SANDS: Big struggle takes place in the middle game at chess World Open in Virginia

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Sometimes the finish line isn’t the best place to watch a race.

At the recent World Open held in Arlington, the ninth and final round featured a minimum of drama on the top boards, as the grandmasters in a position for a big payday preferred to play it safe. The top four pairings all ended in draws, with GMs Alejandro Ramirez and Parimarjan Negi joining the lead group with last-round wins. The result, as we wrote about here last week: a crowded 10-way tie for first at 6½-2½, with the prizewinners taking home a relatively paltry $3,912.90 each for a week of hard work.

The real drama in big-time Swiss events like the World Open typically comes in the middle rounds, when the players are jostling for position at the top of the home stretch. Czech GM Viktor Laznicka, one of the Gang of 10, stayed in the hunt with a fine Round 6 win over Ramirez, who was then forced to scramble to catch up with the lead group at the end.

The queens come off early in this QGD Slav and on another day the two combatants might have called it a draw. But Laznicka as Black manages to get a decent amount of pressure after 24. Be3 Bd6 25. Rfd1 b4 (fixing the White b-pawn on a square where Ramirez’s bishop cannot defend it; combined with Black’s better placed rooks, Laznicka has a slight but enduring edge) 26. Rxa8 (the computer tosses out the odd 26. Ba7!? — with the idea of 27. Ra6 — and White does get good drawing chances after 26…Rc6 27. Bc5 Ra3 [Rxa1 28. Bxd6+ Rxd6 29. Rxa1 Rd2 30. Ra4 Rxe2 31. Rxb4] 28. Rxa3 bxa3 29. Rxd6 Rxc5 [Rxd6? 30. Bxa3!] 30. Ra6 Rc2 31. Rxa3 Rxe2) Rxa8 27. f3 Ra3 28. Rd3 f5, and White is passively placed while Black can probe without risk for a breakthrough.

After positioning his king and kingside pawns, Black strikes with a series of perfectly timed strokes: 37. Rd3 Be5 38. Be1 (see diagram) Bc3! 39. Bxc3 Rxb3 40. Ke2 bxc3 41. Kd1 g4! 42. fxg4 f3!, when 43. gxf5 (Rxf3 c2+ wins) loses to 43…f2 44. Rf3 [Ke2 c2 45. Rxb3 f1=Q+ 46. Kxf1 c1=Q+ 47. Ke2 Qc2+] c2+.

But after the game’s 43. Kc2 f2 44. Rd1 (Rf3 hxg4 45. hxg4 [Rxf2 Rb2+] Rb7! 46. Kxc3 Rf7 and wins) hxg4 45. hxg4 Ra3! (Black consistently finds tactical finesses to keep his endgame edge alive) 46. Rf1 Ke5 47. Kb1 (Kd3 c2+ 48. Kxc2 Kxe4 49. Kd2 Kf3 50. g5 Kg2), Black collects the vital point with 47…c2+! (Kxe4?? 48. Rxf2 Kd3 49. g5 Rb3+ 50. Kc1 Ra3 51. Kb1 and White holds) 48. Kb2 c1=Q+! 49. Rxc1 (Kxc1 Ra1+) Rf3 50. Rf1 Kxe4, and White packs it in ahead of 51. Kc2 Ke3 52. Kd1 Rg3 53. Kc2 Rg1 and Black triumphs.

Laznicka was in a more pacific mood in the final round, drawing with Kansas GM Varuzhan Akobian after just 16 moves to clinch a share of first.

While the grandmasters were divvying the pot, the big paychecks were being cut in the lower sections, with the sole winners of the next three class tournaments each pocketing over $12,000. The full list of winners: Under 2400 — Richard Tuhrim; Under 2200 — Jimmy Broja; Under 2000 — Bronson Gentry; Under 1800 — Paul Guthrie, Leo Poppante, David Zhou, Ralph Monda and Nwoye Nnamdi; Under 1600 — Jerry Catuy; Under 1400 —Wei Feng of Virginia; Under 1200 —Clark Rogers; and Under 900 — John Montfort, also of Virginia.

Congratulations to all.

The FIDE Grand Prix tournament now wrapping up in Beijing may be the strongest event of its kind ever played in China. Two Chinese grandmasters are in the field, Wang Yue (a late replacement in the Grand Prix series for Azeri GM Teimour Radjabov) and Wang Hao, the 23-year-old from Harbin who is now the country’s highest-rated player.

