it's time to detonate the pawn center.

It's over quickly on 33. Naxc5! cxd5 34. Nxe5 Re7 (the g7-bishop is useless as 34...Bxe5?? allows 35. Qg8 mate; after 34...Rf6 35. Nd3 Qd7 36. Bxf6 Qxg4 37. Rxg4 Bxf6 38. e5 Bg5 39. e6 Be7 40. Nf2, Black is paralyzed) 35. d6! Qxd6 36. Nf7!! -- a cute blocking move leading to mate after 36...Rxf7 (Bxb2 37. Qg8 mate; 36...Ngf6 37. Nxd6) 37. Qxg7+! Rxg7 38. Rxg7 mate. Yandemirov resigned.

Shankland-Izquierdo, 9th Pan American Team Championship, Campinas, Brazil, February 2013

>1.Nf3 d6 2.d4 f5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 g6 5.O-O Bg7 6.b3 O-O 7.Bb2 Ne4 8.Nbd2 Nc6 9.c4 e5 10.dxe5 Nxd2 11.Qxd2 dxe5 12.Qd5+ Kh8 13.e4 fxe4 14.Qxe4 Bf5 15.Qe3 Qe7 16.Nh4 Bg4 17.h3 Bd7 18.Rad1 Bf6 19.Nxg6+ hxg6 20.Qh6+ Kg8 21.Qxg6+ Kh8 22.Qh6+ Kg8 23.Rxd7 Qxd7 24.Bd5+ Rf7 25.Qxf6 Raf8 26.Qg6+ Kh8 27.Bxc6 Black resigns.

Svetushkin-Yandemirov, Moscow Open A Tournament, February 2013

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 d6 5. c3 g6 6. d4 Bd7 7. O-O Bg7 8. d5 Nce7 9. Bxd7+ Qxd7  10. c4 h6 11. Ne1 f5 12. f3 Nf6 13. Nc3 O-O 14. Nd3 c5 15. Qe2 b5 16. b3 b4 17. Na4 Qc7 18. a3 a5 19. Bb2 Nd7 20. Rae1 f4 21. g3 g5 22. gxf4 gxf4 23. Kh1 Kh7 24. Rg1 Rf6 25. axb4 axb4 26. Qg2 Rg6 27. Qh3 Rf8 28. Rxg6 Nxg6 29. Rg1 Rf6 30. Qg4 Ndf8 31. h4 Rf7 32. h5 Nh8 33. Naxc5 dxc5 34. Nxe5 Re7 35. d6 Qxd6 36. Nf7 Black resigns.

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

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