- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Way back in the day, it was a very rare sighting: a game pitting two ex-world champions.

Morphy hardly played a serious game after winning the crown. Steinitz and Lasker hogged the title for decades. Save for the bizarro 1992 match with Spassky, Fischer never faced his rivals after being stripped of the crown in 1975.

But with longer careers and shorter reigns, the pairing of two players who used to hold the game’s greatest title has become, if not exactly common, a lot less rare than in the past. A new classic of the genre, a positional masterpiece, was played in Round 4 of the ongoing Tal Memorial in Moscow, between Russian ex-champ Vladimir Kramnik (2000-2007) and Indian ex-champ Viswanathan Anand (2007-2017).

Kramnik as White comes out of this Guioco Piano with a clear edge in space (Black’s reposting of his dark-squared bishop to f8 costs precious time) and never gives Black a chance at counterplay. A brilliant attacker, Anand is reduced to passive defense until his boxed-in pieces finally can’t hold back White’s pressure.

Kramnik temporarily gives up a pawn to obtain a decisive bind: 42. g3 Bg5 43. Bc7! Bxd2?! 44. Bxd6! (Qxd2? Nc4 throws away White’s edge) Bxc3 45. Re7 Qg8? (see diagram; Black’s game is joyless, but 45…Qf8 46. Qe6 Ra8 47. Bxe5+ Kg8 48. Qf6 Bxe5 49. Qxe5 Qg7 50. Qd6 Qf8 51. e5 Rd8 was tougher) 46. Qe6!, and Black’s defense buckles.

The finale: 46…Qf8 (too late) 47. Kg2 Rd8 48. Bc5! (preserving the clamp is stronger than capturing on e5) Bd5 (Rc8 49. Rc7 Rxc7 50. Bxf8+ Kxf8 51. Qd6+ Re7 52. Kf1 and wins) 49. Qxc6 Kg8 50. Qxb5 Rb8 51. Rxf7!, and all roads lead to defeat: 51…Rxb5 (Kxf7 52. Qd7+ Kg8 53. Bxf8) 52. Rxf8+ Kg7 53. Rc8 Bc3 54. Bf8+; or 51…Qxf7 52. Qxb8+. Anand resigned.

The annual Moscow tournament honors the great Latvian world champ Mikhail Tal, who held the title for just a year (1960-61), but would go on to clash with many of his fellow ex-champs in the decades to come. Today’s second game comes against fellow one-year former champ Vassily Smyslov (1957-1958) at the 1977 Soviet national championship. Tal was almost constitutionally incapable of playing a boring game, but this time his bid for a quick mating attack is turned back by Smyslov on 18. Ke2 Qd4! 19. Rh3 Qf2+ 20. Qxf2 Nxf2 21. Rh4 Ne4 22. Bh6 Nf6! 23. Bxf8 Rxf8 24. Kf1 Rd8, and White’s queenside knight and rook are imprisoned for almost the remainder of the fight.

In the end, the Black minor pieces dominate and White has no defense to the coming push of the e-pawn.

Kramnik-Anand, Tal Memorial, Moscow, October 2016

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 O-O 6. h3 d6 7. c3 a6 8. Re1 Ba7 9. Bb3 h6 10. Nbd2 Re8 11. Nf1 Be6 12. Bc2 d5 13. exd5 Bxd5 14. Ng3 Bc5 15. b4 Bf8 16. a4 g6 17. Bb2 b5 18. Ne4 Rb8 19. Bc1 Nd7 20. Bb3 Bxb3 21. Qxb3 Re6 22. axb5 axb5 23. Be3 Nf6 24. Rad1 Nxe4 25. dxe4 Qe8 26. Rd5 Nd8 27. Ra1 Nb7 28. Ra7 c6 29. Rd1 Nd6 30. Nd2 Ra8 31. Rda1 Rxa7 32. Rxa7 Re7 33. Ra6 Rc7 34. Qa2 Kg7 35. Bb6 Rb7 36. Bc5 Be7 37. Ra8 Rb8 38. Ra7 Rd8 39. Bb6 Rc8 40. Bc7 Qd7 41. Bb6 Qe8 42. g3 Bg5 43. Bc7 Bxd2 44. Bxd6 Bxc3 45. Re7 Qg8 46. Qe6 Qf8 47. Kg2 Rd8 48. Bc5 Bd4 49. Qxc6 Kg8 50. Qxb5 Rb8 51. Rxf7 Black resigns.

Tal-Smyslov, 45th USSR Championship, st. Petersburg, December 1977

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 Be7 8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. dxe5 Bb7 10. Qg4 O-O 11. f3 Ng5 12. f4 Ne4 13. f5 Kh8 14. Rf3 Bc5+ 15. Kf1 d6 16. f6 g6 17. Qh4 dxe5 18. Ke2 Qd4 19. Rh3 Qf2+ 20. Qxf2 Nxf2 21. Rh4 Ne4 22. Bh6 Nxf6 23. Bxf8 Rxf8 24. Kf1 Rd8 25. c4 g5 26. Rh3 g4 27. Rc3 b4 28. Rc1 Rd4 29. g3 Bf3 30. a3 a5 31. axb4 axb4 32. Ra5 Nd7 33. Bc2 e4 34. Re1 Bb6 35. Ra8+ Kg7 36. Rd8 f5 37. Ba4 Ne5 38. Rxd4 Bxd4 39. Nd2 Bxb2 40. Nb3 Bc3 White resigns.

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

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