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SANDS: If you knew Sochi like chess players knew Sochi

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sochi was on the chess players' map long before the lugers, ice dancers and speedskaters showed up.

The Russian resort city on the coast of the Black Sea is getting a lot of exposure as it hosts the Winter Olympics. No doubt many viewers are learning about the city for the very first time.

But Sochi has a rich chess history, having hosted numerous Russian and Soviet national championship tournaments, as well as a string of strong Russian team events. Soviet attacking genius Rashid Nezhmetdinov played one of the most anthologized games of the 20th century in the city, sacrificing a queen (and most of the rest of his army) to defeat GM Lev Polugaevsky in the 1958 Russian State Championship.

Victor Korchnoi, who would go on to play two unsuccessful matches for the world championship, had one of his greatest results at the international Sochi Chigorin Memorial Tournament in 1966, topping a field that included Polugaevsky, GM Anatoly Lein and Boris Spassky, who three years later would be world champion.

Korchnoi did not lose a game in the 1966 event, but the brilliancy prize for the tournament went to Russian IM Boris Vladimirov for his fine win over Milko Bobotsov, the first Bulgarian ever to win the grandmaster title. Playing one of the most aggressive lines of the King's Indian Defense, Vladimirov attacks from the outset and is rewarded with a nice sacrificial mating combination at the end.

The Four Pawns Attack (5. f4) gives White a massive pawn center, and Black must walk a tightrope as he organizes his KID counterplay. Vladimirov presses his spatial edge with the 13. g4 Bc8 14. f5, and is rewarded when Black misplays the defense on 14...Nd7 15. fxg6 hxg6 16. Qe1 Nf6? (the knight is too vulnerable on the half-open file; Black keeps it a game with 16...Qe7! 17. Qh4 Bd4+ 18. Kh1 f6 19. Ne6 Rf7 20. g5 [Nxd4 Qe4+! 21. Kg1 Qxd4 is fine for Black] f5 21. Nxd4 Rh7 2. Qf4 cxd4 23. Bf3 Ne5, with equality) 17. Qh4, already threatening 18. Rxf6 Bxf6 19. Qh7 mate.

After 21. Rxe8+ Rxe8 22. Bc3, White has built up a beautiful attacking formation, and again Bobotsov's best hope lies in the move 22...Be7, when Black is still fighting after 23. Bxf6 Bxf6 24. Qh7+ Kf8 25. Bxg6!? Qe3+! (fxg6?? 26. Qh8 mate) 26. Kg2 Bh3+! 27. Nxh3 (Qxh3? Qxg5+ 28. Qg3 Re2+ 29. Kh1 Qxg3 30. hxg3 Kg7 31. Bh5 Rxb2 and Black is actually better) fxg6 29. Qxg6 Ke7, with a slight edge for White.

Instead, Black allows a brilliant finish with 22...Bf5? 23. Bxf5 gxf5 24. Kh1 Re5 (the threat was 25. Bxf6 Bxf6 26. Rg1 Bxg5 [Kf8 27. Nh7+ Ke7 28. Qxf6 mate] 27. Rxg5+ Kf8 28. Rh5!, winning) 25. Rg1 (White has no intention of giving up his prize bishop just for the rook) f4 26. Qxf4 Rf5 27. Qh4 Qe7 28. Nh7! Qe2 29. Nxf6+ (Bxf6? Qf3+ 30. Rg2 Qf1+, with a perpetual), when 29...Rxf6 loses to 30. Rxg7+.

Black's hopes of a perpetual check are dashed in the slick finale: 29...Kf8 (see diagram) 30. Qh8+!!, and Black resigned facing 30...Bxh8 31. Rg8+ Ke7 32. Re8 mate.

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The great Latvian world champion Mikhail Tal was also a regular at Sochi, winning three Chigorin Memorials there from 1973 to 1982. Tal played so many brilliant attacking games that his win over Hungarian star Laszlo Szabo in Sochi in 1973 didn't even rate a mention in his classic memoir, "My Life and Games." Still, it's a fine example of the kind of fighting chess the Black Sea city has seen over the years.

