- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2017

“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” — John Buchan

Google “chess and fishing” and you get, well, not a whole heckuva a lot.

Both are nonaerobic activities that entail a lot of waiting around, but athletically inclined grandmasters tend to favor tennis or soccer. “Fish” was a term of derision for weaker players favored by Bobby Fischer and other players of his era. There is something called the “Fishing Pole Trap” in the Ruy Lopez that looks nothing like a fishing pole.

Still, there is something about a well-played positional chess game that always reminds me of the process of reeling in a hooked fish.

There’s the original bite, the strategic idea that gets the fish (your opponent) securely caught on the line. Then there’s the subtle dance of landing the fish: Yank too quickly and the prey escapes; give the line too much play and your opponent may slip the trap as your concentration fades.

Then there’s the final desperate lunge, when the fish’s violent last break for freedom paradoxically makes it easier to bring it into the boat.

Watch, for example, how German GM Georg Meier methodically brings home the point in his recent game against Belarus GM Vladislav Kovalev at the just-finished St. Louis Fall Classic, that last of four strong seasonal round-robins organized by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. The victory helped propel Meier to a tie for first with U.S. GM Yaroslav Zherebukh at 5½-3½.

In a Symmetrical English, Meier claims an early edge after 9. d4 cxd4 10. Be3! d3 11. Ne1 Qa5 12. Nxd3 Nc6 13. b4!, grabbing queensidespace as 13…Nxb4?! 14. Bd2 Bxa1 15. Qxa1 is better for White. With White’s bishops raking the queenside, Black gives up material to ease the pressure after 18. Bc7 Bg4 19. Bxc6 bxc6 20. Bxe5! (better than taking the rook on b8, as White’s move not only wins a pawn but eliminates Black’s powerful fianchettoed bishop) Qf5 21. Bxg7 Kxg7 22. Qd2.

The young Belarus GM twists and turns, trying to claw his way back to equality, but never quite slips White’s hook. Black gets his pawn back but never solves his positional troubles in the final struggle.

Thus: 29. Qd4 Rxb4!? (the best chance, although ultimately not enough) 30. Qxb4 Qe3+ 31. Kg2 Qxc1 32. e4! c5 (Qc2+ 33. Kf1 g5 34. exf5 Qc1+ 35. Kg2 gxf4 37. Qb7 Qc2+ 37. Kh3 Rf8 38. Rf6 preserves White’s bind) 33. Qb7 Qc2+ 34. Kg1 Qc1+ 35. Kf2 Qc2+ 36. Ne2 Kg8 37. exf5 Re8 — the fish’s final bid for freedom (see diagram). After 38. Qxa6? c4, Meier may have to cut his line and let his quarry go with 39. Rxg6+ fxg6 40. Qxg6+ Kf8 41. Qf6+ Kg8 42. Qg6+ and a perpetual check.

Instead, White brings his prize into the net with a final, perfectly timed tug: 38. Re6!! fxe6 (Rf8 39. fxg6 Qf5 40. Rxa6 fxg6 41. Ra7 also wins for White) 39. f6!, and suddenly, mate is unstoppable along the seventh rank; Kovalev resigned.

GM Wesley So is the only American still standing as the 128-player FIDE World Cup is down to its Final Four in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The second-seeded So takes on Chinese star Ding Liren in one semifinal match starting Tuesday, while Armenia’s Levon Aronian, one of the world’s hottest players this year, is facing off against French No. 1 GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

The last two players standing will play a four-game final match starting Saturday, Sept. 23.

Meier-Kovalev, St. Louis Fall Classic, September 2017

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. O-O c5 5. c4 O-O 6. Nc3 d5 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Nxd5 Qxd5 9. d4 cxd4 10. Be3 d3 11. Ne1 Qa5 12. Nxd3 Nc6 13. b4 Qd8 14. Rc1 Rb8 15. a4 a6 16. a5 e5 17. Bb6 Qf6 18. Bc7 Bg4 19. Bxc6 bxc6 20. Bxe5 Qf5 21. Bxg7 Kxg7 22. Qd2 Qf6 23. Rc4 h5 24. Rfc1 Rfe8 25. f3 Bf5 26. Nf4 Qe7 27. Rd4 Rec8 28. Rd6 Kh7 29. Qd4 Rxb4 30. Qxb4 Qe3+ 31. Kg2 Qxc1 32. e4 c5 33. Qb7 Qc2+ 34. Kg1 Qc1+ 35. Kf2 Qc2+ 36. Ne2 Kg8 37. exf5 Re8 38. Re6 fxe6 39. f6 Black resigns.

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

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