- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

What's wrong with American chess?Such melancholy thoughts arise naturally in the wake of the dismal showing by the U.S. men's team at the just-concluded 35th biennial Olympiad competition in Bled, Slovenia. The Yanks, who actually won this event four times back in the 1930s and have been at least competitive in recent decades, finished 41st, with a 7-5-2 match record.

The Russians, anchored by former world champion Garry Kasparov, again took gold, although they were pressed by Hungarians until the very last. Armenia was the surprise bronze medalist, benefiting from a strong surge at the end.

Superstars such as Bobby Fischer come along only once a century or so, but what's more distressing is the absence of even strong young players in the U.S. ranks able to compete at the international level. Many American stars peak early, either hitting a ratings wall or giving up the game for other, more lucrative pursuits.

Consider: Kasparov has been around forever, but he was still younger at 39 than all but one American player in Bled, Joel Benjamin, 38. The rest of the U.S. roster Yasser Seirawan (42), Gregory Kaidanov (43), Alexander Ivanov (46), U.S. champ Larry Christiansen (46) and Boris Gulko (55) have been mainstays of the team for a decade or more.

By contrast, Kasparov's supporting cast in Slovenia included Alexander Morozevich, 25, Peter Svidler, 26, and rising superstar Alexander Grischuk, 19.

Hungary, with top boards Peter Leko (23), Judit Polgar (27), and world junior champ Peter Acs (21), fielded a lineup whose average age was almost half that of the Americans.

The U.S. Chess Federation has made a major effort to recruit and, more importantly, retain promising young talent, and there are any number of active school programs around the country. But to date, at least, the results are not showing up at the chessboard. It will be interesting to see if the Bled blowout will have repercussions at home.

As we noted last week, the U.S. women, with rising stars Jennifer Shahade and Irina Krush on the roster, fared much better at the Olympiad, defeating top-ranked China and eventually finishing ninth with a respectable 9-4-1 record. The top-seeded Chinese women rallied to take the gold, while Russia claimed the silver and the Polish women the bronze in another upset.

Seirawan, who has an excellent career Olympiad record, provided some of the rare highlights for the U.S. men in Slovenia, including a fine positional win over Scottish GM Jonathan Rowson.

Veteran guile actually proves a bonus in this game, in which White eschews tactical fireworks in favor of a steady strategical squeeze. In a Queen's Gambit, Seirawan's knights neutralize the Black bishop pair, and White's pressure on the d-file pays off on 20. Ba3+ Ke8 21. Bd6! Bb8 (the a-pawn hangs on 21…Rac8 22. Bxc7 Rxc7 23. Nd6+ Ke7 24. Nxb7 Rxd3 25. Bxd3 Rxb7 26. Bxa6), disrupting Black's game.

Black's exchange sacrifice proves only temporary on 23. Nd6+ Rxd6!? (Ke7 24. Nxb7 Rxd3 25. Bxd3 Rxb7 26. Bxa6 again costs Rowson his a-pawn) 24. Rxd6 Nd5 25. Rc1 Ke7, trapping the rook, but 26. Rxd5 exd5 27. Rc7+ Kf6 28. b4! leaves White with a major bind. The Black king must watch the kingside pawns, the Black rook must watch the queenside and the Black bishop has no scope.

White's winning procedure is simplicity itself blockade things on the queenside, bring the White king to the center, and wait for one of Black's weaknesses to fall. His queenside pawns under constant attack, Rowson must passively await the end.

The finale: 40. Kd4 f5 41. Be2! (threatening to transfer to f3) Re8 (losing, but on 41…Rb7 42. Bf3, the threat to take on d5 is decisive; and if 41…Kd7, White invades with 42. Kc5 Rc8 43. Bxb5 Bxb5+ 44. Kxb5 Rc3 45. Rxg6 Rxe3 46. Kc5, winning) 42. Bxb5. Since White cleans up on 42…Rc8 43. Ba4! Kd7 44. Rxc6! Rxc6 45. Kxd5, Rowson resigned.

British top board GM Michael Adams staged an even more spectacular exhibition of knightly derring-do in his win over Belarusan GM Aleksej Aleksandrov. From the Black side of a Nimzo-Indian, Adams uses an unexpected bishop sacrifice to explode the position and give his steeds room to romp.

White's set-up after 20. Qe3 Nh5 21. Nd2?! (removing a defender from the scene just before the assault) Ndf6 22. Bc3 (see diagram) seems clotted but playable, but Adams finds tactical chances in the loose position of the bishop on d3 and a seemingly unending series of knight forks.

Thus: 22…Bxg2!! 23. Kxg2 Ng4! 24. Qh3? (Qxf4 Nxf4+ is obviously ill-advised, but White's best hope might have been 24. Qf3! Qxh2+ 25. Kf1 Nxf2! 26. Re3! [Qxf2? Ng3+, with 27…Rd6 in the offing] Nxd3 27. Rxd3 Nf4 28. Re3 and White's hanging on) Qxf2+ 25. Kh1 Qxe1+! 26. Rxe1 Nf2+ 27. Kg2 Nxh3 28. Kxh3 Nf4+ (yet another fork!) 29. Kg3 Nxd3.

Adams still has a little work to do to extricate the knight, which he manages nicely on 32. Rb3 b5! 33. c5 (Rxb5 Rb8 34. Nb3? a6! 35. Rxb8 Rxb8 wins a piece) Rb8 34. Ne4 b4 35 a4 Nc3.

Since now 36. Nxc3 bxc3 37. Rxb8 Rxb8 38. Bxc3 Rb3 runs the table, Aleksandrov resigned.


35th Chess Olympiad, Bled, Slovenia,

November 2002

SeirawanRowson

1. d4d522. Bxb8Raxb8

2. c4dxc423. Nd6+Rxd6

3. e3Nf624. Rxd6Nd5

4. Bxc4e625. Rc1Ke7

5. Nf3c526. Rxd5exd5

6. 0-0a627. Rc7+Kf6

7. b3b628. b4Bc8

8. dxc5Qxd129. a4Ke6

9. Rxd1Bxc530. Ra7b5

10. Bb2Nbd731. axb5axb5

11. Nbd2Bb732. f4g6

12. Be2Ke733. Kf2h5

13. Ne1Bd534. Ke1Bd7

14. Nd3Bd635. Kd2Kd6

15. f3Nc536. Bd3h4

16. Nb4Bb737. Ra5Bc6

17. Nc4Bc738. Kc3Rb7

18. Nd3Nxd339. Ra6Rb8

19. Rxd3Rhd840. Kd4f5

20. Ba3+Ke841. Be2Re8

21. Bd6Bb842. Bxb5Black

resigns


35th Olympiad, Bled, Slovenia,

November 2002

Aleksandrov Adams

1. d4Nf619. Bb4Qf4

2. c4e620. Qe3Nh5

3. Nc3Bb421. Nd2Ndf6

4. e30-022. Bc3Bxg2

5. Bd3d523. Kxg2Ng4

6. Nf3c524. Qh3Qxf2+

7. 0-0dxc425. Kh1Qxe1+

8. Bxc4Nbd726. Rxe1Nf2+

9. a3Ba527. Kg2Nxh3

10. Qe2cxd428. Kxh3Nf4+

11. exd4Bxc329. Kg3Nxd3

12. bxc3Qc730. Re3Nc1

13. Bd3b631. Bb2Na2

14. c4Bb732. Rb3b5

15. Re1Rac833. c5Rb8

16. Bg5h634. Ne4b4

17. Bd2Rfd835. a4Nc3

18. Rac1Qd6White resigns


David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected].


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