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SANDS: A great game honors chess tournament namesake

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Nezhmetdinovesque" is a mouthful as an adjective, but for any lover of superlatively imaginative attacking play, it perfectly describes their favorite kind of chess.

The late, great Russian star Rashid Nezhmetdinov never won a national championship or earned the grandmaster title, but he is revered by aficionados as one of the game's greatest tacticians and combinational geniuses.

His wins over Polugaevsky in 1958, Tal in 1961 and Chernikov in 1962 are among the most anthologized games of the 20th century, and he fashioned at least another dozen brilliancies that any grandmaster would be proud to claim. (He also found time to write the first chess manual in the Tatar language and was an expert checkers player as well.)

His hometown of Kazan has been holding a tournament in his honor for the past 35 years, with Latvian GM Igor Kovalenko capturing the latest Nezhmetdinov Cup earlier this month over Russian GMs Andrei Kharlov and Dmitry Kryakvin on tiebreaks after all three finished at 7-2.

But it was Ukrainian GM Vladimir Onischuk who may have best channeled the tournament's namesake in his victory over Russian IM Egor Pakhomov in Kazan. In classic Nezhmetdinovian fashion, Onischuk sacrifices first the exchange and then a whole piece, obtaining for his pains compensation that it will take many moves to exploit.

In a King's Indian Fianchetto line, Black's 11. Nd2 Bd7 12. b3 e4!? already promises an interesting game — the advanced e-pawn could become a target, but the Black KID bishop gets into the game almost immediately. As one sign of the bishop's power, bad for White now is 13. Bxe4? Nxe4 14. Ndxe4 f5, winning material.

Both sides have chances in the ensuing complex play, until Onischuk upsets the flow of the game with a speculative sacrifice: 22. Nc6!? Nxd5! (the best move in a tricky position; 22...Bxc6?! 23. bxc6 Rxc6 [Qxc6? 24. Bxf6 Bxf6 25. Nd5 Bd8 26. b4] 24. b4 axb4 25. axb4 Ncd7 26. Qb3+ Kh8 27. Ra1 and White has good compensation for the pawn) 23. Nxa5 Rxa5 24. Bxg7 Be6!? (allowing a pawn fork in a position where several pieces are already hanging) 25. b4 Rxa3!, initiating a sequence in which Black will get two outside passed pawns for a piece, while White's fianchettoed bishop is temporarily locked out of play.

The temporary becomes permanent after a sequence Nezhmetdinov himself would have admired: 26. Nxd5 Qxd5! (Black is not afraid of a queen trade despite his material deficit) 27. Qxd5 Bxd5 28. Bh6 ("winning" a piece as the Black knight is still pinned along the c-file) Kf7 29. Rfd1 Ke6 30. bxc5 dxc5 31. Be3 (see diagram) Rxe3!! 32. fxe3 b4, and White's doubled pawns now effectively entomb the bishop.

And again in true Nezhmetdinov style, Black piles sacrifice on sacrifice, giving up more material to preserve his positional bind: 35. Ra1 c4 36. Ra5 c3! (ignoring the attack on the bishop to keep the pawns moving) 37. Raxd5 c2 38. Rd6+ Ke7 37. Rd7+ Ke6 40. R7d6+ Ke7 41. R6d2 b3! 42. Rxc2 Rxc2 43. Kf2 b2 44. Rb1 h5 and White is effectively paralyzed.

With White's bishop and king incarcerated, the Black king can join the fight with decisive effect, forcing the win of the White rook. In the final position, one amusing conclusion might be 56. Bf1 (Kd4 Rc1 57. Be4 g3 and wins) Ke1 57. Bg2 Kf2 58. Bh1 Kg1 (trapping the bishop is piquant fashion) 59. Kd4 Kxh1 60. Kxc5 g3 61. e4 g2 62. e5 g1=Q+ 63. Kd6 Qd4+ and wins.

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No one was more Nezhmetdinovesque than the man himself. Check out today's second game, one of his lesser-known brilliancy prize winners from a 1948 tournament. From a deceptively named Giuoco Piano ("Quiet Opening"), White finds a stunning string of tactical shots to expose the Black king, capped by a knight sacrifice that leads to checkmate.

