- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Those who don’t appreciate the mental stress of top-level chess should consider that every single position offers the opportunity for disaster.

Overlook a single threat, misplay a sequence of moves, forget that a piece is under attack, fail to give your king an escape square — and five hours of draining concentration can be thrown away in an instant. Just this month, one of the country’s top junior players flat out hung a rook in a critical tournament game, moving a bishop that guarded the rook after failing to trade the rook a move earlier.

The humiliation can come at any time. Fall for an opponent’s opening trap, and you’re rolling up your board and signing the score sheet when most of the other games are just getting started. Or, like famed Soviet GM Efim Geller at the 1970 Palma de Mallorca Interzonal, you can hallucinate during a long rook-and-pawn ending and, with all the other players clustered around your board, hand a critical victory to Bobby Fischer on his way to the world title.

Soviet GM Alexander Kotov, in his 1971 classic “Think Like a Grandmaster,” recommended that players, after delving deep into the complications of a position, always ask themselves just before making the move whether they were not missing something obvious. Good advice.

The blunder was a little more subtle but the punishment no less drastic in today’s game, played between Berik Akkozov and Jahangir Vakhidov, two top Kazakh players at a recent open tournament in Almaty. Black here underestimates the danger lurking in his position, and a single move forces him to shut it down.

In this Saemisch King’s Indian, we can say with perfect 20/20 hindsight that Black will come to regret the pawn push 9. Ng3 h5 10. Be2 h4?!, as the h-pawn will become not so much a lever as a target with Black’s king already castled on the kingside.

Black launches a nice positional combination that secures him the two bishops, but the problem after 12. f4 Neg4!? 13. Bxg4 Nxg4 14. Qxg4 exd5 15. f5 d4 16. Nd5 dxe3 17. Nfxe3 is that White’s two knights are extremely active and have some very attractive potential posts in the center.

Still, the game appears to be evenly balanced until Black falls off the tightrope that chess players walk with every move they make: 18. 0-0 Rh8?! (this turns out to be a waste of a tempo in a position in which the defender must be precise) 19. Rad1 Rg8 20. Kh1 Bd7? (see diagram), failing to appreciate that the Black queen is overworked guarding that unfortunate h-pawn.

White responded 21. Nc7!!, and though it’s a little hasty, the Kazakh GM packs it in. A little analysis shows just how hopeless Black’s game is after 21…Rc8 (Qxc7 22. Qxh4+ Bh6 23. Ng4 is totally winning) 22. Rxd6 Rxc7 (Bf6 23. Ncd5 Be7 24. fxg6+ fxg6 25. Rxd7) 23. fxg6+ fxg6 (both king moves lead to mate — 23…Kh8 24. Qh5+ Bh6 25. Qxh6 mate; or 23…Kh6 24. gxf7+ Bf6 25. Rfxf6+ Rg6 26. Qxg6 mate) 24. Qxg6+ Kh8 25. Qh5+ and wins.

Congratulations to Polish GM Darius Swiercz, now studying at St. Louis University, for his victory in the third annual Millionaire Chess Open Championship in Atlantic City. The 22-year-old Swiercz took home the $30,000 top prize after defeating Azeri GM Rauf Mamedov 2-0 in the rapid chess final Oct. 10. With one of the richest purses on the American open chess scene, the tournament has a doubtful future because of the inability to attract enough players to justify the prizes.

Akkozov-Vakhidov, Almaty Open, Kazakhstan, October 2016

1. d4 d6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 Nf6 5. f3 O-O 6. Be3 c5 7. Nge2 Nc6 8. d5
Ne5 9. Ng3 h5 10. Be2 h4 11. Nf1 e6 12. f4 Neg4 13. Bxg4 Nxg4 14. Qxg4 exd5 15. f5 d4 16. Nd5 dxe3 17. Nfxe3 Kh7 18. O-O Rh8 19. Rad1 Rg8 20. Kh1 Bd7 21. Nc7 Black resigns.

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

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