- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

With more than 170 member nations, the Paris-based chess federation FIDE is one of the largest sporting organizations in the world.

Which isn’t always a good thing.

The diverse membership can make for some tense political pairings. During the Cold War, a number of Soviet bloc stars who defected to the West were not exactly welcome when they tried to play in events back home. Arab and Iranian players have refused to participate in some events where Israelis are competing. And let’s not even get started on Bobby Fischer’s unorthodox political ideas and the problems they posed for organizers, sponsors and fans.

Most players manage to deal with the awkwardness, but that’s not to say it is a thing of the past. At the FIDE world championship candidates tournament that got underway last week in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, one key early game pitted top-seeded Armenian star Levon Aronian against Azerbaijani No. 1 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. (The two countries remain technically at war because of a bitter territorial dispute.) One of the highlight games of the just-concluded European Individual Championship pitted Russian GM Alexander Motylev against Ukrainian GM Pavel Eljanov, even as their home countries were locked in a nasty clash over Crimea.

Whether the political backstories played roles or not, both games produced some spirited chess.

Aronian, picked by many to win the candidates tournament as the world’s second highest ranked player, stumbled out of the game with a loss to former world champion Viswanathan Anand of India in Round 1. But he rebounded in the very next round in the best way possible by finding a cute trick that cost the Azerbaijani star his queen and sent him on the road to defeat.

Black’s 9. Bd3 Ng6?! has a bad reputation in this line, though it is hard to see why at first. But Mamedyarov’s kingside pieces start getting into each other’s way, and Aronian alertly takes advantage with a surprising early tactic.

Thus: 11. f4 h6?! 12. Bxf6 Qxf6 13. f5 Ne7? (see diagram; Black is a fine tactician but his sense of danger deserts him here — the Black queen has surprisingly few safe squares at her disposal and Black’s last move cuts off her retreat; a far better course was the sharp 13…Qg5! 14. Qe2 Nh4 15. Nf3 Nxf3+ 16. Qxf3 Qf6, although White’s coming e3-e4 is a strong positional threat) 14. Nde4! (an unexpected shot exploiting Black’s ill-placed queen) dxe4 15. Nxe4 Qh4 16. g3 Qh3 17. Nf2, and the queen is trapped.

After 17…Qxf1+ 18. Kxf1 Nxf5 19. Qf3 Nd6 20. e4, Black isn’t quite lost, but he’s down a queen for rook and bishop and is fighting for a draw. Trying to complicate things by opening up the play only helps the player with the queen; e.g. 20…f5? 21. e5 Ne4 22. Bxe4 fxe4 23. Qb3+ Kh8 24. Qxb4, and Black has no time for 24…e3 because his rook on f8 is hanging.

A dispirited Black sees even his mild initiative turned back after 29. a4 a6 30. a5 Nc8, and Aronian switches over to the attack with 31. e5 Ne7 32. e6. The Armenian keeps his edge even while missing a winning shot: 37. Rxg7+! blows up the Black defense on 37…Kxg7 38. Qh5 Ne7 (Rf8 39. Bxd5 cxd5 40. Qg6+ Kh8 41. Qxh6+ Kg8 42. Qg6+ Kh8 43. e7 and wins) 39. Qf7+ Kh8 40. Qxf6+ Kg8 41. Qf7+ Kh8 42. f6 and wins.

After making it to the first time control, White cashes in with 43. d5! Nxd5 44. Bh5, and Black resigns a hopeless cause facing 44…Rf8 (Re7 45. Qxe7! Nxe7 46. Rxd8+ Kh7 47. Bg6+ Nxg6 48. fxg6+ Kxg6 49. e7) 45. e7 Nxe7 46. Qxe7 Rxd1 47. Qxf8+ Kh7 48. Bg6 mate.

With another win over Russian GM Peter Svidler in Monday’s Round 4, Aronian is tied for second with another former world champion, Vladimir Kramnik of Russia at 2-1, a half-point behind Anand. The double round robin event to determine a challenger to Norwegian titleholder Magnus Carlsen concludes March 30.

Despite the grim geopolitical backdrop, Motylev’s surprise win in the European Individual Championships in Yerevan, Armenia, proved popular and deserved. The 34-year-old Russian GM is better known as a coach and second (he has worked extensively with Russian star Sergey Karjakin, who is in the candidates field at Khanty-Mansiysk), but he moved from the wings to spotlight with a powerful 9-2 result. Eljanov was one of the highest-rated players in the event, but the surging Russian took him down in Round 8, providing the winner with critical distance from the rest of the field.

