SANDS: Kasparov, new caucus mark first congressional chess tourney

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There will be some bipartisanship at the board this week on Capitol Hill, as the newly hatched Congressional Chess Caucus on Wednesday, June 18 hosts the inaugural Congressional Chess Tournament, with former world champion Garry Kasparov on hand to enforce the touch-move rule.

The long-overdue caucus, formed this spring, is co-chaired by two Missouri congressman, Republican Jason Smith and Democrat William Lacy Clay Jr., and is meant in part to highlight the emergence of St. Louis and the city’s Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis as a world-class venue for the game. The U.S. Junior Championship, which kicks off Thursday, is just the latest national event to be hosted by the beautiful St. Louis site.

The event has a more serious purpose — to showcase the role chess instruction can play in the schools as part of the national drive to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning.

This being Capitol Hill, there will be some politicking as well, and not just in the bragging rights between Democratic and Republican lawmakers over who wins the most games. Mr. Kasparov, among the greatest players who ever lived, is now in the midst of his own election campaign against longtime incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov for the presidency of FIDE, the troubled international governing body for chess.

We’ll have some of ex-champ’s thoughts, and perhaps some action from the boards, here next week.

Matlakov-Gabrielian after 28. Rc1.

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Matlakov-Gabrielian after 28. Rc1. more >

Familiarity seems to be breeding a certain staleness in the elite ranks of the game. With so many superelite events featuring the same top 10 or 15 faces these days, the play at some of these star-studded events has been a little less than stellar recently.

In a fine result, Russian GM Sergey Karjakin won his second consecutive Unibet Norway Chess Tournament last week, denying runner-up world champion Magnus Carlsen a victory on his home soil. Still, despite the event’s epic 2774 average rating (or perhaps because of it), there were few truly memorable games or brilliant combinations. Karjakin’s three-game win streak at the end to clinch first place was kick-started when Dutch GM Anish Giri blundered in a level position on Move 131 to hand the Russian a gift point, a game we have decided not to reprint here.

Instead, let’s wander farther afield. The players of today’s games don’t have the pedigree of the Norwegian field, but they wrap things up much more quickly and leave no doubt about the outcome.

The Whitsun GM tournament in Copenhagen featured no player ranked above 2550, but it did produce some enjoyably sharp chess. In today’s first game, Swedish IM Axel Smith gets too ambitious against Danish IM Thorbjorn Bromann in a Classical French and pays a heavy price.

Things get sharp after 14. Nxd4 Ng4!? 15. Qe4 f5 16. Nxf5 Bxh4; in Norway, the top players probably would have called it a day with the correct 17. Ne7+! Bxe7 (Qxe7 leads to the same result; inferior is 17…Kf7? 18. Qxg4 Bxf2+ 19. Kh1 Kxe7 20. Bxb5, and White is better) 18. Qh7+ Kf7 19. Qg6+ Kg8 21. Qh7+ with a draw by perpetual check.

Smith instead goes for broke and gets broken on 17. Nxg7? Bxf2+ 18. Kh1 Rf7 19. Nxe6 (the move White may have been counting on; 19. Qh7+ Kf8 20. Qh8+ Ke7 goes nowhere, and 19. Qxg4 Rxg7 just wins for Black) Qh4 20. h3 Qg3! 21. Qg6+ (hxg4 Qh4 mate; 21. Qxg4+ Qxg4 22. hxg4 Bxe6, and Black’s two bishops and extra material should win in the end) Kh8 22. Qxf7 Qxh3+!? (Qh2 mate, as someone dryly said, is also strong; Black may have just been focused on this mate or just liked the geometry of the queen sacrifice) 23. gxh3 Bc6+, and White resigns as it’s a slightly belated mate on 24. Be4 Bxe4+ 25. Qf3 Bxf3 mate.

It was similarly short and sweet in GM Artur Gabrielian’s win over fellow Russian GM Maxim Matlakov in a game from the ongoing Russian Higher League Championships in Vladivostok. White gets a little casual with his kingside defense in this Classical Benoni and pays a heavy price for his carelessness.

Black is already dictating the play on 15. Ne3 Bd4 16. Nb5?! (the start of a tricky rope-a-dope idea, hoping Black’s attack will burn itself out) Qh4 17. Nxd4!? (h3 Qf2+ 18. Kh1 Nxe3 19. Bxe3 Bxe3 20. Re2 Qg3 21. Rxe3 Qxf4 22. Qc1, and White has some compensation for the pawn) Qxh2+ 18. Kf1 cxd4 19. Qxd4 Bd7, when the first player should have tried 20. a4 (the threat of 20…Bb5+ must be dealt with) b5 21. b3 Nhf6 22. Bb2, and White’s pressure on the long diagonal gives him a very playable game.

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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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