Wang Hao gave the local fans something to cheer about with a dashing win over talented Dutch star Anish Giri in Beijing, using a speculative piece sacrifice on Move 7(!) against Giri’s old-fashioned Philidor Defense, initiative a king hunt that never flags. Wang cheerfully admitted after the game that his 6. Qxd4 Be7 7. Bxf7+!?! Kxf7 8. Ng5+ wasn’t completely sound, and Black escapes the first snare with 8…Ke8! (Kg8? 9. Qc4+ d5 10. Nxd5 and White is already winning) 9. Ne6 c5!, saving his entombed queen.

But White does get two pawns for his piece, and, as is the case in these positions, the defensive side has no margin for error in staving off the attack. That error comes on 12. Nf5 Bf8!? ( a novelty — the murky 14…Be6!? 15. f4 Nf7 (15… Qxb2?! 16. O-O Neg4 17. Qd2 ) 16. Bxf6+ Kxf6 17. Qd2 has been played here before, according to the analysts at Chessvibes.com) 13. 0-0 d5?, an overambitious idea when battening down with 14… Rg8 15. Bf4 Ne5 16. Nxf6 Kxf6 17. Bxe5+ dxe5 18. Qf3 Bxf5 19. Qxf5+ Kg7 20. Qxe5+ Qf6 was indicated, according to Wang.

On 14. Nxd5 Nxd5 15. Qxd5+ Ke8 16. Bg5! Qg6? (the last chance was 16…Qc6, hoping to survive an inferior ending) 17. Rad1! Rg8 (Qxg5 18. Nd6+ wins the queen) 18. f4, White has three pawns for the piece and Black’s hopes of a g-file counterattack are thwarted after 18… h6 19. Nh4 Qf7 20. Qe5+ Be7 21. Qxe7+ Qxe7 22. Bxe7 Kxe7 23. Nf5+, followed by 24. Nxh6, and the White kingside pawns should win easily.

Black’s defense collapses after 18…a5 19. e5 Qxf5 20. Qxg8 Ra6 21. Rfe1! (e6?! is premature because of 21…Nf6!) Rg6 22. e6!, and Black resigned facing 22…Rxg8 (Nf6 23. Qf7 mate) 23. exd7+ Kf7 24. d8=Q, with an overwhelming material edge.

Ramirez-Laznicka, World Open, Arlington, Va., July 2013

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6 5. g3 e6 6. Bg2 dxc4 7. a4 c5 8. dxc5 Qxd1+ 9. Nxd1 Bd7 10. Ne3 Bc6 11. Nxc4 Bxc5 12. O-O Nbd7 13. Bf4 Ke7 14. Na5
Bd5 15. Ne5 Bb4 16. Nxd7 Bxg2 17. Kxg2 Nxd7 18. Nc4 Rhc8 19. b3 b5 20. axb5 axb5 21. Ne5 Nxe5 22. Bxe5 f6 23. Bd4 e5 24. Be3 Bd6 25. Rfd1 b4 26. Rxa8 Rxa8 27. f3 Ra3 28. Rd3 f5 29. Bd2 Ra2 30. e4 g6 31. Kf1 Ke6 32. h3 h5 33. Be3 f4 34. gxf4 exf4 35. Bf2 g5 36. Rd5 Rb2 37. Rd3 Be5 38. Be1 Bc3 39. Bxc3 Rxb3 40. Ke2 bxc3 41. Kd1 g4 42. fxg4 f3 43. Kc2 f2 44. Rd1 hxg4 45. hxg4 Ra3 46. Rf1 Ke5 47. Kb1 c2+ 48. Kb2 c1=Q+ 49. Rxc1 Rf3 50. Rf1 Kxe4 White resigns.

Wang Hao-Giri, FIDE Grand Prix, Beijing, July 2013

1. d4 d6 2. e4 Nf6 3. Nc3 e5 4. Nf3 Nbd7 5. Bc4 exd4 6. Qxd4 Be7 7. Bxf7+ Kxf7 8. Ng5+ Ke8 9. Ne6 c5 10. Qd1 Qb6 11. Nxg7+ Kf7 12. Nf5 Bf8 13. O-O d5 14. Nxd5 Nxd5 15. Qxd5+ Ke8 16. Bg5 Qg6 17. Rad1 Rg8 18. f4 a5 19. e5 Qxf5 20. Qxg8 Ra6 21. Rfe1 Rg6 22. e6 Black resigns.

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

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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