The early play through 16. Bg2 a5 17. Bd4 in this Sicilian Taimanov appears balanced, with both players retaining their bishop pair and material dead even. Eljanov as Black has an obvious plan in launching a queenside attack, but must decide what to do with his own king before initiating operations.

White targets the uncastled king with 18. f5!? exf5 19. e6!? fxe6 20. Bxg7. The computer likes Black’s defensive chances here, but it’s not so easy over the board. Black unwisely opens the door with 20…Rg8? (Rh7! — keeping an eye on the h-pawn — 21. Bd4 e5 leaves White struggling to justify his sacrifice) 21. Bd4 a4 22. Bf3! a3 23. Rhe1, and White’s pieces are taking up highly menacing positions.

Eljanov tries to slow things down with an exchange sacrifice on 24. Qe2 Rg4!? (Kf8 25. Bxh5 axb2 26. Bxb2 Qc4 was also possible) 25. Bxg4 hxg4 26. b3 Bc5, but Black never seems to get enough compensation for the lost material. He blunders a second pawn on 28. Bxc3 Bf2? (Qd6 29. Qd2 Kf7 30. Be5 Qf8 31. Qg5 is good for White, but Black also had the solid 28…Be7; the problem for Black in all these lines is that he remains down an exchange) 29. Qxf2 Qxc3 30. Rxd5 (Qxf5?? Qb2 mate) Ke7 31. Qd2 Qxd2 32. Rxd2, and now the win is just a matter of technique for White.

Motylev simplifies down to a won ending after 37. b5 Bb7 38. Rxc8 Bxc8 39. Rd3 f3 40. Kd2 (Rxa3?? f2 and Black wins) Bd7 41. b6, and Black gives up in light of 41…Bc6 42. Rxa3 Kd6 43. Rc3 Bb7 44. a4, and the pawns will decide.

Aronian-Mamedyarov, FIDE Candidates Tournament, Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, March 2013

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Bg5 Nbd7 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Nd2 c6 8. e3 Nf8 9. Bd3 Ng6 10. O-O O-O 11. f4 h6 12. Bxf6 Qxf6 13. f5 Ne7 14. Nde4 dxe4 15. Nxe4 Qh4 16. g3 Qh3 17. Nf2 Qxf1+ 18. Kxf1 Nxf5 19. Qf3 Nd6 20. e4 f6 21. Bc2 Be6 22. Nd3 Nc4 23. Kg1 Bd6 24. Nf4 Bxf4 25. gxf4 Rad8 26. f5 Bf7 27. Qc3 Rfe8 28. Bd3 Nb6 29. a4 a6 30. a5 Nc8 31. e5 Ne7 32. e6 Bh5 33. Be4 Nd5 34. Qh3 Be2 35. Kf2 Bb5 36. Rg1 Kh7 37. Qa3 Bc4 38. Rg4 Bb5 39. Rg1 Bc4 40. Rc1 Bb5 41. Bf3 Nf4 42. Rd1 Kh8 43. d5 Nxd5 44. Bh5 Black resigns.

Motylev-Eljanov,15th European Individual Championship, Yerevan, Armenia, March 2014

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. Qd2 Nf6 8. O-O-O Be7 9. f3 b5 10. Kb1 h5 11. Nxc6 dxc6 12. e5 Nd5 13. Nxd5 cxd5 14. f4 Bd7 15. g3 Rc8 16. Bg2 a5 17. Bd4 b4 18. f5 exf5 19. e6 fxe6 20. Bxg7 Rg8 21. Bd4 a4 22. Bf3 a3 23. Rhe1 Qc6 24. Qe2 Rg4 25. Bxg4 hxg4 26. b3 Bc5 27. c3 bxc3 28. Bxc3 Bf2 29. Qxf2 Qxc3 30. Rxd5 Ke7 31. Qd2 Qxd2 32. Rxd2 Bc6 33. Rc2 Kd6 34. Rd1+ Ke7 35. Kc1 e5 36. b4 f4 37. b5 Bb7 38. Rxc8 Bxc8 39. Rd3 f3 40. Kd2 Bd7 41. b6 Black resigns.

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

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