The European Club Cup, featuring teams (and a few hired guns) put together by clubs across the continent, has long been one of the strongest competitions of its kind.
This year’s battle produced a bumper crop of fascinating games, but perhaps none more amazing than the battle between GM Viktor Laznicka, playing for the Czech Novy Bor club, and Russian GM Alexander Morozevich, representing the Russian Malachite Club. It’s far from flawless, but there’s not a boring moment in its 74 moves.
“Moro” has long been one of the most creative players on the elite scene, but he outdoes himself here in the wacky opening in which White appears to be playing an English while Black responds with a King’s Indian Defense. After 7. Nf3!? (7. d3 or 7 d4 looks much more normal here) Nd3+ 8. Ke2 Nxd5!, Morozevich could have gone out in a blaze of Romantic glory with the obliging 9. Kxd3? Nf4+ 10. Kc4 (Kc2 Qd3+ 11. Kb3 Be6+ 12. Ka4 Qa6 mate) Be6+ 11. Kxc5 (Kb5 Qd3+! 12. Kxc5 Qc4 mate) Nd3+ 12. Kb5 Qd6 13. Qa4 Qc5 mate.
After 12. Qc4 b5 13. Qg4 Nc2, the players have landed in a truly odd position, although material remains equal and the computer says the play is balanced. But after 15. Ra2?! b4! 16. axb4 Ncxb4 17. Ra5 Qd6 18. Qg4 Bb6, Laznicka’s position is clearly easier to play, with White’s bishop and rook still stuck on their original squares.
White kicks the crazy up another notch on 19. Ra3 Rd8 (threatening the decisive 20…Nxc1+ 21. Rxc1 Qd3+ 22. Ke1 Bxf3 23. Bxf3 Qxd2+) 20. Ne4 Qe7 21. Qf5 f6 22. Nh4 Bb5 23. Kf3!?!, when 23. Kd1 Bd7 24. Qh5+ Rf7 25. Nf5 gives White a far less complex defensive task to solve. Black accepts the challenge with 23…Nc2!? (Qf7! puts White in a real bind in lines such as 24. g4 Bd7 25. Qh5 Qxh5 26. gxh5 f5 27. Ng5 e4+ 28. Ke2 [Kg3 f4+ 29. exf4 Bxf2 mate] Bb5, with a bid edge) 24. Rxd3 Rxd3 25. Qh5+ Kd8 26. Nf5 Qb4?! (Qe6!, with the idea of 27…Qxf5+! 28. Qxf5 Nd4+ 29. Kg4 Nxf5 30. Kxf5 Bd7 mate!) 27. Kg4! Rd7? (missing the tricky 27…Be8! 28. Qxh7 Rd7 29. Qh6 Rg8+ 30. Kh3 Bg6 31. Nh4 Rh7, trapping the queen) 28. Kh3!, and the White king finally finds sanctuary.
With the time control looming, both players miss a kill-shot: 33. e4 Qc4 (see diagram) 34. Kh4?? (b3! Qxb3 35. Bb2 Qxb2 36. Qxd3+ Rd7 37. Qf3, and White can still fight) Kc7?? (missing the lethal 34…Rxh5+!! 35. Nxh5 [Qxh5 Rxh5+ 36. Kxh5 Qg8 37. Kh4 Bxf2 38. Kh3 Ne1 and wins] Be2 36. d3 Bxf3 37. dxc4 Bxf2+ 38. Kh3 Rxh5+ 39. Nh4 Rxh4 mate) 35. b3 Qxb3 36. Bb2! Qxb2 37. Qxd3, and White has actually made progress by getting rid of his problem bishop.
After 44. Qg7+ Kb6 45. h6, the struggle revolves around White’s passed h-pawn and Black’s passed a-pawn, both of which will cost the other player heavy material to prevent from queening. Laznicka finally imposes a little rationality on the position with 53. Be6 R2d6 54. Nf5 Rxe6+! 55. Kxe6 Rh8 56. Kxe5 a2 57. Ra1 Rxh7; the material balance has been restored, but White’s advanced passer is gone while Black’s remains very much alive.
White hustles his other h-pawn down the board, but Black keeps the endgame edge with some accurate play: 65. h6 Ra7 66. Kf6 (Ng7 Ra8 67. Kf6 Nd4 68. Kf7 Rh8 69. Kg6 c5 70. h7 Kd3 71. Nh5 c4 72. Kg7 Rxh7+ 73. Kxh7 c3 and wins) Nd4 67. Ne7 (Nd6+ Kd3 68. Nf7 c5 69. h7 Ra8 70. Kg7 Kxe4 71. h8=Q Rxh8 72. Kxh8 Kd5 73. Ng5 c4 74. Nh3 c3 75. Nf2 c2 76. Nd3 Ke4 77. Nc1 Ke3 78. Kg7 Ne2 79. Na2 Kd2 80. Kf6 Nc3 and wins) Ra1 68. h7 Rh1, when the White passed pawn is finally corralled.
In the final position, after 72. Kg6 Nxh7+ 73. Kxh7 c5 74. Nf5 Re1, the Black rook and pawn will overwhelm White’s lone knight; Morozevich resigned.
Novy Bor, ranked fifth coming into the event, tied Malachite and upset the top-seeded Azerbaijan club SOCAR on its way to claiming the cup over the weekend, with Laznicka contributing a key upset of SOCAR’s American GM Gata Kamsky.
With gold medals in three of the last four chess Olympiads, the small nation of Armenia can make a strong case to be the most powerful chess-playing nation per capita on the globe. The greatest Armenian player of them all, Tigran Petrosian, was crowned world champion 50 years ago this year, taking the title from Soviet star Mikhail Botvinnik by a score of 12½-9½. The “Iron Tiger’s” personal favorite from the match was today’s second game, an effort that showcases the Armenian’s masterful positional skills.
Petrosian actually trailed by a point when the game was played, but stays true to his style with a low-key opening content to seek the tiniest of advantages. But in his pre-match preparation for this Grunfeld line, after 9. exd6! Qxd1+ 10. Kxd1 Be6 11. Bxe6 fxe6 12. Ke2, Petrosian confidently predicted Black would lose if he went in for the queen trade, owing to the isolated Black e-pawn and the dominance of the White knight.
White neutralizes Black’s primary compensation — the queenside pawn majority — with the subtle 18. Rb1 Nb4 19. Bd2! Nd5 (Nxa2? 20. Ra1 Nb4 21. Bxb4 cxb4 22. Rxa7 Bxb2 23. Rb7 and White recovers his pawn with a much better ending) 20. a4 Rc8 21. b3 Bf8 22. Rc1 Be7?! (Mikhail Tal, Petrosian’s great contemporary, suggested now 22…Rb8! to sidestep White’s next move) 23. b4! c4 24. b5, and Black’s cut-off c-pawn can’t be saved in the long run.
After 29. Nd2, Black can’t exchange with 29…Bxd2 30. Kxd2 Kd6 31. Kc3 Kc5 32. Rd2 e5??, to stop 33. Rd4, because of 33. e4! and Black’s king is mated in the center of the board. And after 34. Ne4 Rxh2 35. Kd4, 35…Rxg2 loses to 36. Rc7+ Kd8 37. Rxh7 Bb4 38. Rxa7.