White already sharpens things by Move 5 with 5. d4!? Bxd4 6. Nxd4 Nxd4 7. f4, opening up two central files for an attack on Black's uncastled king. Black gets into trouble almost immediately on 9. Bg5 c6?! (Be6 10. Na3 Qe7 holds the balance) 10. Qd3 Bg4 11. Nc3 b5?! (reckless — sturdier was 11...Qe7) 12. Qg3! (attacking e5) Qb6 (Qc7 13. Bxf6 gxf6 14. Qxg4 bxc4 15. Qg7, and White is much better) 13. Be3 Qc5 14. Bd5!, a clever blocking sacrifice that cuts off the Black queen from the defense of the e-pawn.

There followed 14...0-0-0 (cxd5 15. Qxe5+ Kf8 16. Bxd4) 15. Rxf6! (classic Nezhmetdinov — unleashing a flurry of tactical shots) gxf6 16. Qxg4 f5 17. Qxf5! Nxf5 18. Bxc5 cxd5 18. exf5, and as the smoke clears, White has a clear advantage with two minor pieces for a rook.

Characteristically, Nezhmetdinov has only begun to attack, opening up another line to the Black king with 21. a4! bxa4 22. Rxa4 Kb7 23. Rb4+. Black walks into another tactical straight right, and this time doesn't get off the canvas: 23...Kc6? (Kc8 avoids immediate mate, but Black is probably still lost) 24. Rb6+! Kxc5 25. Na4+ Kc4 (Kd4 26. Rb4 is mate one move sooner) 26. b3+ Kd4 27. Rb4 mate.

Pakhomov-Onischuk, Nezhmetdinov Cup, Kazan, Russia, June 2013

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. Nc3 d6 6. d4 Nc6 7. O-O e5 8. d5 Nb8 9. c5 Na6 10. cxd6 cxd6 11. Nd2 Bd7 12. b3 e4 13. Nc4 Ne8 14. Bd2 b5 15. Ne3 f5 16. Rc1 Nf6 17. a3 Qb6 18. Nc2 Rfc8 19. Be3 Qb7 20. Bd4 Nc5 21. Nb4 a5 22. Nc6 Nxd5 23. Nxa5 Rxa5 24. Bxg7 Be6 25. b4 Rxa3 26. Nxd5 Qxd5 27. Qxd5 Bxd5 28. Bh6 Kf7 29. Rfd1 Ke6 30. bxc5 dxc5 31. Be3 Rxe3 32. fxe3 b4 33. Rb1 Ba2 34. Rbc1 Bd5 35. Ra1 c4 36. Ra5 c3 37. Raxd5 c2 38. Rd6+ Ke7 39. Rd7+ Ke6 40. R7d6+ Ke7 41. R6d2 b3 42. Rxc2 Rxc2 43. Kf2 b2 44. Rb1 h5 45. h3 Ke6 46. h4 Kd5 47. g4 hxg4 48. Kg3 Kc4 49. Kf4 Kc3 50. h5 gxh5 51. Kxf5 Rc1 52. Rxb2 Kxb2 53. Kg5 Rc5+ 54. Kf4 Kc3 55. Kxe4 Kd2 White resigns.

Nezhmetdinov-Baskin, Kishinev, Russia, 1948

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d4 Bxd4 6. Nxd4 Nxd4 7. f4 d6 8. fxe5 dxe5 9. Bg5 c6 10. Qd3 Bg4 11. Nc3 b5 12. Qg3 Qb6 13. Be3 Qc5 14. Bd5 O-O-O 15. Rxf6 gxf6 16. Qxg4 f5 17. Qxf5+ Nxf5 18. Bxc5 cxd5 19. exf5 a6 20. Kf2 Rhg8 21. a4 bxa4 22. Rxa4 Kb7 23. Rb4+ Kc6 24. Rb6+ Kxc5 25. Na4+ Kc4 26. b3+ Kd4 27. Rb4 mate.

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

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