In a Modrn Defense, Szabo as Black gets just the kind of double-edged position you should always avoid against a player like Tal, with the tactics coming early and often after 7. Qe2 c5?! (opening up the center will prove disastrous for Black) 8. dxc5 dxc5 9. e5! Nc6 10. Be3 Nd4 11. Nxd4! cxd4 12. 0-0-0 — and Black is welcome to play 12....dxc3? (dxe3 amounts to the same thing) 13. Bxb5+ axb5 14. Qxb5+ Kf8 15. Rxd8+ Rxd8 16. Qxb7, winning.

The pawn fork proving toothless, Black tries to harass the white king with 17. Bd6 Qxa2, but White blithely ignores his opponent's "threats" to pursue his attack: 18. Bxb4 Bxe4 19. Qxe4 Ng4 20. Bc4! Qa1+ 21. Kd2 Qxb2 (perhaps betting on 22. Bc3?! Red8+ 23. Bd3 Qb6 and Black is fine) 22. Bxf7+! (a classic Tal shot, leading to significant material advantage) Kxf7 23. Qd5+ Re6 24. Qb7+! (sidestepping 24. Qxa8?? Qxb4+ 25. Ke2 Nxe5! 26. fxe5 Rxe5+, and it's Black with the winning attack) Re7 25. Qxe7+.

White emerges a full rook up, but still must safeguard his king to claim the point. Tal does so in style with 31. Rhe1 (Bxa5? Bh6+ 32. Kd3 [Kc2 Qe2+ 33. Rd2 Qxd2 mate] Qe3+ 33. Kc4 Qe2+ 34 Kc5 Qf2+ and the White king can't escape the checks) Bh6+ (White wins the endgame after 31...Qf4+ 32. Kc2 axb4 33. Re8+ Rxe8 34. Qxe8+ Bf8 35. Rd8 Kg7 36. Qxf8+ Qxf8 37. Rxf8 Kxf8 38. cxb4) 32. Kc2 Qf5+ 33. Qe4 Qc8 34. Rd7! (giving back a piece for a crushing mating attack) axb4 35. Qe5+ Kg8 36. Qe6+, and Black resigns facing 36...Kh8 37. Qf6+ Kg8 38. Qf7+ Kh8 39. Qxh7 mate.

Vladimirov-Bobotsov, Chigorin Memorial, Sochi, Russia, 1966

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f4 O-O 6. Nf3 c5 7.d5 e6 8.Be2 exd5 9.exd5 Bf5 10.O-O Ne4 11.Nxe4 Bxe4 12.Ng5 Bf5 13.g4 Bc8 14.f5 Nd7 15.fxg6 hxg6 16.Qe1 Nf6 17.Qh4 Re8 18.Bd3 Qe7 19.Bd2 Bxg4 20.Rae1 Qd7 21.Rxe8+ Rxe8 22.Bc3 Bf5 23.Bxf5 gxf5 24.Kh1 Re5 25.Rg1 f4 26.Qxf4 Rf5 27.Qh4 Qe7 28.Nh7 Qe2 9.Nxf6+ Kf8 30.Qh8+ Black resigns.

Tal-Szabo, Chigorin Memorial, Sochi, Russia, 1973

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.f4 a6 5.Nf3 b5 6.Bd3 Bb7 7.Qe2 c5 8.dxc5 dxc5 9.e5 Nc6 10.Be3 Nd4 11.Nxd4 cxd4 12.O-O-O b4 13.Ne4 Nh6 14.Bxd4 O-O 15.Bc5 Qa5 16.Bxe7 Rfe8 17.Bd6 Qxa2 18.Bxb4 Bxe4 19.Qxe4 Ng4 20.Bc4 Qa1+ 21.Kd2 Qxb2 22.Bxf7+ Kxf7 23.Qd5+ Re6 24.Qb7+ Re7 25.Qxe7+ Kg8 26.Qe6+ Kh8 27.Qc4 Nxe5 28.fxe5 Qxe5 29.c3 a5 30.Qc6 Rb8 31.Rhe1 Bh6+ 32.Kc2 Qf5+ 33.Qe4 Qc8 34. Rd7 axb4 35.Qe5+ Kg8 36.Qe6+ Black resigns.

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

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