SANDS: Two top chess grandmasters fall in miniatures in Greece

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After a long weekend, let’s go with a couple of really short games.

In an age of vast game databases, computer-aided study and 25 move-deep opening theory, it’s remarkable how even the world’s very best players can get themselves into trouble before the game has barely begun. The FIDE Grand Prix tournament now underway in Thessaloniki, Greece, featured not one but two miniatures in the first four rounds, with a pair of the best grandmasters in the world turning down their kings before two dozen moves had been made.

First up is Russian GMPeter Svidler, who fell asleep at the switch in his Round 2 game against fellow Russian GMAlexander Morozevich. His efforts to repair the damage only made things worse, with White able to queen a pawn while capturing a rook in just 22 moves.

The free-spirited Morozevich said after the game that he went with the little-seen Four Knights Opening because his computer had broken that morning and this was the only line he was able to review. Svidler seems prepared, though, offering the pawn gambit 4…Nd4 5. Ba4 Bc5 6. Nxe5 0-0 that is considered Black’s best response. By 11. 0-0 f6 12. c3 Nf5, Svidler remarked that he rather liked his position, and White steps up his play in a bid to justify his pawn deficit.

Black may have been a bit too insouciant about White’s growing pressure in the center, failing to spot a key tactic: 13. b4 (keep an eye on this pawn — despite the obstacles in its path, it has a very bright future) Qc7 14. b5 fxe5 15. Ba3 Rf6?! (Black eyes a kingside attack with White’s pieces massed on the queenside, but his queen, rook and bishop are now in an unfortunate alignment; sturdier was 15…Nxe3 16. fxe3 Rxf1+ 17. Qxf1 Nf6) 16. Nb4 (see diagram) e4?? — overlooking White’s threat to blow up the center.

Morozevich-Svidler after 16. Nb4.

Enlarge Photo

Morozevich-Svidler after 16. Nb4. more >

After 17. bxc6, Black realized that 17…bxc6? 18. Bxc6 Rxc6 19. Nbxd5! was bad news, as the queen is embarrassed in lines like 19…Qe5 20. Nxf5 Qxf5 (or 20…Qxd5) 21. Ne7+. Black doubles down on his kingside ambitions with 17…Rh6 18. h3 Nh4? (compounding a bad situation, though White was also much better after 18…bxc6 19. Bxc6 Rxc6 20. Nbxd5 Qb7 21. Nxf5 Bxf5 22. Ne7+ Kh8 23. Nxf5), but that only hastens his demise, with the White pawn remorselessly eating its way to the back rank.

The finale: 19. Nbxd5 Qe5 20. cxb7 Nf3+ (Bxb7 21. Ng4 Qg3 [Qxd5 22. Nxh6+ gxh6 23. Bb3; 21…Nf3+ 22. Qxf3 exf3 23. Ne7+ Kh8 24. Nxe5] 22. Nxh6+ gxh6 [Kh8 23. Nf7+ Kg8 24. Ne7+! Kxf7 25. Qb3+ Kf6 26. Qxb6+! axb6 27. fxg3+ and wins] 23. Qg4 wins) 21. Qxf3! exf3 (Bxb7 22. Qf8 mate) 22. bxa8=Q; facing a massive material deficit, Black resigned.

Two rounds later, it was Ukraine’s Vassily Ivanchuk getting the quick hook against Bulgarian former world champ Veselin Topalov, again with a single momentary lapse of concentration meeting with a brutal punishment. Time pressure had cost Ivanchuk a full point a round earlier, when he turned a totally winning position against Cuba’s GM Dominguez Perez Lenier into a demoralizing defeat. The hangover from that game may have factored into his play here.

Topalov plays the White side of this Moscow Variation Sicilian provocatively, allowing his kingside to be wrecked for play in the center after 9. d4!? Bxf3 10. gxf3 (also possible was the gambit 10. Qxf3!? cxd4 11. cxd4 Nxd4 12. Qd1 Nc6 13 Nc3, with good play for White) cxd4 11. cxd4 d5 12. Nc3 e6 13. Bg5.

As in Morozevich-Svidler, the defender’s failure to rein in a bumptious pawn makes for a quick denouement: 15. exd5 Nxd4 16. Re4 Qb6!? (a move Topalov already criticized as risky; tricky would have been 16…Nf5!? [e5? 17. Qxd4] 17. dxe6 Qxd1 18. Rxd1 0-0 19. Bc4! fxe6 20. Bxe6+ Kh8 21. Nd5! [Bxf5 Bxc3 22. bxc3 Rxf5] Nh4 22. Nxf6 Nxf3+ 23. Kg2 Rxf6 24. Bd5) 17. dxe6 Qc5? (once against overlooking White’s real threat; a 2010 game in this same line went 17…Nxe6! 18. Nd5 Qd8 19. Qa4+ b5 20. Nxf6+ gxf6 21. Qb4 f5!, and Black actually went on to win) 18. e7! — a suffocating move that takes advantage of the fact that 18…Bxe7 hangs the knight on d4. The Black king is pinned to the back rank, the Black rooks can’t get into the game, and the rest is a rout.

Thus: 18…h5 (trying to open a side door for the rook, but it’s already too late; if 18…Ne6, White has 19. Nd5 Bxe7 20. Rc1 Qa5 [Qd6 21. Nc7+ Nxc7 22. Qxd6] 21. Rc7! Nxc7 22. Rxe7+ Kf8 23. Rxc7 and wins) 19. Rc1 Rh6 20. Kh1! (a deft sidestep that kills any hopes of a counterattack down the g-file) Rg6 21. Ne2!, attacking the knight and the queen. As Black loses a piece on 21…Qd6 (Nxf3 22. Rxc5 and the White knight prevents 22…Rg1 mate) 22. Nxd4 Bxd4 23. Rxd4, Ivanchuk resigned.

Good news on the local front: Maryland organizers say there will be a second Washington International in Rockville from Aug. 6-11, a nine-round Swiss in which the Open section will be limited to players rated 2200 or higher. Reigning U.S. champ Gata Kamsky — who is currently tied for the lead in Thessaloniki — won the inaugural event, and already nine grandmasters and six IMs are already registered for this year’s tournament.

In addition, a team competition honoring legendary Russian chess coach Yuri Razuvaev will pit four veteran male grandmasters, including multiple U.S. champ Boris Gulko, against a team of top women stars, led by former women’s world champ GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (a student of Razuvaev) and reigning U.S. women’s national champ IM Irina Krush. The festivities will also include a weekend Swiss event, a rapid tournament and a blitz competition.

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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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